Monday, March 11, 2013

#72: "Liturgy" by Cynthia Atkins

~This poem previously appeared in Pearl (2001).


Because the trees grew
into paper for words to write
down what there are no words for.
Because it wants to size you up
and then compels you to confess.
Because it likes to breathe up
against you on the couch,
but will never commit to meals
or absolutes. Because it has no
understanding and no excuse,
and it dares the understudy
not to show up. Because you need
to get out of the weather, where
too many secrets are revealed
in the rain. Because it knows
you need to explain, even when
your hands are clean.
Because it told you
to spit out your gum 
when a taxicab is running. 
So many years have proven
that each death leads to song. 
Because it knows the flowers
will be of no use—the words will dream
up the phlox.  Because it will always
want and want to name what can’t be named.
Because it knows you say one thing
and mean another.   It knows you know better.
It is the greed inside your prayer.



This poem is one of those rare gifts that almost wrote itself. I found a voice that took control and guided me through—to discover the thing I didn't know I knew.  I chose Liturgy for the first poem in my book, "In The Event of Full Disclosure," because it asks the big questions which have haunted me and have had an impact on shaping my life: Why are we here? What do we already know when we get here, by birth right; what makes us create, pray, and transcend this very material world?
  I was interested in the line breaks in this poem and wanted it to sound liturgical and prayer-like, against the backdrop of dirty urban city, and ' taxi-cab anonymity.' The language attempts to address the polarities of faith and bling—the everyday with the sublime, and ultimately the limitations of language.
 "Liturgy" is an Ars Poetica, a poem that tries to speak to the act of writing, asking and naming. It took me to a rare and 'spiritual place,' allowed a moment of incantation and reverie. The ending of the poem came as a nice surprise. I was grateful for where it led and what it helped me understand about myself. I like poems that engage that take you off the page, down rabbit holes to the smallest and largest places in  the human condition. Images can hold the most complex notions—reveal nuances that can't be rendered in any other way.  I look to poetry and art to help make sense of the ineffable— to make meaningful the magic of the image, the music and the sacred ground of being alone.


Cynthia Atkins is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and the forthcoming collection, In The Event of Full Disclosure, (CW Books, 2013), which she will be launching in July 2013 at the Sacrament Poetry Center. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including, Alaska Quarterly Review, BOMB, Del Sol Review, Florida Review, Harpur Palate, Le  Zaporogue,  North American Review, Tampa Review, and Verse Daily, among others. Atkins’ poems have been nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. .Formerly, Atkins worked as assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and for eight years was artistic director of Writers @Jordan House.  She is currently an assistant professor of English at Virginia Western Community College and lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, VA with her family.  More info:

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