Poems of spirituality
Review: ‘Ringing the Changes,’ by Kathleen McCoy
These are poems of faith in a world where so much happens that can try the faith of the faithful.
Using dreams, persona poems based on biblical characters, and meditations of daily devotion, Queensbury author Kathleen McCoy explores, through poems vivid and visceral, her experience of the divine. Although religious and mostly Christian in reference, this collection is not dogmatic and may be of interest to anyone with a taste for thinking about the spirit.
Imaginative and sometimes amusing, the poems wander from dream to reality. In “Dream State,” a dream of all the classic fears is described: “Your car’s on fire. It isn’t your car … / You lost your wallet, find it, lose it again / … ants trek out of every crevice in the house.” And then, “In walks Jesus, crouching in his Levis (sic).”
But in, for example, “Student Teachers,” the narrator considers the very real nightmares of her students: “Twice young men / have said it was a priest that held them down. In every // class, someone’s story bleeds out on the page — / IED punctures pockmark a mangled leg.”
Fog drifts through this collection, as does light: twilight, sunlight and inner light. Bells ring out. As does the land: “I hear you in the sun-dried wadi’s wail for rain,” says Jeremiah in “Jeremiah’s Covenant.” But one of my favorite lines is from the human-made world: “Don’t you sometimes wonder // whether miracles materialize in court / or in the elbow-laden loneliness of malls …” from “Larval Dream.”
Many poems reference a direct experience of the divine by the narrator, often in the form of Jesus (“grew bright in me — his large left hand loomed / then lay on my collarbone”) (from “Meeting Christ”) but sometimes in other form: “Read my lines, says / the spider, stretching iridescent strings” (from “Read my Lines”).
“What is it to lose the rags that clothe your soul?” asks the voice of Mary Magdalen in “First Account: Mary of Magdala.” And many of the poems seem to be the author’s experience of that. Mary answers herself this way: “… he grabbed the raveled end of my own bindings, / twirled me once more from him to live.” In “Learning to Pray,” the author muses on her fear of plunging into deep water, of plunging into pure faith. She admits she has often not chosen to jump in the deep end, but thinks of the jumping in itself: “a moment before, limbs quaking mid-air — / oh, the joy of simply jumping / into strong and wide-flung arms.”
And here in its entirety is “Grace”:
That recurring dream
where you pour yourself
a paper cup of arsenic
thinking it is water but
pause to question
before drinking and
watch the cup
your eyes can blink.