A Mother’s Joy

As clouds curl and stretch above a ginkgo tree
a twilight gold wreathes three small figures
their Dad quickening his steps
as they race toward open church doors
their laughter echoing in its depths
and I still warm from the summer’s smile
sit waiting on the benches of sung psalms
there to worship the living God
who knew this moment
before it began
a moment
that began long before
my conception in the dreaming womb
of a mother returned to the songs of her land
and I cold from her lost embrace, lost lamb
carried in the arms of the Shepherd to sail motherhood
embraced by the cossetting arms of a sun-kissed husband
and the eager hands of ebullient children whose mouths
warble love like songbirds in the Sabbath twilight
as clouds curl and stretch above a ginkgo tree.

For my husband and children on Mother’s Day with love.

On Prufrock Reading His Love Song: A Palinode

Image from “Dante’s Inferno,” a video game

Grace at dVerse asks us to meet the bar by writing a palinode or palinody, “an ode or song that retracts or recants a view or sentiment to what the poet wrote in a previous poem.” She has various examples of this and I’ve chosen to follow Monica Youn’s model. Modernists like the young T.S. Eliot have always intrigued me, their loss of faith, their perceived dissolution of any moral center so that it could not “hold” (Yeats) leading to a hellish fragmentation of their psyche, the untethered remnants of a “lost generation.” Their poems nevertheless are replete with the religious symbolism of earlier ages. I thought I’d pluck a character from one of Eliot’s most famous poems (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”) and see how he would do in a palinode.As a palate cleanser, which you may be in great need of after my clumsy fan fiction, listen to the Jeremy Irons reading of Eliot’s poem below. Click on Mr. Linky to read more dVerse palinodes and join in.

Continue reading “On Prufrock Reading His Love Song: A Palinode”

Job’s Wife

Inspired by the Georges de La Tour painting below, the following poem attempts to give an added voice to the eloquence of Tour’s work by “unmuting” Job’s wife. As a character in the Book of Job, a Gentile living during the time of the patriarchs, Job’s wife is not prominent. But, perhaps, she delivers the most bitter blow to Job. Through her, we hear the voice of Satan speaking most directly to Job when she asks,  “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). In the midst of his sufferings, I believe Job’s greatest challenge was to withstand this voice and choose to trust God.

Job Mocked by his Wife Georges de La Tour (17th c.)
“Job Mocked by his Wife,” Georges de La Tour (17th c.)

No, Job, I didn’t sign up for this.
The ships lost at sea, drowning spices
Camels marauded, flocks lit into carrion husks
Children buried by an ill-wind where they danced
And my jewels? Bartered for funeral meats

Shall I proclaim it for posterity, inscribe in stone
Your endless complaints, the hollow sounds
Of jagged grief and friends’ scorn?
Look at me! Washing our rags, hiding my shame
From the maids that I once kicked out of doors

Job, I didn’t sign up for this, my darling.
Your boils how they stink where they fester
Open wounds that run dry and break open again
The prayers that you whisper late into the night
While in the city they dance and they dine

Gentiles we are, not of Abraham’s tribe!
The God you both serve has given you hell
So leave it, I tell you; curse Him and die!
Don’t live like a fool trusting Him with your life
When a stillborn child has much better luck

I heard you this morning sing like a lark,
Of your God who will come to intercede and save
Who with your own eyes you will see at last
So you’ll wait, diseased, though you’re slain. You’re mad!

The sacrifices you offered once smoked to the sky
Yet you speak of a Redeemer as if he were a man
But, husband, what broken body, what blood can make clean
Hearts bitter with hate, hands wicked with lust?
This God that you worship is too holy, too proud
Do what I say! Curse Him and die!

I didn’t sign up for this!
Do you hear?
I didn’t sign up for this.


