This Poem was Submitted By: G. Donald Cribbs On Date: 2004-07-07 22:56:41 . . . Click Here To Mail this Poem to a Friend!

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Wick of Christ

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…”  —Isaiah 42:3           I Then he was a man who told legends and did not reach beneath my sheets at night while I dreamed deeply.           II When I climb into the cocoon, I do not notice the membrane mantling my bones. I wander many times to the creek bed, resist the urge to lie down among pebbles, feel feathers spread from waxen skin. I fall many times.           III Once he took a cloth and covered my mouth, held me below the surface of the water, inches away from air.           IV Where has the father gone? So much depends on affirmations, a dark fire transcending the silence of generations. Ancient ones hold the bruised reed above parchment, eyes gleam with new syllables, histories grafted on foreskin. Only the father cradles the shadow of birth.           V I let him hang from the tree he once watched me climb, sang as the sparrow, whose narrow beak anticipates my soul.           VI Whose wings do I now bear? The father scrambles in the field, burrows under soil—covers his fore- head with mud! His blood forgets the weight of birth. Heavy with sweat, my blood remembers curled wings undulating. He reaches the slope, sheds his chrysalis.           VII My feet shake off dust, carry me farther than doubt. In the father’s grasp, sons lift like smoldering smoke from wax snuffed out.

Copyright © July 2004 G. Donald Cribbs

Additional Notes:
While much of this poem is autobiographical, I want to clarify the context of stanza III. I was baptized in a Baptist church when I was seven, one I attended by bus without either of my parents, only my brother and sister. I didn't know what was going on, only that as I stepped down into the pool, and the pastor dunked me, that I hadn't had a chance to get some air. The result was rather funny in retrospect, given that I nearly went straight to heaven via drowning. I always joke that he probably thought he was casting out a demon or something. That aside, this poem is about the father figures throughout my childhood. Enjoy!

This Poem was Critiqued By: Elaine Marie Phalen On Date: 2004-08-07 10:02:48
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 10.00000
Oh, Don, this is intriguing, powerful, wrenching. The alternating strophes tell parallel but not identical stories. There are several images associated with Christian faith, from the baptismal creek bed and cloth over the face to the "tree" (crucifix?) where faith is aandoned before it's reaffirmed in adulthood. The opening strophe is unsettling because of the reaching-beneath-the-sheets idea. The Father may not do this, but the earthly small-f father apparently does. IN S2, there's an implied allusion to both dying and transfiguration into an angelic being, and the Icarus-Daeedalus myth. "I fall many times". What absolute sorrow lies in those four simple words. The "he" who almost suffocates this boy is indeterminate; your notes identify him as priest but he could also be biological father, again. In IV, the speaker qquestions the whole concept of paternity, both sacred and secular; it is more than a matter of genealogical record-keeping and lists of "begats". In V, the rejection takes place - I sense that both God and mortal parentage are for a time discarded. The son expresses exultation. The many-times-fallen sparow is on the wing now. But whose wings, as in SVI. Does one retain his mortal heritage or strive for something larger, more enduirng? The flesh father now becomes pitiable, worm-like; the son is about the transcend whatever this man has done, and fulfil his earlier dream of flight. In VII, the "father's grasp" is not of the earth. The sons are raised up by another power, reanimated, given new life. This might imply survival following a harrowing childhood, survival through reliance on a faith reborn. It may also suggest our eventual destinies as children of God. I have no suggestions for revision as this seems finished to me, and wonderfully written. Yours is a fine and rare gift. My Best, Brenda

