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Sacred Places

November 2009

I was attracted to "The Sacred" as a prompt because of its topic, but also because it is set in a classroom where it seems that the teacher may be on the verge of giving a writing prompt.

I like Stephen Dunn's poetry to begin with, and then his showed up as the poem of the day on The Writer's Almanac recently, and there is something about having the poem read to me that sets the poem differently in my mind.

The teacher asks a very serious and personal question. That is, if the class takes it seriously - which I believe they do, and that is why they fidget in their chairs. You don't share your sacred place with a class or with a teacher. Given some more silence, someone probably would raise their hand and lie. Give the teacher what he wanted to hear.

But then the most serious student actually does answer honestly, and that opens the door for others.

Most of us would define sacred as it is related to religion. I wonder how these students would define "sacred" in this context.

Our prompt was to write about a sacred place. However you define that in the poem is up to you.

There's more about this prompt and Stephen Dunn, and about poetry on the Poets Online Blog. We'd love to read your comments there.


A mile from home – no sign of houses,
just this two-lane curving
on its centerline. No shoulder; narrow
path of asphalt between cutbank
and dropoff, a place to grip
your steering. The morning sun
strikes not quite blinding
through the windshield. But
I won’t put down the visor; shield
my eyes with my hand. I’ll trust
to sunlight through oak leaves
tarnished gold, and gnarled
fingers of oaks already leafless
laying their hands above me
as I pass. A blessing for the journey.

Taylor Graham


There is a place near here I like to sit,
a place where the slanted rays of winter sun

warm the bare trees; where water drips
into the pond trickling notes of a wordless song.

Sitting with silence, the mind begins to quiet and
breathing settles. Thoughts come, then disappear,

and equanimity envelops me with a healing spirit,
the soul of this bare winter woodland.

Mary Kendall


Comfort Zone
Just her own
With a black decor
Candle light
Aroma therapy
Twist and turn
Reflecting back
To life’s lessons
Fresh Perspective
On that which
Has pasted
Towards the near
And distant future
Time spent
In my
Living Room

Lakia Montgomery


is still the best, the deeper the better, like
the day you could leave that crib of docks
during swim class at scout camp, pass
the test, move from Advanced Beginner
to advanced, turn your tag from brass to red
on the big board, jump off the other side into
the unchained lake where it didn’t matter
what was on the bottom because you never
had to touch it, the dark Adirondack
water cool underneath but sun-warmed
on the surface where you moved, light
and graceful as any girl in the world.
You did the mile swim across the lake—
one of the few, the elite; so early the fog
still rose from the ripples and softened
the flicker of waterbugs; the flip of fish
coming up for breakfast. You
and the other girl were ready for this
and you knew not to jump or splash
or dive but to slide in. Your slow rhythmic
breaths mixed invisibly with the steaming
morning and the dark haired counselor
in the boat rowed so quietly, watched
closely but didn’t speak until the middle
and then she sang. You were not tired,
you loved these depths, their beauty,
you knew your name would be carved,
deep, into the wooden sign displayed
in the lodge: “Mile Swim Club.
Whispering Pines. 1979,” where you
will belong forever.

Svea Barrett


the blue heron
hidden at the base of the bridge,
but not from me
The silver bicycle
I ride
through swamps and meadows
along gravel paths
over bridges
straddling brooks, ferns, frogs
I ride on to the bridge
follow the sound of rushing water
glide down the hill
around the bend of the road
to the music,
and look down
and see the water tumbling,
the white caps swirling
the blue heron
raises his wings in prayer
and glides down the river
along the rocks of ice age
along the primeval jungle
the blue heron in one, two prostrations
masters the wind and is gone
and for a moment
I remember
I'm free

Leon Alirangues


I am taking a bath
in shea butter and oatmeal.
Surely this is sacred -
alone, naked, a baptism.
Like Larkin, to construct a religion
I should make use of water.
Yet even as the steam rises, I wonder...

how many lungs have swelled
with river or creek or chlorine
and drowned?
How many homes have been swept away,
flooded photographs and letters lost -
bleeding ink?
Tears too are made of water.

And does the boy in Dunn's poem,
whose car is his sacred place,
understand what I am understanding now?

When he is driving does he wonder
how many bodies have been lost to the pavement,
to metal-on-metal? Does he count the crosses placed
on the sides of the roads?

Perhaps, the truly sacred
is that which stings with mortality.
That which drags us from the sky,
to the ground, to the bones
of this raw earth. That which asks us
to endlessly cherish these little,
little lives of ours.

Liza Sparks


I feel a chill lick it's way down my spine
As I leave my warm cocoon of blankets.
My feet are silent on the carpet;
I tiptoe anyway, reaching my open window
Outside, cool blackness lies
Drawing my eyes back to it again and again

The clouds surrounding the moon create an array of
Plum haze enveloping it's glowing display
The worn windowsill is familiar and friendly
I curl my fingers over the edges,
As I have countless times before
My mulberry painted toes make their way out the window
And hit the harsh gravel rooftop
The ice laced fingers of the air chase away the heat, and
Trace my ivory skin with grace

The dancing of the silvery stars catches my gaze and
Fills my vision as I lie on the roof,
Wishing they would reach down their
Bright tendrils of light
To carry me lifetimes away from everything
I don't have the courage to face

Where I could stay without the burden of gravity
Unencumbered stars deciding the brevity of my stay
All night I stay with a sweet feeling
Of the luminary specks watching my sleeping body,
Until the sun's rose rays lit up the sky
And chased their iridescent glow
I climb back to my blankets
Moments before my door opens
And Dad walks in wondering why
The touch of my cheek is so cold

He shuts the window

Erin O'Connor


For her mother it was a sacred space.
In 1943, a closed street
Rosenstrasse in Berlin.

At first one thought it home
From which she fled to end her childhood,
For sacred is as much in time as space
Though space is easier to remember
While time may not be understood.

The people next door had gone to Vienna
Where their building still stood;
Pressing on a bell seemed easy
But when they introduced themselves
As those who had lived there
The people had the sweet cream turn
It was the past's lemon curdling hello.

I knew a Moroccan girl
Whose family had the key to their walled
Home in the Juderia of Cordoba
With tall geraniums by the door
To balance the jasmine welcome in the air.

Anna A, a Russian poetess
Stood in a line, as a dot, as a point
Along with other silent folk
While waiting for news of her son.
Only she thought of her lines
While staring at the storms' white out
Where distance and future are obscure
As a man made black out.

In Berlin on Rosenstrasse
In the midst of collections
In the midst of dread
The women were determined
Arriving in the shadows
And leaving in the night
Their children's tight hands in their palms
Melodramatic theatrics
That made the stones to yield.

I take as mine
The waiting,
Give me time and it will make a space.
It frees my thoughts
To breathe in the cold
And exhale the warm

*Rosenstrasse was the location of an office of the Gestapo in Berlin . A group of Christian wives gathered there in protest in 1943 against their deportation to the camps. They demonstrated solidarity with their Jewish husbands who were briefly freed.

Edward N Halperin


it happens more often these days,
you know, those times when
you feel like you've earned yourself a free
pass to the looney bin,

accumulated enough frequent flyer
miles to take you there, no strings attached -
pen in hand and ready to
compose that post card stating

i'm so glad you're not here.
wondering what would happen
if they abolished murphy's law
altogether and discontinued

america's favorite t-shirt.
since sarcasm is the only
sacred place i have left i think i'll
set here a spell, then be on my way

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello