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I worry about writing about racism. How good, how honest is my anger and grief? Racism is not, after all, part of my lived experience. Nor is it someone else’s job to educate me on this subject. It is my own. However, in the glaring light of continued, brutal racism in this country, it is up to me to do something. But what? There are resources abundantly available. In the meantime, let’s begin with the easiest thing of all: de-colonizing our bookshelves.

As a child my shelves were full
of children like me and not like me,
from as far off as China, as near
as next door. My vision narrowed
as I grew and neglected to prune.
It is time, and a task we all can do:
Examine the color of your books:
Whose life are you reading —
only your own? The one you know?
Learn to read someone else’s
and share what you find there.
Soak up what’s in the pages,
sound out the consonants
of someone else’s journey.
For every book that comforts,
choose one that does not.
Self-teach a whole new vision.
Start at page one.

God does not send in vengeful fury a plague,
but holds the hands of the dying and asks:
What can you learn?
God does not smash the dams, sending
rivers raging over home and hearth,
but heals, shields, restores and asks (oh so gently):
What did you learn?
And when God shows us the beauty of silence,
of water and air free of debris, of nature healing,
and we roar instead for haircuts and sweaty congregation,
ocean-front suntans and the snarl of traffic,
God only sighs and asks, in endless, enduring refrain:
Will you learn?
Will you learn?
Will you learn?

Mother Teresa once said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This quote finds its echo in Emily Dickinson’s poem “Not in Vain” (one of my favorites): “If I can stop one heart from breaking,/ I shall not live in vain:/ If I can ease one life the aching,/ or cool one pain,/ or help one fainting robin/ unto his next again,/ I shall not live in vain.”

We may not be able to do great things now. But we can do small things that require great love: wearing a facemask, not for ourselves, but for others. Giving up small pleasures like drinking in bars or going to concerts, not because we are afraid, but because we are concerned about those who are vulnerable. Small things. Big results.

Let us take a turn at small things:
the flat of a hand signing acceptance;
the sigh of small voices that soften,
somehow, a bellow; the breath
that says, simply, “yes.”
To return a robin to the nest
is greater than, and will go further,
than any act of anger. Our times require
saints, not soldiers, and sainthood is accrued
one small gesture at a time.

So much divides us.
Our brokenness blares
in the roar of raised voices,
in deeds, once done, binding,
in blame, in bludgeoning beating blame.

Breathe.
No one is out to get you.
We are all just muddling though.
Routine will be restored in good time.
Or not. We will learn to live with change.

There was once a flood.
Tirades against the rising tide
were drowned in the noise of thunder.
When waters ebbed, the world was new.
We breathed, moved onto land, began.

[Note: The following is a collaboration between Krissy Mosley of Visionarie Kindness and Lori Strawn of Praypower4Today. Krissy’s words are in bold; Lori’s in regular type.]

In the deep dark depths
where lost things go
Outside, at the bottom of ourselves
three steps down before the sidewalk begins
where the heartbeats are faster against the pavement
I found among the roots
and angled shoots a stone
that mended the spot in my soul
where once a wall stood.
I took it.
palpitations rapid, helpless hearts are fallen
stricken — what will it be now?
to hope in vain
to pray and never get an answer
blow by blow, wave after wave,

Though all falls to rubble,
though my spine is plucked
like the pith of an orange,
but suddenly through this gush of disaster
long before I stepped outside to wonder
long before the aromatic taste of morning 

I will not fail. Faith, like all
final things, falters, falls,
loses footing, fades, then
surges, sure as the sun
we’ve been circling since
long before our tragedies
were named.
Hope’s on the scene
plunging out the dark-dank air
pressing fear into faith:
second wind’s arising.

 

Some feel the squish and yield
beneath their fingers and feel
possibilities emerge: a pot,
a tray, an urn. Others watch
the wheel spin with a kind of
lonely terror. Some make
masterpieces, others works
of humble worth. All are adequate.
We need not feel a need to craft
that which we cannot, with energy,
conceive. Make only what you can.
Leave the final mold to the Master.
Accept the lump before you as something
that may be, with love, of service, recalling this:
it takes the kiln’s killing heat to render us unbreakable.

