Saturday, April 30, 2011

Present

After a month of writing poems every day, it feels weird to go out with something so short, and arguably, so bad. But tonight, after talking to and praying with a friend whose heart is breaking, this is what I have.

I am going to keep up the poems. Maybe not every day, but as close to that as I can manage. I really don't have words for the folks who've been encouraging me to keep on, except thank you. Thank you for helping me to imagine the road beyond having my heart broken. Thank you for helping me to look up and see the path, stretching out and up and just over that hill in front of me. God bless you guys. Every last one of you.

present

Oh God, so much pain
and so much difficulty.
All I can say is
PLEASE.

Come into this situation.
Throw Your weight around.
Knock over a few tables.
We need You to be
Present.

We need the Hound of Heaven
baying at the door.
We need You busting open windows
to save those trapped inside.

We need You imminent,
embodied, fleshy.
We need to look up and see
Your Hand, writing on the wall.

Oh God, SHOW UP.
Please.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Stillness/motion

Home late again last night and just plain exhausted, so here is yesterday's poem. Today's will come... tonight, I guess. Another poem about writing.

stillness/motion

Sit inside a mirrored room--
without reprieve,
without relief--
and mine what is inside of you...
the water's cold, but it's still deep.

You light the path in front of you.
The words are there,
just reach inside
and find the flame you buried there,
the fire that's helped you to survive.

Do not believe the lie that you are sad,
or sick, or bruised, pathetic.
You're soul and flesh.
You're given words,
which would, of course, make you prophetic.

The only task before you
is to do what you know how to.
Write it down.
Write it now.
Creation is kinetic.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hope

So, 3 more days of NaPoWriMo after today. For as many nights as I've come home late and thought to myself "DAMN. I've gotta write a poem. About WHAT??," I'm seriously considering continuing to do this after April. There's something about this discipline of making myself create something every day that has some kind of powerful magic to it. I mean, I've stopped writing about being dumped, right? It's not that this has stopped hurting me, but it's like pushing myself to create has forced me to draw on the resources and memories and experiences that I had in the 34 years before I met him... and created a bridge between the me before I was hurt and me now.

It's also led to insomnia as my brain has kicked into high creative gear after 10:30pm on many of these nights and I haven't been able to lure it to sleep... but I think it's been worth it.

So this is a poem about that.

hope

As long as I can hold a pen
I can move on.

When I feel completely alone
and in pain
and sick
and scared
I can feel hope.

When memories of the past
and fear for the future
taunt me,
I can ignore them,
and look ahead.

Because there's always a poem
to be written,
and someone to write it to
and for
and with.

And there's always a song
to be sung
and someone to sing it to
and for
and with.

Because I am made in the image
of my Creator.
There is always creation.
There is always hope.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Try

Poem #2 for the evening...

So today I went and gave blood, partially because I was finally in a meeting near the Red Cross Donor Center on E Street, and partially because THEY CALLED ME FIVE TIMES LAST NIGHT. So, note this dear readers... Red Cross launched a national campaign last month. They're very short on supplies around the country. If you can, please consider donating.

Errr, got off track there. Ok, so I was donating blood and they have CNN on the TV across from me, and they start showing footage of Syrian military shooting protesters, which has been going on for over a month now. I'm also sitting there with Kindle for Droid in my lap, reading a chapter in Philip Yancey's The Bible Jesus Read about Job and the problem of evil. And I just feel overwhelmed. Yes, I'm giving up some blood, but that just seemed so insignificant when I looked at this footage.

Of course, the two things are unrelated. It is better for me (and for you) to give blood when we're able than to not give blood, so it's not like it's pathetic that I was doing that when there is So Much Suffering In The World. Also, even if I went home and locked myself in the apartment for a week trying to think of a solution to the situation in Syria, I probably wouldn't have much of an impact. So.

We do what we can within our realm of influence. There's no shame in that. Plus, it includes prayer, which I still believe is no small thing.

So this is a poem about that.

try

It is better to try,
to drop your small pebble
in the pond, and trust
that the ripples will spread
where they need to
without worrying about whether
they'll reach the shore.

It is better to try,
to light your small candle
in immeasurable darkness,
to guard the flame
so it doesn't blow out,
and to trust that your light
is enough to guide
whomever it's meant to.

It is better to act.
It is better to hope.
It is better to do the next thing
and the next
without worry.

It is better to leave
your fingerprints on the world
than to stand back for fear
that you can't fix it.

Shadows

I got home late last night and then my sinuses attacked me so I had to can my plan to write a poem. So, this is poem one of two for the night.

shadows

Silhouette of a cat
at the window watching shapes...
the branches of the bushes
blow back and forth
against a dark blue evening sky.

I light a candle. Why not?
And the cat turns to contemplate
dancing shadows, the shape
of my raised foot, grown gigantic
on the wall above him.

The cat is a shadow
watching shadows inside
and shadows outside.
So many tricks of the light
making the mundane mysterious.

