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Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 97 (November 1999): 14, 27, 33.


for Robin, my daughter

Last spring we planted a small

Japanese maple. So meager and spindly,

its few leaves curving over its pencil-thin

stem like a derelict, half-open umbrella.

We could only imagine this year’s

perfection, the dappled shade it would cast,

there, by the standing stone, its leaves

like little hands unfolding their rich, red

translucency, blessing the Chinese

water bowl half full of rounded beach stones,

its surface dimpled as water pours,

like music, from the bamboo spout.

Luci Shaw

Down Their Luck

Not the syndrome of the child

manifesting later than usual

that bothered parents

rich enough for

any special




on their own

faces and brains

too poor to cope with

an arduous learning process.

For fifteen years a near angel

taught them how hard one

has to work for wings;

then in a flap of

heart she was


T. Kretz

Saint Margaret of Cortona

Nine years she flaunted

her lover on the streets of Montepulciano,

then rode high on his costly stallions,

their illegitimate son cradled against her hips

on that jewel-studded saddle.

On her ripe lips, the town was a sweet fruit,

the woods the dark rind she sucked nightly.

What did she know then of the oak’s alluring and sad embrace,

that ominous fall of autumn in which her cavalier rode off?

Only his dog returned, sniffing out his bloodied master,

murdered and mangled beneath a tree’s dead arms.

She saw assassins everywhere

in God’s bright eyes.

The moon was the howl of vengeance,

and she listened.

With a noose about her neck

and her child in her arms,

she stepped barefooted and weeping

toward the Cortona convent.

Where is the clock of forgiveness

in our sadly mortal bodies,

the thorn that ticks our last minutes

toward an hour of understanding?

For twenty-nine years,

she scrubbed the defiled wounds of the poor,

hugged a hair-shirt of penance to her aging breasts,

punctured her body for the world’s harlotries.

Only then, prostrate and bleeding before a crucifix,

did she begin to see: Christ moving toward her,

his gashed palm raised mercifully in peace.

Marjorie Maddox