And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Luke 1:46-47

I continue to share a poem each week on the bulletin board outside my church office, but since the last few poems had already appeared on my blog, I did not re-share them here. (They are: Christ the King | Malcolm Guite, Let Us Give Thanks | Gerhard E. Frost, and In December Darkness | Ann Weems.) This week’s poem, however, is not one that I have shared previously.

Runyon’s poem caught my attention because of its title – it includes a word that we hear often this time of year, “Magnificat.” The word is the title of the song that Mary sings when she visits Elizabeth (after being told that they both would bear miraculous children) and comes from the first word of the song in Latin. In English, Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

This poem imagines what it might take for our souls to magnify the Lord. Or perhaps this poem offers us an example of a woman singing her own Magnificat. “Lord, I thank you!” “You made me! I’m here! I’m here!” In an unexpected place, from an unexpected source, the poet is visited by a prophet and hears a modern Magnificat. The words rumble through her (like one of those elevated trains?) and the sparks flicker.

I think that what Runyon is doing in this poem is simply what Mary Oliver famously suggested in her “Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.” She is paying attention, even when she doesn’t want to, and consequently being visited by an angel announcing tidings of great joy. “You made me! I’m here! I’m here!”

I used to ride the train into Chicago for work, a very long time ago now. This poem brings me back to those days, but also brings me back to this day. Where will I hear the Magnificat today, and from whom? How about you?

El Train Magnificat | Tania Runyon

Just when I think I’ve entered my rest,
the dull glare of the office two blocks behind me,
a woman under the Wells Street tracks
opens her arms and shouts, Lord, I thank you!
Her massive breasts quake in a gray T-shirt;
a sprig of hair trembles in a rubber band.
You made me! I’m here! I’m here!
The metallic rumble of the Green Line
can’t drown her voice. She swings her hips,
clapping to the rhythm. I cross through a line of taxis
to avoid her. Now she is turning in grand circles,
her face lifted toward the tracks.
Thank you, thank you, Lord of mine.
I hum to myself, count sidewalk squares, anything
to escape the eye of her swirl. I quicken my stride
around the corner of Madison, until her voice is nothing
but a drift in the storm of buses and horns.
Yet at night, in the cool hour of unrest,
I feel her words rumbling through me
in a constant loop—I thank you, Lord;
I thank you, Lord—sparks flickering along my bones,
singeing the edges of my silent life.

I first encountered this poem in a collection of poetry edited by D. S. Martin: “The Turning Aside” published by Cascade Books.

One thought on “El Train Magnificat | Tania Runyon

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