Thursday, April 28, 2011

christmas poem

The Second Before My iPod Shuffles
For Blade
Technology gives the gift of random
To which I give my right to choose
away to the ghosts inside the gears,
the rights to fill my ears with blues
or landslides, muddy waters, speares, 
hem and tangos, sandstorms, jazz,
Madonna, ABBA, midnight mass.
I want a melody to fit my mood
Hard and loud or sleek and smooth.
And anxious wait and pressed between
the staccatoed silence of a magazine.  
But it’s oh so quiet, 
on the cusp of words,
Look right, 
look left, 
look right again.
Tap your foot in the grocer’s line,
Count down for Christmas break to begin.
But then,
The pregnant pause gives way to noise
(we cross the street or find a wife.)
the song’s a healthy baby boy,
A baby crying with us in the night.

I wrote this Christmas poem for Blade, who I barely knew, for my poetry class three years ago.  I can't even remember why I wrote it for him; I think it was in response to one of his poems but I'm not sure.  Funny that three years later he ended up helping me record my song and that he recently found a wife (who is awesome and who I had a lot of connections with before)!  It's wonderful who God places in your life for a short season and then all the beautiful and surprising recapitulations that can happen later.  

This poem remains unedited since its original conception.     

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

a bread breaking moment

Thursday-The Lord met me at two a.m. in a garden of icons and candles.
Friday- The Lord met me lying on my face, surrendering all my desires and touching the cross.
Saturday- The Lord met me in a horse’s kiss.
Sunday- The Lord met me in joy: car dancing, tulips, ham, good friends, and worship.    
Monday- Today I ate breakfast with a friend and found myself saying this line that I’ve said far too many times, “I wish I had a man, a job, a path, something.”  It was one of those glorious mundane moments when you realize there has been a dramatic shift in the way you view the world.  As I said it, I realized I didn’t really mean it anymore, not like I used to.  Saying the phrase was like lifting a cigarette to my mouth out of pure habit, but then realizing I didn’t even like the taste, that I didn’t need it anymore.  
Something happened to me this Lenten season, particularly this Easter weekend.  I don’t even know how to articulate it.  I suppose I got to taste the sweetness of what it is like when His story, however briefly, eclipses my own.  When instead of clamoring for Him to meet me where I am at, I seek to meet Him where He has revealed Himself most fully, meditating on the cross, the tomb, the resurrection.  And of course when I do that, I think I’m more open for Him to meet me where I am at, whether that is at the equestrian center or driving in my car.       
In some ways I’ve felt like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, lamenting their loss, feeling confused about what comes next, maybe even complaining about how God has left them to figure it out on their own.  Jesus comes and they don’t recognize Him at first, but then He breaks bread and they realize Christ has been with them the whole time.  I’m sure if they knew who was on the path with them, the where or what of the path would become much less important.  I guess I am starting to believe that Jesus is walking with me, that He died on the cross because He loves me, that He rose from the dead.  I know that sounds basic but somehow I have not spent a whole lot of time in my Christian walk thinking about those truths as much as “what should I do to please God today; what should I do or say?”  Or worse, what should others around me be doing or saying?  

I am so grateful for everyone who has ever put up with one of my many “what am I doing with my life” conversations, including this one.  It’s not that I’m above that question anymore; it’s just not laced with the same worry poison.  It's not like there was a dramatic moment of deliverance today as much as a realization that came simple and quiet, like a shy cat or a gentle horse.    

Friday, April 22, 2011

good friday

A song I wrote for Good Friday.  Thanks again to Blade for the help recording it.

In writing this song, I was aware of two desires.  The primary one was to call out for the grace, like Julian of Norwich and many other saints, to see and to know more fully the love and suffering of Christ which He displayed on the cross that I might worship and adore Him more.  The second was the awareness of an underlying desire to see Him on the cross, not in order to worship, but in order to satisfy my own sinful craving to see innocence suffer for my pain.  It’s hard to put to words the depth of darkness in my heart that I confronted as I wrote this song and began to identify with the crowd crying, “Crucify Him!”  Yet at the same time I know that Christ died not only because of these desires but for them.  The depths of His mercy is fathomless.  There is so much that has been written about Good Friday, and we have barely scraped the surface of its meaning.  In some ways I feel like I am just adding to the din, and that the Passion is so holy, we ought to just stand in utter silence before it.  
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  
-Isaiah 53:5

