Elizabeth

Liz Snell

I was named after the wife of silence,

cousin to a miracle, her own omen

given to a man muted by unbelief.

The angel never came to me; my friends

chatted with God in woods and spoke

in tongues while I tried to babble

inarticulate eloquence, bowed

in the long grass at night.

At what crumbled tower

was I confused?

 

Every other prophet seems to start

by arguing a klutzy tongue

or unclean lips—and then the angel comes.

Boiling pot, burning bush

or burning coal, something hot

to purify and quicken all that we can’t say.

 

I was always one to talk too much:

detained in school, in trouble at my work,

everything to say about the world,

a tongue of fire.

Now my mouth is full of ash.

Angel with a muzzle in your hand,

I am listening.

First Last Words

Sarah Crowley Chestnut

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”  (Luke 23:42-43).

Life was a bone out of joint.  I was not

the first—I would not be the last—

to ride the wreckage of the hell-bent. 

Each want clawed my belly to shreds—

and it ate me.

 

Maybe any way you cut it, forgiveness cuts slant. 

Did I just ask for the one thing I’d never had? 

Riding those rails like a reckoning, I cannot say

what strange jewel unearthed itself: some clue

to refute the thousand proofs I was damned

before my life began.

 

So I bled in earnest.

 

And I tell you, his words burned like a brand,

and life was something I wanted, could have,

but could not have guessed.  I tell you,

when they swung clubs to break my bones

the end of the end was already gone

and I split—as if on reflex—into a shock of a smile.

 

And it laid with me.  And it carried me

the first of countless, uncharted miles.

Good Talk, good talk

Anna A. Friedrich

it all started with

Adam’s fried egg slipping

off his plate and into

the open silverware drawer,

yellow goo, steaming, pooled

in the plastic organizer, covered our 

butter knives, so I yelled

 

hallelujah — clenched teeth all

slackened, raised eyebrows sank 

back into position then the laughter 

came, shook the kitchen, racked our bodies

and settled down into hugs all

around it’s ok it’s all

going to be ok

In Halos

Liz Snell

Hazy and drained from the clear lake we’d tumbled in,

we perched on the warm stone wall below the village church.

Mountains lumbered to a den of clouds;

clouds flickered lightning like a broken bulb.

Foxes barked below in windrows,

hunting through the new-mown field.

Thick air thinned between us;

we could almost talk again.

But the foxes called to themselves;

the clouds lit up their private rooms.

In halos we sat watching each thing remain itself, 

withheld and given, 

made for its solitude and also 

for each listening carillon of bones.

Life Without Internet

Liz Snell

We didn’t know what to call these birds that swerved

along the last light of the summer equinox.

At first we thought them bats but bats dance erratic

and these flew deft-winged, dove by sight, not sound.

They were blunt-tailed, not forked like swallows,

who also love the dusk.

We searched our separate lexicons,

fell silent in the lack.

The old sun slipped behind the hackled hills,

red scattered on the sea.

Pipe smoke crocheted around the stars.

We would wait ‘til one arrived

who knew their name.

Settlers

Sarah Crowley Chestnut

Think of the first people to clear these woods—

ancient maple and fir.  Think of the saw,

the strength. Think of axes, wagons, horses,

or a dearth of horses.  Think of the ivy,

creeper, wild rose.  Think of the incentive—

only one path forward, the path that must

be whacked.  

It cannot be said with tact:

we are soft, love, soft after the day's work

carving a ledge in the dirt,  stacking stones,

raking rock, setting slate slabs in uncertain

rain.  Think of the rain, rolling thunderheads,

those women and men, alert to the sky.

What subtle shock struck them like it strikes us

now?  Joy, joy from who knows where, or how?

Words Like Seeds

Anna A. Friedrich

Wait on

he said.

 

I’ve been waiting

for decades. Still, 

he recommended patience.

There are no revolutions, though many

poets say so. There is only

 

restraint and faithful

words. Words like seeds that

promise fruit in time, words that

can plant into the nation’s soul

soil. And he said to be sure

I am ready to become

 

the poem I mean 

to write. Without even 

trying, he said, be the poem,

Anna.

Tie The Knot

Sarah Crowley Chestnut

—For J.

Together at sea for some ten years now.

Tell-tale signs of lives that came before us

flake in the ceiling paint; we wonder how

long it’s been.  It’s been forever, you cuss.

Neglect is a line full of knots mere fuss

will not undo.  Our Lady, undoer

of knots, how must this tangle look to you? 

What dark fear tempts, “drop the line!”  Are we

exempt from the work it takes to guide a ship

home?  Two pairs of hands at work on the snarled

cord we each only half see—the knot, linear

lifeline binding far more than you and me.

Universals

Sarah Crowley Chestnut

—For Jacob

The sun is a fireball this morning—

which, of course, it always is—

but because you are reading about atoms,

how everything is made from them,

and about that primordial explosion that flung

life—or the makings of life—into what we

now know is a space so vast its greatness

keeps pushing it to grow, this light that rises

to preside over the day surprises me

with its throbbing, red-hot glow. 

I see it ride in the grip of some strange bird,

closer, closer, till its fire lifts the smoke

of me to a pitch and I am cauterized,

and clean. 

 

Everyone needs a coal, my son. 

 

Even when we can say what this world is,

we must also answer what it is for.  The contour

of your voice as we wonder together is

somehow atoms, too, and waves. 

 

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it. 

Bless the atoms.  Bless the waves.  Bless

his holy name. 

Originally published in CRUX, a Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College, Summer 2018, Vol.5, No.2.

Victory, Indeed

Anna A. Friedrich

The morning, still dark,

cannot shed light on us

as Dave tells me 

your cancer has spread.

