“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This beatitude has always puzzled me: what, I’ve wondered, does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? So I was drawn to Fleda Brown’s poem “Poverty of Spirit,” hoping it would elucidate the concept. What I found was a fascinating narrative: of the speaker letting a wagonload of gypsies take everything—everything—that was stashed in her garage. For the speaker, this is an act of purging of sorts, a purgation that reminds her of her mortality. As she ponders whether this is true “poverty of spirit,” she uneasily recalls that among the items she passed on to the gypsies were old cans of paint “with dangerous, leachable / lead.” To whom might this lead do harm? The speaker’s poverty of spirit doesn’t feel so pure to her now. I admire the poem for ending with this quandary, with an emptiness, a poverty, that feels more a nothingness than a spiritual good.
—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]