Stained Glass & the Sea

“All my life, so far, I have loved more than one thing.” -Mary Oliver

***

Typing away, then so easily distracted. Distracted by beauty, for always and always. I turn to my left, peering up at the stained glass. An image of Mary and Martha with Jesus placed between, a conduit of peace and token of abiding. There is such history here, and I am so small, and it makes me want to throw my hands in the air (to celebrate? to despair at the passage of time?).

***

Reading Audre Lorde while my mind is elsewhere, a page turning, an electric shock:

“To Martha: A New Year”

“As you search over this year / with eyes your heart has / sharpened / remember longing. / …places do not change / so much / as what we seek in them / and faith will serve / along the way / to somewhere else / where work begins” (46).

***

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” -Luke 10:40-42 (NIV)

***

“When the train stops, the woman said, you must get on it. But how will I know, the child asked, it is the right train? It will be the right train, said the woman, because it is the right time.” -Louise Glück, “Utopia”

***

The air by the sea surrounds me, clinging like a veil. The calm before the storm. I can see lights sparkle across the water in some unknown city. On one of my walks, a little boy screamed, “I can hear the Highlands from here!” And his parents laughed and laughed, “That’s a little too far away, buddy.” “I can hear!” He replied. His adamant belief does not seem so ridiculous in the suspension between twilight and darkness; it all feels tremulously close, close enough to embrace. My mind flits to what Beth said a few nights back, about baptism in the trust sense being immersion. And with each step I think, Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now, as Plath did. This mist is baptism over and over, a cloying grace we are walking in and through.

***

“I taught myself to live simply and wisely, / to look at the sky and pray to God, / and to wander long before evening / to tire my useless sadness.” -Anna Akhmatova, page 26 of Selected Poems

***

The child gazes up at me, brimming with misplaced confidence and clenching his toy truck. “Mama!” He cries, not quite shouting but jubilant. I exchange an amused glance with his father and chuckle behind my mask. “No, that’s not your mama,” he says gently as they walk on. I wave at the child, and he looks back, looks back.

Every day, I see friends and acquaintances growing, encompassing worlds. Their faces are radiant, like saints, and I wonder what they know now, what Mary once knew. They have entered somewhere I cannot follow.

***

“I don’t speak with anyone for a week. / I just sit on a stone by the sea.” -Anna Akhmatova, 50

***

January: Reading the Psalms when I wake and before I rest, praying for courage, for trust, for solace. Earth has nothing I desire but you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more. Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again. Praise be to the Lord, our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

***

Juggling my groceries, I am a sight as I march home in the cold, bearing a full tote bag and carrying a bottle of kombucha and a chicken breast. Up the stairs, to the fridge, bag emptied. Then, the buzzer goes off in my flat. The sound of a man, babbling in a thick Scottish accent, and all I can make out is “I saw a girl just now” and “gift” and “church” repeated emphatically. Bewildered, I let him into the hallway. We stand apart, masked, and he leaves a blue bag behind, thanking me again and again. The church was locked. No one there. He could not get in. He lives elsewhere. He is entrusting me as a messenger. Of what? A quick peek inside the bag reveals a cross, swaddled in tissue paper. And a note: To the Church. From Robert.

***

“I thrived. I lived / not completely alone, alone / but not completely, strangers / surging around me. / That’s what the sea is: / we exist in secret.” -Louise Glück, “Formaggio”

***

Anna Akhmatova, a prolific Russian poet who lived through the Stalinist terror, wrote that hope sings but remains “endlessly evasive.” But I think that, sometimes, hope finds us.

***

Lockdown Playlist:

Dreaming of what I can do now
To carry some kindness and love
And reminders that the pain will die down
I walk and I read, I spend time in the sea

-“As Alone,” Florist

She said I care too much these days
About my place in this ball of yarn
There’s not a lot that I can boast
I water plants and make French toast

-“Miss Misanthrope,” Jealous of the Birds

lift my eyes

It is getting harder and harder to get out of bed.

