Poem for the fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary Describes How it Feels

By Kathryn Smith

When the angel spoke, the axis pulled
through earth’s center like a needle through
cloth. Mountains split and plunged
to the depths of the sea, whose tides had turned backward,
whose moon no longer held sway. At the sound
of the angel’s voice, the tree outside my window
gave back its sunlight. It began to shrink its branches,
leaves furling in on themselves, bark returning
to a cellular memory, down to the code
of a single seed. The whole world was a walnut,
and it latched within me. When I sleep,
I dream of armies marching straight
into oceans, of one hundred lambs
penned for slaughter and the axman
throwing open the gate. I dream of plagues
undone. But mostly
I don’t sleep, spun by the hurricane
churning inside me, buildings rising
and tumbling until one
stone remains. Rumor of war
in the womb’s dark snare, kernel of coiled history
ready to spring, to hurl every last molecule
from its place—my
untamed, my temblor, my sweet
internal fire unleashing and no one,
no one prepared for its terrible,
beautiful havoc.


A poem for the third Sunday of Advent

Lessons: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

I’m a quiet person, and John the Baptist’s warning in Luke 3 is noisy. I wanted to reflect on this notion of winnowing, of throwing the unfruitful trees to the fire, but without all the yelling and accusation. Because after all, as we’re told at the close of this Gospel reading, the unquenchable fire that burns the chaff is good news.


by Kathryn Smith

In this valley, the sun
is always behind us, light
that can’t quite lift itself
above the fence of mountains.
Keep me here, O Lord, in the safety

of fog’s enclosure, where a solitary figure
crosses the field, pruning saw in hand.
The gray orchard has not
dreamed of spring, trees nestled
in dormancy, their sap

an unseen coursing beneath the bark.
This is the time for pruning.
The orchardist knows the saw’s perfect
angle, the importance
of a steady grip. He knows

what thrives, budswell, small signals
of bearing. A firm hand

makes the cleanest cut. Nothing fruitless
remains. Nothing’s left to break

under winter’s burden,
spent limbs bundled and burned
in the damp morning. Smoke rises,
indistinguishable from fog,
from breath. I pray for necessary
injuries, wounds that remind me,

with each knotted scar, to whom
I belong.

A poem for the second Sunday of Advent

Scripture lessons: Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

We’ve all known wilderness, be it actual or metaphorical. In the two stories I’m sharing in this poem, it’s both. When you’re lost, it’s sometimes hard to believe that the safe path will be made known to you. I think Advent offers an opportunity to reflect on the times we’ve known wilderness, the times hope has been hard to come by. It’s a time to acknowledge our fears and doubts, whether we’ve already crossed to safety or are still in the thick of a desolate place.

Wilderness in Two Parts
by Kathryn Smith

In my family, the story is legend:
A child of four wanders from the campsite,
certain she knows her way. Sometime later
a family friend follows a muddy trail
of small bootprints, finds the child sitting
on a log, scoops her up and carries her
to safety. I remember being lost
more than I remember being found.

You were right to stay put, they told me.
But I didn’t—not at first. Not until I’d wandered
what seemed hours in a wilderness
too vast to be knowable. Not until fear
stunned me motionless. I gave up hope,
sat down on a mossy log, and lifted
my face to a sliver of sky just visible
through the evergreen canopy
in something like prayer.

At nineteen, I was desperate as a seed
splitting open to unfurl itself, shocked
by the oxygen and sudden light. My only chance
against loneliness was to start again, to seek
the deepest of lakes, unfamiliar mountains close
as my own breath. I chose a trail
obliterated by snow, crusted and fragile.
Breaking through to my shins and heading, generally,
in the right direction, I decided anything resembling
my destination was good enough. That’s how I learned
there’s no safe pathway. When I reached the jagged ravine
and the log beam spanning it, I simply kept
walking, and my boots refused to let me slip.

A poem for the first Sunday of Advent

The short parable about the fig tree in Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Luke 21:25-36) grabbed my attention. I started reading about figs and learned some fascinating stuff, which, though far removed from the parable Jesus tells, provides an interesting metaphor for beginnings and endings. I was thinking, too, about the apocalyptic images that show up in the Gospel the  first week of Advent — distress among nations, people fainting from fear — frightening stuff. But these dark signs point toward something hopeful: the coming of the kingdom of God. Sometimes we have to look deeper into the ruin of things to see the possibility of new beginnings.

On Transformation (With Figs)

by Kathryn Smith


Wasps stream from the fig in an endless

ribbon. The insects hatched in the fruit’s hidden

garden, hundreds of tiny flowers lining the fig’s


inner wall. It’s a realm accessible through one

small passageway, wasp-sized,  and only

the wasp knows it. Once they’ve emerged,


they can’t turn back. Each wasp will find

another fruit to enter, a place to lay her eggs.

She knows which tree is hers, each species


of wasp drawn, intrinsically, to its own species of tree.

A symbiosis 80 million years in the making

looks like infestation, the fruit a ruin,


the tree past hope. But it’s how things survive.

It’s how the wasp perpetuates her species. It’s how

she pollinates each tiny fig flower, spreading


the microscopic code the fruit needs to set seed,

the tree’s next incarnation, and how the fig, once the wasps

depart, swells and ripens into sweet food for something else.


Kathryn Smith is a member of Salem Congregation. She’s a poet, a gardener, a chicken-keeper, and an observer of the world around her. Most people call her Kat.