How to image good and evil? It’s hard to do in a way that astounds us afresh with how they penetrate every aspect of our lives. Yet Jeanne Murray Walker manages to do this in “God Reads the Poem of the World with Interest.” Evil is terrifyingly concrete: men setting a boy’s mother on fire and others who simply watched. Good is concrete too, personified by the boy’s teacher, who cares for the boy in a tender way that a mother would do. And then there’s the ambiguous penultimate stanza, with its image of a future where the boy will become blind. Yet this isn’t presented in tragic tones, because the floating orange leaves of the poem’s opening are still “seen.” Walker’s vision of our world is fundamentally positive. She closes the poem by returning to the teacher who still “sneaks / food to broken kids” — and who then, in the profound final sentence, becomes God’s body.
“God Reads the Poem of the World with Interest,” by Jeanne Murray Walker
For Kathy Meermans
Orange leaves float through air
like sunfish lazing in a pond
and the hungry boy with a cowlick
walks by my house again, dirty boy,
they say, who watched men set
his mother on fire.
brings him cheese and apples
in her blue cloth bag
and when he wipes his nose
on his shirtsleeve, she offers him
—-—-Think of how
with the same fingers that now
grasp his yellow pencil, he
will some morning lift out
the lenses of broken eyes,
his hands delivering the blind
to see how orange leaves can swim
through air—the rods and cones
he’s learned, the macula, the cornea,
while his old teacher still sneaks
food to broken kids, because?
Because God has no body here on earth
This post originally appeared in Issue 94 of Image Journal.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Written by: Jeanne Murray Walker
Jeanne Murray Walker’s most recent books are Helping the Morning (Word Farm) and The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s (Hachette). A book of sonnets, Pilgrim, You Find the Path by Walking, is forthcoming next year from Paraclete. She teaches in the Seattle Pacific University MFA program. www.JeanneMurrayWalker.com.