This collage of tears and laughter,
wanderings toward promise and much later
what seems the murder of the Promise.
Of Isaac freed and Jephthah’s daughter burnt,
of Hannah’s prayers and Mary’s questions,
the amens and the selahs, the nails of ark and cross.
In the procession behind the lifted cross,
the Scripture, too, is held aloft.
It shapes us. We hear it, sing it,
plunge into God’s saving action through it.
It molds space, creates the paraments,
the carvings, the windows filled with story.
Flames and lilies at the altar, these too
from Scripture. Each image a tale, the gospel
a story linking each person in these pews
with every other one who has held
out her hand for bread, his body.
The book is Word, and Christ the Word made flesh.
The language both complex and simple,
formed between tongue and lips,
pronounced, tasted, incarnate.
I thought it would be difficult to do nothing,
but between intensities, that is what a poem requires.
Time at my desk, pen in hand, lavender fountain grass
waving in pots outside my study windows,
the city beyond, construction cranes, planes overhead,
then gone. This is where my eyes go—toward the light—
and I think images, sometimes words, musing into the clouds
and sky, the sound of hammers, sirens.
Writing this poem is a matter of saying yes, of giving in—
and the words imperfect, many cross-outs,
not knowing if words will come at all, and when they do,
never exactly what I had envisioned but filling
in the page which once was void.
Is this grace? Is it always this risky?
So uncertain, so surprising? Does it descend
on those who hunger and trust its coming
like those small birds scratching for seed?
For Carl Schalk
The composer’s vision lacks centers, he says,
the music he writes must fit into his peripheries.
Even so, God’s glory dazzles the scores like an ocean’s
pageantry of light. What he cannot see, he hears,
and now in the back seat of my car as we travel
to churches of his early ministry, find organs
he once played and choir lofts filled with ghosts
of voices he schooled, he quotes Milton:
“When I consider how my light is spent.”
He has its music already in his head.
We cannot fix our gaze and see it all through close
scrutiny in full light. We must catch it in a sideways
glance, tilt into it, and snatch it at an angle.
Otherwise we are blind to it, too dazed by this world
to take it in. We work with these few images
and music heard only by those whose vision
is too dim to see. God’s glory is rampant and stretches
us to heaven. Our reach is short. Our toes grip earth.
But we have glimpsed reality and heard its music.
The leaves slick with rain
from the afternoon storm,
the small, tough leaves
mixed with grass clippings
for my doll’s salad, her tea laid
behind the side hedge.
The tiny cherries ridged
like pumpkins, sour,
the pits almost as big as
the fruit, the juice sticky
on my hands, dripping
down my wrists, the pits
a small pile in the grass
mixed with dirt and ants.
Grandma’s anger flaring indoors,
her apron thrown down.
The continual drone of mosquitoes
the huge yellow insects,
poison-spitters, Grandpa said,
as he bent over his sprouting
pineapple growing at
the back door, his coffee
always warming on the stove,
ready for his back porch
newspaper and his cigar.
His silence when Grandma
slammed the door.
I would fit myself into corners
of the outdoors, wedge
into interstices, find freedom in small
places, the games more
challenging the smaller
the playing field,
the games unshackling blood bonds
to anger foaming and burnt.
The hush in the forest is calming at first
and then not. No songs to sing along this via dolorosa
except Kaddish. I walk on pine needles decades
after thousands were herded like animals to the pit
that is just ahead. The silent whispers of the dead
linger, caught even in the branches of these straight
pines, still sloughing, still seeping into the soil.
A Jew of the New Testament,
Baumgaertner is written in the death
roles at Auschwitz, Peláez in the archive
of victims and survivors. This is not my story,
each name a blood line, each silenced voice words
unlinked from mine. This is not my story, yet I
am stumbling along, my year-old child clinging
to my neck. For a flash of a second I am aware of one sharp
breath and the beginning of a fall into the abyss.
This is not my story, I keep repeating.
This is not my story.