Friday, October 19, 2012

So this is what I'm thinking about

I found this copy of M.C. Escher's "Humanity" here.
So, I haven't written in a long, long, long time, and when I have, it's been poetry that I was composing for another reason.  I couldn't honestly say why I haven't, except that I just haven't felt I had anything to say and there is plenty for folks to do rather than listen to me nattering on for the sake of nattering.

But if I pushed a little further, I could also say that I've been going through one of those periods ya go through where it's like you were, cognitively speaking, holding a neatly stacked little deck of cards and then tripped while walking and threw them all up in the air at once and they went every which-a-way.  So I suppose another explanation could be that I've been playing mental 52-card-pickup for the last, oh, year or so.

There are a lot of reasons for this.  Things have changed in my life.  I started seminary here, started teaching a citizenship class that I adore, became a vegetarian, finally found a therapist who specializes in anxiety disorders and is really helping, and got into a serious relationship.  I also had a lot of issues with panic attacks early in the year, got a concussion in March and had a bunch of weird health problems this year. 

Other things didn't change, things that maybe should change.  I think about these things a lot.

The biggest thing I've thought about this year started with rediscovering the novels and short fiction of Wendell Berry.  I love the world St. Wendell (this is what I call him, only partly kidding) creates in his fiction, but after an attempt to read everything he'd ever written back in 2009, I'd kind of forgotten about him until I saw him speak at the Kennedy Center in April of this year (thanks to The Best Writer I Personally Know, whose BOOK WILL BE PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING OF 2013  WOOOOOOOOT!!!!!).  When he spoke, I felt a nudgy-nudge at what he had to say about the environment and about U.S. agricultural policy, but more than that I felt that warm-blankety feeling I used to feel when I read his fiction... like this was a world I would love to inhabit, an agrarian world of close community and love of the land that I don't know but wish I did.

So I renewed my library card and started again with A World Lost... and it wasn't long before I was devouring his fiction again, 11 books in about 2 1/2 months.  I also read The Unsettling of America  and The Gift of Good Land, and then moved on to The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Landa collection of essays edited by Norman Wirzba that build on the agrarian writings of Wendell Berry. While I read that, I picked up Omnivore's Dilemma again, and this time I finished it.

I haven't read that much in a long time, and I'm not done.  I have a stack of books behind the chair I'm sitting in that are also on the same theme... the failure of agricultural policy in the U.S.... the unhealthy, unethical, and unsustainable ways in which we've come to produce and consume food, and how this is wrecking our land and our bodies and our brains.  A lot of these books have suggestions on what we can do better, things we can change.  These things will help us and help our country, and it can be argued that the expense to the consumer in radically changing our food system would be evened out by the decrease in expenses we have for all of the health issues related to our consumption of poisonous food and our poisoning of land and water in the production of that food.

It's really amazing how much consensus there is on this point.  You don't have to be a tree-hugging liberal to know that McDonald's isn't a good thing to put in your body.  You also don't have to be a vegetarian Buddhist to be nauseated at the thought that the chicken you're eating for dinner spent its life crammed in a tiny wire cage, unable to move, with feces from the chickens above it raining on its head, possibly with its beak cut off so it'd stop pecking itself in a nervous fit.   There are folks on both sides of the partisan aisle who think Monsanto needs to be taken down to Chinatown in the back of one of those vans without windows for shoving genetically modified foods into our gullets and then trying to duck their culpability for what is now known about what some of those foods do to our bodies... not to mention what they've done to farmers by forcing them to use seeds they have to buy every year because they're "engineered" not to do what seeds are *supposed* to do, i.e. reproduce.

But it doesn't change.  Why doesn't it change?

No seriously, why doesn't it change??

I've watched two presidential debates now and a vice-presidential debate and this wasn't brought up.  Not once.  Yes, we're all worried about The Economy.  But why aren't we worried about Our Food??  What about Our Land?  Our Water?  Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?  Anybody out there willing to take a hit to The Economy in order for us to have healthy food to eat?  Because I personally don't think I could subsist on eating debit cards, credit card statements or my retirement portfolio.

So another reason I haven't written all year is that I've spent months now reading about this and thinking about it and it's very hard for me to figure out how this is going to end well.  For some stupid reason, the issues around pollution of our food sources and our land have become associated with "liberalism", which is a bunch of bullshit.  I really couldn't care less what your political stance is, you still have to eat, and you still would really prefer what you eat not be full of carcinogens and antibiotics, right?

