This is a dark poem, raising a profound question about suffering. Its title, “Tenebrae,” is in fact the Latin word for “darkness”; and its setting is Holy Week, when we follow Jesus’ suffering and death. The poem’s first six lines paint in painful detail the immense suffering of a particular woman known to the poet. But the speaker’s tone is all: he says explicitly to God “I know that the bitterness is for her own good.” The words state pious assent, yet their tone undercuts simple acceptance of suffering as God’s will. The same complex tone carries through lines 7-8, beginning “Thank you, God for your wisdom that widows” (that is, creates widows by the death of their spouses). Then in the final four lines, the speaker begs to be spared God’s will. He’d rather be free from suffering, even if this leaves him ignorant of God’s wisdom. What I treasure about this poem is that it gives voice to my own fears of suffering. And implicitly it poses a stark question that makes us ponder: does God truly will our suffering? If so, what sort of God must this be?
— Peggy Rosenthal
Lord, I know that the bitterness is for her own good.
Through the numbness that has made her quadriplegic,
she has drawn nearer to you, has been purged
as with bloodroot of whatever sins still grieved you.
Her pneumonia has sent her to hospice.
Her descent was rapid. She sleeps her morphine dreams.
Thank you, God, for your wisdom that widows,
for the orphans who continue to praise you.
But Lord, whom I love, close your eyes to me.
Pluck her soul from her tumor-choked body.
But spare me your will and secret knowledge.
Let me continue to live, ignorant and erring.
Anya Krugovoy Silver is the author of three books of poetry, The Ninety-Third Name of God, I Watched You Disappear, and From Nothing(all from Louisiana State). She was named Georgia Author of the Year in poetry for 2015. Recent poems have appeared in Harvard Review, Georgia Review, New Ohio Review, Saint Katherine Review, and Five Points. She teaches at Mercer University.