Poem for Advent Four

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 22, 2013
Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 7-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

The City Council Welcomes the Christ Child
by Kathryn Smith

Our city is near nature. It’s near
perfect, our sidewalks pristine. We invite you
to take a seat and admire their beauty
if it’s between midnight and 6 a.m.
But please don’t linger and for heaven sake
don’t lie down. If you’re weary you can sit
at Starbucks for the price of a latte
as long as you don’t take too long to drink it.
Are you just passing through? There’s plenty of room
at the Lusso, the Dav, the new Worthy Tower.
Otherwise, keep passing. These restrooms
are for customers. This city is nothing
without its core. You must have somewhere to rest
besides the STA Plaza. Surely you see
that the planter outside the Olive Garden
is no place to lay your newborn. Why should we let
you loiter? What good can you possibly do?


Poem for Advent Three

Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 15, 2013
Lessons: Isaiah 35: 1-10, Luke 1:46-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

The Lineage of Ailment
by Kathryn Smith

He said he couldn’t remember the name
for the cancer. But when they cut her open, it was like
a spider’s web, so thick they couldn’t see
her organs.
So when his own doctor told him
Probably, hedged with Maybe, said, We’d need tests,
but if that’s what your mother had, it’s most likely…
my grandfather said I don’t want to know.


To name the thing that ails you does not cure it.
It only gives it sound, a translation in the wrong
language, something to stick in the throat.


Scoliosis. Stubbornness. Skin too
easily burned. Lupus. Dementia.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Fear of water.
Anorexia. Generations of undiagnosed
depression. Fear of speaking out.


And on that day, titanium will turn
to bone in my mother’s joints—no use for the specialists
in another city, gone
the medicine cabinet’s excess.
On that day, my father’s back will uncoil
from its perpetual question.
That day, I will rise
unencumbered by the stone I’ve carried as far and long
as I remember, the empty
weight I’ve scarcely been without.
We’ll hardly know what to do
without our impediments, with a steady
upright step, with the lightness.

Poem for Advent Two

Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 8, 2013
Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

And the Shrill Shall Lead the Blind
by Kathryn Smith

“Snake-occupied screech owl nests produce more
and healthier fledglings than do snake-free nests.”
-National Wildlife magazine

When the mouse lies down with you, you’ve already
maimed him. The songbird, still warm but without

her voice, has a place in your burrow, borrowed
from the woodpecker who no longer needs it.

Your realm, eastern screech owl, is bloody
survival. It’s a headless meal dangling

from a mother’s grasp, death brought close.
But a nest lined with what feeds soon festers.

What of your hatchlings’ gaping hunger
when parasites quiver your walls? Enter

the snake, blind and coiled alive around the beak
that bears it. Slippery deliverer, she’ll devour

the maggots that threaten your young,
unaware of the kingdom they’ve been born to,

the rules they break when the serpent beds down
with a raptor’s nestlings, and both creatures thrive.

Poem for Advent One

First Sunday of Advent, Dec. 1, 2013
Lessons: Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44

The Gospel Truth Security Company
by Kathryn Smith

We begin by seeking morning
in a world of night, then follow up with prayers
for peace within your walls. You don’t think
that’s enough? You want guns to chase
the needy from your threshold? Sorry,
we don’t work that way. This is so top-
of-the-line it’s over the line. Protection
redefined. Our blacksmith shop hammers
your locks into soup spoons. Our smelter
melts the barrels of semiautomatics and molds
the metal into tent poles. One weapon
can house an army, battalions of the homeless,
peacemakers reclaiming even the very
vocabulary of violence. Our guards
never sleep. When a stranger breaches your gate,
alarms raise the dead and the living
alike, chiming like a dinnerbell, kitchen timer shrill.
Those walls we mentioned?
They’re metaphorical. They’re everywhere,
and broken, and the peace you tried to hold
within is leaking through chinks in the stone.
No one knows when the thief is coming,
so we leave the table set all night.

Two poems by Lynda Maraby

In the Company of Angels


Heads bent low
we focus on the
dark ground
as one foot
the other

finding little time
for conversation.

their shadowy
forms seem mere
to the waning light.

Inspiration shallow,
even their singing
stops as
we turn inward, heedless of
loving hands that
lend balance
or support.

Undaunted still
they walk
beside us

hoping we will turn
to see and

Boxing Christmas


From a warm
hearth it is
easy to lift the
little lean-to from
the mantle, wrap
each figurine in
tissue, bag
the gilded plastic
straw and place
them in the
box that bears
their name.

The tree takes
Needles fall as
ornaments removed by
careful hands reveal
the simple
beauty of
each branch

the bright
angel who
watched over
all resumes her
winter sleep.

So I wonder
when that first
angel choir had
finished singing for
a homeless infant born
when all the
shelters shut
their doors

was there emptiness or did
songs of
joy continue
in their
A note from the poet, Lynda Maraby, about her use of angels:
Whether we believe in the standard images of angels, I think they symbolize something true. In the physical universe, despite all the suffering and grief, if we observe carefully, there is also hope and joy. So often, we focus on the negative and ignore it, and this tendency appears to be a human trait, perhaps partly from guilt over our contribution to that suffering. But if we look at nature, we see a movement toward wholeness. Trees waiting to bud and bloom, mother cats tenderly grooming their kittens, flower bulbs that hide their sprouts until just the right moment. I think these poems reference that joy latent in all life and waiting to burst forth. The Christmas story and its angel heralds is a kind of promise that there is another possibility, one which we have only to open up and see.

A poem for the First Sunday of Christmas

Storm Warning

by Lynda Maraby

and the dropping curtain
of a late December

Herod’s forces
for one last offensive
from a horizon

Ensconced in tinsel
and tradition,
we scurry
to whatever

hoping for inward grace,
searching for outward signs,

by all the pretty lights.

A note from the poet:

I wrote this poem a long time ago, but reworked it as “Storm Warning” at the outset of the Gulf War, when some were predicting an easy and quick victory. I was especially appalled at the notion that we could make a first strike. Although the leadership of Iraq was corrupt, that did not seem like enough reason to enter into a such a conflict. The propaganda was full of the same old patriotic claptrap about keeping us safe, but we were about to commit lives and resources to something so thinly veiled that oil dereks and dollar signs were visible just under the surface.

The reference to Herod came later, as I reflected on the nature of politically generated conflict in general. I think the reference to the slaughter of the innocents in the New Testament was a similar kind of comment (perhaps comparing the actions of Rome against its seized territories to those of Pharoah in Exodus).  It seems have not learned much since then except how to kill faster and more efficiently. We certainly have not learned how to control those political leaders who think they can do whatever they like in the name of protecting the common good.  I say “we” because all are culpable (and, as the poem implies, too easily hoodwinked).

This poem was published in 2007 in Simul: Lutheran Voices in Poetry. Maitland, FL, Xulon Press.

Lynda Maraby is a member of Salem Congregation.

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.