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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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BEAR FENCE


1896: Akbés, Syria


 

Up from Alexandretta and the sea, up in the Mountains

of Nur and Amanus, here we tend, water, and feed  

the chalice and paten in the church, the donkeys, milk-cows,

and orphan children who live in the barn,  

the monks in the loft. Up in the Mountains of Holy Light,

above the canyons and caves, up where we bump our heads  

against the glory-telling sky, here we number our days. 

The pipit weaves her twig-nest and warms her eggs, darts  

among the thorns of our bramble wall--the only defense

we ever wanted for Our Lady of the Sacred Heart,  

a hedge against the bears.  The pipit darts, free and un-impaled. 

The world calls to us.  Smoke gauzes the sky, gunshots ring,  

and tidings from our neighbors numb us more each day.

The Sultan (him we call Hamid the Butcher)--by his command,   

the army loots and burns villages, severs hands and arms

and lips, slaughters 140,000 Armenian Christians,  

spills blood like mop water, stacks bodies like firewood. 

Refugees cram the cities, boil grass and bark for soup.   

I go to the fence to pray.  The thorns splay like the fingers

of a thousand desperate men; pierce the waxy, green-gray leaves;  

punish my curious hand like the teeth of a carnivorous fish. 

Thorns and the guns of the Turks keep us safe,   

coddled like porcelain maidens in a velvet case.

Turkish guards hem us in, insisting  

that Europeans be spared, that death stays out,

that our mercy stays in.    

I patch the orphans' clothes, teach them a cherished verse:

we give our spirits into Your hands.  

The sun slumps behind an umber haze.  

I write letters to Marthe and her husband, to my sister  

and her husband, to our family lawyer, to Father Huvelin.

I tell them the rumored numbers of the starving, the poxed, the dead.  

I beg them to send money, to tell their newspapers.

How can they do otherwise? I tell them to make any noise  

they can, take matters into their hands, write letters,

bang a spoon against a pan. 


                                                 -William Kelley Woolfitt