American Life in Poetry: Column 662


Many of us at some hour have struggled with organized religion, maybe all night, like Jacob wrestling the angel. Here's a fine poem by Fleda Brown, from her book No Need of Sympathy. She is the former poet laureate of Delaware and now lives in Michigan. Her new and selected poems, The Woods Are On Fire, is forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press.

God, God

We dressed for church.  I had a white hat
and white gloves when I was fifteen, no joke.
You had to do that to show God you cared.
God's eyes were stained glass, and his voice
was pipe organ. He was immortal, invisible,
while my panty-hose itched and my atheist
father chewed his tongue and threatened to run
out the door but didn't for my mother's sake,
and she swallowed her fate, this marriage,
like a communion cracker, and my brain-
damaged brother lurched around the church
nursery, and my sweeter sister watched me
with huge brown eyes to see what I'd do next.
My God, why did I turn my eyes upward when
we were all there, then, in the flesh? I am so
sorry about God, sorry we fastened that word
to the sky. God's not even legal in Hebrew.
If you get the vowel caught between the two
consonants of your lips, it can carry you
dangerously up like a balloon over what you'd
give anything to be in the middle of, now.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Fleda Brown, “God, God,” from No Need of Sympathy, (BOA Editions, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Fleda Brown and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.