Category Archives: Poetry

Lament for the climate

Trees Clapping by Brenda Bogart

There’s Wendell Berry writing,
quill plucked from a wild turkey with thanks,
sitting in his Kentucky cabin
voting absentee for Amy McGrath.

“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Take a deep breath

Because among us normals,
ballpoint crushed into the back seat rug,
sitting on 95 smelling fumes,
we’re sipping sodas with plastic straws.

When despair grows in us
and we wake in the night to gunshot pops
in fear of what our lives and our children’s lives may be,
we go and lie down where the AC
hums with a restful buzz in the night air, while the great sirens blare
to disturb to pieces the silence
that might settle on the neighborhood
of grief. They come into the presence of street trees
feeling above the light pollution
for a twinkling star. For a time
we listen for them to leave our block, and we sleep.

Take a deep breath.
Yes take a deep breath.

Because over all the world
prophets fill up reams of webpages;
they ponder and sip imported wine,
pen warnings under pics of burned pines.

The despair grows in the world
when we see another shot of a seal
chewing on a plastic bottle on a littered beach
while powers dash to sign the first lease
on a wild Alaskan landscape, elk breath groaning into cold air,
snorting clouds up like morning prayers,
their bodies sensing the immanence
of grief. And we too buy a window with better seal,
hoping a child doesn’t breathe the air,
or hear the dire prayers. For a time
we watch them sleep, then order a tree. We’ll plant it.

Take a deep breath
a breath of the world’s breath,
and dream of God’s future in that tree.

Turning

Paul ran away up the forest road
until our voices echoed into the fall
demanding he stop.
Nana labored down the way,
irresistibly tempted to run with his youth.

When Lulu picked up a bright red leaf,
she held it up for inspection,
insisting we stop —
our time suspended in glory,
in gratuitous art, strewn on the Temple floor.

I wanted to climb the fallen trees
to honor how they once stretched to the sky
then came to a stop:
their roots upended in crisp air;
the hole awaiting snow coming to fill the wound.

We thought we might make a root ball home,
roofing the pit to keep out the looming darkness.
But we had to stop
and motor back through the leaf storm
to warm climbs of normality as the world turned.

Lend me a hand Francis

Lend me a hand, Francis,
and pull me onto the road
leading to the sun, sunrise and sunset,
ending up who-knows-where in trust.

Take my hand, Jesus,
and pull me out of the sea
ebbing into the past, sunset to sunrise,
leaving behind who-knows-what to trust.

The road is fearfully new.
My doing had a lot of being in it.
Now my being must discover what to do.
The tide of yesterday inevitably pulls out.

Take my hand, Francis,
and walk with me on the way –
you who stopped wondering where you were going,
and help me listen to the birds sing.

Lend me your hand, Jesus,
and keep me from sinking –
you who became small and suffered so in love,
please make my way full of your heart song.

The road is wonderfully new.
I feel guilty for sleeping eight hours last night.
I’m a kitten on grass in a strange backyard.
The tide of tomorrow is pulling down my castle
as the sun dawns on another Francis Day.

You in my mother: A psalm for Mother’s Day

50th Anniversary song

When I call you “Mother,” Lord,
I don’t often think of my mother.
She seems to have kept her spirit locked away.
At least she never revealed it to me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to being bad,
Bravely sailing on her own path with her sailor.

I should take another look
And find you in her nature and love.
I seem to have missed you as I turned away
And left her wondering where my faith took me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to go new ways,
Bravely sailing on my own path with my Sailor.

But You were in my own backyard
As well as in the endless dawn —
In her laughter, optimism and perpetual pluck,
In her courage and friendships and hospitality,
In her wonder, curiosity and righteous fury:
Making a cake, talking to the dog,
Loving a game, having a chat,
Keeping the peace, playing a prank.

You found me on my mother’s path
And I met you in my mother’s fashion —
In all the playful ways you have turned to me,
In the way I see you finding me funny:
Rebellious, willful, we resist the ways of the world,
Bravely sailing on everyone’s path to fullness.

I don’t know Mom’s destination.
But I have seen your destination in her,
And mine.
And I give thanks.

Lockdown grief and joy

We’ve been packing up our house for quite a while. Now we are at the last moment before the move this week. So that was disorienting enough!

Then Covid-19 stole the best together-times of the year: the sunrise meeting for Resurrection Sunday and the parties afterward. Gwen and I usually have a party. I was sad enough about moving and missing things until family and friends started telling us how much they were missing things with me! So on the most joyous day of the year, I was sad, too.

Angie sent over a video that made me cry for joy and tear up for sadness because a flash mob was praising God in the mall but we can’t do that together right now.

So that’s how it is this year. The lockdown finally got to me on Easter. But it feels kind of fresh, too. On Good Friday, I wrote the poem that follows. I thought I’d put it out there again, now that I know even better how we all have a bittersweet taste in our mouths: sweet from Easter candy and bitter from Easter coronavirus. Things may never be the same for us this year, because of joy or because of sadness, but Jesus will be our joy and ever with us in our sadness.

On Friday, my thoughts turned to the terror and ecstasy of birth. I’ve got a feeling we are all being cleansed in a way by this strange, communal experience of “social distancing” and the threat of catching the virus.  I know I feel like something new is being born. It made me think of another notable birth I experienced.