Job 19:19-27
All my intimate friends abhor me,
and those whom I loved have turned against me.
My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh,
and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.
Have mercy on me, have mercy on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me?
Why are you not satisfied with my flesh?
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

Roughly reworked from an earlier version for dVerse "Poetics: "Exploring the Narrative Voice," guest hosted by Ingrid. Thank you, Ingrid for a superb prompt. More dVerse poems, at Mr. Linky's.

Review of “Poems from the Heart” by Dwight Roth

Whether Mr. Roth’s Poems from the Heart are read over the course of a week or a day, you will feel each time that you’ve just had a heartfelt talk with a friend: a friend with a way with words in all the particulars that touch you to the core. You’ll come away as if you’d been on a companionable walk, finding more in common than not with the poet, and knowing that it was time well-spent for the sentiments shared.

So it’s altogether fitting that the first poem is “Famous Only Among Friends”; after all only such fame is real and meaningful, with time spent and hearts open. And Roth invites us into his thoughts with his signature openheartedness, a style that is thankfully short on obscurities and long on frank and unabashed clarity so that its poetic beauty penetrates the heart.

Throughout this collection of poems, you will be charmed as I was with the poet’s unerring descriptions, the imagery of the woods (“To Be a Leaf”) and hearth-side (“Blackberry Pie”) mingling effortlessly with the deeper truths of life and spirituality.

Continue reading “Review of “Poems from the Heart” by Dwight Roth”

Stay Bright, Yellow

“Stay Bright, Yellow”

Stay bright, yellow
Roughshod blue the bliss of it
Corner it free to humility
Bother the pride loose
Trill the tree-lit melodies
Emblazon green
In ragged hearts
Gush on the joy
Glory forth the holy
Genuflect the new life
Grace unspeakable
Stay bright, yellow


WhimsyGizmo at dVerse asks us to use any variation on the word "bother" to write a quadrille (a 44-word poem). Click on Mr. Linky to join in!

The Mole People

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields very kindly invites us to join the Friday Fictioneers in their weekly creative quests of a hundred words or less prompted by a photo. Click here and join in! Photo prompt © Anne Higa  

The Mole People

In the underground caves we lived the squalor that passed for life
Each of us coveting the other’s baubles, driven by transient desires
One took another’s wife, someone her neighbor’s pearl of contentment
Deceived and deceiving we lived as opulent moles in a darkness unrelenting.

We were aware of an abundant life above ground, one richer in life and meaning
We yearned to quench ourselves in the unfathomable joy of its Light pouring
Through the dim recesses of our shadowed being, but mechanically going to and fro
We multiplied our labors seeking promised pleasure in glinting mirrors of craving eyes.


Dear reader: A little background to the above poem. In reading the 20th-century philosopher René Girard, one can’t help but be struck by how the last of the Ten Commandments focuses exclusively on covetous desire, something that the second tablet of the law enumerates to a certain extent. Thou shalt not covet. Girard finds the breaking of this law to be the root of violence in every culture. Here’s how he explains his theory of mimetic desire:

In reading the tenth commandment one has the impression of being present at the intellectual process of its elaboration. To prevent people from fighting, the lawgiver seeks at first to forbid all the objects about which they ceaselessly fight, and he decides to make a list of these. However, he quickly perceives that the objects are too numerous: he cannot enumerate all of them. So he interrupts himself in the process, gives up focusing on the objects that keep changing anyway, and he turns to what never changes. Or rather, he turns to that one who is always present, the neighbor. One always desires whatever belongs to that one, the neighbor. Since the objects we should not desire and nevertheless do desire always belong to the neighbor, it is clearly the neighbor who renders them desirable. In the formulation of the prohibition, the neighbor must take the place of the objects, and indeed he does take their place in the last phrase of the sentence that prohibits no longer objects enumerated one by one but “anything that belongs to him [the neighbor].” What the tenth commandment sketches, without defining it explicitly, is a fundamental revolution in the understanding of desire. We assume that desire is objective or subjective, but in reality it rests on a third party who gives value to the objects. This third party is usually the one who is closest, the neighbor. To maintain peace between human beings, it is essential to define prohibitions in light of this extremely significant fact: our neighbor is the model for our desires. This is what I call mimetic desire.

