Prayer for the Anawim

chris-new-southerner2KAIROS AND CRISIS

Contributing Editor


Thomas Merton defined kairos as “the time of urgent and providential decision,” a time that involves the risk of crisis. This sense of kairos, particularly here in the South, has much if not everything to do with race and religion. These things are bound to our identities as Southerners, whether accurately or stereotypically. They have been wellsprings of goodness and grace, and they have suffered as objects of hatred and ignorance. Always they have required response. Kairos and Crisis hopes to be one such response, seeking nothing less than healing for our places, our neighbors and ourselves.

Photo by Christopher Martin

In memory of the children lost at Sandy Hook Elementary and in Syrian war zones, and of all children ever lost anywhere.

December 17, 2012

I cracked my children’s bedroom doors,
looked upon them as they napped,
upon two children vulnerable
to anything they had mistrusted,
which could be anything.

Surely sleeping innocents do not belong
in such times we call these times.

The other day, an image seared my mind
like flame to flesh: Another child
killed by fire set by bombs, this time
(these times)

in Syria, this time at a makeshift hospital, this time
(these) by powers and principalities with no sense
of a child’s face, filmed in ash, blood-smeared,
of a crimson stream tracing the corner of her mouth,
an untranslatable word in the tongue
of the kingdom of the air.

Yet there they were, my children sleeping,
a bit congested, but breathing, their tiny lungs
rattling whispers, the blankets on their backs
rising, falling almost imperceptibly as prayer.

Into this silence broke a new noise, coursing wires
like the last: news of more dead children, this time
(these times)

in this country, this time at an elementary school,
this time (these) death sown by a young man
pouring bullets into bodies—bodies
not much bigger than those taking, releasing
breaths beneath blankets down the hall—
then into his own. These are the times
prayer is not known for what it is.

Prayer gathers in my lungs like blood
at the corner of a child’s mouth,
wherever that child fell,
whatever her name.

Her name is prayer.

My best supplication is a hemorrhage compared
to these. I have breathed too much, spoken
too much in the corporate tongue, coughed
too much blood after waking.

I know nothing but a choked, inadequate language,
though yesterday I saw a heron standing
on a bridge rail, keeping watch over a lake cove,
fishing the shallows, its face grave as an evangelist’s.
My wife and I watched our son and daughter
approach it, their feet padding wooden beams.

Our daughter, who had never seen a heron, pointed
as she wobbled nearer this bird twice her height,
turned to us, made sounds of lost meaning,
perhaps asking us to see, though we could not.

Finally the heron flew, a feathered jeremiad
spread over the lake, its ancient groan echoing
something to me like a voice heard in Ramah,
blue wings to my daughter’s eyes
something new as the shekinah light.


New Southerner contributing editor Christopher Martin lives his wife and their children in the northwest Georgia piedmont, where he studies creative writing at Kennesaw State University and edits the online journal Flycatcher. Chris is author of the poetry chapbook A Conference of Birds, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous places, such as Shambhala Sun, Still: The Journal, Drafthorse, Poecology, Ruminate Magazine and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume V: Georgia. He is currently the featured poet atTown Creek Poetry.

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