Driving from Richmond to Bremo

We drive home through tree tunnels
Gray skyroof barely visible
Through green and brown ceiling struts
Green fingered walls, now close, now further,
Yield downward to brown columns
Gray floor with yellow and white accent lines,
Sided with green grasstiles.
We drive home through tree tunnels
Now bright, now shade, now straight, now curved
The tunnels appear and disappear with no warning signs
Yielding to wide pastures, usually
Occasionally a house, rarely a small town
Just once or twice a bridge over a river.
We drive home through tree tunnels
Quietly enclosing us with the news
That she is, or soon will be, dying.

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Contra Donne

Death humbled is no more than brief sleep.
So says Donne, impudent, confident poet.
But if rest and sleep be just poor pictures of death,
What then of sleepless nights, of restless sleep?

Are nightmares harbingers of hell?
Do we toss and turn, each long night, in sleepless beds
As we will, one eternal day, toss and burn in hell?
Ah, please, God, no.

It is eternity enough to lie with wayward thoughts
Black as a moonless starless sky
Dark as lowering unplayful clouds
Restless as winds that gust only regrets
Toppling my flimsy barricades of excuses.

Death, though humbled, remains powerful
Storm enough to sink sleep
Leaving me stranded on a dark sea of doubt
Treading memory’s wakefulness
As buoys of peace graze my eyelids
Only to surge away.

Breaking Through

The cows broke through the fence
Onto the side road, just feet from the highway.
One bright strand of new barbed wire
Ran between the old strands
Held up by older posts.
But the cows, though slow bovines,
Just leaned in
Leaned in and the fence gave way
And they wandered into the road.
You went out to help Andi round them up
Though neither cows nor fence
Were yours nor hers,
But being neighborly
And not being able to raise the owner,
You two went out to gather up the cows
Leaving us two, me and the baby, here
Where just moments ago
I looked over at you
Holding him close on your chest
Beneath your beard.
Your old man wrinkled forehead
Matched his baby worry face –
Six weeks and seventy-two years
Snuggling in the big chair
In front of the window
Beneath the framed picture on the side wall.
The lower edge of the picture frame
Made it into the picture I took
Of you and your grandson.
The hard edge of the frame
A boundary
Holding in all that love
That still breaks through
Even in a cellphone photo.

Waking to Forgive

Once again my dream becomes a nightmare
I reject my daughter who rejects me
In sleep as in life
Although sleep reveals the reality
That reality obscures
Because in the dream, she is 5
Not 35
I am bloody from her thrusts
Though she thrusts with a doll
Not withheld grandchildren.

Each day, I forgive
First myself
Then her.

Not each night
But often enough
My dreams remind me
That forgiveness
Is not a sentence with a period.

Forgiveness is an art
That must be nurtured
Trained
Practiced
Worked at
Attempted again and again
Never perfected

Blinded by the White

I peer
Nearsightedly
At the screen
As news and not news
Scrolls through my mind

The French Ambassador rebukes Trevor Noah
For congratulating Africa on France’s World Cup

Four Alabama policemen are suspended
For giving a down low OK sign in an official picture
Is it a childish game or a white supremacy code?

A young male blogger whitesplains that music is the cause
Of everything that is wrong for black Americans
Not the enduring legacy of slavery, not racism, not white privilege –
Their funky ass music

I think
Sadly
How our eyes – my eyes
Are blinded
By our – my
White skin.

Talitha Koum

Rise up, little girl
I do try
To rise above the patriarchy of the church
To rise above the racism of my heritage
To rise above my envy of others
To float
To the top of the murky sea
Where I swim amongst my nightmare monsters
To bubble up and burst through
To continue up, without wings
Into the sky
Only to find troublesome winds
Blowing me every which way
So that I drown in the rarefied air
Of thoughts too deep for easy
Floating, drifting
How do I swim through air?
I do try
But I tire and sink
Knowing that I can’t
Until again I hear
Talitha koum

Anna, Daughter of Adah and Phanuel

I was married, you know. I was just 14. I barely remember that young girl. I remember they said she was pretty. I remember they told my mother, Adah, and my father, Phanuel, that they had raised a good woman, that I would be a good wife. I remember they said “Mazal tov” when I married. But they also said I would bear many children, they said my womb would be fruitful. So what did they know?

That was 70 years ago. Imagine, 70 years! Oy vavoy! Solomon could have built himself ten temples in that time. And still I live.

