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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Introduction to Poetry 4/30

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

-Billy Collins

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gospel Songs: A New (Old-Time) Favorite

I've been on a mission.

The mission has distracted me for well over two years now and it seems as though the end may finally be in sight.

The task: Find non-choir, non-cheesy, non-fifty-year-old-lady (no offense, Mom) arrangements of my favorite hymns.

Modern hymns, if you will. (And I think you will).

Thanks to a few new hymn projects by some contemporary artists, my collection now suits my fancy and I have three fairly solid CDs of hymns. I enjoy them immensely.

My latest creation includes the song Rock of Ages, a song that has always been one of my favorite hymns but, for some odd reason, never comes to mind when I think about my favorite hymns. In the last few weeks, as this beautiful CD has been playing in my car, I find myself listening to it on repeat over and over again.


It's the gospel. In a song.

I particularly like the second verse.

Enjoy.



Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

The Sun 4/29

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every morning,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone -
and how it slides again

out of the blackness
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance -
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love -
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed -
or have you too
turned from this world -

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

-Mary Oliver

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Want To Be Their Friend

The Contortionist and His Wife 4/28

The Contortionist
.
For him, any position is fine:
his heel resting casually on his shoulder,
bread dough arms twisting together.
He could even compress himself
into a two by two foot cardboard box,
still have room
to eat shredded wheat from a bowl, people
pointing and laughing above him as he chews.
He has almost begun to enjoy arching his body
into an exact O, to feel
the breeze, the universe as it blows
through the open porthole of himself.
He knows this is his fate: to be loved,
to be remembered most
for becoming something he is not -
a chair, the entire alphabet, the ripples
on top of water.
Over the years, he has learned to erase
the wince, learned to relax
with his legs wrapped around his neck,
a thick noose.
For his final stunt, bending
backwards, a spatula between his teeth,
he flips pancakes,
listens to the floppy applause.
Alone in the dressing room
he sits naked on the floor.
Somehow he is nearly comfortable
as he wraps his whole body carefully
into a large, pink bow.
Yes, he thinks, this is his gift to himself.
.
-Bill Meissner
.
.
.
The Contortionist's Wife
.
She knows him, yet she doesn't always recognize him -
some mornings she finds him in the kitchen cupboard
flattened among the cereal boxes,
some evenings he's folded beneath her chair
when she sits down for dinner.
Once he surprised her when he rose from the washing machine tub
like a genie, gave her three wishes
and a box of Cheer.
Some days she doesn't know if he's shaping himself
or if she's shaping him. All she knows is the way
he twists her emotions: he makes her laugh, he makes her cry.
She's not sure if it's funny that he
could be lying between the sheets of her bed without her
noticing him.
Sometimes he's closer to her than she ever imagined, like the
tub full of warm bath water she slides herself into.
Sometimes he's distant, pinpricks of stars in the night sky.
But most often he's both near and far, lifting himself
from the vase in the corner, his smile full of flowers.
Ah, she wishes she could be a contortionist, too.
She wishes she could be the one to surprise him
some morning, disguising herself as the wheat bread
popping from the toaster
or the coat rack as he reaches for his jacket.
She gazes at her stiff flesh with the brittle bones inside,
thinking if only she could slip herself around his finger
like a ring he didn't know he was wearing
for the rest of his life.
.
-Bill Meissner

Monday, April 27, 2009

Embracing Accusations

I went to a Shane & Shane concert last night.

It. was. wonderful.

Best part: They sang my favorite song.

I have had a blog post rolling around in my head for about three weeks regarding this song. I have been listening to a lot of Shane & Shane; they are one of my two favorite groups (the other being Caedmon's Call, but that has already been covered).

I like a LOT of things about the Shanes. They are funny. They are humble. They are INCREDIBLY talented musicians. But more than anything, I love the fact that so many of their songs are composed by simply singing the Word. And lately I have

needed. the. Word.

So I have been listening to them every day for the last three weeks. And, as a creature of habit, I do the same thing every time. I put my iPod on shuffle, scroll down to Embracing Accusations and start it up. That way I get to hear a bunch of different songs every day. And I get to hear Embracing Accusations.

Every. single. day.

This was my sixth Shane & Shane concert and I have never heard them perform this song live. And judging by some things that were said last night, it sounds as though they don't sing it much in concert anymore.

Which only increased my excitement exponentially when they began the song.