This Poem was Critiqued By: Wayne R. Leach On Date: 2004-08-01 17:55:59
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 9.71875
Very strong indeed, Don. Very moving and emotional read. I can not say I enjoyed it, but acknowledge the quality and the effort that went to its creation, the strength of the writer to share a piece of this magnitude and content. I was a fortunate boy-child, having 2 loving parents, who punished me when needed, but who never abused me, or my brother. The baptism was certainly an experience, and you gave a vivid picture of it. I'll not bore you by rambling further, but this will get a vote from me. Regards. wrl
This Poem was Critiqued By: Joanne M Uppendahl On Date: 2004-07-17 18:25:52
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 10.00000
Don: It's difficult to form my reponse to this poem, for it reaches so very deeply into life and faith, risks everything, withholds nothing. Though it is a poem it is a pilgrimage, at least in this reader's estimation. Each telling of the story brings forth new understanding, forms new associations. As a reader I cannot tell you how much I admire not only your skill as a poet, your strength as a survivor, your willingness to risk vulnerability. As a fellow aspiring poet, I think you light the way. In so many respects. I Then he was a man who told legends and did not reach beneath my sheets at night while I dreamed deeply. I'm unsure whether to offer my response to this as a work of literature, as your poem, or my response to your experience and your willingness to be transparent here. I feel that you honor readers with this. In a sense I am reacting very personally, for a variety of reasons -- my work with child survivors of sexual abuse, my admiration for your writing with its exquisite artistry and above all,your honesty, and tenderness toward the young boy you once were. A mixture of emotions does not make for clarity. I hope that sincerity will override the awkwardness I feel in this attempt to respond to a poem that has moved me deeply. I've read it several times, gathered a variety of thoughts -- wish I had written them, as they are fleeting. I will do my best to recapture the most salient. II When I climb into the cocoon, I do not notice the membrane mantling my bones. I wander many times to the creek bed, resist the urge to lie down among pebbles, feel feathers spread from waxen skin. I fall many times. This gives the impression of a chick re-entering the membrane of the egg, somehow re-birthing, or un-birthing. You paint the vulnerable bird so vividly, with its "waxen skin" and shaky legs. From the young boy's bed to the creek bed. I have given up hope of coherency and brevity. I am simply going to give you my thoughts. As a young child, I found some unhatched bird eggs - at least, not completely hatched. I knew no better than to peel off the remaining bits of shell from the membrane. "membrane mantling my bones" reveals such complete vulnerability. As I did so, it became apparent that the bird was not ready to emerge from the shell. It did not continue to breathe. I felt such sorrow, and knew then that fragile young animals and humans needed time on their side, needed safety in which to emerge. That sorrow stayed with me. There is much more to this incident, but I won't detail it here. When you write "I fall many times" I envision a young, wobbly bird who nevertheless with stand and walk. Something, Someone, guides. III Once he took a cloth and covered my mouth, held me below the surface of the water, inches away from air. The additional notes in which you detail what happened here helped dispell some of the shock I felt. It's impossible for me not to read this in a dual way. I understand this baptism analogy, in which we die and are reborn. My recollection of the ritual is that it is the eyes which are covered, and not the mouth. This seems like a blended memory, if you will. From my work with traumatized children, I recall that some 'memories' of events are melded, so that they are less hurtful. A 'screen' memory, if you will. This is poetry, so that time, events, emotions, symbols are blended to reveal an experience in its complexity, in its nuances, in a dream-like fashion, rather than a reportorial journalistic style. IV Where has the father gone? So much depends* on affirmations, a dark fire transcending the silence of generations.--incredible! Ancient ones hold the bruised reed above parchment, --the epigram reference eyes gleam with new syllables, histories grafted on foreskin. Only the father cradles the shadow of birth. So many elements are mixed here, that it is as if, for this reader, at least, a new matrix is formed. The father who "cradles the shadow of birth" emerges as the God the Father. * Elicits "so much depends/upon/a red wheel/barrow" -WCW V "I let him hang from the tree" he once watched me climb, sang as the sparrow, whose narrow beak anticipates my soul. Of course the archetype of Christ is here. I felt this as a reference to the individual Christian's responsibility for Christ's crucifixion. How evident it is that the one who harmed this young boy's body did not invade his soul! VI Whose wings do I now bear? The father scrambles in the field, burrows under soil—covers his fore- head with mud! His blood forgets the weight of birth. Heavy with sweat, my blood remembers curled wings undulating. He reaches the slope, sheds his chrysalis. Amazing. The connection of "foreskin" from L4 of S4, with "fore-"/"head" -- a hyphentated word enjambment I've not seen before. I am uncertain if I am viewing a chick or butterfly or soul emerging. It is a blending that is incredibly moving -- a synthesis that is entirely original. What was 'born' from this incredible invasion of a childhood by an adult is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Of "a" human spirit, who has transformed these happenings into a new birth. VII My feet shake off dust, carry me farther than doubt. In the father’s grasp, sons lift like smoldering smoke from wax snuffed out. Every, every image, every sound and pause reach out to the reader for more than reading, into the crevices of deep experience, for soul's transformation. Through the traumatic events in one life, this speaker reaches to the heart of each reader, offering all the gold thus transmuted from the lead of suffering. You show clearly here that nothing is lost, that all, all experience may work for the good of those who love God. Remarkable in every sense! Bravo, sustained ovation.
This Poem was Critiqued By: Molly Johnson On Date: 2004-07-14 16:02:47
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 10.00000
Don, The wax winged Icarian themes in this peice are exquisite. It creates a real tension between the father and son imagery and blends legend and myth into experience. Well done you. Favorite stanza is the second one for its masterful imagery and the active resistance of the feathers. Fantastic moment and sense of place. And then, ther's the inevitable fall. Really the only problematic part of the poem for me is the first stanza , I think because there is a creepy sexual connotation to "did not reach beneath my sheets". It's a strange thing to remark on in the opening lines and my brain keps trying to make the poem about that small moment. If that's what you meant to do, good job. If it's not, you might want to think about the connotation a bit. It's probably just me. Really an epic piece. Bravo! mollyj
This Poem was Critiqued By: Lennard J. McIntosh On Date: 2004-07-08 12:31:25
Critiquer Rating During Critique: 1.00000
Re: "Wick of Christ" Yes, this was truly the "Wick of Christ," for he applied Isaiah's prophcy to himself at Matt. 12: 20. "I was baptized in a Baptist church when I was seven," [Taken from Additional Notes.] It creates a mystery for this reader, who understands that Baptist theology include a scripturally based belief that candidates for baptism must be of the age of understanding, as was Christ Jesus and his early followers, who were not infants or children. [Acts 8: 12] This point is merely an aside for me, for it does not take away from the depth of muse from where this piece originates. "I let him hang from the tree he once watched me climb, sang as the sparrow, whose narrow beak anticipates my soul." This is what I mean by "depth." First, the symbolism that points to the father figure hanging from a tree. Then, the genius of a sparrow's narrow beak anticipating one's soul, grips this reader's understanding to virtually staggers it. It is so good. Congradulations, writer! Len McIntosh
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