the skin of the porpoise shines with the light of two worlds, this one and this one
—so concludes poet Greg Pape’s “The Porpoise,” in which he expertly illuminates the overlap of our physical, imaginative, and spiritual realms. However, not all our intersecting worlds, of course, shine so clearly or beautifully.
These days, I am both painfully and joyfully aware that I similarly live in more than one world—the cynical and the sublime, the practical and the imaginative, the mundane and the miraculous, the horrific and the heavenly seemingly crisscrossing mid-air.
My story “Communion of the Saints” in 5.1, along with my poems in this issue of Relief (“The JCPenney Advertisement” and “My Son Draws a Picture of the Twin Towers Moments Before a New York Yankee Pitcher Crashes His Plane”) address such intersections. Indeed, the first two ask linked questions: 1) How in this life of turmoil and struggle can we pray, and 2) How in this life of turmoil and struggle can we not pray? The third piece contemplates the role of joy.
Even though the poem “My Son….” references the 9/11, Nickel Mines, and Katrina tragedies of my children’s grade school years, little has changed now that my kids are teens. The headlines remain eerily the same. Here, not far from “Happy Valley, PA” (and on an international scale as well), we remain stuck in “a month of school shootings and sex scandals.”
Stuck, of course, were it not for prayer. Stuck were it not for Grace. Despite our tiring human cycle of sin and destruction, hope remains. Much of this hope comes, I believe, through the Communion of the Saints, how (as I address in my story of this name), we are lifted in prayer to Grace through our joined voices; we are collectively cleansed in our shared taking of the Body and the Blood.
But moments of grace also appear in the mundane and the silly, even in the unintentional puns of a JCPenney newspaper advertisement, as I try to show in my poem. Such gifts of laughter unchain us from despair. They reconnect us to joy and join us to each other. If we’re lucky, they even let us enter the spheres of our children and, with them, delight in the humor and wonder of this world. Our natural snobbery and societal cynicism subside if only for a moment. The power of words—both to divide and unify—makes way for the ultimately healing power of the Word.
And that alone—in a society of both distressing and humorous headlines—is news good enough to shout in all our worlds.
Marjorie Maddox Hafer is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Lock Haven University. Her publications include Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award); Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize);Weeknights at the Cathedral (WordTech Editions); When the Wood Clacks Out Your Name: Baseball Poems (Redgreene Prize); six chapbooks, and over 400 poems, stories, and essays in journals and anthologies. She is the co-editor of Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and author of two children’s books from Boyds Mills Press.