By the end of the song....you know, the part where

Jesus saves,

...my heart was physically pounding in my chest. Not because the musical climax of the song is so moving (even though it is artfully crafted), not because I was excited that they sang the song (even though it did make me very happy), but because I was thrilled with the joy of the truth that

Jesus saves.

I love the song because I resonate with the accusations. I resonate with the inability to be good enough. I resonate with the burden of being cursed and gone astray. The devil sings that song over me much too conveniently and sometimes I forget that

Jesus saves.

I forget that I have a response for the devil's verse. I forget that there is more to the story. I forget that there is a refrain to be sung. He IS right. Cursed are the ones who can't abide. All hopes of being good enough are destroyed. We cannot gain salvation. But that is not the final word, because

Jesus saves.

So it's not a matter of stopping the accusations. As a matter of fact, the more hopelessly lost you realize you are, the more beautiful and freeing you will find the good news that

Jesus saves.

It's just a matter of finishing the song.

So whether I am in my house or in my car, whether I have tears in my eyes or joyful laughter on my lips, I usually find myself singing

Jesus saves

at the top of my lungs because when I don't sing the refrain, I tend to forget the beauty of His song.


The Shanes also sang La Bamba. That was fun.


****************

For those who don't know the song, here are the lyrics:

The father of lies
Coming to steal
Kill and destroy
All my hopes of being good enough
I hear him say cursed are the ones
Who can't abide
He's right
Alleluia, he's right!

The devil is preaching
The song of the redeemed
That I am cursed and gone astray
I cannot gain salvation
Embracing accusation

Could the father of lies
Be telling the truth
Of God to me tonight?
If the penalty of sin is death
Then death is mine
I hear him say cursed are the ones
Who can't abide.
He's right
Alleluia, he's right!

Oh the devil's singing over me
An age old song
That I am cursed and gone astray
Singing the first verse so conveniently
Over me
He's forgotten the refrain
Jesus saves!

Work 4/27

A man with the name Angel sewn on his shirt stands glumly
behind a checkout counter at the hardware store. His register is jammed.
Three or four of us standing in line shift from one foot to the other.
We toy with wing nuts on display and watch Angel angrily
because we're hungry and his register is jammed.
Angel is waiting for a manger to free him from this frozen instant
in the great river of commerce. He grips the sides of his register
as if they were the shoulders of a child and stares off above our heads
to the ceiling fan display and beyond. He must have family at home,
works two jobs probably, never quite sleeps enough.
The nature of work is so diminished.

When I think of work, I think of my immigrant grandfather and great uncle
pulling nails out of boards with their teeth. That was sport to them.
They elbowed their way through the railyards of Oklahoma, strapping
Russian Jews, pitting muscle against the dangers of the oilfields.
Or Fred Sims. I worked with him summers giving him the chance
to swing I-beams within inches of my head to keep me in my place.

Did I almost hit you, honey? he asked one or two beats late in
that high-pitched voice of his.
Fred Sims, who laid railroad track through the Rockies, talked
of nights spent among mountain lions.
The dignity of pure labor. Of sweat.
His black arms at 70 as taut, lean and steely as a young middleweight's.

There are no standards to go by.
Work now means Angel standing sad-faced waiting for the register to unjam.
No measures. No depth. No wilderness inside us
that we have to wear down with hard labor.
Just the dull slide to oblivion.
No feral eyes tracking the night. No living on instinct.
No fox tip-toeing its way through the heart. No measure of us beyond ourselves.
Nothing left to tame.

-Geoff Rips

I Just Wrote This Poem 4/26

No poem today.
I was having too much fun.
I'll post tomorrow.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Leningrad Cementery, Winter of 1941 4/25

That winter, the dead could not be burned.
The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger,
the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with something
and taken on a child's sled to the cemetery
in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil,
some of them wrapped in dark cloth
bound with rope like the tree's ball of roots
when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets,
their pale, gauze, tapered shapes
stiff as cocoons that will split down the center
when the new life inside is prepared;
but most lay like corpses, their coverings
coming undone, naked calves
hard as corded wood spilling
from under a cloak, a hand reaching out
with no sign of peace, wanting to come back
even to the bread made of glue and sawdust,
even to the icy winter, and the siege.

-Sharon Olds

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Good Friday...

....because the work that was accomplished on Good Friday and completed on Easter morning is still as true and powerful today as it was when you celebrated two weeks ago.