How much time have I wasted
chasing charlatans, circus clowns,
street preachers, snake oil salesmen...
all vapors of men, using tricks of the light
to make the mundane mysterious?

The cat jumps down from the windowsill,
done with watching shadows.
I blow out the candle.
Me too.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Magdalene

This morning at Common Table, the Best Writer I Personally Know gave a very interesting reading of Luke 24:13-35, the passage about Jesus' appearance on the road to Emmaus. It was interesting because he paused after the bit where they say "some of our women amazed us" with their report of Jesus' resurrection, and where some of the disciples decided to check it out for themselves. He smiled sardonically and said "that always kills me," or something quite like that.

It's been a while since I reflected on the disciples' attitude towards Mary Magdalene (plus Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, Salome, and unnamed "other" women, depending on which Gospel you're reading) when they relayed the news of Christ's appearance to them. The disciples didn't believe them. Only impulsive Peter and The Disciple Jesus Loved (again, depending on which Gospel you read) took off running down to the tomb to check for themselves. The others evidently weren't impressed enough by what the women had said to bother following up. Which is literally incredible to me. You'd really have to have a low opinion of a person to hear them tell a story like that and just dismiss it outright.

It wasn't the first time nor the last time that God has gifted and honored women to be His messengers and teachers, but His church has refused to acknowledge it. A lot of progress has been made, but I know very well that much of His church has a long, long, LONG way to go.

This is a poem about that. Thanks, Stav, for the inspiration.

Magdalene

Mary Magdalene, sobbing at the tomb,
the one from whom You had cast hundreds of demons,
the one who was first to Your grave,
was the one to whom You first appeared.

A woman, it is rumored, of some ill repute,
who followed You with pure devotion...
perhaps the first man to to ever show her respect...
she was the one to whom You first appeared.

Where did this get lost along the way?
Jesus of Nazareth, both God and man
is raised from the dead, and chooses to spread
this news through Mary Magdalene.

When did Your church forget
that a woman was the first evangelist?
A woman the first one with the courage to show
her face as Your follower after Your execution?

Mary Magdalene, crying now with joy,
throws herself at Your feet, and like a kind father,
to a daughter, You said, "Don't cling to Me.
Go, and proclaim what You have seen."

And they didn't believe her.
When will Your church learn?


Saturday, April 23, 2011

We live in twilight (not the movie)

We live in the twilight of Holy Saturday. Unlike the disciples cowering in fear and agony and grief on this day, we know that Christ has risen, and that He promised He would return, but that was 2 millenia ago. This is an old and wrinkled problem that has preoccupied probably everyone who calls themselves a Christian ever since the first generation of disciples died without seeing His return. Generations upon generations of the faithful have taught their children to love and trust someone they've never seen with their eyes, and every one of us has struggled at some point with our personal reaction to that paradox.

I believe, and I believe strongly. I believe that I've seen Christ work in my life and that I've had times where I experience God's presence very vividly. But this is not a poem about that.

As if writing about this wasn't hard enough, I wrote it as a rondeau (see Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear The Mask" for a waaaayyyyy better example of a rondeau).

we live in twilight

We live in twilight, already not yet
in the shadow of history we'd rather forget,
longing to see you, generations unseen
wanting to believe, to feel consciences clean...
in the hope that Your death paid our debt.

I have lived my life loving One that I've never met,
staking all on those promises, placing my bets
on One whose life is as real to me as a dream.
We live in twilight.

I do believe. Truly, I love Him, but yet
I chafe at His absence. He left and then let
His disciples believe He'd be back, that they'd see
Him emerging in clouds and that their faith would be
rewarded. I love Him, but I live saddened that
we live in twilight.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Darkness

So the weather and my health have conspired to create a fantastic Good Friday experience. I'm still too sick to go to church or work but not sick enough to not care about that. The weather has been cold, grey, rainy and occasionally windy. I've spent the day alone with the exception of one trek to the grocery store to get Fancy Feast for my spoiled kitty, where the checkout girl snarled at me.

Perfect Good Friday. Didn't miss a beat. :^)

Honestly, none of today has been *that* bad, but it's made meditating on Good Friday easier. Last year on Good Friday, Common Table went on a retreat where we spent the weekend sitting shiva for our dead dreams... trying to enter the space the disciples were in, where all they knew was the death of their Messiah. As it happens, the dream I mourned last year died again when Vince ended things in January, so that suffering is fresh for me... and just like last year, I have no evidence that my dream won't just stay dead.

It's easy to forget that the disciples didn't know. It's easy to forget their despair... not only had Christ died, but they'd just stood there and WATCHED without lifting a finger to do anything about it... and Peter had actively denied Him, swearing oaths on his own head that he had no idea who Jesus was before That Prophetic Chicken started mouthing off.

