Poetry Friday: “Smokers, Sunday Morning, 1975”

Bobby Rogers Poetry FridayThis poem seems at first to be a straight-forward narrative: a childhood recollection of the men who smoked outside of church on Sundays. But the poetic shaping of the narrative adds another dimension. Those very, very long lines, the end of each spilling over grammatically into the next, even between stanzas: this gives the sense of the entire narrative as a single long breath—like the deep inhale and exhale of a drag on a cigarette. And finally, in the closing stanza, a colon. Here, to the child of ten, was what manhood looked like, and the child admires it. Despite the health hazards of smoking that he knew of even then, despite the preacher’s sermons on “the body is a temple,” the child has a certain respect for this image of manhood: its daring, its stoic acceptance of consequences, its self-confidence in not really caring “how long before the sermon started.”

—Peggy Rosenthal


Smokers, Sunday Morning, 1975 by Bobby C. Rogers

Three or four of them congregated outside the sanctuary of the First Baptist
  Church in McKenzie, Tennessee, savoring
the last cigarette before service, voices low and knowing, a slight rasp-edge to their laughter. Cigarettes would kill you—
I was ten years old and could read what it said right on the pack—but ignoring warnings was just another habit
these men couldn’t kick. Once or twice a year the Reverend O.M. Dangeau singled them out, preaching against tobacco

with a spewing disdain he usually reserved for the package liquor ordinance coming up for a vote. “The body is a temple”
was the sermon text, and he hollered his exordium and exposition until his veins bulged. But the smokers were firmly in the grip
of this world and none of them seemed to mind it, a soft pack of Camels soon to be retrieved from the inside pocket
of their Sunday suit, an unfiltered cigarette shaken loose, the clack of their steel lighters becoming a kind of music. They were polite

even when preached at, but they had commitments this side of heaven they aimed to keep. These were not the deacons, never the ones
praying earnestly into the pulpit microphone—they sat the pew next to their wives on Sunday and all through the week drove Towmotor forklifts
or pulled electrical cable, not once clocking in red. A lit cigarette looked like a paper trifle in their work-hardened hands. They exhaled jets
of milky smoke and greeted everyone who greeted them and some who didn’t. Mr. Fowler died of lung cancer, but I’m still not sure

it proved all the preacher said it did. To me, manhood looked just like this: stand up straight and take what you had coming, there
in the shade of the sycamore tree, no need to glance at a wristwatch to figure how long before the sermon started.

 

Bobby C. Rogers is professor of English and writer-in-residence at Union University. His book Paper Anniversary (Pittsburgh) won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize and the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts’ Arlin G. Meyer Prize. His work appears in the Everyman’s Library Poems of the American South.

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Imitating the Saints

Heaven's gatesSt. Therese once wished aloud that her own mother would die. When her mother scolded her, Therese explained that then she could sooner go to heaven.

My children received this anecdote with perverse joy, telling their siblings to jump off a bridge, run out in the street, and let go of the tree branch…that you may sooner see paradise, of course.

Given a choice between heaven and hell, they will gladly choose heaven. But faced with a choice between heaven and earth, they start hedging: Are there Legos in heaven? Who’s going to be there? Is the music any good? Why do they have a gate that keeps all the fun people out?

They’ve already noticed the problem that villains are usually the most interesting character in any novel or movie. It’s far more troubling to envision characters who are not completely wicked, characters who struggle with temptation but don’t succumb.

I tend to love my heroes too much to attribute them with serious flaws. Or I imagine there is a class of unsullied souls, anointed souls who somehow, magically, don’t sin. They may have sinned in the past, but no more. They meet Jesus, they fall off their horse, or maybe they’re just born with an incredible endowment of piety, and sin can’t touch them. A heaven full of such insufferable people really doesn’t sound appealing. [Read more…]

Praying the Rosary

By Laura Bramon

RosaryMy first rosary is invisible: a string of children’s voices ricocheting off the concrete walls of a slum convent, flying up to God and to the cold gray batting of the Altiplano sky. The children’s eyes are chapped with wind and cold, lines feathered like wings in their brown skin. This gives them a mask of wisdom: as if they can see beyond what I see, as if they can see God.

They see His Mother alive in the tiny concrete woman in the outdoor niche, to whom we herd them so they can bark their prayers. Sweet children, whose soft heads smell of moss and cold, whose breath is warm and gluey with the dried milk we feed them. First, we train the sucker feet of their lips to the tipped cups; we place in their hands the round, fleshy little loaves of bread they rip up and eat.

And then we line them up and walk them out into the sunlight to say the rosary in their backwater Spanish. I stand in their midst and stare at a woman I don’t know, her mantel draped like a crenulated shell, the warmth of the children’s bodies like a shuffling tide lapping at my hands and knees. I learn the prayers from the children’s mouths and we shout them out to her. [Read more…]

Love Your Enemies for Lent

American FlagAnother campaign season is upon us with a vengeance. Actually it’s campaign seasons—since the U.S. presidential campaign goes on for over two years. That’s summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer ,and the final (gasp) fall.

As for vengeance, this seems to increase with every four-year cycle. Could there possibly be more vengefulness articulated than we’ve been hearing these past months?

Which brings me to Lent. For years, during every Lent that coincides with a presidential campaign, my Lenten project has been to try to “love my enemies.” Enemies in this case are the politicians whose views and words disgust me. Terrify me. Yet I know that these people are all children of God.

In years past, I’ve failed in this Lenten practice. My self-righteousness and judgmental nature have gotten the better of me. But I’m trying yet again, because I’m convinced that this practice can be good for my soul. Lent is always a fresh opportunity to come closer to God, to become more like the person God wants me to be.

So, can I look at each of the presidential candidates—yes, even Donald Trump—and see a child of God? That’s my current Lenten challenge. [Read more…]

Scoliosis and the Statue of St. Francis

By Christiana N. Peterson

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I get them in the car, and even though we are close to being late, I run back to the door to pick him up and set him aright. Something deeper than sentimentality makes me cry out when I see that his wooden arm is split. Inside, a rod connects his forearm to his elbow. I try to shove it back together but there is no time before I have to go.

My love of Saints started with this garden statue.

I almost missed it while we were cleaning out my grandmother’s house, taking what we could, hoping some of it was useful and could be passed down to our children. I walked by the patio doors and glanced out the glass pane and saw the wooden back of St. Francis. [Read more…]


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