Which is why I am still posting this even though it is two weeks late.

My sister's pastor reads his "Crucifixion Narrative" every year on Good Friday. It. is. powerful. I wanted to link to it on Good Friday, but I couldn't get last year's link to work. So I decided to wait until this year's link was posted. And now that it is, I have gotten last year's link to work as well. They added a piano in the background this year which I actually find a little distracting, so I am linking you to last year's reading.

Listen here: Rick Gamache's Crucifixion Narrative

It is well worth your 23 minutes.

The first time I listened to it, I was overwhelmed by everywhere I saw myself when God speaks (17.30-20.10).

The second time I listened, I was struck by the idea of Christ's "word of power" and sat in awe of the realization that he actively caused the existence of everything even in the moments that the people and devices that he created were being used to strike him. There is something about that idea that seems to add even MORE intentionality to his sacrifice (even though there was pure intentionality in his mission already). Hmm.....I don't feel like I explained my that thought very well. I hope it makes sense. (12.40-13.20).

So listen and marvel at the work of Christ done for you.

Twelve Ways of Looking at a Watch 4/24

(I wrote this poem as part of a writing project my senior year of high school. The form was inspired by the Titanic poem that I posted yesterday.)

Twelve Ways of Looking at a Watch
by Me

1
The watch kept life in perfect rhythm
The metronome that never changed speed.

2
The shackle worn on her right wrist
Will bind her in that prison for the rest of her life.

3
The constant ticking causing his insanity,
His only wish - that his mind was deaf.

4
The slap of each hand released its anger.
Each magnified tick a shriek
That could stop the world from spinning.

5
He loved the deafening crunch of the watch between his molars
As its sweet juice sprayed to the back of his throat
And dripped warmly into the depths of his stomach.

6
The rising sun read 6:07,
The winding hands
Propelling it across the cloudless sky.

7
The dog's watch hung clumsily from his paw,
This absurd life where he was expected to be on time.

8
The moment he went deaf
When the ticking of his lover's heart
Was silenced forever.

9
She sang a beautiful song,
The soothing ticks putting her child to sleep.

10
The watch hung above the door,
The reflection from the fire
Illuminating the path to safety.

11
The moment his foot hit the moon
Can be completely recorded by numbers.

12
The watch tended to the fire.
Night was approaching
And the brilliant blaze was needed
To keep the time-thirsty savages away.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth

Happy day-after-Earth-Day!

I've never cared much for Earth Day. I mean, I don't have anything against it; I normally just roll my eyes, hug a tree, wipe the bark off my face and move on with life. No biggie.

But my view of the earth changed a bit during my first systematic theology class. We talked a lot about the interaction between four different "works of God:" self-revelation, providence, redemption and creation. Hidden in the middle of a paragraph on the seventh page of my final paper (right where any good thesis sentence would be), I made the statement that "the Triune God reveals himself so that through his providence he can redeem his creation and bring it back into fellowship with him." I then (broadly) defined redemption as "a completion of the world's original created purpose" which, for humans, means right relationship with God, right relationship with each other, and right relationship with the earth."

Go read the creation story. It's there.

That is a very brief overview of my new train of thought, but expanding on that is not the point. My point is this: I still have not "gone green," I don't recycle as much as I should (mostly because I am too lazy to figure out how to do so), and I still enjoy really long, really hot showers that are probably a big 'ole waste of water and energy (not to mention time). But, on this Earth Day, I did feel a deeper appreciation/responsibility/respect for the earth than I have in the past.

So, yesterday, I celebrated by going to see Earth. (Ah, finally, the point of this post!)

And I loved it.

Not only is it educational and fascinating, it is also funny (Lindsay and I both laughed outloud on several occasions) and touching (I even got choked up once). And, to top it off, for every ticket purchased during opening week (which is this week), Disney will plant a tree. So not only will you be entertained and fascinated, you can also walk away feeling good about the $7 you just spent.

My strong recommendation: Go see the movie and marvel at God's humor, detail, majesty, creativity, power and beauty. And make sure you stay for the credits. One of the camera men runs into a tree while flying in a hot air contraption. It's pretty funny.

Nautical Knowledge

My dear friend Lindsay is leaving in less than a month to spend 14 weeks working with Mercy Ships in Benin, West Africa. While we were chatting today, I made a comment about all of the cool nautical knowledge that she will have when she returns home this fall. She mentioned a book she had seen that mentioned how many of our everyday terms and phrases come from nautical terminology. She told me about a few that I found very intriguing.