 

Stretched out across

the turquoise couch,

my legs are cold — a few

days’ bristles snag at the

hem of an insufficient robe.

 

I scan the room in 

hopes of a blanket.

He is still talking.

I tuck my legs up under

the weight of my own body

 

and go on searching

his sentences, his pauses

for a promise he cannot

articulate.

Words for Morning

Liz Snell

Before the dawn’s delivery

the mourning dove’s low note

swings beneath a waterfall

of lighter calls. She speaks

no meaning, only liturgy

of sound.

 

In that early garden, man

was blinking in the light

when God said, name the animals.

Adam, still alone, thought

he could title every beast,

not knowing yet the heart’s

small creatures too fleet

for words.

 

Now we name the birds

by thinking of ourselves and not

of any true unhappiness

in those grey wings.

(How peaceful to repeat

a solitary call, leave others

to explain.)

 

I can only name what language

has allowed. Language is naming me.

Language is finisterre, Earth’s edge,

but I have wheeled into

a formless sea and waved

the disappearing shore.

 

Whatever broods here, let it speak

my uncreated words in that old tongue

that buckled mountains, plucked

up valleys, and, though knowing

every battering to come, for this

whole world said only,

it is good.

Conversations with Psalm 119

Sarah Crowley Chestnut

I.

“Blessed are those...who seek him with their whole heart…”

 

 

Because in the end, the heart

cannot be partitioned

into discreet little rooms

 

as if it were divisible

by some unknown

number;        

 

the heart is prime:

and must fledge          whole

 

into the jagged

light.

II.

 

“I have stored up your word in my heart…”

 

Turns out the heart is a warehouse.

Vast. Cavernous.  Barn swallows dart

among the rafters, barrel diagonal lines,

dodge fluorescent pendulum lights.

 

An attic, too.  Guano-littered.  Hot.

The heart is not the ladder, not the trap door

or the bats.  The heart is countless

empty shelves too buried to get at.

 

And a dank basement with uneven floors

where water pools, where the unused

or might-be-used store mildew and rust.

Hard to say what to trust.

 

The heart is a Rubbermaid bin.

When Dad moved Nana up the mountain

he moved bags of trash, draw-string

cinched and stinking.  The heart is a garage,

and days add up.  Even the most

 

savvy collector makes mistakes:

crates of magazines she called “books,”

a storehouse of side-long looks,

all the pebbles and shells she left,

 

also the ones she took.

III.

 

“My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times…”

 

Even the gleam of the brass knobs,

the corn kernels bit and sucked 

cleanly from the cob,

a year of grease scoured from the kettle

till the steel shone

and the unhurried lilt of the first snow,

perfect and drifting, like a poem.

 

Say we walk the shore for miles

because there is an algorithm

to the waves; run grinning into the hoard

of gulls to see them rise in a swell,

lift, roll, curl like steam

and settle again on the white sand,

the ecstatic beach.

IV..

 

“My soul clings to the dust...my soul melts away for sorrow…”

 

And what is dust but the deterioration of all things?  

I cling to grit, drag fingerprints through the accumulated

coat of decomposition and wind.  For I have sinned.  

Having left my name in dust on the bedside table, 

in fogged windows.  Having trailed fingers across dirt-caked 

tailgates. Having failed to raise my darkened pointer as a blaze 

to the sky.  Forgive me, Father. I have tried.  Forgive me, 

most Holy One, this unholy restraint.  Still I am loitering 

on the front lawn of your world.

 

Teach me to stand in the surf which is melted ice, to face

the sinking sun, mercurial waters of the gulf.  Teach me to say,

the sea is drinking the sun, to answer well the boy beside me 

who says with his heart in his head, it would all dry up.

Yes.  Even the sea would turn to dust in one cataclysmic gust.

And would there be time to claw the air, as some do already,

scratching madness as a prayer?  How can a heart grow—all dust

and wax?  Plunge past crust to magma core?  Soar like Icarus

with all the sea’s exhalations to sizzle and spit,

to plummet?  I know the predicament.  Still.  Were it not for dust

these questions and your response, traveling on the waves of things,

would be lost.  So I cling.  I melt.  I must.

V..

 

 “The LORD is my portion…At midnight I rise to praise you…”

 

The magnolia tree is filled

to overflowing, is a most generous

portion of shell-pink bloom;

the driveway, all petal confetti—

 

and it wakes me in the morning

it wakes me in the noon

it wakes me in the evening

and underneath the moon…

 

Two days of sudden warmth

and Spring, patron saint

of pointillists, is perfected.

A robin nests in the dogwood—

 

and she wakes me in the morning

she wakes me in the noon

she wakes in the evening

and underneath the moon…

 

You are the Lord who forever

makes full your own fullness,

the Lord tight as a bud, lavish

as a bloom, the Lord who

 

wakes me in the morning

and wakes me in the noon;

you wake me in the evening

and underneath the moon.

The Poets

Sarah Crowley Chestnut grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California and credits her high school English teachers for her persistent love of poetry.  She studied Christianity and the Arts at Regent College and has found in the lectio divina tradition a way of praying with the Bible that has given rise to many poems.  Sarah works at L’Abri Southborough with her husband, Joshua.  They have two children, Jacob (8) and Lily (3).  

 

Anna A. Friedrich is a new poet. She has loved words and books and song lyrics as far back as memory serves, but has only come into the wonders of writing poetry in her thirties. She has spent her adult life home-educating her two sons, making art with all sorts of materials, and for the past five years, working for L’Abri fellowship alongside her very good husband, Dave.

 

Liz Snell was born and raised in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. She studied writing at the University of Victoria and currently lives and works at the L’Abri community on Vancouver Island.