Thursday, April 21, 2011

no particular order: pavlov, war, a lava lamp

in the halogen       & eerie glow
        of nearly-dark-         &-yet
         your open      mouth drips 
  thick    unyielding     slow
      breath & chest         rise up
                 to reach a credal 
        flow of murky    gel    psychic secretions
                leaking from a face
                     then     sinking 
                           like an angel     corpse
                       hole-    ridden as a piece 
                           of lace.
                               i watch transfixed 
                          you             slumber
                  peaceful unaware      of war
                             salivating hungry
                hanging in the air-
                                      -the feds
              just thread     a tube through    the hole
                      inside my cheek     to measure 
                   my desire for    a baby   
                                      a vacation on the beach
                                             like the rise
                              and fall of nations
                        arbitrary     blobs
                            arbitrary             masses
                forming      arbitrary       mobs
                           fumbling for a trigger
                                   their rhetoric     a bell
                                       claiming you can hear 
                         your people             scream inside 
                                an empty shell.
                   it is only an ocean     of blood 
                       cooling     burnt out
                                      burning brains,
                           (we dream &    drool    & twitch)
                                  too tired or        too high    
                                     to fight               such deep & 
                                                                   groovy grains.

Apparently Pavlov made holes in dog cheeks to measure more accurately their saliva output.  

Lava lamps were all the rage at the same time thousands of young men were dying seemingly for no reason.  

Maybe most of our hatred and distrust (and love?) is far more conditioned than it feels, at least the outworking or the who-and-where of it.         

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

my own "just so" story

Winter succumbs to summer’s hand
they meet in the spring.  
they meet in the sparkle of a melting icicle.  awww.
where the harshness of winter meets the distant fire.
Winter and summer are in love.  But only in spring and fall do they get to hold hands and look deep into each other’s eyes.  In the blazing heat of summer, they are lonely.  And too in the harshest days of winter.  This is why we freeze and sweat.  Heat stroke.  Frostbite.  Misery loves to make her company understand.  But in the spring, they kiss and birds begin to sing, and in the fall the tree leaves blush to see such unabashed love.   
In April it rains a ton--they cry to see each other go
but in my wet clothes whining I cannot forget
their misery helps the flowers grow.   
These are mostly just cast offs from my poem a few posts back about spring.  I am slowly collecting reams of rejected lines.  This seems like a good thing.  I used to never ever edit.  It felt like cutting off pieces of my body.  Speaking of, I have to venture out into this nasty rainy day to get a hair cut.  Consider this post the locks of my hair placed in an envelope and sent to your door. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

gladly would i exchange bread for love

          As a boy growing up in Serbia, my father leaned to play guitar from a gypsy, recently released from jail.  My grandfather, who was a baker, gave the gypsy bread in exchange for lessons, and over the years my dad became a wonderful guitarist.  When my parents met in a college town, they sang 60's and 70's folk songs together, and I wonder sometimes if that common language of music helped them fall in love.  She doesn't sing anymore, but she had a beautiful voice.  Growing up in Ohio, many nights I would fall asleep to my dad playing guitar downstairs, old Serbian songs, the blues, or songs he wrote, listening to him repeat a single measure over and over again until I fell asleep.  For the past 5 years, he and my sister have played music all over Cincinnati; my sister sings and my dad accompanies her.  He enjoys every second, his whole body engaging the music while my mom joins in from her corner of the restaurant or bar, smiling and completely engrossed in songs she’s heard a hundred times.  
          Last week I dreamed my dad was playing guitar, and instead of my sister, it was my mom who was on stage.  She was tap dancing with a top hat in her hand.  I could physically see the notes peeling off and flying from the guitar like cartoon bees, looping and whirling with dashed lines trailing behind them.  As part of the act, my mother caught each one in her hat.  It was a sweet scene, but the most beautiful part of all was to see my mother positively beaming.  Sometimes in dreams one can physically see things that cannot be seen, like notes, but at times, with some kind of dream-sense, one can “see” things without any physical manifestation at all.   All I know is that I saw the very essence of my mother’s deep love for my dad in her smile and in her dance.  Her face radiated and beamed with delight. 
         As my sister moves closer and closer to her own wedding day, I am grateful that she will be taking with her such a happy hope.  While thousands of people in my generation feel anxious about marriage, wondering if it ever “works,” both of us know full well it can.  As crazy as my parents can be sometimes, another blog for another life, I have never seen any couple laugh as much they do and so throughly enjoy one another’s company.  In a go-behind-the-scenes culture where often things are worse than they seem on the outside, behind the doors of my 9416 family life, it is better.  Not perfect, but I am learning over and over that St. Paul spoke the truth: “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  And it does.  I am extravagantly blessed, and I’m so excited in seven months to invite someone new into our family.  I’m glad he plays guitar.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

palm sunday

                          for McKenna

He was not the king we were expecting;
       He was better than our plans.
           Hosanna, gentle sister, 
                you’ve been delivered
                      to a thousand open hands.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

what remains

After the fire, there will be no char nor thought of char.  The wisps of human love made glorious, we think our first free thought of praise.  But then the breathing, the filling in of fringes, the signs bulge out and burst with substance.  The gasps of surprise.  The looking up and down our limbs.  The clapping of the trees.  