So, naturally, I googled it.

I found this list and chose these three as my favorites:

Footloose:
Nautical Origin: The foot is the bottom of a sail, whether triangular or square, that is attached to the boom to keep it stretched. A sail that is not attached to the boom is said to be footloose and is very difficult to control as it moves with the wind.

Vernacular Usage: Unencumbered, carefree unattached
(I love the picture the nautical origin creates in my mind of someone who is "footloose.")

Keep your shirt on:
Nautical Origin: Shirts in the earlier days were rather expensive, so when a man was thinking of fighting someone he would take off his shirt.
If someone had a grievance with you and began taking his shirt off, keeping your shirt on meant you didn't want to fight with him.
Vernacular Usage: Staying calm and under control.

Freeze the balls off a brass monkey:
Nautical Origin: On ships, cannon balls were sometimes stacked in what was called a monkey, usually made from brass. When it got really cold the monkey would contract forcing some of the cannon balls to fall off.
Vernacular Usage: Cold
(Seriously....how do Minnesotans NOT use this phrase ALL THE TIME?!?! I have never heard it before. But I am going to use it now. Too bad it's almost summer.)


When I first mentioned "nautical knowledge" to Lindsay, I was referring more to knowing which side was port and which was starboard.

This was way cooler.



The Convergence of the Twain: Lines on the Loss of the "Titanic" 4/23

I
In solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, still couches she.

II
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls - grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"...

VI
Well: while fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII
Prepared a sinister mate
For her - so gaily great -
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

VIII
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

X
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

XI
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

-Thomas Hardy

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Fury of Overshoes 4/22

They sit in a row
outside the kindergarten,
black, red, brown, all
with those brass buckles.
Remember when you couldn't
buckle your own
overshoe
or tie your own
shoe
or cut your own meat
and the tears
running down like mud
because you fell off your
tricycle?
Remember, big fish,
when you couldn't swim
and simply slipped under
like a stone frog?
The world wasn't
yours.
It belonged to
the big people.
Under your bed
sat the wolf
and he made a shadow
when cars passed by
at night.
They made you give up
your nightlight
and your teddy
and your thumb.
Oh overshoes,
don't you
remember me,
pushing you up and down
in the winter snow?
Oh thumb,
I want a drink,
it is dark,
where are the big people,
when will I get there,
taking giant steps
all day,
each day
and thinking
nothing of it?

-Anne Sexton

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nothing Gold Can Stay 4/21

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her every leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day;
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

Monday, April 20, 2009

Friendship 4/20

(After a wonderful weekend with two precious women, I would like to share these reflections on friendship. Believe me, there was much "laughter and sharing of pleasures" and my heart, indeed, was refreshed.)

"Friendship"
by Kahlil Gibran

And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."
Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Turning Ten 4/19

(Okay, so I am 25 and not 10, but it is a birthday poem nonetheless. And I really like it.)

"On Turning Ten"
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I'm coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light -
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Earthling 4/18

You have probably come across
those scales in planetariums
that tell you how much you
would weigh on other planets.

You have noticed the fat ones
lingering on the Mars scale
and the emaciated slowing up
the line for Neptune.

As a creature of average weight,
I fail to see the attraction.

Imagine squatting in the wasteland
of Pluto, all five tons of you,
or wandering around Mercury
wondering what to do next with your ounce.

How much better to step onto
the simple bathroom scale,
a happy earthling feeling
the familiar ropes of gravity,

157 pounds standing soaking wet
a respectful distance from the sun.

-Billy Collins

Weird Wisconsin

Dear Hannah and Angela,

When are we taking our next roadtrip? I already have one stop planned on a random exit off of I-90.

Love,
Eva Joy :-)


Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House 4/17

(Sorry for the late post. I have been having the absolute best day ever (complete with a pink, spectacled elephant at a random exit in Wisconsin....pictures coming soon!) and have been much too busy enjoying myself to post a poem. But I shall do so now with a full 30 minutes to spare. I have decided that since this weekend is already the best ever (and it has hardly even started!) I will make it a Billy Collins weekend since he seems to be my favorite right now.)

(p.s. Happy anniversary Mom! (and Dad. But he doesn't read my blog. I don't think.))

