Friday, September 14, 2012

Jacob's Ladder

What I treasure about writing--poetry in particular, but writing in general--is the way it makes me stop and take notice of the world around me. Whether that is bearing witness to pain or worshipping God through details, the act of noticing matters. That's what I love about Gary Boelhower's poem "Jacob's Ladder," which won America Magazine's Foley prize. I've copied it here, but highly recommend following the link to check it out (and hear the author read it). The runners' up are on the site, too.

Jacob's Ladder
by Gary Boelhower

When you are on the ladder with a paint brush
twenty feet of air between you and the ground
do not swing in anger or fear at the yellow jackets.

If angels are ascending and descending the ladder
of your spine let them stretch their strands of light
into the small spaces between the discs of bone.

When you notice the way your heart can lean
toward shadow pay attention to the story
you keep telling yourself as if it were the truth.

If you are keeping track of the times you
fold the laundry or take out the garbage
you are not an angel ascending or descending.

When you curse the baby bunny eating lettuce
from the garden it is time to notice and listen
how the angels sing of mercy and bread.

If the spider is crawling up your sleeve
use your opposable thumb and consider the vow
of the bodhisattva and the levels of humility.

When you forget to roll up the car window
before the rain storm think of each silver drop
as an angel descending with blessed reminders.

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