“Why?” I think. Then, “To go where? To see whom?” Lockdown. Again.

This afternoon, I rolled out of the warm covers, exchanged pajama pants for jeans, and bundled up, shuffling down to West Sands. Along the way, I pass my favorite coffee shop, which was supposed to reopen today. Its interior remains dim, with a new paper sign saying they will hopefully be back in February. I think of all the shattered plans, and there are many.

The streets are sparse, and the beach is even emptier. A family climbs a nearby boulder, one element of the worn barrier against the sea. I walk along the edge, in the wrong shoes for exploring, and sit, cradled by a curvature in the rocks—not sheltered from the wind exactly but blocked from the view of passerby. Thus situated, I resignedly observe the tide come in slow, and the few silhouettes on the beach pass and pass, trudging despite unamiable forces of wind and sand. The wind is fierce but not at its fiercest, and I close my eyes, willing it to whistle through my skull, to rush through, so sharp and frigid and pure, zephyring out my crammed notions and questions and fears. The ocean seems as expansive as misery, and just as grey, and I want to cry; I want it so badly that it makes it nearly impossible to occur—wretched paradox. “God, where are you?” I ask, and only the waves answer. I rest in the reverberation, feeling heavy and prematurely wizened while seagulls cruise and glide in front of me, alighting in squadrons within shallow tidal pools. Fleetingly, I long to be a bird.

A sudden inner thought, like a cloud bursting with rain: “I will remember the works of the Lord in the land of the living.” [Later, I realized that my brain or heart or a combination of the two had merged Psalm 27 and 77—”I will remember the works of the Lord” (77) and “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (27)—both of which I’ve read recently.] Then, I lifted my eyes, noticing distant hills I had never before spotted on prior beach walks due to obscuring mist from the waves. Beyond Tentsmuir Forest, snowy hilltops arise—arresting and majestic. Glancing behind me, perhaps to see what else I may have missed, I turn from the shade of my chilly perch just in time to see the sun peek triumphantly above the clouds, in a blinding halo. Words form in my heart from a quiet elsewhere: “Step into the light.” Despite the gravity of the moment, my thoughts flit to the numbness creeping into my hands, and I know I cannot stay. As I step into the sun, the small black bird keeping me company tries to follow.

“We hope for magic; mystery endures.” -Mary Oliver

***

A note based on recent observations: In many ways, this is not a time of easy answers, only multiplying questions. Everyone is going through a degree of torture right now, and denying that fact is blind, foolish, and insensitive. As we enter 2021, we have all lost someone or something. I am deeply thankful that this world is not my home and that I am able to live established in the knowledge I do not walk alone. I can lay my worries and mourning at the feet of a Savior who has intimately known this pain already and rejoice that the extremities of hurt or despair we feel can never compare to the boundless joy that is coming.

While these times are “unprecedented” to us, they are known by God.

cosmic ache

Words I find myself repeating quietly on walks by the river: “The world doesn’t know / what to do with my love. Because it isn’t used to / being loved… I hope it’s love. I’m trying really hard / to make it love. I said no more severity. I said it severely / and slept through all my appointments.” -Richard Siken, War of the Foxes, 40

***

The exhale you didn’t know you were holding. The early twilight. The candle flickering. The music on for dancing. The fragrant apple crumble coming out of the oven, slightly burnt but already beloved.

***

“I had nothing to build with. / It was winter: I couldn’t imagine / anything but the past. I couldn’t even / imagine the past, if it came to that. / And I didn’t know how I came here. / Everyone else much further along. / I was back at the beginning / at a time in life we can’t remember beginnings.” -Louise Glück, Vita Nova, 38

***

On Bonfire Night, a sudden flurry of sound—the harried rush to rest one’s elbows on the windowsill like a child at first snow. The fireworks are rising over Castle Sands, in arcs of red and gold. Several heartbeats brimming with light and pitch, then darkness again.

