These poems were selected from a manuscript of over 100 poems culled by Katie Funk Wiebe and Joanna Wiebe from Christine Wiebe’s papers. This thematic selection of poems suggests the range of Christine’s interests and the depth to which she probed them. Her poems are deeply sensitive to language as a tool of creation, disturbance, and integration. The section titles—Words, Father Loss, The Body, Nature’s Order, Exploration, Oblate, Dreams—have been created by the editor.--AH



I am hot and caught
firmly held in a web of wishes,
I am trying to find the reddest words 
to cut myself out.
I want quick red words. 


you drop like pebbles 
in the pond I shield 
behind a wall of evergreen.

See them resting
on the sun-fingered floor: 
copper piece
blue fragment
something lavender.

Although I have not touched one,
they still move.
dreaming of the splash
on silent water, the gentle descent,
they toss in their sleep.
I pause,
Feel slow circles circling circles,
wait long for calm. 


Some people don let you
clean like you want to.
Here, I clean until I feels good.
I scrub every inch with bleach.
Whenever there’s someone dies 
I throw out the pillow.
I go over it all 
until I feels good,
You know?
Bed clean and bare,
cover it with white sheets,
ever been in this room.
It hard work, 
Washing the word away. 


Oh Lord, who gave me will and brain and body; 
Oh Lord, who set me in this box of puzzle pieces: 
Give me words to speak.

What shall I tell my friend
When she brings me a child,
Blue, beaten, broken by the mother’s hand?
My friend taunts me, demands to know: 
“Where is your God?
Could a loving God allow this?” 
I am silent.
I have no words to fit in the cracks 
Between ill-fitting puzzle pieces.

I see another friend, 
the one who clowned, joked and danced,
now drugged, sulking, silent,
I remember how I used to flit around him
Like a mother playing with light.
Now the light is gone.
Only the cold, gray bulb remains.
The mother sits on the sidewalk waiting.
No words to fit in the cracks.

Yet I believe you’ll send words, Lord.
I trust you.
You know how the pieces of this world puzzle fit together.
Someday you’ll put the last piece in place,
Step back and say: 
“It is good.” 
Then I won’t need words to fill the cracks.

But now I do.
While waiting for the your gift of speech,
While waiting for puzzle pieces 
I will embrace the taunting friend, the battered child,
   the sulking clown.

I am waiting, Lord.
Give me words to speak.



I clump down the stairs in Daddy’s shoes. 
Mother gives me some death words.
They don’t fit anyway.
Take them back, mother.

Relatives fly to our house like black birds.
Curled in uncle’s lap I watch.
“What did that mean?”
“We’re talking German, Chrissie.” 

At the back of the church a long box 
with a person in it.
I want to look inside
but I’m too far away.

Under the fir trees: a stone and a hole.
Is it really six feet?
Why is the lid shut?
May I move closer, mother? 


I descend to the basement, knees trembling,
past the dolls I played with,
the Chinese Checkers,
a yellowed scrapbook of recipes,
a 1956 phonebook from Kitchener.
There is my father’s name; 
we lived on Grand Street.
Everything down here
holds the comfort of dying,
voices low and heavy with dust,
will not keep me awake.
Here it is quiet, cool and deep.
I unlace my shoes,
stroke the dark nap,
rest my length beneath the  brown quilt
on the same bed that cradled 
the curve of my mother and father.
I will sink my head in the feather pillow,
study the picture my sister painted,
the adobe house in the snow.
I will rest from every living thing,
my eyes failing, waiting
for white flakes to fall on me


This is how it should be: 
Christmas vacation, and I am six;
Daddy and I are driving outside the city 
to a great hill with untouched snow. 
Sun warms the car.

I climb up the tracks Daddy makes
hearing the crunch each time the first time.
We stand at the top, just Daddy and I, breathing,
and the sparrows laugh.
“I’m afraid,” I say.

