Everything That Rises
by Chris Anderson
To Flannery O’Connor,
who died in the summer, 1964,
this might have seemed like the future.
She might have imagined
we’d have flying cars by now,
or cities on the moon. Or maybe not.
On the back of the book of her letters
she stands on the brick steps
of her Mama’s farm in Georgia
looking down at a peacock.
She wears a dark dress and pearls
and balances on two aluminum crutches.
Old lady glasses, though she was just
thirty-nine. A mousy bob,
though her friends used to speak
of her clear, rosy skin and beautiful eyes.
The white frame of the screen door
behind her is scuffed and peeling.
We are so different.
I’ve never been anywhere but sick, she wrote.
She believed the Church was infallible.
She would have fixed me with a stare.
She would have soon discovered the weakness
that makes me who I really am.
But it is late spring now and warm.
The moon is coming up at the top of our drive,
above the trees. And passing the door
on my way to bed, book in hand, I pause
on an impulse and slip outside, walking up
to where the moonlight floods the road.
Remember these are mysteries, she said.
A God you could understand would be less
than yourself. And I find that I have carried her
with me, I am holding her in my arms,
here, in the next century, in the brilliant night.
Chris Anderson is a Professor of English at Oregon State
University and a Catholic deacon. His second book of poetry,
The Next Thing Always Belongs, will be published in the fall
by Fairweather Books.
On “Everything That Rises Must Converge”:
The poem came about partly because the experience I describe
really happened. I walked up the driveway in the moonlight
and happened to be carrying a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s
letters. When I saw that—moonlight reflecting on the dust
jacket of the book—I was really moved. Struck. Stopped. I’d
been rereading the letters, too, slowly and in sequence, and
had again been struck by how much sympathy I have as a
Catholic for O’Connor as a Catholic and yet how different I
feel from her, too. And the time issue: that she was 39 when
she died in the ’60s and here I am 53 in the 21st century and
what would she think of me being the kind of deacon I am and
reading her the way I do. And then lots of interesting little facts
or details about her in my mind, from the letters, where she
lived, her appearance. Too many really. So all these strands or
elements or possible images, all these nuances, sort of coming
together, galvanized by the walk up the driveway. Then the
task was getting the language out as clearly as I could, getting
it said, which involved lots of writing and rewriting just of
sentences; then seeing where the line breaks were coming, what
breaks were suggesting themselves in the language I had and
trying to honor that, which also involved lots of drafts; then
seeing, at the end of the process, what the possibilities were for
regular stanzas, how I could break up what through all the
early drafts had been one big block of poetry. Lots and lots of
drafts through all of this. Trying to sound natural. Trying not
to lose the sense of the book and the moon, that originating,
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 4, Number 1
Copyright © 2009
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors