“Our very life depends on continuous acts of beginning. But these beginnings are out of our hands; they decide themselves.
Beginning precedes us, creates us. There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning.
More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could."
John O’Donohue


23 May 2016

Doctrine

What you left me,
ultimately,
is the doctrine of irreplaceability.

It feels like the place
where your hair meets the skin
the skin of your neck,
rising with touch.
It sounds like the holy quiet
of night giving way to dawn.

In a dream, I place you,
an anachronism
in my grandfather's garden.
After decades of failed attempts,
I am suddenly, strangely
able to grow things.
I can watch the sprout of a pepper plant
and know how light and air
will preach it into bearing.
I can feel the delicate spines
on the skin of a ripening tomato
and see love and letting go
open a window
on the crowded earth
for it to arrive.
Our four hands share
the prophecy of dirt,
the late summer drought
yielding to fruit.

You have tethered me
to the setting sun,
its measured crossing
of the dark side of the earth.
And I go willingly,
unwillingly.

14 May 2016


Trinity

My brother is an artist,
though I am not sure he remembers.

I picture him drawing in charcoal years ago: 
strong, thick lines to delineate an image, 
which he then rubbed off, 
black fingers and muddled page, 
to create the contours 
of an actual, breathing body. 
It is a thing I will never understand, 
this movement of dust into flesh. 
And it is not what I do with words. 

I turn flesh into dust, 
and I rearrange the grains
until they speak some strange new word.  
He resurrected, 
I deconstructed. 
That was always our way. 

And now you, walking back,  
breathing your warmth into what was last
and will be. 
I am not sure which gesture it is.

What was it I imagined otherwise?
Likely some idea,
immaculate at its sharp edges. 

Creator's intent, 
Sustainer's history. 
And at the apex, 
this wound, not healable, 
and not meant to be. 
  

10 May 2016: PSR Palestine Immersion Chapel Reflection

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up to a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters--one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 

When it comes to the Transfiguration, I begin in a foreign place: the pine forests of Georgia in my childhood. Where, in a certain season, the cicadas abandon their skins by the hundreds on the bark of the trees. There are transfigured bugs somewhere. But all you see are the pearl-pale skeletons of bodyshapes clinging.

In love with all things fragile, I wanted to collect them. But each one I touched crumbled. Though I tried every delicate procedure, their no-longer-feet still held fast with unseeable insect tenacity and their ghostly bodies were nearly nothing, disintegrating with the slightest pinch. 

I want to say something about what it is that makes a place--however small--or a time--however brief--holy. But it takes more voices than I have. We could say something about permanence and impermanence, certainty and conjecture. The places and times that wound and heal us. The nowhere and everywhere, suspended time and fleeting time. Finding our way and losing it all at once. 

On Mount Tabor, there are two churches. You would think there was only the one: with mosaic tents for Moses and Elijah and a grand sanctuary for Jesus built on the triumph and treasure of the apostolic assembly. Its doors await the Rolls Royce, the cameras, the rose-bedecked bride. But there is another: ragged quarter walls and damp, dark earth. Perhaps the site is more ancient, more true. Perhaps not. But it is certainly more inviting for the prayers of the dispossessed--a place to imagine the promise of a restored body. Fresh soil calls out, asking to be dug up for a new order, an unvisited wholeness. 

The sunset falls from the crest of Tabor over fertile checkered farmlands claimed a hundred times over. If you squint, you can see the desperate effort to scrawl lines of imaginary safety. I am photographed taking a photograph, the sunset multiplied in the image, as if it could belong to more than one people. 

I did manage to extract a cicada shell once, as best I could tell with all of its microscopic borders intact. It is in a plexiglass box in a mildewed chest somewhere in one of a dozen storage sites in Georgia. No one will ever rock in silent prayer over it as the women do in seclusion at Abraham's tomb. And I do not pray to it today, but to the creatures I could hear but never see emerging into the woods, the ones who search the living earth and air for what is next.

8 May 2016: Berkeley

Fiddleheads

On that particular hillside,
the fog arrives over these three days
in five different bodies
like a shapeshifting god--
     fairy wisp,
     clan of snakes,
     liquid wind,
     lovers' arms,
     queen's full repose.
They tour the villages of private miseries.

