Stained Glass

On the anniversary of the only atomic weapons ever used, this poem comes from thoughts about the horrors of war and the collateral damage that always results, whether WWII, Vietnam, or what I witnessed in Afghanistan. It’s true that you can’t meditate Hitler out of Poland or Putin out of Ukraine, but the cost of war takes it’s toll on the most innocent and stretches the credulity of our deepest religious convictions.
Image via Shutterstock.

Why did we stain the glass

rather than create an ordinary window?

Why did the carpenter make pews

without comfort, without privilege, just

one handicapped section? Why did we 

have to have a sacrificial altar,

a dinner table without chairs, a vestal 

virgin the only one qualified

to handle the bread and the wine?

Why did we ring a bell at the imitatio 

of the Last Supper? To wake the day-dreamers, 

those hung-over from late night revelry? 

Why did we light candles in an already 

lit room? Why was incense necessary? 

To represent the one who got away 

from the undertaker, resurrected 

not from the grave, not from 

the womb of the mother, but from the tomb, 

the containment structure? 

Why do we  

stain glass? To dim the outside world 

just enough to make incense visible?

Smoke seeking a way out, beyond 

the tinted frames held together by 

what I was told, as a child, was the world’s 

heaviest metal? But I would later learn 

plutonium, uranium were heavier.

In the center of Hiroshima,

450 meters from Ground Zero,

stood the Nagare-Kawa Church

with an inspiring steeple, windows

designed to beautify ordinary light,

a sanctuary designed to transform

ordinary language, ordinary thinking, to: 

“Father forgive them, for they know not 

what they do.” Every church is constructed 

by a bricklayer, a carpenter, a stain 

glass artisan. “Greater works than these

you shall do,”  it was once said– so that we

would know that hands taught to fly

the Enola Gay could turn a window to a rose.

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Picture of Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan

Steve Nolan spent 30 years in the military and 25 years as a mental health professional. He has published in numerous journals and his poetry was featured on National Public Radio, Morning Edition, upon his return from Afghanistan in 2007. He is the author of “Go Deep,” “Base Camp,” and “American Carnage, An Officer’s Duty to Warn.” His work reflects his commitment to social justice.

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