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