But then we’re sailing
and I ‘m safe on a narrow strip of wood 
clinging to his broad back,
a solid thing in a swaying world,
and I’m laughing and wishing

we could fall like this forever
into the sun sparkles and whipping wind
and the white snowdrift
waiting to embrace us 
over and over and over.


The people guarding the door seem very tall.
They have my father inside,
and once in a great while they bring me word: 
“He is alive and well and living in New York.”
So why am I standing here under this sign?
I am only seven. But I want to see for myself. 

I try a new line: I have no father.
I lead this child through the linoleum maze
to a bed with an old man in it.
I hold myself back while the child looks and touches
and whispers, “I have no father.” 
I hold her the way Daddy once held me.

 (Mother, give me your hands for a while. 
I want their memory.)
This time, I will tell the story.
This time, I will be Mother. 
Come, she says, we will go to the hospital 
to visit him (to say goodbye).
I put on Mother’s hat. I put on Mother’s coat.
My shoes will tap-echo-tap 
on the linoleum.
I take a small hand.

All I have left are photos 
black and white shadows of you,
studied drawings of me visiting you.
I want to be seven again
And sit on your lap.
I want to write a long letter.
I want  to find the voice I’ve  lost,
your beard scratching my cheek,
your size 12 shoes I played in. 

When I find the cemetery near my home
The gravestone is a door. 
He stands there blessing me good bye
yet I keep coming back.

I go on long fruitless journeys,
stopping to look at a map.
I am standing on a hill beside a shed. 
I rush toward a tall slender dark-haired man.
The  shadowy figure far ahead
stops and turns around
But I can’t run toward him.
Someone inside me screams, “Come back.” 
I turn away. I am not ready. 

I’ve been standing at the door since I was seven
Studying the sign that says I am not admitted.
Even now, the people guarding the door 
are very tall in their white coats 
They have my father inside. 



Because I have lupus 
the sun and I are separated; 
We are not allowed 
to look at one another
on this earth.
So I smile in mirrors
and savor reflections in glass,
long fingers of light
across grassy sand hills,
tiny diamonds riding dust,
the glow on children’s faces
in late afternoon,
the restrained moonlight.
Sometimes I feel something warm 
stroking my back.


I am living in a hospital bed 
wondering how
they get the blood out 
of all those sheets.
Mounds of sheets 
pillow cases 
hospital gowns
stained with drops of blood 
pass through a mysterious machine 
and emerge 


A storm shakes the screens
but I sleep. 
Crocus buds hide 
behind hospital windows.

Waking up, the wind blows the curtain open
for the full moon.
I heave a sigh,
turn over.

Months later
my toes still feel
the coolness of the descent.
They’ve stepped down,
won’t come back.

Occasionally a cool touch 
on my shoulder or arm.
It does not direct or push.
Just a touch.
Someone washed off the blood,
invited me out.


In the doctor’s office 
even the chairs are sterile
in their uniform
placement against the white wall.
Square wooden sides,
seats in shades of gray. There is light
under a silver dome
but no one lives here.
The magazines are aligned,
rectangular columns. I examine
a purple gauzy dress in Cosmopolitan
before the door shuts.
Trapped in a tan bed with paper covers,
I know the polish cabinet holds needles
wrapped in plastic, wooden depressors
and more paper covers.
They draw my blood 
but none of the color leaks out.


I’m telling you,
the body is not static,
there’s motion inside there.
The lungs, sucking in and out like great frothy pink balloons.
That heart, pumping, pulsing, rocking your chest,
The blood, pulsing, sliding, racing along millions of vessels.
And those glands, sliding out their secretions.
See them slithering into your stomach? 
And there goes the stomach,
kneading itself like a batch of bread dough
till it squirts its contents below.
And there’s more I won’t tell you.
I’ll let you 


Saturday evening I wait shivering
in grandmother’s drafty kitchen,
far from friendly porcelain
and a lock on the door 
Grandmother dips water
from a well in the black stove.
The water slaps the metal washtub 
like a shot; I edge closer 
to the  water stampede,
the cloud of steam.
But I wait till she leaves
to strip and climb in.
She’s not my mother.
My eyes guard the open door.
I squeeze warm rivers down my back.
I  feel the metal ridges  on my soft bottom.
I bathe my soul in dreams. 

