Poem: Crisis and Sifting

If you’d like to listen to me reading the following poem, click here.

On Learning That the Words “Crisis” and “Sift” are Related

I picture my mother’s hands and the silver, mesh sieve.

She was not a meticulous cook, but occasionally
she took the time to sift flour.
Big lumps remained, could not pass through.
That’s the point, she told me.
Only that which is willing to be broken down
gets through.

Heartbreak, infection, isolation: they sift us.

What matters
falls
in.

On a walk, I see a neighbor
Hungry to hear each other speak, we discuss books
at a six-foot distance.
In the afternoons, I drive out to see birch trees,
fields in thaw, and ice breaking up in the harbor.
The gulls have returned.
Our children call.
While my husband reads the recipe to me, I mix scones.
We laugh when the blueberries spill.
I memorize Psalms. He plays guitar. I read.

What does not matter does not make it through.

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Birds and Words

IMG_3955 It’s been a generous bird week. That’s good, because it’s still cold here, ( 43 and rainy right now) and it does not feel like spring.  But these gorgeous birds have brought grace to us as we watch them feast at our feeders, reminding us that they don’t arrive here unless the weather is changing. 

IMG_3946 I’ve just completed two lovely weeks of writing classes; and although each week’s participants and instructor were different than the other, both followed a simple formula:  write, listen to each other read, give and take some feedback,  read a few examples, then write some more.  No one expects perfection, only words on a page.  Occasionally,  ( certainly not always) something lands that is worth paying attention to.

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Here is one of several poems that I began this past week.  The prompt for this was ” I begin my day with…”

Roost

Before, in another kind of life
we daily left each other, flying out
to peck for food
build nests
ride thermals

Now, I begin my day
with coffee. You put in cream for me
but leave the spoon so I
can add the right amount of sugar

The news on the radio is not good.
Like old chickens we cluck
dithering about the future

There are two chairs here, and side by side we
watch nuthatch, grosbeak, indigo bunting.

In winter, when
the sunrise comes so late
we linger.

It is soft luxury to wait.

 

A New Beginning/A Happy Ending

Sometimes there are happy endings in this world.

David and I have left Wisconsin for this week to attend a wedding. I’m not a particularly mushy person, but watching joy for most of the two-day event made me constantly teary.

After we became friends with Kathy several years ago when she was in law school, she had some horrific years: she was tragically and suddenly widowed after a short but happy first marriage. She survived and plodded along, but more than that, she emerged from those years with a remarkable lack of bitterness or anger. She has a wonderful laugh. She is cheerful. She is generous. Oh, that we could all watch and learn how to live in such grace.

A few years ago she met Kurt, a very smart mathematician who is mild mannered, not flashy, and very kind. Here are two people in their late forties who would have been relatively fine on their own, but instead they have found a companion with whom to live life. They now have each other to have and hold.

The light streamed into the sunlit church, Scriptures spoke of love. The adorable niece and nephews in the bridal party who were barely more than toddlers proved to us, as children often do, that starting over, starting again, is a good thing. The pastor reminded us that there is hope in the love of God. A magnificent organ played, a simple worship song moved us.

All weddings are happy, but this one just felt like grace poured out.

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Because I don’t want to shift the focus from the wedding to me, I am a bit reticent to add this next part, but a few people asked, so here is the poem that I wrote for the couple and then read at their wedding. I was so glad to be a part of this new beginning, happy ending for Kathy.

 
River Song

Your minds surge
but your hearts are quiet
 
Like stones by a river
            you have lain still on the banks     alone
 
Currents of sorrow
and eddies of waiting
            have worn your rough edges smooth
 
but now there is rain. Sweet summer rain.
The river rises and the river is warm and the river invites you in
 
Now your hearts are no longer heavy like stones
but light.
Now they are ripples
 
Now they are songs that you sing to each other
in the dancing green
in all the tomorrows that are yours

A Monarch Moon

I live a few miles from a poetry trail. ( First off, how cool is that?)

