The Road to Emmaus is a wonderful book, one of my favorites in contemporary poetry. Reece is both questioning and devotional, his poems are full of pain, wonder, and jolting imagery. The book contains several long poems I love—“1 Corinthians 13” is a more compact testament to the poet’s powers, but no less well built. Just look at that penultimate line, “Trees stiffen into scrapbooks.”
The Bible verse referenced in the title goes (in the New International Version), “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Reece’s poems are full of love, but they also sound a lot of gongs, much to the reader’s advantage.
1 CORINTHIANS 13
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.
Spencer Reece is a poet and priest. His first collection, The Clerk’s Tale, won the Bakeless Prize in 2003. He has received an NEA grant, a Guggenheim grant, a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and the Amy Lowell Travelling Scholarship. His poems have been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, The American Scholar, and The New Republic. He served at the Honduran orphanage Our Little Roses, and works for the Bishop of Spain at the Reformed Episcopal Church, Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal.
Rosecrans Baldwin’s first novel, You Lost Me There, was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2010, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and a Time and Entertainment Weekly Best Book of Summer 2010. He is a cofounder of the online magazine The Morning News.