Permission and Other Poems

"Permission" was inspired by Jesse's experience at Mennonite/s Writing VI; he read the other three poems at the conference. "Report of Heavens" first appeared under the title "Heavens," in a different form in The Mennonite for May 5, 2009.


Ownership is like the moon.
Three eyes, faces, nobody.
What does this metaphor

In the world
for the world

Report of Heavens

When in September 1882
a fragment rivaled the sun
as it fell past the sun,
hit perihelion, grazed the day
with its light as it winked
into oblivion,
the Mennonite
wrote his kin
in Kansas
a yellowed letter
from an Uzbek desert
that fourteen horses
were full of goiters,
the wagon wheels
shot, the children
tired, bored.
But we are well, he writes
sipping hot coffee
from a copper samovar.
The comet came, he writes,
it kept us awake,
we read by its light,
sang hymns to the bright,
played games in the street.
Even the sun at noon the next day
did not diminish the moment much.
Tell Ma it was a momentous event,
us wandering madly, hands aloft
to shield to see that vein of star
to track its track, its bleed
of white across the sky.
Tell Ma the red cow
calved an hour ago.
It’s a black bull.
A trophy for the market.
And though an axle broke on the road,
though there’s no good rope
around to drag the wagon out,
though sheets of sand swept up,
though Jantzen’s boy caught a thumb
in a wheel—clipped it clean—
though climate typhus takes its toll
we know we’ll find a place to pray.
We’ll pray we recognize the signs
that slice and score the sky.
We’ll pray for tomatoes, fat potatoes,
for brittle whispering fields of wheat.
We’ll pray for spring, water, tougher feet.
We’ll pray we’re steady as the sun
until our sudden one
bright quiet comet comes.

Son Poem

We had to go further

than our fathers

to find a place by the waters

to be free and alone.

Plattedeutsch Riemzel

Housed in humid fluorescence in a red brick building with a recording studio in the basement in North Newton, Kansas exist 30,000 books, 5,600 volumes of bound periodicals in 4,300 to 4,800 cubic feet of records which as a body constitute the Mennonite Library and Archives and among which I sat desperate for traces—of what I wasn’t clear, and I took this ambiguity personally but well, I think, considering—I scrolled through seventeen pages of search results until my brain sparked at an entry for a book of 909 rhymes in the language of the Old Country which I retrieved from a shelf five high just as the ringtone version of “I Will Survive” erupted one table over, and I, a wandering and somehow still weirdly cellphoneless son fumbling with a form of bygone Dutch shot through with German but sounding sort of Yiddish, opened that Lulu.com-printed catalog and read quietly aloud a rhyme that went Eent, twee, dree, veea, fief, sass, saewen, / Wua ess mien Jung jeblaewen?/ Ess hee hiea, ess hee doa,/ Ooda ess hee enn Jefoah? which covers a thousand sins and in English can be rendered One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, / Where has my boy stayed? / Is he here, is he there? / Or is he in danger?

About the Author

Jesse Nathan

Jesse Nathan lives and works in San Francisco. He studies, edits and writes poetry.