Life Story



I started out in the Virginia mountains.
Cardinals flickered against the snow like feathered garnets.

In the kitchen we strung beans.

I was a Catholic school girl.
I was hinged between worlds.

In summer dusk I recited my future.

There were years of white gloves, straight-seamed hose.

I wanted to be a nun.
I said to the world Don’t try to tempt me with your ripe persimmons.

It was necessary to have more hope than fear.

I see us
in the garden, in light rain,
a young couple planting a row of peas.

July, and the ripe apples once again falling.

Yucca rained. Mimosa shone. The bottlebrush took fire.

Mornings were washed in blue,
like woodsmoke, or the shade of an unseen lilac.

The moon’s choreography
became less reliable.
My body chose its own tempo.

There is snow on the distant ridge.  The memory of branches.

God, it is you I looked for
in the slate face of the water.

I know the old roads, grass-grown.

I have learned
the litany of my life.


Source: This cento is derived from poems in the anthology Claiming the Spirit Within, Marilyn Sewell, editor; Beacon Press, 1996:

Ruth Stone, “Pokeberries”
Judith Sornberger, “Knowing My Name”
Barbara Presnell, “In The Kitchen We String Beans”
Ellen Bass, Untitled
Jane Hirshfield, “The Door”
Katha Pollitt, “In Memory”
Alice Walker, “Pagan”
Erica Jong, “Becoming a Nun”
Alice B. Fogel, “The Necessity”
Louise Gluck, “The Garden”
Jane Hirshfield, “For a Wedding at Mt. Tamalpais”
Maxine Kumin, “The Man of Many L’s”
Katha Pollitt, “In Memory”
Noëlle Sickels, “Cross Currents”
Dianne W. Stepp, “The Filbert Orchard”
Ellen Bryant Voigt, “Jug Brook”
Denise Levertov, “A Woman Alone”
Maria Mazziotti Gillan, “Winter Light”


Jeanne Shannon‘s work, including poetry, memoir pieces, and short fiction, has appeared in numerous journals and in three full-length collections. Recently she has had poems in Tule Review, Descant (Canada), and Solo Novo, among others.  She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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