Five Poems

“Currently life is rich and terrifying, and I am finding that writing poetry is a most useful expression of my faith, which right now includes exercising my doubts. Doubt, after all, is a necessary component of faith. How else do we become sure of truth?” – Charity Gingerich

Charity Gingerich’s poems exploded upon us like a mature shrub of lilacs in full flower. The Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing is pleased to present a selection of these poems for the first time in this issue. Of the first three poems included here, Gingerich writes: “ ‘Some Days Walking Alone,’ ‘Deserving’ and ‘To Sugar Grove Road’ came at the end of an intense, almost visceral cycle of Lenten prayer poems I wrote this spring. I had not realized until now how ‘useful’ writing poetry could be beyond merely intellectual and artistic stimulation. It became an act of the body that nourished the spirit.”

With their long, lush lines, Gingerich’s poems reveal a passion for language and life that is distinctive and compelling, and a sensibility that is steeped in the Mennonite tradition of service to others and a reverence for the natural world.

Austin Hummel, editor of Passages North, has said of Gingerich’s poems, “[they are] ambitious, backward-glancing poems. They speak with an exile’s voice, though with a heart trained not on the self, but on others.” Humble but eager to share her poetic discoveries, Gingerich said of Hummel’s response to her work: “At first I felt strangely ‘exposed,’ as if someone—and a stranger no less—had uncovered a secret of mine. But my consternation mellowed when I realized that this really is a confirmation of what I hope to do/be as a poet, as a person. I want my work to transcend, not just in that otherworldliness that is poetry (sometimes), but I want to transcend the “I-myself,” the “I-as-narcissist.” I want my poetry to be more than just about me.”

We concur that these fine poems offer many rewards to readers. We hope you will enjoy this gift of poetry: lilacs in November. -- AH

Some days, walking alone is all the dialogue I need

here on College Ave where the going is either very up

or very down, April is a catalogue for contemplation:

shadow of a maturing maple against a yellow house,

its leaves like fists of the unborn, uncurling toward something

bigger than loneliness in spring. No, I thought, aloneness.

There is a difference, you know, if the breeze is just right.

If you’re prepared to hear your own intake of breath

seeing that splotch of forsythia, dash of redbud, shy shimmer

of pink dogwood just beyond where the silver edge of sunset begins

and longing ends on the mountain.

Still, I wasn’t prepared that day in Bärnsdorf,

happening upon lilacs with my host-mother, Birget, for the word

containing their beauty: Flieder; the taste of butterflies in my mouth,

like dialect, the tongue not quite certain of its own power.

Now as it did then, evening goes where it does, taking the language of bravery

with it, leaving us shadows of things, hearts-turned-mirrors to catch

these something-like-stars we carry around in the sky of us,

never alone enough to know if we have found, or have been found.

I followed my heart to trees this evening, after hearing Mary’s voice in the garden at sunrise.

Behind Woodburn, I sought out my gnarled old friend—sycamore, fig?—covered in English ivy,

but lost my way to a trailing white treelet, half-fountain, half-bridal veil. I was enchanted

but unsure of its beauty in the absence of the older tree, its calming homeliness and shadows

so cleanly cut away I thought perhaps my memory was a trick. All week, I have desired holiness,

but found only sensuousness. I shrugged off ashes for magnolia blossoms, and waded

in a cold brook instead of meditating on the cross. In church this morning, though I sang lustily

the songs I love, I wondered: what have I done to deserve Easter this year? I grew pensive

for the green of home, but held my tears for shame. God of my childhood, Shepherd

of my youth, Savior of my puny shriveled soul, Guardian of my heart, Jesus, the sweetest name

I know, I want to acknowledge this: I have never deserved Easter. It has taken doubt

and self-loathing to know that every sunrise, every field of daffodils I cannot stop praising

in giddy, childish bursts, the eggs I painted last night with reckless joy,

my rebellious, aching, awakening body, is all life, Lord, and has the potential for holiness.

My smudged, shadow-filled heart wants to fly clean like the redbird again. But first,

I echo Mary’s words in the garden, next to this tomb of me: Master, Teacher!
To Sugar Grove Road
There was snow on the trees, faintly pink, crab apples in bloom along the Mon. 
Good Friday, and I walked among the homeless with their dirty satchels and drawn faces. 
An obese couple passed by on bicycles, their skin orbs of white fat bunched up
under baggy clothes. I winced and wished them luck, I a girl with a giant blue truck in her heart,
Easter hats on her mind. Ok, and popsicles. This hottest of April days, worries sizzled,
small bird eggs fallen from well-meaning nests all along the rail trail. But I kept walking.

