Honeylocust

honeylocust

Honeylocust

she holds them, cupped in dirty hands

raised up to the light

palmsful of blossoms, fuschia spilling over

and the scent of honey, of myrrh.

how can it be, she asks

that this treasure grew

from that tangle of thorns?

i put them in water, cut-glass winks in

filtered sun

touching velvet petals, fingers trembling

i remember other treasure

the roots of which twine in painful thorns

how beautiful, that which is born

in bitter, piercing weeds

 

 

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In, On, and Around…Ordinary

I am sitting here, in the dark, the computer screen throws out a strange kind of light and in this unnatural halo I huddle and type.  It is the quiet, in-between hour of the day, before the children wake and after I kiss my husband goodbye for the day, after I spend time in the pages of the Word and before breakfast, before they come downstairs with hair tangled and pajamas twisted, rubbing sleep from their eyes.  This quiet space is sacred, in an ordinary way.  A pause to let words flow, tumble, arrange and re-arrange.  The clock behind me measures out time, a sound like the echo of an old man with a cane walking down a tile corridor, the tap of the cane and the thump of the shoe.  Tick tock, tick tock.  

 Some days I use this time wisely, writing furiously.  Some days I put my slippers on and I photograph things in the yard, pajama bottoms peeking out and my huge gray hoodie zipped up under my chin.  Some days I waste time reading facebook, aimlessly skipping from blog to blog to blog, looking for what?  Some days the words that appear on the screen surprise me, sometimes I don’t know what I have to say until I see it there, black-on-white, cursor blinking back at me.

As I write I hear the traffic on the street outside pick up, I notice the sounds of neighbors starting their cars, doors slamming.  A dog is barking in the yard next door, begging his master back. I write as the sun starts to peek over the mountains to the East, and the window beside my desk starts to glow with the light of dawn, and the light seeps into the room and details start to emerge from the darkness.  I write and the coffee in my cup grows cold, I pick it up to take a sip and am surprised to find it’s gone. I write and hear the sound of small feet hit the floor above me, and the dog pricks up her ears because there is no earthly reason why a dog should leave the warm hollow of her bed until the children are awake, is there?

A friend told me yesterday that she admires the fact that I can write about the ordinary and make it seem like more, give it meaning.  I can do that sometimes, and I can live that sometimes, and I wish I lived that way always.  What we have is the ordinary, and what the ordinary is in truth is touched, blessed, gilded, gifted, breathtaking.  What it is, is Holy and why I write is to remember that.  Because I forget, all too often, and I don’t notice the quiet Voice whispering love into my ear all day long, don’t see the offered gifts of beauty being passed to me with tireless grace, one by one by one.

And now the first child is downstairs, and the dog has re-animated and is standing at the door waiting to go out, and enough morning has poured through the window that I can see the day’s work ahead of me, etched in a cold October light. I see the gift of a day before me, sacred and ordinary.

Writing from where I am, prompted by LL Barkat’s “In, On, and Around Monday” .

From the Novel I’m (Still) Not Writing


A bit from the “Novel I’m not writing” but seem to be thinking about a lot. This character has been living in my head for awhile and I know her pretty well. She makes me sad, she’s so young and has already gone through so much. Her story is awfully rough and I wish I could tell her things will be getting better from here, but the truth is that it’s going to get a lot worse for awhile first. Great things will happen to her later on, and all the things she’s going through now are going to make her story that much richer. Her rough start is absolutely necessary for several reasons, it will play into not just her own character but also others later in the story. Even though I know what she has to go through to get to the place she’s going it’s hard to write her part of this story. I’ve procrastinated in getting started on it, in fact.

The sky was a shade before gray, cold and dark and too early to pretend to be morning. Salimah turned on the mattress and heard the rustle of wool and straw, drew her blanket around her for a moment, sighed. She had chased sleep all night, fighting both the dreams she had when sleep did come and the fear she had when it didn’t. Rest had slipped from her as the fish in the little pool in the courtyard used to slide through her fingers…moving faster the tighter her hands closed on them. It was not so many months ago, those days of playing and laughter in the courtyard, wading in the cool water with her robe pulled up and looped through her belt. Days of laughter and love, safe arms to hold her. It felt like ages ago, a lifetime ago.