IMG_2069In Newport State Park, a ½ mile walk winds first through a gorgeous stand of deciduous forest and then meanders through a prairie.. Twelve stanchions invite walkers and hikers to pause for a few minutes along their way to read beautifully crafted words.

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Every few months the displays change, so there are periodic calls for poets to write.

The plan was two-part: meet at the park to write poems as we’d watch the full moon rise out of Lake Michigan. Two weeks later we’d return to walk the trail and read our recently installed poems about the moon.

Things didn’t go quite as planned.  Skies were overcast as my eager car-full of poets drove to the park. It began to rain as we pulled up to the beach parking lot where we had planned to watch a full moon rising. So we went inside to the nature center and dug down deep to write about the moon we weren’t watching.

Newport State Park is designated as a Dark Sky Park, so the nature center has telescopes and star charts and astronomical things.   But it’s also a park full of monarch butterflies, and I was drawn to a display where nearly a hundred of them were readying themselves for flight, for migration. This poem is for them.

 

A Monarch Moon

The moon will rise
whether we see it or not
Carefully plotted charts
assert tonight’s rising will be at 8:01

but there is rain.
Clouds cover the beach.
We go inside to sit on tiled floor
where taxidermed animals ask us
to pretend      to imagine the white globe
lifting itself into beauty

I am struck instead
by the hundred hanging chrysalis
and the scent of metamorphosis.

They need only the moony milkweed
to rise up, to resurrect
to fly

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Spring- Finally

Spring took forever to arrive this year. ( As in 30 inches of snow in April, as in the buds are just now on the trees…)

But here’s a poem to celebrate spring:

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Kneeling in Thin Places

Just an hour after I called to say
I had seen the first trillium of spring
I saw her outside my window
in genuflection
sun streaming onto her hair
like a medieval-painted Mary kneeling
at holy beauty

In pews
stained-glass
light
covers
those who bend

I knelt today in my garden
planting seeds
It will be prayer
to eat
the first tomato

 

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A Poem for Palm Sunday

In this week of marches and protests, I’ve been thinking about activists. Why does it feel scary to join in? In contrast to so many other times in history and places around the world, we are free in this country to gather, to protest, to march.  The worst that could happen to us is an arrest; in other regimes we could be tortured or killed if we gathered to walk the streets with signs or if we shouted slogans and asked for change.

These words from Luke 19 about Palm Sunday seem particularly fitting today.

 “…they threw their coats on the colt and put Jesus on it. As He was going, they were spreading their coats on the road.  As soon as He was approaching, near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the miracles which they had seen, shouting: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”  But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” 

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I imagine a woman in that crowd, I try to put myself in her shoes. She was likely illiterate; her culture would not have valued her; it was a time of oppression and fear. Hailing allegiance to Jesus would have been a defiant, brave act.

Even Stones Cry Out

As I walked they thrust palms in my hand
so close I could touch Him
and the mangy ass.
For once I did
a brave thing, too
shouted Hosanna 
called out King
I had never heard the sound of my voice so lifted, loud.

I took off my coat, put it down.
Scared as shit, I
joined the throng
We moved through streets
crowds growing
all of us caught up in
laughter
in possibility

Caesar’s guards watched
blood hungry, spears ready

This is no place for risk
I live in confines
I breathe under the weight of ugly rules.
When I go back for my coat will they take me?

Strange how this Jesus
gives me what I cannot give myself
how He makes me more than I am

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Photos courtesy of Karen Heyse

Poem: Innkeepers

Living in a tourist area has given me a new appreciation for one little aspect of the Nativity account. I know innkeepers now, along with people who run gift shops and clean hotel rooms and serve in restaurants. Theirs are bi-polar lives: a manic pace in the summer, a dearth of activity in the winter.  My friends here are people who like people: they enjoy their visitors and customers;  they like the conversations and the interchanges with vacationers. But I can tell you that they get tired. Nearly two million people come here in the summer and fall, and it’s a grueling pace to keep.

