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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.

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.

I’ve been wondering for some time what God has planned for me and whether I am, in fact, mulishly resisting his call. I think my hearing is adequate. I say, certainly, that I am willing. So why do I remain standing alone, the wall at my back, watching others in the dance? Perhaps my partner is waiting for the right accompaniment?

Turn your will to music;
teach my heart to dance.
I will move to the tune of your making.
I will follow your footsteps as you lead.
I haven’t the grace you gave the stars,
pirouetting ever heavenward,
nor the artistry of angels,
nor the simple step of saints.
My raw parts hold no rhythm,
yet you call me to perform.
Here. I hold out my arms,
angled to envelop you.
Let us take up the tune
together.

My office is (mostly) a normal place. Sure, there are maybe too many model cars. I wouldn’t recommend opening the closet. And yes, there is a poster of a guy who looks a lot like Ted Allen of “Chopped” smiling benignly from the wall behind the door. No, it’s not Ted Allen. It’s Estes Kefauver.

Estes Kefauver was a politician from Tennessee. Among his noted accomplishments: He took on mob corruption. He took on big Pharma. He was the running mate of Adlai Stevenson, who (until recent times) was the winner of my personal award for “Best President We Should Have Had But Didn’t.” Why does Mr. Kefauver grace my office wall? That’s complicated. What’s more important is the slogan on the poster: “For All of You.”

Nowadays, it’s nigh-unto impossible to get anyone to do anything for “all of us.” Wearing masks, for instance. Taking a vaccine. Listening to reason. Just when exactly did “the common good” become none of our business?

Today, look into your heart and really examine what you would or would not do for “all of us.” Estes Kefauver, for instance, died in 1963 after a heart attack on the floor of the Senate, representing the good people of Tennessee to the bitter end. Jesus was crucified. And you? And me?

It is easy to love a pear,
hip-heavy as an old auntie,
golden, flecked, sweet to eat.

Harder to love a lemon,
seedy, hard to swallow,
still: sharp with possibility
to sweeten and refresh.

Until I can love a durian fruit —
see past the bared fangs of its rind,
snub its scent (compared kindly
to sewage or rotting flesh),
taste on my tongue its gummy innards —

only then can I name myself
ready to tackle the harvest
of a higher order:
the fruit of the tree of humankind.

I received my first vaccine last week, and vaccine #2 is on the books. What will that mean for my life? I’m not sure yet. There are plenty of things I’ve missed during this pandemic: receiving the Eucharist, seeing people in person, hugging, eating in a nice restaurant. But there are also plenty of things I have not missed…things I’m not looking forward to incorporating into my life again. I don’t miss crowded theaters. I don’t miss noise. I don’t miss socializing on a regular basis. I liked the quiet of the past year. It gave me something I can’t get enough of: solitude. Peace. Time to do — or not do — as I please. I had an excuse (and a good one at that) to withdraw. How will we choose to face life, should the pandemic become past-tense? I’m still pondering.

If I should opt out
what would be missed?
Can silence fill the spaces
where words have been?
Yes, and well enough.
And yet, I miss the muck.
Might I rush in like a fool
or tread, cautious as an angel,
into whatever haze lies ahead?
I think I will know. The time will come,
bubbling with possibility,
a soup that demands to be shared,
or, alternately, ice over, a caution
to step as lightly as a snowflake falls.
God must be our eyes and ears,
the cane that taps the ground,
the hand that reaches into the dark.
The way ahead is only as safe as our faith.

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