Poetry

As a teenager I fell in love with poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti and filled notebooks with observations on life and was fortunate to have some published in national poetry magazines.

This past Lent I enjoyed returning to poetry and attempted to write a poem every morning. Below is a collection of that work as well as photographs I’ve taken to be published in an upcoming book, Easter.

 

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ASH WEDNESDAY

I.

On Shrove Tuesday I knelt
In front of my fireplace
With a ziplock bag and spoon
Scooping ashes I had forgotten
To order from the Catholic
Store on Fulton.
But ashes I learned are not easily cajoled,
Every molecule of soot preferred my cuticles
And khaki pants to the spoon and ziplock bag.
And so, staring at the mess I made, I thought,
Like a chimney sweep at the end of the day,
What’s the point of ashes anyway?

II.

God said to Adam,
After he ate the fruit
Of the tree of
The knowledge
Of evil and good,
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till your return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust
and to dust you shall return.”

Job said, after God had turned his
Blessings into a curse,
God has cast me into the mud…
Therefore I despise myself

and repent in dust and ashes.”

The Bible reads,
When Tamar
Was raped
by her half-brother,
She sprinkled ashes on her head,
tore her robe, and with her face
buried in her hands went away crying.”

III.

Aelfric of Eynsham in 1000 AD
Suggested ashes be
“Strewn” on our heads.
But tell me Aelfric,
Exactly why is that?
To remind us knowledge
Leads to death?
That sitting in ashes
Is how we beg forgiveness?
Or do ashes mark
When horror
Tears our world apart?

“Suffer us not to mock ourselves
with falsehood,” wrote T.S. Eliot
In Ash Wednesday.
But what falsehoods must
We, O Lord, set aside?
Or better phrased,
Where does truth reside?

IV.

Did you not know,
40,000 tons
Of cosmic dust falls on earth
Every year?
No wonder dust Is found
On top of our refrigerator.

But scientists teach
Such dust has a purpose:
“Our bodies are made of
the burned-out embers of stars.”
Or, as Joni Mitchell sang,
“We are stardust.”

Without stardust there
Would be no new stars,
Or us, because molecules
In dust are building blocks
For cosmic recycling;
Or what people of faith call,
Resurrection.

So, perhaps, the truth of ashes
Is to remind us of our denouement;
As T.S. Eliot observed,
“In my beginning is my end…
In my end is my beginning.”

So with that thought
I stood before the congregation,
Fireplace ashes in hand,
Index finger raised aloft
Tracing the cross.
Saying “to dust you shall return.”
I wanted to add, but did not,
“So you will be raised again!”
But next year I think I will
Because it makes sense
As we begin the season Lent
To offer a cosmic reminder
Of the reality of Easter.

 

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SPY WEDNESDAY (The Mystery of Holy Unction)

When I was a young pastor
An old man came to see me
With W.H. Auden creases
In his cheeks,
Slumped shoulders,
He rubbed his hands
On his knees.

He said he cheated on his wife
Years ago and could never
Forgive himself.
He was like DeNiro
In The Mission
Seeking a path of contrition
A bag of armor
To carry up a hill
In teeming rain
To wash his sins away.

I said, God forgives you.
But what does that really mean?
Was it a truth I could proclaim?

His eyes flashed and I could see
He had heard those words before
So I saw them die, my words,
Between us on the floor.
Because the only forgiveness
He wanted was from the one
He had betrayed years before.
She clearly had closed that door.

So he walked the earth like
A ghost praying to return
To a state of grace
He had to earn first.
I, the young pastor,
Had no words to explain
That was not how it worked.

 

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GOOD FRIDAY

It is unimaginable
To imagine
The One who created
Neutrinos and quarks,
Anti-matter and matter,
Galaxies and stars,
Felt fire in his palms
As a hammer struck
A nail through to wood.

But when we gaze
Up in wonder
It is good to remember
Stars burn out and die,
Galaxies are swallowed
Whole by black holes.

It is good to remember
God created a universe
That destroys itself and
Perhaps this is why God
Did not stop the hammer
As planets and suns
Are born over and over
Again from the stardust
Of dead stars.

It is good to remember
What was, and is, and would be,
In the tomb where Jesus lay –
The plot we might say
Was already written in the stars
For those with eyes to see.

 

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HOLY SATURDAY

When Jesus died
What happened next?
Did his eyes remain closed?
Did he pace around the tomb?
Was he surprised God didn’t lie
When God said he would die?

Did his spirit ascend to heaven
During the intermission
Between Good Friday and Easter?
Did he roll his eyes about Peter?
Smile about the disciple he loved
With Gabriel as they caught up
Wherever it is angels hang out?

“We grow accustomed,”
Said Emily Dickinson,
“to the dark.”

I wonder, did Jesus grow
Accustomed to the dark
During those three days
In a cave?
Or was there always
Inside him a light
That never died;
Like a pilot light
In the corner of our eye
We see when we walk by
A fireplace at midnight?

 

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REDEEMED

In the September
Of my years
I count what has
Overtime
Slipped away
Like kites
Untethered
From my hand
Now floating
Aimlessly up
Never to
Return again
Nudged by
The whimsy
Of the wind.

“Send me out into another life lord,”
Wrote W.S. Merwin,
“Because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way.”

But in the calculus
Of the spirit the arc
Of our life intersects
With the ineffable.
We learned this
From Jesus
Who felt forsaken
Yet his revelation
Was nothing is lost
That feels lost and
What has slipped
Through our hands
Is found by the One
Beyond the clouds
Where kites we can
No longer see
Are all redeemed.

 

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MEMORY

We often think of
Loved ones as
Frozen in time.
They remain
The same age
In our mind
As when we met.

I wonder did Mary
See Jesus in swaddling
Clothes in a manger
When he was healing
The blind or they shouted
Hosanna or when he died.
Was the memory of Jesus
As a child inside her
All the while?