Writing Lent

My church observes Lent. This year as part of that observance, they have asked for poems around the themes of Lent. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the wilderness and what it might have been like to be there. So here’s one of the poems I’ve written (but not submitted…).

Morning, the 39th Year

Sweep up white flakes of
curiosity dulled by repetition.
No big shows. No dry land
between sea walls or
wailing of distraught mamas
over lifeless sons.
Not even a locust or a boil.

Form the same old cakes,
roast a few quail and
get your water from the rock.
Wait for the smoke to unfurl
and stretch its arms to the sky
while the old man has
his daily chat.

Then turtle yourself on again
trudging step after dreary
step through mundane
miracles toward a future
you’ve only heard of
and never seen.

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My first poem…and it’s still untitled

Over the past month or so, I’ve been working on an application for a master of fine arts in poetry. I’ve updated and uploaded my resume, asked three people to write my recommendations, and put together my manuscript. All that’s left is the dreaded personal statement. (Hence the reason I’m procrastinating by posting) The personal statement requires that I describe my development as a writer and a person of faith. So, that means I’m looking back over my journey of becoming a poet. I just pulled up the first real poem I ever wrote – using magnetic words on our fridge. I thought I’d share it here, just for fun.

Untitled

O
sacrifice
of my
heart:
there is no peace like you.
I see eternity as you dance over me.
I learn to celebrate brokenness.
You heal the secret worry –
joy wakes softly
from vast night.
Brilliant blaze melt my present.
I desire to be a wild fire
bellowing through the wood.
Embrace away the dirt.
Speak a word that makes
morning from dark sky.
Listen, he comes,
and I am changed:
longing to do his asking,
daughter born of God

Writing after a funeral

I went to a funeral this morning for a friend’s father. So that is where this springs from.

Burial

I will never get that sound
out of my ears – the knocking
of pebbles on wood.

The first shovelfuls of dirt
fall on you – but not you –
far below the soil’s edge.

Because you – really you –
are somewhere else, or at least
that’s what we always believed.

But I really hope
that you are not floating
far above me on some island cloud.

Patiently picking at your harp with
your back sprouting wings
so newly formed the feathers are still wet.

You would hate that
and I would too,
the monotony of it all.

I like to think that you fell asleep
and woke up to bluer blues
and redder reds than you had ever seen.

That you found yourself in a world
where hope is useless
because everything is in full bloom.

But I am here (where you are not)
and here is that sound again,
as another shovelful falls.

Coming Home

It’s Memorial Day, and there is never a year that goes by that I don’t remember the moment I wrote about below. I’ve been trying to write it for years, and I just felt like I could never capture it. I’m not sure I have done it justice now, but I finally decided that I had no chance if I didn’t at least try. So I did.

—————-

“This is the captain from the flight deck. We’re now making our final descent into Raleigh-Durham. The local weather is 80 degrees, with overcast skies, and a chance of rain. We’ll have you on the ground in just a few minutes.” It was a short flight from Atlanta back to Raleigh. I’d just gotten through with an interview and I was pretty confident that Aflac would offer me a summer internship. Just a few more months and I’d be off to work for the summer.

The plane jolted onto the runway and the captain came on again. “Thank you for flying with us and welcome to Raleigh-Durham. When we get to the gate, we’d ask you to remain in your seats for a just a few minutes to allow a military escort to get off first.” We pulled up to the gate and when the seat belt sign went off, a young man in an Army dress uniform moved quickly down the aisle. He was alone, and I wondered briefly who he was escorting, but my curiosity was quenched in the commotion of leaving the plane.

I stepped through the gate door into an unusually quiet terminal. There was a crowd to my right pressed against the window, their faces lit by flashing red and blue lights. I pulled my bag over to an empty spot and pressed my forehead up against the glass, putting my hands up to block the glare from the bright lights behind me. Outside, next to several local police cars, the young escort who had gotten off the plane was standing at attention next to the belt loader that was pushed up against the open baggage hold.

A dark car pulled up, and the soldier snapped to attention as the door opened and two women got out, one supporting the other. They watched the belt begin to move. Four more soldiers in full uniform stepped up to either side of the belt, and from the belly of the plane the nose of a flag covered coffin appeared. The women pressed in to each other until I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. The four soldiers took hold of it as it rolled out and then lifted it onto their shoulders. They moved slowly toward the back of the hearse that I hadn’t noticed before. I watched as they loaded the coffin, as they closed the door, as the escort lowered his hand, as the women got back into the car.

Around me, the terminal began to come back to life. People who had been saluting along with the escort lowered their hands. Some rifled through their bags and pockets looking for tissues or handkerchiefs. Others answered children’s questions in lowered voices. I stood there until all that was left to see were suitcases making their way down the belt. Then I turned and walked back into life, dragging my red bag behind me.

Through the eyes of…

I just got back from the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College. It was a wonderful three days filled with poems and stories and people talking about writing (and faith…). Because I registered late, I went with very low expectations that easily exceed. I heard Tobias Wolff -who I’d never read before – read one of his short stories, I went to a panel of women talking about writing at different ages, and I sat in the chapel while three poets read poem after poem. Completely glorious.

This year I chose the word courageous as my theme word. At the Festival, I decided that I would submit my work for publication for the first time this year. (Maybe I should have chosen the word scary.) One of the publishers who had a booth will be publishing an anthology of poetry that is from the point of view or inspired by scripture. So, I’m going to give it a shot. It’s been a few months since I’ve written much. I’m convinced that we have a finite amount of emotional energy, and mine has gone to places that are not writing. However, I’m planning to change that. So expect to see more here…and expect that a lot of it will be me playing with the idea of giving biblical characters voice through poetry.

