Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 98 (December 1999): 6, 8, 16, 24, 30, 36, 44.


Lines Written on My Daughter Faith’s Second Birthday


Why should the aspens shrink from death?

In the clearing after fire

they sift the sunlight through their leaves:

a ripple shield, a spray of shade

for tender shoots of tower pine

in whose grown shadow aspen dies. Yesterday I caught my daughter

pushing gently at the mirror,

reaching for her self and other,

learning now that at the heart

of things there is divide. Christ, it was from this I’d hoped to save her,

shelter her until I died

content beneath her tower shade. In Faith’s green age I climbed the hill

behind the cabin, through the pines,

to sit alone in the fire glade. The aspens flashed like mirrored panes

and in the breeze the rippled leaves

whispered there of light and dark,

death and love and sacrifice,

the undivided heart that springs

to fill the broken heart of things.

-J. Bottum



Immigrant Carol


This year for Christmas

Home comes to me,

Softly, late in the afternoon,

Drawn by the light of one small candle.

Tidings of joy in my children’s faces

In this my strange country,

My Bethlehem.


-A. Jordan



Days


Days are an opalescent wave, a pink azalea

shining brightly, and green fire

joyful in a roadside bush.

Nights are a passing pale, a crimson tapestry

turned to black, and the door

to an unhappy room.


Days are her angel eyes and amaranthan smile,

and all the planets a diadem

to her golden hair.

Nights are a long loneliness, a jealous wire

drawn tight around my neck,

and a dying heart.


Days are your son in all the glory of his incarnation;

but he dies as the bright day dies

and leaves us alone again.

Nights are your presence which endures deeper

than absolute dark and absolute cold

and sustains our lives forever.


-David A. Gilder



The Tree


The fruit of the branch

of the trunk of the tree

that smells like eternity

breathes its fragrance

into the branch whose sap

drips like red wine

onto the parched sand

where my feet are buried

beneath the shadow of the tree.


The breath of the branch

of the trunk of the tree

that smells like wind

whispers its name in blood

to the cracks in the ground

where my hands lie buried

beneath the shadow of the tree.


The fruit of the branch

of the trunk of the tree

that smells like life

moves into the trunk whose roots

entangle it in the beginning

whose eternal circle of life

bends toward the wasteland

where my side lies buried

beneath the shadow of the tree.


-Julie L. Anderson



Through the Gray


Eliot’s wasteland is gray,

Sandswept clean, rubbing raw bones brilliant,

left to be found by paleontologists who wonder about soils.


Ants will die in the rubble of earthquakes

leaving bowels strewn across the universe,

rotting away even Saturn’s rings.


Somewhere love has slipped the stars together,

elusive and godlike,

drawing bison in blood across cave walls,

chasing antelope and women.


Karakoram tosses on high the black sands of the wasteland,

Faltering, souls and bones.


Gnawing in the sandstorm,

the fingers of God wear thin.

Only the desert thrives, under simmering heat,

boiling gray to black and red to brown and white to ashes.


But somewhere love has dipped the arc of a Monarch in an orange pot,

ambered deep in resin.


The Kush rise.

In anger the wilderness shrivels,

threatening disintegration.


A water drop halts, Christlike,

a pale crock shard lies bleached,

an urn spirits chameleons in the dark.


Somewhere love channels the wind soft through the catacombs,

rolling sand grains, filling Karakum,

leveling crags and mountaintops,

bringing low Gamaliel,

and ragged ends of bone,

curved rib and crooked hip.


Eden begins the wasteland,

pulling shadows in,

while the cross hangs barren.


Another time crashes in upon this one,

and extinction never comes again.


White, cocoon white,

Sand.

Dawn.

Resurrection.


-Kathleen Morelock



Cordelia’s Brother


If nothing else happened after the time

When he said he was happy and I said, “No”

Not like you will be, if you marry one

Like your mother, and raise a son like you””

When the salt stung my eyes and he held my hand

And I kissed his hand and he cried, rejoicing”

If nothing else happened, like the crazed king

I maintain, that alone would redeem all pains.


-Craig Payne



Treacherous Driving


“It’s as safe as traveling to work.”

a cardiologist before performing a transplant


The first night of the blizzard

that stranger inched into Ohio.

Halfway through he skidded

into our snow“spackled lives.

His heart is buried

in my father,

who is buried.


This is the hole

in the stranger, in my father,

in my own cracked

chest, hail cupped in its cavity,

the aorta beginning to freeze.


All winter,

the weather preaches white

lies: fields blank of roads,

a curve straightened,

the even light of sky.


Tonight the breeze is all

icicles, bannerlike

from the clouds. Nothing

is moveable

in this treacherous state.


Our wheels spin,

their rhythm: a breath

that pulls us

then stalls. The law


of the body, of the state,

cannot replace the chain

reaction, jackknifed lives,

hope piling into hope.


The man and his heart,

cold on an icy road,

warmed us for weeks

while winter, a clear blue thing,

wafted light.


-Marjorie Maddox