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Witness: Kathy Kelly, Voice in the Wilderness

We sit in the quiet room, mirrored in opulence,
twenty-foot ceilings, velvet walls embossed and gilded,
polished rare wood floor, marble staircase
spiraling from the long enclosed entryway off Central
complete with iron portcullis, to hear Kathy Kelly,
tiny Chicago-Irish sprite. “This little flower” she calls
herself, looking as if she’ll tell us of the first grade class
she teaches. She tells instead her journey to Kuwait,
Iraq, Haiti, the ravaged wounds of the world.

Could I have worried if the corn would grow,
having planted it, as she had, bright kernels
in the poison soil around the missile silo
and have sat praying and singing
while the Jeep came, and the handcuffs?
Could I have asked the boy soldier, his army rifle
pointed at my head, Do you think it will grow?
Could I have heard without hate
his abashed, “I sure hope so, ma’am”?

Could I have camped as she did, on the border of Kuwait,
have befriended the young Iraqi men who dug into the
awaiting the U.S. Army? Could I have come home after
the Iraqi bus come to move the witnesses, the Iraqi leader
approach the first witness, kiss his forehead, and order
the soldiers to lift him gently by his elbows into the bus?
Could I have sat like her on the steps of the U.N. fasting
for 20 days, have rejoiced that one policeman whispered:
All I’ve had today is iced tea, to join you?

When she finishes, I walk out into Fifth Avenue
sunlight, startled that we are in New York.
I wonder, can I go on as I have, teaching poetry,
correcting freshman essays? What are commas to all this,
of the long struggle for grace in language,
or even the students’ bright faces of understanding?
What are these, what am I, as this tiny woman
witnesses to the violence and willful ignorance
killing this Earth and her people?

-- Sr. Doretta Cornell, RDC
Bronx, N.Y.

Things I Dread

“Do not judge, in order not to be judged.”
-- Matthew 7:2

Let me count the things I dread.
To glue back that idol I smashed.
The shadow wolves are not a mirage.
Climbing the North face of Everest.

The dragon at the gate does not die.
Lifting the edge of the blanket,
they will see my unwashed feet.
God has a photographic memory.

Before the end the road just stops,
the Mississippi becomes Sahara,
the sun falls into the Atlantic,
and, most of all, I fail at dying.

But all these I can really manage,
though its one damn bother.
But the ultimate terror: I will be measured
with the measure I measured out.

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

We Alternate in Prayer Group

carrying home the candle,
tall at our commencing.
Each keeper trims the edges,
softens the wax encircling
a sooty center. We are careful,
chip pieces in neat arcs.
The candle burns more brightly
without the rippled wall
flooding its core. Such shavings
diminish height, spread fire
like passion of the Baptist:
self decreasing,
Christ increasing more.

-- Stella Nesanovich
Lake Charles, La.

Banks Farm Road

Careful, my eyes sweep left and right
as I intrude down this old road
which deer crisscross morning and
toward food.
They come fearlessly as to Lauds or Vespers,
following nature’s holy pattern.

I streak through a verdant cathedral,
down a silver sheen of macadam,
in the grey morning mist toward my
daily grind.
I work at the parish in town.

Here sunlight and shadow seep and sway,
vying, as things of beauty,
with glowing artwork of stained glass
in church.
God’s hand is everywhere.

My children drive this road and are
Their hymns are soul, rock, pop, hip-
God dwells in all. Genuflection is
foreign to them,
but, bent knees or not, there is
reverence here.

What radio station do I choose?
I choose the sacred silence of this place.
in this holy quiet,
I am embraced.

-- Jeannie Bennett Fleming
Dagsboro, Del.

Cheryl’s Grove

A wisp of sunlight proves
A restless grove, asks how
Some fragile boughs can hold
The burdens of the world?

Eager to raise a point
Though unwilling to praise
A less demanding proof
Trees hum a song of hope.

-- Fr. Conrado Beloso
Golden, British Columbia

2002 in Poetry

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, March 15, 2002