Sitting on my front steps, awash in sun,
I drink my tea and watch the neighbor’s house.
Two Mormon missionaries — ties as black
and thin as the exclamation point
at the end of “Jesus!” — knock then smile
as old Sid Peterson emerges. Too far
away to hear their words, I shade my eyes
and watch the pantomime. A pamphlet, scowls,
then clenched fists and soundless howls as Sid
waves them off his lawn. He’s shaking now,
a scrap of paper trembled by the wind,
but who can blame him? All morning long
he’s had a steady stream of visitors,
the ardent faithful bringing him the news
of Christ, Krishna, Moses, Buddha — a world
of promises and light he knows is false.
He turns to go inside. I should confess,
I called them all. But I can’t bring myself
to seek an absolution for my sins.
By Rob Griffith
Seeing the Bent Light
The oxymoronic term “Funny Business” is at once colloquial and complex, conveying action that may be innocuous or underhanded. Entries tended to reflect one or the other of these interpretations.
In his winning poem “Crusade,” Rob Griffith draws on both the comic and the
darker connotations of funny business in his deceptively simple narration of a
prank. The “pantomime” the speaker creates for his own entertainment is subjecting his apparently atheist neighbor, Sid, to a parade of door-to-door proselytizers,
“the ardent faithful bringing him the news /of Christ, Krishna, Moses, Buddha,”
urging him toward “a world / of promises and light he [Sid] knows is false.” Enjoying Sid’s anger, the speaker watches him “shaking now, / a scrap of paper
trembled by the wind.” The ambiguity is key, the paper signifying religious tract
and Sid’s vulnerability, both subject to the wind’s whims — external power of a
neighbor’s manipulations or something more ultimate.
The poem ends with a revelatory admission; the speaker states, “I should confess, / I called them all [the proselytizers]. But I can’t bring myself / to seek an absolution for my sins.” Thus, the speaker is indicted as irresolute, unwilling to live
fully by his own truths. “Crusade” now reads as not only attempted persuasion
but also brutal conversion by the sword, evoking the potential horrific consequences of self-certainty and the denial of personal responsibility.
“Crusade” negotiates two ways of reading: as a humorous tale about a practical
joke and as a deeper questioning regarding our relationship to certainty and doubt.
Rob Griffith has published four books of poetry:
The Moon from Every Window (David Robert Books, 2011);
A Matinee in Plato’s Cave (Water Press and Media), winner
of a 2009 Best Book of Indiana Award; Poisoning Caesar
(Finishing Line Press, 2004); and Necessary Alchemy, winner
of Middle Tennessee State University’s 1999 Tennessee
Chapbook Prize. His work also has appeared in magazines
and journals such as Poetry, First Things, River Styx, North American Review,
Sewanee Theological Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Oxford American. He
teaches creative writing and literature at University of Evansville, his
Phi Kappa Phi chapter, and is the editor of Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Attention, poets: The poetry contest is open only to active Society
members, published or unpublished. Submissions — one per entrant
per issue — should be up to 40 lines long and must reflect the theme
of the edition. One original, previously unpublished poem is selected
for the printed version. Runners-up may appear online. Because the
winter edition will be devoted to those who have won Phi Kappa Phi
monetary awards the past year, the next poetry contest will be for the
spring 2014 edition, theme of “Faith.” Entry deadline is midnight,
Dec. 8, only by email at email@example.com. For complete rules
and details, go online to www.phikappaphi.org/poetry.