She pressed her hand to the spot between her eyes, just over the bridge of her nose. Pressed hard, as if by pressing she could keep the tears in. Her eyes were tired of staring at the dark, tired of feeling heavy. She sighed again, pulled back the woven blanket, sat up in bed. The air felt chill and damp, with night still clinging to it. She shivered, felt the damp and the quiet like a stranger in the room. The child sat still, her muscles knotted, feeling fear lick the edges of the emptiness that had settled in the place where her mother’s love once resided. For a moment, she closed her eyes and listened for any of the familiar morning-sounds of the household starting the day. But there was nothing stirring yet, no movement of slaves in the courtyard or halls, no sign of life in the stone corridor outside her room.

Over the sound of her own breathing, she heard the soft cry of a dove rise from somewhere outside. Morning was perhaps not too far off after all. The empty feeling in her chest grew, the fear was rising, fluttering inside her, building into an anxious restlessness. She couldn’t stay here, not sleeping, listening to nothing. Salimah pulled a shawl around her thin shoulders and set her small feet on the stone floor. She walked on tiptoe, quietly as possible, over the smooth stone and through the door of her bed chamber. Darkness hid the details of the room, the carved bed, the carefully chosen linens, the little marble-topped table with its carved animals, the wooden doll that sat forgotten on a child-sized chair. The darkness covered a low wood cradle by the bed, filled its emptiness and shrouded the room. Salimah felt it, this thick and creeping darkness, even in the blinding heat of day. All the care taken in the furnishings of this place, and all the joy it used to hold, now wrapped in dark and quiet. It was no wonder she could not sleep here, she could not have explained to anyone why the toys and child-sized furnishings that she had delighted in such a short time ago now seemed to repel her, even frighten her. It did not matter. Nobody asked.

R.A.P.–Dusting Off a Poem


I open the book and the spine makes a stiff, cracking sound. This volume has sat on my bookshelf for many years, gathering dust. I realize, as I flip through the pages, that I have never read the Editor’s Note in the front. I do this now, and wonder why I didn’t before. It tells a little of the selection process for publishing literary works, this volume being the second volume of The Louisville Review that contains “The Children’s Corner.” They have collected poetry from around world, written by children under the age of 18. I never thought of this as much to be proud of, never gave it a second thought, but now as I thumb through the stiff pages and read words printed twenty years ago I am strangely moved. My poem, written when I was around 15 years old, is on page 49. Part of me still wonders that it has a place there.

I have pulled this book from the shelf because we are studying poetry this year, part of our curriculum involves the weekly study, reading and writing of poems. I never really thought to study a poem, poetry to me seemed intuitive, something I feel rather than think. Most poetry instruction I had in school did little to inspire me to write (or read) anything poetic…lengthy descriptions of A-B rhyme scheme or iambic pentameter never lit a literary fire under anyone I know. So I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I am enjoying reading Painless Poetry aloud to the kids and using it as a springboard for discussion and writing.

It was during one of these discussions that I remembered the poem in The Louisville Review and so here I am, holding this piece of the past, thinking how young Fifteen seems now and how old it seemed then. Poetry and I, we have a history and this is a part of it I wonder how I can pass poetry on to my children without the bitterness of it, wonder if the poetry I write now conveys joy as well as it channels pain, if they can grow up with poetry as a joyful way of celebrating words and life as much as a way to rip raw pain from inside, put it down in concrete form to look at face-to-face.

I realize that they are starting this journey into poetry with a clean slate, the baggage is mine and there is little chance they will pick it up. I realize that poetry has been a secret thing of mine in many ways, a scar to hide. That even now, as I have been writing and sharing it in a very public way, I struggle with this.