I was struck in reading the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion today with the Synoptic Gospel writers' observation that the sun's light was blocked out for 3 hours in the middle of the day as Jesus suffered agonizing pain on the cross. Darkness is the best word I can think of to describe what must have descended on the disciples' minds and hearts after Jesus died. I was reminded, too, of Psalm 88, the only one of the Psalms that does not resolve in praise of God. It is, in my mind, the Psalm of the Crucifixion (I'm sure I'm not original in that observation), and it ends with the line "Darkness is my only companion".

Writing a Good Friday poem is not easy. There is so much amazing art, music, poetry and prose about this event. But here's my attempt.

darkness

Darkness fell over the whole land
from noon to 3pm. Then You screamed:
"Why have You left me, Father??!!!"
And died.
And the earth shook.

There was a stunned centurion
who suddenly knew you were God,
and a terrified priest
gaping at a torn temple veil.

The sun came out again,
and some who had died righteous
rose and walked into Jerusalem.

But You were still dead.

Joseph of Arimathea laid
You in his own, new tomb.
The women watched, waiting,
wanting to come back
and bathe Your broken, battered body.

But now the sun was going down,
and Shabbos was upon them.
Joseph rolled a heavy stone
over the mouth of Your burial place.
The sun's last rays fled the sky, ashamed,
and the women left, in darkness.

The Light of the World was dead.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Even Judas

It's Maundy Thursday, and I really wanted to go to Maundy Thursday service, but ended up sick instead. So I read through the various gospel accounts of the Last Supper, and was reminded that John's gospel is the only one with all this foot-washing business. All of the others have the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus' identification of Judas as His betrayer, and His prophesy about Peter denying Him... but no foot-washing.

Which got me to thinking... what's consistent across the Gospel narratives of this event is that Christ states openly that He is going to die after one of His followers turns Him over to the authorities and that His Number One Fan Simon Peter is going to deny that he even knows Jesus. What's consistent is His open, no holds-barred acknowledgement in the presence of His disciples that they are going to treat Him like trash... worse than trash... in just a few hours.

This makes the humility of Christ's washing the disciples' feet in John all the more poignant. He wasn't just submitting Himself as a servant to those beneath Him... He was submitting Himself to those who, despite having witnessed Him heal the sick and raise the dead, and despite His having spent 3 long years living with and training them, would either facilitate His murder or stand idly by while it happened.

I can't get there. I can't *imagine* being able to do that. I can imagine punching them in the face, *not* washing their feet. So this is a poem about that.

even judas

When I think of You washing
the disciples' feet --
God incarnate, washing dust
and dung off of the furry, calloused feet
of full-grown men--
I am moved to tears, and love,
and gratitude to worship and follow
such a servant, Savior, God.

Until You get to Judas.
And then I want to stop You.
You knew Judas would betray You.
You knew that within a few short hours,
of Your carefully washing dung out
from between his toes,
he would turn You over to torture,
to humiliation, and to a bloody,
gruesome
death.

I want to step in and say,
"Not him. Please don't touch him.
Please don't wash his feet."
Because I don't understand
how You did it.
How did You forgive him,
and minister to him,
even in that moment?

Your humility moves me.
Your mercy... Your mercy...
Your mercy confounds me.
"Forgive as you have been forgiven."
But I can't. I try, but anger seeps in.
I couldn't wash Judas' feet.

"This is a new commandment:
Love one another, as I have loved you."
Even Judas.

Oh, Jesus, I have so far to go.
Please help me, servant LORD.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Night Before

So it's Wednesday of Holy Week. I'm sure there's some ancient tradition around this day, but most of the high church liturgies I'm familiar with start their Holy Week observance with Palm Sunday, skip Monday through Wednesday and then join Jesus again on Maundy Thursday.

But Wednesday is the night before He was betrayed, and He knew it was coming. As I've thought about that tonight, I've felt a closeness with that particular state, the state where anticipation is the source of suffering. I know that place very well. So this is a poem about that.

the night before

The night before
the end and the new beginning,
I don't imagine that You slept.

If You did, what did You dream?
How deep was Your agony then,
anticipating the torture to come?

How much did You really know?
You sweat blood in the garden...
did You doubt that You'd rise again?

You experienced flesh's frailty.
Fully God yet fully man,
You faced anxiety writ large.

You know every sorrow we face.
Firsthand, You felt the terror of
anticipation, of worry, of fear.

Tonight I sit with You,
sleepless, we both face the future,
frightened, and fumbling for our faith.

Thank You, Jesus, for living even this.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Triptych - Three Tonkas

Thank God for Lewis Turco's The New Book of Forms that I still have from one of my college courses in poetry. Tonight's poem is three little "tonkas". The Tonka is a Japanese form that is basically a haiku with two extra lines of 7 syllables. The first is the result of a conversation with a friend tonight, the second is my response to a guy who was yelling outside my open window while I wrote the first, and the third is my reflection on what I usually do in a really difficult conflict (like what I think I'd do if I was this guy's daughter, for example), which is to shut down. I have terrible memories of being imprisoned in my own silence, and no longer knowing what to do.

