The Work of Wings





[This poem is more or less a meditation on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur]

For Hopkins
The work of ah! bright wings
Is not to fly
Spread wide
Snowy white
Unmarked unmarred
Pristine pure
Holy wholly other
Above our too dirty world
Broken by our own bombs
With cratered hope
Rubbled dreams
Too ruined for rescue

Ah, no
Those bright wings
Wings of the Holy Ghost
Do not spread wide
To fly, untouched, away
But to wrap our brokenness
Close, so close
That our labored breath
Stills
As the psalmist’s weaned child
Stills
On the mother’s breast

Hidden within those ghostly
Bright wings
We yet continue to cry
Continue to try 
For peace
That peace 
We are told
That passes understanding

Perhaps
Perhaps -
I dare to hope
I try to breathe -
Perhaps 
That peace beyond understanding
Is not beyond
Those ah! bright wings

Life

At 73
I think I know, finally
how to embrace life:
Carefully
aware of the wounded spots
that will cry out if I hug too tightly

Those wounds I inflicted
with the flicked whip
the pointed thorn
the hammered nail

Too often, I think,
I have nailed life to the cross
of my expectations
hoping to bleed satisfaction
from the wounded body
raised high on the cross
of my hopes
nailed hard to the cross
of my fears

I stood at the foot
of the cross of life
aghast at my own cruelty

Tenderly I lifted life from the cross
cradled life in my arms
buried life in the garden of my heart
enclosed by the stones of my sad knowing

And then, again and again,
I marveled as those stones
proved flimsy
no match for the power of life
new born but no infant
shining forth
freed from my tomb

Ah yes, again and again
have I marveled
at life
Resurrected 
Undefeated
Glorious 
Risen
Life

Until, again and again,
I put life on trial
and began to look again
for the whip, the thorn, 
the crucifying cross

Forgetting 
or maybe choosing to ignore
Life’s resurrection power

Tasting God

I remember Communion
round wafer, thinner than paper
Body of Christ 
on the top of my mouth
cleaving uncomfortably 

Don’t ever chew the body of Christ
we were warned, although not in those words
those way too explicit words
we were told
Don’t ever let the host touch 
your teeth

so instead, for the rest of Mass
back in the pew with my family
kneeling, head bowed, hands clasped
back straight because slouching 
was almost as bad as letting the host touch your teeth
kneeling so quietly that no one could tell
my tongue was busy exploring what was
stuck to the roof of my mouth
Christ’s body

Once I believed in that holy host
surrounded by a great cloud of believers
I believed that my tongue
tasted God

Now I just taste bread – and usually pretty pasty bread
unless I am at a church where people take turns making 
rich wholesome loaves to break apart and share
not caring if the body of Christ, or whatever those pieces are,
touch teeth

Yesterday when I was spreading mulch
I straightened up and looked around
and tasted mulch, the dust of the mulch
inhaled and tasted
at the back of my mouth, without
touching teeth

Sometimes now I stand quietly
tasting mulch
and God

What Leads Pines to Sigh

The pines sigh only with the wind
Until the poet climbs the mountain
And hears their silent sighs

Do the pines sigh
Because they want more
That “once I was loved 
but now he is gone” sigh
Or do they sigh in contentment
That end of a day well spent sigh
Or perhaps they sigh with relief
The cake is out of the oven and well risen sigh
Or perhaps they sigh with satisfied love
After a long but not particularly deep 
Telephone call with a grown child sigh

Or do they sigh for God?
Do they pine for the divine?

Perhaps they sigh
Because they caught sight of God
Tangled in their branches
Held fast in their roots

If Not Now, When

Now is the time for the world 
     to know perseverance carries us to other worlds
          to sow compassion carries us to each other
     to forget all that it thought it knew
          to regret all that it thought was progress
     to despair of ever getting everything right
          to repair some of what it got wrong
     to stay still when all we want is movement
          to pray when all we want is talk

Now is the time for me
     to know perseverance that carries me into old age
          to sow compassion that carries me towards others 
     to forget all the times I hated myself
          to regret all the times I hated others
     to despair of ever loving well enough
          to repair the damage of not loving well enough
     to stay still when all I want is movement
          to pray
               to pray
                    to pray

Quiet now
     listen now
          hope now
               wait now
                    open now 

To a holy, wholly-other God
     beyond my words
          beyond my time
               bound never by my command to speak
                    but only ever speaks to my silence

My non-thoughts go to a God not of my making 
          who waits beyond the knowing of the world 
                    whose silence proves her very existence

Now is the time for me to remember 
          that the world never knows

“Columbus found a world and had no chart 
save one that faith deciphered in the skies 
to trust in God was all his science and his only art”

I Have Only Just Begun

I have only just begun to know that I know nothing.
All of my theologies
are not God,
but only pretend, in their arrogance, to know God.