René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, pp. 9-10. (Click on the title for more of this excerpt.)

Easter Morn

Grave clothes left behind
see death’s dominion broken
in an empty tomb

Light the air, so bright
silent glory transpiring
the King ascending


John 11: 25-26
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

Humble Singh and the Giddy Widow: A Good Friday Story

It was Good Friday morning and Humble Singh was watching the clock.

He had done this every Good Friday for as long as he could remember, even while his wife, Millie, was still alive and before he had sold his business and moved to live with his son and his family.

It was a quarter to nine. Soon Jesus would arrive, cross-laden, at Golgotha. His face is beaten to a pulp, Jewish and Gentile spit mingles with his blood, and he is struggling with exhaustion and pain as long strips of deeply scored flesh lie open on his back from the scourging, and every nerve in his body screams in anticipation of the crucifixion. The soldiers hurry him along. They conscript a bystander to carry the horizontal beam on his back.

Ten till. Humble sat in his sitting room at the back of the house. Suddenly he leapt up and went into the back garden. Red tulips. Purple hyacinths. Large burgundy magnolia buds like the bruises that covered Christ’s body. The Roman soldiers had mocked him with a purple robe and a crown of thorns while beating him repeatedly. The Jewish priests and their hitting, spitting and slapping needed their scorn driven home. But it was their hour of shame. “His blood be on us and on our children!” the crowd had cried. The mob must have its victim. Even if that victim was pure, blameless. The Lamb of God.

A minute till nine. They lie him down, stripped, arms held down on the cross beam. Humble looks up at a movement in the shrubbery. A bunny had scurried through the open garden gate. Humble hurries to close it.  Piercing nails. Blood running free. Writhing agony. Joints stretching in excruciating torture. The crowd gathers round. Women sob. Many watch in satisfaction.

“Humble! Yoo hoo, Humble!” a woman’s voice sings out. It was Prithi, known in the predominantly Asian neighborhood as the “Giddy Widow.” She approaches him with a broad smile and with nowhere to run, unlike the bunny, Humble returns her greeting. She comes into the garden, her heels clicking on the pavement, bangles bouncing on attractively plump arms and her rouged face a pantomime of coquetry.

They wander around the garden, Prithi chatty, Humble surreptitiously checking his watch. It was a large garden, professionally tended, an arbor here, a fish pond there, a large oak in the middle of the grounds, shady trees of cherry, plum, and maple. No olive trees. Unlike that garden where Christ sweated huge drops of blood at what he would be enduring today. “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

Continue reading “Humble Singh and the Giddy Widow: A Good Friday Story”

Belief (5)

Based on the Gospel of John, chapter 9

“A man they call Jesus” he tells them
the source of his healing
he who had been born blind
sitting in the temple
day after day
begging for alms
when suddenly
one spits on the ground
makes mud, covers his eyes
sends him to wash
in the pool of Siloam
and immediately he sees
this one who had never seen before
“Where is he?” they ask him
and he can’t say until that same one
finds him, after he, now healed,
had been thrown out of the temple
for recounting the miracle, for saying,
“If this man were not from God,
he could do nothing.”
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
this man asks him. “Who is he, sir?”
the healed man wants to know. “Tell me
so that I may believe in him.”
The healer reveals himself as the one
and the man replies, “Lord, I believe,”
and worships him
he worships him!
well, wouldn’t you?
if you were blind from birth
and your eyes are opened
with a bit of spittle and dirt
and you come up out of the water
and you can see! oh God! you can see!
but not just anything, like a temple
not just anyone, like a robed priest
you can see a man they call Jesus!
Prompt from Peter Frankis of dVerse challenges us to "Meet the Bar" by "Coming full circle."