So. Here they are.

triptych - three tonkas

1.
Too many "maybes".
I want to release myself
from my own judgement,
to wake up tomorrow free,
with clear eyes, facing forward.

2.
There's a man outside
cursing at his family. Why?
He takes an axe to
the root of his own tree. His
words will never be erased.

3.
There are silences
that kill things. I have been trapped
in these silences,
mouth full of cotton wool, ears
deaf, eyes closed, heart cold, love gone.

In Praise of Your Complaint

So, this is yesterday's poem. I was a little too overwhelmed after seeing my new niece (8 lbs 12 oz, born yesterday at 12:33 EST) on Skype last night to write anything that didn't have the word "little" and "soft" and "squeeeee!!" in it over and over and over again. So I wrote yesterday's poem this morning.

My sister-in-law is her own, awesome, independent spirit. Lilly's delivery was a lot harder than Emma's (for example, they stuck Liz 5 times with the epidural needle because they couldn't get it right), and she was not quiet or demure about this fact. Nor should she be. I've been turning over and over in my head what a trauma childbirth is, and how blasé folks (including me) can be about that fact. We all caused our mothers some of the worst pain imaginable... 9 months of an inhabited body, followed by hour after long hour of contractions and then of childbirth itself (and that's for a comparatively easy childbirth). But in the aftermath of that, everyone is so understandably overwhelmed by the resulting little, soft, snoozing critter that the needs of a Mom in the throes of mild PTSD can be overlooked.

I don't think Liz will struggle with PTSD because she won't make the mistake of trying to *glow* about the experience. She won't shove down the reality of it so that others can keep their Disney-fied version of the experience intact... and I admire that deeply. So this is a poem about that.

in praise of your complaint

We all caused our mothers
unimaginable pain...
unimaginable to us, that is.
They imagine it vividly,
remembering its intensity...
the labor that went on and on,
hour after hour after hour.

How could something so painful
produce something so soft and small?
Trauma producing treasure
each possessing its own intensity,
its own life-altering significance.

Perhaps this pain is meant to prepare
for a lifetime of peaks and valleys.
We can cherish our children
but they will escape us,
and hurt us, and react in ways
we could not, and dare not, imagine.

So I praise your complaint.
Yes, your body was battered.
Yes, you've committed your life
to someone who will leave you
and forge their own path, forgetting
what you sacrificed, perhaps,
for a time.

I praise your complaining
for this pain that you suffered.
It is vivid and real and reminds
all of us
that our mothers chose us despite that,
giving up their own lives and
sacrificing their bodies,
so that we might live, free, and happy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday

I have dreams every once in a while that something bad has happened to my parents. When that happens, I contact them as soon as I can reasonably do so after getting up, just for good measure. Last night, I dreamed repeatedly that my Dad had died, so when he got on Skype this morning, I pounced, with a "Good to see you're not dead!!" or something like that.

He agreed.

So here's a poem about that, and about Palm Sunday, which is today (in case you missed it).



Palm Sunday

I woke from a dream
that my Father had died
and that I was the only one crying.

In all actuality
my Dad's quite alive,
but in honesty, he's also dying.

From the moment we're born
the clock's counting down.
It will happen someday, that's for sure.

And for all our ideas
and life-lengthening tricks
death's the one thing for which there's no cure.

You knew this.

When You rode into Jerusalem
You'd known for some time
the horrific way in which You'd die.

You knew they'd betray you,
that they'd all turn against You,
and You still looked them all in the eye.

You knew from Creation--
when earth-time first started--
You'd be called to become just a man.

And despite pain of death
You did this for love.
Life's Author died, according to plan.

And rose again.

So that death
is no longer
the end.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Claire

So today's second poem: last night I got to hang out at the lively abode of my friend Weave, including an extended period of play with her five year old, Claire. This is a poem about that.

Claire

She looks into your face
until you look back...
and into your eyes until
she sees the pupils widen
as you think, "My God,
what a beautiful child."

Satisfied that she's been
properly acknowledged as
part fairy princess and
part Queen, she says. "let's play."
And so, under her spell,
you do.

She is firmly in command:
"You play with the horsey now.
Now I will play with the horsey."
She lets me wear her green tiara,
but only for a little while.
It is hers, after all.

When she's not looking,
I let a few tears come to my eyes
for the day when some evil soul
questions her confidence and
refuses to see her beauty.

You are the rarest of rare creatures, Claire...
a child self-possessed and unafraid
of the power your charm can command.
Please don't change.
The world needs you to look it in the eye
until it acknowledges your beauty.

The Jester On The Garden Wall

I didn't write a poem yesterday because I got home late for the sixth straight night in a row and I just couldn't see writing another poem about being exhausted. So today, I will write two. Here's the first, with a bit of background.

