Friday, March 10, 2017

Saturday in Lent 1 - 2017

Beside Each Other

Remember that second night?
We were too tired for lovemaking,
both of us exhausted
(so many nights of unfulfilled yearning).
We kissed, cuddled, and crashed.
That night I did not hold you in my arms;
we lay beside each other—
free, happy, unafraid, content—
and slept
nine long delicious hours.

This morning, recalling
that night of utter peace
I unclasped my arms
from the beloved pillow,
lay beside it, my cheek touching,
and smiled.
Better not to control
the uncontrollable—
none can—
so I rested
imagining you resting
and I breathed the morning air
grateful for the time
our hearts made love
as we slept.
Lovemaking is associated with sabbath, so for this Saturday I thought I would toss one in.  It's my own (© me).  And I think I shall refrain from commentary.

--the BB

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Friday in Lent 1 - 2017


Hay una linea de Verlaine que no volveré a recordar,
Hay una calle próxima que está vedada a mis pasos,
Hay un espejo que me ha visto por última vez,
Hay una puerta que he cerrado hasta el fin del mundo.
Entre los libros de mi biblioteca (estoy viéndolos)
Hay alguno que ya nunca abriré.
Este verano cumpliré cincuenta años:
La muerte me desgasta, incesamente.
--Jorge Luis Borges


There's a line of Verlaine's
       that I'm not going to remember again.
There's a nearby street that's forbidden to my footsteps.
There's a mirror that has seen me for the last time.
There's a door I've closed until the end of the world.
Among the books in my library (I'm looking at them)
There are some I'll never open again.
This summer I'll be fifty years old:
Death invades me, constantly.
We in the West begin Lent with the sign of ashes to remind us we are mortal.  And then, the next day, do we resume our ordinary round of activities, having nodded in the direction of such an ineluctable fact?

By merest chance, an accident when I was fifteen made me aware of my mortality far earlier than happens with most people.  From that moment on, I knew that the next day was never guaranteed.

Mind you, I am not someone who accepts limits gracefully.  While I may not always want everything right now, I do want it all. As an incarnate being, I am given reminders by my body that I have limits. Today is one of those days when I ache in my many spots. Each shoulder in its own way, the span of my back between my shoulders, my lower back, my right leg (the one with sciatica).  Oh, and a headache from late afternoon onward. The skin on my forearms bruises more easily and I now have what I recognize as old man skin.  Although I have long legs and friends used to urge me to slow down my pace, I now find students at the university passing me by briskly as I amble along at a sedate pace more appropriate for septuagenarians.   I have saved money for two years for a trip to Europe this summer and I am acutely aware that, funds being limited, it may be the last trip to Europe.  I want to think otherwise but, realistically, I do not see serious travel funding without raiding my IRA.  You know what these are? First world problems.  I have a home, clothing, transportation, reasonable health, and no food insecurity. I enjoy more comforts and opportunities than most people will ever see.  And, even so, I chafe at limits.

Well, I might was well accept them.  They are not going away.

And I am blessed beyond all telling.


--the BB

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Thursday in Lent 1 - 2017


When a dead tree falls in a forest
if often falls into the arms
of a living tree. The dead,
thus embraced, rasp in the wind,
slowly carving a niche
in the living branch, sheering away
the rough outer flesh, revealing
the pinkish, yellowish, feverish
inner bark. For years
the dead tree rubs its fallen body
against the living, building
its dead music, making its raw mark,
wearing the tough bough down,
moaning in the wind, the deep
rosined bow sound of the living
shouldering the dead.

Dorianne Laux, September 2002

I found this poem in Poets Against the War, edited by Sam Hamill.

The quick and the dead are not so very different.  We all manifest for a while in a certain way and then we do not, but we are all connected in the web of life.

Consider the impact the dead have on us each day?  (I hope you do not struggle with a fresh grief and do not mean to renew the sharpness of loss.)  Only the young can imagine that grief goes away.  It may soften but we always feel the loss of those we love. It is not only grief; there is remembrance.  All those memories that are part of us and the encounters that shaped us once and shape us still.  Genetic code, yes, but also the many facets of our lives absorbed from family, neighborhood, friends, culture.  When we are gone, others will carry the conscious and unconscious memory of us as ripples spread from our lives.

