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Thanksgiving gives me mixed emotions. Yes, it is a time of joy, a celebration of the Plymouth colony’s first successful harvest. They would never have survived without the help of the Wampanoag (which translates to “People of the First Light”), who showed them how and when to plant and reap the foods that would sustain them through their second winter in America. (During the first terrible winter, nearly half of them died.) But what happened to the Wampanoag tribe after the first Thanksgiving is the stuff of nightmares — illness decimated them, war (with colonists and other tribes) nearly finished them off. It’s enough to dash anyone’s joy.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 for one very important reason: President Lincoln was desperately trying to find something that might bring the divided nation together, if only for one day — one good day. And while the first Thanksgiving probably ran for several days, those were good days, too. Any day spent in fellowship is a good day.

Thanksgiving this year, in many ways, hearkens back to Thanksgivings of old. As a nation, we remain bitterly divided politically. Those on the margins face terrible persecution. But mightn’t we still manage to have one good day together?

Let us meet where the good is,
where the God-in-us overlaps.
In that place of touching, let us find thanks
for that which holds the center,
for the still spot around which history spins,
for what we know of one another,
God-formed and God-blessed.
Let our feasting feed the seeing side of us.
One good day may come, rising in the East
where the people of the first light still linger,
spreading sun, a shared blanket,
passing bread from mouth to mouth.

Shelley Flannery and I became friends over matching shoes. This was back in first grade, when such things were not only possible but probable. We both wore red Mary Janes on the first day of school, and that, as they say, was that. It seemed a perfectly reasonable basis for a friendship, especially as the first thing I’d ever read (two years earlier, in my sister’s first grade primer) was a story about two girls bonding over having worn the same red dress to school. First grade primers are never wrong.

Finding common ground gets harder as we grow older; instead, we become focused on differences. Yet just the other night in the grocery store, this occurred: a man tapped my husband on the shoulder, and when he turned around, the man quickly apologized, saying, “I’m sorry; I thought you were my friend.”

To which my husband responded, “I’ll be your friend!” And the two shook hands. Maybe it can still be that easy. Maybe if we search out the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us, there’s hope for us yet.

You cannot find
what you do not seek.
Keep to what you know at heart:
We are all of us moving sacks of miracles,
made of the same well-trod dust.
Nothing plumed, furred or scaled
can know us better: know the feel of air
sluicing through our nostrils, the taste
of fruit (honey-smothered summer),
the way our bodies feel in flight.
Let us stumble over serendipity,
and finding it, delight in it.
Come, find yourself in the last place
you’d ever think to look,
in the body you do not know,
in the immanent place
our souls converge.

As autumn rolls in with blustery winds and leaf-strewn lawns, I find myself in a contemplative mood. This season, to me, is evocative of change and even sadness. It was in autumn that my father died. Several of my friends are also facing losses and challenges of a deeply personal kind. How we weather the season depends largely on thorough self-care and unflagging support from those who love us. Prayer, of course, always helps, too.


In the autumn of our days,
may all fall softly.
May heartache land lightly,
astounding us with color:
russet, gold, garnet.
Let us note the blue of the sky,
even as it bulges gray with rain.

May we, like the beasts,
gather what we need
in empathy and acorns,
scattered seed and gentle touch
to last the lean months ahead.
What we cannot glean,
let us amply share.

It is the way of things: Sometimes your prayer life will be rich and flowing, a jar of honey, a full wineskin. And sometimes, it won’t be. These are the dry times. And while of course we look primarily to our higher power for relief, sometimes relief flows through our fellow humans. Sometimes the smallest gesture can make a difference. And this is why I write: to gesture. Similar gestures are always welcome. Right now, I could use a few.

There will be dry times,
sere times,
times when parched prayers
crack and crumble to ash
before they can be mumbled
from lips numbed by dust.
There will be times so arid
rote turns to rictus
and you parch like a mummy
buried in sand, the weight of which
will not yield. When this happens,
remember: there is water somewhere,
a spring underground.
Your body will arch like a dousing rod,
knowing it, sensing it.
If I find it, I will tell you.
If you find it first, please come
with ladle or cup, thimble or thermos.
We must refresh each other
or we will die before we find
the single thing we seek.

I’ve been having one of those weeks. You know, the kind where every single thing seems to go wrong, to malfunction, to be (as Ruthie would say) hinky. I sent out an email with an attachment no one could open. I got to the end of yesterday’s chicken dinner recipe and realized I’d left out the chicken. The dishwasher went on a beeping tirade, apparently angry that it was being unloaded by such unskilled hands. The bird feeder fell apart, earning me swift and angry recriminations from formerly friendly feathered friends. Worst of all, we found out that our long-time money manager — a nice, Christian man whom we trusted — had been either criminally stupid or criminally criminal in the handling of our money. One way or the other, he didn’t do his job. And I got to thinking: What a wonder it is that anything works as it should. What a blessing! What a miracle! When so much can go wrong, how sweet it is when it doesn’t.