"Another Reason Why I Don't Keep a Gun in the House"
by Billy Collins

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
He is barking the same high, rhythmic bark
that he barks every time they leave the house.
They must switch him on on their way out.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking,

and now I can see him sitting in the orchestra,
his head raised confidently as if Beethoven
had included a part for barking dog.

When the record finally ends he is still barking,
sitting there in the oboe section barking,
his eyes fixed on the conductor who is
entreating him with his baton

while the other musicians listen in respectful
silence to the famous barking dog solo,
that endless coda that first established
Beethoven as an innovative genius.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Liberation 4/16

After the surrender, the guards
piling into trucks and leaving the smell of dust behind,

before American soldiers came to liberate them,
allied planes parachuted C-rations, powdered milk,

canned peaches. How to be other than grateful?
No longer needing to snare birds

and snakes when the guards starved them,
they improvised a can opener

and rehydrated the powder
with the juice of peaches.

For two weeks, until transport arrived
and a more civilized state, victory

was the smell of lumpy, yellow milk
on their children's breath.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Water Tower Climbers 4/15

(For all of my water-tower-climbing friends.)

Their home town's name looms just
above them, more massive
than any thunderhead they've ever imagined.
They don't know those letters
will weigh down their shoulders
the rest of their lives -
they're strong, they're 16, they squeeze
cans of beer. They're in love with heights,
want to see all the tavern lights shrink
to blinking jewels, all those streets
become arrows of dust aimed at the limits.

Three steps from
the top, the wind
tries to blow
the first whiskers
from their faces.

At last they let go
the railing, and
balance, thinking
we could fit this whole town on our thumbnails.

-Bill Meissner

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Will Forget 4/14

If you stay in comfort too long
you will not know
the weight of a water pot
on the bald head of the village woman

You will forget
the weight of three bundles of thatch grass
on the sinewy neck of the woman
whose baby cries on her back
for a blade of grass in its eyes

Sure, if you stay in comfort too long
you will not know the pain
of child birth without a nurse in white

You will forget
the thirst, the cracked dusty lips
of the woman in the valley
on her way to the headman who isn't there

You will forget
the pouring pain of a thorn prick
with a load on the head.
If you stay in comfort too long

You will forget
the wailing in the valley
of women losing a husband in the mines

You will forget
the rough handshake of coarse palms
full of teary sorrow at the funeral.

If you stay in comfort too long
You will not hear
the shrieky voice of old warriors sing
the songs of fresh stored battlefields.

You will forget
the unfeeling bare feet
gripping the warm soil turned by the plough

You will forget
the voice of the season talking to the oxen.

-Chenjerai Hove

Monday, April 13, 2009

November 18 4/13

Walking by flashlight
at six in the morning,
my circle of light on the gravel
swinging side to side,
coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow,
each watching from darkness,
this man with the moon on a leash.

-Ted Kooser

Prove Me Wrong

I have found no band that competes with Caedmon's Call in regards to the ability to artfully craft my own thoughts into lyrics and set them to music. This is probably why they have been a long-standing favorite artist of mine. Once again, this ability proved true when I re-discovered this long-forgotten song while listening to my Caedmon's collection on shuffle yesterday morning. I must have listened to the song at least a dozen times before the day was over. The verses accurately portray the two main streams of thought I have had over the last month or two and the chorus sums up my recurring prayer.

Man, I love that band.

"Prove Me Wrong"
by Caedmon's Call

Sometimes I fear maybe I'm not chosen
You've hardened my heart like Pharaoh
That would explain why life is so hard for me

And I am sad Esau hated
Crying against what's fated
Saying father, please, is there any left for me

Cast out my doubts, please prove me wrong
'Cause these demons can be so headstrong
Make my walls fall, please prove me wrong
'Cause this resentment's been building
Burn them up with your fire so strong
If you can before I bail, please prove me wrong

I fear maybe this is all just a game
Our friends and our families all play too
Harness the young and give some comfort to the old

Don't let my doubts prove true
Draw me close and hold me near to you
Keep me still until the day you

Cast out my doubts, please prove me wrong
'Cause these demons can be so headstrong
Make my walls fall, please prove me wrong
'Cause this resentment's been building
Burn them up with your fire so strong
If you can before I bail, please prove me wrong

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Psalm for a Sister 4/12

(I wish I had an Easter poem to correlate to the last two, but I can't find one that suits my fancy. If I had more foresight, I might have saved yesterday's poem for today, but....I didn't. So, as I am spending this Easter with one dear sister while missing the other, this poem seems fitting. I post it on Easter Day with deep gratitude for the immeasurable kindness of my risen Lord and Savior who not only redeemed me through his death and resurrection but who has also showered me with innumerable gifts, two of which are these precious women whom I have the privilege of calling "sister." So, to my sisters I say: Thank you for being ever-present reminders of God's goodness to me. I would battle the world for you.)

