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(inspired by Nick Britsky’s crucifix sculpture in St. Patrick’s Church, Urbana, Ill.)

Christ is held up by thin wires.
They glimmer in the light,
vibrate when the organ plays
loud bass notes. But the light
often is turned off after
the end of Mass. Christ
floats unsupported quite far
above the empty pews.

Bones of steel inside his arms
will hold them open, out-
stretched to bless, to fly. His hands
are calm, yet strong, without
guile -- creating even when
at rest -- they elicit
faith ... a faith that weakens sin:
wire-strong, rising, good news.

-- The Rev. Steven Shoemaker
Champaign, Ill.

Perfection, Perfection

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here.

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can’t be won, concedes the

I’ve handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of
Michelangelo’s radiant David,

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is

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

Hummingbird Feeder

Early Sunday morning
standing at the sink
washing the bottle
while a new batch of syrup
boiled on the stove,
I looked up and saw
a ruby-throated hummingbird.

Seeking breakfast,
he whizzed frantically around,
sure a feeder had been there.
He flew away, came back,
poked a needle thin beak
into the corn and seed
other birds eat,
then (or did I imagine it?)
looked murderously at me
through the kitchen window.

Suddenly that quiet Sunday,
the Solemnity of the Body
and Blood of Christ,
I thought I understood
what God must have felt,
realizing His arrangements to feed
would seriously incommodate everybody.

-- Bonnie Thurston
Wheeling, W.Va.

The Holy Water From Knock

I fill the bottle
not yet empty
of Irish blessing
with water
from the tap,

unchurched, bubbling
wellspring water
that plunges madly,
yearningly, into union
with the dregs
of holiness

(I blot the overflow
with my fingers,
apply it quickly
to forehead and knees
and whatever body parts
I can reach before
power evaporates)

who’s to say
the infusion’s profane,
the sanctity diminished?
consider the tale
of the magic pitcher
rewarding kindness
with drink that has no end,
the water of the wedding feast
replenished into wine,
the slip of Eucharist
rooting in the heart

isn’t this how
sourdough works,
its effervescence
leavening the sullen lump
to levity?

isn’t this the way
grace works?

-- Ethel Pochocki
Brooks, Maine

Ordination Day

“It’s bothering me again,” she said
and looked at me with eyes gone black.
What else could I do
except look back and care completely.

And when I did, the veil was rent
and who stood up in me
was Jesus Christ.
In a moment of a moment I was sent
to the very tip of my right ear.

(Remember in Exodus how God told Moses,
Put blood of the ram of ordination
on the tip of Aaron’s right ear? Remember?)

In the borrowed body Christ raised his hand
and she of the eyes fell back on the bed
in a swoon too deep to be called back
except by him

Who did, then vanished -- snap! --
when it was done, and left me with a hand
upraised, occupying once again my given body.

The role of mediator, the role of priest
is exquisitely his. He honors us
by sharing his ordination.

-- Judith Robbins
Whitefield, Maine

The Pickers

It took patience to fill my basket with you
as you bent and stretched within and about

the arched Marion canes, a gift of mine, fruit
long, of good flavor, but the vines thorny.

No quick movements in our unruly patch
where a failure in grace earns sharp requital.

Not for you, so full of grace, pulling berry
after berry, juice on your fingers but no scratch.

I picked from vines what I could, my sweet fruit;
just your shadowed hand plucking with care,

your forehead, your cheek, a brown eye in canes
that made the picking slow and such sweet fruit.

-- Lou Masson
Portland, Ore.

2001 in Poetry

2000 in Poetry

1999 in Poetry

Poems should be previously unpublished and 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, August 24, 2001