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    a white lightning bolt against a dark blue sky

    “the storm of grace was brewing”

    Three poems for Reformation Day

    By Marjorie Maddox

    October 31, 2017
    • Huntley Cooney

      "He maybe smiled, then, just slightly," but you made me cry. Thank you or three such powerful poems. They are rich and dense. Favorite line of #3: "waiting with stern belief in the sacrament of timing.." Very thought provoking.

    • Kathleen Hart

      moving and thought provoking.

    • Catherine Hershey

      Like very, all.


    Martin Luther, July 1505

    Torrents as thick and predestined as Noah’s non-view
    of the drowning world—that’s what caught Martin,

    what soaked his copper-town skin clear through
    to his shaky soul. And he shivered before the wet

    face of death, and he cried out to the patron saint of soot-
    covered men with a mouth brimming with rain, “Save me,

    St. Anna, mother of Mary, protector of miners,
    and I shall become a monk.” And the brash lightning

    swallowed its thunder on a slick road headed away
    from home and his father’s wishes for law. Still,

    fear pelted that rocky path all the way to Erfurt,
    where, even with the Augustinians, Martin dreamed

    brimstone rain—and the nightmare of his own sin
    kept pouring in until he rode the flood of his Afflictions

    to Wittenberg, where, inside and out of his dark-
    night-of-the-soul, the storm of grace was brewing.


    A Mighty Fortress

    And maybe it was a bar tune,
    Maybe not, but there we were, hunched
    over too-small desks in History 101,
    all ninety-five freshmen humming—
    by need not desire—every note, every verse
    of Luther’s best-loved hymn, Our helper He
    the right man on our side as we scribbled,
    hands almost numb, the body they may kill –
    his theology of lyrics, our theology –
    from age to age the same for the final question
    the spirit and the gifts are ours of the final exam,
    and we would win the battle, our hearts pumping
    with belief, our throats thumping with crescendo:
    one little word would never fell us.


    Birth/Death Days

    In memory of renowned Reformation scholar,
    Harold J. Grimm, 1901-1983, who died on
    the 500th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

    Uncle not of the belly-laugh
    or the knee-ride, but of the dry
    wit and straight tie, who,
    within your reserved eyes, hid
    decades of questions flattened
    in dusty tomes of German libraries;
    who read and reread two hundred
    neatly shelved Reformation volumes
    from, in my former Billy Graham
    understanding of “Bible and now,”
    the nonexistent centuries –

    what did I know, before my own
    cadenced liturgy of university days,
    of your dark nights of bright defense,
    of the total unabashed abandonment
    to research, of the unapologetic glee
    of tracking the rebellious turns
    and twists of someone
    else’s soul, someone

    who was Luther, who was no one
    you ever mentioned in that non-
    academic other world of our perfectly-
    clean company-only evangelical
    living room, where we prayed
    at family parties “in Jesus’ name”
    for our once-saved-always-saved
    before-birthday-cake souls?

    Before I was born, the story goes,
    for one birthday my mother asked
    for car accessories. She got
    panties. “Received your seat covers
    after all,” you quipped, surprising
    everyone with your subtle grin.

    Still, in seventh-grade – when I tore open
    silver wrappings to find the desired
    “You’re So Vain” on Carly Simon’s
    No Secrets album while, on the cover,
    Carly’s nipples poked at her blue hippy shirt
    in full view of your serious face –
    I was ashamed,

    knowing little of how much you
    (who knew Luther) really knew:
    the struggle of the soul;
    the humility of the forgiven,
    grace even more amazing without works –
    history’s homilies toppling into
    how we choose to “Here I stand”
    before, in twilight’s solitude,
    we each commit our “own
    believing…own dying,”

    which is how I see you now, straight
    in your favorite chair on Stanwood,
    waiting with stern belief in the sacrament
    of timing, but mostly waiting,
    with wit and wisdom, for your Martin
    and the 500th anniversary of his birth
    when you’d agree finally to breathe out,
    with your cancer-corrupted lungs,
    and breathe in the Spirit
    that was his spirit, too.

    “If I am not allowed to laugh in heaven,”
    he’d said, “I don’t want to go there,” and so,
    maybe you smiled then, just slightly,
    arriving at the celebration just in time.

    a white lightning bolt against a dark blue sky
    Contributed By MarjorieMaddox Marjorie Maddox

    Marjorie Maddox is Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, and has published eleven collections of poetry, a short story collection, and over 500 stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. For more information on Marjorie's work, see

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