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John Estes brings us this impressive new poem in response to Philemon 1:12-16.

Philemon 1:12-16

The Cell


John Estes


Curated by: 

Kent Shaw



Image by Giorgio Trovato

Primary Scripture

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While I can hope it stands on its own, this poem is part of a longer work in progress called Utopiary which, broadly speaking, explores questions of apocalypse and perfectibility, the human inclination toward not only these ends but any projected and aimed for end, idealisms of any kind which remove us from the real present and, more importantly, from real presences.

This section is a response (and a reaction) to the book of Philemon, and in particular Philemon 1:12, “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you,” which I found pleasingly ambiguous and pregnant with possibility beyond its context. Not that its context—Paul in prison, writing on behalf of a slave to his owner—isn’t suggestive enough.

Christianity, like most religions, is grounded in a rigorous idealism, even as it attempts to deal with humanity in ruthlessly realistic terms, and the poem explores the question of human autonomy in its relation to images of bondage, and of life in relation to images of death, both central tropes of the Christian imaginary which inform history as well as the domestic quotidian in myriad, mostly disastrous, but occasionally beautiful, ways. As Hannah Arendt writes, “To raise the question, 'what is freedom?' seems to be a hopeless enterprise.” Yet, still, we do.

Spark Notes

The Artist's Reflection

John Estes directs the Creative Writing OProgram at Malone University in Canton, Ohio and is a visiting faculty member of Ashland University’s Low-Residency MFA. He is author two books, Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011) and Stop Motion Still Life (Wordfarm, forthcoming), and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America.

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John Estes

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John Estes

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