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Stranger in a Strange Land: Brett Foster

Four Poems

Editor's Note: We are all strangers in a strange land, but certain circumstances tend to heighten our awareness of that condition. Brett Foster, associate professor of English at Wheaton College, is a poet and translator of poetry, a Renaissance scholar, a lover of Shakespeare and of theater more generally, husband to Anise, father of Avery and Gus, a member of All Souls Anglican Church. In June 2014, out of the blue, he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. The first poem below, "Prayer Before Reading St Mark's Gospel," was written in July 2014; the other three are from this summer.

Prayer Before Reading St Mark's Gospel

Please attack my colonialist ego,
o lion-face, o ancient evangelist.
The carcinogenic self, gleeful
but cruel in its unhealthy glow,
needs every means of resistance,
nor do I expect your treatment to be
remotely easygoing, if any freedom
is to be won from tumor, polyp, cyst.
Don't let my withheld forgiveness
be among the glittering cargo
of my sickly little boat, battered, kissed
by fortune's surges. Let me bestow
instead regard to every fellow narcissist,
to thief and punk, humbug and arsonist.

Poem with a Phrase from George Herbert

Even if the body's garment has been rent,
it can still become an establishment
for rebuilding spirit, new, tender, and quick.
If there is no market for one's sickness,
there is at very least an etiquette
for feeling better—felt pain and everything met
in extremity, that is. There exists
the tumor, cyst, or grisly polyp, and Christ
resides, persists amid these hundred hells,
his garment hemmed with pomegranates, golden bells.

A Thank-You Note, to Be Accompanied with Lyre

I have spent only three days here so far,
and have been gut-sick the entire time,
but I've managed to write three poems
I think I can live with, poems about living
and the other option. I hope I can live
with them. Besieged by adversities, I give
Praise to Somebody for sweet verse's
irresistible remedies, and so much more.
What more can an invalid ask for?
A fourth poem, you ask? Well, here it is.
At least let's praise art's ancient deities.
While Euripides staged tragedies in Athens,
raging reminders of our sad entanglements,
these Pan-foot gods were making merry,
cavorting in their floral dances, alive forever,
plagueless in the wide fields of Arcady.


pistle and plunger
year like a dungeon

salt air and sea swell
all shall be well

reaching the edge
gives no more privilege

it so feels
like a telos

glimmer of sun
running in haggard

shows no regard
for so many hazards

these are the ill rhymes
of an untimely pilgrim

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