Lord, you have searched me and have known
my madness, a wilderness of visions and song.
I welter in birthright riddles, my mother
deranged, my father the fool. They claim
I prophesied in wordless gurgles grown
to wails—lament bled with ecstasy.
Now I rove, a cockeyed home
for maggots and mutters. Rumors river
and surge through this untamed soul,
ebbing beliefs I still cry without end.
When you next pass through, whisper me
from ruins. Say among the rants was a shrapnel
of truth. Name me what you wish
and plunge these tremors beneath your current.
And if you insist I risk wrecking the call
—fanatic caressing the unlikely God—
if passion must tightrope peril, I pray
you salt my tongue with light and dove.
Whitney Rio-Ross is the author of the poetry chapbook Birthmarks (Wipf & Stock) and poetry editor for Fare Forward. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Windhover, Rock & Sling, America Magazine, Psaltery & Lyre, Relief Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Editor’s Note: We are proud to publish the winning poem of Catholic Literary Arts’s sacred poetry contest, judged by the noted poet Jane Greer, one of the founders of the New Formalist poetry movement. She commented:
“Whatever formal poetic tools a poem does or doesn’t use, if it doesn’t use evocative imagery, it’s something less than a poem. The language in this work is gorgeous and does the job it is meant to do. ‘I welter in birthright riddles;’ ‘Now I rove, a cockeyed home / for maggots and mutters;’ ‘whisper me / from ruins. Say among the rants was a shrapnel / of truth. Name me what you wish / and plunge these tremors beneath your current.’ The language does not tell us about but leads us to experience the Baptist’s inner and outer turmoil, his suffering, his love. This is poetry.”
The Catholic Literary Arts contest asks poets to write in response to works of art by living Catholic artists. In this case, the poet Whitney Rio-Ross chose as her inspiration the above sculpture of St. John the Baptist by Thomas Marsh. His work may be found at: http://thomasmarshsculptor.net/