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Poetry


“O Holy Night” by Gerry LaFemina

The following is a new poem by Gerry LaFemina; he was kind enough to let us post it here. His most recent collection, Little Heretic, is available now; look for his forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash, in early 2018.

O Holy Night

The tiny novitiates of candlelight flicker but remain
devout despite the bedroom’s draft,

the movement of flame a kind of flirtation,
the wicks seeming to wink &

beckon. Tonight was supposed to be
romantic in that way certain movies depict—

how easy to forget the body can be
sacred in its carnal wants. Touch, too. I’ve never been good

at fidelity, so often I’ve been tempted
by my name called in the hushed & lonely dark.

"Night of Atonement" by Gerry LaFemina

“Night of Atonement” by Gerry LaFemina

The following poem comes from Gerry LaFemina’s forthcoming collection, The Story of Ash. His latest collection, Little Heretic, is available here.

Night of Atonement

My trespasses I’m well-acquainted with—
they sit at the bar & share among themselves
ribald stories, while neighbors I don’t recognize

walk in groups from synagogue
agog in their laughter. Forgiveness is theirs
this evening, & how I envy them,

just one more transgression for St. Pete’s ledger.
Here’s another: the young couple, he in his yarmulka,
she in white tights—

the way he looks at her as if
startled she’s beside him, that she laughs at his jokes:
I envy that, too. And another:

I’ve likely had too many
mojitos tonight because it’s…

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Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song)

Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song)

The following comes to us from our friend, Luke Ferraguti:

As an accompanist, I occasionally stumble across a brilliant piece of poetry in vocal music. I recently discovered Louis Spohr’s Six German Songs, composed in 1837. Spohr wrote the poems and composed the music himself. The fifth song of the set, Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song), was particularly heavy-hitting — thanks be to God, our forgiving Confidant.

Das Heimliche Lied (The Secret Song)

There are secret pains
Whose lament is never tongued;
Borne deep in the heart
They are unknown to the world.

There is a secret longing
That always shies from the light;
There are hidden tears
A…

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The Humanity Of God: An Ascension Day Reflection

The Humanity Of God: An Ascension Day Reflection

Commencement season is almost over (there are some college graduations still happening, if you can believe it!). This year I learned of a tradition I didn’t know existed. Apparently a newly elected president’s first commencement address is usually given at Notre Dame. But Donald Trump broke with this convention, recently delivering his first commencement address at Liberty University. In my opinion, it was one of his better public addresses. But he did do one conventional thing in the speech itself: he quoted from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Quotations from this poem are ubiquitous at graduations, along with inevitable misinterpretations.

Here is…

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Magdalene: At the Grave, by Marie Howe

Magdalene: At the Grave, by Marie Howe

… Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom…

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“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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