About a million years ago when I lived outside of Oxford (the one in England) in the house of an Irish widow named Bernadette O'Gara (no I'm not making this up), I would pass a pub on the way in to Oxford called The Gypsy Scholar. I LOVED that name. While I couldn't rightly call myself either a gypsy or a scholar, that name put together two of the very few things I was sure of at the tender age of 21: that I loved books, and that I was seriously challenged in the Art of Settling Down.

14 years later, I still love books (as anyone who has been to my apartment can attest), and I have forced myself to stay in one place long enough that it has become home. However, I'm still *me*. For example, I'm a Government Contractor working in a cubicle farm... but I'm The One With A Hundred Rubber Ducks In My Cubicle. The ducks have managed to migrate all over my section of cubicles, balanced on top of the cubicle walls, and occasionally my co-workers and I lob them at one another. At one point, we set up a chess board using sticky notes and I made up a key for which ducks were which chess pieces and for about two weeks people drifted by my cube, played a move, and then went on. I have one very zen-like co-worker who makes a point to balance one duck on top of another duck every time he leaves my cube. Basically, the whole duck thing works, but there are certain ex-military staff members who wince every time they walk by my cube. I would give them a duck if they'd take one.

So I survive in this adult world as the Gentle Eccentric... harmless and fun, but a little weird. And in this taciturn town, I provide something of a public service by Bringing the Zany so that people feel a little freed up. But I'm still an outlier.

So this is a poem about that... specifically about the occasional reaction I have to folks who live and breathe stability sans rubber ducks or any other such accoutrement.

the jester on the garden wall

I live on the outside of the garden wall
with this ragged, lively band
of circus performers, street preachers,
soothsayers, hypochondriacs,
and occasional verbal acrobats.

One day, curious, I hoist myself up on the wall,
and peer in to see you cultivating flowers,
tending carefully, carefully.
Lost in the quiet story unfolding,
I forget where, and who, I am.

No snake charmer could intrigue me
the way you do, with
careful words and gentle gestures.
I watch you guide a wild vine along
a delicate white trellis,
fingers like fleshy knitting needles,
guiding, guiding.

And then I realize I've stopped breathing.

Did I consign myself to live
outside the garden wall?
Could I catapult myself over?
Could I bring this jester's costume
of jangling bells and bright colors
into your sacred space?

Or would I find that once inside
I would be like a wild animal,
scratching at the gate,
wanting to be free?

It's a troubling thing, this having gypsy blood.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tired

This is a poem about being too tired to write this poem.

tired

So tired from wrestling
questions with no answers
and shadowboxing with
a future I can't see.

Fragmented energy,
little glass thoughts
like raindrops that evaporate
as soon as they touch ground.

I need a break from my own mind.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wednesday night, leaving Shaw

I didn't get home til after 11pm and am pretty tired, so this is just a little haiku about my trip home from my beautiful friend Lily's house.

wednesday night, leaving shaw

Incense, music and
ornate crosses change his cab
into a chapel.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Caution

This poem is directed at a few people on my mind lately, including me, but definitely not just me. It is a very basic part of human cognition to form quick opinions on people and things, to sort them into categories --friend, not friend, ally and enemy-- in order to function in a world of constant, unending stimuli. But some of the greatest cruelty I've ever been on the receiving end of has occurred when someone put me in a box and acted towards me out of that definition... when they stopped listening after they'd formed their initial opinion. I can say the same for the greatest cruelty that I've shown towards others.

Everyone is a miracle. Be careful.


Caution

Be careful with your assumptions, dear.
For with everyone you meet
you have stepped onto the stage
in the middle of an act
with the play well in progress.

There is so much you just don't know.
Be careful.

Be careful with your tongue, dear.
For with everyone you meet
you may well have walked in
just as the bottom dropped out
and they began a free fall into despair.

There are lives that are turned
by one cruel word.
Be careful.

Be careful with your labels, dear.
For everyone you meet
has tried to live as they know how
and is complex beyond your caricatures.

There is beauty and depth
far beyond your first impression.
Be careful.

Be careful with your actions, dear.
We are all so frightened and fragile.
When you walk in the world
awash in quick judgments
and careless characterizations...

the one you may well be wounding the most
is you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Faith

It's not good to speak ill of the dead, but I will say only that when my Grandfather died last November, I agonized for days because I didn't care, and because that's not the kind of person I want to be. There isn't a lot I could have done about that relationship, but I still regretted it. And that's all I'll say about that.

I do, however, have one gift that he left me, one moment that has stayed with me despite the fact that he didn't intend for me to take it this way.

faith

My Grandfather's faith
was like a thick, woolly cocoon around him.
It comforted and sheltered him,
plugging his ears and eyes
to other people's pain.

One time, in a fit of frustration
at some foolish old woman's worry,
he told the woman that
every time she saw a cardinal
it meant that everything would be ok.

And it worked.