Seriously, if anyone is actually reading this (not sure that'll be the case since I've not written in a while and you good people have other things to do), do you care about this?  Have you given it thought?  If you have, what have you thought about it?  What have you changed about how you approach food, what you buy, what you eat, etc.?  Has it affected how you vote?

Monday, April 30, 2012


So, I get an F for the last week of NaPoWriMo.  It was a busy week, and I am trying to be as easy on myself as possible as I seek to recover from my flare-up of anxiety disorder (so no staying up until the wee hours writing poems like I did last year).  I know this doesn't quite make up for missing a whole week, but on this final day of NaPoWriMo, I offer eight haiku, one for each day I missed, and one for today.


Grey morning.  A flash
of red outside my window,
bright wings changing things.

I keep my windows
open, listening to the
laughing child outside.

Public libraries
soothe me.  I am one among
many travellers.

The weight of grocery
bags reminds me that I am
strong, and I am blessed.

My Dad still lifts weights.
This gives me hope that I’ll be
cool when I’m his age.

Night-times are hard, but
I am comforted that day
always comes.  Always.

Sometimes I catch my
breath in wonder at the pure
beauty of my friends.

Thank You, Father God,
for words that sing, bringing peace
to a troubled heart.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


So I didn't write yesterday's poem and am playing catch-up again.  The first poem is a sedoka, which is another Japanese form (like the tanka).  It is in 5-7-7/5-7-7 form, and there is a turn in perspective between the stanzas.  The second poem is a waka, which is a) a hilarious word and b) another form of tanka.  It is in 5-7/5-7, 7 form, with the final line of 7 being a refrain, paraphrase or restatement of another part of the poem.

It is difficult
to remain in the present,
to let worry go.

Help me to escape and

lose my fears in the sound of
the rain on the leaves

I don’t want to drag
you with me through those dark rooms.

But I can’t help it.

They are context. I still live
with those dark rooms behind me.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


I've missed a couple of days, so I'm catching up here.


Everything bears marks of everything else.

This street has tire tracks
from where he hit his brakes too hard.
That sidewalk still has chalk on it
from where the children played weeks ago.

This tree has a name carved in it,
and a stub from where you cut off a branch.
This chair has leaves and pollen on it,
and that one a stain from
where she dropped her glass of wine.

Even the raindrops have fallen before
in another place, in another time…
have soaked other soil,
have changed other plans,
have made other streets shine.

We are marked, all of us,
made up of matter that
came from outside ourselves.
We are made up one another,
porous and fluid
and spilling into each other,

Like these raindrops, running together,
down the window,
down the wall,
out of sight,
into time.


Here's another tanka...


His stories are of

himself. His history is
his clear obsession.

Locked in a mirrored room, he
struggles to find a window.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Tonight's poem is a "tanka", a poetic form consisting of a haiku (5-7-5) with an additional two lines (7-7).  The haiku portion ends with a noun or a verb, and the final two lines represent some form of turn in perspective.  It's probably my favorite poetic form.


These words are what I
have, and tears.  All I can do
is ask You to hear.

You have the power to weave
prayers into time’s tough fabric.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


There was a time when I read Sartre’s line
“hell is other people”
and nodded my head in agreement.
That time was, of course, high school,
and I was, of course, a jerk.

What I have learned, and am learning
is that other people make life worth living.
Sometimes they make us crazy.
Some people are bad and cruel.

But most of the time, they’re not.
If you smile, many people smile back.
A pleasant word does change your day.
Hours spent with a friend can heal you.

With every year that passes
I learn with greater certainty
that we need each other terribly
that we aren’t meant to be alone,

and that Sartre was wrong.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Today's poem is two haiku.  It feels familiar to me, like I've written it before, but I can't find a record of having done that, so maybe I've only ever written it in my head.  :^)


Our dreams animate
us, pump blood through our veins and
give us our purpose.

To ridicule a
dream is to murder. Watch your
tongue. It’s a weapon.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

for Nyah

I want to be like you, little girl…
climbing up the ladder to the slide,
carefully calibrating your
2 year old sense of balance
with every step.  Sliding down
arms raised, hair flying back,
yelling “yay!!” at the bottom,
and climbing right back up again.

I want to be like you, little girl…
Going up to the taller, steep slide,
climbing up, speeding down,
bumping on the ground at the bottom
but only crying with your Mama for a minute
before you were off again
in search of something new.

