Soul Forte: A Journal for Spiritual Writing is delighted to present Issue 4, featuring writing by Lory Widmer Hess, Tony Bates, Ruah Bull, Miriam Louis, Judy Gershon, Kelsey D. Mahaffey. and Mara Inglezakis. May you read and resurrect.
“We live in a perpetually burning building”
— Tennessee Williams
you live in a perpetually burning building
but you can decide
flames of wrath
or of love
it’s better to burn
than to be extinguished
hell is cold
in this fiery
the desert holy
and to grind out your name
in a still small voice
a prophet passes
to say I AM
that means nothing
I used to dream of prisons, of windowless walls
and doors kept closed. I couldn’t even
want to leave. When I was released,
I went back, and locked the door again.
I used to dream of blindness, of being
unable to open my eyes. There was light,
but I couldn’t see it with lids stuck shut.
It was painful to try, so I stopped.
I used to dream of losing my luggage,
of missing flights and trains and buses,
of mixed-up messages sending me running
in a thousand directions, all wrong.
I don’t want to dream like that any more.
I want a calm midnight with one bright star
to gaze at, trusting the glow of dawn
will lift me out of the dark.
Let this be my dream from this night onward:
space, and light, and peace.
In and out
We start with our heart
outside us, cupped in the embryo’s curve.
A giant head looks quizzically
at this small scrap of flesh,
a tiny period poised to answer
the questions of the brain.
What do they say? What dialogue
can they have in utter darkness?
What flows between, as heart floats free,
not yet bound and subdued?
Now my heart’s inside me, and I feel it
fluttering like a desperate bird
against the ribs of its cage,
or thumping dull as a prisoner
marking the march of days.
Head’s in command now, the only one
allowed to look from the fortress top,
telling the rest of me how to conquer
the hostile world out there.
Heart, come out.
Let me see how you live
outside me, everywhere in the world,
how your rhythm connects me to all of life
and beats in the sun and the sea.
Head, you quit knowing
you know everything.
You’re not a full stop. You have a tail –
the curving body that never ends
but points to the universe.
Open up. Be a comma, a question mark.
Let’s start listening again.
About the author
Lory Widmer Hess currently lives in northwestern Switzerland, where she enjoys hiking in the mountains and eating excessive amounts of cheese. Her writing has been published in Parabola, Interweave Knits, Kosmos Quarterly, Enchanted Conversation, Ruminate: The Waking, and other print and online publications. She blogs at enterenchanted.com.
I searched for you in the crowd,
A moving wall of coats, necks, and eyes
Looking past me across the square.
I saw your hair,
But it was on another woman’s head.
I saw your jacket moving away from me
But it was on someone else instead.
Heard your voice, remote
In another couple’s conversation,
And didn’t recognize you
Smiling from the curbside,
Until you crossed the street
Separated by the Atlantic,
We reconnect at Christmas
With a few lines written on a small card,
And when we met,
“It has been years!”
We couldn’t stop talking.
Untangling ourselves from
A long pause.
You sat opposite me
At a small table,
And you misunderstood my question.
You answered in one word,
And there was silence,
Like a fence between us.
I pulled up in the narrow lane
Left amidst construction
Of separate lives.
Praise the falling leaves.
They are not the white oak’s grey tears.
Praise the one who offers help.
Praise the one found in prayer
Whose tree surmounts our fears.
Hung in grandad’s wardrobe
Finely tailored threads are
Creased with a serious frown.
A God-like pose
At the head of a projected future.
Hanging out in grandad’s wardrobe
Secure in the dark of the past
I wear out my thin life
Chafing against the present.
Resisting her sweet laughter.
She got out of Grandad’s wardrobe.
She is present.
Naked, rather than nude
Sacred, rather than rude
Stalking a future conjured out of clay.
Outside grandad’s wardrobe
Frolicking in the hay.
She is mother to the day,
Born out of what we say.
Growing out of pain into play.
About the author
Tony Bates grew up in different parts of the world following his father’s postings in the Foreign Service. Now living in Alexandria, Virginia, he is a retired government bureaucrat, house husband, part time writer, gardener, and community volunteer. He is both a self-styled “Citizen of Nowhere” and a concerned citizen of this remarkable country.
Potato Famine 1840
Carry our love and starving dreams
Hold onto the rosary -- it reminds you of who you are
and Who our God is
Expect fear and anger
Do not be seduced by hatred -- yours or theirs
Return kindness -- and meanness -- with kindness
Share whatever you gather
Re-story what impoverishes your soul
Discover what wealth is truly
Remember you were a stranger
Welcome the stranger
Praying the Holy in Anger
May Anger ground me in the Real
Earth speaks -- I am
May Anger purify my troubled heart
Fire speaks -- I wake
May Anger clear confusing mind
Air speaks -- I perceive
May Anger couple together
Water speaks -- I gather
May Anger proceed from wisdom
Soul speaks -- I act
May Anger blossom with trust
Spirit speaks -- I release
The Silence of a Mystic
The silence of a mystic
Is the space
In every poem
No space no meaning
No meaning no mystery
No mystery no music
No music no poem
a broken child
becomes a breaking man,
clung to the sweet stink of power,
and called forth violent worship --
flags, guns, crosses, noose.
before the small and infinite One
this shocking, vulnerable love --
gold, frankincense, myrrh, self.
I must choose
About the Author
Ruah Bull is a poet and spiritual director whose calling is to incarnational spirituality and the contemplative path.