Now I am a pioneer.
A week ago my husband left for town; 
The wilderness is now  mine. 

I’ll garden. I’ll collect herbs.
I’ll wander the grownover  trails.
I’ll find where the sun sets. 
I smile my secret at  the black wood stove.
She laughs, gives me two loaves of bread.

A toy train hoots in the next room.
My hand starts over the edge to the towel 
My brother’s turn is next. 
Once nightgowned in dry flannel
I grin. No one has seen. No one knows. 



In the cornfield
a hundred pathways
lead to the east end
where the roots 
of mulberries dangle
over the edge
where a duck holds 
her ducklings in a circle of water. 


How wonderful 
to see Mother 
with pie dust on her skirt,
the white shadow 
of her hand 
against her hip. 


I dream of a black bird 
sitting on the front seat.

Naming the fear 
it becomes a shadow
and flies away.


I didn’t know how the place drew me; 
I just followed my dreams to the lilac bushes,
clawed my way in, the branches clawing back,
and sat still in the little clearing.

Encircled by the purple and green and silence
I breathed in the loving lilac smell
And talked quietly. It was easier somehow
To hear them there –those imaginary friends 
children befriend so naturally—
far from my brother, far from sagging house,
far from the dissonance of grownups talking. 


On the dark porch
we sing old hymns,
watch the wind waltz.
Cicadas wind down.

Far across the prairie
one star ices the sky.
Near our heads pear tree boughs
ache with fruit.


I am waiting
I am  waiting
for you to say yes
 to my branches 
laden with solid fruits.
each branch is dancing,
each branch is praising, 
a festival of mangoes, 
limes, peaches, passion fruit.
I sing an old song
for you who will give 
my valley a name.   


My hands are ready, sister,
waiting to touch the dark diamond of his crown,
a rim of white skin.

All this womb-wrapped night I wait beside you.
Your kneeling frame swells.
Fingers clench wood.

Damp, black elfin head fills my palms.
Shaking, I grasp warm, wet shoulders 
blinded by light from the other side of the moon.


If I had only one summer 
I would spend all my money 
on a stone house by the river.
There we would live, 
my sisters and I, 
by the morning call of the cardinals
the whistle of the tea kettle
the splash in our cups 
the smell of foreign teas and fresh scones.
By our bare feet the ringed cat 
would swirl herself round the first stripe of sun. 

We would walk in the morning,
 my sisters, the cat and I 
down the green pathway,
the trees above us like a fan,
the river on our left holding ducks and geese,
quiet as leaves.

In the evening we would watch from the porch
all the silent lights of the night: 
the evening star, the slice of white moon.
sated with holiness we would sleep, 
our nights full of fireflies flying.


The cat watches the sparrows 
Her body low her hind legs set
The sparrows eat the seed with 
delicate mouse-like beaks
shelving the shells off the feeder 
unaware of the cat bent below
her hind legs set, the flash 
across the window, feathers unfurled
disappearing in the green

The cat has swirled herself in a gray ball
on the green rocker. I am settled 
in the flowered stuffed chair,
my feet propped on a disintegrating straw footstool.
The sparrows have left now,
but a moment ago they were picking 
at the seed left in the feeder.
The sky is blue and fresh with the leaves 
starting to turn yellow.
The postman bangs open the boxes.


I wonder if I am really a moth,
gray, shadowy thing,
always fluttering, seeking
light at old lampposts.
Does it stroke the flames nervously,
trying to find a safe way in? 
I think I see it dart away, float back,
fly away, then stray back again.
. . . so hard to resist,
this call of the burning ones: 
Light! Light! Light! 


