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Mark Wagenaar

First Prize 2010 Utmost Christian Poetry Contest $1000

About this Poet:
Mark Wagenaar is the 2012 winner of the Felix Pollak Prize, for his book Voodoo Inverso. A past winner of the Utmost Christian Poetry Contest, he is also a past winner of the Yellowwood Poetry Prize, the Gary Gildner Poetry Award, the Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, and the contests of Fugue, Columbia: A Journal of Art & Literature, & Oberon Poetry Magazine. His poetry appears widely, including in the Southern Review, Subtropics, the New England Review, & most recently in the Mid-American Review & Copper Nickel.

About this Poem:
"Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand" was born out of research on Mahler for a book of poetry I'm attempting, based & structured on his unfinished Tenth Symphony; he's one of a number of composers who died while writing a tenth symphony. This poem traces the thousand years his symphony covers, from the 9th century hymn that begins it, & moves to search for the nature of the immanent God who we worship, how we experience Him, & the possibilities that His mercy has for us—possibilities that exist no matter one's language, culture, or ethnicity.

Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand

No one seems to know what the thousand was.
Named for the number of leper colonies
in India, or the cars scored on the highway
at any given time, the pilgrims heading home
to dinner or an eight-year-old’s second lesson
on violin. For a composer for whom the ghost
of Beethoven was not only near, but at times seized
the pen (as Schoenberg once said), the thousand
may have been the dozen birds that burst
from St. Stephen’s bell tower, the dozen Beethoven
saw when he realized he could not hear the bells,
a dozen that in memory or legend became numinous,
became thousand, part of the waterlight the ghost
is made of. In the cathedral there are as many Christs
as questions about God. A Christ in agony
locals call ‘Christ with a toothache.’ One with a beard
made out of real hair. One icon has an infant holding
a three-petaled rose, & a cross hung around his neck.
His mother’s pointing at him. Three hundred years ago
she cried, twice, according to eyewitness accounts.
Mahler opened the symphony with a 9th century
invocation, Veni, Creator Spiritus, the plea of every
worshipper in the cathedral, come to us, come to us,
every prayer in the world a collision of belief
& need, one measure of their longing. The thousand
may have been the years between the hymn
& Mahler’s pen, or the number of hands raised
around me, beggaring the air, their eyes lifelined
to the cross. Not only in a cathedral that once hosted
the funeral of Mozart, but in a parking lot in Brazil,
a soccer pitch in Mozambique. Or the thousand
may have been His mercies, numbered seven
times seven & beyond, the number of times each
of us will be forgiven. Mercy beyond what I could imagine
to ask for: beside me this morning my wife leaned
forward, her hand lifted as if to press against the throat
of the hymn. Mercy, measure of our days, our thousand.
The longing we share, the hope that will sustain me
until I’m fitted, in my triumph, like a ruined violin to a case.

Copyright ©2012 Mark Wagenaar