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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson

“The Beads of War” in Vita Poetica

When a world event as powerful as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia occurs, it seems important to respond. One of the first things this terrible act called to mind for me was the Cold War terror I had experienced as a child in the 1950s. And the Cold War’s symbol for me was the Rosary, a chain of prayer beads we used to pray, especially for peace. My family knelt and spoke those beads every night in those mid-50s years. The other thing I remembered was the refugee Hungarian family our parish sponsored after Russia marched into Hungary. One of their children, Judith, was in my class at school. She sat beside me and I helped her learn English. We also prayed the rosary together. This poem is one way I have made Ukraine personal:

The Beads of War

by Joanne M. Clarkson

I was raised on the rosary, fear
a design of prayer, one Our Father,
ten Hail Marys, given to children.
To Judith, child of Hungarian
refugees adopted by our parish 
in 1957. She and I kneeling
on the schoolroom floor, 
praying against the threat of skies 
exploding. Russia the known devil. 
I taught her my words. 
We worked numbers together. 
Her rosary with its creamy white beads 
was made of milkweed, field flower 
used to bring back butterflies. 
She showed me a little curved scar 
at the base of her thumb.
Last night I dreamed of Judith, 
ghost within the terror of Ukraine. 
Two old women lost to each other
fingering the sacred beads of war.

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