Kristin Berkey-Abbott has published two chapbooks: Whistling Past the Graveyard (Pudding House Publications) and I Stand Here Shredding Documents (Finishing Line Press). She oversees the department of General Education at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and she teaches as an adjunct at both Broward College and City College. She writes regularly about books, creativity, poetry, and modern life at her creativity blog, and she explores a variety of spiritual issues at her theology blog. Her website gives more information about her writing and her academic career.
Who will live in these shipwrecked leper
colonies? The cranes, the workhorse
of the Industrial Revolution, crank
away without ceasing, heaving future walls
into place. Pre-fab has such a different
meaning now, as big trucks rumble
the concrete slabs across a nation.
In my office, I fold paper cranes
the way I learned long ago, at a justice
rally on the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima
explosion or maybe for an installation art
piece made of stripped branches.
I write lines from poems on the paper
before I make the creases. I tuck these cranes
into the corners of my office building
and the chain link fence around the construction
site. I imagine them coming to life
at night, a constellation made of cranes
in a starless sky, a navigation
device that no one will need or notice.
Inspired by a Facebook post that noted the anniversary of John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” with its plot of ghosts of shipwrecked lepers and Dave Bonta’s “Finding my way In London,” with this quote: “…but the true avian symbol of the city is the crane.”
When someone curses
you and your stars, switch
to the tarot deck. Cast
your runes to approach
the future in a different way.
The stars reveal The Future
only to a select few,
which is why we had to invent
these other ways to divine
our ever present ancestor,
The Future. We squint
to see what it holds
in its wrinkled hands.
The Future, mysterious and hooded,
prefers the shadows, the galaxies
hidden to our casual eyes.
Very few of us want to know.
We prefer the icy sparkle, the knowledge
in our stars kept light years away.
But if you listen, you can hear
our destinies in every insect song.
Every butterfly sighting reveals
our future: the crawling
until a moment of brief
beauty, the rush skyward,
the descent into the dust
that will reclaim us all.
In the early days of my quilting group, we met on a Friday night. We’d bring food and gather after work as the sun started to set. We brought our favorite foods, and we lit candles. We ate a meal and worked on our quilts. It felt very sacramental, in terms of my Lutheran training.
Around Holy Week of 2003, I wrote the following poem, which was later published in the journal Ruminate:
I knead the bread leavened with beer,
stew a lamb shank in a pot of lentils,
prepare a salad of apples, walnuts, and raisins,
sweetened with wine and honey.
No one ever had herbs as bitter as this late season lettuce.
My friends gather at dusk, a motley band
of ragtags, fleeing from the Philistines of academia:
a Marxist, a Hindu, a Wiccan, a Charismatic Catholic,
and me, a lapsed Lutheran longing for liturgy.
Later, having drunk several bottles of wine
with prices that could have paid our grad
school rents, we eat desserts from disparate
cultures and tell our daughters tales from our deviant days.
We agree to meet again.
Gnarled vegetables coaxed from their dark hiding places
transform into a hearty broth.
Fire transubstantiates flour and water into life giving loaves.
Outcasts scavenged from the margins of education
share a meal and memories and begin to mold
a new family, a different covenant.
We have participated in the Paschal mysteries,
not yet comprehending the scope of what we have created.
I was not a lapsed Lutheran (I kept that word because I like the alliteration); on the contrary, I’d been planning a Maundy Thursday meal for my church. I had wanted to create a full Seder meal, the Passover meal Christians traditionally believe was Christ’s last supper. But I didn’t have any assistance, so I decided to do something more simple, a stew of lentils, which would have been a common meal amongst the disciples.
I was not a lapsed Lutheran, but my friends did have that wide diversity of beliefs described in the poem. And those daughters that joined us are now finishing college.
In the poem, I can see the elements of the Seder meal and the imagery of the early church. This actual recipe may not create a meal that’s quite as sublime, but it’s delicious, cheap, and easy. I created the recipe for a cousin who didn’t cook, so I was trying to explain the process along the way.
A timing heads up: this soup needs 30-60 minutes to simmer.
The bare minimum of ingredients you’ll need:
12-16 oz. package of lentils
28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I like Del Monte petite cut) OR 2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
Pot of water
Several carrots (3-6), chopped into bite-size pieces (you can use baby carrots, but they’re more expensive). Carrots are SO nutritious and cheap—don’t be afraid to use a lot.
1 onion, chopped
several cloves of minced garlic (put the cloves through a garlic press or look for jars of minced garlic in your produce department and use a spoonful or two); garlic powder is easier and will work just fine
several Tablespoons of olive oil
herbs: oregano and basil (1-2 Tablespoons of each)
several Tablespoons of brown sugar (or molasses)
several Tablespoons of red wine
several Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
Put the onion and oil in a big soup pot. Turn the burner to high or medium high (8 or so on your burner control dial). Stir the onions around in the bottom of the pot until they’re limp and more translucent. Add the garlic and the oregano and basil. Stir another minute or two.
