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Poetry


The Altar – George Herbert

A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart and cemented with tears;
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman’s tool hath touch’d the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow’r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame
To praise thy name.
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine,
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.

Lord, I Was Faithless – Mary Karr

Another wonderful poem from Mary Karr’s newest collection Tropic of Squalor:

Lord, I Was Faithless

I murdered you early, Father
My disbelief was an ice pick plunged
In mine own third eye

Like damned Oedipus
Whose sight could not stand
What his hand had done

And I—whose chief grumble
Was my kidhood (whose torments
Did fill many profitable volumes)

Refused your pedigree
I revised myself into a bastard
Orphan rather than serve

Like a poppet at your caprice
One among many numbered
To live size extra small

Whole years I lost in the kingdom
Of mine own skull
With my scepter the remote

I sat enthroned in a La-Z-Boy
Watching dramas I controlled
Only the volume on

I was a poor death’s head then
In my hook-rug empire
With snowflakes of paper

My favorite button is power

Negative Grace: Eliot's Dark Gospel

Negative Grace: Eliot’s Dark Gospel

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre, The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness, And we know that the hills and […]

The Like Button – Mary Karr

From Tropic of Squalor, the latest collection of poems by former Mockingbird conference speaker Mary Karr.

The Like Button

Back in the before time
those days of amber
desire was an inner
and often ugly thing.
And if we wanted,
my brothers and hungry
sisters, we were oft flung
far from each other. Think
tin-cans-and-string far,
plum-colored-smoke-signal
far. No web wove the pinpoints
of ourselves into a map. No
upward thumb could be pressed
to say yes or its detractor: no.
Soon, we may each evolve
a glow button maybe mid brow,
so as we pass each other we can vote
praise or scorn to light up yay
or nay on a passing stranger’s face
a thumb. At first the young celebs
with asses you can serve drinks off
will rack up zillions of votes
till we tire of such bodacious butts,
and then the smart, the brave,
the strong will take their turns,
but what if we start to like,
say, the stout, the schlubby
neighbor raking leaves or that
subway sleeper who’s woven
yellow crime scene tape into
a jock strap—Police Line: Do
Not Cross—till all the undeodorized,
the unloved all their lives, start to feel
their foreheads blip
and blip as it becomes hip
to love the oddest, the most
perilously lonely. Imagine
the forever dispossessed
transforming as they feel the thumb
of yes impress itself
into the very flesh.

"The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph: Our Patron of Falling Short, Who Became a Prayer," by Denis Johnson

“The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph: Our Patron of Falling Short, Who Became a Prayer,” by Denis Johnson

The Confession of St. Jim-Ralph BY DENIS JOHNSON OUR PATRON OF FALLING SHORT, WHO BECAME A PRAYER I used to sneak into the movies without paying. I watched the stories but I failed to see the dark. I went to college and drank everything they gave me, and I never paid for any of that water on which I drifted as […]

Art for God’s Sake (and Mine): A Conference Breakout Preview

Here’s another preview for one of our NYC conference breakout sessions. This one is from Mischa Willett, author of the poetry collection Phases. 

When I exceed the reach of the FM signal, driving in some part of the country, and the stations fade out and switch, I scan quickly for a new set. And I can always tell when I’ve passed a Christian music station, not because of the lyrics, or because of a lack of appeals for someone named “baby” to alter a current course of action, but because of the sound, somehow. I don’t think the sound is worse, particularly—I love CCM in fact—but it is distinctive. What am I hearing? A brightness? A cleanliness of production? A forwarding of the vocal track? 

That’s what reading a lot of literature by people of faith has been like for me. Apart from a few examples, I find it, I don’t know, wholesome in a way that’s grating. Maybe the earnestness bothers me. In my poems, I wanted to get away from all that, while still very much attending to first things. 

In this breakout session, I’ll be reading poems from my book Phases, which has recently been called “alive with the strenuous Christianity that makes Donne and Hopkins such a pleasure to read, even in these post-Christian times.” 

What is strenuous Christianity? How do we get our literature to be alive with it? This session is best for people who want to think about what a Christian vision of the arts might look like. 

You can read more about Phases here, and check out some of Mischa’s poems, which we’ve posted here. For more, join us at Calvary St. George’s church in NYC on April 27th, at 3:00pm. 

Click here to register for the 11th annual Mockingbird conference! We hope to see you there!

Song for Picking Up–Tony Hoagland

Every time that something falls
someone is consigned to pick it up.

Every time it drops or rolls into a crack,
blows out the window of the car

or down onto the dirty restaurant floor
—a plastic bag, a paper clip, a cube of cheese from the buffet—

and there somebody goes, down upon their hands and knees.
What age are you when you learn that?

After Dante finished the Inferno, someone
cleaned up all the ink and crumpled paper.

After the surgeons are done with the operating room,
someone makes it spic and span again.

After World War One, the Super Bowl,
a night at the opera.

After the marching feet of all humanity
come the brooms and mops, the garbage men

and moms, the janitors.
One day you notice them.

After that, you understand.
After that, then, no more easy litter.

No more towels
upon the hotel bathroom floor. You bend over

for even tiny bits of paper;
or bitterly, you look back at your life—like Cain,

upon the body of his brother.

The Precision of Pain and the Blurriness of Joy

This poem comes from the recent anthology Joy: 100 Poems, edited by Christian Wiman.

Anne Lamott and What Dies (and Grows) in the Creative Struggle

Anne Lamott and What Dies (and Grows) in the Creative Struggle

If you write, you’ve probably read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She is the shy, neurotic, wise, funny, dread-locked, recovering alcoholic, who is a font of sanity and encouragement for many of us engaged in the compulsion of writing. Anne grew up in a family of atheists, but came to faith and got sober — […]

In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer

In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer

This poem was originally published in the Food & Drink issue of The Mockingbird. In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split by Joy Roulier Sawyer In the Year of our Lord of the Church Split, we stopped phoning Donna for her recipe for sugared baked beans; forgot Lorraine crocheted the soft blue […]

Richard Wilbur – Ecclesiastes 11:1

R.I.P. to the man Alan Jacobs said is “the best American poet since WW2.” Stay tuned for a fuller in memoriam…

We must cast our bread
Upon the waters, as the
Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us
After many a day.

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice farming on the
River’s flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it’s no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

My Neighbor's Mailbox - Robert Cording

My Neighbor’s Mailbox – Robert Cording

One of the three gems we got from him in this Love & Death Issue. My Neighbor’s Mailbox is the usual silver color, oversized Wonder Bread shape on which he’s stenciled “Welcome Family and Friends.” My neighbor and I are friendly. I appreciate the way he’s often tuning up an engine or working around his […]