The Moor

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions – that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

–R. S. Thomas, Collected Poems: R. S. Thomas


* bring us to dark knots the black
eyes along white aspen skin to scrape
with a rock on surface where I press
I carve the initials of all and  **
***  bring us to a returning    no
an urning a vessel of corpse
ash in the active state of being
held by two hands positioned
gripping the sides to tip
and scatter my night dream
of an acquaintance who
presented me a ledger opened
to a page handwritten in pencil
dates names and meetings  ****
*****  I said I don’t want to
see it I don’t want to know
if my father betrayed me
as the words left
my dream mouth I woke I shook
to the bone a hot line notched
from heart to elbow throbbing
vein-ache in my body how
I’d replaced another man’s name
-a man I once loved I mean to say-
with the word father in a flash
the sleeping eye ripped me
from denial I’m not so complex
see my mind unclothed
is a crying newborn
aspen leaves in untimed
wind-filled rhythm my mother
turned eighty what at that age is left
to surprise though
the tone here shifts to listen
she said I don’t know if I ever said
when I was pregnant with you
I found out he’d cheated
I threw  ******  into the yard
I locked him out
pregnant with you I cried
and I cried so long and hard
I thought I was going to
die yes she said it a heavy bass line
beneath aspen music and timbre
I sit on the patio to smoke I think
at night always at night maybe
’cause I was born / at night or
my name means night God bless
my mother she believed
my name meant pure
spirit so it may be the darkest
hours are when I’m purest
when I am I                   I am fluid
a clear stream over rock or
as poetry goes   ********
I think about a baby in utero I can’t help
but wonder what the baby knows
a study says babies and toddlers
through impression not specifics
I rummage the syllables and stress
of each line in  *********
impression is a mark
on the surface
caused by pressure or
a quick undetailed sketch or
the imitation
of someone / I
carried her nine months
beneath my own skin her small toes
relaxed her eyes shut
within me her fingertips
pressed into palms she made
a fist
or was it
a symbol
for the Sun what rising
what of battle my child knows
scares me to the pure
the one I      I burn in question

*                          may all the grief
**                        may all
***                      the loss
****                    all your misdeeds
*****                  love of my soul
******                all his things
*******              spit in a cup
********            night is a womb
*********          the definition

 –Layli Long Soldier

2017 Reading List

Books read and rated (1-5 stars) in roughly the order I read them:

  1. Being Consumed, William Cavanaugh****
  2. The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day******
  3. The Apprentice, Jacques Pepin*****
  4. Scripture, Culture, & Agriculture, Ellen Davis***
  5. 1984, George Orwell***
  6. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce***
  7. Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry*****
  8. The Promise of His Appearing: An Exposition of  II Peter, Peter Leithart**
  9. The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer**
  10. The Reckless Way of Love, Dorothy Day***
  11. November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Five, Wendell Berry, illus. Ben Shahn***
  12. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe**
  13. A Wizard of Earthsea: Book One of the Earthsea Cycle, Ursula Le Guin****
  14. The Tombs of Atuan: Book Two of the Earthsea Cycle, Ursula LeGuin****
  15. The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry****
  16. The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon*****
  17. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame****
  18. A Pocketful of Poems: Vintage Verse, David Madden****
  19. From Brokenness to Community, Jean Vanier***
  20. The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, T.S. Elliot, illus. Edward Gorey****
  21. Poetry for Young People, William Carlos Williams, illus. Robert Crockett***
  22. The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry*****
  23. The Practice of the Presence, Brother Lawrence**
  24. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain***
  25. The Trouble with Poetry, Billy Collins***
  26. Early Poems, William Carlos Williams****
  27. Strong is Your Hold, Galway Kinnell*****
  28. Let Justice Roll Down, John M. Perkins****
  29. A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver**
  30. The Rebirth of Nature: The Greening of Science and God, Rupert Sheldrake****
  31. Pictures from Brueghel, William Carlos Williams***
  32. Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Glück***
  33. The Book of Nightmares, Galway Kinnell***
  34. The Niagara River, Kay Ryan***
  35. Poems, Emily Dickinson***
  36. The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, Langston Hughes, illus. Brian Pinkney****
  37. Broken Cup: Poems, Margaret Gibson****
  38. Personalism, Emmanuel Mounier**
  39. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard*****
  40. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte****
  41. Burn Lake, Carrie Fountain****
  42. Nathan Coulter, Wendell Berry*****
  43. Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke**
  44. The Wild Iris, Louise Glück***
  45. Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor****
  46. Phantastes, George MacDonald****
  47. Passionate Declarations, Howard Zinn***
  48. The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry****
  49. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin*****
  50. The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse*****
  51. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates*****
  52. The Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler*****
  53. Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Annie Dillard, Thomas Merton, et al.***
  54. Advent for Everyone, N.T. Wright***

