Saturday, February 28, 2009

Version 2 - A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum

John 6

What I really need to know is how the callouses
blossomed on your fingers. I want to feel
the bristle of your beard on my cheek,
place my hands around the feet
of the man who feeds. You know

why I've come here: to make the impossible
become miraculous, to turn your vengeance
into grace, to learn the difference between bread
and sustenance, to be the bride for whom you'll die.
How can you bear to know these things?

Who can accept this? Lord, to whom can we go?
Give me this bread in flesh and blood always.

(I think I like this version better, but since it is late and it is draft two, I decided to save both.)

A Voice in the Crowd at Capernaum

John 6

I have come up with a hundred reasons why
you are unbelievable – you are, after all, just a son
of some carpenter, the illegitimate offspring
of a teenage mother. I know where you’ve come from.

Still I’m intrigued – I want to know more
about the man who fed five thousand,
his mysterious disappearance across the lake
without a boat – when did you get here?

You know what I really need to know –
why you matter more than the ceramic Buddha
made in China, more than the 6 a.m. yoga,
more than some cross necklace from my grandmother,

more, even, than the law you claim to have written.
How do priests prophesy about you,
dead fathers walk with you – why do you divide
bread and fish, why turn water into wine?

I need to know how the impossible becomes
miraculous, what turns vengeance into grace,
how to differentiate between bread and sustenance.
who are you to decide when I must swim and when to walk?

But what I’ll ask, instead, is – When did you get here?
What do you mean? How do you know these things?
Who can accept this? Lord, to whom can we go?
Give me this bread in flesh and blood always.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"recipe for love"

(Thanks, Mary!)

For six hours this afternoon, I was without wedding rings. If you've ever worn a ring or other piece of jewelry daily for five years, you know that feeling of the lost appendage. I took it off to get ready for kneading dough and then an hour later could not find them anywhere. I searched the whole kitchen, the bedroom, bathroom, living room, dining room, dishwasher, fridge (you never know), ANYWHERE I could think. I knew they had to be in the house somewhere - I remembered taking them off; I knew almost the exact minute I took them off.

After small group, I came back home and pulled down the cookbook with the really good Italian cheese bread recipe I had made for Bible study to give a copy of it to one of the girls, and lo and behold - my rings. Tucked into the cookbook. What relief!

I have nothing particularly insightful to share about this experience except that great saying, "It's always in the last place you look." Duh.

I have plans to go to Toledo tomorrow evening to spend the night with my hubby. We are overdo for an evening together, and my mom is planning on coming down to watch the kids. I have mixed feelings about this -- 95% of me is rejoicing because I haven't seen my husband for more than an hour on any given day since February 6. The other 5% is sorry that I'm bailing once more on my kids. Lydia is especially aware of my absence lately - not that she is particularly difficult to deal with when I am gone, but she verbally recognizes that she misses me and loves that I'm here with her. It's so sweet it just cracks your heart into a million little ol' pieces, dontcha know!

Elvis quietly exited the cling-tight-to-mommy phase and has entered the see-ya-later-mom phase. He'll be playing with an excavator or mini-farmer when I'm getting ready to leave, and I'll say, "Bye, Elvis!" and he'll say, "Bah!" without even looking up, and then when he realizes I'm serious, he'll get up and run arms outstretched toward me for his parting hug. And then he's done - ready to play some more. Is this the same child who cried the ENTIRE time I was gone a few months ago?

They are getting so big. So smart. So beautiful. So irresistable.

I'm most definitely smitten. I just did a search to make sure smitten was the word I was looking for, and here's some news - there's a product called "Smitten" -- it's a mitten for two! This has to be made by the same people who created the wearable blanket.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Psalm 40

Psalm 40

These boots by the door are still caked
with hardened clay, their leather darkened
by water, still swelling, absorbing,
the flannel lining damp and pungent.
Clumps of mud stick to the kitchen floor,
discarded here and there from the field
that pulled and sucked until I was stuck.
I will not use the broom - I like the imprints
left behind, the way that visitors trip
on my oversized steel-toed boots and gasp –
how high the line of mud rides up,
how great the crumbs of dust.

