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Letter to a Jesuit: On the Murder of Sister Valsa
in India by Hired Killers for Big Coal

[Sister Valsa John (1958-2011) was a nun who organized protests against Indian coal mining operations that displaced villagers and destroyed their land.]

Her death hits me hard, Father,
though I had not heard of her until this news.
To be honest, I know little about her Church.
What I know now is just that she was a nun
hacked to death by a merciless mob
for supporting the rights of the Santhal people
against the avarice of a mining company.
Your question was whether I believe in the Devil.
You are serious, and so am I. In Appalachia,
growing up, we had few doubts about the Devil.
He was a force, a power, in our lives.
We knew why we could not pay the rent,
why our mother had cancer,
why gas built up in a mine.
And if the Devil is not incarnate in coal companies
or coal bosses, a notion you warn me against,
we all being creatures of God, let us
just say that coal executives everywhere
have been lured to greed, tyranny, lies
by what you call the Evil Spirit. And I agree
with Baudelaire, whom you quote,
that the Devil’s “most clever trick
is to convince us that he does not exist.”
No one wants to believe the evil acts
of coal barons across the globe.
My friend Marie, who suggested I write,
agrees the Devil roams but begs me
to focus on holy saints like Sister Valsa.
That is, the good in the world.
I must try to remember her counsel.
Thank you for responding, Father.
The murder of the sister hits me hard.
For your insights, your guidance
on this topic, accept my thanks.
I see you are right.

By Rachel Jennings

Rachel Jennings received the 2002 Rockefeller Foundation Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. She has published poems in La Voz de Esperanza, Appalachian Journal,Struggle, Blue Collar Review, RE:AL, Concho River Review, Red River Review, Nantahala Review, and the San Antonio Express-News. Her chapbook, Hedge Ghosts, was published at LaNana Creek Press in 2003. In 2008, she published a book of poetry, Elijah’s Farm, at Pecan Grove Press. Currently, she teaches composition and literature at San Antonio College and works with the Macondo Foundation, founded by Sandra Cisneros.