Writing

lists

This morning I resolved to ride my bike- just in the neighborhood, to check its alignment before I frighten drivers on busier streets. But now rain streaks my windows and drools out of the gutters, so I sit squinting at IRS forms and thinking of poetry.

You asked why I don’t write more poems.
Quite actually, you didn’t, but there I’ve beaten you to it,
and in bending the truth thus, accomplished that subtle
weave of fact and feeling that I associate with poetry.

But I undid the threads. The truth is, I have internalized Rilke
when he said that perhaps we are here simply to make lists:
House. Bridge. Fountain. Gate. Pitcher. Apple tree. Window.
To say things as they are in their integrity, without embellishment.

So every night at 9:50 I add to a list: Train going by in the dark.
Small singers’ hugs. Kitchen table. Two hawks. Dent in my car.
One huge arched cloud trail. Skeletal trees.

I notice the way the rain envelopes and becomes the sky, content to sink through the earth and change its form, abandoning flight and keeping me indoors, where I sit like a reservoir of simple things, making my lists when I ought to be doing my taxes. Rilke says we ought to speak the lists aloud, or write them, as the most fitting beginner’s form of poetry. “There are the hurts,” he writes. “And, always, the hardships. And there’s the long knowing of love – all of it unsayable. Later, amidst the stars, we will see: these are better unsaid.” So I write: the soft way light reaches through the window to rest in stripes on a girl’s brown hair during church. A friend talking about Paris. Unexpected meetings and free food and my hand out the window to feel the warming air and, of all things, Call Me Maybe on 95.5.

These are no more than fragments that I, in listing them, weave into a body. Rilke, again: “And the things which, even as they live, pass on – understand that we praise them. Transient, they are trusting us to preserve them – us, the most transient of all. As if they wanted our hearts to transform them into – o endlessly – into us. Whatever we are.”

I cannot yet call that transformation Poetry. I slowly fulfill my human duty to name things, but it is ironic that I have no name for the Opus that results. There is great and solemn joy in the mystery. To all the spoken and word-upheld world, I say: be.

This post appeared first on torreygazette.com


jogging

grass

I weave through the city.
The squirrels keep up; they understand
the urge to race in the dappled light.

A recorded voice drawls out, slow and Texan:
“The walk sign is on to cross 24th street at Lamar,”
and the woman at the crosswalk repositions her earbuds.
She runs north, and I, south– past Shoal creek looking rocky
and innocent, as if it did not flood west downtown just last year
and the year before that.

A girl’s dog pulls her to the ground straining to greet me.
“He’s excited to see you,” she pants. I understand
the urge to run toward the new and the strange.

The silvery exhale of a bus
matches the uneven pulse of
my breathing as I see my city’s skyscrapers
like a collective shout, loom over the 15th street bridge.

Living in a city is like lying eye level with the grass,
watching it grow.


choruses

urban light

This week I sit curled up next to family, watching small siblings opening gifts. I lie on carpet squinting at economics and algebra textbooks, and watch the pilot episodes of a couple of shows people have instructed me to see, weighing whether I can sustain the commitment to finish their stories. I wake up late. I run. I sit cross-legged on my bed in the temperate glow of my single strand of Christmas lights and ponder things. What am I looking for? What do I need to manufacture for myself vs. find outside of me? What duties/joys am I shirking and why? Where am I needed? I read T.S. Eliot:

The lot of man is ceaseless labor,
Or ceaseless idleness, which is still harder,
Or irregular labour, which is not pleasant.
I have trodden the winepress alone, and I know
That it is hard to be really useful, resigning
The things that men count for happiness, seeking
The good deeds that lead to obscurity, accepting
With equal face those that bring ignominy,
The applause of all or the love of none.
All men are ready to invest their money
But most expect dividends.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.

There are things you lose when you pursue a career: Worship as an obvious chief vocation. Time to be still. Motivations unaffected by the hope of rising higher.

O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

I have lost the easy stride of a worshiper. I am like my brother who, untrained at piano, can play hymns in full harmony by ear– but when I straighten his bench and sit down to teach him note names and fingerings, inspiration is forgotten and he languishes in a tangle of thumbs and accidentals.

I am that child. Learning technique. Questioning my choice of direction and reminding myself what I leave behind. And still, still drawn to my work. But the work and the life get confused often because I think about density and walkability and sustainability and ecology and community and bake myself into a buzzword pie but forget to till my own land and speak to my own neighbors.

