1 Corinthians 13

by Spencer Reece

copyright ©Spencer Reece 2014

How long do we wait for love?
Long ago, we rowed on a pond.
Our oars left the moon broken—
our gestures ruining the surface.
Our parents wanted us to marry.
Beyond the roses where we lay,
men who loved men grew wounds.
When do we start to forget our age?
Your husband and I look the same.
All day, your mother confuses us
as her dementia grows stronger.
Your boys yell: Red Rover!
We whisper your sister’s name
like librarians; at last on the list,
her heart clapping in her rib cage,
having stopped now six times,
the pumps opened by balloons,
we await her new heart cut
out from the chest of a stranger.
Your old house settles in its bones,
pleased by how we are arranged.
Our shadow grows like an obituary.
One of us says: “It is getting so dark.”
Your children end their game.
Trees stiffen into scrapbooks.
The sky’s shelves fill with stars.

Notes on the Poem

We've looked before at how Biblical references underpin the poetry of Spencer Reece's collection The Road to Emmaus. Like the disciples who unwittingly met the resurrected Jesus on that eponymous road, if it weren't for the titles - this week's Poem of the Week as well as the previously discussed "The Fifth Commandment" - we might not recognize that scriptural influences are woven into many of the poems. Let's start by taking a look at what 1 Corinthians 13, part of the Christian Bible's New Testament, touches on, opening with:
If I speak in the tongues [or languages] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship [or to the flames] that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
The complete chapter, in what is known as the New International Version, is found here. The opening line of Reece's poem alights immediately on what the Bible verses go on to contemplate and struggle with: "How long do we wait for love?" Neither the poem nor 1 Corinthians 13 in full actually depict someone passively waiting for love to arrive. Reece's poem seems to chronicle a specific "we" - a pair of individuals, not a collective voice - who have gone through much together and, sadly, separately. Although "Our parents wanted us to marry" that clearly didn't happen, as now the narrator refers to "your boys" and "your old house" ... the "our" early in the poem seems to be left behind. But wait ... "Our shadow grows like an obituary." But before that becomes either a mortal threat or the severing of a bond, the waning day and encroaching night transform into the beautiful last line: "The sky’s shelves fill with stars." a line that seems to echo the quiet optimism of: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

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