I want to be like you, little girl…
I want to consider the bad things
anomalous.  I want to forget they exist.
I want my fear to be
no match for my wonder.
I want to always look
for the new thing, the next thing
without looking back, afraid.

I want to be like you, little girl…
I want to remember how to be free.

bus therapy

Sundays are the worst.

Almost twenty years I’ve been a single adult
and I thought I had Sundays down.
But sometimes something shakes loose,
and the loneliness of Sundays
is an almost audible howl.

So when an online friend said
“sometimes I just get on the bus and ride”,
I saw rescue, hopped the nearest bus,
and rode.

I saw both sides of my city,
the K Street with bars on the windows
and the K Street without.
I saw how few blocks there are
between a “bad” neighborhood
and a “good” one.

I felt my own discomfort
as we rode past battered houses,
and I watched until it went away.
(It almost always does, you know)

And in this way I was rescued,
reminded once again that I am not alone
among the solo travelers.

And neither are you.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I decided to sit in the park
as much because there was
no one to go home to
as anything else.

So when the two year old toddled up,
set down his toy train,
sat beside me and said
“Why you sitting here?”

I wanted to say “apparently,
I was waiting for you.”

He pointed to his train,
and said “Is my TRAIN!!”
I said, “It’s a very nice train.”
And so our conversation went.

His Russian Grandmother explained
in self-conscious, broken English
how it troubled her that she
could not understand what he was saying.

So we were for 15 minutes
--in the park, in the sun--
a trio separated by years,
language, cognition… each trying
to make ourselves understood,

brought together briefly
by the kindness of a small child
who saw a stranger sitting alone,
and decided to tell her about his train.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

thank you

For many people, but particularly for a friend who prayed tonight as though she truly understood, because she does.

thank you

To speak of prayer publicly
seems like sacrilege somehow…
an unwarranted barging
into the Holy of Holies,
brandishing a flashlight
and shouting, “follow me, boys!!”

But I have to say thank you
for praying for me.
Thank you for entering in
and feeling what I felt

for digging your hands
into the cold, dark soil
and raising your hands
up to God, to show Him,

and to ask Him to bring light
to the darkness.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Just one more haiku in order to catch up. 


Everybody needs
to know they are not alone.
No exceptions.


I have had a rough couple of days, and haven't really been in much of a frame of mind to write poetry as a result.  Here are two short poems as my makeup assignment for missing two days of NaPoWriMo.  They are, of course, in the procrastinating poet's favorite form, the haiku.


Thank God for every
calm moment.  Breathe in, breathe out.
This itself is prayer.


I know that You can
calm the storm.  I know You will.
But I don’t know when.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I didn’t realize until today
that I eat alone most Easters.
There are things you become used to,
so much so that you forget.

Then this afternoon, under the sun,
shaded by trees, eating
Lebanese food with all the
other Easter refugees,

I noticed the hole that wasn’t there.

In the laughter and conversation,
the cups of tea, the breeze,
it had simply gone away.
I looked around and saw my family
and felt my hope resurrected,

Saturday, April 7, 2012


I needed to hear it tonight.

In the darkened cathedral,
I could feel the weight
of my fears
every time they said

They read of Ezekiel
in the Valley of Dry Bones,
when You said
“I will bring them to life”,
and I felt the weight lift.

They read the prophets
who predicted You,
and the apostles
who wrote of Your rising,
and I felt the weight lift.

And with every declaration,
“He is risen!!  Alleluia!!”
I felt myself clinging to it,
as if for the first time…
He is risen.  There is hope.
He is risen.  There is hope.

You don’t have to be afraid any more.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

There are years when I cannot face
Gethsemane and Golgotha.
There are years of bad news and anxiety
and too much of both.

This year, You knew I couldn’t face it,
so You went ahead and sent me
resurrection, in the form of my
friend and her folks, rescuing me.

This year, You sent me
two hours in a sunny garden,
talking and laughing and
forgetting my fear
rather than to Gethsemane.

And rather than to Golgotha,
You gave me an evening listening to
stories, sharing music and recipes
and nachos and that awkward bit
with the compost bin, and laughter.

This year, rather than drag me back
through Your death,
You reminded me that You are risen,
and that resurrection happens
every day.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


For whatever has gone before
and whatever there is to come
it is clear that you are loved now.

For whatever may have hurt you
and whatever pain may await,
it is clear that you have friends now.