Books started but not finished (yet):

  1. The Farthest Shore, Book Three of the Earthsea Cycle, Ursula Le Guin
  2. Devotional Classics, ed. Richard Foster & James Smith
  3. A Celebration of Faith, Austin Farrer
  4. Near Unto God, Abraham Kuyper
  5. The Plague, Albert Camus
  6. The Divine Comedy: 1 Hell, Dante Alighieri, Dorothy Sayers (translator)
  7. The Mabinogion, Sioned Davies (translator)
  8. Wise Words: Family Stories That Bring the Proverbs to Life, Peter Leithart
  9. Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II)
  10. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, Samin Nosrat

Everything Came Into Motion

Our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary, of the seed of David and yet of the Holy Spirit, according to God’s plan of salvation. He was born and baptized so that through his suffering he would purify the water.…From that time on every evil spell was exposed, all bonds of evil vanished, and ignorance was removed. The ancient kingdom was shattered. God revealed himself in human form to bring the newness of eternal life! Now began that which had been prepared by God. From now on everything came into motion, from now on the destruction of death was taken in hand.

–St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians,  before 120 A.D.

Taking My Flesh, He Gives Me His Spirit

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so he bestowing, and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side – a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels.

–St. John Chrysostom

Christ’s Nativity

Awake, glad heart! get up and sing!
It is the birth-day of thy King.
Awake! awake!
The Sun doth shake
Light from his locks, and all the way
Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.

Awake, awake! hark how th’ wood rings;
Winds whisper, and the busy springs
A concert make;
Awake! awake!
Man is their high-priest, and should rise
To offer up the sacrifice.

I would I were some bird, or star,
Flutt’ring in woods, or lifted far
Above this inn
And road of sin!
Then either star or bird should be
Shining or singing still to thee.

I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for thee! or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene;
Yet, if thou wilt, thou canst make clean.

Sweet Jesu! will then. Let no more
This leper haunt and soil thy door!
Cure him, ease him,
O release him!
And let once more, by mystic birth,
The Lord of life be born in earth.

Henry Vaughan

The Three Kings

Three Kings came riding from far away,
Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar;
Three Wise Men out of the East were they,
And they travelled by night and they slept by day,
For their guide was a beautiful, wonderful star.

The star was so beautiful, large and clear,
That all the other stars of the sky
Became a white mist in the atmosphere,
And by this they knew that the coming was near
Of the Prince foretold in the prophecy.

Three caskets they bore on their saddle-bows,
Three caskets of gold with golden keys;
Their robes were of crimson silk with rows
Of bells and pomegranates and furbelows,
Their turbans like blossoming almond-trees.

And so the Three Kings rode into the West,
Through the dusk of the night, over hill and dell,
And sometimes they nodded with beard on breast,
And sometimes talked, as they paused to rest,
With the people they met at some wayside well.

“Of the child that is born,” said Baltasar,
“Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen his star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews.”

And the people answered, “You ask in vain;
We know of no King but Herod the Great!”
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain,
Like riders in haste, who cannot wait.

And when they came to Jerusalem,
Herod the Great, who had heard this thing,
Sent for the Wise Men and questioned them;
And said, “Go down unto Bethlehem,
And bring me tidings of this new king.”

So they rode away; and the star stood still,
The only one in the grey of morn;
Yes, it stopped—it stood still of its own free will,
Right over Bethlehem on the hill,
The city of David, where Christ was born.

And the Three Kings rode through the gate and the guard,
Through the silent street, till their horses turned
And neighed as they entered the great inn-yard;
But the windows were closed, and the doors were barred,
And only a light in the stable burned.

And cradled there in the scented hay,
In the air made sweet by the breath of kine,
The little child in the manger lay,
The child, that would be king one day
Of a kingdom not human, but divine.

His mother Mary of Nazareth
Sat watching beside his place of rest,
Watching the even flow of his breath,
For the joy of life and the terror of death
Were mingled together in her breast.

They laid their offerings at his feet:
The gold was their tribute to a King,
The frankincense, with its odor sweet,
Was for the Priest, the Paraclete,
The myrrh for the body’s burying.

And the mother wondered and bowed her head,
And sat as still as a statue of stone,
Her heart was troubled yet comforted,
Remembering what the Angel had said
Of an endless reign and of David’s throne.

Then the Kings rode out of the city gate,
With a clatter of hoofs in proud array;
But they went not back to Herod the Great,
For they knew his malice and feared his hate,
And returned to their homes by another way.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow