About this Christian Poet:
Susanna Childress has published in such journals as The Missouri Review, Crab Orchard Review, Notre Dame Review, and IMAGE: Journal of the Arts and Religion. Her first volume of poems, Jagged with Love, was chosen by former US poet laureate Billy Collins for the 2005 Brittingham Poetry Prize with publication from the University of Wisconsin in October, 2005. She is finishing a PhD in English at Florida State University and will be moving to Oklahoma City this summer to marry poet and musician Joshua Banner.
I originally wrote this poem as a collaboration with a visual artist for the Easter Art Exhibit at Hope Chapel, my church in Austin, Texas. Laura Jennings, a painter, created a beautiful piece that helped inspire this writing. It is, of course, an Easter poem. I wanted to try to capture how our "taking the sky"—our answers, our natural ways of coping, our best intentions—are dwarfed by the power and glory of Christ's resurrection. We are redeemed and restored by it; we are nothing without it. Besides this (and what could be more significant than that?), this is the first poem I have written trying to incorporate my faith so overtly. Poems with "overt" messages and motives often don't sit well with me, but I felt it was important to be genuine about this most amazing and life-changing event while choosing images and descriptors that would be fresh and meaningful. It was hard work, but I am so glad I attempted it; it's never felt more wonderful to say "Alleluia" than at the end of this poem.
First Prize Winner of $1,100 in the 2005 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest
We Take the Sky
We take the sky, as if red is something we could own,
something we might find in the stillest moments,
as if the earth is humane and wouldn't break
our bones. (None of His were broken. Not one.)
Red is in the land too, is in the way we look at each other, the hardness
of our sleep, the need to fall down, to tell of the pox that swept Aunt Jess,
the drink that ushers Father, the path that never leads to wealth or rest
or health—but the one we always take. Shalom, we say. Buena Suerte.
We always take the sky, fold it over ourselves,
the soil, run it across our skin and cling to it,
savoring the tart of a lemon, palming a bar of soap
even when our hands are clean, naming the insects
that fly across the white bulb of moon late at night,
rakishly loving the one who knows our smell,
saying (as if they are not questions), Isn't this how
we stay alive and Why shouldn't I burrow here.
This is how we drum on, cold and ungrowing—
what more to be than alive? It all hums: so we die in small bits,
so the egg-shaped hollow that sits behind our stomachs,
so He died and rose again on the third day, so (what).
We take the sky, we scatter on the land. We fall down,
grab the everythings, the tiniest cures, fall down again,
wash ourselves in red and know, unwittingly, it is not enough.
More certain than anything: it will never be,
and then here, in the stillest moments, the story rushes again
(veil splitting, stone rolling, Mary, Peter, John, running,
linen and spices like a limp cocoon, the blur of angels, the one red
splash of a second—like a rose breaking open—when we know),
and somewhere inside us a small green seed pricks the dirt,
coiling for air. He soothes and stirs, fingertip-sized holes in His
hands, roaming the soil and the sky for our broken bones.
And the shaking on earth is our brand new lives:
Alleluia, we say, feeling even the empty oval of our stomachs rise.
Copyright ©2005 by Susanna Childress