December 10, 2021

Marianne Kunkel


My son … thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
—Alma 39:3, The Book of Mormon

To runners, a trail is church.

I heard a pastor say church is its people.

My father prays when he sees a rare finch.

Every Sunday, my teenage nieces cuddle
in bed with their parents, watch TV,
call this church.

Lazy Sunday morning sex can feel sacred.

My husband and I watch Mr. Rogers
with a box of Kleenex.
Why is Mr. McFeely
so frenzied when Mr. Rogers
has the much harder job
preaching love?

My mother used to bake two
pillowy loaves of white bread
to take to Mormon church
for communion.

Men gingerly tore the loaves.

Everyone ate, licking their lips.

Some joked her bread was why
they came. Is bread church?
I first entered a Quaker chapel
and spun around and around,
never finding a pulpit.

Barely lifting her blouse
my mother quietly breastfed
my toddler brother in a pew
until an older man complained.
What was his definition of church?

In The Book of Mormon, only six women
have names, the rest lumped
into shapeless categories of wives,
mothers, queens or harlots.
The harlot Isabel must have been
fairly important to get a name,
though the 500-page book mentions her
only once.

Isabel, how many left their lives
to follow you?

A bored son in a long line of prophets
walked away from religious study
to sprawl underneath your bare body.
Your hair shimmering like stained glass,
your nipples as erect as steeples,
you were his teacher, in charge,
shushing him if he spoke.

Let church trail off and it sounds
like shhhh.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021


Marianne Kunkel: “This poem is part of a larger series of poems in which I highlight women characters in The Book of Mormon. One poem at a time, I’m reenvisioning portions of this religious text to satisfy girls and women who, as I once did, sit through Sunday school and wonder, ‘What part do I play?’” (web)

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December 11, 2014

Marianne Kunkel


Right after my parents’ divorce,
people blurted the single question
they’d been dying to ask for years.
How’d they last a day?

Great sex, I was tempted to respond,
as if the thought of my sour mother
fondling my father’s new rebellion,
a ponytail, wasn’t joke enough.

I guess long ago they made
each other happy. What a sad
thing to have to guess. Once my mother
spoke of a nightmare in which
she walked to our front door;

in pitch dark, she twisted the knob
and a hand from outside twisted back.
I imagine if I shined a flashlight
on that intruder’s face, I’d see
my ever-frustrated father.

Proximity without loving
was their creed, him plucking
a guitar in a room off the kitchen,
her clicking a noisy blender on,

and so I couldn’t believe it when my father said
Enough after all those nights
he laid in their waterbed, flirting
with escape but drifting nowhere.

from Rattle #44, Summer 2014


Marianne Kunkel: “My high school English teacher dropped a Marianne Moore poem on my desk after class one day. At the time I liked reading poetry, but it took realizing I shared a name with a famous poet for me to see myself in it. I started writing.” (website)

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December 27, 2010

Marianne Kunkel


But why should it care? It munches
a cecropia leaf. It probes the air
with its blunt snout, detecting
a waft of sour coconut. It lumbers to a branch,
grabs hold with its claws, drops,
dangling upside down like a knapsack.
It doesn’t know to feel ashamed
that its name means lazy and sinful.
Like my little sister
after her abortion, when our father
changed her name from Molly to Molly.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010


Marianne Kunkel: “I wrote my first form of poetry at age four, when I composed the music and lyrics to a song called ‘Queen with the Loose Tooth.’ I remember arranging kitchen chairs in a circle and prancing from seat cushion to seat cushion, belting my song. I’m no longer a queen, and have all my adult teeth, but I still can’t get past the thrill of poetry. And dancing on kitchen chairs.” (website)

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