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Finding Loose Change
Swiftly mounted up; the water reached to the mountains.
- Epic of Gilgamesh

You need to know I moved your stuff into my house -
in case you wonder who took

books and bookcases, highboy, footstool, dishes, rugs -
still good stuff, you would say,

still some life left - into the west room whose blue walls
you liked best, the artiste’s room,

you teased, with its chaise longue, oriental rugs
from the church rummage sale.

I filled the wooden trunk with your pictures,
papers, trinkets, letters from me.

Inside my blouse, your silver cross the bishop blessed
at Confirmation, promising to outsmart

the end of the world with a ritual slap to your cheek.
From the face of heaven’s Moon,

you watch Earthrise, Earthset, sea-swept phases
luminous as a thousand moons.

In your dusty Book of Alchemy, a green lion melts
raw sun in his mouth, then spits the ripe seed

of pure gold - your mother’s rings, bracelet.
In the gruff pockets of your jacket -

Harris tweed, one luxury you allowed yourself -
I find loose change - pennies

to buy our passage across the River Jordan.

- Martha M. Vertreace

That the Bones You Have Crushed May Thrill
From a Footnote in Wm. James’ Varieties of Religious Experience

A great Being of Power was traveling through the sky
his foot was on a kind of lightning
as a wheel is on a rail, it was his pathway.

The lightning was made entirely
of the spirits of innumerable people close to one another
and I was one.

He moved in a straight line
and each part of the streak or flash
came into its short conscious existence only that he
might travel

I seemed to be directly under the foot of God
and I thought he was grinding his own life
up out of my pain.

Then I saw
that what he had been trying with all his might to do
was to change his course
to bend the line of lightning to which he was tied
in the direction in which he wanted to go.

I felt my flexibility, and helplessness
and knew that he would succeed.
He bended me
turning his corner by means of my hurt
hurting me more than I had ever been hurt
in my life, and at the acutest point of this
as he passed, I saw.

I understood for a moment things
I have now forgotten
things that no one could remember
while retaining sanity.

The angle was an obtuse angle, and I remember
as I woke, that had he made it an acute or right angle
I should have both suffered and ‘seen’ still more
and probably should have died.

- Judith Robbins
Whitefield, Maine

News of a Favorite Student’s Death

The dwarfed magnolia by the curving path
That crosses the campus lawn was a favorite
Of his, lover of trees and learning.
The spring he took his honors, and was gone,
We stood beside it talking of what might come
To pass for him in other springs, elsewhere.
For several of them, he returned, sharing
His even newer honors and the love he found
With someone like himself, another bookish
Lover of trees. Their bond confounded
Town and family - something wrong there
With both of them, only to be righted
By their rightfully prolonged dying, his
And his, failing to respond to all the newest
Experimental drugs. And now the letter,
Scrolled in my hand like tight magnolia
Buds never to flower, frozen after too warm
A fall. In the barred top floor of Science
Hall, lights have shone out over early dark,
And I turn my eyes away from where the laboratory
Animals wait in their cages to be experimented on.

- Nancy G. Westerfield
Kearney, Neb.

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1999 in POETRY

Poems should be limited to about 50 lines and preferably typed. Please send poems to NCR POETRY, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City MO 64111-1203. Or via e-mail to poetry@natcath.org or fax (816) 968-2280. Please include your street address, city, state, zip and daytime telephone number. NCR offers a small payment for poems we publish, so please include your Social Security number.

National Catholic Reporter, March 31, 2000