***

When Brigit Pegeen Kelly wrote “These are the long weeks. The weeks / of waiting. Let them be / Longer. Let the days smolder” (68), she might as well have been talking about Advent. I think of Tish Harrison Warren’s wording: a cosmic ache.

***

“Can this be paradise, with so much loss / in it? / Paradise / is defined by loss. / Is loss. / Is.” -Margaret Atwood

***

At the Kelvingrove Museum, I stood there the longest—in front of James Guthrie’s In the Orchard. Art has the strange and wonderful power to arrest you, drawing you near in surreptitious magnetism. The painting is giant, spanning an entire wall, crafted in hues of emerald and umber. I couldn’t stop looking at the girl, kneeling in a black dress, her face inscrutable and resigned. She seemed as if deep in thought, or perhaps she had just stopped crying. The boy extends his basket of apples, looking down passively. She is the focal point, and even the geese in the background incline their heads, eager to see what will happen next. It is a story told a thousand times over but each time rewritten. The girl extends her arm, preparing to place an apple into the basket, pausing just before. A recreation of Eden. She seems to sense all that hangs in the balance. She is striking a deal and knows not what comes next. She is bonded now. Her eyes fix on the apple, even as she clutches another with her left hand, as if reconsidering. She does not want to let go. An analogy for love?

***

A quote from The Great Gatsby so beautiful it haunts: “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.”

***

In the cathedral yesterday, tears came. Unexpected visitors, unexpected guests. Months since I had partaken in communion. The priest saw me outside, craning my neck and trying to capture the arcs of stone while waiting for a friend. “Taking pictures, eh?” he said with a chuckle, and I shrugged, sheepish, “It’s a gorgeous building.” It was when the children came filing in, knotted to each other or hovering mothers and fathers. It was when the priest knelt in his violet robe to look a little girl in the eye, a toddler with messy blonde hair and her fingers in her mouth. He gave her the body of Christ, solemnly and joyfully at once, and her mother smiled on, pregnant with another. And I thought of Mary. And the violinist played on, a melody searing and true. And I could hear the music all around but could not see the source, so I turned to my friend at last: “Where’s the violinist?” I asked, bewildered. “Oh, just behind the column. You simply can’t see her yet.” And the music filled the room. And I felt as if my life couldn’t quite be my life, as if I’d been inserted into a film unawares. And I knew there was a lesson in it all—if only I could find it, if only I could write about it.

***

“I want to leave / no one behind. / To keep / & be kept. / The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies. The way light / keeps its shadow / by swallowing it.” -Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 39

***

Why is it that I read Louise Glück’s Vita Nova over and over these days but, when my friend asks me what it is about, I cannot answer? All I can say: “Memory.”

***

“He changes times and seasons… He reveals deep and hidden things.” -Daniel 2:21,22a (NIV)

***

“Dear [G]od, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through / to get here. / Here. That’s all I wanted to be. / I promise.” -Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 72

***

Anne Carson writes in “The Glass Essay” about women with a vocation of anger, but I think there’s a vocation of remembrance too—and I think it aches.

***

When Glück writes, You changed me, you should remember me.

When Glück writes, I thought my life was over and my heart was broken. Then I moved to Cambridge.

***

I want to be crammed so full of beauty that it overflows.

trust & boxes within boxes

The lone bus jostles up and down erratically, and the tremors seem to rattle every bone in our bodies as we hurtle along the curvature of rural Scottish roads. Here, there is a stone bridge. There, a flock of sheep calmly grazing. We pass them by, not wholly neglectful as a collective but hurried, unchanging. One pothole proves to be particularly vengeful, causing all passengers to grasp for nearby means of support—an armrest, a pole, or, for one woman, her dog—and I feel transported, as in movies where the scene suddenly changes. I am once again on the Metra on a blustery Chicago day. Emma is talking to me excitedly about the links between music and neuroscience. She says we’ll travel Europe together one day and smiles.

***

I keep having dreams about everyone I’ve left behind.

