Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Diener: Poems

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Diener: Poems

Article excerpt

The Diener: Poems. By Martha Serpas. Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 2015. 78 pp. $17.95 (paper).

Martha Serpas's new poetry book, The Diener, draws on a pastoral tradition that associates the obligations of the Christian pastor with the shepherd caring for flocks in the pastures. This tradition originated in the Bible, which construed the "pastor" according to its Latin definition; "pastor" originally meant "shepherd" or "one who provided food." When the prophet Jeremiah declares, "I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer. 3:15 KJV), he makes use of the ancient association of pastor and shepherd. As if fulfilling Jeremiah's promise about pastors, Jesus in John's Gospel assumes the role of "the good shepherd" who feeds his flocks with spiritual understanding and "giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11 KJV). Having worked as a hospital chaplain, Serpas gravitates to this pastoral tradition, and as an environmental activist she stresses the importance of the actual pastures-and of the natural world in general-that must be kept healthy to feed the "flocks."

Serpas s book begins with an introductory poem, "The Diener," which focuses on the related concepts of health and wholeness, and the way an individual's body, like the world's body, is an ecosystem in which different parts must work together as a whole for there to be health. As the director of a morgue, Serpas s "diener" is all too familiar, with parts breaking down and wholes dying and decomposing. If one endorses Serpas's proposition that "God's image is composite" (p. 1), which she asserts before giving a catalog of body parts, one should also endorse the ideal of the "composite" whole. "We like to see ourselves as whole," she writes, "despite the diener piling legs on a cot / despite the pruned artery, tied and cut" (p. 1). Like Frost counseling his readers to "drink and be whole beyond confusion" with a makeshift communion "goblet like the Grail" at the end of "Directive," Serpas throughout The Diener directs those who find their lives in confusing fragments to pursue the ideal of wholeness. At times, her urge to counsel makes her didactic. "Education is the answer / to our social woes," she says at the start of "Pearl Snap" (p. 10), a poem drawing on her experiences as a hospital chaplain. Poems such as "Badlands," in which a patient tattooed with wolves boasts he is an atheist, or "Asperges," in which a nurses washes a dead "baby boy whose green skin sloughs off // like bruised fruit skins" (pp. …

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