Degrees Of Blessings Recalled At The Start Of Holy Week: For My Former Students


after Richard Hugo’s “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg”

Julie Fink


Say you came here when your old man,
not quite drunk, said, not unkindly, Get out now,
meaning don’t look back at any town with Cliff
in its name, that rim your two best friends,
having lost their footing, accepted the gratitude
of .38 slugs to the chest, spinning down
like Satan’s gang of broken-winged angels,
plummeting B-17s dissolving in celluloid newsreels.

John Onaeko


Your mother’s mother sang gospel, Sundays
in the white-framed church, God touching
her fingers to the right keys, that upright
scarred from juke joint brawls and all-night jazz,
a woman good as Billie Holiday bleeding
Body and Soul to patrons nodding amen, sister,
preach on
, and tossed down the Prohibition gin
to scour their souls.

Unsplash+ in collaboration with Ahmed

And, two generations later, a lovely young student
will arrange herself on the piano bench, School of
Music practice room, then lift her hands from
her lap, touch her fingers to the keys.


Are New Hope and Little Hope your only past
and present–Ruel Cain’s Grill, McWorter’s Drug,
the Humble service station where your teenage
grandfather gassed up his ’57 Chevy, glasspacks
throb-growling at the only traffic light, a joke
nobody paid much mind but Sheriff Bill
who’d pull kids over just to chat about the
football game Friday night and smile at Peggy
still in her cheerleader skirt, Sheriff Bill
admiring the red, rolled and pleated,
leather-look-alike upholstery, the chrome
dual exhausts, asking, “You planning
on taking this with you to college?”
meaning the Chevy, its spinner hubcaps,
white-wall tires, and your grandfather said
not likely, meaning college, and now your
father wheels you to the garage he’s
rented ever since the only doctor in town
said, “Jim, you need to have the boy
checked out. My diagnosis might be wrong.”

Doug Watanabe

And now, tuned up and polished, this classic,
driven by your dad, will deliver you to the college
you are the first of your family to navigate,
your electric wheel chair capable of zero to one
up the classroom aisle to spin a donut at the
front and read your poem to the class of
suddenly reverent students.


Say yes to anyone who taps your ear
to hear the heartbeat meter of words
you pencil in a journal:

Jesse Orrico

Yes to the elderly European couple
at the reflecting pond each morning
at 10:00 feeding bites of whole wheat
bread to the campus ducks come
running to receive this offering,
what, as teenagers in 1945, the couple
could only stare at, unsure of lifting
their hands to the G. I. tearing off
a portion from the loaf and holding
it out, kindness an act they, and he,
had almost forgotten.

Josie Weiss

Say yes to the couple, to the founders
and their wives buried in state at the heart
of this campus, yes to the bell tower
calling you to class, to prayer and
rejoicing in the chapel shaped like an ark,
its stained glass window the prow of
this vessel, sunlight defining each symbol
the artist hallowed–the sword forged
into a cross, the open testament,
the dove descending.

Mateus Campos Felipe