On that day 
the sea gives us
only the purest stones; 
Pink, blue, gray 
round like eggs.
We fill our skirts 
like harvest women,
flirting with thunder
until we sway heavy with life
compressed, grated, crushed
ground from old secrets.
Why do we come? Where do we go?
The arcs rise over our heads,
casting forth their fruit.
We hear ancient voices
And feel pangs of  green.


The rain is a-playing
And the piano a-dancing.
The rain kisses the sidewalk,
And notes caress each other.
The rain descends outside; 
The music rises inside,
a fountain overflowing
while water slides slowly
down to the gutters,
down to the source
where music waits,
where everything waits 
to rise up, reach up,
spring up with wet hands 
holding flutes.



She is all talcum powder
and apron pocket.
I stand between boiling fruit
and the true black book slipped 
behind checked gingham,
my dotted swiss dress and raspberry 
conscience clashing,
my hand knotted.
Her silence pricks
 me like strokes from confessional floors,
strokes me
with benedictions of bar soap.
A wool braid in my throat 
tightens the whimper
of a screen door spring.
I pinch the stuff
flat as a wafer.


I am Jesus. 
I feel all cool outside
pale and waxen
but inside hot and burning
that tightens my muscles 
makes them unable to stop from touching
the wax man in the hospital bed.
You try to stop me 
but you can’t—
stop me from touching myself
because of that hot burning 
in my chest. 


I find my mother’s old Dutch oven.
Heavy, black, spherical—
I imagine it looked like this 
when father gave it to her 40 years ago.
Now as I study that black hole in my kitchen,
I feel conditions must be right
to slip through this density of memories 
to their time, or at the very least,
by some chance tilting,
to snatch compressed messages
from the dark space before my birth.


I am lying in white cotton sheets
in that gray place
where a real word slips in.
My eyes are closed.
I have become an old person.
I take long naps. 
My knees shake when I climb out of the shower.
I am invited to health seminars at the hospital.
All this so I can band together
with the gray-haired group
as it stands together
waiting for a trip through Venice 
or a fall across the waves 
into the ocean of everything.
The buds on the oak tree brush my window 
with small memories of leaves.
They turn themselves over and upon each other
like the sparrows who struggle in tandem.
I wonder if they are fighting for space
or love or because no one told them
the nest is already built. I found it 
hooked in  a thorn bush where anyone could see.

I remember.



The air is cold. We are late. I drive 
with Sister Lorraine to a monk’s abbey in Manitoba.
She unfastens the steel gate.
“Now run,” she says, and we run under the stars
and the half moon to a small chapel.

Two lines of men in white robes do not stop for us.
They  sing below us, their voices rising
and falling, about their life in the garden,
their pleasure under the stars,
the daily arguments,
the colors in the soup pot,
I hear ancient voices join,
sing about their peace.

Now I need to hear them again
as the earth grows smaller.
They sing to each other, for twenty years
they sing, and now in a riverbank
saved from suburban sprawl I hear a cricket sound the pitch
And riverbirds unhook their notes in beneficent echoes.


The day is almost rubbed out now; 
God was up early with paper and crayon,
making pictures for us,
carefully rolling deepest blue 
across the empty sheets.
A touch of coral, then grey,
columns rising in the foreground,
bit by bit the color collects 
until, there –
God steps back and breathes deeply.
It takes a long time each morning 
to make ten million rubbings 
for those who cannot buy the stone.


It’s like this: 
It’s your turn to do dishes
and you’ve let them pile up
over the table and the stove 
and the chairs and the top of the refrigerator,
and your roommate, who hates doing dishes,
having nothing better to do 
out of love for you
washes every last one. 

Most people who die
wake up full of praise. They saw Jesus.
But I forget that part.
Even so, I know that 
women with lights in their eyes 
held my hand while I was looking 
out the window. They drew the blinds.

These women reflect the light; 
Their eyes are windows, too.
They know the way in and the way out.


