Poetry Friday: Good Friday Edition

I went looking for a Good Friday poem, and found many, of course.  But I couldn’t find one that struck me right—until I found this.  I’m not sure what it says or what she meant by it, but I think that’s what a poem ought to do, even today, perhaps especially today.  Give us words to dwell on, dig into…eventually find ourselves in.  So, for Good Friday, Anne Sexton’s “With Mercy for the Greedy”:

For my friend, Ruth, who urges me to make an appointment for the Sacrament of Confession

Concerning your letter in which you ask
me to call a priest and in which you ask
me to wear The Cross that you enclose;
your own cross, your dog-bitten cross,
small and wooden, no thorns, this rose—

I pray to its shadow,
that gray place
where it lies on your letter . . . deep, deep.
I detest my sins and I try to believe
in The Cross. I touch its tender lips, its dark jawed face,
its solid neck, its brown sleep.

True. There is
a beautiful Jesus.
He is frozen to his bones like a chunk of beef.
How desperately he wanted to pull his arms in!
How desperately I touch his vertical and horizontal axes.
But I can’t. Need is not quite belief.

All morning long
I have worn
your cross, hung with package string around my throat.
It tapped me lightly as a child’s heart might,
tapping secondhand, softly waiting to be born.
Ruth, I cherish the letter you wrote.

My friend, my friend, I was born
doing reference work in sin, and born
confessing it. This is what poems are:
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the world’s pottage, the rat’s star.

4 comments on “Poetry Friday: Good Friday Edition

  1. Jeff Lupo says:

    Great poem, thanks for this.

    • jwrosenzweig says:

      Thanks, Jeff — it’s great to hear from you! Out of curiosity…what do you make of this poem? Where is she going with it?

      • Jeff Lupo says:

        I think it’s a comforting poem. Praying to the shade of gray seems to signal her earnest effort to appreciate and come to terms with the imperfect and imprecise aspects of her nature/life. The fourth paragraph seems to communicate her willingness to engage her humanity; the way she talks about Jesus seems to reinforce this. I think what I like most about this poem is its sincerity and humility. It might read as “agree to disagree,” but her earnest effort to wrestle with something to understand and appreciate it more- her friend, her humanity- seems to overshadow this point.

        • jwrosenzweig says:

          Jeff, you offer a very eloquent and a very sensitive reading of the poem. You’re right — a poem that could have been a dismissal of something she cannot identify with becomes instead an extended hand…an exploration (and expression) of the idea that prayer and art may reach to the same spirit, that their two paths do not intersect so much as run parallel, that the rat’s star and the Star of Bethlehem may be one in the end. Thank you for helping me see more clearly what it is about this poem that moves me.

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