Figs

All winter we anticipated the figs

Three years ago
Woody planted two fig trees
Trees, he warned,
(My tree experienced husband)
Weep the first year
Creep the second year
Leap the third year

And our fig trees leapt
For joy
This year

Last year, one tree gave us
A few juicy figs
Plum rich, wildly satisfying
On our dinner table
Our mouths remembered that taste
As we watched our leaping trees
Bud out, we saw those infant figs
And our mouths coveted their musty sweetness

But our trees could not evade
The pirate birds
With light bodies, strong wings
Sharp beaks, gripping feet
And a taste for ripening figs

We hung sparkly twists of metal
We got a dog
Long legged, deep bark
Beautiful white
Squirrels and rabbits
Run before her
Deserting, finally, the banquet
Of our summer vegetable garden

But oh those birds
Those beautiful pirate birds
Who feast on our figs
Laugh down at our dog
Laugh among our sparkly hangers
Laugh with their bellies
Full of young figs

While our mouths salivate
In vain anticipation
Of the never to be
Ripe figs on our dinner table

Old Questions

What God has joined together
let not fear pull apart
let not water drown
let not life sunder

But when it does
why then
cannot the good remain
at least for the children

When life hands us 
lemons
we are told
make lemonade

Who can reach high 
above the sour
to grasp a sweetener
for lemoned families

From whose hand drips down
the honeyed sweetener
into the sour
juices of divorce

Whose strong arm
can clear a path
through the impenetrable forest
of never was, never could be

Can faith forgive
Can hope redeem
Can love endure
Can God

I Feel Old Today

How much longer, God, 
How much longer shall I live?
A hawk circles, circles
Now higher, now lower
Now wide, now narrow
No, not a hawk
A vulture
Searches, waits
Hungry with a wide hunger
Its own language
Wordless but loud
Cracks the vaulted sky
The hungry vulture circles
Waits for the answer
That is death
Over springtime’s soft green shoots
Over summer’s emerald growth
Over fall’s gray brown tree limbs
Over winter’s white cold
The vulture circles
Now higher, now lower
Now wide, now narrow

I remember when I looked up
And saw hawks, falcons, eagles
And felt my body could soar with them
Now, today, I feel old, cold
My neck would hurt, I think,
Were I to look up
And what would I see
Just that vulture, waiting
Waiting for the carrion
That he expects will answer
His hunger

What will answer, finally,
My hunger?
Will my spirit grow
When my body dies?
Is this the short asking inbreath
Before the long answering outbreath?

When I Walk Through An Open Door

When I walk through an open door
I expect earth beneath my feet
Not water
I look for the expected daisy
Not the unexpected papaya
I expect to walk not swim
Breathe air not water
Delight in the known

I want to be amazed
And yet I look only for the known
I want to be transformed
And yet I expect only the expected
I look for the straight path
Not the twisty maze
I long for the scent of the daisy
With the memory of my daughter’s wedding
But if I stoop to smell the daisy
Will I miss the papaya on the table
Waiting for the bite of my teeth
To let its golden juice run down my chin
As I inhale an unfamiliar sweetness
As I swim through the unexpected
As I maze my way to an open door
That I did not even know was a door
I breathe in as I turn the knob
I breathe out as I pull the door inward
I breathe in as I step outward

God, lead me through my known
To your unknown
As I breathe out expectations
And breathe in unexpected grace

How I Call My Spirit Back

The poet instructs us
on how to call our spirit back
from wandering the earth

How do I call my spirit back?

I am tempted to believe
I call my spirt back
by writing…by poetry…by reading
by thinking…by striving
By appreciating 
the writing…the poetry…the reading
the thinking…the striving
of others

I am tempted to believe
I call my spirit back
by reading difficult but renowned books
(Has anyone – ever – called their spirit back
by reading Finnegan’s Wake?)
by studying philosophy
by struggling with my faith, my God, my sometimes church

I am tempted to believe
I call my spirit back
by my own great efforts
to improve myself
to become more
as if I am a seed
and my spirit the seedling
I must become
to fulfill my destiny

But, really, truly
I think I call my spirit back
when I don’t call it at all

When I run through a garden sprinkler
like a somewhat crazed old woman
to encourage my three year old grandson
to do the same

When I stoop to kiss my husband’s almost bald head
as I hand him leftovers for lunch
because he seems tired today
too tired to get his own lunch as usual

I think my spirit comes back
most often when I don’t try
to call it at all

A Gift to the World From the Dentist’s Chair

Yesterday
I lay
In the dentist chair
Left side of my face numbed
Feet crossed
One over the other
At the far end of tensed legs
My left hand covered my right
Resting on my stomach
Clenched tight

The right side of my lip
Was pulled down
Over the small vacuum tube
That rested in my mouth
To suck out saliva and blood
And the tiny pieces of hardened grit
That shouldn’t be
On my teeth

I saw her masked face
Loom close over my own
I saw the small round mirror
In one hand
And some fearsome medieval
Instrument of torture
Surely
In the other

I called to my breath
Breathe in calm
Breathe out anxiety
Breathe in cooperation
Breathe out resistance
Breathe in relax
Breathe out tense
In relax
Out tense
In
Out
In
Out

Wait, I thought,
Do I really want to breathe
My anxiety, my resistance, my tension
Out into the world?
Doesn’t the world have enough
Of its own
Already?