For many years I’ve written a Christmas poem. Now that I know a few innkeepers, the words from Luke caught my eye this season as I read through the advent account.  Here’s imagining…

“..and everyone went to their own town to register…While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room available for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:3,7

 

Innkeepers

They grow weary of crowds, of laundry relentless
of chatter continual, the same questions again and again

When there are no rooms, there’s little to be done
The sty, with the stink of animals
at least was something
 
Who doesn’t know, he was surely thinking
that the town would be full, the hotels all arranged months ahead.
But here is a man, and here is a woman
so ready to burst, so weary.

A midwife had to be found
blood and muffled screams
the girl alone
laboring with strangers

and then shepherds with stories
searching for a baby
chiding the man for the stable
saying give them a better place
saying these people are better than they seem

 

 

 

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Poem: Man of the Upper Room

In this week before Easter, I have spent time again reading the accounts of Jesus’ last few days on earth. The Gospels report the events, but I am always drawn to the people that must have been so affected by those events.

Here are my thoughts on one of them, the host (restauranteur?) who provided that last supper for Jesus and the disciples.   (For extra background, read Mark 14:12-15 or Luke 22:7-13.

Jesus remembered the Passover, eating that Seder dinner with his disciples in the tradition that would have been done by Jews in Jerusalem for centuries. But He also knew His own death was coming. Along with other Christians, I see powerful symbolism in His death – a new sacrifice for a new kind of Passover. I’ve hoped to hint at that with this poem.

Man of the Upper Room

 Of course you can use this room, I said to
those friends of His, riding high on
celebrity, renown.

And yes, I’ll keep it a secret
promising to keep away onlookers, the flocking crowds
who wanted to gawk
see scales fall from eyes
watch magic food multiply inside baskets.

Yes, I’ll have extra basins of water for your feet
Though I hardly thought they’d need it
walking as they did that week on green palm leaves
fame growing, applause ringing
smiles ubiquitous.

There will be enough lamb for the dinner, I assured
and spent the day slaughtering.
Blood of goats and sheep
flowed into the mud just outside the door.

All is ready, I told them.
But I was not ready

He washed my feet
made me eat with them.
Kindly, He said my lamb did not
particularly matter.
And, there was to be more
blood, His blood.

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Our song. ( Poem)

Some couples have “their song.” In the movies, lovers swoon, turn sentimental when it comes on a jukebox. Now, spouses make it their ring tones.  This is the closest thing we’ve got. True story.

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Our Song

We had no business climbing.

I didn’t have the right shoes.

I had rarely walked so far,
never climbed so high.

But we walked anyway, always up.
Through pine forests
past smooth granite and
thickets of rhododendrons
across rocky ridges of shale.

Above the tree line
we labored in a boulder field on all fours.

Early though, we heard the song of a white throated sparrow.

Whether we chased him up or merely followed,
the whole way up Mt. Washington
it sang.

Clear-like-water notes
echoed across those ridges, around the turns,
back and forth on switchbacks

until its song soared into our memories
and lasted
across all those years.

Today there is one at my feeder,
a white throat.
I heard his song in the barren
shrubs outside my window.

We walk on flat ground now.
Four pure notes
persist

still accompanying our climb

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to listen, click here. ( Scroll down, click on “Song”)

From Mary

Morning

When I woke
the birds were singing

foretaste of what was to be

In my tears ( again)
I could barely see to lift the spices
and the cloths to wash Him

Walking there
I heard distant laughing

In my bitterness I wondered at how quickly they’d forgotten

But there was no stopping those birds from singing

They kept on
until joined with gardener’s words
and angel songs
there was a mighty symphony when I heard His voice call my name

Mary

I touched Him
and heard Him

my Lord and My God

Risen

 

( I wrote this poem years ago.  Happy Easter!)