Anne Kundtz

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Last Rites, Kiss

To Shannon, our brother-priest

Smoke from wildfires obscures low mountains
around Tonasket where Brian waits.

Hospital doors slide open wide; 
the nurse leads us to a windowless room.

You, our brother-priest, know your role well;
You stand at Brian’s head, unzip the body bag

to his shoulders, the black bag that holds what is left.
He gave his cornea to see in another man’s body,

his tendons to help someone walk again,
his skin for the firefighters’ burns, for strangers. 

Gauze wrapping over his eyes, Brian’s gray jaw hangs slack,
like the worst face he’d made when teasing me.

You drape the black stole around your neck,
unlatch the box that holds the fragrant oil.

I watch as you anoint him, listen to your quavering voice.
I will my legs to hold me up. Amen, I breathe. 
The nurse also says Amen.

Trembling, you bend and kiss Brian’s forehead. 
You zip the bag closed.
We walk out into the smoke and ash.

In the Ignatian Chapel

at Seattle University

This is it, I tell You,
sinking into a pew.
A quiet breath answers,
in this church where 
I am not a member but
am drawn like a lost bird.
Too tired for prayer  
or the worries I brought.
I nod off in exhaustion. 

An hour in silence, 
I feel a little less shredded.
I open my eyes
to the crucifix,
Jesus hanging there,
sad and terrible,
his torso shrouded, 
otherwise, all bone, thin and bare.

I understood then
that last night in Gethsemane
when he was stripped  
of all that was human,
hopes, passion, will.
What remained— 
spirit, body, love.
Then spirit and love,

then love.


Not a voice to a thrown rider,
a burning bush, 
the belly of a whale;

You call in the silhouette
of Mt. Constance backlit
in fingerpaint rays,

and sweet cola blackberries,
heavy among thorns,
pungent walnut fruit, bruised
beside yellow pansies.

I hear you in the reedy recorder,
half-heard across the dusty road
that leads to Grace.

Someone plays 
as if
crossing a stream
of mossy stones

to reach the stillness 
of your voice.

After 19 years, Anne Kundtz retired from high school teaching in the first year of Covid, 2020. Her writing is informed by her passion for her life lived across the West, her 20 years with middle and high school students, and the century-old house and the garden where she spends hours kneeling. Her poetry is published in Ars Poetica NW, Counting Stars (Haiku), Poems for Las Vegas, Under the Basho (Haibun), and Poet’s Choice.

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Photo Credit: Howe Ridge Fire (2018), NPS Image, via Image modified by Veronica McDonald.

One comment

  1. “This is it, I tell You,
    sinking into a pew.
    A quiet breath answers,
    in this church where
    I am not a member but
    am drawn like a lost bird.”

    All three are beautiful. I needed to read the second one today.


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