My wife was as big as a barn.
Her water broke with a flood
and the twins rode the river.

The birthing room was a bedlam:
our household peeking in,
a class walking through gaping.

Crazy, wondrous — jolt after jolt.
The first twin came out blue,
The next surfed out, tubing it.

Grief — surrounded on the table.
Joy — held by a slimy ankle.
I was suspended between.

The blue baby pinked up enough,
the flying one tucked up next.
And the birth-threatened love lived.

All was well again.

Awake at 3, the night bird sang;
I’m awake to listen.
And then the siren sounded.

The song of love met the tragic:
a tulip pushes up,
a loved one moves through the veil.

Our grief is budding out this year
like an unknown blossom
in a dystopic garden.

Our birthing room is a bedlam:
Peeking, pushing, pinking.
We are suspended between.

All will be well again.

The lost moleskin

I had a new moleskin in which to write poetry. I have lost it in the chaos of my house as we get ready to move. The reality inspired my psalm today.

I had turned a poetic page
to pencil in a new moleskin:
…..one free of lines,
…..one more expansive and new,
…..one now completely out of view.

I wander my boxed-up world
unpacking what now can’t transport:
…..a book I never read,
…..a folder rarely needed,
…..a move now fully impeded.

Yet here we sit in disheveled mess –
quarantine, lockdown, stay-at-home test.
And you resolutely show your face:
the smallest touch,
the sweetest look,
the ease of much,
the weird Facebook.
In all the church
now all online
the birds on perch
sing all the time.
And there is joy in our messy place.

My moleskin will rise in time,
A witness to what can’t be seen —
…..an order like the dawn,
…..one more expansive and new,
…..one now completely out of view —
by me, not You.

Don’t let the change horse get away

We’re weeks away from things that may not happen till who knows when –.
…..the coronavirus contributions to life make former anxieties seem odd.
Somehow, it seems like it is a new world and all we can do is change –
…..like Covid-19 is a means to reorient us like Peter meeting Sapphira:
the old order of greed and lies generating control and oppression
…..meets the new order of “You all manifestly don’t know what you’re talking about.”

So it seems like a good time to change,
…..since that horse has left the barn.
Chase it down and ride it.

Seeing a disease as a blessing may not be welcomed without a fight –
…..even among  you friends who are kindly used to me, and still love me.
But somehow we were consigned to a locked room for self examination,
…..and I can’t bear the thought of watching the entire Netflix catalogue.
Instead, I am face to face with the traits with which I was bored anyway,
…..And your voice seems clear, “You manifestly don’t need to be as you were before.”

So it seems like a good time to change
…..in ways that did not seem likely.
It’s a post-Covid world.

Let there be peace on earth.
…..May the disease teach us all the lessons people are learning, like me.
But let it begin with me.

It is always risky to look at the past and be inspired to leave it
…..because the past contains all those reasons you never change.
And it is risky to write a psalm that implies one is changing by the end of it,
…..since it could easily idealize a process that is more pea patch than lab.

Yet it seems like a good time to change
…..in ways that defy assessment –
with you on a wild ride.
…..May the disease teach me all the lessons people like me are learning
like your Spirit is moving.

 

Would you like to hear me read it?

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The robin

We drove our car with guilty stealth
lest someone see us risk our health,
risk the virus for a glimpse
of children and their children.

By my son’s drive the robin stood
and unmoved stayed, although he could
see a tire tread head his way
with piercing eye and wisdom.

I thought that he would surely fly
afraid, like me, someone  would die,
escape the germy humans
with their faulty, big machines.

I spoke my awe with words quite kind
and asked him what he had in mind.
He chirped and looked me over
and then calmly hopped away.

Today I woke with sweaty palms
and birdsong singing springtime calm,
singing peace on earth for all
God’s children and their children.

And here I stand before my tire,
a chirp, a song, a thought quite dire,
a choice to stand and listen
as the Lord produces dawn.

 

Maybe you’d like to hear me read it.

 

The bellows: A psalm for my troubled friend

bellows

The relationship wounds me.
Loving them winds around my minutes
like a prickly vine.
My bleeding alarms me.

My arms are open wide —
sinking beneath the surface,
still as a rock on the bottom,
watching my trouble float downstream.

When I go by their door again
I want to turn the knob and risk —
resenting their inattention,
terrified of their illness.

My hands are on my heart;
my arms embrace my torso —
cradling that poor child in me
who is feeling old, aching fear.

We will hold their hand
and accompany me and them,
and accept the longing
for security and trust.

Letting go and letting in
is the bellows of spiritual fire;
the breathing of prayer keeps me alive
as I face all my dying places.

Kindness by Naomi Shahib Nye

Sometimes I find poems that I want to keep. So I thought I’d add them to your collection, as well. This one by Naomi Shihab Nye invites us into the great grief of the world. In the communal cup of loss we share we find our deepest kinship with each other and the living world and beneath it, the kindness of our creator leading us beyond, the movement of Jesus through the world into eternal life after loss.

Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? — Romans 2:4

Kindness -- Naomi Shahib Nye

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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