***

Mary Magdalene clutches the feet of Christ, bathing them in tears. The adjacent museum chat label says she is “the very personification of sorrow and repentance.” I cannot look away from her face—her mouth is agape, and I wonder what she cries out for or if she can find no words.

***

On West Sands, yesterday, after the brutal wind and rain: a rainbow.

***

Something tugs me into the graveyard upon the hill. It is quiet and still, looking out over the sapphire coastline. “Thou art with me.” I read the headstones slowly as I pass. Some are too worn, ancient and eroded by the forces of wind and rain. Around a corner of the crumbling cathedral wall, I find the thing I was searching for without knowing it, the thing pulling me in somehow. Wilhelmina Barns Graham, Artist of St Andrews, 1912-2004. The scholarship that I received is in her name, honoring her legacy as a woman abstract artist. The tipping of the scales. The catalyst of my decision to come to Scotland after all. It can all be traced back to her. I get down on my knees in the grass and thank her for being a part of God’s goodness and pray for her soul and the lives impacted by her art, feeling a little silly but also overwhelmingly grateful.

***

“My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us. I would like to write a beautiful prayer but I have nothing to do it from. There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise; but I cannot do it. Yet at some insipid moment when I may possibly be thinking of floor wax or pigeon eggs, the opening of a beautiful prayer may come up from my subconscious and lead me to write something exalted. I am not a philosopher or I could understand these things. If I knew all of myself, dear God… what would I be then?” —Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 7

***

“The Flight of the Swallows” (1906) by John Henry Lorimer. Four girls in white gossamer gowns cluster near an opulent window. Long shadows fall upon the roof outside. The swallows are leaving, taking wing just beyond the pane, and the light is golden but soon to fade. Gilded mirrors refract the dying light, and one of the girls sits apart, her face in her hands, and cries. A French quotation inscribed on the bronze frame speaks of the loss of innocence.

***

Lord, my BRP isn’t here yet. I need the BRP to open a bank account. I need a bank account to receive my student loan surplus. I need the student loan surplus to pay my rent. I need the bank account to get a contactless debit card. I need the debit card to take the bus, purchase a new phone plan, and pay for my utilities. I need the big spiders gone in my apartment. I need the power to come back on because I need to use my fridge and washing machine. I need—

And God says, Do you think I do not already know what you need, dear one?

And are you so sure those are your true needs after all?

***

“My mind is in a little box, dear God, down inside other boxes inside other boxes and on and on. There is very little air in my box. Dear God, please give me as much air as it is not presumptuous to ask for. Please let some light shine out of all the things around me.” —Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal, 17

***

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
 He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah.” —Psalm 62:5-6,8 (ESV)

star shatter

welcomed, born without invitation

entering into inevitable dance,

stumbling, beckoned further than thought,

held, awakened to the sound

of a new tomorrow, trembling.

you said “fear not.”

you said “be still.”

and I recall something: a not yet.

so why all this star shatter,

why quake and thrill,

why the abysmal chatter?

why Hemingway and orchids,

bee buzz and dark matter?

motion and light quickening,

racing into piercing darkness

perhaps not dark at all

but merely such brightness

we are blinded and know no more.

Anthem of a Finite Forever

The second part of the French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964):

L’absence.

The film has been described by critic Jim Ridley as containing an “anthem of a finite forever and an eternally preserved present that never loses its ache.”

***

“Catch if you can your country’s moment, begin / where any calendar’s ripped off.”

