I hope with her.

As we move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday this weekend, I thought I’d repost this from 2010.

Christ’s Passion

Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked

the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.

He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul

this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods

with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh

felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.

So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles

growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.

Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each

pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill

and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they

unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope.

-Mary Karr Viper Rum

(via Mama:Monk)

the image is of the cross at Taizé. Every Friday night, they do a kind of Good Friday service, at the end of which you can gather to pray around the cross, if you wish. I spent a week in Taizé in 2004, and that week, and especially that night, turned out to be a defining moment in my faith. It’s a memory I often think back to when I find it hard going, and I thought it would be an appropriate accompaniment to the poem.


a different kind of pastoral bliss

Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.

– Rumi

quote van de dag

Uit een serie kleine interviews met jonge meisjes in de Volkskrant:

Er is geen beroep dat mannen beter kunnen dan vrouwen. Sommigen begrijpen dat nog niet, dus daarom is zo’n vrouwendag wel goed.

aldus Lisa Philippo, elf jaar, over de 100ste Internationale Vrouwendag.

Ik ben er helemaal mee eens.

ho ho ho on the first of december

Ha, it’s December again! Which means it’s snowing on my blog (you’ll have to click over from your feed reader to see the tiny flakes of snow falling on my words) and it’s time for a new poem of the month. A Christmas poem, of course. Actually, what to me is the Christmas poem: “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (more correctly titled “A Visit From St. Nicolas” but it’s not known by that name at my house and I’m sticking with tradition here).

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro’ the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar plums danc’d in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap —
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call’d them by name:
“Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer and Vixen,
“On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donder and Blitzen;
“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys — and St. Nicholas too:
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes — how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laugh’d when I saw him in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight —
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

It’s often attributed to Clement Clark Moore but it’s rumored that he didn’t actually write it, but that Henry Livingston did. I don’t know about that. All I know that I’ve heard this poem every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember, and that it’s not Christmas without it. I used to be almost word-perfect on it, but that skill is no longer mine, alas. (As an aside, it feels more relevant to use words like “alas” when it’s cold outside. Am I the only one that does this?) It would be fun to memorize it again. Maybe I can make that into a New Year’s resolution, thereby sticking to my resolve to never make any serious New Year’s resolutions. That would be killing two birds with one stone, or poem, in this case. I’ll let you know how that works out.



ella minnow pea

Yesterday, the topic of “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” came up during dinner. Coincidentally (or not, it depends on whether you believe in coincidence or not), I had been reading Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn that same day. I had so much fun rereading it for what must be at least the eleventh time that I decided I had to write about it.

It’s a lovely book, short and sweet, that details the turmoil on the little (fictional) island of Nollop. Nollop, supposedly, once created the pangram stated above, and is revered for that on the island. There is a statue of him on the main square, with tiles affixed to it that spell out the sentence. But then the glue on one of the tiles gives way, and the tile falls and shatters.

Not a big deal, right? Some new glue and you’re good to go. Wrong. The High Council decides that this incident means that Nollop (who somewhere along the way has gone from respected figure to an almost divine status) wants them to stop using this letter. One slip-up means a public reprimand, two means a flogging or an afternoon in headstock, and three means banishment from the island – or death, if you refuse to go.

All of a sudden, this delightful book full of quaint language turns quite dark. Nollop turns into a kind of police state and neighbors turn on neighbors, and all struggle to survive. It’s up to a “subterra” movement to stop the High Council, despite all odds..

The book is written in letter-form, which works very well here. As a word-geek, I had such fun reading the letters, which are filled with old-fashioned and multi-syllabic words that sometimes taxed my vocabulary. I highly recommend it – there’s intrigue in there, wordplay, romance, and even a Pony Express. It’s one of my favorite go-to books when I want to read something familiar. My only criticism is that towards the end, when so many letters have been banned that the islanders have resulted to writing in a kind of phonetic spelling, the letters become quite hard to read. Of course, you might not have such a problem with that. I am known to be just a tad bit lazy, after all.

And I trust you’ve all grasped why the book is titled Ella Minnow Pea? If not, say it out loud a couple of times, and it’ll come to you.

Awesome. Just awesome.

working words

I’ve always been very jealous of poets. I mean, I can write. I can string words together and make a story, hopefully well enough to create a world you can get lost in, even if it’s just for a second. But I love words. I think it’s fascinating how they sound when spoken and look on a page when typed (or, even better, handwritten on beautiful lined paper). And poetry is much more conductive to that kind of scrutiny than most prose is.

But unfortunately I can’t write poetry to save my life. My efforts end up sounding trite and angstridden, much more like a teenager’s scribbling than the deep thoughts and beautiful words I was aiming for. Every once in a while I’ll come up with a good line or two, and try to build a poem around it. Inevitably, I fail. But I hug those lines to me and whisper them to myself in secret, because in some way, they represent me and I love them for that. Poetry is deeply personal and therefore very close to my soul.

All this serves as an introduction to the following anthology, edited by M.L. Liebler, that I really want to buy, put on my shelves, and flip through every so often. (I never read poetry collections straight through. The words tend to lose their power whenever I try, so I limit myself to a couple of poems I can linger over.) The anthology contains poetry and short fiction and memoirs and nonfiction – a good mix.

Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams

Apparently, one of his aims was to make poetry accessible to everyone. To that end, Walt Whitman is in there. But so are Eminem and Bob Dylan. I love that. Because poetry really isn’t as highbrow as some people seem to think. I get that Shakespeare isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If I’m honest, he’s often not my favorite. But there’s poetry out there for everyone – whether your soul is moved by powerful imagery, by rhyme, or by rock lyrics you can sing along with at the top of your lungs.

If and when I get my hands on this book, I’ll let you know what gems I find inside. Who knows, it might inspire me to pore over a few lines of my own. Those are just for me, though. I take it you don’t mind.



new poem, two days late

I got this month’s poem of the month from Mama:Monk’s blog. I read her posts because of the poetry it contains, because she’s Jason Boyett‘s sister, and because it’s very refreshing to read about her struggles to meet with God in her daily life. Seriously, I often wish I was half as spiritual as she is, or at least as committed to making this religion thing work. And that’s also why I chose this poem. Because even though it might make my life easier, I can’t let go of God and church. To stay with the wonderful imagery of this poem, the phone keeps ringing. And when I’m very lucky, I get burned by godfire I’m not sure exists.

Staying Power

by Jeanne Murray Walker

In appreciation of Maxim Gorky at the International Convention of Atheists, 1929

Like Gorky, I sometimes follow my doubts
outside to the yard and question the sky,
longing to have the fight settled, thinking
I can’t go on like this, and finally I say

all right, it is improbable, all right, there
is no God. And then as if I’m focusing
a magnifying glass on dry leaves, God blazes up.
It’s the attention, maybe, to what isn’t there

that makes the emptiness flare like a forest fire
until I have to spend the afternoon dragging
the hose to put the smoldering thing out.
Even on an ordinary day when a friend calls,

tells me they’ve found melanoma,
complains that the hospital is cold, I say God.
God, I say as my heart turns inside out.
Pick up any language by the scruff of its neck,

wipe its face, set it down on the lawn,
and I bet it will toddle right into the godfire
again, which—though they say it doesn’t
exist—can send you straight to the burn unit.

Oh, we have only so many words to think with.
Say God’s not fire, say anything, say God’s
a phone, maybe. You know you didn’t order a phone,
but there it is. It rings. You don’t know who it could be.

You don’t want to talk, so you pull out
the plug. It rings. You smash it with a hammer
till it bleeds springs and coils and clobbery
metal bits. It rings again. You pick it up

and a voice you love whispers hello.