Literary Hook: 'Epiphany:' A poem

The following poem, “Epiphany,” was written near the Feast of Epiphany (liturgical calendar) in January of 1991. At the time, the U.S. was beginning Operation Desert Storm. At the same time, the churches of Moscow were open to the public for the first time in decades; this should have been a time of great rejoicing, but it was overshadowed by “the war.”

I happened to be on Route 39 when I heard the newscast regarding Russia. Since I had been there in 1969, a time when St. Basil’s was considered nothing more than a historical relic, I was overwhelmed by the image of churchgoers carrying candles and singing carols once again streaming through the door of that great cathedral.

In addition, the word “epiphany” has meaning beyond liturgy. When you have an “epiphany,” you have a strong and startling revelation about something. The title seemed to fit on both levels.

The poem was part of Slow Miracle, a collection published by Lake Shore Press. With gratitude to Carol Spelius, editor and publisher. In light of world events, I like to think the poem still resonates today.


—Moscow, January, 1991

At last the snow that covers the bricks

Of Red Square is not tinged with blood,

And the myriad footprints become one

Straight line or great circle,

Not phantom shadows frozen

In January’s white night, massacred

Or starved. No longer hungry for flesh,

The Bear begins its true journey now,

Free to tread the tundra,

Play in the snow, wrapped only

In her great, long-awaited spirit.

The people walk to God,

Who hid in the swirls of Saint Basil’s,

Who cried from the souls of the dead,

Who lived in Chagall’s painting,

Who occupied the servant’s quarters

In the Hermitage,

Who spoke in Nureyev’s leaps,

Who placed a mark upon the forehead

Of the peacemakers,

Who waits and works all slow miracles.

Because I have walked in Red Square,

Stood in long lines for Lenin’s corpse

And for oranges,

Because I too know the disappointment

Of too much thought and theory,

And have found church doors locked

In my own country, because I wait

As the Eagle dies in the desert,

I need to proclaim this epiphany

With bells. For they are burdened,

Bundled in heavy black coats,

Bright, flowered babushkas. Never

Has the arctic night been so white—

Thousands of candles cupped

By hands used to cold.

The words of the carols are difficult,

Buried so long in ice,

Thawing, thawing

Seeping like blood

Into the earth which has no choice

But to bear.

From the Jan. 3-9, 2007, issue

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