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Susanna Childress

Honorable Mention 2007 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $100

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.

After Andrei Rublev's The Savior of Zvenigorod, 15th C.

I.
And when she wakes up wailing, night after night,
her mother takes to holding her at dusk, wrists pinched
with fear, pleading the psalms inside her mouth. Jeremiah

said it first. Spoke straight to her deceitful heart—abrasive
prophet, incisive and unadorned, great cleft of self, damned
truth: above all things, that filthy heart.  In the night it dreams

for her. By day, it beats and beats and beats, so that when the music
of years trembles as a human voice, she is no longer afraid
of those bright, black hours. Her fingers pet the yellow pages

of books, petals against her teeth. It is not the nose of Jesus, set
like a pencil upon his face in the tradition of the Greeks. It is
the muted violet around his eyes, congealed and weary,

this Jesus. She does not know if he dreamed, who took
to holding him when he woke, and what if he listened for birds
in early morning? How did the lapping Galilee sound? 

His small lips, barely rose of gold on that old
parchment, they are closed. Shut lightly, like a pair
of eyes. Or a hand around a stone.

II.
The psalmist told her she could rest on God’s shoulders. She is
a lamb, flaccid slab of woman, rinsing out the stains
from her panties in the sink, her body seeping its black scallops

onto strips of fitted cloth. She would tell herself a dream: 
holding the cheeks of the Savior of Zvenigorod. Set her mind
on disappearance. Tell her, Isaiah, perfume poured

from that sickening alabaster jar, hands on the Savior’s
face, say again, Comfort, Comfort. And there is some, shelled out
of a void. The print gives nothing so nicely: says one Russian

art historian, There is no trace of Byzantine severity. . . . 
She falls asleep to this, arms tucked around herself, Mary
of Magdala, widow of Naim. Each night she has waited

for something to fall, and each morning she wakes, heavy
with mercy, to this damaged fresco of the Christ. A man
found him in a barn, four hundred years after Rublev set him
down. Staring up from the step of a barn, O quiet Christ.

III.
How to unfrighten the most frightening encirclement. Which
to the small, careening girl, her serpentine heart, her singing mouth,
each rod of earth slipping from her hands. Which to the breasts

that rounded out like a fish’s gill with air, the legs and arms
grown long, patience that never did, which to the swiveling neck
on its earnest knots of spine, to this, and to that, bulbs of light

in the belly, tender folds of the genitals, dreams that helix
hot white: it is not the moustache of Jesus, a line of soil
running into his beard; it is the turning of his face

toward her. Slightly, like a curtain touched with wind. Or the door
an inch from closed. She fears nothing as she fears the loss
of this amity: thank God, his eyes do not search, they do not penetrate.

Copyright ©2007 by Susanna Childress