Let me tell you about these boots,
I will say, about the field, the mire, the muck,
the slow, steady suction, the way I reached
for branches, the way the grasses bent and broke
when I pulled. Let me tell you again how I trembled,
how my hands hung idle, how a farmer
saw me, bent down to loosen my laces,
stretched out his hand, how I stepped from the sludge
in just my socks, mud oozing between my toes,
found a protruding rock, breathed deep,
“Thank God you came by when you did.”
I leave them here to remember the swale.

(Companion piece to The Swale)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jesus Walks into a Bar

(This is for Sean Lovelace, who insists there ought to be more poems about Jesus walking into a bar.)

It is always darker than it should be,
but over the pool table, a halo
of florescent light. My father, his brother,
like weathered sailors, dock at the bar
with other tired shipmates, hunched,
feet propped on the reflective footrests,
haunches resting heavy in the seat.
Through the haze of Winstons
they watch Nascar. The rules on bar stools
are simple: buy a round, put some quarters
on the table for a game of pool,
pick a tune or two on the juke box.

A shaft of light splits the cloud of smoke
when the door swings open, and a man
not so unlike the deckhands lined up at the bar
walks in. Heads turn and nod, weary hands lift
a slow acknowledgement as he orders up a Miller
then tromps to the juke box in mud-caked boots
and hovers, punches in his number, and Hank sings
There’s a tear in my beer and I’m crying for you dear…

“Rack ‘em up,” he grunts. My father
and the stranger call corners, waltz around the felt
taking shots and drinking rounds, shake hands
when the eight ball drops, leaving the chalk-smeared
cue to idle on the table. Dad lays five dollars
on the bar, “This one’s on me,” and they drink –
to peace, to love, to redemption.
The men at the bar tip their caps and turn
to watch the man descend the stairs
before the door closes. “That guy’s
all right,” Dad says, taking up his bottle,
“I hope he returns someday.”

Monday, February 16, 2009


Wrap your atmosphere around me –
I do not want to be the moon, unable to deflectt
he smallest cosmic speck. I flinch and dodge
a thousand bullets in a meteor shower,
yearn to watch the light show at night without fear.
Without you, my surface is sensitive – I bruise
at the slightest affront, scurry away to nurse each hurt.
If I must wear the craters of personal implosions
and exterior stonings, dress them in deep blue water
with stunning clarity so that none may question
why this happened but only know that nothing
so beautiful and pure could come without pain.
Plant in my volcanic cavity a hemlock tree
so all will witness how you’ve rooted yourself
in my explosive fragility and called me strong.


There is no el train in Auburn, no steady rumble
like long thunder on a summer afternoon.
Instead, Suburbans honk and veer behind
my neighbor’s combine, pass and speed to the light,
line up at four-ways for permission to turn.

The Cleveland and Eastern Interurban
used to pass through here, the Maple Leaf Route
curving slow through Newbury out to Amish country,
its steady clacking carrying produce and passengers
in to the big city to see a show at the Hippodrome.

Today, the maples shiver and dance along the upraised curve
as if a train has just passed through, but it is only me,
the wind. I do not hear the click-clack on the raised track,
the crowd of impatient travelers standing in the woods waiting
for the junction’s switch to take them north or further west.

Now the forest and road are silent; last season’s leaves
crunch steadily beneath my feet. Syrup oozes slow and thick
from its tap into cold, steel buckets. A car swings south down
Munn Road, wondering at the steady slope in the woods
and then the thought is gone, fleeting as the season’s

leaves along this path. The sun rolls steady on its track
across the blue, though I’m the one who’s moving – I
and the farmer and the Suburban and the earth composting
beneath my feet. How slow the shift in shadows; how soon
I’m surprised to be chilled in the late afternoon.


I have Chicago's el trains to thank for this poem. Lots of inspiration from Chicago - hope to write more in the coming days if work and other responsibilities don't overwhelm.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cashing In

Okay, it must be divine appointment weekend here in Chicago. After ANOTHER great night out with some really interesting and intelligent writers, I got off of the el (how cool am I to use the lingo of Chicago?) at Harrison Ave. and begin walking back toward the hotel. It's a crisp 30ish degrees out, and I am feeling alive. Alive, feeling the ache and wear of three days walking around the city, breathing in clarity and exhaling exhilaration. Next to a fenced parking lot (and underneath a streetlight, for all of you paranoid and worried mothers out there), a woman asked as she began to walk past if I was familiar with the city, to which I promptly replied, No, sorry. The poor lady was almost in tears and shaking like it's nobody's business to shake. She started going on, sobbing and hiccuping, about how she drove into the city and parked her car somewhere, and the car had been towed to some lot on 18th street, and she needed to get to it, had a driver's license and wallet to prove she wasn't some nut, and just needed $20 dollars more or so to get her car out of the impound.

