I was introduced to the poetry of Marie Howe this summer. Last week, on a whim, I ordered all three of her books. When they arrived in the mail I stayed up late to read each book cover to cover. I highly recommend each to you: The Good Thief, What the Living Do, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. I don’t usually read poetry three books at a time. But reading Howe’s poetry was like reading her autobiography. She has known horrific suffering—a terribly abusive father, a younger brother who died of AIDS, and sexual violence no human being should ever know, let alone a child. Sometimes I read her poetry in horror. She is fearless in her writing. (I cannot begin to tell you how I admire her for that.) The horror would have been too much for me, I couldn’t have kept reading, had it not been for her faith. It amazed me that a person who had known such tragedy and violence also knew that she was loved by an ultimate and abiding Love.
Sometimes we preachers wonder if what we have given our lives to makes any difference at all. Sometimes we wonder if God is real or has any power to heal the horrific suffering of this world. If we are honest, we wonder these things out loud. Marie Howe’s poetry brutally unveils the trauma this world can inflict. Her writing also unveils faith as a saving grace in the midst of trauma, a faith that heals when nothing else can. For this message and for this extraordinary poetry, I am deeply grateful to Marie Howe.
From her book The Kingdom of Ordinary Time here is a Marie Howe poem:
Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it
I know it is—and that if once it hailed me
it ever does—
And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
As one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swam
in what shone at me
only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.