For Sophie Pakaluk Barrows

based on The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy
of God by Michael Pakaluk

in pie quebrado meter

Before God made her soul and mind,
Before her parents’ genes entwined
__To start life’s spark,
To them each priest and doctor bade
That no more children should be made
__To board life’s barque.

For if her mother were with child,
The hormones might spread cancer wild
__From one stray sprout,
And anti-cancer weapons, maybe,
Could be fatal to the baby;
__They’d be ruled out.

With eyes of faith the future seeing,
They brought their daughter into being—
__No unmade waif.
No grounds were there for doctors’ fears—
The cancer stayed away for years!
__The birth was safe.

Although her mother still is missed,
She’s still so grateful to exist
__By their endeavor.
Thanks to her parents’ sacrifice,
Someday she’ll live in Paradise
__With God forever.


Poet’s note: Sophie Pakaluk Barrows was born on April 16, 1993.  She is now a farm wife and assistant director to a high school Shakespeare Troupe in Maryland.  She has four children as of the writing of this poem.




Vast fields of graves, in grass arrayed—
How many times had Taps been played?
How many families lost their heads?
How many sons left empty beds?

They gave their lives to save my land,
Each by an officer’s command,
And yet, myself?  What had I done
To be my country’s worthy son?

The image never went away—
The grid of gravestones, here to stay,
In ranks and files, neatly lined,
Still marks a lattice in my mind.



Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.

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18 Responses

  1. Margaret Coats

    Joshua, both of these are lovely poems, written with the light touch of a true artist. And they deal sensitively with the most serious subjects!

    I had lost touch with Michael and Ruth Pakaluk when they had Sophie, but I recall Ruth’s fervor about childbearing as a great but too much feared gift of womanly nature. It should be a cause of joy whenever God wills to grant parents the incomparable gift of a child. Michael wrote that, during Ruth’s struggle with cancer, both of them wanted to have another child as the most life-affirming thing they could do, despite knowing the risks. You, Josh, manage to weave their happy and appreciative openness to life into this poem for Sophie.

    The poem on Arlington deals with willingness to give life for one’s country. In this piece, you focus on worthy response in the mind of a visitor–the kind of thought that inspires both appreciation and determination to lead a good life in him.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Margaret, thank you so much! It means a lot that you like “For Sophie Pakaluk Barrows” so much, since you’re the one who introduced me to the Pakaluks after you read “Elegy for the Child Never Conceived.”

      When I sent the poem to Sophie, she said, “I never expected to have a poem written in my honor. It is quite surprising. But I am more happy that my parent’s [sic] heroic decision is being honored. I am very grateful for my life!”

      I agree, every child should be welcomed with as much joy as she was. We call her parents’ decision heroic, but really, it’s just how everyone is supposed to think. The more I read about Ruth, the more I knew that she was someone I would love to have known.

      I’m glad you also like “Arlington.” It’s a true story. I was 23 when I visited (I’m 39), and this was my reaction.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    The poem on Sophie Pakaluk Barrows is a wonderfully reaffirming reason for continuing to have children under circumstances that others may deem imprudent, impractical, or unwise. Another great lesson for our present crass culture. As one who has been to Arlington and former military officer, I applaud your plaintive thought, “What have I done to be my country’s worthy son.” Beautifully and inspirationally written!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Roy. Yes, I agree, the fact that the Pakaluks’ decision is seen as heroic by the few who agree with it shows how far our culture has fallen. But I’m especially glad that you, as a former military officer who has been to Arlington, enjoyed “Arlington.”

  3. Brian Yapko

    Both of these poems are quite wonderful, Josh. They show great depth of heart and are thought-provoking as well. The poem “For Sophie…” is proof positive of the power of faith. She and her family are truly blessed and it is a kind and generous thing that you have created this poem in their honor. I like the form with which I am unfamiliar.

    “Arlington” is a somber but much-needed reminder that so many have paid a very dear price for our freedom. I especially like your use of couplets which gives a military precision to the piece as well as that image of the “lattice in my mind.”

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Brian. It means a lot that they show “great depth of heart.” I hoped they would be thought-provoking, but that is quite a bonus!

      I wanted to honor the Pakaluks’ decision because our wicked culture has the exact opposite perspective. They feel free to say all kinds of horrible things to people who have more than three children. They would say Ruth Pakaluk did a bad thing by bringing Sophie into existence. When people can look someone in the eye and say, “I wish you had never been conceived,” what does that say about the culture?

      I’m indebted to Georges Brassens for the pie quebrado form. He used it in one of his songs (completely different subject matter), and I knew I wanted to use the form myself. Somehow, when I wrote this, it seemed the perfect one for this form. Just as I’ve translated some of the older French poems he sang, I use some of the forms he’s used as well.

      Yes, the realization of just what people have paid for our freedom is what had such a huge impact on me when I visited Arlington (I was 23; the poem is a true story). I hadn’t thought of the military precision aspect of the form of “Arlington,” but that makes sense. The image of a lattice came from my background in advanced mathematics, where the “integer lattice” is a grid of points arranged in regular rows and columns.

  4. C.B Anderson

    This might be the best stuff of yours I have seen to date. Every line is taut and pungent, as lines should be.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, C. B. I’m glad these are your favorites of the ones I’ve written.