What life have you, if you have not life together?
There is not life that is not in community,
And no community not lived in praise of GOD.

And now you live dispersed on ribbon roads,
And no man knows or cares who is his neighbor
Unless his neighbor makes too much disturbance,
But all dash to and fro in motor cars,
Familiar with the roads and settled nowhere.

I have given you hands which you turn from worship,
I have given you speech, for endless palaver,
I have given you my Law, and you set up commissions,
I have given you lips, to express friendly sentiments,
I have given you hearts, for reciprocal distrust.
I have given you power of choice, and you only alternate
Between futile speculation and unconsidered action.
Many are engaged in writing books and printing them.
Many desire to see their names in print.
Many read nothing but the race reports.
Much is your reading, but not the Word of God,
Much is your building, but not the House of God.

And the wind shall say:
“Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

I fight suburban sprawl and automobile-oriented environments. But imagine I win; who am I then? A decent godless person: her only monument the pedestrian-oriented streetscape and a thousand lost souls?

When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?

Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

So I hear the questions and I am afraid because it turns out I am not good at walking this path, but I refuse to turn back. Like a fool, I wander forward into the unknown because I just want to HELP, but I don’t know if I will. I want to be important, but I’m afraid it would destroy me. I want to be independent but I don’t want to be alone. I want to worship AND be accepted in a secularized city. So it’s a mess. But I believe I’m meant to wade through it.

In spite of all the dishonour,
the broken standards, the broken lives,
The broken faith in one place or another,
There was something left that was more than the tales
Of old men on winter evenings.

I believe Jesus will be faithful to complete a good work in and through me. Halfway in and halfway out of the dark, I will keep Christmas.

The work of creation is never without travail;
Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order.
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.

(Poetry taken from Eliot’s Choruses from “The Rock”; I recommend the entire poem.)


otherness

dive

Hello, struggler, wisher, thirster-
I meet you at the well to wonder,
to ponder, and possibly to fight for
what it is to be alive.

Both of us are drinking from the same cistern.
We created it; the cracks refused to seal
and the water refused to heal our parched souls.
Goodness knows we have looked in all those cracks
for answers and heard enough echoes
to reassure us we are alone.

But what of the music that we didn’t make?
We hear it shake the ground sometimes
and we analyze the sounds that aren’t our own.
O great unknown, you sing to us
and call to us in open roads
and feather-leafed mesquite groves
and in places that are kind or bleak to us-
you are deeper than our well goes.
O Otherness beyond our echoes,
you have a voice that fills us
in the emptiness of subway halls
and other people’s flawless love.

Mend our cisterns! we cry,
and you reply,
Leave them dry. I will supply parched lips
with my munificence and drench
you in my providence.
O holy Christ, your voice is stronger
than the torrents tempting us to take
the earthy waters; human potters mold more vessels
but you call us-
like a wave: one but recurring.
Beyond words, beyond our singing
you are matchless:
to have tasted of your depth
is to know Already and Not Yet
and greater love and greater debt.


call and response

stretch out your hand in trepidation

open your palm with your frightened eyes shut

do you trust the gifts you’re given?

neither do I, yet we both risk the touch

often our reaching has brought us to ruin

there have been serpents disguised as doves

like a fisherman, your sight is blocked by the surface

like a fish, you so seldom look up

in your chest is a heart and each pump starts a pulse

your body is water; your heart is a stone

a stone splashes once and the ripples convulse

every vein channels rhythm and urges the flow

your pulse is a call to you: open your hand

gifts may betray but will not fail to teach you

I once wished for love and got wisdom instead

each gift you accept is a bite you can’t chew

you will swallow the bitterest dose of reality

you will wish you had never unfolded your fist

even in pain your pulse will keep beckoning

you are constantly summoned to open your gifts

stretch out your hand in trepidation

open your palm with your frightened eyes shut

do you trust the life you’re given?

neither do I, yet we both risk the touch

fly

[this post appeared first on Torrey Gazette]


astonishment

astonish

In your endless quest for progress,
when you are ceaselessly tending your mind,
you cultivate the finer elements of intelligence,
insisting on the necessary climate;
insisting on learning to thrive in it.
It’s intrinsic: this constant adjustment
and movement. Simplistic reductions won’t do it.
Recalcitrant neurons must renounce skepticism
and fall into place like a game of Tetris; wisdom is
beckoning like a professor inviting you
to think, like the brink of a scientific discovery,
like a melody gleefully smashing your boundaries.
When all these analogies intrude on your privacy,
you, the cartographer, channel the pathways
of mental activity and, as though you were gardening,
you find time to plant and to water, to weed and to fertilize
the soil of your mind. So through all of it, I ask this:
That in your endless quest for progress,
you would cultivate astonishment.
The quick breath of it; the open eyes that enable it,
and with all of this, a propensity to discern the beauty
in every ordinary chord of reality’s performance:
that indecipherable symphony in which we are
indispensable miracles, feeling ourselves in it;
integrally at home in it.