(At the Festival, I also decided I would go to the Alaskan wilderness for a week in September for a writing workshop where my favorite poet will be teaching, which is a different kind of scary, and also a story for another day)

Here’s a first shot at this concept. This is a couple of years old, but I reworked it a bit.

I Wonder…

I wonder if
the rich man
left Jesus
sad.

And then went home and ran his hands
over his clothes
Heavy, rich silks falling red over his fingers

If he ate a meal
fit for a king,
reclining before a table filled
with overflowing cups of wine
And the lamb roasted just so.

I wonder if
he visited the temple
and after giving his coins
he went back
and gave another
or two.

And I wonder if
his friends thought
he’d gone insane
when they found him
squinting through a needle
at a camel

 

 

Christmas Eve

I wrote this last year, and I still like it. So I’m reposting it. Happy Christmas Eve! The waiting is almost over!

 

Christmas Eve

I wonder if,
today,
(but not now – then)
the earth held its breath,
like an audience in a theater
as the curtain begins to rise.
Watching.
Waiting.
Expecting.

I wonder if the wind gusted
with unusual delight,
calling out to the rivers and the seas.
I wonder if the people being counted
huddled closer, wrapping themselves
tightly in their cloaks,
making small talk about strange weather
while they waited.

I wonder if the shepherds
remarked to each other
how the sheep
and the goats
were restless today.
And how the dogs were acting
just as they did
in the deep quiet before a storm.

Or if not the earth,
then at least the angels
(and perhaps the moon and stars).
I wonder if they jostled for position
to see the girl in the crowd
who carried eternity inside her,
and her husband,
his face creased by worry
place a hand on her belly
feeling the muscles tighten beneath his palm.

I wonder if they all spoke the word with her:
Soon

Christmas cookies

I made cookies tonight to take over to a friend’s house for Christmas Eve. As I did I thought about three women, in particular, who taught me to bake. My grandmother was the first baker I knew. She taught me how to use a mixer. Mrs. Smith ruled over our middle school home-ec classes with an iron fist. She also taught me how to use a sewing machine and press a shirt. And Marie was my babysitter from the time I was 11 months old. She made huge numbers of cookies, which she packed onto styrofoam trays her husband got from the butcher. Getting that tray was one of the highlights of Christmas.

So…that’s what I wrote about. In honor of them.

 

Legacy

I creamed together butter and sugar
until it was as yellowy soft
as the new chicks at the science museum
and remembered how my grandmother
held her hand over both of mine
moving the old green mixer around the bowl
“Make sure you get it all,” she’d say
“And keep your fingers back.”

I leveled out flour in a red cup measure
and heard Mrs. Smith say:
“Dry measures are for dry ingredients
and wet measures for wet.”
She’d fail you if you got that wrong,
and the next day you would be on dish duty.
No measuring for you.
Cookies are very picky creatures.

I rolled dough into balls and dropped them
on the sheet counting – five rows of four.
Like Marie did winter after winter,
so that on Christmas Eve there were
cookies on so many Styrofoam trays.
Enough for everyone, but we still fought
over the peanut butter ones with the kisses.
And every year she said, “This is the last time.”

I slid a spatula under perfectly round cookies
moving them from baking sheet to cooling rack
and remembered the day my mom lost her job
and when she woke up in the morning
she found dozens of her favorite cookies
– these same ones –
and her daughter, surrounded, saying,
“I didn’t know what else to do.”

Aging grief

Dear December 16th,

You snuck up on me this year. Usually I watch the calendar and see the days approaching you tick by, counting all the time since After began. But this time I didn’t. Maybe it was because I was distracted, busy traveling, applying to grad school, and finishing up my class. But maybe it’s because After has become the new normal.

I haven’t forgotten though. I haven’t forgotten how we sat on the daybed and watched, counting breaths until there were no more to count. How the man from the funeral home was a living stereotype, with cold hands and a black suit at five in the morning. I haven’t forgotten how they asked if I wanted to see her one more time, hidden by that bright quilt, and I said, “No, thank you.” But what I really meant was, “No, thank you, because if I see her one more time, it will be the last time and I will know it, and I will never be able to put myself back together again.”

You snuck up on me this year, December 16th, but I haven’t forgotten. Because as soon as I saw the date this morning I was back in a little room in Tennessee, looking at a pink nightshirt neatly folded on the seat of a vacant brown recliner.

And I remembered. Six years.

Six years After

When After comes
it elbows its way in
uninvited
pulls up a chair
and puts its feet up
as if to say
“Get comfortable.
I’m not going anywhere”

At first
everyone notices
and nods
awkwardly
trying not to make
eye contact
because nobody
likes After.

But something happens
along the way
and After becomes
familiar.
Expected.
Like the weird uncle
everyone would miss
if he wasn’t there.

Until a word
or a laugh
or the Christmas lights in
a fancy hotel
or a calendar date
remind you again
that once –
there was Before.

PAD: Day 18 – Ideas

The Battle

Oh this blank page can
taunt me – more than
mean girls
ever did.

It flaunts its blankness
and I wonder if I have
anything
to say

Or if I ever did.

Sometimes it wins
and I surrender
to Facebook
or Netflix

To anything but that page.

But sometimes I find
a phrase or two
and string
them together

Like cranberries and popcorn.

And sometimes
I fight for
every
single
word.