Poetry Friday: “Sister Storm”

Lightning storm over dark neighborhoodI love the drama of this poem. Its title recalls St. Francis’s “Canticle of Brother Sun,” where Francis praises God through “Sister Moon,” “Brother Fire,” “Sister Water,” and so on. Jeanne Murray Walker’s Sister Storm, however, is violent and destructive—definitely not, in the poet’s view, an element through which to praise God. The poet talks back bravely to the lightening storm that is raging: “I defy you. Leave us alone / and tell your ugly cousin, war, / to leave our kids alone.” Then, in the poem’s final sentence of five lines, comes the powerfully constructive image with which the poet defies the storm: an image connecting people to one another and to the cosmos. The image is of the humble craft of knitting, which is made of interconnected loops “hooked” together. Walker envisions first her own house “knit to other houses”; then whole neighborhoods hooked together; then the entire human community “hooked to that bright creative engine, / to whose rule, before the sun, moon / and stars, we hold  out our hands.” I hear an echo here of the final line of Dante’s Divine Comedy: to that “love that moves the sun and the other stars.” This cosmic, divine love, in Walker’s vision, knits us all together in a creative work that overpowers the forces of destructiveness and death.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Dispatch from Detroit

fenceWe are living in a world that is absolutely transparent,
and God is shining through it all the time…
—Thomas Merton

There were young men out in the streets of Hamtramck blowing things up last night. God knows what they’d gotten their hands on. Could have been small sticks of dynamite for the blast it sounded, bouncing down Mitchell Street and then ricocheting along the concrete and the bricks of Joseph Campau Street.

The blast silenced the sound of the late evening birds. The birds stopped, waiting to know more. And then, after a few seconds of tense, blessed silence—a silence of the hovering kind that settles upon the earth when a big noise has shaken all the living things—after that brief period of intense silence and waiting, a couple of birds started up again with the squawking and the tittering and a small, though desperately insistent peeping.

And then I exhaled. And she did too. As if all of us are just taking our cues from the birds. [Read more…]

Fifty Shores of Grief

I write this the evening of June 12, 2016, the day forty-nine people died in the worst mass public shooting in recent US history.

A few hours before hundreds of people faced unspeakable terror, my husband and I finished the first season of Justified, a series about Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a U.S. Marshal who returns to his hometown of Harlan, KY, to help root out the bad guys. Sure, he gets a little trigger happy at times, but he feels “justified” in his attacks. The audience usually agrees.

I like the show. It’s entertaining and witty, and Olyphant sulks adorably under his cowboy hat.

The Season 1 finale, appropriately called “Bulletville,” reaches a body count of at least a dozen, including one man, Johnny, shot by super bad guy Bo in a sudden act of revenge. He flips back over the porch railing and lies in the shrubbery, stunned, clutching his stomach as he bleeds out the rest of his short life. [Read more…]

Bullets in My House

Eyes II (2)By Paul Luikart

Last Wednesday I settled down on the couch to do something I’d been meaning to do for months: Watch True Detective. My kids were asleep. My wife was asleep. I was all set to binge watch until my eyes bled.

Season one, episode one cued up on my laptop. Play. Woody Harrelson in a suit. A naked dead woman tied up in a field, deer antlers stuck to her skull. Stringy-haired Matthew McConaughey lighting a cig in the interrogation room.

How can I say what happened next without sounding fake? Our house was shot. Hit by bullets. The noise of gunfire was suddenly present, live, loud, in my living room. Instinctively I rolled off the couch onto the floor and nearly crushed my computer. My wife appeared from the hall. [Read more…]

Charlie Hebdo and the Inner Soul of Humor

16246547072_48798fd8a5_m (1)My friend Justin Smith recently wrote a piece for Harper’s Magazine. Justin is a brilliant guy, a philosopher and historian of ideas who also happens to write well and think clearly. Those things do not come together all that often. He’s been teaching for the last couple of years in Paris, at Université Paris Diderot-Paris VII.

This put him at Ground Zero, more or less, on January seventh of this year when the Kouachi brothers entered the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire. [Read more…]