[this post appeared first on Torrey Gazette]


written while driving

[this post was brought to you by the voice memo iPhone app]

white night clouds

what good do you accomplish
when you allow your heart to drag you deeper?
you must let your eyes dwell on the low clouds that shine white
(unreasonable in the darkness)
reflecting city light.
you must look!
when your instinct is to hide your eyes, you must look farther.
this is the only way up.
what good does it do you
when your hiding place keeps you not only from pain but from salvation?
for there is salvation in the clouds.
there is salvation in the dwelling of the eye.


dream and strategy

human in mountains

I am ever so much more a poet now.
A startling awakening, but gentle- you know-
like coming upon a new tree in a field you used to walk
a time and a half ago, when there was only grass
and sky.

It is not the words, for even now they scrape, out of shape,
through mental ligaments. I write less.
But I walk more, and I speak plainly, for apparently I’ve lost the art of adornment.

I walked half-witted into anguish and it jolted me awake.

Do you know the wandering?
The lovely but vague paths of foot and thought,
the words words words of the playwright;
and latent strength waiting like the sea below a dock.

And then the electric incision. The indiscriminate pain.
Once I brought the edge of a shovel down hard on a brown snake
and its lithe body jolted over and over; every muscle angry; its tongue
grasping at air as if trying to escape on its own,
and as I killed, I wished I could have left it lying lazy and alone.

But I wish no languor on my soul.

Wandering must share its space with exploration,
and exploration with purpose. To bring it to the surface:
I stand forever at a crossroads between dream and strategy.
And to defend the soft animal of my heart when cruelty
strikes indiscriminately,
I want to curl tight like a fern to the touch.
But instead I learn, every day, to open my arms.
I learn how to walk instead of write; how to make every step a vibrant,
tactile act of creation.

Once I wrote a poet’s words.
Now I wield them.

(ft. inspiration by Mary Oliver, Shakespeare, and Lin-Manuel Miranda)


come and go

Every year when South by Southwest is over,
the airport fills with jostling and bags
and a collective sigh of Californians and New Yorkers
being packed into planes like potatoes
every which way, sometimes stacked.

And Austin returns to introspection.

Inspection! Tester of spring, the wind crescendos
and asks the leaves, “Are you sure?”
They hold tight through the tossing, the winnowing billows
that ask every branch, “Do you mean it?”
They pass. Like a second fall, the air is confettied
with brown leaves and weak ones flying,
embarking; but the younger leaves cling desperately
to dynastic continuity.

For you, there is a time to withstand every gust and to be “wick”
as a secret Yorkshire garden, but there is also a time to
be carried away; to be packed into planes.
Someday green leaves will turn old and pray-
for strength not to hold on, but to pass away.

It is a time of both going and staying
here every year in the spring.
The airport fills with leaving,
but the leaves in Austin cling.

timeless dear love of everything

this post first appeared on: Torrey Gazette


the day after the kite festival

The day after the kite festival
The great field is empty
Except for five lacrosse players
And half an orange abandoned in the grass.

Yesterday this place was a whirling,
Pulsing cacophony of color and running
And kites swarming under the sun.
Of sisters shouting “higher!” and “now you’ve got it!”
To sweaty-palmed little brothers tugging on strings.

Today at the field’s edges,
All the trees are littered with kite shards-
Colors trapped in skeletal branches,
Ribbons flayed to shreds, ripped by the wind and a grey sky.

Convince me not to see all of life in this field:
One day everything is brightness and celebration,
And the next it’s all tangled in trees.

What trust is there in soaring, if kites are so easily caught?
Or laughter becomes silence and kisses turn to stone
And tenderness is exchanged for indifference?
Seamus Heaney pulled up a railroad tie and asked the same.
What is fixed, if things so solid can be utterly undone?

I have heard there is a future
And a hope that will not be cut off.
Next year the kites will swarm again.
So as I walk under the littered trees,
I sing softly
but am not quite
ready
to fly.

over