—Adrienne Rich, “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” Later Poems (1971-2012)

***

A Black woman passes by the two of us as we are seated on a patch of grass, our eyes trained on the vacant sky expectantly. She walks along slowly, coming to a halt further down the sidewalk and keeping her distance all the while. A babbling family with two dogs, one large and one small, does not. After the fireworks begin, crescendos of red and green and blue interspersed with shimmering showers of gold, I glance over at her again. Her mask, printed with the American flag, hangs limply from one ear. In her left hand, she is holding a cigarette, which she brings to her lips before exhaling slow. In the right, a drink with ice cubes that tinkle lightly against the glass rim. The smoke begins to mingle with the haze from the fireworks, and the full moon looks on overhead. (I would later learn it was a “buck moon” and that the evening held a lunar eclipse and the planetary nearness of Jupiter etched in the night sky.) The scattered groups around us hum and buzz and cheer, but she remains steadfast and silent, gazing at the explosions as if she has already felt them somewhere in her very marrow. As if they have nothing to teach her. She is unmoved or, perhaps, only mildly thoughtful. Cars begin to stop haphazardly in the middle of the street as drivers whip out their iPhones from warm denim pockets, aiming to capture their next Instagram story. All I can think is “This does not feel like the land of the free. Not yet.” and “Why must protection and poison follow each other so closely?”

***

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of your glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice; I must mourn…”               —Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

***

We pace around our city, heads bowed. We pray. We worship. Then, we are told to clap for the police officers surrounding the perimeter of the State Capitol, to thank them for their sacrifice. The Black woman beside me does not move, keeping a steely gaze, her hands in fists. Dignified. Outraged. My hands—a flurry of motion—numb.

***

“The cross and the lynching tree interpret each other. Both were public spectacles, shameful events, instruments of punishment reserved for the most despised people in society. Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the scandal of the cross and the lynching tree. ‘Jesus did not die a gentle death like Socrates, with his cup of hemlock….Rather, he died like a [lynched black victim] or a common [black] criminal in torment, on the tree of shame.’ The crowd’s shout ‘Crucify him!’ (Mk 15:14) anticipated the white mob’s shout ‘Lynch him!’ Jesus’ agonizing final cry of abandonment from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Mk 15:34), was similar to the lynched victim Sam Hose’s awful scream as he drew his last breath, ‘Oh, my God! Oh, Jesus.’ In each case it was a cruel, agonizing, and contemptible death.” ―James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree

***

There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole;
there is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged
and think my work’s in vain,
but then the Holy Spirit
revives my soul again.

***

A church sign spotted beside a winding serpentine road, homeward bound:

“He is in the searching and the waiting. He is in the suffering and the healing.”

healing: midsummer

“I think that I am here, on this earth, / To present a report on it, but to whom I do not know. / As if I were sent so that whatever takes place / Has meaning because it changes into memory.” —Czeslaw Milosz, Unattainable Earth

***

Every summer, I scuttle down the front porch steps without shoes, propelling myself towards our gravel driveway, where I make my way tentatively over the crumbled, jagged forms of scattered copper rocks. By the end of the season, the soles of my feet become calloused and strong, and I stride without wincing, without any hesitation.

***

The thing I remember is the feeling of dirt beneath my feet. Stepping gingerly into the garage, looking for a terra cotta pot or the like, I had left my sandals inside. After scanning the laden shelves, I noticed a tin watering can with a withered brown plant inside. We quickly removed these brittle remains, and the budding green thyme plant nestled itself happily within its abode, supplied with new soil. It overspilled its bounds.

***

“All that matters is to be at one with the living God / to be a creature in the house of the God of Life. / Like a cat asleep on a chair / at peace, in peace… / feeling the presence of the living God / like a great assurance / a deep calm in the heart.” —D.H. Lawrence

***

Inbox (1 unread): “Dear Mattea, I am delighted to inform you that your scholarship application has now been processed, and you have been granted a postgraduate award in the School of Art History. Congratulations! If you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

***

Juneteenth: an annual holiday observing the end of slavery in the U.S. and marking the day—June 19, 1865—when the news of emancipation reached people in the deepest parts of the former Confederacy in Galveston, Texas. They had been free for two years. They just didn’t know it yet. Their lived reality didn’t align with the words scrawled upon the page, skeletal, black upon white—by a man who confessed he cared more about saving the Union than he ever did about slaves. On September 18, 1858, Lincoln assured an audience: “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” No right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office, or to interracially marry. Who decides what freedom looks like and when it is won?

