Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Russian Orthodox Church in Bialystok, Poland

There is something irresistible about a mix of the poetics of religion and the poetics of food. Recently I discovered that monastic retreats (e.g. the Benedictines) offer cuisine classes! 

Below is my favorite poem by Leonard Kress, a poet who is a spiritual seeker. He has sampled several traditions. 

Poppy-seed cake is traditional for Easter. 


After stopping at the bakery
I stepped inside the tiny Russian 
behind the slaughterhouse and pressed my lips
against the icon glass, and though the priest
began to swing his censer back and forth,
faster, higher, as though the smoking golden
globe was his blond daughter on a playground
swing – whose white communion dress now whooshed
above her face, breathless from the mighty push,

my knees went weak and bent to find the floor
just as the hidden choir voices met
to sing the Mass’s final word – Spassiba!

and when a sweeter voice, younger than
the rest, pierced the iron chord and fluttered
mightily above before it vanished
into the risen Christ captured by
the ceiling vault, my forehead grazed the tiles,
my lips the ground – just like the grieving Russian

women across the San who welcomed roaming
beggars in case their painful stare bestowed
the riches of a saint. I tasted salt,

not from the crying icon, but from the heavy boots
that tracked it from the sidewalk slush
after the Elder scattered it like feed.

My hand had crushed the spiral cake, ripped through
the paper bag, and from a tiny perfect
slit, just like the belly of a frog
a curlew’s beak has torn beside a pond,
countless seeds, sweet and dark, now burst.

  ~ Leonard Kress



A striking poem by Leonard Kress, especially describing the priest swinging the censor like his daughter on a swing in her white dress. How lovely. 


It's such a sensual rendition. I love all the details here, the side excursions into the daughter on the swing and the Russian women welcoming beggars -- and the fact that the last word of the mass is "Thank you." 

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