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Poetry


“Transubstantiation” by Mischa Willett

From Willett’s new collection of poetry, Phases:

Transubstantiation

Bread should be of the sort
commonly eaten, declares the sotto
voce of the Book of Common Prayer,
attendants at the would-be grisly feast, we seated
goers of the fete prepare

our hearts to receive. What that means
for me is ignoring largely the lost and meager
symbol held aloft by this dumb garage
to the vehicle of grace; my own mea
culpa: the inability to transcend the image

of the body before me. That it breaks
cleanly in half, snapped along a prefab crease
is nearly as bad as the milky tinge
the wafers have, as though hadn’t
known wheat, earth, heat,
knead or rise.

We start: cleanse hearts, cleanse thoughts.

Deacons pass stacks of plastic thimbles:
single-serving sanitary shots of purple juice,
and write on our tongues the
difference in cleanliness and the god-
lines it’s next to.

Art of Survival

Cold kitchen floor
Smooth basil leaves
Dog’s rubber tongue
Tree’s hardened skin

Bricks under foot
Grey chalky clouds
Paint sculpted on wood
Her shadow on blue

Steel’s sharpened edge
Soft swollen vein
This very pen
This scribbled painting…

Your hair. Your nape.
My fingers. Your lips.

All these surfaces
That I touch
Fade into stone.

Pastoral – Mischa Willett

A timely one from the gifted poet’s terrific new collection, Phases (reprinted with permission):

Let us not overlook, he says looking out over
us from the lectern like a shepherd
with a crook of words bent on folding
us back into our pen, or penning
us back to our fold, the stupidity
and defenselessness of sheep.
We bleat: in this analogy, who
are we? He proceeds. Goats, you
see, can handle themselves. Horns
and hoofs, cranial helmets they ram
full tilt into posts, or other goats. But sheep
mind you, sheep have no homing device,
which is why stories begin with a lost one;
they’re even known to head toward danger
—oh look, a wolf! Let’s check it out!— in dumb
allegiance to the interesting, which I find
interesting, and think: how to amend
our sheepish ways? But he, to drive
home both the point and oh ye,
sighs it’s beyond you; beyond me. 

Reading the Tidal Pool: Poetry in The Mockingbird Journal – A Conference Breakout Preview

Here is another preview of a breakout session from our upcoming conference in NYC. This one is brought to us by Brad Davis, the poetry editor for The Mockingbird, and the author of Opening King David and Still Working It Out.

At its best, a print journal like The Mockingbird is to human experience as a tidal pool is to the ocean. True, some things cannot fit in a tidal pool that fit easily in a journal, like schooling bunker or mating nurse sharks. And unlike a print journal, an actual tidal pool undergoes a thorough flushing twice a day. But so much of the analogy is appealing. In this breakout session, Brad will read and discuss a selection of poems—April is, after all, National Poetry Month—from the journal’s first eight issues, focusing on those moments in the poems that won us over to them. This breakout (Friday, April 28 at 3:30PM) should appeal to poetry lovers and haters and prove beneficial to writers, too.

Register for the 10th annual Mockingbird conference here!

Perfection, Perfection – Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB

From the acclaimed poet/monk’s 2003 collection Swift, Lord, You Are Not, published when he was 82.

(“I will walk the way of perfection.” Psalm 101:2)

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.
Gone.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
in.

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
joy.

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
birth.

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the
war.

I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
quit.

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David
squints,

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
cracked.

Naming the Impasse: Amos Niven Wilder and the Religious Imagination

Naming the Impasse: Amos Niven Wilder and the Religious Imagination

Over the past eight years or so, Mockingbird contributors have said quite a lot about the works of Thornton Niven Wilder. His contributions to the idea of a theo-poetic approach to the Gospel, i.e., an approach that avoids didacticism by employing literary archetypes to illustrate gospel themes, are well documented on this site. For a couple of examples, read this from Wilder himself, or this from Paul Zahl. Wilder’s Angel that Troubled the Waters is a tour de force in such terms, and it illustrates what this site is usually trying to do: use an oblique approach to get in past the heart’s defenses, because a didactic frontal…

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Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila) by Kaveh Akbar

Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila) by Kaveh Akbar

The following poem evokes AA’s fourth step (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) and the gravity of apologies. This is from Kaveh Akbar’s chapbook/collection, Portrait of the Alcoholic.

Personal Inventory: Fearless (Temporis Fila)

“I know scarcely one feature by which man can be distinguished from apes, if it be not that all the apes have a gap between their fangs and their other teeth.”
– Carolus Linnaeus

A gap, then,
a slot for fare.

I used my arms to learn two,
my fingers to learn ten.

My grandfather kept an atlas so old
there was a blank spot in the middle of Africa.

I knew a girl…

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“Poem Ending with a Sentence from Jacques Maritain” by Christian Wiman

48371f41bb6f5d05f255b10fc9d18d0aThis poem by Christian Wiman was recently published in America Magazine. His newest collection, Hammer is the Prayer (such a cool title), is available now.

It was the flash of black among the yellow billion.

It was the green chink on the chapel’s sphere.

It was some rust or recalcitrance in us

by which we were by the grace of pain more here.

It was you, me, fall and fallen light.

It was that kind of imperfection

through which infinity wounds the finite.

In the Church of All the Answers – Nina Forsythe

We’ve had numerous requests to post this poem on the site, since it first appeared in the Church Issue of The Mockingbird. You can see why:

inthechurchofalltheanswers

 

Don't Make a Movie About Me - Johnny Cash

Don’t Make a Movie About Me – Johnny Cash

From the Man in Black’s brand new collection of found poems.

Christmas 1982

If anybody made a movie out of my life
I wouldn’t like it, but I’d watch it twice
If they halfway tried to do it right
There’d be forty screenwriters workin’ day and nite
They’d need a research team from Uncle Sam
And go from David Allan Coe to Billy Graham
It would run ten days in the final cut
And that would mean leaving out the gossip smut
And I do request for my children’s sake
Don’t ever let ’em do a new re-make
The thing I’m sayin’ is, don’t you see,
Don’t make a movie ’bout me
Even for…

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Three Stanzas of W.H. Auden’s “In Sickness and in Health” (1940)

crc4mugwgaay0pyBeloved, we are always in the wrong,
Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,
Suffering too little or too long,
Too careful even in our selfish loves:
The decorative manias we obey
Die in grimaces round us every day,
Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice
Which utters an absurd command – Rejoice.

Rejoice. What talent for the makeshift thought
A living corpus out of odds and ends?
What pedagogic patience taught
Preoccupied and savage elements
To dance into a segregated charm?
Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm,
And gardened from the wilderness of space
The sensual properties of one dear face?

Rejoice, dear love, in Love’s peremptory word;
All chance, all love, all logic, you and I,
Exist by grace of the Absurd,
And without conscious artifice we die:
O, lest we manufacture in our flesh
The lie of our divinity afresh,
Describe round our chaotic malice now,
The arbitrary circle of a vow.

Making A Cross – Francine Sterle

Of 385 varieties, to make the simplest
all you need are two sticks:
one vertical; the other, horizontal.
Call one time; one, space or
life—death, good—evil, male—female.
You choose. Any polarity will do
as long as the cross-piece cuts across
the one upright. Now, it’s a human form
with arms outstretched. Rub them together.
A couple of sparks, a few more,
a flash of light, a slow increase in heat,
and radiating around you: uncontainable fire.