  5. Jeff Eardley

    Josh, “Sophie” is a most heartwarming tale of faith in the human spirit. “Arlington” brought back memories of the many times we have visited the Omaha Beach cemetery in Normandy. We Brits will never forget the sacrifice paid by your countrymen for our freedom. Thank you.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Jeff, thank you so much for that! I’ve never been thanked for the sacrifice my countrymen paid for the freedom of countries overseas; that brought tears to my eyes. You’re more than welcome.

      My father always taught me to respect the military for their sacrifices, but visiting Arlington when I was 23 really brought the point home for me; hence the poem. It’s a true story.

      I’m glad you found “For Sophie Pakaluk Barrows” heartwarming. I felt the same way when I heard of her parents’ decision to bring her into existence, so much so that I had to write this!

  6. Margaret Coats

    Josh, one more thing about Sophie is that she may have given her mother a longer life, when her parents chose to give her life. Doctors were afraid that pregnancy hormones might cause cancer to grow, which is possible, but they considered only the adverse result for which they might expect a lawsuit. Pregnancy hormones also provide the mother a tremendous psychological boost, which enhances her mental and physical condition. Ruth lived six years after Sophie was born, enough for the baby to cherish memories of her mother. She is truly missed, as you were able to say in the poem.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Wow, I knew Ruth lived 6 years after Sophie was born, but I didn’t know all that about pregnancy hormones!

      Of course, the culture of death wants that to be one of the best-kept secrets. The more I learn of the truth, the less I believe anything they say. I’m always so grateful to learn that an assumption I learned from modern culture is bogus, which is one reason I consider it so important to pay it forward and educate others about these things through my poetry and the discussions that arise around it.

    • Margaret Coats

      You must be right about the culture of death. I was not much surprised that you had not heard of the beneficial effects of pregnancy hormones, but I thought most people knew how the abrupt loss of them at birth may give rise to postpartum depression. But when I looked up that topic, lo and behold, perception of it has changed dramatically in recent years. Formerly it was said about 10% of women might experience depression after birth, with problems nearly always disappearing within a few weeks or months, as soon as hormones had normalized. Now ALL mothers and MANY fathers are said to feel depressed after the birth of a child. The principal cause is not the sudden loss of pregnancy hormones (which could not, of course, account for depression in the “non-birthing” parent), but the burdens of constant care and attention demanded by the greedy infant. Moreover, postpartum depression may not begin immediately, but as late as a year after birth (when demands of childcare increase and are recognized as interminable). If this account of a known natural occurrence, promoted as it is by doctors and counselors, doesn’t represent an infantine, egocentric, discouraging and anti-child view of a nature’s challenges to adults, what does?

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Wow, I had no idea about that, either! Thanks.

        If “most” feel depressed after the birth of a child, it’s because they’re immature and narcissistic (as is typical of today’s new parents), and having a child cramps their style. They can’t get drunk or waste entire weekends online anymore… though a lot of parents these days manage to ignore their children in favor of their phones and pacify them by giving them their own gadgets.

        As St. Justin Martyr said of the Greeks, I find nothing in modern culture’s customs that is holy or acceptable to God.

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, “For Sophie Pakaluk Barrows” is a beautiful poem that shines with a selflessness that is rewarded with no less than a miracle. Your choice of form is perfect. Your message reads like a celebratory song that has me smiling at the splendor of the last two stanzas – the gloriously woven golden words of these superb stanzas glow with the gifts God presents us with when we put our faith in Him in times of fear and angst… and the accompanying picture is visual proof of God’s rewards. This poem is a privilege and a pleasure to read.

    I think the poems are well paired. “Arlington” speaks of the selflessness of the soldiers who gave their lives for others’ freedoms – men with a love of country and a clear vision of liberty for the next generations. The image you describe of that “…grid of gravestones, here to stay, / In ranks and files, neatly lined…” is a bold reminder of the gratitude these men are owed.

    In a selfish world where life and liberty are snuffed out on an ever-increasing basis, these heart-touching poems are a reminder of exactly what we are losing. They shine with the values we desperately need to hold on to. Josh, thank you!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Susan! Always nice to hear from you; I’m so glad you found these heart-touching. I agree that they’re well paired; a mother sacrificing herself for her child should be honored as much as a soldier who sacrifices himself for his country.

      I had to write about the Pakaluks because in discussions regarding birth control, people bring up the idea that there are circumstances in which people should “plan” a child out of existence. The case of the Pakaluks refutes most, if not all, of their scenarios. As I mentioned to Brian, the form came from a song by Georges Brassens.

      You’re spot on about exactly what we are losing. As I’ve mentioned in other comments, “Arlington” was my reaction to visiting Arlington National Cemetery when I was 23. The sad thing is, when soldiers die for our country today, there’s less and less that’s worth that kind of sacrifice. I once saw a protester holding up a sign that said, in vulgar language, that soldiers today are dying merely to uphold the mockeries of marriage that are the law of the land. This fits in with the fact that people see life as increasingly cheap. In some ways, it’s even more heroic that they’re willing to sacrifice themselves to defend the few freedoms we have anymore rather than allow the light to die.

      It’s precisely because we so desperately need to hold on to these values that I had to write these both.

  8. Shaun C. Duncan

    These are beautiful poems, Joshua. I was not familiar with the Pakaluks’ story but your retelling of it is perfectly clear whilst remaining concise. The form works well, too.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Shaun! The fact that the Pakaluks’ story is so little known is why I had to get it out to a wider audience.


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