I invite you into my sanctum
to openly avow
my past, skirt the truth
no longer, become more
share shocking secrets
to escape the suffocating
omerta of polite society,
then strip away the colorful
mantle that hides
fragile membranes prone
to breaking, spilling
and challenge you
to react freely, expose
your self, unashamed.
About the Author
Miriam Louis is a native of New York. She has also lived in Israel, Japan, and Washington, DC, her current home. While overseas she started teaching English as a Second Language, which became her profession. Most of her life she has been writing poetry, leading up to a collection called increments.
To Be With You
There is a curtain, invisible yet present
Separating the dream of ego
From the breadth of now
Separating the world of objects and pomp
From stillness and being.
Sometimes we move in and out of the curtain
Rolling like a marble
Like an indecisive child.
The choice, however, though it be a practice
I had the opportunity to sit by your deathbed
The silent choir of angels.
You gifted me with that blessing.
Let me be your honorable friend
On this, most peaceful side
Of the curtain.
Stained, Innocent Child
You laid out your royal flush
For all the kings to see
You played your favorite song on the jukebox
More than once.
You, the fool,
You, the righteous,
You, the caged
The feral the free
Never failing to fall through the widening gap.
Every crack an opportunity
A jewel embedded in the flesh?
You will rise
My stained, innocent child
You will rise.
You can proceed now
You can proceed
Do good deeds now
Do good deeds
Devil will recede now
To worship the lie is to bleed now
Is to bleed.
The Lord is my refuge
The air I breathe
The nature I perceive
The Lord is my everywhere
And at all times
Please allow my desire to be with you
Be received by your light
Allow me into your home
Under the wings
Of a sparrow.
About the Author
Judy Gershon is a writer and peer counselor in Mt. Vernon, New York. Throughout the years Judy has been a singer/songwriter, actor and performer and has toured with a traveling theatre troupe. More recently she has pursued the field of peer counseling and is currently working as a peer mentor in Mt. Vernon, New York. She believes that poetry is a channel for the essential voice of our eternal being and is a light on the path to truth.
The first step is to remove your shoes.
Nothing is more freeing
than the introductory squish
between the toes, the ground
remembering you with its lover’s kiss.
That magic mixed from liquid and lack—
a gift for the black-winged beauties
to baptize their tongues.
Even the pigs understand. Nothing
feels better than slosh, or ooze,
rolling along the lips, cooling
the flesh smooth with melted brown silk.
There’s no reason to fear
the worms. When time comes
for them to crawl,
your body no longer minds.
Oh love, what would you know
of deserts? You’re chasing a mirage,
craving steady rains, afraid of what
may happen once the veins begin to parch.
You never learned to dig, to see
beneath the prickly pear, unaware
that endless rivers pulse beneath
dried and ancient lakes.
your ears speak the secret:
Our people rose from salt. Remember
wrinkled faces weather-worn, wind-
whipped by time and circumstance?
Did you know we no longer bleed?
Listen, my child. You must get still.
You must learn to stand in the burning—
to let it all burn, until your mask melts
and your skin peels away, revealing
the white glow underneath. Only then
can we show you the secrets of bones.
Only then can we teach you
how to drink from the stars.
It’s been three days since the burning
and the bush has not stopped speaking.
I wake to rustling—an offer of winds
to guide me through the change, my shoulders
weary from the long haul up the mountain.
The air is strange, that mysterious shade
of morning, when at first glance no one can tell
if it’s dawn or dusk. The moon is still alive,
waning, but alive nonetheless, gathering herself
into an invisible thin line—so light,
she slips inside my pocket,
directions for the new voyage home.
I can feel the heat, now a pleasant warmth
spreading. The way coffee’s bitter sip
soothes, or the hum of horns, honey-sweet,
dripping in the distance—familiar delicacies
rising up from below. The flames begin
to lick my feet, but no matter.
I’m on my way, and this time,
I’m my own damn savior.
About the Author
Kelsey D. Mahaffey rests her head most nights in Tennessee but keeps half her heart in New Orleans. She currently walks the Earth barefoot beside two of her favorite humans and a geriatric cat. Her work can be seen in Eunoia Review, Cumberland River Review, and at Minera Rising Press.
The internist called one night before the solstice.
She said osteosarcoma and radiation
(I know, at least, where the words
From the heated seat
of the dinged-up Subaru I was too busy
to lead you into I said
inoperable, and then
She was relieved. Said if she were
my dog, and right thing (underneath: I
just want to go home.) Knowing, not
knowing, I could afford that radiation.
You could not.
Your pads still in the snow:
glass on cornflower;
sea holly that never
came up in the backyard
after that stupid ash tree
crushed the back balcony.
So it’s not just me holding
your foreleg above the first joint to
ease your passage.
the snowpack, the dry creek
God always takes
the best of everything.
Why God Made Greeks With Such Big Noses
My daughter would say: you went out.
I felt the sea-breath of your passage
like that time before you were born
and we descended into the valley
of psalakantha; windows down;
necks out; surpassing
jasmines, emergences of Aphrodite, all the rebetika
of Asia Minor—
when we dream of America
this is what we dream.
First sunrise without
you; trees wear robes
of glass. Branch
to node. Light
of a billion
About the Author
Mara Inglezakis is a poet and informatician with a background in practical epistemology and vocal music. Writing about faith, generational trauma, and sexuality, she lives in the Midwestern United States.