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Poetry Moment: Michael Garrigan and 'Communion'

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Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode's poem is “Communion” by Michael Garrigan.

Making his home near the banks of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster, Michael Garrigan teaches 12th grade English and AP Language & Composition at Northeastern School District in York County. An avid angler, he believes every watershed should have a Poet Laureate. He’s written about what he calls the post-industrial wilderness, those neglected places in the Rust Belt where nature slowly reclaims what has been scarred by extractive activities like mining and logging. “I try to capture all layers of that landscape — both the degradation and destruction but also the beauty,” Garrigan explains. Speaking about the growing populations of wild and native fish in streams damaged by acid mine drainage, he says, “It’s such an incredibly beautiful thing to see something that was once native to a place return and reclaim it after being marked as destroyed and subsequently forgotten. There is so much hope and resilience in the halos of a brook trout.” Garrigan is the author of two poetry collections — Robbing the Pillars and River, Amen which will be published in April 2023.

Poetry has a long and ancient relationship with religion, attempting to capture the ineffable, the spiritual or divine, in language that is rooted in the physicality of this world, in the sensory and sensual. In his poem, Garrigan draws on the language of Christianity, and more specifically one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church. Following in the tradition of such poets as Walt Whitman and Mary Oliver, the speaker in “Communion” instructs us to be present to the more-than-human world of nature, to be blessed by it and to see the miraculous transformations in the other creatures who make our lives possible, to never forget our connections to the living beings who we share this world with.

Here’s—

Communion

Take these wafers of jewelweed
and ragweed between fingers
place them on your tongue, now say
Father Son Holy Ghost 
(forehead stomach shoulders)
Swallow. Amen.

You are now a humid summer day,
veins of thicket creepers spread through you,
your eyebrows are crows, your eyes eagles,
your feet stay feet, but now leave
paw prints of five in the mud, river otters.
Your knees don’t bend, they arch, elderberry.
Your lips do not kiss but stab deadwood
resting on railroad bed gravel searching for ants,
splintering the afternoon, finding shade.

______________

That was “Communion” by Michael Garrigan.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at WPSU.org/poetrymoment.

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.