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City of Holy Faith

The time to weep is over. Turn away
From somber matters of this sordid age
And turn your pilgrim gaze to Santa Fe—
Garbed in aspen gold and desert sage.

The sky’s an ever-burnished turquoise blue,
And amber sunlight sanctifies the hills.
At night she glimmers with the copper hue
Of votive candles perched in window sills.

City of St. Francis, built from stone;
Adobe, too, in shades that match the earth.
Pilgrims come to worship, to atone,
To glory in the Savior’s humble birth.

Each hallowed shrine recalls a miracle.
Each church shines joy beyond its mud-baked wall.
The blend of ancient faith and art is lyrical.
The mariachis sing. The angels call.

Our church’s ancient altar came from Spain
And holy relics rest within its wall.
A love of heaven fills this land like rain.
A cross upon a hill looms over all.

The sting of death is somehow weaker here
Banished by the saints carved out of tin.
St. Francis and the Virgin vanquish fear
And show that grace can triumph over sin.

Here wickedness is forced to hide its face.
No sprite malign, no dark unholy wraith
Has quarter in this timeless, hallowed place
Whose sacred name itself means holy faith.

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Poet’s note: Santa Fe, New Mexico – founded in 1610 — literally means “holy faith” in Spanish. To honor its patron saint, St. Francis, it was named “La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis” i.e.“The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi.” 

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The Young Rabbi’s Sermon

Our hungry children are in bed, my Ruth.
Though poor, we greet another Sabbath blessed—
This seventh day which marks Our Father’s rest.
And though I bend to honor the Lord’s Truth—
I rise with renewed faith to be professed!

In fact my fevered mind will not keep still,
Such joy I feel! Dear wife, say not a word!
Just let me tell you of the things I heard
Avowed by that young rabbi on our hill—
Glad thoughts which leave my weary spirit stirred!

His name I’ve lost but he was Nazarene.
Upon Mt. Eremos he drew a crowd—
An eager group of both the poor and proud.
He saw my need—his eyes were so serene!
He took my hand to hear him preach out loud.

“Blessed are the poor,” this rabbi said.
How this confused me, Ruth! I scarce can feel
God’s favor. I can labor, I can kneel
Yet still cannot afford our daily bread!
But in our need, he said, God’s love is real!

He offered other words that touched my soul:
The meek shall own the Earth! That mercy lent
Shall always be returned from whence it’s sent!
He reached into my pain to make me whole
As if he knew the grief that we lament.

This rabbi said that those who mourn are blest—
That we, whose daughter died so young and ill,
Can lift our grief to God; that He can fill
Our emptiness and give our sad hearts rest!
I wept, my wife, to finally trust God’s will!

Last, he said, the man with a pure heart
Shall surely live to see the Lord, our God!
You know how I have worked and prayed and trod—
But till this rabbi spoke I felt apart
From Him who made me out of dust and sod.

But now I know this rabbi’s words are so,
Such peace I feel! I’ve always kept the law
Yet struggled with each failing, every flaw.
But now…? O, praise Him whence all mercies flow!
God loves us, Ruth! Let’s worship Him with awe!

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Brian Yapko is a lawyer who also writes poetry. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


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21 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Two quite stunning pieces.

    I especially enjoyed the vividly portrayed San Miguel Church. The cultural snippets really made the poem come alive.

    Thanks for the reads.

    Reply
  2. Margaret Coats

    Two magnificent invitations to the reader’s pilgrim gaze! First, to a sacred place, your home city with its many shrines. I love the creative introduction, followed by a painterly description in carefully chosen colors. Farther on are lines that develop the delightful welcome: “A love of heaven fills this land like rain” and “The sting of death is somehow weaker here.” If you haven’t already done so, think about offering this for local publication in city media and at the various pilgrimage/tourist sites.

    The second pilgrimage here is a pilgrimage in time, to imagine thoughts of one individual present at the Sermon on the Mount. It exudes enthusiasm of this man touched by Jesus. You can tell a sermon was impressive if a listener can take bits of it and make an impressive sermon of his own! I have one little suggestion, to change line 5 to “I rise renewed with faith to be professed.” Of course that’s a metrical fix, but if it fits your background concept of the man and his faith, it could be worth doing.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Margaret, thank you so much for your wonderful and helpful comment! I’m so happy that you liked City of Holy Faith. I had for some time wanted to write a valentine to the truly unique city where I have chosen to live — Santa Fe — and I’m pleased that my work goes beyond region to touch people who live elsewhere. I am especially intrigued by your suggestion to submit this to local media and sites. I frankly had not considered doing so but — assuming that I have SCP permission — I think I would like to do exactly that.

