Monday, November 21, 2016

Poetry - As - Prayer Retreat, 2016 - Strike Your Note!

Richard worked with us Friday evening and all day Saturday. He would share poetry with us, and give us challenges. Then we would write, and he would offer his wisdom. We've been working with Richard so long that it's become a very safe community, and Richard knows how to help us fine-tune our poetry without stepping on our toes. And I have learned to trust him. So, I didn't argue with him too much when he kind of "BS-d" my poem about the wall (see previous post). We talked a minute or two - he heard me, then challenged me to "write about that", making the poem so much more personal. This is my final version, and I've changed the title. 

The Shadow's Confession

He has called for us to build a wall in order to keep out the illegals,
so I have,
only my wall is one of frustration and anger between me and my friend.

Keep out!
Stay away from me!
Don’t touch me; I won’t be betrayed anymore.

I heap one accusation upon another,
Stacking them like bricks,
each brick held in place by the mortar of unforgiveness.

I don’t want to tear down my wall.
Instead I have chosen to crown it with a barbed wire fence of razor sharp words –
Words that wound my friend and keep him away,
Words that lock me in.

As much as I rage against their hate and bitterness,
I feel my own. 
As much as I want to judge them, I see that same fear and mistrust inside of me.
None of us can move forward, as long as I guard my own wall,
yet I can’t seem to trust enough to tear it down.

Before I can forgive them,
I have to forgive him.
Before I can forgive him, I must forgive myself.

Our first assignment Saturday morning was to write a short poem in about 10 minutes - just to warm us up, then Richard read several poems about the nearness of God and the distance  of God (or no God). Then we had our first challenge, to write one of those of our own.  These are the two I wrote:

Sedona's Tree

Follow the path only wide enough 
for one foot in front of the other.
Wind the way up to the top of the cliff.
See her there - at the edge
ancient, twisted, gnarled and bent into shape by the constant north wind.
Branches reach out - to touch nothing.
Roots grab fiercely - and find only rock.
Yet, she stays, constant.
She whispers, "Hold on."

the empty silence…
the darkness between stars*

or maybe God is white space
the pause in our breath
the pregnant void
maybe even the great no-thing.

God and I used to talk for hours,  
Lover to lover,
Friend to friend.
It’s much quieter now.
Words are seldom spoken.
There seems to be more empty space – which quantum physics tells me isn’t really empty space at all.

Some days I miss the words,
those easy answer,
the chance meetings,
the heart-to-heart rendezvous,
the touches that made me tremble.
Sometimes I wonder if I made it all up:
all those conversations,
the grand experiences,
the “God-told-me-such-and-such” tales.

There seems to be so much space now.
Inhale, exhale
ebb, flow
the rhythms of the seasons
the sound of a heart beating
the ticking of a clock
the flow of a stream
the purr of my cat
or a butterfly that hangs on in the wind.

As my eyes adapt to the darkness and my ears adjust to the silence
I find myself hoping
God’s in the spaces between the word.

Finally Richard gave us several poems that seemed to be tied together, even though they were written by different people over the course of several hundred years. Our challenge was to write one to add to that particular "book" of poems. The theme was "take and eat". We gathered Sunday morning for a short session and shared our poems.

Take and Eat

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here. Eat.*

Do you know how hard it is these days to smile
at my reflection in the mirror?
Her naked “unbuttoned” face looks back at me,
and there is no “Welcome”.
Not in her eyes, not on her lips.
Instead I’m greeted by worry lines
and anger’s dark cloud.

I would rather not look in the mirror this morning,
thank you very much, at least not until it’s time
to paint on her mask and make her look pretty.

I keep myself bent and solidly stayed in the big leather chair –
It’s more comfortable not to see.

“Get up, go, look – and smile.
Just try it. What have you got to lose?”

I know. I’m stubborn.
This moment proves it.
What’s to feast on about my life anyway?

Cat comes and jumps on the arm of my chair
demanding her morning stokes,
but she leaves all too quickly.
No more excuses.

“Do it. Offer yourself Eucharist.
What can it hurt?”

I walk into my kitchen,
pour a thimbleful of white zin
pinch off a bite of Wonder Bread,
and place them both on a china plate.
Red New Zealand prayer book tucked under my arm
And plate in hand,
I shuffle off to the mirror.

Well, we look rather silly,
you and I,
staring at each other in the mirror.
Let’s begin with confession…

I confess that I have sinned against you.

I bless the bread and then the wine.
I lift them up to myself in the mirror
and offer her communion.

feast on your life.
For a moment, we smiled, and then we cried.

*Love after Love, by Derek Walcott

Friday, November 18, 2016

8th Annual Poetry as Prayer Retreat

I can't believe it's been almost a year since I've posted on my blog. It's been a hard year, a year of loss on so many levels. 

