By Gary Fincke
“Imagine your soul,” Miss Shuker said,
“How beautiful its shape when it leaves
Your body to seek your angel self.”
She led us to the stained glass window
For Ascension, Christ among the doves,
The sky surrounding him like a veil.
“Draw light,” she said. “Draw joy without wings
For you shall have them,” and Linda Roy,
Who had stolen from Miss Shuker’s purse,
Drew a yellow circle while Dave Trask,
Who bullied with his mouth and muscles,
Fashioned a feathered orange arrow
On the heavy construction paper
We cut with our Sunday School scissors,
Each pair painted red with rounded tips
And the warning not ever to point
Because they were dangerous as guns.
A soul, I knew, weighed almost nothing,
Or else I’d feel it inside my heart
Where I honored nobody I loved,
And I drew dust, one piece light enough
To rise, Miss Shuker saying “snowflake”
And smiling as we pasted our souls
Below the cloud where she’d drawn a hand
That reached down for our flowers and stars,
The loose sleeve at its wrist so golden
We imagined Jesus on his knees
To take us through the floor to heaven
Just above the thick paper’s edge where
We couldn’t see, even when she held
Our soaring souls up to the window,
Bathing our faith-rewarded futures
In the pastel light of perfection.
Poet’s Commentary: The most reassuring theological principle set forth by Martin Luther is faith as the route to salvation: despite everything, believe. This poem returns to one elementary-age, Sunday morning way it was reinforced, elderly women like Miss Shuker reminding us through stories, songs, and art that faith is what matters despite the details of our personal lives. Always, those volunteer teachers reminded us, we need only look to the light.
Gary Fincke, who has just retired as the Charles Degenstein Professor of English and Creative Writing, was the founder and director of the Writer’s Institute and the creative writing program at Susquehanna University. He has published thirty books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including, most recently, Bringing Back the Bones: New and Selected Poems (2016, Stephen F. Austin University).
*In an earlier form, this poem appeared in The Fire Landscape (University of Arkansas Press, 2008). Used by permission.