Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda served as Virginia Poet Laureate from 2006—2008. She holds a B.A. from the University of Mary Washington and M.Ed., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from George Mason University, where she received the university's first doctorate, an Outstanding Academic Achievement and Service Award, and a Letter of Recognition for Quality Research from Virginia Educational Research Association for her dissertation, Gathering Light: A Poet’s Approach to Poetry Analysis. In 2007 both universities gave her the Alumna of the Year Award. She has co-edited three anthologies, co-authored a poem-play, and published nine books of poetry, including The Embrace: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, winner of the international Art in Literature: The Mary Lynn Kotz Award. She has received five grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and has won the Ellen Anderson Award, multiple first place awards from the Chesapeake Bay Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, a resolution of appreciation from the Virginia Board of Education for her service as poet laureate, an Edgar Allan Poe Poetry Award, six Pushcart Prize nominations, as well as other awards. Her poems are featured in two permanent art installations as part of the Washington Metropolitan Area Authority, Art in Transit.
The Southern Cross
As a child, I covered a tree
with stars blinding everyone
with their sparkle. On top
hung the Southern Cross plucked
from the sky. For years, I
kept the timepiece alive
by letting it burn in my mind.
Every night I saw the Christmas
pine feed on silver light.
Tonight the stars of the Cross
shine over the Sacred Valley.
Etched out of satin darkness,
they rival the rugged Andes.
The timepiece is mine, an amulet
of jewels, I think as the Cross
tips and pours its liquid
over my shoulders, this
thriving sancte crucis.
How imperfect this winter scene.
Midnight, I search my home sky
for the perfect light, long
for the brightness tilting
like a kite over slopes.
Someone should set the stars adrift,
send them north on the Centaur’s
back. I wait for them, my face
pressed against a cold pane.
With eyes shut, I feel
the heat of the stars:
hot stones in my hand.
I position them
into a cross, fling them
beneath Cygnus to make
a pair in northern skies.
Their radiance falls,
nourishing the earth.
The Colors of Chartres Cathedral
Early morning near the Washington Monument
I let go of winter, daffodils, tulips,
cherry blossoms helping me forget
winds and snow. Another spring comes back
to me: steepled vessel floating in haze,
sky its sea, a patchwork of half-timbered
and gabled houses anchored at its feet.
I recall climbing winding streets
to the cathedral where I saw the fabled
windows, blues silken like the sky’s gleam
through blown glass. Reds more regal
than glinting rubies. Golds flaxen
as blazing wheat. Greens neither olive
nor moss but verdant as though the artist
ground fresh leaves into a fine paste
before adding them to glass cut in sun’s
sparkle and flare. Each time fire claimed
the Holy House, the people rebuilt it,
the stained-glass removed in wartime
so the windows could catch sun forever
and reflect the wonder of color wed
to light: the North Rose, squares
revolving in place, and in darkness,
angels and doves spinning around
the Virgin like bursts of wind.
As I hurry toward the cathedral’s
steeple turning back into the Monument,
spring overtakes me, great yellow, orange,
cherry, and if once a year is not enough,
memory will awake: it will, it will.
I fear night
until I find
After dark, she scoops me
up into her
where I wander
from the heavens: my mother,
visits me often.
Sometimes I see her
through luminous fields.
Once from a cloud’s
she tamed a thunderbolt’s
at my feet.
Tonight moon dips
into Sagrada Familia,
into all of the world’s churches.
Mother alights in the sanctum
of my heart.
Here, she teaches me
about stone’s durability,
what it means
to outlast illness,
how to take
I’ve been given and to fling
them into air
so they multiply,
so they ring through darkness.
I gather up
then retreat to my study.
In the picture of us
on the wall,
I am a child, kneeling
at her feet,
For a Franciscan Brother
So you want to take your life—
three parallel slashes, three
you said, one for you, your spirit,
and the Holy Father.
I remember months ago
you knelt in the Friary, vowed
to follow a life of chastity, poverty,
and humility. After the proclamation
a woman, moved by ceremony, honored
you with a replica of St. Francis.
You raised the wooden carving
so high that light from a stained-
glass enlivened the deep-set eyes
that seemed to plead for obedience.
My mind whirls back
to the ‘70s, you in the hospital
again and again, your disease cold
and relentless, pursuing you
even in remission.
you knelt by the bed to pray
for nourishment, your white gown
a thin shadow of yourself.
Outside, rain soaked the clothes-
line where a stiff breeze swallowed
a shirt and slacks, spun
them into spirited angels.
Tonight in a vision
I see you in a crowd of lepers,
epileptics, children extending
their arms to a religious: you,
in a Brother’s habit, move
to the circle’s center
like a proud animal. In full
light you shower their hearts
with prayers. The scene
dissolves into a solitary figure
preaching to birds.
Leaning over a sink,
I douse my cheeks and brow
with water before entering
the studio where I throw
lights onto a half-finished
statue. I encircle the piece
with my palms, carry it
to the work table, let
my fingers stroke the dark
robe, a thin rope coiled
around a delicate waist.
As I work, I remember
a basilica on Mount Subasio,
dozens of larks flocking
about the feet of a sculpted man
so proud he lifted his eyes
past the grayed and graying
roofs of Assisi into sky
close enough to touch.
Moving toward the table,
I breathe air into the figure.
Though the broken frame
starts to crumble, I steady
my hands and repair remnants
of a condemned body, then return
the sculpture to its resting place
among a gallery of characters.
I watch the other figures
come alive, hoist the Brother
to their shoulders where he
breaks off a piece of sky,
consumes it and spirals
into the clouds, stars,
into white light
where someone told him
he would find a cure.
“The Southern Cross” first appeared in Hispanic Culture Review, and was reprinted in the author’s book, Gathering Light (SCOP Publications, Inc., ©1993).
“The Colors of Chartres Cathedral” appears in the author’s book, Gathering Light (SCOP Publications, Inc., ©1993) under the title “The Colors of Chartres.”
“Mother” first appeared in the author’s book, Death Comes Riding (SCOP Publications, Inc., ©1999), and was anthologized in After Shocks, edited by Tom Lombardo (Sante Lucia Books, Atlanta, Georgia, ©2008). The poem was reprinted in These Flecks of Color: New and Selected Poems (San Francisco Bay Press, ©2018).
“For a Franciscan Brother” is published in the author’s book, Contrary Visions (Scripta Humanistica, ©1988).
Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, and TriQuarterly, as well as other journals and magazines.
Our Lady of Sorrow’s Spaghetti Dinner
One slipped apostrophe: that is all it takes
to task the mother of God with chores too minor
for her; suddenly, nursing a single sorrow,
she ends up churning an anomalous urn of pasta.
I know of other divine signs. Outside Newago
a farmer paints over last year’s letters
on a plywood board and posts it near the county road.
Every June: Jesus Saves Fresh Vegetables.
A full stop would solve everything, of course,
but even a dash might let the sign tender what
the man meant it to: grace, a carrot held out for free
alongside other, somewhat costlier carrots.
Then again, maybe there is a lesson here—that you must
imagine the thing you cannot believe. Start
by picturing a man canning orange roots, matching
Mason jars’ threaded lids, tin circles, rubber rings.
And make him Mexican so that at first you need
only to trust that he is flesh: Jesús, who saves
fresh vegetables, who eats his mother’s angel-hair pasta
to ease her lone grief, who gardens but does not fly.