Poetry Friday: “More Strange”

angelThis poem coaxes me to inhabit a story I’ve heard many times, and makes it astonishingly new, summoning me with the urgency of the second-person perspective and the half-answered question of the title. It’s a poem that asks a lot of its reader—nothing less than to experience a mother’s grief at the loss of her son—and yet offers so much in return, in the short space of five stanzas. Maybe because I am a mother, but certainly because of the poet’s skillful shifting of imagery and energy, I feel the weight of this poem grow heavier with each stanza as it moves further from the flutter of the angel’s wings in the opening line—and inexorably toward the cross. I love the risk and humanness of this poem: how the speaker registers everything that happens through her body, how the final lines so powerfully conflate the bodies of mother and son, speaker and reader.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [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…]

Poetry Friday: “Christmas Morning in a Hotel Room” by Carrie Fountain

Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

FreewayIs there any place more melancholy to spend Christmas morning than a hotel room? A place designed to be no place at all? Yet it’s strangely fitting: the mystery of the Incarnation is that it’s precisely nowhere—on the margin of the world—that a God bursts in. In this poem, a narrator stands at a hotel window on Christmas morning, an figure in isolation, and wills herself to believe that “something important / began or ended precisely” in this no-place, some parking lot by some highway. And it’s her simple belief that even the empty places of the world are filled with meaning—“no doubt,” she thinks—that becomes the miracle of this scene, her belief transforming the commonplace world into one where hope rises in billows, where God arrives like a stranger in an idling car, waiting right outside.

—Tyler McCabe


Christmas Morning in a Hotel Room by Carrie Fountain

Out the window, the parking lot
and beyond that, the highway.

No doubt something important
began or ended precisely there, or

there, in that spot where the ice-white
rental car is idling neatly, clouds [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Annunciation” by Katharine Coles


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Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

Of all Gospel passages, I think the Annunciation is the scene most represented by poets over the centuries. So I’m always amazed when a new poet has the confidence and vision to re-imagine the scene for us afresh. And that’s exactly what Katharine Coles does in “Annunciation.” I’m taken first by her daring doubling in the opening line: “what occurs occurs…” The mirror imaging of the words expands into the mirroring of the angel and the virgin: neither of them, astonishingly, “matters.” The poem then moves into what does matter: images of light, scissors, openings catch my breath as I realize that the Incarnation is what is being figured here. Then, “we” enter the poem; and, disturbingly, we don’t behave in the self-forgetting way that the angel and virgin do. The poem is dotted with particular questions (“Of? Or to?”); yet really the whole poem hangs in the air as a question: where do “we” fit into the Incarnation? Can we even comprehend it as along as “we can’t forget ourselves”?

—Peggy Rosenthal


Annunciation by Katharine Coles
What matters is what occurs occurs
Between them, not to them. It’s only that
The angel doesn’t matter, nor the virgin.
A blade of light scissors the air [Read more…]

Mother of Sorrows: Colm Toibin’s Testament of Mary

Good Letters welcomes back former blogger Jessica Mesman Griffith, author of the new book Love and Salt: A Spiritual Friendship Shared in Letters.

“They appear more often now, both of them, and on every visit they seem more impatient with me and with the world,” begins Colm Toibin’s novella, The Testament of Mary. “There is something hungry and rough in them, a brutality boiling in their blood, which I have seen before and can smell as an animal that is being hunted can smell.”

Mary is describing the apostles who hound her as she hides from a vengeful world; they want her to confirm their Easter stories. But she could also be speaking of the angels—angels who brought her the news of her destiny carrying nails and a crown of thorns. It is this image of Mary the hunted that Toibin pursues from the Annunciation to her death. [Read more…]


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