I read the poem, read it again. I decide it isn’t that bad, really. I brush the cover lightly with my shirtsleeve, wipe dust from the top of the book. I place the volume on top of the stack of school books, ready for the day. Today, I will share this with my kids. I will trust that they will take poetry and use it in a fresh way of their own, I will count on the fact that scars heal and are not inheritable.

Poem for a Dyslexic Counterpart (1989)

What do we add up to, you and I?
If I could remember the word
maybe I could spell it out–
is it “irony”?
An eleven-year battle with words, letters, and numbers
as if these were part of life, itself.
No combination of words can make a flower bloom
no letter can describe a baby’s sigh,
or a lover’s kiss, or a silver moonbeam.
No number can count the stars in the evening sky
or rate the laughter in a friend’s eyes.

To you and me, these words come slowly
like snowflakes on your tongue
you reach out to touch them
and then they’re gone.
One step forward, a stumble back
the apparition is there
sometimes we see the vision
sometimes it slips away.

But there are times when less is more–
“Admiration” has more letters,
but how can it compare to “love”?
I have seen a flower in bloom,
heard a baby sigh, understood a kiss,
studied a moonbeam, slept beneath the stars,
and shared the laughter in your eyes.
I have struggled, have laughed and cried,
have loved and hated, have sung and smiled and run
with all the people in this life we share

I believe that all we need to know
we knew at the moment of our conception
and that is love–
and all the letters in this world
and all the words they spell
could never equal this elementary emotion.

(2010)

Will you love poetry more
if you need it less?

My children, take these words
this poetry
and bend it to your will
use it to speak, to shout, to sing
your hearts aloud.

Take these lines and mold them,
they will be your soldiers
an ever-changing army
at your command.

Form your battalions
line them in formation
and send them forth,
fearless and strong.

Late to the party, but the poetry prompt at High Calling Blogs this week inspired me to write down what I was thinking today as I prepared for school.

More from the Novel I’m Not Writing


I’ve been thinking about writing lately, dusting off my keyboard and working hard to pull myself out of the writing crash I experienced about a year ago. To be honest, there have been setbacks and struggles and I have not felt like writing on many days that I have…written anyway. On days when I feel like I can’t write anything of worth I have decided not to try to write anything of worth. I just write something and carry on in hopes that the next day I might have something more interesting to say. Sorry if you, dear reader, have been a victim of those posts I’ve written on bleh-writing days. I beg your forgiveness…just know I’m trying here, I really am :o)

I have spent a little time messing around with an attempt at fiction, and since LL is leading this “Not Writing” idea I’ve found myself thinking more about it. So, here’s a little more from the Novel I’m Not Writing…it’s not chronological with what I posted earlier, but it’s part of the same effort.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Salome’s slim figure darted between the rugged bulk of working fishermen. Along the shores of the Sea of Galilee she wove, pausing only now and again to stand tip-toed in the warm and pebbly sand. Stretched tall, slight and slim like a river reed she paused, her hand shading frantic eyes that scanned the shoreline. “Zebedee!“ she called, the white sleeves of her fine-cut robe flapping like flags around thin brown arms as the wind pulled at her. She called once more, her voice carried only a moment on the wind before fading into the lapping waves and the raucous conversation of those busy workers on the shore. Then she was running again. Running with one hand atop her head to keep a light blue shawl from slipping, spinning, floating away on the stiff sea breeze.

The fishermen looked up to see her and quickly looked away, turned to grunt quietly or shake their heads. These stocky pillars of men shied away from the unusual sight of a woman among them, all the more so when the woman seemed distraught, unrestrained. As she passed, they returned to twisting flax through wounded nets, mending rips with quick and calloused fingers. As Salome neared the shore she passed men pulling ropes from sea-slicked boats, floating nets of fish in shallow water to wait for market’s measure. Still, she did not see the familiar shape of her husband. Her rising panic drove her to run faster, frantic, the wind whipping her robes and tugging at her hair, stinging her eyes. As she passed a group hauling in a net, sloughing off weeds and water and teeming with fish, one gnarled trunk of a man caught her eye. He motioned with a jerk of his head as his hands continued to reel in line. Her eyes turned in the direction of the nod, darted over the sun-hardened faces to find her husband’s familiar one not far away.