For whatever may have shaped you
and whatever may form you yet,
it is clear that the love you have given
has been given and given again,
bread cast upon the waters
and coming back to you thirty-fold.

For whatever love you have lacked before
for whoever may fail you in the future,
know that you are loved now.
You are loved now.
You are loved now.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Tonight, my head is swirling:
Allergies, bruised brain,
thoughts and emotions,
neurons firing like a crazy
carnival sideshow,
lights flashing and out of control.

But unlike most in this city,
I don’t have a car to isolate me.
I may feel crazy and out of control,
but at least I have the train.

The train is a great equalizer,
reminding me that we are all
travelers, and that time beats the crap
out of all of us, and that no matter what,
this too shall pass.

No one wants to be on this platform
at 9:30pm on a Wednesday.
No one likes waiting 15 minutes in the dark.
We all have a long way til we’re home.

There’s a slender young woman with bad purple hair
and a man on his phone who just got off work.
There’s a big guy with a do-rag
bopping his head
to whatever is coming through his headphones.

We are all marking time,
our disparate rhythms unified
by the rocking of the train
on its rails.

The patois of partly heard conversations
lulls me into quiet.
Even with flickering lights
and sparking wheels,
this train brings me calm.

One thing we all long for
is to know that we’re not alone.
And another is to know
that we’ll safely make it home.

God bless you, fellow travelers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


I have a candle burning
that I bought from a botanica,
a store that sells love potions,
rosaries, and African fertility gods…
your one-stop source for religious supplies.

I bought this candle for a project
and then promptly forgot it.  For two years,
Cristo de los Milagros has languished,
oozing cheap wax in a brown paper bag
beneath a small bookcase.

But I came to a point of saturation…
so many people around me in pain,
so many troubled, and my own small
worries and weaknesses
threatening to overwhelm me.

I needed something to represent
prayers never ceasing,
a presence in my room
pushing against the dark,
reminding me that light wins.

For two days now
Cristo de los Milagros has flickered,
always at the edge of my eyesight,
prompting me to pray, reminding me
of warmth and light.

I can feel myself healing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

2012 (or why I've stopped listening to the news)

So for NaPoWriMo Day 2, I'm writing a cheery little poem about the end of the world.

2012 (or why I've stopped listening to the news)

I know it's just a number.

Even the living Mayan elders
have said the world's not ending.
And you know, they didn't calculate
for leap year.  So really, we're ok.

But it doesn't help.

Because really, it's a symbol
for our collective agitation
at what we know about ourselves
and really wish we didn't.

We know that we can hurt people
that we've never even met
because we bought a product
that supports those who enslave them.

We know that any leader
can manipulate our minds
and then turn into a person
we would never put in power.

We know the climate's changing.
We know that debt is rising.
We know how poor the poor are.
We know that we are "rich".

We have friends in far-flung places.
We know we're all connected,
but I don't know my neighbors
or live near my best friends.

We know of many leaders
who are devouring their people.
We know of wars that do not end.
We know of hungry people
that we cannot reach to feed.

I'm in no mood for Doomsday,
but it's a place to put the rumblings,
that constant low-grade humming
that keeps me from my sleep.

That sense that something's coming
that this can't go on forever.
There's too much blood crying
from the ground,
and I think that God must hear.

2012's our stand-in
for our collective mea culpa
for all that we have left undone
for all the things we're blind to

for all we cannot change.

Saturday, March 31, 2012


Well, folks, it's that time again... and by "that time", I mean NaPoWriMo.  I've been going through a very desert-y time creatively speaking, so I've been looking forward to this A LOT.  So here's the First Poem I've Written In A Little While.  NaPoWriMo, so glad you're back.


Cracks in the foundation let in
water, and bugs, and occasionally
a small mouse or two.

But also dandelion seeds, blowing

from the neighbor's yard
that took root, and now
there are five little suns shining.

I woke up this morning rattled

and shaking, and frightened
by my fear.  Why doesn't my
faith shield me from this suffering?

But then I experienced 

your smile as a baptism of light,
your presence as a cool summer shower.

It is my grey and crumbling landscape

that lets me see you,
standing in the middle of it
and shining.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

SPARK Round 15: done and done

So, despite the scatteredy-ness of my brain these days what with work and so many other things, I did manage to produce a couple of poems for SPARK. Greatly appreciated working with Jenny Mathews on this round, and love both of her pieces.

Jenny's inspiration piece and my response are here, and my inspiration piece and Jenny's response are here.

