A Poem For Saturday

Spencer Reece-page-001

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

In the June 14th, 2003 issue of The New Yorker, a moving and beautiful poem entitled “The Clerk’s Tale” by Spencer Reece appeared on the back page, drawn from his debut volume of the same title chosen for The Bakeless Prize that year by Louise Gluck.

The poem began, “I am thirty-three and working in an expensive clothier,/ selling suits to men I call ‘Sir.’” The poem describes two gay men closing the store in a mall in Minneapolis on a snowy, winter evening. The speaker, younger of the two, says of his companion:

“Often, he refers to himself as ‘an old faggot.’
He does this bemusedly, yet timidly.
I know why he does this.
He does this because his acceptance is finally complete—
and complete acceptance is always
bittersweet.”

The poem later formed the basis for a short film directed and produced by James Franco. The poet, Spencer Reece, was subsequently ordained as an Episcopal priest. While working as a chaplain at Hartford Hospital, he felt inadequate without the Spanish language. Appealing to his bishop, he was transferred to an orphanage in Honduras, where he coached the schoolchildren to write poems. Now he has compiled an anthology of their poetry called Hope & Fury: Abandoned Childrens’ Voices, with gems like this one by Riccy, age 14:

Rose

This young
rose, it represents all of us here.
Careful! It is the prettiest young rose
we have: life needs love,
love needs life.

James Franco is now the executive producer of the documentary-in-the-making about the orphanage, Our Little Roses. Today and in the days ahead we’ll post poems from Spencer Reece’s new book of poems, The Road to Emmaus, just published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

“ICU” by Spencer Reece:

Those mornings I traveled north on I-91,
passing below the basalt cliff of East Rock
where elms discussed their genealogies.
I was a chaplain at Hartford Hospital,
took the Myers-Briggs with Sister Margaret,
learned I was an I drawn to Es.
In small group I said, “I do not like it,
the way young black men die in the ER,
shot, unrecognized, their gurneys stripped,
their belongings catalogued and unclaimed.”
In the neonatal ICU, newborns breathed,
blue, spider-delicate in nests of tubes.
A Sunday of themselves, their tissue purpled,
their eyelids the film on old water in a well,
their faces resigned in plastic attics,
their skin mottled mildewed wallpaper.
It is correct to love even at the wrong time.
On rounds, the newborns eyed me, each one
like Orpheus in his dark hallway, saying:
I knew I would find you, I knew I would lose you.

(From The Road to Emmaus © 2014 by Spencer Reece. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Photo of Spencer Reece © Lawrence Schwartzwald, used with his permission.)