Put all the sliced carrots that you’re going to use in the pot and cover them with water. Turn up the heat of the burner under the pot until the water boils. Let the carrots boil 10-15 minutes. You want tender carrots before you go any further. Spear one, let it cool, and eat it to be sure.
Add the tomatoes and the lentils and all the rest of the flavor boosters that you’re using. Fill the pot the rest of the way with water. Let the pot come to a boil, then turn the heat way down (you want it to simmer just below a boil—you’ll probably want to keep the heat at medium low—at 2-4 on the dial). The lentils probably need a half hour of cooking at this point. If you think about it, give the pot a stir every so often (if not, no big deal).
You can also let this soup simmer away for an hour or longer. Just keep an eye on the liquid level (those lentils will soak it up as they cook!) and add water as necessary.
You could serve this topped with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish. But it’s great plain.
A pot of this soup will easily serve 6-15 people; smaller groups can get several meals out of one pot. And it’s cheap (it will cost you less than $5 to make a whole pot), so when you’re tired of it, throw it out.
Or you can turn it into something else: boil as much liquid out of it as you can. Add chunks of feta cheese to the lentils, along with tomatoes (cherry tomatoes cut in half work well), cucumbers, peppers or whatever veggies you have on hand. Voila! A lentil salad (feel free to serve it on top of greens) or something you can spoon into pita bread.
“I’ve carded wool from what caught
and filled the larder with fallen crumb”
—Luisa A. Igloria, “Border Studies 17”
We sought the truth
in magazines and Facebook quizzes.
We tried the self-improvement regimens
of every friend and celebrity.
We earned one degree and then another,
and finally, the terminal one.
We bought the houses, the cars,
all the products aimed at the heart’s hole.
Is it too late to learn
the truth? The heart yearns
to explore an alien sea
or dive to depths far below the keel.
We take our lessons from the Celts.
We set sail in tiny
boats that may not long repel
the water. We take one oar,
a loaf of bread, and a cup
to collect rain water.
We will go where the wind
hauls us, and we will stake
our claim upon a different shore,
a larder stocked
with supplies we do not know
“Some maps clearly mark
the exits we need”
—Luisa A. Igloria, “Meander“
You will study the maps,
make a plan, pack
the right clothes, only to find
yourself in a different country,
the one you didn’t know
you needed to explore.
It is here you find the answers
to the unspoken questions.
Here is the journal written
in a language you can’t understand.
Here the box of letters
written between two souls
you do not know.
Here you pledge to drink from a dirty
glass, to ignore all your dusty duties.
Here you will ride the beast that scares
you most, the elephant or the motorcycle,
the couple married multiple decades
or mornings of solitary coffee.
Listen for the wind to whisper
your name. Go where the wind commands.
The rains will wash
away all evidence of your longing.
Eat the mush of memory.
Remember every dreary breakfast.
Resolve to find the fiber of your existence.
So many dubious ways to unstitch
our souls from our skins:
the surgeon’s knife,
the chemicals that conceal,
the unknown lover,
the arrow or the bullet.
Who does not dream
of a raft, a river, a way to slip
away from the slave territories
of destiny carved out of flesh.
Schooled by ancient medievalists,
we know we cannot shed
our identities as easily as slipping
off a pair of shoes that pinch.
But we are not ascetics who flog
away, bringing a regime of discipline
to our days. We see no need
to sacrifice pleasures as we pursue
The answers can be found in the box
of buttons clipped before the clothing
found its final consignment in the collage
of the quilts in the cedar chest.
Touch the fabrics and imagine the dress
worn by your great grandmother’s spinster
aunt, the work shirt softened
by sun and sweat and soap. Sift
the buttons with your fingers, buttons saved
for an unknown future.
Make your own time capsule, the map
from the past that will show the way
to the future. Lash
the essentials to your raft.
Exit the river where you will.
We worship the god
of self-improvement plans, that idol
made of the gold of all our hopes
for lives changed
by exercising more, losing weight,
adding this, subtracting
that, these plans cost.
We thin our coffers
at the temples of our false
gods. Instead of potluck
suppers, we go to one more workout or work
late in our fluorescent offices.
We have banished
the other prophets who declared
a different gospel of improving
ourselves by purifying our souls.
Let those prophets preach
to the wind-scoured landscapes.
Let them eat locusts for lunch.
We shall dine on food cultivated organically,
We shall drink wines made with grapes
grown in a far away soil.
Only late at night, our electronics
silenced, do we hear
that still, small voice
that declares all of creation
to be good and very good,
perfection inherent in our beings,
that small flickering pilot light of grace.
Give me an armless angel
with an eroded face.
Bury me in an ivy-clad
graveyard, where you can let
my grave go untended.
Leave me in a land of ruin.
Don’t you dare deposit
me in a land left flat
for the convenience
of the lawn mower.
Plant a crop above me.
Feed the poor or provide flowers.
On that day of many dusks
when you must let me go,
remember a distant cemetery
near a college football field.
Open a bottle of wine
and remember the stolen
kisses of our youth, the illicit
thrill of a midnight ramble
in a neglected graveyard.