For Sunday Three God Poems – Akbar, Tsvetaeva, Crozier

American poet Kaveh Akbar
American/Iranian poet Kaveh Akbar

Learning to Pray

              My father moved patiently
cupping his hands beneath his chin,
              kneeling on a janamaz

then pressing his forehead to a circle
              of Karbala clay. Occasionally
he’d glance over at my clumsy mirroring,

       my too-big Packers T-shirt
and pebble-red shorts,
       and smile a little, despite himself.

Bending there with his whole form
         marbled in light, he looked like
a photograph of a famous ghost.

         I ached to be so beautiful.
I hardly knew anything yet—
         not the boiling point of water

or the capital of Iran,
           not the five pillars of Islam
or the Verse of the Sword—

        I knew only that I wanted
to be like him,
        that twilit stripe of father

mesmerizing as the bluewhite Iznik tile
        hanging in our kitchen, worshipped
as the long faultless tongue of God.

Kaveh Akbar (1989 - ) from Calling a Wolf a Wolf, Alice James Books, 2017

Not the Sunday morning I planned! But poetry intervened, thank God! Or maybe the God of SUNDAY intervened as Lorna Crozier might say. Why? Because poem after poem I was reading to start my day made me trip over God!

First, I was reading the vivid new book, Calling A Wolf A Wolf, by Kaveh Akbar, another of the striking new poetic voices in the contemporary poetic world adding to those of Sam Sax, Danez Smith, Warson Shire, Rupi Kaur, Ocean Vuong, Billy-Ray Belcourt and others. Notable to me is that so many of these up and coming writers, who are adding a new vigour to the poetic cannon, are not from mainstream but from cultural minorities.

So often this is where transformative movements happen. Not from the safe center of the mainstream. But at the challenged edges. What a gift these writers are. Thank God for diversity! I, located as I am in the mainstream, am grateful for what I learn from them. For the risks they take!

Then I was reading the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, so crushed by the personal losses of loved ones caused by the jackboots of the communist regime, she died by her own hand. And there was God again.

Here, now, is Tsvetaeva. This theft from God! Wanting somehow to take into ourselves the miracle of this world. Its enchantment. Take it for ourselves somehow. Ouch, and the cold, pink lips of God.

Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941)

I know, I know
That earth’s enchantment—
This carved
Charmed cup—
Is no more ours
Than air is ours
Than stars
Than nests
Suspended in the dawn.
I know, I know
It has a master.
Still, like a towering
Eagle rising
With your wing
Purloin this cup.
From the cold pink lips
Of God.

Marina Tsvetaeva from The Paris Review, Fall 1961

Canadian Poet Lorna Crozier (1948 -). Photo Credit: Angie Abdou

When I read Tsvetaeva’s personification of God, his or her cold, pink lips, of course, I thought of Crozier. Her personal, wonderfully diverse God in God of Shadows, her just-released book, all those multiple personalities: God of Insects, God of Grim, God of the Self-Defeating and this tough-as-nails God!:


The landscape  painter  at   the  artist colony  in  the country
noted for   its  messianic light,  its  sparse,  hard-to-capture
beauty, complains she;s come all this way to paint al fresco but
the  mosquitoes have  driven  her  inside, no matter the netting
on  her hat, her cuffed sleeves and pants, a heavy dose of Deet.
They  bite  through  everything.  And  when she  tries to snap a
picture,  a breathy  handerchief  of  mosquitoes  flutters  over
the  lens.  What  can  I  do? she  moans, trapped in a  dull and
narrow  room, thinking of  booking a  ticket back  to her studio
in  Vancouver.  Paint  the  mosquitoes, god replies.

Now, to write my own poem, trip over my own name for God!

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