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Inquiry into Gifts:
poets from the exhibit

Aurora Borealis

by Raylene Hinz-Penner

for my sister

That night she left her newborn in his crib
and went out into the world which had begun shrinking,
like a hairline does in the beginning, to hint
at its eventual drift into extinction. Had she heard
the cattle bawling as they trampled, snuffing against
the windows in bovine curiosity, or was it real
exultation, that freedom that makes dairy cattle gallop
and swing unwieldy udders against their spindly legs.

she had heard them even before the neighbor's phone call
pulled them from that fuzzy existence of the just-roused,
she, still heavy with birth's post-partum guilt,
dreaming again of her newborn's jaundiced body placed
in the sunlight like an offering, the malleable pink
toes peeling free from their birth-skin, her own
caul-wrapper that once had kept him safe.
Why would she leave him sleeping in the night to help
corral the neighbor's wayward cattle? Habit, perhaps,
accustomed as she was to nighttime chores, or maybe
fear-the cattle as harbingers of the intrusive world,
snooping into her safehouse. When she tells me now,
years later, that baby a growing boy, how she came out
into the yard that night, I know that something changed for her.

She came out of the shadows, the same ones that envelop
each of our houses on certain nights, and outside,
it was light, a kind of day, brilliant and silver
on her bare arms, not a moon's light, more luminescent,
prophetic. I like to think of her with arms raised
to some northern god of light descending to earth,
her face lit in exultation and thanks to whatever
makes of itself a dawn, whatever takes the sun in
to its night to magnetize the darkness, all the crazy
disturbances of sunlight sucked into earth's perimeter
and changed to shining, like gathering the worlds' moons
and holding them arced against the cold horizon.

©Raylene Hinz-Penner

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Thinking of the New Earth

by Raylene Hinz-Penner

we will all be changed,
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,
I Corinthians 15.52

For years now, Merrill, I have watched you refuse
to change this earth, to fix a stick or a bough, refuse
to blend, preferring instead to rope what is intact,

tie the place where rock begs to belong to steel,
give in to the aching niche in concrete with a bolt
which holds the crosswire, bound taut by your hands.

What you would not say to us today about Emily was that
you know how this world fears chaos: all our beliefs
embedded in forecasts, maps, the clearly marked detour.

You would not speak of the terror you see in our eyes-
of that which is askew, the faith we lack
that once off-track anywhere, a system could hold.

Or even hold more. What we would call a glitch
is not itself, with its own birth date, but a lame
downspiraling fray in an unhappy system.

I see it now, for myself, in your slides-the terrible
fixes, against all art or will and your own religion,
corrections which show us a normalized human soul.

©Raylene Hinz-Penner

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by Jeff Gundy

Almost dark and I should be going
but it's a green Christmas
or brownish, at least, and sirens

kick up suddenly. We're still
not safe, not even here. In church
this morning I watched the flame

of the candle suck and flicker,
I blew my breath at the chimney
and felt the old thoughts of fire

and time and death flare up.
A red and brown and blue dusk,
no wind, branches still

as children playing freeze tag.
Another siren. Nothing stirs.
I spend my whole life learning

to be quick and sure, and now
a moment's silence drives me stupid.
Do I want the world to wait for me?

When the sirens are finished
the birds take back the air.
The white tail floats through brush

like a half moon set free. It's cold
but I think better on the move.
A lump of coal is still a gift.

©Jeff Gundy

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by Jean Janzen

Gold and white, the angels cruised
the far spaces until your brush
dipped into thick acrylic and stopped them.
And from the water, a school
of dolphins leaps and stays­
the way you want your constant
body jerks to stop for the held
gesture, the control.
You turn your face to the wall;
your limbs lash out.
You have stopped nothing,
not the surf's roar, not
the black sunflowers in their dance,
or even these angels
They keep drifting off, you say.

My hand writing this is steadier
than yours, but in the end
all is motion gathering.
And what is held is vibrating
like the winter finches in their
scarlet quarrel, and the amaryllis
which leans toward them from the other
side of the glass, huge throats open.
These vowels I fasten down
want to fly, as if these shapes
we give to sense, these shades
of blue and gold, make their own paths,
and you and I can only gaze
at what flashes by.

for Chad

©Jean Janzen
This is a link to the artwork done by Chad Friesen under exceptional circumstances. Jean Janzen wrote this poem for him.

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Just Go

by Jean Janzen

Go to the other side.
Take the narrow bridge, the one

without the handrail.
Balance over the water's chorus

of voices and cross over
where the great oaks lean,

listening. Walk there
beside the wavering flicker

and you may hear, at last,
a separate voice, the call

of a child, or singing from the barn-
your brother's song of the fox hunt

in a run of hoofbeats and laughter,
as though light can be caught.

Keep following that light, even as
the water drains into cotton fields,

even though tonight the hounds
will whine in their dreams.

for Henry

©Jean Janzen

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Looking at Nilsson's Being Born

by Jean Janzen

Shrimp-curl, dark dot
under the mouth, spine like thread,
the skull a shadowed room

where thought and speech wait,
hushed and electric with
the pulse of mother's breath.

The mysteries of neuron and synapse
are branching in the buds
of the hands, the carved ear,

and the eyes-
eye of the eye,
ear of the ear,

the child who will sit hunched
over a classroom desk
to write on an April morning:

"I am an eagle
high in the air.
I can hear the flowers roar."

©Jean Janzen

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