But it's that time again - St. Timothy's "Poetry as Prayer" retreat. I can't believe we've been doing this 8 years. It was begun as one of those beautiful experiments that has had a profound affect on our lives. Familiar faces, a safe community, built through our struggle with words.

I've pondered our theme this year - Strike Your Note. My note feels particularly "off", harsh and angry right now. Yet, sad and filled with grief. This year of loss has rather left me undone, especially this election season. I feel angry, sad, betrayed, and powerless. So my "note" may not be pleasant or "in tune" with others.  But I am determined to sing my own song, regardless of how it sounds.

I seldom write poetry. According to this blog, I haven't written anything since the first of December last year. You can tell that I'm not particularly committed, but something really curious happens every year. I get Richard's "syllabus" in my email box, and all of a sudden, the poetry software seems to get plugged in. My brain begins to think in "rhyme" and my heart begins to feel in "verse".

It began last Thursday, November 10, as I sat in my studio, working on a painting. As I finished my drawing, something caught my eye, and I looked over my shoulder out the window. This is what I saw.

The wind was blowing, and I was depressed over the outcome of the election, but as I sat and watched this beautiful lady, a poem stirred, then came.

North Wind

Come O north wind…
Blow upon my garden
 that its fragrance may be wafted abroad.
The Song 4:16

On November 8, 2016, a cold north wind
began blowing all across this country.
This morning, it blew into my garden.
Windows and bones rattled
as the great chill descended.
A bleak grayness settled over everything
like the ash of St. Helen's on that fateful May day,
36 years ago.
Clamorous voices spun unbidden tales of fear and hate
as high as the straw Rumpelstiltskin demanded be turned to gold.

But then,
outside my window,
Beauty came unbidden to my garden of spices.
Almost unnoticed
she clung tenaciously to the milkweed blossom.
Then she let go,
flapped her wings hard
and threw herself into that blustery north wind.
Higher and higher she flew
as she caught each upward current of air.
Finally slung back toward the ground,
once more she grabbed the flower head—and stayed.
She holds on no matter how turbulent the wind.
She holds on.
She still is. 

Well, that was done! I felt rather smug that I had written a nice little pretty poem for our first night together. Accomplished.  I might still be able to pull this off without looking too bad.

Then I went to church Sunday, not particularly because I wanted to, but because I was working Altar Guild. I really didn't want to go. I wanted to stay home where I felt safe and nurse my pain. But I went because I was supposed to go. It didn't work for me.  I didn't feel any comfort - only a "broken hallelujah" when Leonard Cohen's song was played as we left the church. I was in tears, my feminist heart breaking.

Monday morning, as I prayed, I heard the words, "won't be comforted". I heard them really strong, so I began to peruse the Scripture and found the passage in Matthew where Rachel refused to be consoled. This time, I really found my "note". And this poem isn't pretty, but it's my song - the song I've been singing for over 10 years. 

Rachel’s Lament

A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because
 they are no more.
Matthew 2:18

She still weeps
And refuses to be consoled.

Women’s voices still cry out.
Women of color
Lesbian, gay, trans, queer voices.
The voices of the disabled…

But then, all of our voices have been disabled.

We weep.
We cry out.
No one listens.

Least of all
The male, white God

Even in our more liberal houses of worship
Rachel’s voice isn’t heard…
Not in the Liturgy,
Not in the prayers,
Not in the Scriptures
Not in the invitation to the Table.

Only the Father’s voice
Only the Son’s
Never the Mother’s voice
Never the daughter’s.

She Who Is still weeps
And refuses to be comforted.
Until She is heard,

None of us are heard.

This is the poem I'll share tonight. If I don't share this one, I feel my heart might seriously break. This IS my note. This is my song.

And this election has not been kind to my husband and me as a couple. Long story short, I woke up this morning with cliches and slogans going through my head, and this poem in it's infant stages.

Build That Wall (With Catchy Cliches and Trite Slogans)

A deep moat of silence
surrounds and guards
the wall.
Unspoken thoughts,
projections really,
heaped one on top of the other -
brick on brick
stone on stone -
stacked higher and higher,
held together
by the sticky mortar of perceived betrayal.

The wall,
crowned with a barbed wire fence of razor sharp words,
prevents anyone going high,
so she goes low –
as low as a snake’s belly.

The wall protects –
Keep out!
Lock in.

Stronger together.
Falling apart.

This silence isn’t golden.
Today it’s impenetrable,
Deep, dark and ice cold.

It will be interesting to see what the weekend brings. Richard manages to bring the "poetic spirit" with him, and he liberally sprinkles "poetry dust" on all of us, and deep and meaningful poems come forth. Hearts are cracked open. And our sense of community deepens. There's a lot of trust in that big living room at Surfside Beach. There has to be.