He told me the story to ridicule her,
but for the many hours he sat
lecturing me about faith,
every time I see a flutter of
bright red wings,
I smile, relieved.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lazarus

So, this morning at Common Table, we had a service on death, including some beautiful stories of folks passing peacefully beyond the veil and also including a technical description of the decomposition of the body... so detailed that I had to leave and go get some fresh air.

We are an intense and varied bunch.

The centerpiece behind all this meditation on death was the gospel lectionary reading today from John 11:1-44, where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. There is a ton to be said about this passage and about the service, but it is late and I am tired. So I'll just let the poem say what it has to say.

Lazarus

I imagine that it was like
coming up fast from under water...
distorted light rushing towards you,
strange shapes, voices indistinct...

and then, suddenly, gasping for air,
pulling at the cloths on your face
with your bound hands,
confused, terrified, utterly lost.

And then, a voice you recognize,
a voice you love, a voice of someone
who loves you, calling clear:
"Come out!!"

You'd follow that voice anywhere.
But "out" of where? Flailing,
you fall off of the surface where they laid you,
and your eyes finally make out
the direction of the light.

"Come out!" You stagger towards the voice
on legs that ache strangely...
you move towards the light,
pulling, pulling at the cloths around your eyes,
but not as frightened now...

"Come out!!" Moving more quickly
you hear voices, feel people around you,
but that voice is what pulls you.
It's the only thing that makes sense.

And then what? Lazarus, then what?
When you reached Him, did you weep?
Did you suddenly understand?
Did you remember heaven?
Where were you those four days?

No one knows.

I only ever picture you bound
and struggling towards the light
and towards that voice...
patron saint of all who long for Him
on this side of the veil.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Little Tree

I get to see my niece, Emma, in a little over a month when I visit my brother and sister-in-law after the birth of their second little girl, Lilly. She lives pretty far away, so it'll be the first time I've seen her since Christmas. I'm stoked.

My sister-in-law does a fantastic job of sending the family pictures of Emma on a really regular basis. I have every single picture she's ever sent me stored in my phone. I've had to delete almost all the other pictures, but that's no biggie because as far as I'm concerned, that photo album in my phone exists so I can look at pictures of Emma. At the same time, I feel a little sad when I look because she is changing and has changed SO MUCH.

That tiny baby I held 15 months ago, and that chubby little cherub who held onto my fingers while we walked all over the apartment last September, and the little toddler in pigtails that I carried on my shoulders all around the house while she grinned and giggled in December, all of those little people are basically *gone*. They're being replaced by a little girl who is learning so much and is so gloriously determined to learn and grow... but still, I mourn a bit that I had so little time with Emma when she was in these different stages.

So this is a poem about that. And about the cherry tree outside my window because this time of year I'm Very Aware Of That Tree.

little tree

Every year the blossoms
on the tree outside my window
seem to fall off as soon as they bloom.

And every year, I chuckle to myself
at how grieved I am at their going.
I'm never ready.

I have pictures of you everywhere,
in my house, my office,
bright eyes smiling at me from my phone,
but every one is different.
You change a little every single day.

And sometimes, I chuckle to myself
at how much this surprises me.
I'm not ready.

There's nothing to mourn here, really.
Trees losing blossoms, children growing,
these are beautiful things,
signs of health, signs of life.

But I find myself mourning
the chubby, giggling baby
even as I delight in the little girl.
Slow down. I'm not ready.

Friday, April 8, 2011

not really a poem

This is me admitting defeat. I just don't have it today. I'm too agitated.

not really a poem

Tsunami, nuclear waste, earthquake,
Federal Government shutdown
Libyan genocide, Egyptian protests
Cote d'Ivoire civil war, Nigerian elections

Bradley Manning's being tortured
(did I just mess up my clearance?)
they're shooting protesters in Yemen
the Saudis paid theirs off

They're shutting down the Government
because they're fighting over whether to fund
reproductive services for the poor.
So while they argue that, they're taking paychecks away
from half of my city, including
my lovely DC librarian friend
who's living on a shoestring at the best of times.

I've lit four candles, poured myself a glass of wine,
and all I can think is
"how the fuck am I supposed to write this poem?"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Limbic

And now for something completely different.

I don't know about you, but there are times when I feel like my limbic system comes up behind my prefrontal cortex, bangs it over the head with a 2 x 4, and then runs off and does whatever it likes. In other words, I occasionally make very irrational decisions based on impulses that are momentarily powerful enough to throttle my reason into submission.

I'm sure I'm not alone. After all, we all have the components of the limbic structure in our brain. But sometimes I *feel* like I'm alone in those moments where I've made an especially poor decision or am trying to wrestle myself out of making one.

So this is a poem about that.

Limbic

Oh, animal brain
it's so hard to believe
you're what helped my ancestors survive.

Because if I followed
the ideas that you have
I doubt that I'd still be alive.

Really, amygdala?
You're frightened of planes,
but you'll happily drink til you drop?