In the high hills,
the fog mists over the darkened bedroom windows
of the dozen girls here
with bowed legs and sunken eyes
who dread portioned meals.
It curls around the contemporary facade
of a house full of pacing and blame-throwing,
where the phone registers
the pleas of the novice addict:
the stolen wallet, the blind eye, the never again.

In the low hills,
it brushes past the crumbling apartments--
one earthquake from surrender--
of the young lover
dieting on Ativan and vodka
and the woman
who lost her son, her sister, and her mind
all at once.

At the edge of the cloud,
between the water and the ridge,
is our house,
the children waiting at the window.

I try to imagine what can hold
this immense, provincial ache.
Something in the mist
sets my mind on fiddleheads,
how they turn in so perfectly to hold
their own fragility.
The head of the leaf, the extremities,
the skin and spores,
all one embrace
and shield.
In their season,
thousands of fiddleheads
dwell in the hills outside this window,
fortresses of tortuous waiting
and coming release.

4 May 2016

Credo-40

This is the day I will hold it all lightly,
for my own sake.
I will tell myself that your hands and eyes
spoke truth, what they knew of it,
and that love does not rain on dry ground.
I will not dwell on the alter-worlds
of erasure or return.
I will declare my heart both
entirely taken
and entirely my own.
I will trust that the world
just outside my skin
is not made of daggers and fire.
I will hold the image of you
arriving, and arriving again--
freely, with fresh anticipation--
the last night so like the first.
I will forgive my remembering,
though it draws you dangerously close,
with the soft persistence of your mouth
when words were at rest.

And I will believe the stories people tell--
not because they can be lived,
but because they are believed.

3 May 2016

Mothering

The thing about single mothering
is that you can't have a feeling
without the children, the animals,
the house itself
having it with you.
Your heart is not a sanctuary,
it is a compound.

I haven't had a solitary feeling
since my five year old son saw me cry for the first time
and decided to live in the wilderness
and survive off of the generosity
of hoarding squirrels,
until his sister called him in with a reminder
about fire ants
and his present lack of claws.

We grieve together, always--
such injustice.
They are certainly not learning
that the world is an inheritance
of meritocratic bliss.
I suppose that's the up side.
But they are taking the body blows of loss--
theirs and mine alike--
as if they were prepared
for the atrocities of love.

The alternative, of course,
is to make them objects of hope,
rather than its water bearers.
And when, precisely, then
would our souls meet?
That magic was simply
unwilling to wait.

2 May 2016

An Invocation

There are times
when we pray for release
from the prison of suffering--
the confused mind
trying in vain to complete its fractured history,
the anxious body
rehearsing its losses--
and what God grants, eventually
is emptiness.

A questionable grace.
They say that grief, for some,
comes as a sensation of swallowing sand.
But try, for today,
to imagine that unwelcome space
as holy desert:
where life is forged under duress;
where every drop of water
is a visible prism of mercy;
where strange creatures
adapt their bodies fiercely to hardship,
thick skins and heightened senses,
and stop in their slow progress to watch you,
looking far in as children do,
to seek the truth of your constitution--
fear or tenacity;
where sweat-drenched visions
and the voices of the cold desert night
bring ancient stories
that will echo in your risen heart.

This, too, is a place of flourishing,
and of visitation.


1 May 2016

Itinerary

I am nearly forty now,
and I am planning a trip.
But you know that.
Every mosaic wall will tell
the story of a moment we never got to live.
Every sparkle of sun on the Mediterranean
will ask where you are.
And I will have no answer.

You gave me,
among the gifts,
the rules of a new infidelity.
The beauty of resurrection day
ending in the survey of ruins
and the feel of pounding surf.
I should have known,
I should always have known.
That first night, I saw it:
the wreckage, the disorientation.
I dreamed of traveling this country
by elevator--
the certainty of destination
made improbable.
States, lifetimes ticking by
too fast to see or feel them.

I no longer love the sun,
or art,
or the sweet, quiet "hello"s
of the three year old next door,
trying gently to call me out of silence.

I will travel without knowing
where I am going.
That is the only way.
I will pray for the hope
of a world larger than me,
larger than you,
to swallow me.

Jonah. That blessed silence,
that slow dissolution.
If only there were no rescue,
no vomitous survival.
That would be a story
worth telling.