Cheesecake samples, and the novel I’m not writing

New York CheesecakeImage via WikipediaI found this over at LL’s place, and I thought it was a great idea. Sometimes we get caught up in the serious-ness of writing and forget that it is fun. LL claims she is not a fiction writer, but the snippets of fiction that I have read on her blog make me beg to differ. LL’s fiction samples make me want more!

It’s like skipping lunch, then around four-o’clock you’re in the supermarket, and as you’re feeling that deep growl in your empty belly someone in a white apron and a hairnet offers up a Dixie cup with a tiny sample of New York cheesecake. Just as the piquant zip of that morsel of sweet-tart delicacy is melting off your tongue, you’re hit with the burning desire to eat the whole piece. Your tastebuds are teased and then you find yourself realizing you’re starving, and Cheesecake is the only cure for your affliction. Actually, I want the whole darn cake! LL, please? Consider digging out that spring-form pan and giving it a whirl?

And then, this morning, I found another sweet sample being offered by A Simple Country Girl. I came, I read, I went away with my appetite whetted for more (and, oddly, with a Janis Joplin song inexplicably playing in my head). These savory little morsels of fiction are like the finest of imported cheese, rich and creamy tidbits skewered with a toothpick and offered on a tray, leaving you wanting to buy a box of Table Water Crackers and a beautiful wedge of goat-brie. I did that once, you know. And I’m lactose intolerant. But that sample left me wanting more, as Country Girl’s sample left me longing to know more about her Wrangler-wearing, pickup-driving protagonist.

Come on, girls. Don’t leave me hanging!

So, with that, I thought I’d better join in the fun. If you can’t eat a whole wheel of double-creamy goat brie, then I guess you may as well set up your little folding table, cover it with a white paper table cloth, and set out your own sample in Dixie cups. So, grab a spork and enjoy (or, push your shopping cart one-handed as you desperately seek a trash can in which to toss the Dixie). Here is a bit of the novel I am not writing, and have not been writing for nearly a year now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

An hour later, John sat tall on his Abba’s shoulders. He had already told his Ima how sorry he was. He hadn’t meant to worry her. She was so pretty, and when she was worrying it seemed like she was little and he was the grown up, wiping her tears and comforting her. He liked to comfort Ima. He had been playing off in the green fields with some new lambs, in the stone sheep pen where the woolly sheep lay hot and lazy in the late afternoon heat. The lambs were little and soft, so much softer than the big sheep, and one of them had suckled his fingers when he put them in its mouth. It tickled and felt so strange, because the lamb had no teeth. Its mouth was bumpy on top, its little tongue had curled around his fingers and it had sucked hard, greedy, with funny smacking noises.

His Abba had whipped him for going off to play with the lambs without telling Ima first. But he had not whipped him very hard, John had not even cried and Abba had seemed proud of that. Now Abba was taking him back to the sea to check on the boats, the fishermen would be working again once the sun went down and the air cooled off. John knew that Abba was the best fisherman on the lake, his boats were the best and biggest boats and he had many men who fished for him in the proud, dark, wooden bodies that cut through the waters of the lake. John loved riding on high on his Abba’s strong shoulders, looking at all the boats and the lake, seeing the men on the shore stop to nod at Abba with respect. He chanted to himself, with the rhythm of his father’s footsteps, “John ben Zebedee! John ben Zebedee!” He was high enough to see all the boats, tied and bobbing by the shore and even a few still fishing out on the lake. There weren’t many fishermen left working now, most were already home for dinner and the shore was a delightful open expanse of foot-churned sand. When they had first left the courtyards of home he could smell the dinner-smells of fish and bread and onions on the warm wind that always blew over the lake, but now they were closer to the water itself and the smells of the village were covered by the live-wet smell of the water.