I prayed with the lady, whose name turns out to be Patricia, and she praises Jesus all over the place, shouts a hallelujah and says she will repay me, asks for a name of a church or something so she can send something to me care of so-and-so. I wasn't going there so I just said you go ahead and give to a charity to take care of whatever she needs. And then we hugged and she cried and I gave her some money (how I am going to appropriately reconcile all of the expenses for this trip is going to be an adventure, let me tell you - I will not be getting reimbursed much once I factor in cash) and off she went.

All this time the fear and panic meter is ticking steadily around low to medium gauge, somewhere about the caution rate. I keep thinking some guy is going to run across the street and snatch my purse as I'm closing my eyes and putting my arm around the woman in the long coat with a fur-lined hood to pray that the Lord would protect her and ease her fears. Ease my fears, ease my fears. All this time, I'm weighing the cost - does she really, truly need my help to get her car out of the impound, or is she one very gifted actress working the out-of-towners at the Hilton Chicago? Is this her way - walking the block with nervous hands - to con skeptical but trusting tourists into generosity without begging? And does it matter which scenario is true?

As I'm typing this, it occurs to me I heard a similar version of Patricia's story earlier this week, told by a friend at the conference, and I suddenly feel douped. Was this a divine appointment or merely a scam artist? As I read an article on that sick feeling of douped-ness settles in my stomach. SCAM! Did she not have one credit card? Claiming to have driven six hours into the city and then to have her car towed, she successfully eliminated a nearby friend or relative option, but no credit card?

I feel taken advantage of in some ways and then just plain silly, walking away from her feeling as if I've just connected with another human being at her point of need, smiling and light. How does one pull such a fantastic trick, such fraudulent faith and hope, such an orchestrated deceit?

Or is the skeptic in me rising up, vaguely aware of the depravity of mankind, ready to harden her heart to any pleas for help for fear of being taken advantage of.

I think what I need to settle in, because it's 11 p.m. CST which means it's midnight EST (and we all know what happens at midnight), is that my motives were sincere. My concern and prayer was sincere, though cautionary, senses on alert. Perhaps my business is not to know the outcomes of tonight but to know that I had an opportunity to be a light to a lady in some way, and if she got the better of me - it's on her soul. I hope she was true and authentic. But if not, I hope she finds a warm place to sleep, eats a filling meal, and works toward a day when she can use her theatrical talents to glorify God rather than trick a tourist.

Entertaining Angels

On the way back from meeting some friends in Wrigleyville tonight, a homeless guy sat down next to me on the train and claimed that he would improv a poem on any topic I could offer for some money. Curious and amused, I said okay. Without more than a second's hesitation, the guy composed a delicious poem that probably would have taken me hours to write out with a keyboard sitting in front of me. We talked for the remainder of the train ride about faith, trying to be like Christ, and how we personally have fallen short or feel like we still struggle. It was a great exchange, and I am glad he decided to sit down next to me. In many ways it was a humbling conversation -- I can't improv poetry - it would be a disaster. Even the draft I had jotted down of a poem earlier this evening was disastrous compared to the quite eloquent little ditty he pulled out of nowhere.

It was another great day and has ended on a strange, unexpected note.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

While flying in to Chicago this morning, I was thinking about Horton Hears a Who, and how all of the Whos down in Whoville were shouting all in unison, "We are here! We are here! We are here!" so that their voices could be heard by the mean, old kangaroo, but their atmosphere wouldn't let the sound out, until Joe-Joe gave a shout that pushed the sound right out of the atmosphere. I love this movie for many reasons, but unrelated to those reasons is the fact that the earth has an atmosphere.

Watching a movie about space (perhaps Apollo 13?), the astronauts are concerned that if they do not hit the earth's atmosphere at just the right speed and angle, they could skip off of it into space and be lost forever... or, charge in too fast and be burned up before ever hitting land. I am grateful for this atmosphere that protects us from all sorts of flying debris in space, like meteors. We could be like the moon, pock-marked and plantless with no real barriers from what the universe has to fling at us. The earth's atmosphere is kind of like the Holy Spirit in this way. Or, it could be like the saying, "I'm rubber, you're glue - whatever bounces off me sticks to you."