***

Memento (2000):  “How am I supposed to heal if I can’t feel time?”

***

To the gentle baker who remembered my name after only meeting me once, the one with the gentle eyes, the one who insists that I take a box of pastries home with me after my shift so they will not go to waste: thank you. I wish the world was wholly made up of such kindnesses.

***

I am reading, and I am waiting. I am healing. Colette, Annie Dillard, then Fitzgerald. This chapter of untethered postgrad life with abundant time for contemplation has awakened me to the deep need for healing in my own life—in areas I thought I had already surrendered, in issues I thought I had processed and put behind me long ago. I have also had my eyes opened anew to the desperate need for healing and reform throughout my own nation. My heart is heavy, but this is no excuse to turn away. Each Instagram story is the face of a precious child of God we have lost too soon, a linked resource, a petition, a plea. So I read up on environmental racism, dietary racism, misogynoir, police brutality, and the intersection of race and mental health stigma. What is the difference between simply breaking and breakthrough? How can we make this last? What seeds are we planting? What will they become? How many will stay to tend the garden and how many will be left to partake of the fruit? I’ve been clinging to a quote by Rilke about loving all our unresolved questions so we can live into the answers. Lord, come.

attention, art, & love: quarantine thoughts

“The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.” —Marie Howe

***

“Daddy, she looks like a good person. Doesn’t she look like a good person?” The little boy chattering in the Target shopping cart, gripping a toy shaped like a beige egg, suddenly turns his clairvoyant eyes towards me. A good person. I smile broadly behind the gray confines of my mask and hope that a timid wave and a softening in my eyes can somehow be enough to convey a burst of joy. Soon, their cart rolls out of view, and I realize with a start that I will never know what was trapped within that egg, aching to emerge.

***

“Art. Love. What’s the difference, really?” My friend says with a shrug, and when he smiles his eyes crumple into celebratory lines, like confetti mid-descent.

***

A few nights back, I had a dream that I was running, breathless, from something or someone. The only shelter was the church ahead, but I was barefoot; I couldn’t enter without shoes. My friend appeared in an adjacent doorway and kindly gave me his sneakers without a second thought. I rushed inside, only to see a face turn away in hurt.

***

December 9th, 2019:

“I bumped into a friend today, dressed brightly and carrying an umbrella. I rushed over to huddle under too, and we laughed when it bopped my head. We spoke of those graduating in December and exchanged a mutual frazzled look. We both expressed how charmed we are to be waiting ’till May, delaying the inevitable, taking our time with growing old. We parted ways. The rain fell.

Now I am sitting at Blackberry Market, and, though it is echoey and empty and strange, it is altogether like a second home. I think the baristas know me (embarrassing or flattering?) and my signature mug by now. I’ve settled in, to this seat, yes, but also here at large. It is making sense to me now. I drove friends to the store yesterday and knew the twists and turns and street names—no GPS needed. More friends stayed in my apartment until 2:00 am because they couldn’t bear to leave; they told me it felt like home, and I could see in their eyes that they were hungry for belonging. We listened to my Frank Sinatra Christmas vinyl and jazz and then fell into comfortable, companionable silence. I went off to bed, and a few still lingered there. As I drifted off to sleep, I bemusedly thought about this feeling—like that of a parent with children sleeping over. I fell asleep to the lullaby of whispered conversation and spurts of contained laughter. Tenderness.”

***

Lady Bird: “Well, I was just describing it.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Well, it comes across as love.”

Lady Bird: “Sure, I guess I pay attention.”

Sister Sarah Joan: “Don’t you think they’re the same thing? Love and attention?”

***

January 13th, 2020, four months ago, first day of final semester:

“I make small talk with the girl beside me at the CPO window. We shared a ride together once from Midway; her friend drove us and insisted on me not paying. I smile and turn to leave, and she shouts after me: ‘Take care!’ I didn’t expect it, but it rings in my ears as I step out into the grey afternoon.

