(December 1999)

Copyright (c) 1999 First Things 98 (December 1999): 6, 8, 16, 24, 30, 36, 44.

Lines Written on My Daughter Faith’s Second Birthday

Why should the aspens shrink from death?
In the clearing after fire
they sift the sunlight through their leaves:
a ripple shield, a spray of shade
for tender shoots of tower pine
in whose grown shadow aspen dies.

Yesterday I caught my daughter
pushing gently at the mirror,
reaching for her self and other,
learning now that at the heart
of things there is divide. Christ,

it was from this I’d hoped to save her,
shelter her until I died
content beneath her tower shade.

In Faith’s green age I climbed the hill
behind the cabin, through the pines,
to sit alone in the fire glade.

The aspens flashed like mirrored panes
and in the breeze the rippled leaves
whispered there of light and dark,
death and love and sacrifice,
the undivided heart that springs
to fill the broken heart of things.

-J. Bottum

Immigrant Carol

This year for Christmas
Home comes to me,
Softly, late in the afternoon,
Drawn by the light of one small candle.
Tidings of joy in my children’s faces
In this my strange country,
My Bethlehem.

-A. Jordan


Days are an opalescent wave, a pink azalea
shining brightly, and green fire
joyful in a roadside bush.
Nights are a passing pale, a crimson tapestry
turned to black, and the door
to an unhappy room.

Days are her angel eyes and amaranthan smile,
and all the planets a diadem
to her golden hair.
Nights are a long loneliness, a jealous wire
drawn tight around my neck,
and a dying heart.

Days are your son in all the glory of his incarnation;
but he dies as the bright day dies
and leaves us alone again.
Nights are your presence which endures deeper
than absolute dark and absolute cold
and sustains our lives forever.

-David A. Gilder

The Tree

The fruit of the branch
of the trunk of the tree
that smells like eternity
breathes its fragrance
into the branch whose sap
drips like red wine
onto the parched sand
where my feet are buried
beneath the shadow of the tree.

The breath of the branch
of the trunk of the tree
that smells like wind
whispers its name in blood
to the cracks in the ground
where my hands lie buried
beneath the shadow of the tree.

The fruit of the branch
of the trunk of the tree
that smells like life
moves into the trunk whose roots
entangle it in the beginning
whose eternal circle of life
bends toward the wasteland
where my side lies buried
beneath the shadow of the tree.

-Julie L. Anderson

Through the Gray

Eliot’s wasteland is gray,
Sandswept clean, rubbing raw bones brilliant,
left to be found by paleontologists who wonder about soils.

Ants will die in the rubble of earthquakes
leaving bowels strewn across the universe,
rotting away even Saturn’s rings.

Somewhere love has slipped the stars together,
elusive and godlike,
drawing bison in blood across cave walls,
chasing antelope and women.

Karakoram tosses on high the black sands of the wasteland,
Faltering, souls and bones.

Gnawing in the sandstorm,
the fingers of God wear thin.
Only the desert thrives, under simmering heat,
boiling gray to black and red to brown and white to ashes.

But somewhere love has dipped the arc of a Monarch in an orange pot,
ambered deep in resin.

The Kush rise.
In anger the wilderness shrivels,
threatening disintegration.

A water drop halts, Christlike,
a pale crock shard lies bleached,
an urn spirits chameleons in the dark.

Somewhere love channels the wind soft through the catacombs,
rolling sand grains, filling Karakum,
leveling crags and mountaintops,
bringing low Gamaliel,
and ragged ends of bone,
curved rib and crooked hip.

Eden begins the wasteland,
pulling shadows in,
while the cross hangs barren.

Another time crashes in upon this one,
and extinction never comes again.

White, cocoon white,

-Kathleen Morelock

Cordelia’s Brother

If nothing else happened after the time
When he said he was happy and I said, "No—
Not like you will be, if you marry one
Like your mother, and raise a son like you"—
When the salt stung my eyes and he held my hand
And I kissed his hand and he cried, rejoicing—
If nothing else happened, like the crazed king
I maintain, that alone would redeem all pains.

-Craig Payne

Treacherous Driving

"It’s as safe as traveling to work."
a cardiologist before performing a transplant

The first night of the blizzard
that stranger inched into Ohio.
Halfway through he skidded
into our snow–spackled lives.
His heart is buried
in my father,
who is buried.

This is the hole
in the stranger, in my father,
in my own cracked
chest, hail cupped in its cavity,
the aorta beginning to freeze.

All winter,
the weather preaches white
lies: fields blank of roads,
a curve straightened,
the even light of sky.

Tonight the breeze is all
icicles, bannerlike
from the clouds. Nothing
is moveable
in this treacherous state.

Our wheels spin,
their rhythm: a breath
that pulls us
then stalls. The law

of the body, of the state,
cannot replace the chain
reaction, jackknifed lives,
hope piling into hope.

The man and his heart,
cold on an icy road,
warmed us for weeks
while winter, a clear blue thing,
wafted light.

-Marjorie Maddox