"Psalm For a Sister"
by Marjorie Holmes

I will lift up my eyes and smile as I give thanks for my sister.
My radiant, complicated sister, who is more than a sister -
who is my friend.

I will thank the good Lord that we were children together,
sharing the same room and for years the same bed.

I rejoice to remember our playhouses and paper dolls and plans.
Our secrets and surprises. Even our quarrels.

I feel a deep and poignant longing for those days when we were girls together.
Life-hungry, love-hungry, each fighting her own battles,
yet supporting each other against our parents and the world.

My sister, oh Lord, my beautiful sister,
often maddening, always understanding, always fun.

Thank you for this woman who shares my parents,
my past, my blood, who sees me whole -
the beginning long ago and the person I am now.

My sister, whose faults are so clear to me -
and dear to me, just as my faults are to her.
Yet for all our differences and the miles that lie between us,
we would still battle the world for each other.

I laugh for the joy of my sister, all the comedy, the gaiety.
And I sometimes weep for my sister.
I long to comfort her, to hold her close
as we held each other for comfort or for courage as little girls.

Dear God, please take good care of her -
this sister I love so much.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday in My Heart 4/11

Good Friday in my heart! Fear and affright!
My thoughts are the Disciples when they fled,
My words the words that priest and solider said,
My spear the deed to desecrate the dead.
And day, Thy death therein, is changed to night.

Then Easter in my heart sends up the sun.
My thoughts are Mary when she turned to see.
My words are Peter, answering, "Lov'st thou Me?"
My deeds are all Thine own drawn close to Thee,
And night and day, since Thou dost rise, are one.

-Mary Elizabeth Coleridge

Friday, April 10, 2009

And A Good Friday Was Had By All 4/10

You man there keep those women back
and God Almighty he laid down
on the crossed timber and old Silenus
my offsider looked at me as if to say
nice work for soldiers, your mind's not your own
once you sign that dotted line Ave Caesar
and all that malarkey Imperator Rex

well this Nazarene
didn't make it any easier
really - not like the ones
who kick up a fuss so you can
do your block and take it out on them
Silenus
held the spike steady and I let fly
with the sledge-hammer, not looking
on the downswing trying hard not to hear
over the women's wailing the bones give way
the iron shocking the dumb wood.

Orders is orders, I said after it was over
nothing personal you understand - we had a
drill-sergeant once thought he was God but he wasn't
a patch on you

then we hauled on the ropes
and he rose in the hot air
like a diver just leaving the springboard, arms spread
so it seemed
over the whole damned creation
over the big men who must have had it in for him
and the curious ones who'll anything if it's free
with only the usual women caring anywhere
and a blind man in tears.

-Bruce Dawe

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Love 4/9

Because of you, in gardens of blossoming flowers I ache from the perfumes of spring.
I have forgotten your face, I no longer remember your hands; how did your lips feel on mine?
Because of you, I love the white statues drowsing in the parks, the white statues that have neither voice nor sight.
I have forgotten your voice, your happy voice; I have forgotten your eyes.
Like a flower to its perfume, I am bound to my vague memory of you.
I live with pain that is like a wound; if you touch me, you will do me irreparable harm.
Your caresses enfold me, like climbing vines on melancholy walls.
I have forgotten your love, yet I seem to glimpse you in every window.
Because of you, the heady perfumes of summer pain me;
because of you, I again seek out the signs that precipitate desires: shooting stars, falling objects.

-Pablo Neruda

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My Grandmother Told Us Jokes 4/8

like the one about the man who
walked down the street
& turned into
a drugstore.

There was some secret in the moment
of that turning - when he was one thing,
became another -
that I return to again & again.

The day she stopped being
grandma and turned into
that madwoman.

The day my sister stopped being
& never came back. Perhaps there
was an instant between her sweet sleep
& the moment the fever struck,
from which she could have been plucked.

