Lawerence Kessenich

Awful Rowing
Anne Sexton` committed suicide on October 4,
the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi

Both fought the current in their own way.

Francis, the decathlete of suffering, scourged
his body daily, though it insisted on enjoying
the world. Anne tasted sin like a ripe apple
while a worm gnawed at her heart.

Francis rubbed the salve of God’s forgiveness
into his wounds. Anne used drink and pills, except
when she rowed joyfully across the page
toward a God who “owns heaven…but craves the earth.”

In the end, Francis dropped his brutal whips,
went peacefully into God’s soft arms.
Anne swallowed the ultimate medication, turning
God into a friendly pharmacist to relieve her pain.



Everything depends upon
our comprehending physics.
How the fat man’s thigh
pressed against yours
on the bus seat is
your thigh, too. How

the crazy woman’s mumbled
“God help me” is from
your lips as well. How
the warm bread smell
of a sleeping child’s hair
unites with your olfactory

nerves. The borders
are permeable, the energy
exchange liquid and continuous.
We breathe the dust of million-
year-old galaxies, trade atoms
with a clutched stone.



During Lent, season of discipline,
I drag myself out of bed early, ride
to Mass with Mom and Mrs. Crivello,
warm in the front seat between their wool
coats, soothed by familiar perfume.

Headlights carve the ebony darkness
of dead streets. The women talk in low tones
about people I don't know, the thrum
of their voices reassuring. I doze
for seconds that seem like minutes.

We park in the immense lot, among
a small band of cars huddled near
the entrance of St. Monica’s. Inside,
stained glass windows, a feast of color
in daylight, are black. The church is barn-cold.

Candles burn, bells ring, prayers are murmured,
songs sung. The church warms slowly. I sit,
stand, kneel between the two women,
rituals washing over me like soft waves
on Lake Michigan in August.

Later, I carry the sacred mood
out on my route, dispensing papers
like communion to my neighbors.


Zen Dessert

Like the foundation of an aging house, my body
settles into earth as it approaches fifty. Castles
in the air no longer appeal. Instead of fiction,
I read thick biographies of warriors and statesmen
who made their mark on life in iron and steel. I breathe
more deeply, eat rich food, and watch my belly swell.
“Let your soul move to and fro, ere it will not grow.
Buddha let his stomach grow to give his soul more room.”

I befriend humidity and pollen, archenemies
not long ago, accept clouds of insects rising
from the ground, spiders hiding beneath my bed.
I watch my children grow out from me, like saplings
from a nurse log on the sodden forest floor,
not jealous of their vitality, just curious
about the shape of leaves and branches, about who –
or whether – I will be when they are my age.

Have I found, unwittingly, my heart’s desire,
the ability to “be here now,” detached from
what the world calls success, or do I fool my
self, masking failure as satori, calling
lack of will willingness? Whatever. The birds
still call me sweetly in the evening on the
river walk as I bring home to my family
a generous box of cake left over from work.


Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry Prize. He has been published in Atlanta Review, Poetry Ireland Review, and many other magazines. His chapbook Strange News was published by Pudding House Publications in 2008. Another chapbook was shortlisted for the St. Lawrence Book Award and Spire Press Chapbook Contest. His poem “Underground Jesus” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012.