Donna Baier Stein is the author of Sympathetic People (an Iowa Finalist Award Winner) and Sometimes You Sense the Difference (Finishing Line Press). Her novel The Silver Baron’s Wife (a PEN/New England Discovery Award winner) will be published in 2015 by Serving House Books. Her work has appeared in Ascent, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. She was a founding Poetry Editor at Bellevue Literary Review and now publishes Tiferet Journal. Other awards include a scholarship from Bread Loaf, fellowships from Johns Hopkins University and the New Jersey Council for the Arts, prizes from the Poetry Societies of Virginia and New Hampshire, an Honorable Mention from the Allen E. Ginsberg Poetry Prizes, a Summer Literary Seminars Scholarship, three Pushcart nominations, and prizes from Kansas Quarterly, Florida Review, and elsewhere. Her website is www.donnabaierstein.com
The Orphanage at St. John the Baptist’s Retreat Center
Maybe once the leaves have dropped
from the trees, the voices are easier to hear,
those informal prayers of motherless children
and childless women.
One night in December, while you slept,
the long-ago orphans roamed the halls,
quietly turning doorknobs,
tiptoeing into small cubicles
they once called home
though home was a moving target
and neither Santa Claus nor Jesus
could ever really find them
though the sisters of the convent
beseeched the gray skies,
their asexual wails snaking
through naked branches
while cold breaths, unsourced,
pressed against the window panes
and inside, so many hearts
burned and burned and burned,
more dazzling than any votive candles,
a bonfire of solitudes,
each flame longing to merge
with the heartrending brightness of others.
The Cave of the World Is Waiting to Be Lit
I’d been on vacations before when poverty revealed its face.
When beyond the visible world of red-roofed resorts,
sand beaches, and rum, the unexpected appeared.
A truck rusting by the side of the road.
Shattered beer glasses.
Shacks of corrugated tin.
The tour we took had started like any other:
An open-air bus, cameras clicking, tropical rainforests,
native birds, green fields in a checkerboard.
At the plantation, we watched immigrants pick glossy red fruits
from low bushes with oval leaves and put them in baskets.
We were near Naranjo, where each year a festival
honors the Virgin of Lourdes—
comforter of the afflicted, who knows our wants—
who appeared in white, in dazzling light, in a cave.
“These beans are the best in the world,” our guide said.
Later when I read what the immigrants earn
for every basket they fill, and remembered what I pay
for one cup of coffee, I wondered:
How do I live in this world?
For the world is always askew, with so much hidden.
Even when the Virgin Mary appeared to sweet Bernadette
in that dark grotto, she promised to make the girl happy,
not in this world, but the next.