If you're interested in participating in SPARK at some point, there's deets on the site. I never fail to find this a really nourishing and encouraging experience. Plus, it makes me write, which is sometimes a challenge.

Peace out.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lament – for what is and what cannot be

(Image to the right is "God Speaks to Job from the Whirlwind" by William Blake, and I found it here.)

The below is a piece I wrote this morning for our "Liturgy for Anxious Times" at Church of the Common Table. People responded really favorably, some with how they resolve these tensions in themselves and some by merely acknowledging how it resonated with them, so I thought I'd share it here.

Lament - for what is and what cannot be

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.

Thank You for my job. Thank you for my paycheck… oh dear Jesus, THANK YOU for my paycheck. Thank You for my beautiful nieces. Thank You for the miracle of my little church community. Thank You for my generous, caring, and gentle friends. Thank You for my warm and cozy apartment. Thank You for my health. Thank You for my pleasant and safe walk from the Metro to my apartment and back. Thank You for the cherry trees in the courtyard outside my window.

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about the women repeatedly raped by the members of the LRA in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not a day.

I force myself not to think of the burned bodies of Christians murdered by Islamic militants in Nigeria.

I try not to think too hard about the Government slaughter of innocents in Syria, Iran, and even in Egypt as those people press for change. I try not to think of all the horrific murders in Mexico and Colombia, victims of the drug war. I try not to think of the torture of dissidents in China. I try not to think of those who are “disappeared” all over the world for speaking out against the Governments of their nations.

Every day I live with this, Father, “comfortable” at the top of the food chain –and truly, truly grateful for what I have-- but sick with what I know happens in this world. I know that for many people, I –a privileged white American— have a causal connection to the rest of the world’s suffering… that, to some, I am an enzyme in the gut of the American monster, parasitic and pointless as she goes about ravaging the world.

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.

I cannot shut out the suffering I read about.
And I can’t believe that all those who suffer are among the “unrighteous”
And I cannot do much to help them at all.
And I am afraid that if I complain too loud that I will suffer, too.

And the truth is I struggle to get through the things that concern me in my life. My own life is enough stress for me to deal with. Work, bills, health, life decisions, relationships, chores, the mere getting back and forth between places in the DC metropolitan area… it’s all enough pressure, and sometimes it seems like too much.

I really thought I’d be helping more, LORD. I thought I’d be doing more to help the world.

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.

I love You and I long to believe in Your goodness, and I know that the world’s evil can’t be blamed on You… that it also has to be blamed on the failure of people to act for justice. I know that someone sold the LRA their guns. I know that many of the arms on the world market are there because they were sold after the Cold War. I don’t blame You for that.

But, but… I have seen the righteous forsaken, and their children begging for bread. Not my family, not anyone around me. But I don’t believe that the “righteous” are only those who go to my church. I can’t believe that those who suffer deserve it. And I can’t make it make sense. I can’t just live with it and not feel anxious.

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.

LORD, I want to be a force for hope. I want to be so much more than I am, to be able to take the gifts and the immense privilege that You have given me, and to share that, somehow... to make up for what I have that the vast majority of people do not. On good days, I feel like Esther, with Mordecai saying “you were put here, in this place, for this hour, so that you can influence those in power.” But LORD, I feel so powerless… physically comfortable, psychologically very uncomfortable, and unable to influence *anyone* of importance.

And in truth, I don’t know that justice can be done as long as I stay at the top of the food chain. I don’t know that.

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.

Forgive me, LORD, if my questions are a sin. I know that You know all and that I don’t. I know that You know of the plight of the suffering around the world. But what scares me is I’m sure that those women in the Congo pray, and pray fervently, every day… unless they’ve stopped because they’re too traumatized to pray. What scares me is that I am sure that everyone who is oppressed and terrified prays. So why are the nightmarish, parasitical leaders of so many nations still so powerful? I know that my country has upheld dictators in the past when it served our strategic interests. I know that everywhere that there is (or might be) oil, my country has a strategic interest. This makes me sick.

I mourn for what I thought was possible in my life. I mourn for my own contradictions. I mourn for those who suffer, and I mourn for the blindness of some who do not. I mourn for the vision of America that I was raised with, that is so complicated to me now. I want to hope, I want to help others hope, but I have to be honest with You, LORD, I am afraid for this world. Please forgive me.

Sometimes I fear that You will speak to me out of the whirlwind
and sometimes I fear that You won’t.