Rebirth

For the listener, who listens in the snow, And, nothing himself, beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
— Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”

There ought not to be anything but that my mind has ordered it so —

So I had been taught — for the mind is designer

Reality but the by-blow, bastard child that diminishes as I diminish

But that the Emperor of Ice-Cream has clay feet

Which stand on eternity’s threshold eyeing a feast.

There the bread and wine of Thy design

Grain and grape sweetly lies upon the tongue

To “taste and see the goodness of the LORD”

Yet nothing tasting if not sanctified by Thy Word

Blood spilled and body broken

Spoken gospel of love heard by a few

Who once nothing being are born in You

Till nothing become sons and daughters

Alive to You.

Originally posted on This Jolly Beggar.

What God Has Done

Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
— Ecclesiastes 7:13



what God has done
a crook in your lot
can’t be set right
by human device
bent to a degree
sorely injudicious
by reason’s measure
imperfect yardsticks
we hold up to judge
what God has done

what God has done
humility to bear
a stony field
unleveled path
that curved back
that strained heart
the roof that caved
vanquished plans
deathless grief
if we dare decry
what folly to fight
when we can’t change
what God has done

what God has done
he sent his Son
to bear our sins
to pay the price
to win our peace
to lead the crooked
down a narrow way
to carry the weak
to strengthen the tired
to lead them home
on eagle’s wings
of faith and love
of hope and joy
to open blind eyes
to see, my soul,
what God has done


Job 12: 13-16
[Job speaks] “With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, none can rebuild;
if he shuts a man in, none can open.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.
With him are strength and sound wisdom;
the deceived and the deceiver are his.”

Jude 24-25
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
Amen.

Romans 11: 33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever.
Amen.

 

 

A Rose To You

a rose to you and you and you
dear readers that stumbled onto this page
and familiar friends who’ve long remained
through drought or storm as balmy days
faithful ones who exchange the fruits
gleaned from weedy words and pruned vines
some tangy to the taste or sweetly spiced
all enlivened with the sunlit labor of moments
transcribed to screens of dispersed bytes
to be received like petals furled and unfurled
as if a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose
when given in love

I Saw A Guillemot Fall Today

Common guillemot

I saw a guillemot fall today
off the nesting cliffs
before it caught the wind;
I saw it snatched by a seagull’s bill
fast-disappearing in its maw.
Lazarus-like it emerged again
and I caught my breath for joy,
when swept down another gull
to swallow the fledgling whole.

Nature’s mien is none too keen
on compassion for the young.
The weak it passes over lightly
as fodder for the strong.
The world smiles at peace
entraps hopeful souls
then dogs of war do feed
while songbirds chirp
and children sing
of innocence and joy.

What means this? cries the philosopher
writing down his ethics.
Why it’s nature versus nurture,
exclaims the educationist.
Oh, hollow man, feed on love,
the poet strums a tune.
The guillemot parents of a fledgling bird
hear not the empty words.
They see beyond a skeptic’s sight
to an ordaining hand, and flying easy
from an empty nest, they’ll return again in spring.

Oh God, who takes away and gives,
our wounded hearts you see!
O give us strength to bear the pain
and rest in faith again.
Our grief we give to you once more
and pray our sight you’ll clear
to see the hope of eternal days
when tears no more we’ll fear.


Job 12: 7-10
[Job speaks] “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;
or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of all mankind.”

 

 

En Pointe

Sarah of dVerse asks us to choose a poem we’ve read over the last year and write a response to it in conversation, as it were, with its preoccupations. I’ve chosen John Updike’s “Fine Point,” written just weeks before his death in January 2009. His consciousness of our tainted public and personal history, and faith’s endurance as he alludes to Psalm 23, is what engages me most. And so my response, “En Pointe.”