made manifest

each word 
& gesture
chocolate chip
the way you look
into a mirror
or through 
a stranger’s face
the way you treat
your neighbors’
will be tested
by kind & 
raging flames
& all things not born 
in love will burn,
like flaxen ropes
that bind the martyrs’ 
burning hands,
without ash or urn

Friday, April 8, 2011

a poem evolves....part two

Sea of Forgetfulness

The crown of all creation is lost upon earth’s blue head,
and the theatre is too large to see Ophelia’s loss.
No beauty in form inform a man incalculable cost, 
nor flowers float romantically around an open hand.
To darkened wings of ocean, from stages with no ledge,
her crooked coil in spandex suit is summoned with a cane 
to margins of decaying very slow, then very fast,
to the corner of a photograph without a frame or edge.
But she dressed not in gossamer nor a neglige of lace
floats within a honeyed moon--madness makes her kind,
she is her Lover’s scroll and we are groaning for her lines.
Rememberer, remove the seal, the ravages of time, remind 
her, neurons and arthritic bones the wrinkles on her face
one day unfurl, recall, succumb to all the ravishes of grace.

This is the poem in its current form.  I imagine it coming from a daughter standing on the shore watching her mother who suffers from Alzheimer's float in the ocean on a family vacation.  I realized that the last poem was trying to evoke a sense of loss using some vague submerged beauty trope.  I suppose there is a place for that, but there are a thousand paintings of Ophelia and not many of a woman in a nursing home forgetting her children's names.  There are a lot of reasons for that, but it also seems important to enter imaginatively into suffering that is not just generalized and romantic.  The poem is still pretty general, but I think it is moving in the right direction.  

a poem evolves...part one

Someday As a Scroll
The crown of all creation is lost upon earth’s blue head,
and the theatre is too large to see Ophelia’s loss,
The casket of the wilderness has housed too many dead
to turn a tear dripped eyeball onto one of tiny cost. 
To the dark wings of the ocean her little corpse is pulled
by the undertow of sweat and tears of this gigantic world
Her silken hair floats listlessly, her open hand lies limp, 
unmoored from all her stories, her dreams and her laments. 
But she beautiful, decaying, floats there her Lover’s scroll,
the sealed and waiting promise of a day as yet untold
when fat and nerves and bones unfurl and cast off chastity
and her nameless body is given a name, even larger than the sea.

A couple years ago in a poetry class the professor had us sit in front of a work of art for forty-five minutes in order to take it in and really listen before responding to it.  (a great exercise by the way!)  I sat in front of a picture entitled Untitled #33.  It was a giant photograph of the ocean from above and in the corner was a woman floating.  It kind of looked like she was on vacation, but the series was done using the specific body contortions of people jumping out of the Twin Towers on 9/11.  Part of the theme explored the vastness of the natural world and how small our pleasure or suffering was in comparison, indistinguishable from hundreds of feet in the air.  My professor liked the first two lines and said the rest is how I originally turned it in.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

to the christian stoics

Save the 
Grief is 
and good
and brief 
as this life.

slouching toward Jerusalem on roller skates

If you hopped in a time machine and selected  March 18, 2011 2:00 am, you would find me struggling to roller skate beneath a disco ball.  Supposedly, I am supervising fifty teenagers as they speed past me, my arms windmilling trying to catch my balance.  The lights are low and the speakers blare Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper,” which sounds like it would be a happy song, but its not.  I find myself wishing that my middle-school-nostalgia had a more compelling soundtrack, but there’s nothing to do about it now except enjoy it against my will.  The popular kids have mostly paired off, skating and holding hands.  The rink has become a status centrifuge of sorts.  A few of the guys are attempting tricks in the middle and a group of girls sit outside the rink giggling at them.  On the side, a larger girl desperately clings to the bar as friends who truly believe in the power of pep-talks surround her and wait for a miracle of self-confidence to manifest.  It amazes me that the guys in the center are allowed to fall down a hundred times and yet for this girl on the margins falling down means the deepest humiliation.   I’m tempted to say it’s just a mindset, but I’m not that naive.  There is a lot at stake socially at these kind of events, and as an adult I can tell games are being played, even if I can no longer see the chips.