Do not make that turn, I want to say to the man
who becomes the drugstore; to the woman
who dies insane; to my sister;

to the boy who became an adult
the moment the cell door slammed shut.
I want to freeze-frame each instant of turning,
unfold in slow motion the moment of callous
change. Perhaps the secret's in the man's
intention; in the list in his pocket of mundane
nostrums he was sent to fetch home.

Or perhaps I've got it wrong,
perhaps there's a soda fountain where they all sit -
the man, my grandmother, my sister, the boy -

& drink nickel root beer floats, look back
on that fateful turn, & laugh among themselves
at the rest of us, who took it all so seriously.

-Richard Beban

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shifting Sand

This is my beautiful friend Abigail.


This picture was taken moments before we embarked on a 4 hour power-walk along Virginia's Atlantic coast just 10 short days ago. There were many memorable moments on our walk. There was the crab trap we found that was still full of crabs, the cracked Frisbee that I (unsuccessfully and, therefore, humorously) insisted on throwing along with us as we walked, the crazy, twisted tree trunks and, of course, the great conversation.

But, more than anything, I remember how angry my hip flexor got just moments after we turned around to head home. And how it started to downpour 30 seconds after I asked Abs if we could slow down for my poor leg. And how far away the car felt as I limped down the beach in the pouring rain.

The greatest part about having fun, creative friends is that in moments like that, they laugh and make up games. Which is what we did. We laughed about the crazy memories we tend to make (the last time we were together, I managed to lock Abs out of my house for nearly two hours in her pajamas.....long story) and then Abigail proceeded to make up a game to distract my mind from the pain that was now wrapping around my leg and shooting up my back as my tired leg pushed against the soft sand that gave way beneath me. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it made the return trip "fun," but it certainly helped the time pass faster.

I was in a 1:1 at work this evening so I had some time to think. I thought about my dear friend Abigail and I thought about our walk on the beach. I thought about the things we found and how her artsy brain sees the world so much differently than mine. I thought about how much I enjoy spending time with her. I thought about how honest our conversations are. I thought about the searing pain that was radiating from my exhausted leg.

I also thought about the tired ache behind my eyes that won't go away even after I sleep. I thought about decisions that time is demanding I make even though I don't feel ready to make them. I thought about how far away the car feels. I thought about the complicated interactions between culture, religion, thoughts, feelings and relationships. I thought about all of the wise and encouraging things that were said to me this weekend. I thought about leaving.

And I thought about how exhausting it is to walk when the world beneath you shifts with every step you take.

The Life of a Day 4/7

Like people or dogs, each day is unique and has
its own personality quirks which can easily be seen
if you look closely. But there are so few days as
compared to people, not to mention dogs, that it
would be surprising if a day were not a hundred
times more interesting than most people. But
usually they just pass, mostly unnoticed, unless
they are wildly nice, like autumn ones full of red
maple trees and hazy sunlight, or if they are grimly
awful ones in a winter blizzard that kills the lost
traveler and bunches of cattle. For some reason
we like to see days pass, even though most of us
claim we don't want to reach our last one for a
long time. We examine each day before us with
barely a glance and say, no, this isn't one I've been
looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for
the next when, we are convinced, our lives will
start for real. Meanwhile, this day is going by per-
fectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the
right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light
breeze scented with a perfume made from the
mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak
leaves, and the faint odor of last night's meander-
ing skunk.

-Tom Hennen

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paul Revere's Ride 4/6

(This is the first poem I ever memorized. Sometimes I have a hard time believing I held this whole thing in my head as a 5th grader. 15 years later, my memory is limited to the first two stanzas and the uncomfortable feeling I got when I had to say "Middlesex" in front of the class. Twice. It was similar to the feeling you get when you are singing Christmas carols in church and you come across the word "ass." You know it's okay to say it; it just doesn't feel right.

And what, pray tell, was the irresistibly desirable reward that compelled me to voluntarily memorize the whole thing and undergo the public embarrassment of saying that awkward word with burning cheeks?

Jolly Ranchers.

That's right, a whole handful of Jolly Ranchers.

What can I say? I liked hard candy.)


"Paul Revere's Ride"
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."


Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.


Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.


Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.


Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.


Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.


A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.


It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.


It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.


It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.


You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,---
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.


So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,---
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mosquitoes 4/5

Were angels ever so happy?
Or nurses, hypo in hand, repeating their mantra?

A drop of Novocain,
a hint of anticoagulant, and

as a resort owner once told me,
let enough of them bite,

you'll never have a coronary.

