Sofia M. Starnes

Contributor Biography

Sofia M. Starnes, Virginia Poet Laureate, 2012-2014, is the author of six poetry collections, most recently The Consequence of Moonlight (Paraclete Press, 2018). She is the recipient of a Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, among other commendations, including the Rainer Maria Rilke Poetry Prize, the Ellen Anderson Prize (Poetry Society of Virginia), a Superior Achievement Award (Virginia Writers Club), the Aldrich Poetry Prize, the Transcontinental Poetry Book Award (Editor’s Choice), the Marlboro Review Poetry Prize, the Whitebird Poetry Series Prize, five Pushcart Prize nominations, and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Union College, Kentucky. In 2012, she was selected as Galing Pinoy (Outstanding Filipino-American) by the Los Angeles Asian Journal. Sofia’s poetry has appeared in such journals as Poetry, First Things, The Bellevue Literary Review, Notre Dame Review, Laurel Review, Blackbird, Gulf Coast, and Modern Age, as well as various anthologies, including the Best of the Decade Edition of the Hawai’i Pacific Review. Her translations of essays on the Philippine-Spanish artist Fernando Zóbel have been issued by Galería Cayón in Spain and the Ayala Foundation in

the Philippines. Sofia lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, with her husband, Bill,

Gottwald Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, and jazz pianist. 

Tongue-tied


 

Between stutter and breath:  O Lord, O Heart;

I bite my lip, for creatures have no claim

on God. We cannot know—whither the dart—

how best to surrender our quiver, aim

low or high: steel to bark, lens to star. A game

 

of shadow-box. Could we have forgotten

Who never forgets?   A gull splits leaden

skies, from crag to crevice, salvaged from flot-

sam.  Between algae and bird: God’s children.

O let this be our fate: to seek, to be sought.

Mind

In the barrios of God’s mind—once a site

of simplicity—are flesh and femur,

mercy, justice, comingling with wolf bite

and sting, mango orchards and hilltops where

cottages stand.      There, too, a nest, a lair, 

 

slush and a sluice of clear water; once a pair

now myriad creatures.          O unmoved Mover,

speckled with soil, tiller of a garden

where humans triple their joy watching over

their children,            who parse haven from heaven….

River Saint

We cannot ask

for resting place, or

wish for apse in church;

 

the martyr's eye, serene

as stone, forgot

to claim a grotto when

 

we heaved and hauled

this Santo out of mud.

We went half-mad—

 

the sight of it; quick,

Santo, Santo, pour

your blessings on our banks.

 

We saw (how strange)

that the flood had missed

his crown, a smooth and

 

solid bald spot bound

to rock. We dipped

our hands. With water we

 

baptize. But the saint,

unblessed and barren, fell

from us, loosening purple

 

pigment and cold rust, his sacred

mud skin petrified as old

Franciscan sack. He tilted

 

right, then farther, farthest

inland, ghost on grass;

who knows why saints and

 

mornings always rise, so

dangerously dry.

Saints in the Garden

            I thought I’d break the secret to you now,

that in our yard a saint has set aside

 

his rucksack and a ruby glass of wine.

He's blonde, and at his side a hunchback leans,

 

kind smile and beard….                 

            They've come to honey up our walls,

 

our brickwork and our lamps,

and hang about as hummingbirds and plums.  

 

                          You don’t believe me (in sanity,

who would) but there's a lily martyr

 

at the door, she might have been a Roman—

I don’t know, except for all her tresses, the red

 

grapes: Agnes, perhaps; a lambkin's at her breast.

                           Ah, humor me and trust—

 

although you say that visions are a trick

to stun the blow of dying,

 

the distress in our remaining bodies.

This nightly tease, you claim, exhausts the death-

 

wish of a lover at the soil, or of a mother tidying

a bib—so cold, so clinging.

 

                                                Does no one

ever show up at your gate—ghosts tucking used

 

aromas up their sleeves and sniffing out old

stories?             Seed-stone, rib-cradle, half-belief

 

in saints abiding, gleaming at the fence.               

I'll say again: they peep in, push and wedge, widen

 

my glance—as masquerades, a feast; or thoughts,

a life. Or awe, that silver negative that yields

 

the changeless sky, the changing gist of trees.

The Search for Good

She said she’d search for Good

outside the house that raised her

predictably, assumed—

 

as bloomed in rose and wealth,

a wealth of ease at morning

when everything that spilled

 

spilled out from knotless spools.

Her mother called—she loved her;

Her father left each dawn,

 

yet slowed down at the corner

and caught up with her fear.

All’s well, he’d wave back, nodding;

 

All’s well.       He would return

before the kitchen heated, before

the rooms collected

 

long hours of worrying.

             She left to search for Good

beyond the words “apparent,”

“full-grown,” “wholeness,” “prolific”—

the bated breath of innocence

in iridescent rooms.

 

Outside, against her shadow,

a rose opens—exhumed—

                          expecting to be red.

Author's Note:

"River Saint" first appeared in Willow Review, and was later published in Fully Into Ashes (Wings Press, 2011).

"Saints in the Garden" first appeared in Pavement Saw, and was later published in Fully Into Ashes (Wings Press, 2011).

"The Search for Good" was first published in The Consequence of Moonlight (Paraclete Press, 2018).

Elizabeth L. Fong

Contributor Biography

Elizabeth Fong is a lawyer by profession and a poet by craft. She believes that poetry is the most honest filter through which the world around her is parsed and interpreted, and is a member of the poetry collective, Zerosleep. She also has a pet maltese-poodle mix named Gorbachev, and seeks to work him into as many of her poems as she possibly can.

WINTER IN THE LAKE DISTRICT

birdhouses lie vacant, 

but boughs bear crows like 

ungainly fruit, calling 

over the lakes at 

the wind that 

settles sailboats sitting 

lightly in cold water. 

 

even now, the old brooks

with their white teeth 

hurtle violently villageward. 

 

even now, the new clouds

with their grey cloaks

wind gently uphill 

on their pilgrimage to God.

CHRISTENING

Listen: you are the only person in church for the sun.
The east and the west come together above the stained
glass windows. God grants time and eases its passage.
In the sanctuary, a child is named queen; named gift.
Lift up your face to the rafters, looking for heaven.
You were born just after noon, eyes open to the light.
One day, you will return to the church, eyes closed.
God grants time and ends its passage.
The windows will spill sunlight over your body again,
the reds more red, the blues more blue:
your pyre burning in the church that sheltered you.

ST FRANCIS’S GATES

all manner of feathered fowl and fair furred friends

probably have their own entrance to god’s back yard.

even before man tasted air, a bird tipped passionfruit 

down the beaks of her chicks. surely a lifetime of devotion

to being as how god made them warrants an eternity more.

 

there is probably a different gate for the animals 

because more animals get to heaven than people do. 

once, they filed into an ark, two by two, pair by pair, 

because god was so sick of people that he decided to just 

keep those he loved best, and start again from ground one. 

 

jesus rode a donkey into jerusalem, kind and gentle. 

you cannot tell me that he would have not pet 

every stray that ducked its dusty head under 

his carpenter’s hands. listen: jesus stood out front 

with an apple and a hug the day that donkey came home. 

 

maybe all of us lucky enough to have been loved by an animal 

get one last miracle at st peter’s gates, when all the creatures 

great and small who went before us come trotting out: 

all the dogs the cats the iguanas the hamsters the elephants—

at the end of it, all the companions who have taught us how to love 

will come walk with us one last time into this final embrace.