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if edith stein was black

would she have tried to pass for white on the way to the camp
or when she looked at the others whose faces were
darker than hers, whose eyes had less clarity or more
nightmares, whose backs had far more scars
would she have claimed who she was only when there was no hope of being anything else
would then she have claimed them when she knew she was them, in shame for what she tried to erase
by another name, another skin, another god

if edith was black
would she have discovered on her own
she could die proud because she finally was
the persecutor and the persecuted
the killer and the killed

would she have chosen her sainthood, or her title.
or would she have taken david’s star and wrapped it in a shroud with her crucifix
to sing to the dark with the others
freedom. freedom.

-- Mikele Rauch
Waban, Mass.

Carmela’s Church

Memory is the acolyte
who ignites the stained glass house,
who fills time’s fragments with color;
who laces them together with soft lead veins
and binds their joints with blood’s orange heat.

My cousin presents the crystal chalice,
her capable hands holding what, until now,
no laywoman’s hands could hold.
Quietly, she offers wine to each communicant
saying, this is Christ . . . this is so.

As I approach her, sunlight lands
on the sacred liquid,
cracks off a ruby splinter.
The prismatic thread holds us
for a moment
as Carmela would have liked us to remain:
daughters of the temple -- vestal, obedient,

Standing in that vaulted womb of light,
we pay homage to her
and to the Church she defended.
Left behind to contemplate her love,
we know we will return next year
to sing with the choir
and watch candle smoke rise
to kiss the golden-eyed saints.

-- Joan Rizzo
Medina, Ohio


When summer has been stored away
and frost has nipped the leaves
When balmy winds calm down and die
before the final freeze.
When birds have flown, time-tabled south,
when fields sleep in the sun
And hide the quail that soon will fly
across the hunter’s gun.

The sky’s an azure bowl of light
that tips her magic down
And shines through every golden leaf
before it’s blown and brown.
In glory stands the maple tree,
transfigured on a hill.
I stand and glory in it all
and do not feel the chill.

-- Sr. Martha Wickham, ASC
Red Bud, Ill.

Must You Mumble?

Now, how about a straight word:
Speak, Lord, your servant listens.

No more Ezekiel prophecies,
Wheels within wheels.

It is not enough to drag
The hem of your garment

In the sand of Miami’s beach
So I can read its scratchings.

Though I am a Minnesota groundling,
I do not need the clarity

of Greek necessity. But no more
Shadows on the cavern walls.

You are always turning off the lights,
Blowing out the single candle.

Please, no more muttering
In your beer, like some dark Luther,

Caught between the impossibilities
Of law and the freedom of the Gospel.

I just need some stay
Against the comic dust.

As I drag the bag of my illusions
Along the street of my impertinence.

Try a little logic on the universe.
Steady, please, Oh God of iron whim.

I ask no Mount Sinais, no Tabors,
No cloud by day, no fire by night,

Just one unambiguous touch
lasting one beat of my heart.

-- Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB
Collegeville, Minn.

On Giving Up

I gave up negative remarks for Lent,
It took the whole first week
for me to grasp
this single imperfection.
But then it came,
served up on its little platter
neat as an omelet: NO VIA NEGATIVA

Indeed, it sobers me
to hear myself complain:
I rise to praise all sun and water
flowing over rock, seek out wines
to go with pasta. And wit --
I’ll never have enough of wit,
it radiates good vibes.

And yet, re: sober thoughts:
what’s wrong with no, not, isn’t,
never will: They have their truth:
God said, I AM, but
so am I,
and I’m not God. Nor,
as far as I can see,
is any other name now known:

God IS but thrives on being ISN’T,
and in just such terrifying,
nonaffirming ways as ours,
who probe the dark, then stumble,
then cry out in heaps of helplessness.

I ponder thus on Thursday of Week Six.

-- Sr. Mary Virginia Micka, CSJ
St. Paul, Minn.

the fragrance of lilac

the lilac bush
leans against
the barn door
almost unnoticed now,
past its moment in the sun,
the pyramids of purple curls
faded, weepy, spotted with rust;
now peonies await applause,
roses waiting in the wings,

yet its fragrance
denies the present,
does not linger
gently in reminiscence
of glory days in May,
it rides strong on the wind,
assaults me, stops me
in my tracks
with an elegance so sharp,
so piercingly sweet,
it cuts my breath
in half

what alchemy connives
to outwit age
in this gone-by bush?
what churns in the bowels
of roots, up the highway
of veins, out the flowering pores,
to paralyze so sweetly
with perfume the white-coated
chemists struggle to imitate
in laboratory beakers?

as with other
ever within grasp --
children, hummingbirds,
the complexity of cabbage heads
and cats’ minds --
the fragrance of lilac
is a mystery of the ordinary,
a sacramental leading
to deeper mystery

-- Ethel Pochocki
Brooks, Maine

1999 in POETRY

2000 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, January 5, 2001