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Mark Wagenaar

First Prize 2010 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $1000

About this Christian Poet:
Mark Wagenaar is currently teaching film and composition at the University of Virginia and Sweet Briar College. His poems have been accepted or published by a wide variety of magazines, including Subtropics, Southern Review, /nor, South Carolina Review, North American Review, Phoebe, Greensboro Review, Tar River Poetry, Descant, and Poetry East.

About this Poem:
I read far too few poems that talk about the greatest love story ever told. The Bible, and the Gospel story, is rich with images, especially concerning the second life we are given in Christ—and I'm interested in taking that farther, in exploring the kinds of images that render the new life we are given. One of our most most important rituals is baptism—where we figuratively leave our old body and our old life buried in the water—and even Christ himself was baptized, an act that showed not only His obedience and humility, but also foreshadowed His resurrection. The poem, like all of us, wanders through His creation, and says that each of us will be laid to rest in it—yet because of His supreme act of sacrifice, because He bore all of the sin of the world upon the cross, death is ultimately defeated—for those who humble themselves as He humbled Himself, who are 'laid down...in longing,' and the poem shows the difference between those two acts--laid down in death, and laid down in our longing and love for Him, when our bodies are resurrected, and bear the traces of His touch.

The Other World

And the other world He spoke of.
The liminal hint of it, like fireflies, a wing
in this world & a wing in radiance. Stars glinting faintly
on the Kanawha, constellating the ghostly gridiron
of St. Lawrence. Purple dusklight loosestrifed
beyond, & beyond that, filling the black glassware
of the river birches' silhouettes. Each draught
from them is of both worlds, this one so near
& passing, tessellations of honeycomb & gilded tile,
your clover-bright loss measured to the last
meadow. He who calls us beloved casts His nets
there, & look, they're like sunlight on a vineyard.
Hauled in with the wind, I suddenly want to put my ear
to the smooth flank of the rain. To put my ear
to your mouth so I can listen to the willows tremble,
their silver catkins gauzed with rabbit-soft fuzz.
The sweet cicelies ruffle their white plumage
as they mouth the soil. You, too, will be laid down,
taken up as xylem, shaken out as feathers, as ash,
your name the hum of the blue arcs the deer
leave in the air as they leap. Of the solace
of thorns, what could I tell you? Will you take comfort
knowing you will gladly give your life for the sake
of your thirst? When the body is laid down
in its longing—the mosaic of veins at our wrists & feet
patterned after dogwood blossoms, the pulsatile sun
beneath our ribs, the three-day darkness
between them—it's wound with the same water that bears
the day's ashes to a vanishing point west of west.

Copyright ©2010 by Mark Wagenaar


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