Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, MISSIONARIES, by KAREN SWENSON



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MISSIONARIES, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Rusted helmets, dog tags in the garden
Last Line: How to iron their new white shirts.
Subject(s): Civilization; Indonesia; Missions & Missionaries; Dutch East Indies


Rusted helmets, dog tags in the garden,
they live in World War 11's abandoned purlieus
under the wave of jungled mountain where
as it crests
a Black Widow fighter shines
in the dark clearing of its crash.

Jungle like green heads of broccoli -
the husbands helicopter over it
to the waiting front line of faith where
headmen squat on naked haunches
wearing necklaces of safety pins,
while wives drink tea,
embroider, knit, or nurse a twelve-year-old

through quinine visions in late afternoon
heat tremors and screams of white cockatoos,
until dinner reassures with flavors
from freezers stacked with
hamburger and cupboards stocked
with peanut butter and Spam.

At a bonfire of the fetishes,
husbands stir the ashes of their godly
war glinting with the cowrie eyes of charred
idols, spoils of faith.
Led by wives, a Pentecostal flock at prayers
purls like cramped chickens.
Retreating from ancestral forests to

the neutral zone of Christ, this unprotected
species marches narrow halls of psalms,
Stone Age refugees redeemed from fire
of government
helicopter gunships to learn
how to iron their new white shirts.





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