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In Silence I Sing

for those affected by the Mill Fire, September 2022

Uplifted to God as with wings of a bird
In silence I sing without music or word.
Though once filled with praise I no longer rejoice,
For grief has consumed me and silenced my voice.

No tongue can confess, either whole or in part,
The pain in my soul, or the hole in my heart.
With whisperless sighs all the prayers I have cried.
Have fallen unheard, for their music has died

O come, Holy Spirit, and translate my prayer,
Weave words into music, breathe hope from despair.
By your perfect love restore laughter and cheer.
Shine light in my darkness, with joy dry each tear.

With comfort and counsel, O Lord make me strong
Then kiss me with fire and renew me with song.

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Poet’s Note: Last week a major fire (known as the Mill Fire) began in Weed (a historic lumber town in Siskiyou County on I-5 in far-Northern California) and quickly raced through a uniquely-historic Black neighborhood known as Lincoln Heights. Every home was destroyed but one. Amazingly, the markedly Christian community’s two churches survived. This is the second major fire to hit the town in recent years—a town where I lived and pastored at a nearby church from 1985-1993. The loss of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood grieved me deeply. Soon after the fire I wrote the following poem. As the poem unfolded on my computer I wondered why I was writing a poem expressing so much suffering, loss, and grief–wrapped in a mantle of Christian faith and prayer. I could not for the life of me think of anything in my own life that could have triggered such thoughts. It was only several days after I wrote the poem that I realized I had subconsciously channeled my feelings about the loss suffered by my former Lincoln Heights neighbors into the poem. The poem is best read as being the cry of the people who lost their homes in the fire. I offer it on their behalf.

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James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He has written and published six novels, one collection of short stories, and three collections of poetry including Mostly Sonnets, all with Dunecrest Press. His poems have been published nationally and internationally in The Lyric, Poetry Salzburg (Austria) Review, California Quarterly, Asses of Parnassus, Lighten Up Online, Better than Starbucks, Dwell Time, Light, Deronda Review, The Road Not Taken, Fevers of the Mind, Sparks of Calliope, Dancing Poetry, WestWard Quarterly, Society of Classical Poets, and The Chained Muse. He was honored with being chosen as the winner of the 2021 SCP International Poetry Competition.

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9 Responses

  1. Anna J. Arredondo

    James,
    I like it. And I think I appreciated your poet’s note almost as much as the wrenching poem itself. Your description of the process sounds like the psychological version of physical “referred pain.”

    Reply
  2. Roy E. Peterson

    This is a beautiful rendition as a solemn prayer and devotional of loss, love, sorrow and grief. Such a fitting elegy! I appreciated the Poet Note very much for informing me of your time once spent there and the extent of the destruction.

    Reply
  3. Cheryl Corey

    I hope that you’re able to share this poem with those residents. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lose literally everything you own to a fire.

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree that you have found a profound and poignant way to express this heart-wrenching grief. I found your musical metaphor particularly moving, especially the way you show music and words being intertwined — woven, in fact. “In silence I sing without music or word.” and “Weave words into music, breathe hope from despair.” are my favorite lines. If they read it, I’m sure this will bring some hope or comfort to your former neighbors.

    Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    An admirable psalm of lament, James. The words are woven into perfect English rhythm with an iamb starting each otherwise anapestic line. And yet, the closed couplets show Hebrew parallelism of varied kinds: synonymous, antithetical, synthetic. Still, the poem is an English sonnet, with turn at line 9 and a strong concluding couplet. The splendor of the form supports the emotion. And probably in the same manner as the inspired psalmists composed, the poem moves beyond deep individual feeling to become a worthy prayer for many.

    Reply

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