I drive to Twice as Nice and find that the dress I’ve been pining over for weeks is gone. I buy a cozy grey sweater instead and pay in all quarters. The woman at the register excitedly exclaims that they are just what she needs. She is almost out of quarters, she says. And pennies.

We are always filling in the gaps, whether we know it or not. I am amazed today by how we are able to be so many things to so many people, shifting and morphing in and out—how God stitches us into the complexity of His story. We may never know when our presence, our words, or our actions turn out to be exactly what someone else needs.

Earlier, in chapel, Dr. Ryken said, ‘It is when we reach the end of our own limited resources that God is able to do all that He can do.'”

***

“We have so little of each other, now… Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy? These fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here, have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.'”—Danusha Lameris

***

Another dream: On a road trip, I suddenly realized my luggage had mysteriously vanished from the car. Then, I could see it, there, waiting for me along the sidewalk. We were in bumper-to-bumper traffic, so I jumped out of the vehicle and barreled after it. The black form kept getting further and further away, and I turned to see the car had left me behind.

***

JO: “Perhaps… perhaps I was too quick in turning him down.”

MARMEE: “Do you love him?”

JO: “If he asked me again, I think I would say yes… Do you think he’ll ask me again?”

MARMEE: “But do you love him?”

JO (tearing up): “I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”

MARMEE: “That is not the same as loving.”

JO (crying, trying to explain herself to herself): “You know, I just feel like women… they have minds and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it, but… I am so lonely.”

***

“I know you are reading this poem / as the underground train loses momentum and before running / up the stairs / toward a new kind of love. / I know you are reading this poem listening for something torn / between bitterness and hope / turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse. / I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else / left to read.” —Adrienne Rich

very blessed

“I’m very blessed,” you say over the phone and mean it.

It is Good Friday, and one of the lines from Eliot’s “East Coker” has been ricocheting in your mind for hours. Last year, you knelt before the cross after a three hour long service and cried. Your hand was over your friend’s. A stranger’s cupped your own. His body was broken. Crumbled bread, spilled wine. Your body felt broken, limping slightly towards the stage with a tender inevitability. You have been thinking about lost things and about how Eliot, regardless of your own opinions about his overly-lauded oeuvre, is a prophet. A month from now, graduation. A month ago, Scotland. A kind of eternity between.

“Beneath the bleeding hands we feel

The sharp compassion of the healer’s art

Resolving the enigma of the fever chart…

To be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital

Endowed by the ruined millionaire,

Wherein, if we do well, we shall

Die of the absolute paternal care

That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere…

The dripping blood our only drink,

The bloody flesh our only food:

In spite of which we like to think

That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—

Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.” — T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”

4.10.20

the curvature of a spotted feline back

shudders against crossed legs. she is

asleep, purring and dream-twitching.

very blessed. you remember in physics

learning about sound waves, how the hum

of a cat’s purr has special healing properties,

can strengthen bones, lessen the risk of heart attack,

abiding within the frequencies of 20-140 Hertz.

very blessed. like the berries, cherries, and peaches

blending together just right to bless the body.

like the long-awaited phone call, like light streaming

through the window onto these small potted plants,

as they reach heavenward, grow without striving.

sweetbitter (4/1/20)

Happy National Poetry Month!

meditation #1:

a handful of berries in the morning,

bitter then sweet in alternating grace.

they lie, smooth as pebbles, trembling slow.

these are the days that must happen to you,

and these are the fruits placed in front of us:

the chaff and Chaucer’s sentence al sooth.

you are you, neither Socrates nor Persephone.

you are the grinning totem, the lodestar.

 

so the sunlight falls across us in waves,

cleansing us for we expect nothing in particular,

tugging us nearer to the start of all things,

and nearer still to the stirring of branches above,

of wildflower yearning and velvet bees abuzz.

in the realm of sweetbitter, think not of me.