Sofia M. Starnes
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.
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.
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….
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
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
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.
"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
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.
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.