Category Archives: Poetry

Often poetry has the power to convey far more of the emotional impact of hunger than any prose could ever hope to do. Such is the case with this powerful poem by Katrin Talbot, reprinted from Empty Shoes.

 

THE TRANSITIVE PROPERTY OF HUNGER

Through the hot callous dust
     of noisy Tijuana
   we saw her up ahead of us
     in a sunbaked doorway—
   baby on hip,
     bitter impatience in
          in her eyes,
   one hand out
     as we approached;

I gave a bit
     of what was
          needed—
   with that, she turned and
     carried the baby
          and the humility
   around the corner.

 A few doorways,
      corners later,
   out came the same hand
      and the downcast eyes—
   the baby stared blankly out
      into a future with
           and without food—

      and my stomach
                            tightened.

St. Francis of Budapest

I have just discovered a wonderful litttle book of poetry entitled EMPTY SHOES, Poems on the Hungry and Homeless. Although most of the poems focus on the poor, hungry, and homeless of the United States,  these issues are universal. And there are a number of poems in EMPTY SHOES dealing with the same issues with a more international focus. This poem by Susan F. Kirch-Thibado is one example.

 

Feeding the Pigeons

From his sack he draws golden
bread crumbs, scatters them at his feet.
As if by invisible signal they come–
the hungry and the opportune.

Their feathers catch the sun setting
over his bent shoulders. Dressed
in tuxedos of quick-silver gray,
mottled white-brown, iridescent
blue-black, they feed on his fare.

Sack empty, he walks back
to his alcove in the stone wall,
lies down on his bed of paper and rags–

St. Francis of Budapest closes his eyes and sleeps.

"nuffin' in the pot"

Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872–1906), the son of two runaway slaves, started writing poetry before he was six. He is still considered one of our most influencial American poets. He was known for his use of dialect as in this fragment of Philosophy which is painfully direct and brutally honest.

It’s easy ‘nough to titter w’en
    de stew is smokin’ hot,
But hit’s mighty ha’d to giggle
    w’en deys nuffin’ in da pot.

Not only is it hard to giggle when there’s nothing in the pot, its hard to be patient. And for the growing number of the world’s poor, the empty pot means anger, resentment and the acceptance that “nuffin’ in da pot” also means they have nuffin’ left to lose. “Nuffin’ in da pot should be as frightening to those of us whose pots are full as it is to those whose stares are as empty as their pot with nothing in it.

Where is Bread?

Stop Hunger Now’s Virginia Director, Lee Warren, and I have known each other for longer than either of us want to admit. She is a human dynamo and is a wonderful worship leader, and I am indebited to her for sharing so many of her worship resources on hunger. The following is one example, a beautifully moving hymn based on the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels.

WHERE IS BREAD?

 

Tune:  Abbot’s Leigh 8.7.8.7 D    

 

“Where is bread?” the great crowd murmured –

Thousands strong, yet all in need.

“Where is bread?”  your people wondered,

Faced with such a crowd to feed.

Who, Lord Jesus, could have guessed it?

One small boy brought food to share.

Taking what he gave, you blessed it;

All were fed, with much to spare.

 

Where is bread?  We know their yearning;

Every day, we wish for more.

God, in time, we’re slowly learning;

All we own can make us poor.

Our possessions can possess us,

Leaving hunger deep inside.

Christ our Bread, come now and bless us;

At your feast, we’re satisfied.

 

“Where is bread?” the call is rising;

Millions cry who must be fed.

God, your answer seems surprising:

“You, my Church, you give them bread.”

Bread to fill each hungry spirit,

Bread for hungry stomachs, too!

Give us bread and help us share it.

Richly blest, may we serve you. 

Used with permission from the Church World Service.

 

hunger is a four letter word

Each of us has our own individual understanding of obscenity. Not all of us see obscenity in the same light. Personally, I am far more comfortable with verbal obscenity than I am with the far more rampant, but culturally acceptable moral obscenity tolerated and accepted by our society.

 

GRAFFITI

An obscenity
scrawled
accross the lves
of millions,
hunger
is a four letter word.
Hunger:
a vulgarity
written
in shrivelled limbs
and bloated bellies
by those who could
but do not
share.

NO ONE KNOWS HIS NAME

Born in the central Italian town of Assissi in 1182, Francis Bernardone is the most beloved saint in the Western world. His simplicity, his love for nature, his deep identification with the poor, have all endeared him to millions of people from all spiritual paths.

Although he grew up in a wealthy merchant family, he devoted his life to helping the poor and despised. His deep devotion and love for God made Francis so wild at times that few of those around him could understand him.

St. Francis lived a life that was a great blessing to all. And his deep compassion for the poor and his love and wonder of nature are still examples more of us need to follow.

The following poem attributed to St. Francis is taken from a wonderful book of poetry which I treasure. Entitled, LOVE POEMS FROM GOD; the book is edited by Daniel Ladinsky and published by Penguin Books. The ISBN number is 0–14–219612–6.

This is one of those rich volumes that I return to for inspiration on a regular basis. It is poetry from twelve wellsprings of deep and authentic spirituality. These twelve poets come from both eastern and western spiritual traditions. They walked widely different paths, but their fathomless love and rich communion with God flows through every poem in the book. This book is more than a “must-read” It is a keeper. A copy should be in the library of every person of faith.

NO ONE KNOWS HIS NAME

              No one
        knows his name—
a man who lives on the streets
        and walks around in
                rags.

Once I saw that man in a dream.
He and God were constructing
       an extraordinary
             temple.

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a better question

I am in the middle of rearranging my home office. This is where I do most of my writing. Getting the office just right is an art form, but like most art requires a great deal more time and sweat than inspiration.

While taking a breather, this morning, I started flipping through some of my old poetry written while in Sierra Leone during the height of the civil war. Writing during my travels is one method I use for coping with the reality of the horrors I witness. Photography is another. Both allow me a little distance. And sometimes a little distance makes all the difference in keeping it all together.

The following poem came after an extremely harrowing couple of days of site visits to IDP camps and makeshift hospitals.

A BETTER QUESTION

What do you say
to the man
who calmly tells you
of seeing
his father’s head
being placed
on the family’s table?

What do you say
to the woman
who tells you
of watching
the unborn child
being ripped
from her sister’s
dying body?

What do you say
to the grandmother
who no longer speaks,
but cannot stop
the quiet moans
as she strokes herself
with the bandaged stumps
of her severed hands?

What do you say
to the mother
watching her son
losing the struggle
to keep breathing,
his shrivelled little body
so empty
that the fight
is almost over?

What do you say?
What can you say?
A better question,
perhaps, would be
what do you do?