What does it mean
to begin to know that I do not know,
can never know
the limns and limits of a supreme being?

A god encompassed within my knowing
is no God at all.

What can I do? 
(This "I" that I do not always know)
How can this mysterious I pray?

How do I avoid the golden calf,
the tall white man nailed to the Roman cross
in Christian churches 
usurping the small -
almost certainly smaller than the usual now –
dark Palestinian Jew?

Ah, there is so much unknowing to accept.
How shall the unknown "I" worship the unknowable divine
without losing both?

I think I shall go walk in my garden,
spread mulch under the azaleas,
admire the upright daffodils and the drooping Lenten roses,
search, uselessly, too early, for signs of Solomon’s seal,
smell the spiked rosemary,
feel the fuzzy soft sage,
fill the wheelbarrow again,
mulch the walkway to the back garden,
with its stream and pond,
its shade and benches
its too rarely used yoga platform.
Then I will go up and check on Mom,
go to the store for sweet potatoes
to fix for dinner tonight
with the turkey breast Woody is frying.

I think I shall rest from knowing
and pray from doing.

Questions

What gentle house wren
longs to be a flashy cardinal?

Do drooping Lenten roses
wish for daffodil’s bright height?

Will bare-branched poplars
murmur against budding maples?

How can thyme be content
when rosemary grows so tall?

What thinks the scampering squirrel
of the wandering deer?

Are bees satisfied with hives
or do they long for nests?

And why, dear God,
in all your creation
must only humans
be cursed with envy?

Everything Sacred?

Everything that happens is sacred
Sure, sure, so the poets, philosophers, priests and popes say
Everything is sacred
Have they ever, I wonder, shit in their pants while in the grocery store
Because their bowels don’t know that only the toilet is sacred to them
Have they ever lost their temper and screamed at their sister over the phone
Because their anger doesn’t know that only self-control is sacred
Have they ever had to look at the chewing tobacco spit out on the sidewalk
Because the old man doesn’t know that, well, that chewing tobacco is never sacred
Unless lung cancer and COPD are sacred

But washing out my mother’s soiled underwear
That I feel is sacred
Getting angry at injustice, at deliberate ignorance, cultivated and cherished
That I feel is sacred
Caring for that lonely old man, even though he stinks of tobacco
Even though you hate his smell and his beliefs and his unknowing arrogance
Just because he is himself
That I feel is sacred

Do you agree, God?
Or can you see the sacred in my own dirty underwear
In my embarrassment
Can you see the sacred in my unwise anger
In my estrangement
In my temper
Can you see the sacred in that heap of sodden chaw
In over-plowed fields
In feeding lots
In caged children

Is there a divine powerful enough to help me see the sacred 
in the ordinary
in the profane

On A New Beginning

[This poem was prompted by reading John O’Donohue’s poem A New Beginning]

At my age to have a new beginning quietly forming
Seems more than miraculous
But I have trouble believing that I will hear it
My hearing not being what it once was
And if my new beginning is unheard
What am I left with
What of the old will replace the new that never got born
An aborted new beginning
An empty womb
Where once the promise of new life was forming
Attached to me
Growing with me
Helping me grow
Now ripped away
To die as I die
Alone

Ah, God, this, I fear, is all that is left
Until the new beginning in a different life
Or maybe just a new ending in this one
The shroud, I suppose, is not just enveloping
But soft

I write and try and try
To not try, as Alan Watts once advised
Before that wet bath tile
Brought him to an unexpected end
And perhaps a new beginning
Did he meet Thomas Merton, do you think
Another man much enamored of new beginnings
And, apparently, of one young nurse
Ah, so many bright new beginnings
Wander down into so-called sin
Much like Adam and Eve
In Eden’s Garden

That prototypical new beginning
That did not end very well
Shame and eventually a sibling murder
And through it all
Did Eve stand by her man
Naked or clothed

What was her sin, really
To listen to a snake
Or to reach for a forbidden fruit
Forbidden by Adam’s God

Who was Eve’s goddess
Would she have forbidden Eve
To reach for a new beginning
To reach for that fresh fruit
To stretch high
To stand on tiptoe
To shake the branch
Pluck the fruit
Feel it
Smell it
Lick it
Like two year old Milo smells and licks just about everything
His world beginning to be discovered
By touch and smell and taste

Did Eve boldly bite
Or gingerly lick
Did she wonder at the juice of it
Was she afraid
Or was she excited?

This we know:
She wanted to share that new beginning
“Adam, you have to try this”
Was God jealous?
His new beginnings all done
Creation finished
But here were his creatures
Enjoying something new
Something the woman dared to reach for
Touch, smell, taste, share

That is the new beginning I want
Just something ordinary
To greet with wonder
And share with my partner
My partner in new beginnings
After loss
After widowed
After grown children
Into each other’s houses
To our new beginning
Life together
Until death do us make yet another
New beginning