      I’m equally thrilled that you liked The Young Rabbi’s Sermon. In my faith journey I have often wondered what it would be like to be a 1st Century Jew who encounters Jesus and is left changed by the experience. There are probably 100 ways (or more!) to tell that story but I decided upon a man struggling to provide for his family and who has always faithfully followed the Mosaic law but somehow come up short.

      That leads to your suggested word order/metrical change. I think it’s a very good suggestion which I have struggled with for the last 20 minutes. However, I’ve decided to stick with my original text. The reason is because — even though line 5’s meter is a bit awkward — I need it to be the man’s FAITH that is renewed rather than him personally. While his personal renewal would work in this context (in the sense of his being born again) the gravamen of the poem is to to contemplate Old Testament versus New Testament — to go from compliance with the law into a new understanding of Man’s relationship with God — one based on love. So when he says “I rise with renewed faith…” I thematically want it to be the FAITH that has been renewed — reinvigorated, in a sense — by Christ’s life and message. The speaker in this poem represents a whole class of 1st Century Jews who have been invited to look at faith from another angle. So that’s why I want to keep it as “renewed faith.” Also, I like the three stresses of “renewed faith” which, I think, emphasizes the thematic importance of this renewal of his faith.

      As always, Margaret, you make me think, you keep me honest, you make me own my decisions for better or worse. At least you’ll know that I’m endeavoring not to be random or sloppy in the choices I make. Thank you for all that I learn from you!

      Reply
  3. Mike Bryant

    Your first is in my favorite form and is masterfully written. I love every line, including the perfect headless iambs. It makes me want to visit Santa Fe, especially since Susan loves Georgia O’Keefe.
    Your second displays a pitch perfect imagination, almost as if you were there in the first century listening in on that conversation.
    I love them both.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, Mike! Your comment really pleases me! Do you know that I’ve lived here for three years and still have not visited the George O’Keefe Museum? Or her ghost ranch in Abequiu? You and Susan should come for a visit since New Mexico and Texas are next-door neighbors and we’ll go check out the O’Keefe sites!

      Reply
  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    The imagery of the first, the story-telling of the second, and the musicality of both, are exquisitely done, and really pull the reader into both the scenery of the city, and the excitement of the rabbi.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you so much, Cynthia! I always appreciate your input. I’m so glad that you liked these poems!

      Reply
  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Brian, I always look forward to reading your poetry and these latest two are an absolute treat. The opening stanza of ‘City of Holy Faith’ makes me want to leave the woes of this wicked world behind and embark on a spiritual journey to Santa Fe. You use personification to magnificent effect – I want to feel the embrace of Santa Fe, hear what she has to say, feel the beat of her heart, and gaze upon her beauty. The images you portray are both heart-warming and breathtaking. Thank you!

    For me, ‘The Young Rabbi’s Sermon’ puts everything into perspective. Often, in the face of a world full of tragedy and lies, we need to find our way back to the truth and the light. My favorite line is: “… He can fill/Our emptiness and give our sad hearts rest!” – such comfort! This poem has certainly shone hope on our seemingly hopeless situation – the closing stanza says it all clearly, eloquently, and beautifully. Brian Yapko, poet extraordinaire, you’ve made my afternoon!

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Susan, I’m overjoyed that you like these two poems. I think you and I are alike in our frustration and fear concerning so many aspects of life these days — social, political, etc. I truly believe in being critical of all of the horrifying things that are taking place around us and you have written some poems that smolder and sizzle on some of these subjects. I’ve tried to sizzle a little myself. But I’m also grateful to be a person of faith who is willing to share that faith with others in my poetic way. You’ve done that as well. Your rondeau “If He Came Now” comes to mind.

      We certainly know what the problems are. But what is the solution? For me it is faith. Not just personal faith. A societal return to faith would alter things in a positive way. I wish I could share the loving piety that I see here in Santa Fe with a very hate-filled, cynical world.

      I’m especially thrilled that you liked “The Young Rabbi’s Sermon.” Sometimes one does need to get back to spiritual basics and it’s a blessing to remember The Sermon on the Mount. (btw did you catch my allusions to The Lord’s Prayer and the Doxology?) As you point out, it’s painfully true that this is a world of tragedy and lies. The devil’s on every corner and we have a duty to call that bastard out. But when all is said and done, God is still in charge and faith, I think, will serve His supporters well.