So all is Zen mind among the swarm,

and the little pimple merely a postscript
to the love letter they leave behind.

So when July melts into August,
all is long sleeves and boots,

a smear of DEET and the lingering
aroma of a cheap cigar.

Though corpses of fallen comrades
surround my green chair,

they can't resist the dark lure
under my skin, and fresh squadrons

pick up my scent. I can hear
the drone of their multiple engines

like the Flying Tigers. Behind
those grinning sharks' teeth,

another John Wayne's adjusting his goggles,
radioing his wing man:

Cover me, Blackie,
I'm going in.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Art 4/4

October, a woman and a boy, a tumor
overtaking his brain, draw pictures
in the waiting room.

She makes a red apple as round
as a face. Then from her hand a cloud
grows and darkens over the apple

until the crayon breaks inside
its wrapper and hangs like a snapped
neck from her bloodless fingertips.

He's drawn two stick-figures
up to their necks in falling gold
leaves, their heads all smiles.

It's you and daddy, he tells her.
Above them a flock of m's
fly toward a grinning sun.

When she doesn't answer
he says on Halloween he'd like
to be a horse with orange wings.

Staring at his picture, she says
It looks like Thanksgiving.
Where are you?

He taps the sun. I'm shining on you.
She hugs him as if trying
to press him back inside her.

I'm not crying, she whispers.
He looks over her shoulder.
I'm not crying, too.

-Eric Nelson

Friday, April 3, 2009

Waking Up in the Morning 4/3

Waking up in the morning
my unshaven cheek feels against the back of my hand
as if time, having eaten up another twenty-four of my hours,
left the crumbs on my face.
-Zymunt Frankel

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thesaurus 4/2

Okay, I am really going to try to limit my poems to one a day, but I was reading through some more of Collins' work today and I found this one which I have never read before. If you had been watching me read it for the first time, I would have been embarrassed of the degree to which my facial expressions (and occasional utterance) betrayed my overly delighted reaction as I became giddy with the ingenuity of it. So humor me and read another one.

"Thesaurus"

It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.
-Billy Collins

Embrace 4/2

You know the parlor trick.
Wrap your arms around your own body
and from the back it looks like
someone is embracing you,
her hands grasping your shirt,
her fingernails teasing your neck.

From the front it is another story.
You never looked so alone,
your crossed elbows and screwy grin.
You could be waiting for a tailor
to fit you for a straitjacket,
one that would hold you really tight.

-Billy Collins

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Summary (Pacem)

My last Pacem post. A summary of what I gleaned from the parts I read out of "When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight For Joy" by John Piper:

We don't read the Word because Christians are supposed to read the Word. We read the Word because hearing the Word leads to seeing Christ more fully, seeing Christ more fully leads to delighting in who he is, and delighting in who he is brings glory to God.

It's not about duty. It's about desire.

What I REALLY Believe (Pacem)

"By this is it evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother...But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth." -1 John 3:10, 17-18

"You will know them by their fruits." -Matthew 7:16

ESV study notes on 1 John 3:9-10: "John returns to the ethical dimension, the true barometer of what people really believe, whatever they may say."

What does the evidence in my life say about what I truly believe???

Bible in My Blood (Pacem)

"It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you." -Spurgeon

Two days after reading this, I started my new classes for the quarter. In my OT class, the professor got asked a question (i.e. not a part of his prepared presentation) which he answered directly and specifically (i.e. did not "twist" the question into something he was more comfortable talking about) and gave three NT passages (book, chapter and verse/s) from three different books to support his answer.

I don't even remember what the question was. I just remember thinking, "I want to know the Word like that."

Lesson Learned

Never use spell check on a post containing a poem that you love for its ability to use non-words to communicate a point.

Jabberwocky 4/1

April is National Poetry Month and in this overly-ambitious moment, I am declaring my intention to post one poem every day for the entire month. Also, I fully reserve the right to look back on this post and declare it as an April Fool's joke if the task proves to be too difficult for me.

Some may be unique and unheard-of. Some may be popular and well-known. Some may be humorous. Some may bring you to tears (if you let them). Some may be written by Poet Laureates. Some may be written by me. And some will come with explanations of why I chose them.

I am starting with Jabberwocky because it was the second poem I ever memorized and I love it just as much today as I did in 8th grade.

Enjoy.

"Jabberwocky"
by Lewis Carroll

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.