We Are Missionaries to Africa

My parents have chosen to die
deep in the dust bowl of Kansas,
where dust to dust is hardly a figure of speech.
My father’s sermons,
still coming to him at eighty-three
are chock full of personal anecdotes.
He sprinkles them into scripture

Isn’t it traditionally the other way around? What are the implications of the father implementing his memories into the divine, rather than the other way around? Also, how is this connected to the fact that his choice to die more or less directly leads to his children permanently existing as excitable explorers of someone far away from the dust bowl? – Jim Hinkson, age 21

like holy sugar.

It is not the scripture but the personal stories that the speaker finds holy. It is the personal, the concrete, the tangible that she cherishes and does not want to lose. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

Recently my brother found a photograph
of the two of us
dated 1949.
He is five and I am two, dressed oddly
in frumpy hats and too big clothes.
On the back my mother wrote:
We are missionaries to Africa,
words my older brother declared to her
after dressing us for the journey.

Like her father’s sermon anecdotes, this is her poem anecdote, the poem itself becoming something “holy,” revealing some potent and necessary truth. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

Immortal souls are fine
but the sweet ache of this world,

"Sweet Ache" feels right to me. It is beautiful and it is exactly what life is: beautiful and incomplete and broken. – Patricia Schlutt, age 18
The juxtaposition of goodness and pain emphasizes the speaker’s understanding of time’s fleeting nature. “Fine” can hardly compete with “sweet ache,” “immortal” becoming almost meaningless when we must watch the things we already love begin to slip away. – Heather Bulliss, age 21

this skin, these dress-up clothes,
the mom, the dad, the kids,
become more precious by the minute.
Where our bodies will go from here,
to dust or to the Congo armed with bibles
and cast-off clothing, or somewhere else
is bothering me just now
as my father in Kansas removes his glasses
and thinks hard
about the new heaven and the new earth.
(published in The Cresset, 2008)

It is interesting that the narrator does not say his parents chose to live in Kansas, but to die there. This indicates that they have no intention of leaving, showing a devotion to the place which may be somewhat constricting in the narrator's eyes. They have a sense of permanence, acceptance, and contentment with their life and the place where they have ended up. The anecdotes and memories which the narrator mentions, along with the connections of family, make up the meaning of life, which is why, as the narrator says, immortality is not everything when there is so much to treasure given the limited time we have to treasure it. Although the narrator describes Kansas in the arid words of "dust bowl" and uses the word "dust" to suggest death and decay, it is clear that they see death everywhere and in everyone's lives and believe everyone should live with the knowledge and appreciation of that mortality. – Laura Crouch, age 20
Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.