Take note of the subtitle of Windhover. If you’re not a Christian, or if you don’t entertain at least a little curiosity about the claims of the Christian world regarding the salvific message and death-into-life of what Brian Doyle calls “that gaunt rabbi from Jerusalem two thousand years ago,” this may not be the journal for you. Every poem (there are thirty), prose piece (three, and two reviews) and work of art (several color reproductions by each of two impressive visual artists) requires at least some familiarity with the Biblical and cultural roots of Christian thought. Allusions to the life and teachings of Christ and to the tension inherent in faithful living abound in this issue. If you grok these allusions, this journal is an absolute treasure. If you don’t, you might be confused—or you might become a seeker, wandering a step or two toward conversion.
The magazine’s title presumably alludes to the nineteenth-century Irish priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sonnet (“The Windhover”) evoking the flight of a kestrel, dedicated “To Christ Our Lord.” It contains the line Hopkins described as “the best thing I ever wrote”—I think this one: “. . . My heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!” Windhover, the journal, is full of mastery. I recommend it profoundly.
The poems are lovely. To be a Christian can mean blind adherence to vanilla niceness—I know a lot of nicely vanilla Christians who tout clichés because they don’t know any other language and genuinely want to be acceptable in their communities. But I prefer another kind of Christian—the ones who are both human (that is, imperfect, funny, scrabbling along making a lot of mistakes, just like the rest of us) and a little more—they’re good, and thoughtful (not only thinkers but also considerate people, aware of others, ready to hear and help), astute, even wise, who seriously entertain the idea that God’s love is personal and real. Maryanne Hannan’s twelve-line “Concert” says, “God forbid we invite the tone-deaf / to be part of the choir,” but the tongue is in the cheek here; it ends, “God forbid . . . [we should] attempt anything / as important as God’s joyful noise.” The noise may be “grating, discordant, cacophonous,” but it deserves praise—a fundamental concept in Christianity, I think, that goodness abides and gives reason to be glad.
Robert B. Moreland’s “No Plan B,” a poem shaped like an airplane, compares Charles Lindberg’s Atlantic flight to the decision to believe: “Death or Paris, / no Plan B, / homeward / bound . . . // God’s promises believe or faithless die. // . . . Confess the fear, / no Plan B, / Heaven / bound.”
There are poems mourning physical death (Michael D. Riley’s “In Memoriam,” a soft elegy about a beloved deceased man’s reunification with the One) and spiritual or at least religious loss (both of Jennifer Clark’s fine free verse poems lament her inability to find a church, or a God, who satisfies). Kelley White’s pieces (one poetry, one prose) see death and pain through the eyes of children seeking meaning. The narrator of the poem, “Report (CY47),” is an abused child, quietly accepting help, hoping for release. The prose piece presents a five-year-old placing stones on graves of people who might have been her friends. These are moments in a world where right intent can as often lift as wrong intent can hinder.
My favorite pieces in this issue, though, are the ones that reimagine moments from scripture. There is a gratifying number of these proofs that to be Christian does not mean to lack inventiveness, originality, or insight. Sally Clark’s “The Widow’s Mite,” Michael D. Riley’s “Pilate’s Clothes,” Christopher Fahy’s “Iscariot (from Matthew),” and perhaps most especially, for me, Chet Corey’s “Cain’s Wife” and Max Harris’s “First Blood” all provide inspired new ways to envision their respective fragments of scriptural story. Harris’s entreaty in the voice of the baby Jesus to his mother on the occasion of his circumcision is formatted as prose, but the quietly percussive rhythm, the sensual images, and the focus on the feelings of the young mother, her bewildered husband, and her willing child—these are poetically rich and fertile.
I cannot neglect the art in this issue. In Micah Bloom’s breathtaking “Interventions” series, folk-art humans in moments of danger and distress are caught between winged heavenly angels, dressed in white and reaching to save, and Hieronymus Bosch-inspired red devils, gargoyles gurgling with laughter as they prevent the angels’ rescue. Life is so obviously like this: torn between safety and harm, we rarely know (but ought to acknowledge) the invisible forces at work making sure one or the other comes out on top.
These are the issues inherent in belief. Windhover, Volume 17, covers them remarkably well.