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They say there are two primal reactions to any situation: fight or flight. Let me suggest a third: holding for a moment, letting God make the decision for you. As fearful as you are, as stressful as the situation might be, God will hold you up. It is a moment I often forget to take, as used as I am to thinking I am in total control of my life (a laughable concept). But a necessary one. As usual, I illustrate in poetry:

Plunge in.
The water’s cold,
so cold it stops your heart
for a moment. And then
you come back into yourself,
all at once, water — wet, breath — held,
eyes — open, to clear blue impossibilities.
You will panic or be at peace;
it doesn’t matter which,
except in terms of long-term survival.
You will swim, after a fashion, or not.
It will be easier if you let your body go,
but that requires a yes you may not be ready for.
Try to say it anyway. The tide will lift you,
even if the yes is a lie.

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When I was a kid, time passed slowly. A single day at school — a single math class! — could drag on into eternity. Sure, some things went too quickly — Christmas, summer. But for the most part, time was inexorable: When would I finally be done with school? When would I be a grownup? For Pete’s sake, what is taking so long?

Nowadays, time flies by me in panic-inducing rushes. How is it Thursday already? What happened to October? Wait — what do you mean your little boy is a college graduate? Wasn’t he a baby last week? If I could just reach out and stop time for a minute, just a minute…!

It’s enough to give a girl vertigo. (Or, in this case, a middle-aged woman. But wasn’t I a girl just yesterday?)

A strange old woman
haunts my mirror. I do not know her.
A thief has stolen thirty years of my life.
His crime goes unpunished.
God gave me a bag of time;
I just now noticed it has been leaking.
What to do to stanch the hemorrhage?
Make a mindful moment. And another.
String them like beads. Feel them
with your fingers. Then let go.
God will catch the train as it leaps from the trestle.
On that day, there will finally be enough time.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

It was love at first sight when I read this poem by Mary Oliver, and I’ve been sending it love-notes in my mind all day. She writes of her desire to be “upright and good,” and thinks, “to what purpose?”

The next passage is just glorious:

“Hope of heaven? Not that. But to enter

the other kingdom: grace, and imagination.”

It’s hard not to relate it to what’s going on in the world right now. Grace and imagination. Conversations online have been coarse and mean-spirited. Authority figures have been pointing fingers and throwing stones.

We’re falling into the trap of thinking that we need to fight fire with fire.

That we cannot let it stand when someone says something we know to be untrue.

Neither side is listening. Both are engaging in alternating monologues. No one will be persuaded with this kind of rhetoric.

Imagination.

That word is so powerful, isn’t it?

What can we build, just using our day-dreaming power? What if? Why not?

Grace.

That’s the word that truly holds the world together.

Just for today, imagine you’re sending that tweet out to someone you find reprehensible and you really unleash and unload. What if…by chance… it ends up in God’s inbox? There’s no witness protection program that can get you out of that jackpot!

Imagine the grace that would explode if we reached out to an enemy the way God held his hand out to us when we were at our lowest point. If we all turned the other cheek at the same time, we’d see the humanity – and the divinity – in each other, perhaps for the first time. That’s where the other kingdom resides.

Wildfires in California, mass shootings, disease, distress, acts of God…the last few weeks have pushed us all to the very brink. It is almost shocking that we can still be shocked. And yet.

When I am upset, the words pile up in my head in messy heaps, struggle like fish vying to surface. My brain bubbles and freezes, too knotted up to make sense of things. Sometimes, when life has you all but beat, there is nothing you can do but pray.

Where is the sense in senseless?
How do you mean for us to parse
a life sentence that confounds us?
Where noun is chaos and verb can
never be undone? What then?
Now is the time for old words,
rich in thous and thees.
When nothing comes
but humble prayer,
the rest, at last,
is silence.

Every time a mass shooting occurs, The Onion runs the same headline: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” And every time a mass shooting occurs, Facebook explodes with opinions from both sides of the gun control debate. Because apparently some people are perfectly content living in a country where they and their children are 20 times more likely to die by gun violence than in any other civilized country on the map.

There are no arguments. Not anymore. Don’t tell me “guns don’t kill people; people do.” Yes. People with guns. Do you not get that? Don’t explain patiently that the killers on 9/11 didn’t use guns. I know that. And we immediately did something about it — we changed the way we fly; we put people on lists; we went to war (with the wrong country, but whatever). But there’s nothing we can do about guns? Fine then. What’s the other near-constant in gun violence? White guys. Shall we legislate against them? Oh wait. They’re the ones in charge of absolutely everything.

Well, I’m done arguing. Your right to own an object does not supersede my right to live.

In better, calmer times, I wrote the following (as Ruth recently reminded me). I’ve decided that it will be my version of The Onion article. Get used to seeing it, folks. Because we may worship God here in America, but guns — ah! Those are our real deity.

It was a week
to shake the faith
right out of our bones.

But faith cannot fall
to such a small god:
a god of bombs, bullets, ripped limbs.

Seek God elsewhere.
He is there in the helpers.
In solace, yes, and mourning, too.
In healing hands, in hope.

Look to those who know the truth:
What is not love
cannot be God.

Hate destroys.
Love restores.
There is your answer.

 

Photo by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

God was still right where I left him.

You’re home, he said.

Nice to have you back.

Was it all you thought it would be?

And less! I said.

You were right.

He nodded.

Aren’t you going to say, “I told you so?”

He shook his head.

You had to find out for yourself
So you could find yourself.
That’s how you found your way back to me.

Welcome home.

