First Place | Poetry Writing Contest
50th New Millennium Award for Poetry
Doris Ferleger of Wyncote, Pennsylvania for “Pass Over”
Ferleger will receive $1,000, an award plaque, and publication both online and in print.
for Joanna D., (Anna) fellow healer, in memoriam
How many people a day say,
Pass over me for this one, God—
this sad thing, this scary thing,
this bad thing, this door—
is marked—with blood—
How many people a day say,
Come by here, God, and take the one
steadfast thing left of me—give me instead,
the sea—that will surely betray me—
such calm and turquoise water
when down below millions of vibrant fish
rush in huge schools,
sergeant-major fish dress up
in yellow and black dinner jackets
and feast at a table of green algae.
In festive clothes, just as Anna had wanted,
hundreds of us show up at the funeral home
We swim toward the survived-by,
we are colorful hungry fish surrounding her sunken
treasure chests. We swim in and out of the holes
Anna left. Even the out-of-towners have come
with all the right garments and hymnals,
Anna having planned far in advance—
chants for the children to sing, photo displays
in the entryway: Anna showing off thirty hot pink
cupcakes baked in the brand-new Viking stove
in the newly designed kitchen, finished
only a few months before she passed,
worth every penny, she had said.
Anna and the girls sunburnt
under a bright red beach umbrella,
Anna laughing her left-sided
brain-tumor laugh while the kids
with their wide-open mouths
make giant vowel-shapes
Six months before her wake Anna dreamed
a mound of dirt across the road stopped her
passage and when she stepped out
of the car to tamp it down she couldn’t,
so she borrowed her husband’s arms
but they were also too weak.
And when she woke she said,
I know where I need to go.
You are in my way, keeping me
from walking on this path.
And her husband remembered
the words Jesus spoke to Peter:
you are an obstacle to me.
You do not have in mind the things of God,
but the things of men.
Anna sent her husband into the hall
to make the girls stop arguing
over the hair dryer or whatever
they were fighting about.
She made him go out into the hall
three times until he succeeded
and she was sure he could
succeed again and again
for all the years to come.
That night she dreamed her suitcase
was packed and ready and when she woke
she called the priest to tell him.
He answered, it is good to be ready
but still you have to wait
for God to be ready for you.
The next night Anna saw the Passion.
she whispered to her husband,
Thank you for letting me go home
without you. A gift to the dying—
to refrain from speaking
of ocean air or green glass
of what was
or could have been.
What if Christ died before
he got to say,
We will all forsake someone—
let it not be ourselves—
We will all forsake someone—
may it be someone we have loved well and long.
The priest at Anna’s service said it’s not true
that Jesus comes back to life
or he’d have to go and die again.
What he does is—transform.
The priest quotes from the law
Energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Our doubts, tempers, holdings
on to what harms us
or to those we love
who are ready to leave—
all these things
ready to transform us—
make us holy.
I keep dreaming I will transform
into someone without suffering,
without having to leave
When the living leave
the beach at dusk
white seagulls swoop and sup
in black or grey suits,
and hundreds of translucent blue fish
leap wide arcs and dive back in unison.
Every day, I see something
that saves my life.
The hour before Anna’s funeral I called
the priest to ask if I could come to the church
service, as I did not take
Christ as my savior.
As I had failed
to say goodbye to Anna.
As I had kept waiting for her call
after she left the last time.
As I had said, but you’re still alive,
so let us speak the language of living—
what kind of touch from your husband?
As I did not yet know the path home
was one she had to walk alone.
Pass over me for this one, God,
I kept wanting Anna to recite,
though she had already drawn
herself out of her darling’s arms
into Christ’s embrace.
As I hadn’t seen Anna was my teacher
more than I was hers.
As I didn’t know love
could neither be created nor destroyed.
As saying goodbye to her eyes and half smile
is something I long to have done.
Keep thoughts of Anna close as a source
of strength when your faith is shaken,
as you and your beloved navigate
this challenge together.
This is what your husband said to me, Anna.
He was the first person I called from the ER
when my husband was diagnosed with the same
brain tumor as you, both of you unflappable ER docs,
full of faith. Thank you, Anna, for teaching me
to speak the things of God in the time
of dying. For you, Christ’s oceanic embrace.
For my beloved, a vastness. The Ein Sof.
A Hebrew name for God. Literal meaning,
The Without End.
On Yom Kippur God decides
who shall live and who shall die.
Who by fire and who by flood.
Who by shaking,
who by remaining unmoved.
Who while kneeling and kissing
the hem of the past goodbye.
If I don my bright blue dress
and toss into the sea all the black
shoes of the dead, unworried
whose waters they will haunt—
certain the sea, like me, can hold
love for all my beloveds
the living and the dead—
what flying fish—
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Doris Ferleger, prize-winning poet and essayist, is author of three full-length poetry volumes: Big Silences in a Year of Rain, Leavened, and As the Moon Has Breath; and a chapbook entitled When You Become Snow.
Aliki Barnstone writes: “Ferleger’s memorable poems keep singing with their insistent beauty.”
Pass Over © 2021 Doris Ferleger