This week’s poem in the Catholic Poetry Room is by Johanna Caton, O.S.B.
Stained glass window, Adam Delving, ca. 1176, executed by the “Methuselah Master,”
one of the major artists employed at Canterbury Cathedral after the fire of 1174.
West window, Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent, England.
Adam, Original Man in stained glass, your image
breaches my brain, breaking it like a flying fish
breaks the sea: the rush of you, gush of sky, pitch
of color, your shovel twitching through bitter soil –
a task taken not for a day, nor for a lifetime’s toil
but till time collapses. Adam, I’m embroiled
in your lapse: my own flesh feels your spade knock
against rock, the scrape of blade, the jolt-shock
invading my bone, the lonely ground of my mocking
green glass-grass, mocking because we’re all rebels
and even I’m a stranger to peace, even I’m yelling,
‘War!’, even I’m expelled from the verdant realm
we know as shells know when undertow delves
and pitches them on dry sand–lost as pre-history.
Adam, Fallen One, deadly with your mystery,
I stand compelled by all that’s true and Christly
to delve with you, to undo what’s snaking beyond
my shaking blade–look: that yellow thing, spawned
and hatched from God knows what heinous wrong.
Adam, your ache’s mine, I wear pain’s sad grey face
until the Second Adam turns my worn, stained days
toward a window-angel and a girl–and her stainless Yes.
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 Ekphrastic Review, The Christian Century, Amethyst Review and other venues. She is a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee.