• SHE KNEELS, THE GOOD SISTER THOMAS, NATIVE

    My lips bear witness. Distemper!
    Those who chain Sunday
    from the doors of their week,
    how flaccid their Amens,
    how thin their charity.

    Take this, my body.
    I make my bed -
    earnest as salt -
    in your promises -
    all vanities will be laid low,
    even to the ocean's floor.

    And waves will be
    wreaths of white,
    our bridal skirt,
    and we will glory-glory!
    in the name of the sword
    that will cut them,
    in pieces, in pieces
    like rude weeds
    in a good man's
    vin-n-n-n-nnn-ne-yard.... more »

  • SISTER THOMAS AT JACOB'S LADDER

    Now. How you gonna make sense
    when these people need ya?
    grumble, grumbling
    these not so nice words
    don't know no manners
    make me knees creak
    an me weight spills
    over the top of me
    panties, hangs an
    presses down on
    me nipples
    Lead kindly light
    fast falls the rock
    rock of ages in tha
    bosom of Abraham
    tha devil suckin
    on me nipples
    hoo-hoo-hoooo
    so much ticklin
    an me weight spills
    lak tha rain
    on a black man's
    grave but me
    nipples get suck
    suck suck
    And I look unto the hills
    from whence cometh
    my God, my God, why
    in the valley of the shadow of
    Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Lift up
    your heart and sing
    a-blaa, blaa, blaa
    lak a sheepie sheep-sheep
    with a fat little rump
    tha devil suck-suck
    and me fat bottom get bump
    Lord! When light comes
    to this side of the island
    let me be here, among the saints
    again, and the morning
    will rest upon my hands
    and there will be nothing
    like the sweetness of my voice
    for I will have passed through
    all temptation, blessed, blessed
    Amen-nyen-nyen-nyen-nyen.... more »

  • SISTER THOMAS INHALES CLEAR AIR

    Leaf, burning
    not dying.
    Was this how Moses found
    God
    burning out a space
    at day's end?
    Trees, by the trunks and leaves,
    alight
    as if amber, as if glass
    pulled
    from the glassblower's furnace
    - the quick emergency
    of bird calls.
    And why would birds not
    cry out,
    why would birds,
    the turquoise-backed beetles,
    spiders curled in the rusty hinges
    of trees,
    not know that all things are
    at an end
    when the splendid face,
    burning itself
    into the heart of the world,
    is the face
    that, disappearing,
    makes a bird,
    a person, cry
    I am here?... more »

  • SISTER THOMAS ON THE PRACTICE OF DISTANCE

    . . . a native . . . a glorious example of the converting grace of
    God. To hear the word of Life this native would travel over
    every part of the island . . . fearing she might lose a single
    gospel sermon. She was a woman of no ordinary mind.

    Rev. Edwin F. Hatfield, St. Helena and the Cape of Good Hope: Incidents in the Missionary Life of the Rev. James McGregor Bertram of St. Helena, 1852
    Shoes on my feet, I am climbing,
    once again the girl born on an island,
    climbing like a prayer
    singing, Lordlord-lordlordlord

    I am a simple woman given to simple speech
    and there is no one plainer tho I burn
    bright - a newborn star - when I am
    singing, Lordlord-lordlordlord
    as the sun hits the backs of my eyes
    where letters burn black.

    In the wind - the names of cities:
    Paris, London, haunting our young.
    Burn the ships! Put up the jetties! Fold them
    like linens for which there is no more use
    and the ocean will wash, wash,
    wash away those punishing dreams
    and where there is noise there will be silence.

    Sun in my eyes, shoes on my feet,
    girls born on this island
    climb mountains of prayer
    singing, Lordlord-lordlordlord
    for they know they are at anchor.... more »

  • SISTER THOMAS SEES A TERRIBLE BEING

    And now, not night, not day.
    Something ignited just here,
    under the eyelids, stays chilled.
    Chill in the marrow of the chest,
    legs, arms, the forehead.
    And the heart - bird - at rest . . .
    a man, not man, not beast,
    gesturing above
    all that is earth and clumsy
    above even a steeple
    a shadow, visiting the surface
    like a moth, a name you would find
    in the good book a man
    not man, not beast like
    a creature with dusty wings,
    a moth of a man
    a bat of a man
    who can never hear this world
    or smell it circling him,
    or touch it as it reaches
    through the air trembling
    to touch to trace
    such contours the terrible
    shadow of his path pointing
    without hand speaking without tongue.
    You remembered me, oh Lord,
    and sent me an angel whose face
    stings me, whose sad heart
    hangs its shadow, like the scroll
    of a terrible book, upon the branches
    of my belief.... more »

  • SISTER THOMAS TAKES HER PUNISHMENT, FOR SOME INFRINGEMENT

    So. There is to be punishment -
    Your silence in my knuckles,
    under each shoulder blade.

    And into the shafts of each bone,
    you send cold that bites,
    that has no manners -
    here, in the grey halo
    of the sea's edge -
    and call it age.

    Well! Well! The sky snags
    mountains and falls,
    like so many plumes
    lost by birds.

    I will take this. Deliver.
    Take the skin from my face
    and know it. I face the salt.
    Silence is the whip.

    And those bones of young men,
    laid deep in acres of hell and grief
    in that far-off other world, or there
    where the ocean pinches
    a continent off, roughly,
    like a bud that must be nipped
    if the plant is to grow, are as nothing
    in the progress of your wrath.

    Yes, fling an ocean at me.
    I say each wave is perfect
    and I am safe in the hammock
    of my devotion. It is flawless,
    my praise is flawless, my weeping
    and the grinding of my old knees,
    these things are flawless adorations
    and I am, always, your eager bride.... more »