(for my mother)

“I hope you never go through this,” she says, but there is no other way.
All roads lead here. All things must pass.
Think of life as a beautiful bird,
watch as time plucks your feathers one by one.

You sail through childhood like a happy ship
until you hear, “Girls can’t do math.”
Or “girls aren’t strong.”
You are young enough to wonder why. Pluck.

You grow into womanhood, revel in newness
like a just-born foal, kicking up its heels.
The world notices in strange new ways.
You learn fear. Pluck.

Then — when did it happen? You’re not so young
and it comes to you at once that your worth,
the price tag of your being, was bound in what you were.
You disappear like vapor. Pluck.

Menopause takes what you’ve finally learned to love,
memory, ripeness, uncanny feminine ability.
You ask yourself, what are you now?
Thinning bones and lost days. Pluck. Pluck.

When does it dawn that you are mostly chicken flesh,
shivering and practically naked?
When do you know that you
no longer know?

Perhaps when the last feather falls you see:
God was there all along, collecting your plumage,
saving it, knitting it into a most fantastic garment.
And when you die, you wear your feathers anew, this time as wings.

And you soar, at last.

It isn’t just me, is it? I mean, don’t you sometimes feel if only I could get there (wherever that is — health, peace, happiness) everything would be all right? It’s a longing for a place that doesn’t really exist except in flickers, in brief glimpses — a moment of unbridled joy, a deep second of contentment. We experience it from time to time, and spend most of the rest of our lives trying to get back there. We’ve devised numerous vehicles over the years in order to propel ourselves to this place of peace, from the useful and healthy (yoga) to the destructive (drugs). It’s not just me; I know it isn’t. You do it, too, right?

For me, the there in getting there is union with God. It first happened when I was seven or eight, preparing for one of the early sacraments (probably Reconciliation). I was in church, kneeling, when I was overcome by a sudden sense of God’s love and mercy. It nearly knocked me down. I can truthfully say that every moment of the rest of my life has been filled with a longing to go back there. And I’ve done it, a handful of times. It has more to do with me than with God — God is always there; it is I who is deficient.

But the best way for me to come close is poetry.

I want to hum like a struck
fork, change my pulse to tick
in time with God’s own metronome.
I want to sync a rhythm with the divine
so sweet it can’t be silenced;
felt like a shock, every atom alive,
aligned, allied, pure as spilled light
on white pavement, ice in a glass,
drumbeat, bell peal, reverberating gong.

Lord, I long. I long.

Crack me open, pour yourself inside.
Let the shell be lost, a husk.
And me, a chord that fades but does not die,
the last note of a hymn, floating in the rafters
of a great cathedral, persistent, available
to the tuned ears of saints.

There used to be men (and women, I assume) called holy fools, perfectly ordinary (and often brilliant) people who faked idiocy so as to be daily humbled by the world. It was good for their spiritual lives, they felt. I am coming to grips with the place of foolishness in my own life — it’s not something I’ve chosen, but rather a facet of my being: I am a social idiot.

I was forced to confront this aspect of myself last weekend at a party. Surrounded by outgoing, extroverted folks, I grappled with a tongue roughly the size, shape and weight of a cast iron skillet. “Amazing!” I heard myself saying. “Wonderful!” I’m a writer. I ought to have facility with words. And I do, to some extent. That extent lying within the power of my mind and my fingers…not in the vast rolling pastures of speech. Add in a dash of shyness, and you’ve got a wallflower extraordinaire. Move over, Emily Dickinson. There’s a new weird, silent poetess in town.

All of this — coupled with a fascination for the sound and substance of words, which once caused me to mispronounce the word “full” in prayer — brings us to this: a sort of love poem, penned by a fool who may or may not be holy, but who certainly hopes for its salvific grace.

Pixilated,
besotted with love,
love coursing through blind alleys,
traffic circles, cul-de-sacs,
languishing in corners, deaf to
directionality, wholly lost in translation. I fish,
pull up old shoes, tin cans, frank inadequacies.
Brooks babble better.
Helpless, hopeless heart!
Could I crack you open and let
the depth of you spill! And yet.
There is a solace in silence, dim wisdom
in the fractured code, the blank flags,
the broken nibs and worn erasers.
I send up smoke signals,
too random to be cumulus,
received by God like an armful of roses.
Wordless. But heard.
I am a fool of grace
and God is with me.

Yesterday was a crummy day. Fortunately, Tuesday was wonderful — chock-full of blessings and outright miracles. That’s the way life is sometimes. Pondering Tuesday’s beneficence, I keep thinking, “I didn’t deserve all that.” But isn’t that the point? Grace is unearned. God bestows it freely, even lavishly. All this generosity got me thinking about God’s love for each of us. It’s a little overwhelming. And there is no “why” or “because” about it. It just is. Here are some loose, unrefined thoughts on the matter:

Someone has a crush on you and it’s God.
Someone gave you a candy heart that said
LOVE YOU and meant it and it was God.
Someone sends ridiculous declarations,
love songs on the radio,
twenty dozen long-stemmed roses,
chocolates hand-dipped by blind monks,
a stuffed plush bear the size of a Volkswagen.
And it’s God.
God says you get a car and you and you and you
and they’re all dream cars even if yours is a Mercedes
and mine is a Porsche.
Someone swoons over you, knees knocking, heart
ticking quick as a metronome at full speed,
chest so tight breath barely breaks,
and it’s God.
To God, you are marvelous. Amazing. A wonder.
A sonnet with legs and arms and a face.
God will never get over you.
You might as well sign for the package;
take it in your hands. Guess its worth.
You will always come up short.

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