The lesson that night

Here, in its original format, is the beautiful poem Jasper's literary arts editor -- Ed Madden -- wrote for The State, published June 17, 2016. We're sharing this iteration here simply to preserve the correct formatting for posterity. 



The lesson that night

for 17 June 2016



     “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground.” – Mark 4:16


     “Who are we now?” – Nikky Finney, “A New Day Dawns”



How hot it was that sun-beat week,

watering the yard every day,


the curled leaves and dry ground,

green wings of zinnia breaking the soil.


They sat together around a green table,

prayed, sang, then opened the gospel—


the lesson that night was seed sown

on stony ground. What can we know


of the human heart, entangled in all

that we’ve been taught? A boy from here


sat with them about an hour,

then aimed his hate and opened fire.




How quick we were to act,

focused on that festering flag,


quick to take it down

and move forward, move on—


these aren’t the same.

After weeks of heat, it rained the day


the governor said to take it down.

Are we somehow different now?


How would we know?




We furled a flag. We furled a flag.

A girl was slung across a room,


a man who ran shot in the back.

The broke and broken schools remain.


What has changed, beyond that square

of empty sky where it once flew,


the opened door of clouds and blue?




The lesson that night was stony ground.

Not birds, not thorns, not the good soil.


What grows up quick among the stones.

What has no roots, what withers away.


A friend calls change a perennial plant.

A second year takes nurture and luck.


If it comes back another year,

a better chance that it will stay.


Water well the just-sown and just-up.

Water long in morning light.


Water long and soak the roots

to learn the lesson of that night.


Learn the lesson of that night.