      Susan, you truly are a poet after my own heart so when you like something I’ve written it makes my day and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Thank you for that.

      Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      I noticed the Lord’s Prayer in the first stanza of the “Sermon” and the Doxology in the last stanza. In fact, the “Our Father” made me look in my concordance to find whether “father” had been used of God in the Old Testament. Of course there were too many fine-print entries for “father” to look at them all, but I did see that in the last of the prophets, Malachi (chapters 1 and 2), God has the prophet say He is a father, and ask where is the honor due Him. There was, then, a little preparation for the idea in Judaism, but the realities of the Incarnation and the Trinity went infinitely far beyond it.

      Reply
      • Brian Yapko

        This is a great comment on a very deep theological subject which sent me to Wikipedia to do a little research. I know that in Judaism there is a traditional prayer recited during the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur called “Avinu Malkeinu” which means “Our Father, Our King”. I looked that up and it came from Rabbi Akiva from around 100 A.D. However, most of the Old Testament regards God as Creator and King of the Universe, which is the language used in most Jewish prayers. However, there are now hundreds of Jewish prayers which refer to God as “father.” My unscholarly thinking is that you are right that the idea of God as the Father developed rather late in the Old Testament and was not really incorporated into Judaism until the period between the Old and the New — a development, perhaps, like baptism or monasticism which foreshadowed what would ultimately become normative Christianity. And yes indeed, the jaw-dropping realities of the Incarnation and the Trinity are like nothing in Judaism where the concept of God’s fatherhood seems to be primarily metaphorical. On the subject of fatherhood, I’m left wondering to what extent each faith influenced the other.

  6. Yael

    Nice! These are both awesome and enjoyable at the same time.
    I love the desert South-West feel and I will never tire to read about the young rabbi, thank you.

    Reply
  7. Jack DesBois

    Two evocative poems. I have never been to Santa Fe, but I am a musical theatre buff, so your poem conjures up images of Puccini-inspired Manhattan bohemians (RENT) and a young Christian Bale (Newsies) dreaming of a new life far away. Your Santa Fe, where “the sting of death is somehow weaker,” fits this image neatly, and expands it into a new realm.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Sorry, Jack, I replied to your comment in the wrong place (see below.) But let me also take this opportunity to appreciate your fine music as well. I thought I detected a little Broadway influence there!

      Reply
  8. Brian Yapko

    Thank you very much, Jack! Your comment made me smile because I too am a musical theater buff and am quite familiar with the wistful Newsies song by Alan Menken and, even moreso, Collins’ song from Rent. When we go out to eat I still can’t help humming “Let’s open up a restaurant in Santa Fe…” What the songs miss but you pick up is a strong sense here of tradition: art, history, especially faith. Thank you again for the comment — and the earworms!

    Reply
  9. Reid McGrath

    Brilliant, Brian. I especially liked the first one, and, like Susan, want to pack my bags and put my kids and wife in the car and head straight to Santa Fe.

    “The sting of death is somehow weaker here.” What a home run line. Especially in this time when we are seemingly living in the land of the half free and the chicken-hearted. Without faith, how can there be valor and courage and martyrdom? The great saints looked at death in the eye and scoffed and laughed at it. Now our clerics close the doors of their churches and withhold Communion because Big Brother tells them to. Disheartening. But you leave me hope that there are still some good cities out there.

    Reply
  10. Brian Yapko

    Reid, thank you so much for your generous and very thoughtful comment. I could not agree more about the issue of faith and how it is the source of humanity’s most noble qualities. There’s the splendid seed of a poem in your sentence “without faith, how can there be valor and courage and martyrdom?” And I can’t help but be struck by the contrast of the martyrdom of the great saints versus the timidity of those who are now addicted to masks and cowering behind closed doors. And don’t even get me started on Big Brother!

    Are there good cities still out there? I don’t know. I think Santa Fe is rather atypical because of its unique history. And although it’s the state capital, Santa Fe has a population of only 85,000 people — for which I’m grateful. Things are much calmer here than in places like San Francisco or Chicago. Having lived in Los Angeles and Portland — I think that’s a good thing.

    Reply
    • Brian Yapko

      Thank you very much, James! If you were to ask me what my favorite line is, it would be precisely that one.

      Reply

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