The Heretic and Other Poems

The Heretic

During the Reformation in Europe, Menno Simons left his work as a Catholic priest to become a leader of the Anabaptist movement, which was distinguished by a belief in adult baptism. Many Anabaptists -- now known as Mennonites, Amish and Brethren -- were martyred for their practice.

On the foothills of Sangre de Christo, my brother rinses his low-

floating beard in spring water and stones. I don't know

how far he goes when he leaves his home near Grape Creek,

but I can see his bones more clearly through his face each


My philosophy has been, he says, not so much to have friends

but to have no enemies.

Day after day, he finds company in volcanic rock, in pine-riddled

air, in grasshopper and snake.

He says his aim is gold. Like stories we were told from Martyrs

Mirror: of those who believed in baptism, of

plunging their grown bodies into rivers and calling it


My brother follows an impulse, just as our father and great-

grandfather set out to save souls back east, to abandon

home fires, where what is kept is not always true,

to go out by horse and carriage, by train or foot to excavate a thing

that is precious: souls, gold, voices in the wilderness.

To find a thing that won't be defiled or won't be sold.

When they at weddings and feasts, Simons told his friends,

pipe and beat the tambourine, we must look out,

when the dogs bark, lest the captors be at hand.

Heretic, hedge preacher, Simons died a natural death.

His followers buried him, secretly,

in his own garden,

a baptism of sweet earth.

I ask my brother, who has come back with a sack in his hand.

I ask what he has found, if anything.

He shows me fool's gold, its tiny mouths of sunlight

nestled in his palm

and rolled between his fingers,

gently as though a rosary,

but more like a question.


The Reluctant Carnivore

It's true: I eat the ovum of mother hens, take the shell -- perfect, tan,

the color of my hand -- strike it on the rim of a sizzling pan.

Mama hen, I will keep you penned for this nourishment.

It is the privilege, you see, at the top of the food chain, this power to

take, o cow, your suckling milk and hand it over to my

own child.

Make no mistake, I will wrap his glorious feet in the skins

of your young.

Watch out! I am a ravenous she-wolf, a hyena, tearing at your gut,

laughing shrilly at the feast.

I wasn't always so vicious, so ready to steal.

As a child, I rescued an egg from its carton and hid it under

the winter radiator, checking it every morning for the appearance

of some tender, chirping thing.

How sadly the week expired, the egg warm and motionless.

But now I have my own to feed, and he is crying.

I won't be sparing.

(But I will pray.)

Mama hen, bless you as you labor day after day, as your young

are boxed

and shipped away.

With blood on my lips, mother cow, I bow to you.


An Extinction:The Last Tiger Addresses its Poacher

So this is what it’s like to be bone, lying naked in the ash

after the gods’ bacchanal has ended.

Licked clean of any resemblance

of what I once was

before the ambush, before

the last poaching.

I had plans wrapped around like fur, luxurious,

dream filled.

I would have been glorious on the riverbank,

preying on herds of deer

in the wayward grass

feeding on their warm flesh.

We see only our one desire.

Soon, you will be as I am – a hungry ghost

looking for food not found

on this earth.

I am the last bone of the last tiger,

with no more fearful sound to make

than the ash makes, when the night wind

stirs it in the pit.



On my feather pillow, your head with gossamer

hair, you are the smallest matryoshka doll.

You were there all along, and only now do I see you,

and how every soul who has come before us surrounds

you, the same sweet face.

You carry us onward, as happened just yesterday:

the woman we passed on the street clutched

her hands at her chest at the sight of you.

Her veil of weariness, for that moment, lifted.

You are a flood, creating a new beginning. The dove

bearing the leafed branch.

Everything I’ve known has changed, as if I were

a fossil uncovered from under layers

of sand.

I see now that you were present at the beginning, my child,

but not my child.

Everything I fear, I put away. I release you to whom

you belong, to the Alpha and Omega, who holds us


About the Author

Cynthia Yoder

Cynthia Yoder is the author of Crazy Quilt: Pieces of a Mennonite Life, one of the first modern Mennonite memoirs to be published, as well as Divine Purpose: Find the Passion Within, a book of reflections and exercises aimed to help individuals find meaning in their life pursuits. Divine Purpose is now available as an e-book. Cynthia has published writings in New Jersey Monthly, Mothering, the Cortland Review, and elsewhere. She also mentors individuals in creating greater vision for their work or creative projects. She lives with her husband and son in New Jersey. Find out more on her website,www.cynthiayoder.com.