We are all dragging crosses
of one weight or another.
If yours is light, look for
the burdened and take an end.
Try not to shift your cargo
onto the shoulders of another.
Just because you do not see
backs bending with exertion
does not mean great weight
is not borne. If you cry out
and no one hears, remember:
the universe has ears.
Your wail will be recorded
in the nature of the wind,
in storms, in the distress
of newly shorn grass.
It will echo down to the
atoms of loam and clay.
The biosphere must change.
Those who will not bend
will find themselves waking,
as if from sleep, to a world
they only dimly know, a place
where touch leaves ripples,
even in air, and hearts can leap
like fish across whole oceans.

Just in time for Easter — the second of my collaborations with Krissy Mosley of Visionarie Kindness. The topic was suggested by Miss Ruth, a meditation on the storms currently battering the life of a mutual friend. No matter how dark our nights are, Easter always arrives. (My words are in italics; Krissy’s in regular type.)

I see prayers being answered.
I see clouds gather like a furrowed brow.
I see miracles so clear, light blue skies before the evening
I see storms mounting, a menagerie of shades of gray
I see nations closing the gap not out of fear but faith.
I see faith fragile as an old bone.
I see a faith that crosses religious lines
Wind whipping, blowing change faster

interconnections — preceding daybreak.
than we ourselves can follow.

Purified waters in hyssop, “washed whiter than snow”
God spreads his hands and smiles.

God with blue ink, he writes upon our red hearts
Nothing is written in stone

just so you know.
God visits our tears
He wipes them with holes
in his hands.
He says to me — He says to all of man
I bear it, my child, you’re not alone.
And, in an instant, Easter morning.

We’re an upbeat crowd around here, but we’re also realistic. So when I heard about David Kessler, an expert on grief, explaining that we ought not to “pole vault” over our pain, I was intrigued. What is pole vaulting in this sense? It’s a coping mechanism. It’s putting on a happy face, determining to see only the positive, while inside you very real, deep (and even dark) emotions swirl and rise.

Perhaps you think, “I have no reason to grieve; no one I know personally has died.” Or “I’m not on the front lines; I have no right to complain.” True, but these times are not like any we’ve lived through before. It’s natural to be sad. Or frightened. Or hurt. And it’s natural — healthy — to express these feelings and work through them.

Dealing with what you’re feeling isn’t easy. But repressing your emotions will only buy time…sooner or later, you have to face pain. But maybe — just maybe — if we all walk through it together, it won’t be so hard?

The morass rises despite our blindness.
I see daily the faces of those who confront it:
the masks leave marks; their eyes hold
a lonely road I fear to tread.
The enormity of my blessings begs me
to be still, but my heart heeds no logic.
Loss laps at our feet. What bridge across,
we must built ourselves out of tag ends
of empathy and empty toilet paper tubes.
It isn’t much. Call across the chasm
as loud as you can, and you will
hear an Easter sound: God weeps
with us. The hard way through
demands much, but it does not ask
that we go alone.

Today marks an auspicious occasion: The first (I hope of many) poetic collaborations between Krissy Mosley (of Visionarie Kindness) and me! Let me tell you a bit about Krissy. See, I write poems; Krissy creates wordscapes. You see her poems. You smell them. You taste them. They take you from the low rumbling of words mumbled in a darkened room to the soaring heights of a gospel anthem. Please do check out her blog!

A word of explanation: Krissy’s words are in bold, mine in italic. You can read the poems separately, or as one, which I believe is the way they were always meant to be.

We taste hope just as the first lizard of the morning sticks out her tongue 
You’d not notice.
It takes, as they say, an eye.

to catch the beauty of the blue-winged dragonfly
Still, spring cannot be contained;
it bursts into bud: daffodils nodding,
blonde and careless, trees shaking down

three-doors down, in a small caddis, vagrant-vacant lot dripping with hunger 
petals, unseasonal flurries. New grass
pokes shyly from the lawn, and smells,
cut, just as it did last summer.

Hope has no fairy tales with rewarding endings 
We are not the same, shaken
as only the most microscopic
menaces can make us. Yet.
Hopes lives in the lives of shattered things 
Nothing can impede the rush to Easter.
The stone rolls away, light as an egg.
destined for rapture, of better things
What lies inside is awaiting us.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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