Mary Hills Kuck

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POETRY

Halos

Early Sunday morning in Jamaica
rays of sunlight slipped through crannies
in the chancel of the church I loved,
sending shifting halos on the heads of priests
who preached and prayed and praised.

Today I see this sacred aura in the light
that flickers through late-summer forest’s
still-green leaves, just before they color,
dry, and heap up cushions on the path.

It filters through the branches,
painting ferns a brighter hue, then
moving with the sun to highlight fallen
pinecones, rain-roused mushrooms,
winter birds that will not migrate,
ripples on the swampy pond, giving
every being here a chance to glow.

Will this halo one day find it fit
to cast its light on me?

“Halos,” read by Mary Hills Kuck.


It’s Cold Out There

It’s two-thirty a.m. I add it up: eleven-thirty,
twelve-thirty, one-thirty, two-thirty. Four hours
of sleep. This is not desperate. I can function
on four hours. Still, I want to sleep more.
It’s cold out there, and I am so warm,
cuddled with your knees tucked into mine,
your thumb in my hand under the pillow.

I close my eyes. The little “I can’t sleep” song
without words or tune begins. My toes start
to twitch. “Stop!” I tell them, but they won’t.
What to do but change the song. There is the song
we sang at the concert the other night, “I want
Jesus to follow me.” No, that can’t be right.
We’re supposed to follow Jesus. What are
the right words? Oh yes, “I want Jesus
to walk with me.” Now sing it. It’s lovely.
But the tune is a little tricky, so minor,
even just in my head. Singing it right
keeps me awake. Three-thirty a.m.

It was such a strange concert, anyway.
Who combines a Bach cantata with
African American spirituals and readings
from Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman?
A white male read Sojourner Truth’s words
about the babies and husband she never owned.
I want to get up and read the program again
to see how Bach’s words connected.
But it’s cold out there, and I am so warm,
cuddled with your knees tucked into mine,
your thumb in my hand under the pillow.

“I want Jesus to walk with me.”
What are the rest of the words?
We sing this in church sometimes.
Robbie played the keyboard and sang it
to break our hearts. “Lord, I want Jesus,
to walk with me.” But his career progressed
and now he’s singing jazz in Philadelphia,
and we have two other musicians. What are
the rest of the words? Trying to remember
keeps me awake. Four-thirty a.m.

I came late to jazz, and fun music in general. I was
an embarrassing dancer and a classical music snob.
But I’ve grown to love Smokey Robinson and
Aretha. My daughter gave me an Aretha CD
and I play it when I’m by myself, cooking. Aretha
wakes my dry bones like the Word of the Lord.
I dance in the mirror while the bread is rising,
twisting my hips and raising my hands in joy.
I want to dance to Aretha now.
But it’s cold out there, and I am so warm,
cuddled with your knees tucked into mine,
your thumb in my hand under the pillow.

Five-thirty a.m. Dawn cracks. Still no sleep.
It’s all right. Four hours will do.
It’s cold out there, and I am so warm,
cuddled with your knees tucked into mine,
your thumb in my hand under the pillow.


Mary Hills Kuck has retired from teaching English and German in the US and Jamaica and now lives in Massachusetts with her family. She has received a Pushcart Prize nomination and has published in a number of journals, including the Connecticut River Review, SLANT, Tipton Poetry Journal, Burningword Literary Journal, From the Depths, Splash, Poetry Quarterly, Main St. Rag, and others. Her chapbook, Intermittent Sacraments, was published in June 2021, by Finishing Line Press.


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Photo Credit: “Sun Through Leaves” by Jayde Alexis, Flickr.com.

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