You're kidding, libido.
He's clearly not right for me.
What I wouldn't give for you to just stop.

"One more drink?" "Oh, he's cute."
"That fried chicken looks good."
"You don't need that much sleep, anyway."

All these impulsive urges
are exhausting to manage
and can seriously clutter my day.

But if I didn't have them,
life would be somewhat boring.
So I supposed I'll get used to the fact

that I'm both clay and spirit
both animal and soul,
and sometimes my resolve's gonna crack.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday, Strangers

This poem would probably better if I would stop listening to "Codex" off of Radiohead's King of Limbs over and over again, but I can't, so this is suffering from a lack of focus and perhaps from a leetle too much Gorgeous Melancholy. Sorry. It is, however, about the bus ride home today... and many evenings, and many mornings... and all the lovely strangers I never talk to and who never talk to me.


Tuesday, Strangers

There is a man on the bus
whispering to himself about a lost love...
"I didn't know what was happening."
And I want to say, "boy, do I understand,"
but I don't violate his whispering grief.

The man to his left is beating out time,
slapping his knee hard as he reads through a score,
and I remember cramming before choir practices.
I want to ask him what he's learning,
but I don't disturb his solo practice session.

There is the woman with the baby,
and the one who mutters angrily
so no one will approach her.
There's the man with the cane and the strange scars
who smiles to himself, quietly, privately.

Me, I'm the woman in the red hat,
with the wild brown hair playing sudoku on my phone.
I know they know me, and I know them.
We honor one another by not speaking,
playing comfortable roles in each other's lives,
steady and undemanding,
the most intimate of strangers.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dance

I went salsa dancing tonight. Not because I wanted to... I didn't. I went because my friend invited me and I wanted to spend some time with her, and because I need to Get Out And Meet Guys. I had no illusions of meeting anyone in particular, but we all know the logic. When you're single, it's better to get out than sit at home. So I put on a cute dress, threw back a couple of gin and tonics to steel myself and off I went.

I actually had a blast. It's a good workout, and a lot of the moves started to come back to me from many years ago when I dated a guy from Ecuador who taught salsa. The teacher kept us rotating among partners so it never got really uncomfortable with anyone and I did manage to avoid dancing with The Creepy Guy (there's always one) more than once.

It got me thinking about my theory for Why I Generally Can't Learn Dance Moves, though, so this is a poem about that.

Dance

I decided a long time ago
that I don't like "dancing".
I like moving to music.
I like jumping, twirling,
leaping up into the air
and throwing my body around
like a wild horse that nobody can train.

Most of my life has been this way...
a lusty love for my own enthusiasm,
and disdain for careful precision,
cannonballing into the water yelling "Geronimo!!!"
while others sensibly suit up
and dive in clean lines
with bodies like arrows
smoothly slicing the water.

Needless to say, this has cost me.
I have scars and strange fears
that show where my history has marked me
permanently.

Over time, I've become better at dancing,
remembering the steps,
rising early, eating breakfast,
going to work, keeping the rhythm
of a life well-ordered
and sensibly lived.

But I know that inside of me
there is a desire to run free and crazy-wild
and fling my body through the air
without caring where I land.

There are some things that I just can't change.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Walking Meditation

So I have something of a confession to make: I played hooky from church today. I did have a headache, but if I stopped every time I had a headache I would never get anything done. I work part-time for my church as a volunteer in addition to my full-time job, and today I desperately needed a different kind of sabbath. 'Nuff said.

So, I walked about 8 miles, down to the Tidal Basin, around the Tidal Basin, and back again... which means, yes, I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival. I took my time, and stopped to sit in lovely places like the one where I took the picture above.

My longest stop was under a very large, not-cherry tree which had a little nook at the base just the size of my booty and sloped up in a perfect 130 degree angle: my own naturally-occurring lounge chair. I sat there for quite a while and after a bit I picked up where I'd left off reading Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers by Thich Nhat Hanh. I've felt fairly "meh" about the book up until this point, but I hit a couple of sections today that I thought were just amazing. I won't go into any more detail about that here, but I probably will in a later post.

One of the things that Thich Nhat Hanh mentioned over and over again in these sections is the discipline of walking meditation as a spiritual practice. I don't know precisely what he means by that, but I know that I did this long walk specifically because I find that walks over 5 miles have a very clarifying effect on me. So I wrote a poem about that.

Walking Meditation

I'm just different than you,
and there's nothing wrong with that.
A solo walker on the trail,
passed by runners, bikers,
and passing by couples, hand in hand.

We are all travelling.
No need to make distinctions.
No need to judge me or you
by how, or with whom, we travel.

We are all passing by
these same green spaces,
breathing prayers of thanksgiving
for green, living things
in our many tongues and methods.

It is enough that we are grateful.
It is enough that I am with others on the trail.
It is enough that we are alive.

The joy is in the movement.
We can, and are moving.
The joy is in the breathing,
and the sweating,
and the motion of these two feet,
mile after mile,
as if anything were possible.

