by Jeffrey Essmann | December 15, 2021 1:00 am
This week’s poem in the Catholic Poetry Room is by Johanna Caton.
[Dear Readers: The Catholic Poetry Room is pleased to expand its repertoire this week with a verse form called “ekphrastic”. An ekphrastic poem, inspired by a visual art, plays off the image, to some degree describing it, but more, establishing a dialogue between the visual and verbal expressions of beauty. Enjoy.]
The Annunciation – Henry Ossawa Tanner – 1898 – Philadelphia Museum of Art
But She Was Greatly Troubled by These Words
Now the girl’s Before becomes her woman’s
perceiving in the light the unnamed sign –
flame of her Master.
Rushed from sleep, she’s waiting here – and dazed:
to her it seems
the Real shifts, the known’s melting away,
like midnight dreams
when morning’s Meaning dawns. But this dawn hangs
in hues of red,
encompassing her mind – with rays of sun
replaced by dread.
Do folded hands mean prayer, or nothing more
than mind’s abstraction?
Both, perhaps, as understanding grows
and seeks its action.
She hears: unheard-of Promise, spirit-pledged:
it stands, will rise,
will fall, then fly. But she arraigns the light –
while mesmerized –
stunned to the limit of love’s aching stretch.
We know the story of this strangest grace.
She’ll say her Yes –
but first she’s over-arched by dimness, by
the brooding night
while she is told impossibilities
by shaft of light.
And look at her, her look, her face so grave,
she is alone,
she burns with radiance, not borrowed, but
her own, long sown
by grace. Now knot of human sin’s undone
by one girl, awed,
heart-pierced, her soul impaled, her mind unspun,
her word: unflawed.
Johanna Caton, O.S.B., is a Benedictine nun from Minster Abbey in Kent, England. Born in Virginia, she lived in the United States until adulthood, when her monastic vocation took her to England. She writes poetry as a means of understanding the work of God in her life, whose purposes and presence can be elusive until viewed through the more accommodating lens of art and poetry. Her poetry has appeared, or will appear in Green Hills Literary Lantern, Time of Singing Christian Poetry Journal, The Christian Century, Amethyst Review, and other venues. She is a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee.
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