This is me resisting panic over spring. That smell, like apples gone wild all over my fingers,
a little like longing, and—

So evening came, and I came home, tired, sweaty, to a hungry man and his dog. 
Because I’m better known for the frogs I carry than for my vanity, 
I was permitted a two-minute shower. I even skipped the new summer dress,
pale and floral, unforgiving of white curving legs. Dinner was a bridge to a bridge
and almost home. Stepping out by it, roofed, quaint and staunch—spanning Dent’s Run, 
I was content to smell sheep and greening pasture and remember, 
yes, the sun gone down leaves shadows, but sometimes daffodils, which survive 
in spite of me.

An Inquiry of Bees & Music 
We were never meant to sound Russian. 
The sopranos, me included, were too light and clean on the middle Cs, like girls pretending that 
         is something to be felt but not sung about. 
We have our graveyards, but grief is suspect to those with water-lily hearts. 

The yellow jacket in my bed looked real enough to kill. 
They’d been building a nest in the apartment for weeks, ‘til the walls hummed me to sleep at 
         and I dreamed of their tiny fuzzy bodies and mine becoming one, a shape of ceaseless 

I’ve learned understanding is overrated, but only by those who don’t understand. 
The rest is generous space where stars knit doilies of themselves in the sky, oblivious to 
         hopefulness, the grandmothers below like mine who replicated their patterns so patiently          
         all those years. 
My cousin the beekeeper likes to say love is in the eye of the beekeeper.
 I never know whether he’s speaking of life or sharing knowledge from his honey conventions. 

The choral group I’d joined for the summer was all crisp fricatives and mellifluous vowels. 
There was little room for the dead in our voices, and perhaps even memory. 
Except for an ambitious barrel-scraping bass or two, we remained all meadow, sundown of sound, 
         undulating youngness. 

My maestro once told me, you can either be right or be happy. 
Was it the high note or the frown that preceded it? 
At any rate, I believed him. 
There was a bit of the bee in his voice, though the smell of red, hothouse geraniums lingered 
Self-Portrait with Lilacs 

Come wild, late October, I start thinking in paper chains,
one colorful link for every year marking my advent.
Adulthood is sorcerized to a bowl of wrinkled peas 
left in the chicken shed; I am ten again, blowing up balloons,
playing hide-and-seek in the neighbor’s cornfield
after dark.     There were always two cakes: 
one home-made with burnt sugar frosting (my mother’s), 
one store-bought, bright with thick, fake frosting (my father’s). 
One year he bought a Snoopy cake. In the pictures, 
bending over the candles in my startling green dress,
I am too sober to be six, my eyes dark exclamation points of wonder 
over the fuss, this celebration of the pines and tall grasses of me,
barefoot gatherer of wild tea and raspberries, 
sometimes scribe of clouds.    I don’t remember which cake
I liked best. This seems wise. And anyway, there were presents:
the inevitable bald doll, some books, a pen with a pink feather, 
possibly barrettes. 
				My first best friend was a boy named Roland.
We played variations of ‘renegades’ after church without fail,
small dark shapes against the prayer curtains, improbable ghosts 
of our future selves. The year he couldn’t come to my party
his mother fetched him to our house so he could present me
with knee socks. Two pairs.    Ours was a sturdy relationship. 

                                One year my flesh-and-blood grandpa gave me a silver dollar.
It wasn’t my birthday. It was as if he suddenly took note, 
some mid-January, that I was alive and wrote incessantly,
which pleased him. It was our only commonality. 

The best memories perhaps, are adaptations. Like drawings 
we find in drawers years later, rendered with creative abandon: 
lopsided houses, suns with grotesque grins and porcupine beams.
We convince ourselves we were more artistic than that,
that our ‘real’ drawings were lost or destroyed by the odd jealous sibling,
the dog.   One of mine has survived. It is May and I am eight, circling 
the lilac bush where the spirit of my Grandfather Detweiler blooms. 
I begin to fill a hat, and we chit-chat about this business 
of two cakes.    It is our joke that my birthday is long past.    He knows.
The lilac is the best of presents. It’s the one I wait for all year. 

About the Author

Charity Gingerich

Charity Gingerich is a native of Hartville, Ohio where she grew up in a Conservative Mennonite community. She has a BA from Kent State University and is working on an MFA in Poetry at the University of West Virginia, where she received the Rebecca Mason Perry Outstanding First-Year MFA Student Award in 2009. Her poems have appeared in The Writing Center Review, Purpose, and Canto and have won awards in the West Virginia Writer’s competition in 2009 and 2010. An essay, "Of the Meadow," will be published in Ruminate in December 2010.