Anything is possible.
All we have to do
is put one foot
in front of
the other.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Laughing Buddha

A few weeks ago, we had a service at Church of the Common Table where we talked about ideas in Christianity that are very like ideas in Buddhism, and where two church members talked about how their time as Buddhists had informed their Christianity. In my adulthood, I know that my very limited understanding of some Buddhist teachings has been important in helping me live my life despite disappointment, find contentment in my work, etc., and I am grateful for the exposure I've had to those teachings.

I found myself wondering this morning about what it would be like to have been raised Buddhist. Specifically I was contemplating what it would be like for my image of the Divine to be like my six tiny laughing Buddha statues (pictured above) rather than that of Christ with His arms outstretched, waiting to embrace me, ragged holes in his wrists the sign of how God's Love will stop at nothing for me. Rather a different picture, right?

It's been my observation from working with international students that those raised in cultures where Buddhism is dominant do seem tougher, less phased by things, than others. I'm sure that Buddhism isn't the only reason for that, but it seems to me that it would make you sort of a tough-minded pragmatist. All will be well, because nothing you see here is permanent. Getting attached to or upset about things just doesn't make a lot of sense. I've envied that calm on more than one occasion.

So I wrote a poem about this. Just to be clear, I'm not setting up a Buddha/Jesus standoff. Buddha lived 500 years or so before Christ and in a totally different context. He didn't claim to be God. I do believe that Jesus is God and Buddha is a great teacher, and I don't think that either Buddha or Jesus would have a problem with my believing those things.

So. Here's the poem.

Laughing Buddha

I have six small statues of the laughing Buddha
that I bought from a gay Vietnamese man.
I bought them because their smiles made me smile,
and for their round, portly bellies
and for their sense of peaceful abundance.

As a child, I had a picture in my room.
It was Jesus hugging a man,
with God the Father's hands outstretched
in the clouds behind.
When I felt sad, I would stare at this picture
and feel warm and comforted.
Jesus loves me. This I know.

What would it have been like
to look at laughing Buddha instead?
What would it have been like
to see that smile, impervious to my tears?

As I've grown older, I've learned
to adjust my expectations of life.
When I see Buddha smiling, I smile back...
non-grasping, letting go.

But I worship a God who knows my sorrows,
a God who wept and suffered, incarnate,
and a Spirit who intercedes for me
with groanings too deep for words.

Sometimes I wish I didn't want things.
But I do. I just do.
And when I cry, God reaches out to me
and comforts,
even when I'm telling Him
that He's the source of my pain.

I am glad the Buddha's teaching
helps me to be an adult.
I'm also so glad my God knows
that really, I'm still just a child.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Fight

Winter has decided to revisit us again this week in the Northeast. DC was spared snow today, but we got it on Sunday, and we've had freezing temperatures more than once over the course of this week. This is all occurring during peak season for the cherry blossoms, so it's kind of a source of cultural grief. The Cherry Blossom Festival is normally this really beautiful thing in DC... the trees were a gift from Japan, a sign of friendship and peace, and every time I've gone to the Tidal Basin to view the trees, I've been overwhelmed with gratitude to live in a place with such amazing diversity. EVERYONE comes out to see the blossoms. Families, couples, groups of friends... all shapes and sizes and colors and languages. It's just a beautiful time... so when the weather's poo and the trees are affected, it messes with that gorgeous moment in our local culture.

I have a cherry tree outside my window (that's him above), and he's definitely taken a hit from the weather (I don't know why the tree is a him... just roll with it). Normally, the blossoms on my tree are so full that I can't see to the sidewalk below, but the snow and cold have killed many of the buds before they've been able to bloom, so there are a lot of bare patches.

I don't wish the tree any ill will, but I've felt a kinship with him in this rough time, and I've been a bit grateful for it. If the tree had been in its usual full bloom during this time --almost the one year anniversary of my meeting Vince-- the irony would have been a little painful. It's a small (and perhaps pathetic) comfort, but the tree and I have an understanding right now. Ok, maybe not. But it makes me feel better.

Every morning since the earthquake hit Japan, NPR has awakened me with the latest news on the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. I wanted to write a poem drawing a comparison between this tree's resilience and that of those unbelievable workers at the plant who are basically accepting a death sentence in service to their entire region in a very direct and very certain way... but I can't do it. It's just a little too much for me to sit here in my comfy chair and write a poem comparing a tree to those incredible folks... so I wrote a poem about the tree and myself.

Fight

Cherry tree outside my window
I see the naked patches on your branches
where this wintry weather has
frozen off your nascent blooms.

But I am amazed by
those sturdy blossoming clouds
that refuse to succumb
despite freezing temperatures,
and snow,
and gusts of icy wind.

You and I are companions
weathering out this wretched winter
that has threatened us with dark and cold
that has killed off part of what made us alive.

But so many blooms remain.

If you can make it, so can I.