"Common Cathedral," "Sestina: Journey to New Land," and "Song of War and Peace" by Maria Termini

Common Cathedral

It’s too cold for a Sunday in spring,
I have been waiting for warmth so much,
but I am here on the Boston Common,
and have come to pray, praise, and sing
with homeless people of faith,
now scattered around a dry fountain.
I wonder if I can play my guitar
with cold fingers.

Some of the faithful sit on park benches
circling the concrete that circles the fountain,
I see familiar faces and new faces,
weathered faces, bundled up bodies,
people wearing all the clothes they have,
and scattered shopping carts
holding all the possessions of some.

Many of us greet each other,
although a few are alone and stay that way,
gazing off into the space and trees.

A man who smells of alcohol,
staggers around, barely staying on his feet,
blood gleams from a fresh cut
on the skin between his eyes,
he is talking, but to no one in particular
and trying to hold on to his cigarette.

I put my guitar case on an empty bench,
take it out and quickly tune.
I start to sing “I’ll Fly Away,”
playing fast so my fingers won’t feel the cold.
As I sing I meet the eyes of those around me,
suffering from homelessness, hunger, and loneliness,
we understand the lyrics of hope
and deliverance from this weary world,
this bright morning.

More people arrive.
Two of them are in wheelchairs.
Next to me Billy the Banjo Man
sets up some music stands,
friends pick up tambourines and shakers
to be the percussion section.
A slight drizzle tickles my face
and makes me fear rain,
but Rev. Kathy proclaims it never rains on the Banjo Man,
I believe her and the drizzle stops,
she’s good at invoking spiritual powers.

We are a homeless church for homeless people,
our small altar is wheeled into position,
along with a rough cross about five feet tall,
our numbers increase,
with visitors from other churches,
youth groups, and even newcomers.

The bells from Park Street Church
sound one o’clock,
and it is time to gather closer into a circle,
and Billy begins to play his banjo, loud and strong.
I strum my guitar and we all sing “Kumbaya.”
Rev. Kathy greets us, and
soon a homeless man reads the gospel,
from a sheet of paper fluttering in the wind.
We listen to the gospel and talk about it,
and how it relates to our own lives,
and it always does.

As we worship,
life on the Common goes on around us.
Families walk by on the wide sidewalks,
a horse neighs as a mounted policeman patrols,
and tourists in sightseeing buses stare at us.
We persist, singing hymns and praying,
sharing our troubles and pain,
and offering them to God.

We greet each other with signs of peace,
and receive the bread of Communion,
and grape juice in a thimble-like plastic cup.
And I feel the wonder of God’s love for me
and the Christ-presence of all those around me,
while pigeons wander around our feet
on pavement spotted with chewing gum.

My fingers no longer feel the cold
as I play our last hymn of inspiration,
“We Shall Overcome.”

—Maria Termini

Sestina: Journey to New Land

I open my eyes to waves of letters
and unravel words on everyday paths,
in a search for good taste, and pray
there is time for a simple life of peace
with a search for comfortable love,
drinkable water and appropriate rain.

I will play my music wildly in the rain
to a world seeking harmony and more letters,
and imagine the possibilities of green and love
as subtle shadings of a sunset shine on the path,
even discover how justice means peace,
and nourish seeds of dreams and pray.

I have sought new colors as artistic prey,
glowing richly as their flavors reign,
my inner mind searches for vibrant peace
including elegant music in fevered letters
understanding all the time that the paths
of beautiful dreams remember lost love.

I will never run out of things to love,
remembering to run away to prey
on adventure and question true paths,
looking for possibilities, tasting the rain,
considering seasons with thick letters,
meanwhile hoping for a future with peace.

I have woven my sorrow into a piece
of tapestry with strong wings of love
that break through often with bold letters,
to seek all flourishes and to pray
while triumph dances in the clear rain,
knowing each day presents complex paths.

Once upon a time simple paths
were not adverse to creating peace
with songs of joy that nourished the reign
of the incongruous realities of love,
especially when I was inclined to pray
and celebrate rare signed letters.

Alone I explored words and letters through narrow paths,
learning to pray and understand questions of peace,
believing that love would fall like the rain.

—Maria Termini

Song of War and Peace

I have not had this experience of war:
I have never been a target for snipers,
never been imprisoned in chains,
never been beaten with clubs and pipes,
never held down and raped,
never starved, never ate grass.
never seen my children die,
never seen blood flowing into the sand,

I have not had this experience of war:
I have never lived in constant fear of bombing,
never thrown a grenade,
never been in shootings with raining bullets,
never been caught in the crossfire,
never pulled a trigger aiming to kill,
never lost everything I had worked for,
never had to walk miles for drinking water.

I have not had this experience of war:
I have never lived in a tent for twenty years,
never watched a bulldozer destroy my home,
never seen that child step on a land mine,
as efficient drones drop death on schools,
kill women washing clothes in a river,
kill anyone present in the moment of impact.

I know how women in Afghanistan risk
beatings and death to speak their poems out loud,
I am one person and my words are my power
so I must write a great song of peace.

Someday,
my song of peace will swell with healing music,
new chords will tumble from the smiles of free people,
dancing feet will beat a moving rhythm,
eloquent melodies will fly from the strings of a harp,
I will sing of peace smelling clean like apple blossoms,
peace like a ripe peach to touch and taste,
and peace like wine to quench the thirst for justice.

I will sing with words already in our hearts.

—Maria Termini

Maria Termini is a writer, musician, and artist in love with the wonder of it all. She is the author of the memoirs “The Artist and the Spy,” “Driving Curiosity: On the Road in Central America,” and “Solitude and Splendor: Living in the Schoolhouse.” Her essays and poetry have been published in the Ecozoic Reader, Newton Magazine, Spare Change, and Spirit of Change. Her artwork can be seen at www.mariatermini.com. Her e-mail address is: leafdancer@verizon.net

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