PRACTICE: Poetry Correction

Editor’s note: In the recent reformatting of CIVA’s Seen Journal, we were delighted to be able to add more art and, as it turned out, more poetry. That was the good news. The bad news was that somehow the poems got dismantled in the process…and not very poetically. Thankfully, Tania Runyan was beyond gracious about the situation, for which we owe her a debt of gratitude. What follows is the correct text of her lovely work. (Click here for a printable PDF.)

Lorenzo Monaco, David (detail), c. 1370-1425

David Considers His Music

There is nothing too wonderful about it.
I pick it up, I play.
Is that not the life of a harp?

I cannot tell why people change
with these notes. Widows lift their tambourines,
children drop their rocks and stare.
Even the sheep look up from the field
as if they know more than they should.
I think I could turn over a rock
and watch the lichen pulse with each arpeggio.

It is ordinary to be amazing.
I don’t try to do anything else.

At times I see the music play before me.
Deep chords become these violet mountains,
heaving from the ground like muscles.
A slow crescendo, the green power of a wave
washing over me, the elation of being small, being lost.

I like to play because I lose my place.
I play yet don’t make anything happen.
I lift the harp as easily as grass sprouts around my ankles,
as olive leaves tumble down my back.

I believe I can carry a violet mountain
on my back. This is not amazing.

You see, I can only laugh when children stare
with wonder. I can’t help the fingertips
that weave my soul around the strings.
There is something that keeps me awake
at the most beautiful hour, the black sky with light
pressing behind it. I cannot stop leaning over
the verge of possibility.

I think my song will fall through the decades
like a muscle of water. I think it will splash
children, widows and rocks. I think I will weave
my soul around the world. Thank you, Lord,
that I will have nothing to do with it,
that I will do it all.

For They Shall Be Called Children of God

I do not concern myself with things
too marvelous for me.

I pull young buckthorn after the rain
and watch the cranesbill fill in,

tie a clover around my child’s wrist
to stop her from crying after a fall.

I do not concern myself with matters
too great. I skim the article

once or twice—rebel fighters,
refugees, tankers billowing smoke.

Shall I say each time my eyes wander
to the blue stars of lilacs tumbling

from a jar on the table,
that I love those lilacs more?

I will die being no help to this man
curled around a broken IV

on a floor in Sri Lanka.
I would like to sink into his stare

and pray him through his nightmares.
But first I must lie in the grass

and bury my face in the great skirts
of the sky, making peace

with the carpenter ants and the other
small brilliances of my life.

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

I am not made to pray. I close my eyes
and float among the spots behind my lids.
I chew the name God, God, like habitual
gum, think about dusting the shelves, then sleep.

It is hard to speak to the capital LORD
who deals in mountains and seas, not in a woman
rewashing her mildewed laundry while scolding
her toddler through gritted teeth. I should

escape to the closet and kneel to the holy
singularity who blasted my cells from a star.
I should imagine the blood soaking
into the cross’s grain, plead forgiveness

for splintering my child’s soul. But the words
never find their way out of the dark.
Choirs and candles shine in His bones
while I doze at the door of his body.

All poems used by permission of Tania Runyan, from her collection Simple Weight (FutureCycle Press), 2010.

Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her instructional guides, How to Read a Poem and How to Write a Poem, are taught in schools across the country. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, The Christian Century, Southern Poetry Review, and the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. She was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.

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