Karen Winterburn is an emerging poet who’s won several awards from the Utmost Christian Writers site. In addition to the first prize in this year’s Novice Christian Poetry Contest, she took home the award for best rhyming poem for “Aporia of the Gift“, a polished yet natural-sounding piece of formal writing that blends Derrida’s philosophy with echoes of George Herbert’s “Love Bade Me Welcome“. She’s kindly permitted me to reprint it below. You can also read my critique of her poem “Call Out of Exile” at Winning Writers.
Aporia of the Gift
An “aporia” is a paradoxical impasse. The philosopher Jacques Derrida claims that true gift-giving is an aporia, an impossible contradiction in terms because it always implies self-interest and expects a return. A mere exchange of equally valued items is not true gift-giving. But God shows us what true gift-giving is. He is both the Giver and the Gift. It is impossible for us to reciprocate with a gift of equal value. But he doesn’t lavish us with gifts to shame our poverty. As long as we are trying to pay him back and settle the account, we cannot freely receive what he offers us. If we accept our poverty before him, we will see that his Gift to us is union with him: union of Giver and receiver and Gift. This union is the only solution to the aporia of the gift. And only by virtue of our union with God can we freely give to and receive from each other.
What I have owed in love I’ve always paid,
measured out in small change—nickel and dime.
I’m nothing if not just and fair in trade.
I am that woman holding up the line:
I calculate the cost of Bread and Wine,
exhaust my coin while still the Loaf expands;
Wine inundates and shifts the paradigm:
overflows it; elevates, countermands
and understates the debt it takes out of my hands.
I want to pay my bill! I estimate
it’s astronomical; it multiplies
as Love devises to inebriate
and fill me past my means to amortize
my liability. I agonize,
liquidate my estate, consign the lot
to such a Love: who does not itemize
or keep accounts or hold the Gift he’s got
on lay-away till I can pay sans caveate—
—to such a Love as this. No recompense
for such unheard-of Love is on report,
nor have I anything of consequence
to make return. My whole life comes up short:
my yearning is a poverty that thwarts
my moves, my airs, and leaves me impotent,
with bare and baffled heart. No speechless sort,
I stammer at the stop I’ve reached, consent
to yeild, receive the Feast—to eat and be outspent.
Love quiets me. Love sits me on his knee.
“You are yourself,” says he, “all I desire.”
Might Love be satisfied in colloquy?
We wink and whisper till my eyes acquire
his own spark. My darkened heart now afire
with borrowed Light bestows itself and—swift
to cede—receives itself! Might Love conspire
to grant affinity to me, uplift
this heart to make it one with Giver and the Gift?