Hands clasped in his Abba’s thick, warm hair, he turned his small face to the sun. Low and gold and warm, it was sliding slowly down the horizon. The light seeped through his closed eyelids and he saw crimson and breathed deeply the tangy lake air. The air made John happy, it woke up something excited in him, made him sit up tall on Abba’s shoulders and bounce. His legs wanted to run. He bounced harder, up and down and up and down as Abba walked towards the lake, until Abba laughed and let go of his legs and reached up with his big, square hands, swung him off his shoulders and set him on the warm sand of the shore. Feet on the ground, John turned and hugged his father’s leg with all his might. His father was so big, so strong that his little arms couldn’t squeeze hard enough. He laughed, a sweet sound that mixed and tangled with the lap of waves and the burbling trill of Sandpipers calling from the scrubby growth that bordered sandy shores.

Dashing away, John picked up a twisted stick of driftwood that caught his eye near the water’s edge. Oh, the fresh air! The wind ruffling and tugging at his hair, the golden light that glinted on the water and seemed to pour warmth over his head and shoulders, the laughing-loving eyes of his father following him. It was too much and not enough, all at the same time! He sprang with joy at the lapping waves, swinging his driftwood-sword at the water with all his might. The driftwood struck the waves over and over, smacking with a satisfying, wet sound as he charged and jumped and charged again. The driftwood sword flew through the air and crashed into the water, the muscles in his thin arm sang with the resistance as he pulled the stick through blue-green waves. The water was an enemy, the water was an army, the water was Goliath in bedtime stories about king David, and John was the king himself diving it back, back.

Along the waters of the Sea of Galilee, Zebedee stood apart from his son and felt the same wind breathe over him. The sun was beginning to set in earnest, throwing sparks of fire…orange and red and gold…off the choppy surface of the lake. He stood watching the boy swing at the waves, saw him parlay and retreat and strike forth again. The beauty of his son, the abundance of life in him, the gold light that etched his small shoulders in warmth and made the boy seem gilded, made Zebedee’s love a hard and solid thing. A hot stone burning in his chest. He wondered, with the sweet detachment afforded parents of the very young, what John would one day forge as his sword, at what waves would he advance.

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scarlet cord


i am
Rahab’s scarlet cord
that torn and raveled
scrap of faith
twisting, blood red
exposed against
the cold gray
stone

I wrote this poem and then decided to write a whole post about the scarlet cord…but I love the idea that faith sometimes is this little, barely hanging-on type of feeling, a risk, hanging out there thin yet conspicuous. I’ve had a lot of fun with the image, both with words and pictures.

Poetry Friday…Listen

Listen

The world screams
into life’s subway-clatter
of turnstiles groaning
cell phones ringing
voices droning
it screams with all
the audio-visual clutter
it has to offer
glossy ads bearing
impossible dreams of
contrived bodies
adorned with gleaming
carats of debt
the world flashes its
wares on screens of
unnatural blue light
garish colors clamoring
to be first noticed
shimmering mountains of
plastic and cheaply gilded fetishes
vie for attention like
spoiled toddlers in the supermarket

Heaven calls
softly
with the whispered sigh
of a mother’s love
a caress in the darkness
of peaceful nursery
it calls quietly
come quickly here,
here to the stable lit
with the muted light
of a bright new star
here, to touch
the silken cheek
and wonder at
these bright new eyes
here to kneel
on golden straw
and worship
that which speaks softly
and makes the heavens shake

Psalm

I will praise your name
in the cold light of dawn
sing your praises as the sun rises
over blue and purple mountains
For you alone are Holy
you alone formed the peaks
and carved the valleys
and set the sun to shine over them
Your hand wove the burning colors
into spreading oaks
and dressed the starling
in shimmering irridescence
at your word it was created

I will praise your name
in the golden light of evening
proclaim your glory
as the sky reflects gold and crimson
through ever changing clouds
and the wind blows softly
through painted leaves
for you alone are Holy
you alone are Lord
Your glory burns in every living thing
and all creation resonates
with a single purpose
Praise the Lord!
All glory belongs to Him.