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The Angelus, Jean-François
Millet (Musée d’Orsay)

How soft across the field the muted peal
Has caromed off the setting sun, the air
September-ripe, the earth upturned, a pair
Preoccupied with what it might reveal,
And calls them to a place of mute appeal.
He stabs his pitchfork in the pile there,
Her head and hands assume the shape of prayer,
And in the dusk they each their heart unseal:
Their simple hopes, their fears, their sad regrets—
Prayer turns us all at times to silhouettes,
Our darkened souls against the inner glow
That waits below the surface of our life
Yet in the tender prayer of man and wife
Even to shadows godly light bestows.

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A Floral Geography (Childhood)

The widow cross the way had peonies.
Her son (whose bachelorhood some idle talk
Among the neighbors raised) would on his knees
With stakes and string enforce their feeble stalks.
The divorcee a house away had row
On row of roses red and coral pink.
She’d water them with glass of wine in tow
And make us boys about divorcees think.
But sweet alyssum, soft and cute and white
Betrimmed the Lutherans’ driveway down the street.
Their tiny blossoms whispered of delight;
Their fragrance wafted gentle and discreet.
While other gardeners’ lives were too complex,
The Lutherans never made us think of sex.

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Jeffrey Essmann is an essayist and poet living in New York. His poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and literary journals, among them Agape Review, America Magazine, Dappled Things, the St. Austin Review, U.S. Catholic, Grand Little Things, Heart of Flesh Literary Journal, and various venues of the Benedictine monastery with which he is an oblate. He is editor of the Catholic Poetry Room page on the Integrated Catholic Life website.


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7 Responses

  1. Roy E. Peterson

    Jeffrey, in “The Angelus…” I am particularly fond of the line, “Prayer turns us all at times to silhouettes.” That is a strikingly accurate and beautiful depiction. “A Floral Geography” took me back to my own childhood and made me think about what flowers my neighbors had. Delightful memories.

    Reply
  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    These are both magnificent! I’m sure I’ve never read a better ekphrastic poem than “The Angelus”! — not only does it describe the painting beautifully and deeply; but your description of the tolling of the bell caroming off of the sun; the “September-ripe” air; your ability to make actual imagery of the soul by giving it a silhouette (“Our darkened souls against the inner glow…”) — all of these things are just brilliantly moving. And “A Floral Geography” is delightful; just the idea of remembering childhood neighbors by their flowers is such a good subject. Again, your descriptions are lovely; and I actually laughed out loud when I got to the part about the Lutherans (don’t get me wrong; I love Lutherans), I think partly because it reminded me of some of Garrison Keillor’s humorous stories about them. But then the last line made me laugh again, even though I hadn’t known that inevitable punch line was coming. Thank you for this early morning treat!

    Reply
  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    These are two really well-crafted poems — the first not just for its fine language but also for the complexity of the sentence structure. Its first five lines constitute a single sentence, with three perfect enjambments! And the second poem combines floral imagery with a wry bit of sexual titillation.

    I have one metrical suggestion. In line 6 of the first poem, the meter would be smoother if the word “pile” were replaced by “plowed earth.”

    Reply
  4. Anna J. Arredondo

    Jeffrey,

    As sometimes happens when I read on my phone, I enjoyed the poems first, before noticing the art. The poem and painting match so well, one might easily wonder which was created first! I was fully drawn in by the imagery painted by your words. I also particularly like the reference to silhouettes.

    Regarding line 6, another alternative to Mr. Salemi’s suggestion might be to insert the word “dirt” — “dirt pile”…

    Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    I too would prefer another syllable in line 6 of “The Angelus,” though I know some persons pronounce long /i/ as two syllables, PIE-yul. Otherwise, this poem becomes more nearly perfect the more often I read it. Its descriptive details begin to rise away from dependence on the painting. As the painting does, the poem contemplates prayer itself, gently focusing not just on one soul and God, but on common prayer. The man and wife pray together, and the church is seen and heard in the distance, noticed by the pronouns “us” and “our.”

    Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Two shining linguistic diamonds that have brightened day with their dazzling beauty. Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Adam Wasem

    How charming “A Floral Geography” is. And so nicely balanced, too. It’s so nice when a poem just flows with nearly no effort, isn’t it? And isn’t it funny how gardens, like pets, can reveal more about the personality of their owners than years of conversation? What a pleasant read.

    Reply

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