I 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.
your javelins too near
our window, don’t you care
if in darkness, we splinter
like a bright waterfall,
if we catch fire
from the sparks you send
flying from the grindstone of night?
You have cracked our sky
you have made glass pitchers
of our bodies and poured
our spirits out.
I walk into the rain.
Your thunder will not stop me;
your whips of rain
won’t send me back.
I defy you. Leave us alone
and tell your ugly cousin, war,
to leave our kids alone.
I write for all of us.
With life I write this.
I write with death.
My house is knit to other houses,
living rooms hooked to front yards,
neighborhood to neighborhood,
hooked to that bright creative engine,
to whose rule, before the sun, moon
and stars, we hold out our hands.
Jeanne Murray Walker’s most recent books are Helping the Morning: New and Selected Poetry (Word Farm) and The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s (Hachette). She is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and teaches in the Seattle Pacific University MFA Program. Her website is www.JeanneMurrayWalker.com.
Above image by Benjamen Benson, used with permission under a Creative Commons License.