On the Verge of Turning 40

I teach high schoolers
On the verge of graduation
So-called “seniors”
Who were children just the other day.
Intoxicated with the weightless gravity
Of their newfound independence,
They drive, and vote,
And use the restroom
Without taking the hall pass with them.

Can you remember?
What it was like
For that fleeting moment,
The sensation you were standing on top of the whole world
The universe stretched before you, full of
Endless possibility
You could do anything, be anything
You could get a tattoo of your favorite internet meme
Immortalized on your backside
Without parental permission.

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Lamentations for Today

This is a collection of laments I wrote for a worship service I led with a friend in my church. Modern worship is a bit too positive sometimes, but biblical worship makes room for disappointment, frustration, and mourning. Modern worship usually praises the singer as much as the Sung To, while these laments—written topically for those things that get us down —remind us that He’s God, we’re not, and that’s okay. Really, it’s okay. Even when it totally is not okay, it’s still okay. Or it’s going to be. The ship may totally go down with all of us on it, but it will still be okay. Okay?

ABUSE OF POWER
When those enthroned usurp
Sanctity from those in their care
And when the lowly seek status
In yet more enthroning –
Lord, have mercy on us.

THE AGE OF DISTRACTION
When deep-rooted wisdom is pruned by short-cutted data,
When the senses are dulled by the sensual,
When Creation is blurred by the created
And the created grow bored with Creation –
Lord, have mercy on us.

UNRESOLVED HOPE / UNANSWERED PRAYER
When we listen in chambers of silence,
When we search through tunnels that grow,
When we hope against nature, believe against science,
And stand firm in the face of a daunting approach –
Lord, have mercy on us.

BREVITY OF LIFE
When we count our days like apples
Dropping from the brittle branches of drought,
When a child goes with more unrealized tomorrows
Than remembered yesterdays,
When our bodies no longer carry or recall
Or agree to nourish our weight –
Lord, have mercy on us.

LACK OF PROVISION
When the cupboards we maintenance
Are as bare as brand new,
When the fields we tend
Yield nothing or less,
When a paycheck is the substance
Of things hoped and unheld –
Lord, have mercy on us.

APATHY
When I simply cannot be asked,
When tragedy holds harmony with gossip,
When I prefer screens to windows, sleek skin to whole hearts,
Pabst Blue Ribbon and pumpkin spice
To pouring out spirit or providing sanctuary,
When the nation, the state, the city, my people
Can all go blank-verb themselves –
Lord, have mercy on us.

IN ANXIETY / DESPAIR / DEPRESSION
When sleep beyond rest,
When obscurity be my bed,
When the locust devours my ties to the truth
And when I open the window for his return –
Lord, have mercy on us.

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Bottled Emotions

“_DSC5537” by sayo-tsu is licensed under CC CC0 1.0 

(On the Anniversary of My Mother’s Death)

When I turned seven my mother began
explaining the colors. Took the bottle
down from the medicine cabinet, emptied
it out on a white glass plate, rummaged
around for reading glasses and then
picked out a pale green jelly bean.

This is laughter, she said, this is the milk
inside your popcorn, the old-fashioned
elevators floating your stomach, the suck
of white water that swallows your oars and
the pinch of new skates just a half size too
small, the night you’re introduced to the ice.

This is the flicker of vanilla flame when electricity’s
out, this is your first and second and 22nd time
wrecking your snowboard, this is your half-breed
husky chasing invisible squirrels in his sleep and
this is the slap of your deposit forfeited when
the landlord discovers spray painted galaxies
on the bedroom ceiling. She gave it to me and it
tasted like Sunkist lime, which felt right.

On my eighth birthday I ate bright yellow
piña colada and she told me it was loneliness,
extra twenties in your wallet and sunny
afternoons in the park with too perfectly
trained pets, plus an unexpected afternoon
off spent ordering only one drink.

At nine I tasted danger as strawberry jam;
wasn’t much good at math but I counted
the rest, found there were sixty-six colors to go
and decided my mother had started too late.

Since then I’ve known ennui and anger and
ease and the feeling you get when you stare
mesmerized at the shapes the cream clouds
in your coffee are making and think about
all of the places that flicker over the airport’s
departure time screens, cities of strangers
still not expecting you to come.

Some years I wrote some of them down –
how ecstasy smarts like new blood in your
bedsheets, how trust is like wild geese
winging through mist, how the feeling of
missing the bus in time for the first snowfall
of the year goes down like cream soda.

But there are so many colors and not enough
birthdays. When I left home there were still
fifty-seven jelly beans in the bottle, fifty-seven
unfamiliar flavors floating out there for me
to run into, not knowing how to recognize them,
not having anyone to teach me their tastes. I wish
you could have stayed I wish I could have stayed
longer I think maybe I would have been better.

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What is Meant by the Land

When an old woman says it, the plot of black earth
    where love has unfurled
like the fiery feathers of the celosia, busting wet like
        the pepper-bells,
spilling light like the husks that hold the yellow pearls.
She has cupped it in her hands like a baby, she has fed
        all her babies on it;
they eat of its unfading colors and are unfading in their
        turn.

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We lost a baby

I say by way of explanation
To my colleague in the Math Department,
A justification for the
Discrepancy in the math:
Five pregnancies but only four at home,
Three girls and a boy.
I want credit for that fifth pregnancy,
The hardest of them all, even though half as long,
As if it were some achievement to put on my resume
Instead of my body’s greatest failing.

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the death of fire

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance…”
~ Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

Image by debowscyfoto from Pixabay

 

Ashes to ashes,
we all fall down.

We are born delicate, by death of Fire,
the flames no longer leaping on the hearth,
nor spinning in embroidered skirts of smoke
to the wild music of a living dance,
to the beat of drums and merry hearts.

No, the dance ceases;
the laughter is an echo.
We repent in rags and bathe in soot
for the sheer anticipation of
the death of God.

Brand your mark across my forehead, Dying One.
Tattoo it here, on mind, on heart, on body:
Forty days and forty nights of
                  remembering and mourning.
Forty days and forty nights of
                  hunger in body and soul.
Forty days and forty nights of
                  judgment by fire and flood.
Forty days and forty nights of
                  silence screaming in my ears.
Forty days and forty nights
                  is not that much to ask of me except that
                               I’m hungry.
                               I’m hungry, Lord:

                  for soot,
                  for silence,
                  for sorrow,
                  for salvation.

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