Tania Runyan

            Amish schoolhouse shooting, Nickel Mines, PA
I didn't trust their forgiveness.
Before the blood cooled on the schoolhouse floor
they held the killer's widow in their arms,
raised money for his children,
lined his grave site with a row of patient horses.
Somewhere in town there had to be a father
splitting a trunk and imagining the crush
of the murderer's skull. There had to be a mother
hurling a Bible at the wall that received her prayers.
Or is it just the flash and noise of my own life
that primes me for anger? Does scrolling
through playlists in traffic fill the spaces
in my mind reserved for grace?
Forgiveness requires imagination.
Eye for an eye is efficient.
For the man brought chains.
He brought wires, eyehooks and boards.
He brought a bag of candles and lubricant
and secured little girls with plastic ties.
Two sisters begged to be shot first
to spare the others.
He shot them first. Then the rest.
One child with twenty-four bullets.
Perhaps they know something I don't,
something to do with the morning rising
over an open field. The fathers receive
the meadowlark, the swallowtail,
the good corn rising into the fog. 
The mothers ride their carriages into town,
accepting the rumbles of the stony road,
tripping into the rough hands of God.
Blessed are you, woman,
doubled over in the bathroom stall
awaiting your miscarried child.
Blessed are you, weeping
constellations of all-night vigils
on the shot-up university campus.
Blessed are you, soldier,
rubbing the phantom
of your amputated leg,
and you, small boy, huddled
in the closet with a handprint
on your face—bless you.
Bless the vice in your stomach,
your throat stripped raw from crying,
the shoes you fling across the room.
Bless the rain you curse for falling
so easily outside your window, the chair
you collapse in after a night of pacing the halls.
Bless the food you cannot eat,
the hair you cannot wash,
the God you cannot pray to.
Bless you who want to forget
it ever happened but feel the grave
rising to asphyxiate your heart.
Bless you who want to dive
into the grave and feel nothing
but the simple weight of the earth.
Blessed are you who damn
these words, who send them to hell
with your sorrows.
Blessed, yes, even you.
She is all we learn to forget,
this woman approaching
the edge of the health club pool.
She wears her hair
like laundry lint. Faded Lycra
toucans and orchids
sag beneath her nipples.
I imagine her going home
to dump a can of Campbell's
in a casserole while her husband
barks orders from the football chair.
She moves through the house
without consequence,
straightening an old lighthouse
cross stitch in the hallway,
rifling through coupons
for half-price dinners
and oil changes. But this morning,
she is here. Her eyes take in
the narrow lane of water
as if it were the river
of an ancient civilization
and she plans to wrap her arms
and legs around time itself.
She twists at the waist,
stretches her mottled fingers
to the rising dough of her feet.
She catches my stare
for a moment, arches her brows
and dives, 
       gliding and breathing,
       gliding and breathing.
"He took [Abraham] outside and said, 'Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.' Then he said to him, 'So shall your offspring be.'"–Genesis 15:5
After Abraham fell asleep,
she pulled her cloak
around her shoulders
and walked out to stare
at the night. Stars collected
in the crevices of mountains.
They spilled into the oak groves
and clung to the branches.
And when she spread her hands
to the sky, they rested in the sags
of flesh between her fingers.
The world is dripping with stars,
she thought, and still not one
belongs to me. She considered
hating them. She considered
wishing a heavenly storm
to drown them. But she only
murmured, I am through
and walked off, holding
a sudden sharpness in her side,
as if a star had dislodged
there, and turning and scraping
and shining its path, settled
into the bare sky of her body.


Tania Runyan's poems have appeared in Poetry, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, The Christian Century, Willow Springs, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, and A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare.  Her chapbook, Delicious Air, was awarded the 2007 Book of the Year Citation by the Conference on Christianity and Literature. Her first full-length collection of poetry will be published by WordFarm in 2011. When not writing, Tania spends her days tutoring high school students, playing various instruments, and chasing three kids around the house. Find Tania online at www.TaniaRunyan.com.



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