I am writing a letter
to a man I’ve never met.
He has no face.
I am telling him
about the clothes 
I am taking off.
With each letter,
another layer 
falls at my feet.
He does the same for me.
Perhaps this way we will give each other faces.



“Our refrigerator is dying,” 
the president says.  The ladies lean their heads 
and nod. I wonder 
how  they got so small, 
lined in the egg rack 
and along the metal shelves in neat rows, 
as brightly painted as Ukrainian  Easter eggs. 

“In the summer I have to defrost mine 
every  other whipstitch,” says the lady with dark hair 
over a gaunt face. She wears a see-through salmon blouse 
under a flowered jumper. 
Her eyes are outlined in a perfect circle,
like an owl’s.

The fat Mrs in green shorts says, “hm-m-m.” 
She has brought an enormous plate with square cavities
to fill from the food on the side table.
“We’re dormant,” she says. 

“Yes, I know.” 
They don’t see me, so I steal away 
as the refrigerator closes, 
hissing quietly.


I have walked miles on narrow paths 
to this place in the story where I sit
encircled by the willow’s green serenity,
I gaze across the pond at a gazebo 
and recognize at last it is the one
in Mother’s plate, the one she placed
above the rest, “because it tells a story.” 
I know now who I am
that messengers are on their way 
the lovers plan their flight
and I need wait for nothing
but the wind to ripple willow wands 
and startle words from me 
like birds surprised to flight.


Someone sent him to stare at me
sitting primly on the stage,
my French horn silent in my lap. 
He was a prophet so fat and ugly
he must have been spawned 
in my subconscious
now sprawled in the twelfth row,
center aisle seat 
at the cavernous auditorium.
Play! He bellowed,
And I played each note 
Perfectly, innocently
as a 14-year-old,
walked quickly past him
scribbling madly,
“Keep  playing, young lady,” 
and thought, I’m done with you, fat man,
done with this horn,
done with your word.


I walk past the reddening tomatoes 
down the hill to a path way darkened
by elm leaves on each side. Water laps 
in gentle waves in hollows while
crickets chirp an accompaniment.
I cross the sand pocked with raccoon tracks
and inhale a cloud of honeysuckle.
An egret flies off,
its neck looped like a white question mark.
The ducks cluck and sit still 
on their bank in the river.
Only the white duck with red beak,
waits for me, flexing its black wings,
so close I could touch it.
Then I see the oak tree, spreading
its leaves like wands over the path,
the water. Here I stop under an old lamppost
at a round grey table, chairs waiting.
Here I take my daily portion of enchantment,
while raindrops shed stars across the river 
before the wooden bridge, the way on. 


In my still house
life swirls so slowly 
that I can see the dark mermaids
Swimming past my front door.
I settle into my easy chair
and pull one up.
A golden-haired green treasure
lines my porch with green scales and gray fins.
At night she speaks in a secret language 
and shares bedtime rituals with me,
the slow and silent one,
caught with dry seaweed in my mouth.

About the Author

Christine Ruth  Wiebe

Christine Ruth Wiebe (Tabor College 1976) was a writer of poetry and journalism. Born in Northern Saskatchewan to Walter and Katie Funk Wiebe, she was raised in Hillsboro, Kansas, where she later attended Tabor College. Christine volunteered with the Mennonite Central Committee, worked at Marymound School in Saskatchewan, and taught English at Hesston College before returning to school to earn a degree in Nursing from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois (B.S. 1985). During this time Christine also struggled with lupus and the side-effects of its treatment, which caused a heart attack in 1985. Christine worked as a nurse in Chicago, participated in a writer's group, and began to write poetry in earnest. In 1992 she moved back to Kansas to be closer to family in an attempt to cope with her failing health and enrolled in the MFA program at Wichita State University. During several health setbacks she created a self-published and illustrated book, How to Stay Alive, about her struggle with lupus and her calling as a writer. She died in 2000. A number of her poems were published posthumously in Dreamseeker Magazine in 2002 and 2004.