Somewhere in this bit of thought is a poem that might say it more eloquently than this, but I have no flash drive (forgot it in Ohio), and I don't have time to work on it before eating. So maybe later tonight, when I don't feel like being social anymore. :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pre-AWP Blather

Tomorrow, I head out to Chicago for the AWP Conference, and to prepare for the adventure, I spent all evening playing ring around the rosie, duck duck goose, reading books and coloring, giving baths, singing, and praying with my children. Could there be better preparations for going away?

I wrote over on Finding Gemstones about the latest in my world of child bearing. The last you probably heard from me about the topic was "no more, I think I'm done." Well, it must be baby season because I've caught the fever. I don't know what really put me over the edge, but tonight as I was watching my babes swimming in the tub a thought occurred to me: I may regret not having more children, but I would never regret having more children.

Which is why I need to get to work on my husband, and by that I mean not nagging and begging and using all sorts of persuasive reasoning but praying that God would soften his heart to the idea. No negotiations on my part are going to make him feel one way or the other about this.

SO that's brewing in my mind lately, and once it starts to brew, I can't seem to shut it off. I start calculating the timing of a pregnancy in relation to work (pregnant now = very good timing; pregnant in July = worst timing ever, pregnant in December = good timing). I begin fiddling with formulas of Lydia in preschool + Brandon in seminary - Elvis at home + Elvis potty-trained - working full-time + budget = realistic expectations for maintaining sanity. We come out somewhere around a 40% chance of insanity, which isn't so bad - we're already insane about that amount of time, so what's the big difference? I also start rearranging bedrooms in my mind - would we make Lydia's room a baby room and move her into Elvis's room, or would the baby (boy/girl) move in with big brother/sister depending on the gender?

All of this doesn't matter because I'm not pregnant, and I don't have a family consensus on the topic, but this is how my mind works, people! Do you see how completely crazy I am underneath this facade of composure?

I'm not sure what my Internet capabilities will be the remainder of the week in Chicago, though I might request Internet service in my room, since it could be applied as part of the conference expense. We are, after all, in the middle of admissions season. I can't leave people hanging high and dry for five days straight. Right? So I'll probably poke back in with an AWP update. Have a great night!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Just Plain Good Day

I experienced an unusual burst of energy around 5:15 after getting off of the phone with a prospective student. That's the only possible cause I can come up with for what followed - there was no caffeine involved, so that couldn't be it, but perhaps just having an opportunity to connect with another person on the phone and feel as if I successfully promoted the program I love was enough to give me a buzz.

When I walked into the door (20 minutes later than usual), Brandon had dinner made (chicken paprika!! YUM!!) and the kids were playing contentedly in the living room. I received my routine-but-never-rote MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY! from Lydia and MUM! MUM! MUM! from Elvis followed by hugs all around. After eating dinner, a dance party swung into high gear in our living room, with the Beatles and Beach Boys and all sorts of spinning and laughing happening. Brandon got ready to leave for baseball practice, and Lydia and I commenced a tug of war with her jump rope, which apparently is the funniest thing Elvis has ever witnessed because the poor kid could hardly catch his breath from laughing so hard. Dad got ready to go and received his round of hugs and kisses and BAH! from Elvis and BYE HAVE FUN! from Lydia. And then I got ready to go to Bible study, the sitter showed up, and off I went.

It was the best hour and a half of my day.

Not to make it sound like the remaining 22.5 hours were not great - they just pale in comparison to singing to the Beach Boys and tickling my kids.

Actually, the other 22.5 hours were quite lovely, as well, starting with a lot of AWP planning (next week, already?!), River Teeth promos, and then lunch with a friend from church about the upcoming Festival of the Arts, which is going to be the best thing to hit Ashland since Lance Bakeries took over Archway. Yeah, that good.

And then the afternoon swung into gear with a little budgeting here and a bit of editing there, and all in all it was a successful day. Nothing to knock you over with enthusiasm, but good. I like these kinds of days because there isn't this rollercoaster swell of exhilaration followed by an empty "what now that that's done and over?" feeling. It's the sort of good that flows over into the next day, if I'm lucky. A peaceful kind of good. It's good. I'm in a real good place right now - which means something is bound to happen to shake things up. It's only a matter of time. :)