James Stengram

Parabola Magazine

Parabola Magazine

Poetry Summer 2011:
Giving and Receiving

Daughter by Robin Leslie Jacobson
Letting Growth Have Its Way by Sarah Harwell
Coming Back to Life by Donna Spector
Zaynab and the people of the bench by Tamam Kahn
The Farmer's Winter Dream by Red Hawk


Anorexia leaves you
her cello, luminous, leaning
in the corner by the piano;

things she made in school,
a crackled bowl
with silk cosmos fading;

dried leaves between
leaves of her diary like skin.

Anorexia leaves you
to tend the mourners,
one stumbling, distracted,
over a folding chair
by the deck door.

Someone has moved the lucky
bamboo, simple in its spiraling,
to the kitchen counter
above a drawer of spoons
curled safe as babies.

No one remembers
to put out coasters.
There are casseroles everywhere
and cake.

Later you look through
the white ribs of the louvers—
the red maple sapling
you planted today is still
in shock.

Lights out,
you wait up.

Robin Leslie Jacobson


Letting Growth Have Its Way 

How many times
the light changes
in the day—shines—
casts the forgotten
back to shadow. 

In the hills I see
trees and they are
lovely. I sometimes 
weave a way through
their canopies and roots.
But what compels me
from this present distance
is their collective shape—
a body laid out in total
surrender to earth and sky.

Oh, if my body
was that body.
If I could lay myself down,
let growth have its way.

Sarah Harwell

Coming Back to Life
 An occasional hibernation will rejuvenate you.
--from a fortune cookie

 Shadows on snow foretell another frozen
month. Across my road sun surprises
pussy willows, sparkling their beige feathers

like a Broadway show. Cruellest reminder:
I’ve been indoors long enough,
mourning the loss of my friend who adored all

shining moments, who never complained
of pain, even when surgeons took
most of her away, who worried

on New Year’s Eve that her nurses
might not have families at home, though she was
pinned to her sweaty bed by four

IV’s and her lovely neck, always
encircled with rhinestones or bright beads,
pierced by a feeding tube,

who listened, I’m sure, to poems
I read and songs her sister and I sang
while she lay unconscious at the end.

Today a cardinal, scarlet as birth blood,
perched on my bare lilac tree like a herald
announcing the approach of April rain,

and my friend, who loved crows,
came soaring back, her black wings waving
as she called, Come out, it’s time to live.

Donna Spector

The Sufis are often traced back to the “People of the Bench,” ahl al-suffa, the ones who joined Muhammad in the first days of the gathering of the Companions. 
Here, Zaynab, wife of Prophet Muhammad, offers them her meal, when food is scarce.

Zaynab and the people of the bench

God Lovers
magnify each crack
of light in night’s monotony,
arouse the dawn,
intone: Allah, Allah from the wooden bench.

God Lovers
graze camels on la illaha il’Allah,
water vast herds with life-giving sound,
drizzle it across
an afternoon sun nothing is new under.                       

The grit and zeal of God Lovers
bring Zaynab to tears. She                                    
feeds them her own modest supper.
and the desert air at nightfall
oversee and instruct the darkness.

God Lovers
don’t stop for anything. The angels
hold hands with them night and day;

so said Muhammad, and someone
wrote it down.

dhikr  (zikr) ~ remembrance, repeating the names of God
la illaha il’Allah ~ no god but God

Tamam Kahn
"Zaynab and the People of the Bench" from Untold, A History of the Wives of Prophet Muhammad, Monkfish Books, 2010


The Farmer's Winter Dream
(after Robert Hass)

You would think it might be
bountiful harvest that in the night he
dreams of, bumper crops, great wealth
arising from fertile soil.
But a simple man dreams of simple toil,
the sweat labor to maintain or restore health
to the land; its loss is his only sorrow;
he dreams modestly, of plowing a straight furrow.

Red Hawk


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