Perhaps I should pray
Let my anxiety
My resistance
My tension
Be a small sacrifice
For the world’s sake
No crown of thorns
No nails into a wooden cross
But perhaps a little death
A tiny death
Of the expectation of well-being
Let me give the well-being I seek
To the world
Just for this hour or so
Maybe
Breathe with the anxiety
Let calm be
Breathe with the resistance
Let cooperation be
Breathe with the tension
Let relax be

What Divides Me From God

I begin to pray, 
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”
I get no further
Before I question
Father?
Why would I pray to a father?

I remember our father
Striding home from work, whistling
Hoisting me on his shoulders
In the Mardi Gras crowds
“Throw me something, Mistah”

I remember our father
Taking us to the beach
Letting me sprinkle sand
On his already balding head

I remember our father
Driving us drunkenly 
Onto the river ferry
To his half-brother’s house
In Algiers
Late one night
Walking in
Collapsing on the first bed
As we trailed behind

I remember our father
Getting thrown out of our uncle’s house
For what we children assumed
Was being ugly to our uncle’s 
Beautiful young wife
But now I think it probably wasn’t ugly
That he was being, our father

I remember our father
At Easter Dinner the year my sister married
“I’ve never been able to say motherfucker
At my own table
Motherfucker, motherfucker, motherfucker”

I remember…
You know, this gets me no closer to God at all
These memories
Let me let our father rest in peace
Rise, I hope, in glory

Let’s try Our Mother who art…
Oh shit, who art what
Tired?
Scared?
Too fragile emotionally
To shield us?
Egging our father on
Occasionally 
Or now
Just old
Needing help
Needing care
Needing attention

Well, this isn’t getting me any closer
To an all-powerful Supreme Being

But this is the prayer Jesus taught
So the Bible tells us
Jesus the God-Man
This is his prayer, his command
To make it our own

Dear Jesus
Blessed with good, easy parents
Whatever the truth
Of the origins of the sperm that made you
Perhaps, perhaps
You are not necessarily 
Best suited to teach me a prayer
To help me cross the divide to God

But then again
Maybe you are
Maybe the best I can do
Right now
Is meditate on, puzzle over
Our Father

Filtering God

The Church of my youth
the Holy Roman Catholic Church
(a sobriquet as undeserved as 
Holy Roman Empire)
gives me so very many reasons
to despise her
not least of which is
the stranglehold
of ridiculous old men
who call the Church
HER
as they rape her

But those old men have ordained readings for each day from God’s word
And those old men or their direct ancestors decided for themselves what was worthy to be GOD’S inerrant word declared so by those raping sodomizing old men
God’s WORD as filtered through them includes the book called Tobit where today I read of a young woman Sarah possessed by a demon Asmodeus who strangles her husband on their wedding night before they have intercourse
But, wait, the best is yet to come: This happens seven times YES! seven times to seven young men before the angel Raphael intervenes to save the eighth who, sadly, was not named Henry
So although I would love to despise the Holy Roman Catholic Church completely HOW can I not retain some affection for an entity that includes TOBIT as divine word filtering GOD to ME?

Strange Gift

Never did seed
feel incomplete
without roots and stem

Never did branch
feel bereft
without leaf and twig

Never did leaf
feel incomplete
without flower

Never did flower
feel worthless
without seed

Ah, no
The Creator gifted
to each
thought free
satisfaction

But I am neither seed
Nor branch
Leaf nor flower

Her strange gift
to me
restless striving
to be
something more

Praying My Memories

Sunday mid-morning
Front porch drenched in sunshine
Or not
Warm
Or not
Front porch with the dirty white railings
The small metal what is that French word
Corner plant stand
Wrought iron furniture
The rock we brought back from 
The beach in Homer, Alaska
The pottery bowl
On the plant stand
Small stones and dry leaves 
Not filling the inside but there
The old tall brown milk jug
That my friend whose name I can’t now recall
Brought me flowers in
When she learned my father had died
Even though I hadn’t seen or spoken to my father
For what was it 3 years
Before sitting at his deathbed
With that skeletal remnant of my once
Tall father, striding home from work,
On long legs
Whistling
But then the drinking
The hurts
The threats
The arrest
The time in jail for threatening
My mother
Trying to extort money for her safety
From my sister and me
We had to testify in a courtroom
Where my father sat
Seventy years old
Shackled
Orange prison jumpsuit
Between two guards
Orange was not the color of love
That day
Now
The milk jug is part of the porch
With the small animal figurines
That grace the French whatchamacallit
Corner plant stand
Figurines from my mother’s front porch
In Mississippi before she moved here with us
The rough wooden cross
That Woody made for my Sunday School class
Now sits on the small table on the small porch
Where Bev brings Mom Communion every Sunday
While I bow my head and pray my memories