Poetry

As a teenager I fell in love with poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder and Robert Frost and filled notebooks with observations on life and was fortunate to have some published in national poetry magazines. In 2019 during I enjoyed returning to poetry and attempted to write a poem every morning. What emerged is a book of poems and photographs called Easter: 21 Stations.

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Easter: 21 Stations

Download : Easter – 21 Stations

While appropriate for the penitential season of Lent, this collection by Mark Barger Elliott is a feast of words and images to nourish reflection throughout the year. Reminiscent of the work of Mary Oliver, Alan Lightman, and Wendell Berry, Elliott’s poetry and photographs teach, surprise, delight, and turn the reader of this book into a pilgrim who is changed, challenged, and enriched by embarking on this sacred journey.” – Amy Richter, Antimony: a Novel

 

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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?
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 true reality of Easter.

 

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