There is one boy in particular that I cannot stop watching.  No one has talked to him all night and he seems used to that.  It looks as though he has just gone through a growth spurt.  His gangly limbs dangle at odd angles from a skinny torso and his back is hunched over in a last ditch effort to reverse the effects of time.  This sounds cruel to say, but when I watch him walk I almost feel embarrassed myself, almost voyeuristic, as though I opened a door on someone changing.  Which I have.  It’s just that the door is perpetually open.  However, when he gets on skates something surreal happens.  And no, it is not like a penguin who struggles on land but swims with mastery.  In fact, his gait which in shoes seems painfully awkward becomes infinitely more so on wheels.  There is not so much gliding as a stammering forward motion maintained with bizarre yet consistent compensative undulations.  His movements are marionette-like as though a novice puppeteer controlled his body.  Each part, elbow, hand, thigh, seemingly move independently and yet behind them a definite will and even a certain grace that marionettes have as they alternatively defy and succumb to gravity.  It is a triumph of the human body.  It would take a professional modern dancer years to perfect such movement, and still, their perfect proportions would prevent communicating so powerfully.  For two hours he lurches defiant in the face of high school protocol and the mutiny of his body, determined to fulfill his circular pilgrimage.  

There is a decade between myself and my former self, the song, the teenagers, the struggle this boy embodies.  His dance becomes the prism and the prayer through which I see the whole scene, and I hope hard for him and for all of them.  I feel my body awkward in its own way join in, time traveling slowly moment by moment beneath the disco lights, changing until changed.  

Saturday, April 2, 2011


She gave birth to the horizon

pulling at the line between 
her thighs, yanking for miles
upon the sea and the not sea.
Each night she watches
the sun blow himself out
on the cusp of the world,
waiting in vain for one shut
lipped horizon to open 
in thanks, or in need. 

Part of what I am trying to imagine in this poem is that in giving birth a mother not only gives birth to a baby, but gives birth (from the baby’s point of view) to the world; I’ve merely taken out the intermediary step of the actual fleshy babe.  The mother then becomes the larger symbol of the universal mother, or even the Creator, who repeatedly  must watch the creature use the gift of creation to seek self-annihilation.  In this orientation, the creature cannot fathom prayer in the form of gratitude or supplication.  

I know it’s all sorts of tacky to interpret your own mediocre poem.  I am sitting here trying to come up with a reasonable excuse, but I have none. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

the cake is a failure, but surprisingly sweet

Fail.  Fail Again.  Fail Better. -Samuel Beckett

After considerable hoop-jumping application efforts and fire-breathing, I've been asked not to join the circus.  This means that, Lord willing, I will be returning to Cincinnati in exactly one month from today.  I will return without much to show for myself.  As I've mentioned before, the devil speaks in halfsies, and today it sounds a lot like this: you are a failure.  When I hear this, I cry to the Lord to defend me.  I expect Him to combat the lie with its opposite, you are not a failure.  But He hasn't.  If He did, it would allow me to keep the label to apply again to myself later on or worse, to others around me after I do "succeed."  Nor is it a simple matter of re-defining failure or saying naively that there is no such thing.  

failure: a person or thing that proves unsuccessful: He is a failure in his career. The cake is a failure.

success: the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.

I think I could do some fancy deconstructive or re-framing footwork.  For example, I succeeded at loving some children, my neighbors, making a few friends, finding a path that I 
didn't want to go down.  And that's true.  But the truth is that there was not a favorable termination to my endeavors on multiple levels.  I failed.  And I've found a sweet sliver of peace in not fighting that but realizing that when it comes to who I am or who God is or the spinning of the cosmos, it really and truly doesn't matter.  And somehow the word is virtually obliterated by taking away its sting.  It exists but only as a shadow of itself.  

There are so many commandments we try to smuggle into the cannon.  Thou shalt succeed at all thy endeavors.  Thou shalt not live in thy parent's abode past the age of 18.  Thou shalt make the name of thy Lord great by being awesome.  Or interesting.  Or by using all your potential to the last dripdrop.  There are more important commands God has given us to obey, to live into and out.  Sometimes these extra credit commandments actually hinder us from true obedience and abiding and receiving the quiet gifts of humiliation.