Jennifer Davis Michael

The God of Things That Are Not

Across a crowded dinner table,
plates full and glasses charged,
a friend tells me a new name for God:
the God of things that are not.

My mind needs space to picture these:
vases empty, voices stilled,
the crumbs swept from the table. And here he comes:
a God who gathers up the unused dishes,

who cherishes the things undone,
the phone call not returned,
the breakfast skipped, the blank page,
photographs snapped with lens cap on.

This is the God of broken engagements,
roads untraveled, jobs declined.
All these exist within a mind
not limited to that which is.

And that which is not finds a home
in the margins of abundance,
between one feast of being and the next,
in space that only seems unfilled.


Their song, pulsating, punctuates
the feverish July afternoon.
Like wine, it's been cellared in the earth,
building in body and complexity,
as the nymph eats and grows, shrugging loose
one skin after another: tissue-like tunnels
inside the earthen tunnel where it feeds.
At last it climbs from darkness into day,
unfolding hidden music from below.
The singer leaves behind a shell of song
clinging to bark. My three-year-old finds
translucent husks, collects them with delight,
lining them on the steps in mute parade.
Meanwhile, the choir crescendos overhead.

Scene from a Funeral

The husband, gaunt, distilled by months of care,
receives the muffled greetings at the door.
The flock in damp wool, shoehorned into pews,
breathes shallowly to let another in.
And now her coffin fills the narrow aisle,
all out of measure in this modest church:
modest like her, a lady who would not
take up more space than necessary, yet
her quiet smile and wit could light a world.
She who was all proportion and all grace,
now in this outsized box whose sides we brush
apologetically as we edge past
to the altar rail, too frail to lean against.
Fastidious hands hold out the elements.


Jennifer Davis Michael is professor and chair of English at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, specializing in British Romanticism. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 3 Elements Review, Silver Birch Press, The Unprecedented Review, Literary Mama, and Mezzo Cammin. She has also published a book of criticism, Blake and the City (Bucknell, 2006).


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