I am old now but, Jeremiah, my husband, he was still young when he died. Seven years we had been married, seven years and only then was I with child. But our child died too, without ever being born, when Jeremiah died. So I was cursed.

What could I do? So deep was I unclean, so ugly did I feel, that I went to the temple. I went to be clean again, I went to feel pretty again, I went to hope again. And I am still here. Where is there hope for me in Israel? Seventy years I have lived here in the temple, remembering what it felt like to be loved, hoping for something like love again.

My best times are with the babies. So many parents come to the temple, as required by the Law, with their firstborn sons and their turtledoves. Some come shyly, some come boldly, some come richly dressed, some come in rough cloth, some come slowly, some hurry. Always, I try to greet them, to smile at their child. To speak kind words. Sometimes, they do not want to speak to me, to let me see the babe, to hear my words of gentle praise. Sometimes they are in a hurry. Sometimes they are too shy, country people scared of the city, the Temple. Sometimes they just do not care.

Ah, but sometimes, praise be, sometimes, they let me hold the little one. They ask my blessing. They smile and thank me quietly. I carry those times in my heart. I give thanks for those times, thanks for their chesed, their loving kindness.

And I wait. Every little time of chesed gives me the small courage I need to continue with my long, slow life, although there are many times when I would rather not.

Simeon, he waits also. Waits and hopes. But he waits for the king of Israel. He hopes for the warrior king who will throw the Romans out. He is so certain that the king will come in his lifetime. Usually, he ignores the poor parents, the ones from the country. He watches carefully whenever a rich family, an important family, a particularly religious family, comes with a babe. He blesses the babe, he prays, he hopes. And always he is disappointed. But still, he says the king will come before our Sovereign Lord calls him home.

Me, I don’t need that kind of hope. Why would I want Israel to rise up against the Romans? Oy, what blood would flow, how many would die. Those babes from years ago, young men now, how many of them would die on a Roman spear or, worse, a Roman cross? No, I do not hope for a king, just for some chesed, for myself and for the young families.

And then, today, a strange thing happened. A family came with their firstborn son. A poor family, with their turtledoves. His mother and father seemed like good people. They reminded me of people I knew long ago, they reminded me of myself and my Jeremiah. So young, so full of love and hope.

Their eyes when they looked at their babe! They do not need their little one to be any more than their son. They do not need him to be a great warrior or Israel’s savior or our king. I could see it in their eyes, in the way the mother held him, in the way the father kept his arm around them both. It is enough for them that he is healthy, that he grow strong, that he be a good man, that he love our one true Lord.

I knew Simeon would ignore them. They were so obviously poor, so obviously country, so obviously unimportant. But what do I know? The Lord can still surprise me, I guess. Because Simeon, he did not ignore them. As I was starting towards them, Simeon strode up to them, so confident, so righteous. He took the babe right out of the mother’s arms and he started giving thanks, lifting that babe up and giving praise with strange words, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.

The poor father and mother. They didn’t know what to do. You could see they wanted to take their babe back, but they didn’t want to offend a holy man. Simeon, he carried on for awhile, in his way, talking about the glory of Israel and a warrior king like David. Talking about an uprising, battles and victories and fallen warriors. The young parents were starting to be terrified, I could see it. Finally, finally, he gave the babe back to his mother, saying to her, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.

And then he walked away. He said those terrible words to that young mother and he just walked away, back into the inner temple, back to his prayers.

I went up to them then. I went slowly, gently. I didn’t grab the babe out of his terrified mother’s arms. I smiled at them. I told them their son was beautiful. I asked his name. Yeshua, a good name. I asked where they were from. They told me they lived in Nazareth but their son had been born in Bethlehem and his father was indeed in the line of David. Ah, I said, so he is your wonderful son and he is our Lord’s treasure. I know you will love him well and he will grow in wisdom and strength. I can tell you are good people and he too will be a good person. And who knows, maybe old Simeon is right, maybe he will be good for many in Israel and maybe you will know sadness, but right now, enjoy each other and this beautiful babe that our gracious Lord has given you. That is enough for now.

The young father thanked me and the young mother, she gently put the babe in my arms and asked my blessing for him. Ah, the sweet warm weight, the wonder and miracle of a baby in my arms. Just a poor babe. No king. No warrior. But still, today, my heart is filled with the Lord’s chesed and I am thankful for young families. Even though I know, too well, that sometimes the future brings hardship and sorrow, still there is joy in the beginning; there is always joy and hope and the Lord’s loving kindness with a loved child.