En Pointe

What divinity is this that tempers our clay

with hammers of wrath expended on temple,

church, in our uneasy play with pagan tunes

of lust? Even as we covet our neighbor’s lamb

we would sing tuneful papyrus songs in our Babylon

with lyres hung under willows, calling out as children

“Abba, Father,” knowing we are heard by the Name

of One who bore the curse of our sinful rebellions.

O Son of David, thou whose lips have tendered infinity –

“It is finished” mercy and justice united blood

spilled and body spent on the cross so that Surely—

yes, “surely”— and all the days of my life wilt thou

pursue not merely “follow”— poor substitute

for the ancient tongue which reaches out in mercy

as unbounded as a lover’s song of songs to me

now to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever. Selah.

Last Year’s Snow

When last year’s snow is slow to go
The chill hanging on, no mellow glow
Arrives, freeing wintry branches and briers
Beneath the ice like frozen desires.

So may our hearts harden, slow to thaw
When too long we don’t withdraw
Our gaze from yesterday’s wrong
Mistrusting forgiveness for which we long.

Then what loss we bear to gain instead
A bitter disbelief in what had once been shed
Where warm blood flowed from pierced side
Christ’s sacrifice unheeded and despised.

Look up, dear soul, see who’s risen above
Healing in his wings to bear your judgment in love
He enthroned in power, has power to melt
Your shame-hardened heart, set free from guilt.

Seeing Christmas Light

I stand at the well at the desert’s end
the camels noisy at the trough
there’s the star blazing above me
the night sky distraught with light.
I, looking down as into a mirror,
drawn to the abyss below.

The star grows preternaturally, soundless
my cries echo it close, spilling embittered tears,
so might the well’s bounds overflow,
now the journey has been for nothing
my hopes and fears for naught.

This cankered sore that my heart is
this cauled face, disfigured husk,
what the worldly-wise has given birth to,
I sag to my knees and howl:
there is no sorrow as impenetrable
as knowing the road you’ve followed
in the end was all a mirage.

Even as death hangs o’er me
an eternal vision belies it;
alone I stand under starlight
alone I gaze at the night
this wanderer as foolish as a beast
wondering that the yawning darkness
had not overtaken the light.

If birth is but a prelude to death
what if death is the prelude to life?
Here, across trackless sands following
a star as bright as the morning shines
to watch over me in the night;
bemused I lift my eyes up
to see a distant rise,
there to see a babe born
who set the star in the skies.

Recrudescence

Slim, liminal, posterns of light
these words given and received
outskirting impossibilities
and health-riven cheek-jowling pain
absenting gormless vacuity,
Jude not Judas, thirty pieces of silver
husbandry of waterless clouds
but faith’s Canaan vine-laden
Jerusalem’s milk
unfathomable peace
Cross-borne recrudescence
and a Kingdom come.

dVerse's Quadrille #116: "possible," 44 words
Click on Mr. Linky for more quadrilles

Journey (2)

Image credit; Evan Clark@ Unsplash

Journey

water still
log submerged
balanced feet
journey of the mind

what do you see,
what do you understand?
“to reach the shore
keep your eyes on land”

feet submerged
the sky above
you whisper, what now
as your heart gives out

from misty shore
a Voice calls out
“to walk on water
you can’t look down”

can faith hold firm
Who do you trust?
what your eyes can’t see
is what bears you up


Leaves in Light

Eden’s light long since faded
we no longer look to know or see
as we once saw but question
the light we possess, frugal,
appalled at universal decay:
but now You have come.

Contained within the palms of Your hands,
not a leaf, not a flower, not a rock,
not the universe in a grain of sand,
but nails driven into You in whom
we have our being.

You did not suffer apart from me
as a celestial leaf in glory fallen
shorn from root, tree, limb,
but You in me, now dead, buried,
risen to new life.

In this crucible of exile do not deny me
now the fire of your Spirit along darkened veins,
a reckoning, their pride of life burnt dry
into joyous rivers of light.


Romans 6:22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.