Leah Silvieus

Matthew 19:14

after Jericho Brown
for the camp girls

Heaven belongs to such as these,
             your apostle taught us, Lord –

therefore, let me not forget those six Junes
             of girlhood summers down

that two-lane highway, left – past
             the seven-foot, plastic Hereford bull 

at Clearwater Junction, dreaming under
             cast-off army tents where forty-miles-away

might’ve been a different country, those
             faraway towns’ names exotic:

Philipsburg, Frenchtown,
             Wisdom, Choteau —

and bless those mouths red with praise
             and Fla-Vor-Ice from the canteen.

Give me to singing, as we did,
             rise and shine and give God the glory,

glory waiting for the supper bell
             outside the mess tent where counselors

decreed: the last shall be first
             and the first shall be last

and we all turned ‘round in line
             ‘cause we believed

that one day it’d be true,
             so Lord forget us not in our hour

of need: those who fished trashed Kool-Aid cups
             to tear into visions of the Blessed

Virgin, who stole change from Right to Life
              to buy ring pops for our little sisters.

Bless us, Lord, we dirt-road orphans, grown now
             as we are and miles from the closest home:

women-once-girls named for virtues          
             mothers hope’d we’d hold true:

Faith, Joy, and daughter after daughter
             called Mercy. 

Elegy for Daylight

Midsummer’s 10 o’clock dusk had us
           ditching swings, twisty slide ’n jungle

gym for the beyond:  boneyard, field, forest,
           the mountain ash’s galaxy of orange berries –

stinging hard as BBs if you knew how
           to put a spin on ‘em. Ducking behind

gutted-out combines ‘n coils of chicken wire,
           we counted each scrape ‘n scab testament

to grit, tough shit, truth
           or consequence – scraped up

seed potatoes with sticks ‘n fingernails
           fooling ourselves they were gold enough

to buy our way out of town. As night tucked in,
           our harvest turned

to dirt-clod fights: o how
           a little spit and dirt 

could make some mud
could hide a stone
could hide a bruise 

as if to say, witness here
our skin

            welted but unbroken – 

Author Statement

Though I practice my faith much differently now from when I was a child, I’m still haunted by the songs, prayers, and scriptures that immersed my evangelical upbringing in rural towns in the Mountain West. These poems lean into fragments of those texts to revisit and explore the physical and spiritual landscapes (which I think are closely intertwined) of those communities and the tensions between the impulses that shaped them – for example, between violence and tenderness, stoicism and sentimentalism, self-reliance and belief in divine providence. These poems are also an attempt, in part, to revise, reframe, and sometimes subvert these texts to ask how they can speak to me now. Perhaps, in a way, they are prayers themselves–intercessions on behalf of the child I was then, struggling to make sense of my experience of the divine. 

Leah Silvieus is the author of a chapbook, Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press), and the recipient of awards and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, Kundiman, VONA, and US Poets in Mexico. She also serves as books editor for Hyphen Magazine and holds an MFA from the University of Miami. You can visit her at leahsilvieus.com.