How good it is:
for hearts ticking true,
seeds splitting, green limbs unfurling,
leaves leafing toward sunny skies.
Things familiar as fall following summer,
April lingering to blot out blue March
like a shadow on a sidewalk.
True things: each branch that holds,
the cloud that does not rain down disaster,
all that clicks, swings, springs,
latches, locks, hooks and shuts,
again and again.
Precise. Predictable.
As ongoing as the love
we lean on when all else goes awry.

Sometimes my sweet, sleepy, lap-lying kitten will wake up and bite me for no apparent reason. His mother died before he was weaned, so he’s a little lacking in the etiquette department. Also, he thinks biting is fun. I have come to understand that biting (and clawing) is just something he does. I can correct him (politely) till the cows come home, but it won’t matter. Biting is part of his standard operating procedure.

It’s a lot like people. You can offer help or love to someone and be received with open ears and arms. Or you can be metaphorically bitten. The bottom line is: You can’t help someone who won’t help herself. So then, what does one do as a concerned, empathetic bystander?

Advice not wanted:
shut door, shutter shop.
Still, light steals in under the sill.
What we forget most often is this:
God does not fail us, nor people,
prayer, favor or fortune.
We fail ourselves.
Wake to the abundance of light.
Let it touch you tenderly.
Be willing to grab it though it may burn.
From scalding comes healing,
though you must choose this rougher road.
You do not walk it alone, no matter
what your eyes describe. Look —
there is light aplenty and green growth
for rest. It is enough if only you would know it.

You may have heard that all of the cells in your body completely regenerate every seven years; that is to say, every seven years you are a whole different person from the one you were before. This isn’t true of course, but it’s a fun thought to play with. It would mean that I am six people different from the little girl who wore Heaven Scent perfume and thought herself quite grown up. I would be two persons different from the woman who had eleven cats, but three persons divergent from the woman who only had two cats, as I do now.

I imagine my cells flipping over like scales, changing colors, going from green to blue to orange to purple, like a chameleon. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

Most of our cells do regenerate, at various rates. But what about our souls? Do we wear the same one, tattered and mended, or does our soul, like our body, wound and heal, growing (hopefully) more fit and lovely even as our bodies disintegrate?

Do you come
with needle and thread
to mend me in the night,
like a shoemaker’s elf?
Or do I unravel myself,
stretch warp and weft
with sin and sharp words,
only to patch with small heart
and clever stitches?
Will I ever be a garment
fit to wear before you?
I long for lace and finest silk,
but will wisely warm to burlap,
a tougher textile of longer wear.
Perhaps the itch of it against
my skin will keep me aware of it,
keep it spotless and altered to fit
the vagaries of my changing form.
I only hope to wear a worthy gown
when at last we meet.

Seems like there are a lot of suffering souls hereabouts. And though my hands hold no skills for restoring health, I can do what I do most often and best — pray for them.

Things are amiss:
bones need knitting,
wounds need stitching.

What we need is a carpenter,
someone with practice,
to mend and straighten,
make right and level.

Enter his shop by way of prayer.
Lie in his calloused palms;
Let him lovingly sort your joints.

Take all that is faulty
and make it well: mended
skins like a bolt of new cloth,
innards intricate as clockwork,
all ticking true time.

“The Eucharist is the bread of sinners, not a reward of saints.” – Pope Francis

We’re soaking in it —
not just our hands.
Steeped sinners all,
we gather, at table
for what will not fail us.
Christ’s broken bones hold no reproach.
It is invitation without exclusion.
All hands may have the crust
to touch both body and blood.
I would not stop them, for I am they, too.
And you? Come out from behind your politics
and know what time and hierarchy have hidden:
He who broke bread with Judas
would not turn him from the table.

My husband and I had just parked our car at the grocery store. As I got out of the car, I glanced into the car next to me. A quite normal-looking man (conservative haircut, wire glasses) had a large can of baked beans in one hand; with the other, he was scooping beans out of the can and into his mouth.

I was a little gobsmacked by this.

Two days later, still processing the incident, my husband asked where I wanted to eat lunch. “I don’t know,” I said. “We could drive to the grocery store and eat baked beans out the can with our fingers.” Deadpan, my husband looked straight into my eyes and replied, “We would need a nicer car.”

Sometimes life is so absurd, you just have to laugh.

Funny thing, life.
It hands you a joke
disguised as drama,
as awkward as an equine in an overcoat
trying to check out a book at the library.
You could weep at the incongruity,
or seize on the strangeness
and laugh yourself hoarse.
Stop trying to solve things.
Throw back your head.
Throw up your arms. Give in to the odd experiment
that is the universe.
When you’re in on the joke,
God will entrust you with things
you’re too wise to know now.

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