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JOHN DONNE ADDRESSES OUR PANDEMIC
~ a holy dialogue with Death
Death, your laughter takes my breath away.
You huff and puff, a sudden gust and swell
from lungs like fishing nets to drag astray
our little boats and drown us, cell by cell.
But Death, your pride is laughable and glib. The social media equivocates
in logic, chopped and gutted, done ad lib,
surpassing you, and opens heaven's gates.
COVID, N1, SARS are not your friends. They each retain some element of life.
And sleep is not a lesser you, it tends
like breath to rouse us, gently soothing strife.
The end of living things will show your fraud.
So, Death, be still. We find our rest with God.
ET EXSPECTO RESURRECTIONEM MORTUORUM
I await the resurrection of the dead.
(Inspired by the Sandham Chapel Murals, painted
by Stanley Spencer in commemoration of World War I)
Suffering so vast persists a hundred years or more.
Dead soldiers rise from their known and unknown graves,
a spectral army that startles all the living,
those looking out aghast from their windows—
what was dreamt of and dreaded,
since even a bloodbath outruns its course.
They wanted only art and formal war memorials
to do the work of communal remembrance:
a folded flag, a poppy pinned on each lapel.
The living, left behind, may have sensed some-
thing strange, but the world only gets stranger.
Spencer, who once painted an odd resurrection
unfolding in the graveyard of his parish church
near his birthplace that he called: A Village in Heaven,
undertook the design of a family's memorial chapel;
and the large central panel inside seems at first
a jumble of white crosses, a fence, or scaffolding.
Here the crosses are called to duty as crutches,
poles, hooks, and ladders out of the trenches
of graves and the mortar-carved craters and pits.
Christ, who will judge our last days, is present,
but small and hidden in the middle distance, not
a judge, but witness to multitudes of dead soldiers.
The duty of the dead had once been to complain,
to warn, to threaten, to make demands on the living.
But here there is no judgment. They are unheroic,
genial and neighborly, simply getting on with things,
back to washing lockers, sorting laundry, scrubbing,
fetching and carrying—at one with the drudgery of God.
Here is an orderly's outstretched, cross-like arms
as he blankets a bed; here are military capes that hang
from hunched shoulders like folded angelic wings.
This is an elegiac gate to a heaven in a hell of war.
And at last is the vision of the end of war, all war,
in which heaven has wondrously arisen out of hell.
Each white cross in an astonishing, interlocked tumble
becomes an object of holy devotion, handed to Christ.
And the altar's cross below intrudes over the panel's edge
so it is incorporated visually among the mass of crosses.
And we, like those awakened to the long war's end,
witness Resurrection already begun from an empty tomb.
Royal Rhodes is a retired educator who taught courses on the history
of Christianity for almost forty years at Kenyon College. His poems have
appeared in Ekstasis Poetry, Foreshadow Magazine, The Lothlorien Poetry
Journal, Amethyst Poetry, The Montreal Review, and elsewhere. His poetry
and art collaborations have been published by Catbird (on-the-Yadkin)
Press in North Carolina.
October 2023 Issue