new Mennonite Life logo    June 2002     vol. 57 no. 2     Back to Table of Contents


by Rhoda Janzen

O Sacred Head

What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest friend . . .
- Bernard de Clairvaux

Doorjambs low, plaster stained,
the mission gained its losses.
The belfry canopied a Spanish Christ
whose slender fingers bled tiny roses,

which we touched as if the red might
lend its stain. Poppies had brittled
the walls, roots lifting in the wind.
Like a Bible verse nearly remembered,

cloistered air suggested prayer that
clung to saints with outstretched hands.
Outside a tumbleweed hugged the adobe
fence, quickened by an endless present

tense in which belief had always rushed
the desert wind. Beyond irrigation canals,
yucca and catalpa found new shapes
in its force. We sang hymns. And

the car was sometimes swayed by wind,
as memory is by fragments of forgotten verse.

Language of Vanity

Hands seamed
the sermon into
cross-stitched passions:
I designed delicate

underthings, pansy-
printed voile. Low
and melodious,
fashions reclined

in the silk-tented
palanquin of my
interior, odalisques
couchant: and I in

pink pajama and lacy
veil presided stern
above them all, like
Moses sparking from

the fiery hill.
But conscience
clamped wool skirts
against my calves-

ankles locked, hair
knit into no-nonsense
plaits, the panty
fantasy by sermon's

end repressed. Naked
we stand before our
Lord, and leave him
fully dressed.


In water boiling shame they jump
like living things, the Kvark-filled plump

dumplings, bellies firm as Buddhas,
triangular, opaque Bermudas.

Although I craved them as a child,
they mortified me and defiled

the brown bag lunch. Their humble form
blanched my longing to conform-

and eating with my plastic spoon,
I cursed the cream sauce of each moon.

But tomorrow creeps the tragic stage,
and I have reached my middle age:

behold the Mennonite gestalt
that fries up leftovers, with salt.

Cabbage Leaves

I steam cabbage leaves
For Hollapse. An icicle
cracks from the roof and
leaves us. Tomorrow is
Sunday: gray Mennonites

on the prairie-ladies in
coats limp with raccoon
have buttoned the one big
button; they smell like a vast
closet in which garments

bend wire hangers. They
will rise from their pews
soft as Zwiebach, rise to sing,
always to sing. A sober wind
whistles like a preacher down

the path I shoveled for Mrs.
Suderman. Adding rice and
onion, I hum Ich weiss ein
Land in weiter Fern. A knock
rattles the storm door: a spry

senior with an illustrated
memoir on her arm. A neighbor
in her comfy shoes. Jesus come
mournfully again for tea and
peppernuts. The icy wind, incarnate.