Phoebe, The Little Voice Heard ‘Round the World

by Cynthia Gallaher

A photograph of the bird "black phoebe" on a twig against a green background.

Romans 16:1-2 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

Rome, 57 A.D.

Until then, Mercury was the ultimate
messenger in Rome,
as was Hermes in Greece.

But soon, they began to hear
a little voice
a tiny bird personified

A woman with a name
mentioned only once
in scripture.

Though the bird itself
sings its own name twice,
Phoebe, Phoebe.

The woman took wing via
ships’ sails from Corinth
to the port of Ostia.

On foot the rest of her venture
to Rome.
the letter she carried, memorized,

In case camp flames engulfed it to ashes,
floods carried it away in its waterlogged arms,
or soldiers or temple priests confiscated it,

Somehow angels fluttered over
her head, around her heels,
as she delivered this handwritten

Message to the Gentiles,
a bolster to those who already
embraced the Messiah,

A deep-calls-to-deep
signal to those who’d
not yet heard the Word.

The letter of Paul
to the Romans
in the feminine hand of Phoebe,

His servant, the woman
who carried this ark of
Christianity, Phoebe, Phoebe.

Even to those today,
beyond Rome, both faith familiar
and unfamiliar,

New Christians told
to read this letter first
in the Bible.

And each time the book
opens to these now
printed, no longer handwritten, pages,

Phoebe keeps delivering still,
out running, outlasting, out performing
the fleet foot of Mercury.

Calling faith, from an ancient branch,
the name of the one God,
over and over.

Cynthia Gallaher
Cynthia Gallaher, a Chicago-based poet, is author of four poetry collections, including Epicurean Ecstasy: More Poems About Food, Drink, Herbs & Spices, and three chapbooks, including Drenched Her award-winning nonfiction/memoir/creativity guide is Frugal Poets’ Guide to Life: How to Live a Poetic Life, Even If You Aren’t a Poet.

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