Week Three

Poems for the third Sunday of Advent
The Lineage of Ailment
Advent Comes to the Dead End Street



Year A: Isaiah 35: 1-10, Luke 1:46-55, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11

The Lineage of Ailment


He said he couldn’t remember the name
for the cancer. But when they cut her open, it was like
a spider’s web, so thick they couldn’t see
her organs.
 So when his own doctor told him
Probably, hedged with Maybe, said, We’d need tests,
but if that’s what your mother had, it’s most likely…
my grandfather said I don’t want to know.


To name the thing that ails you does not cure it.
It only gives it sound, a translation in the wrong
language, something to stick in the throat.


Scoliosis. Stubbornness. Skin too
easily burned. Lupus. Dementia.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Fear of water.
Anorexia. Generations of undiagnosed
depression. Fear of speaking out.


And on that day, titanium will turn
to bone in my mother’s joints—no use for the specialists
in another city, gone
the medicine cabinet’s excess.
On that day, my father’s back will uncoil
from its perpetual question.
That day, I will rise
unencumbered by the stone I’ve carried as far and long
as I remember, the empty
weight I’ve scarcely been without.
We’ll hardly know what to do
without our impediments, with a steady
upright step, with the lightness.



Year B: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:46-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Advent Comes to the Dead End Street


The stairs lead nowhere: an empty lot, rubble
of a burned-down house left to rats and junkies.

This is the street the city paving crews forgot,

sidewalks strewn with rags and doll bones,
tattered remnants of indecipherable loss.

It’s the street where self-destruction
and survival look the same from the other side
of the river, neighborhood littered
with bad intentions, or no intention at all,

failed forgiveness, second chances squandered for want

of a bus pass, a wristwatch. It’s a neighborhood
waiting for someone to walk these barren spaces
and see sunflowers sprouting where the kids
shoot up. The scars of arson erased by zucchini’s

tenacious blooming. A garden rising from ashes.
And once it’s planted, there’s no keeping it down.



Year C: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 12:2-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18



In this valley, the sun
is always behind us, light
that can’t quite lift itself
above the fence of mountains.
Keep me here, O Lord, in the safety
of fog’s enclosure, where a solitary figure

crosses the field, pruning saw in hand.
The gray orchard has not
dreamed of spring, trees nestled
in dormancy, their sap

an unseen coursing beneath the bark.
This is the time for pruning.
The orchardist knows the saw’s perfect
angle, the importance
of a steady grip. He knows

what thrives, budswell, small signals
of bearing. A firm hand

makes the cleanest cut. Nothing fruitless
remains. Nothing’s left to break

under winter’s burden,
spent limbs bundled and burned
in the damp morning. Smoke rises,
indistinguishable from fog,
from breath. I pray for necessary
injuries, wounds that remind me,

with each knotted scar, to whom
I belong.


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