I am intrigued by how Laux describes the dead tree as revealing the inner life of the living one. When a loss tears away our outer skin it shows the raw, living flesh beneath. If our pain is acute, it shows our love.  If we did not feel deeply, we would not be fully alive.

This Lent I am pulling out random poems to share.  I have no schema to follow.  I hope that poetry can help nurture your soul as it does mine.

--the BB

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Wednesday in Lent 1 - 2017

And now for something different, as they say:

Ne me vueilliez pas oublier
Pour tant si je vous suis lontains,
Belle, je vous vueil supplier
Qu’il vous souviengne que je n’aims
Fors vous, et pour tant, se je mains
Hors du païs si longuement,
Ne vous oubli je nullement.
- First strophe of Ballade LXXV
  by Christine de Pizan (1365 – c. 1434)

Do not wish to forget me
For all that you are far away,
My lovely, I would entreat you
To remember that I love none
But you, and for all that I abide
Long out of the country,
I do not, in the least, forget you.

-My quick and rough translation

A 14th century love poem written by a brilliant woman, born in Venice and serving in ducal and royal courts of France.  She was brilliant and prolific.

I am using this snippet as a jumping-off place. I would like us to re-read these lines only in a different context than the one we immediately suppose.

What if this were our own love poem to ourselves? 

How easily we forget ourselves (not merely in the sense of, "Sir, you forget yourself"). We get caught up in the cares of the world, myriad distractions, ephemeral things (some of which demand attention and many of which deserve little or none). Yet wait.  Who is the central actor in our personal drama?  Who has responsibilities, agendas, deadlines, thoughts, feelings? Why, it is I. 

Can I, this Lent, pause and recall myself?  Re-call, call my scattered being back into wholeness again. Remember who I am. (And, if I believe in a deity, Whose I am.)

I should not wish to forget myself.  No matter how often or far I journey (or stray).  I should wish to remember, to love myself.  Me, this rather imperfect, somewhat cracked and broken, definitely unfinished being that I am.  My spirit, that needs refreshing, rest, and nurture.  My body, crying out for the same. All of me.  I should never, by any means, forget. And I should reaffirm my love.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ 
-Matthew 22.34-40

I know, we are reluctant to love ourselves.  It seems so... selfish. Self-centered. Narcissistic.

No.  It's not. One may indulge those attitudes, but those are not love.

If I am to love my neighbor as myself, as Leviticus and Jesus all taught, then how can I love my neighbor if I do not love myself?  If I despise myself, belittle myself, reject myself, then how can I embrace my neighbor?  Will I not be as uncomfortable with neighbors as I am uncomfortable with myself?

So, here's a nice Lenten (or anytime) challenge for us all: WRITE A LOVE POEM TO YOURSELF.

It can be short or long, in structured verse or free verse, rhyme or not, be filled with rhetorical devices or simply flow as it will. But write it. Look at it.  Read it aloud to yourself.  Listen in silence and ponder. Let some love soak in.

All love springs from Love Eternal and flows back into it.  Love is never lost or wasted. When faith and hope fade away, love abides. The love we lavish upon ourselves will overflow to others.  Really.
--the BB


Monday, March 06, 2017

Tuesday in Lent 1 - 2017

Here is a poem I encountered back in high school and it has always stuck with me.  We citizens of the United States are notoriously lacking in historical perspective.  It is a serious challenge to take a longer view.  We need to learn how to do that.

Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind

The past is a bucket of ashes.
1 The woman named Tomorrow sits with a hairpin in her teeth and takes her time and does her hair the way she wants it and fastens at last the last braid and coil and puts the hairpin where it belongs and turns and drawls: Well, what of it? My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone. What of it? Let the dead be dead. 2 The doors were cedar and the panels strips of gold and the girls were golden girls and the panels read and the girls chanted: We are the greatest city, the greatest nation: nothing like us ever was. The doors are twisted on broken hinges. Sheets of rain swish through on the wind where the golden girls ran and the panels read: We are the greatest city, the greatest nation, nothing like us ever was. 3 It has happened before. Strong men put up a city and got a nation together, And paid singers to sing and women to warble: We are the greatest city, the greatest nation, nothing like us ever was. And while the singers sang and the strong men listened and paid the singers well and felt good about it all, there were rats and lizards who listened … and the only listeners left now … are … the rats … and the lizards. And there are black crows crying, “Caw, caw," bringing mud and sticks building a nest over the words carved on the doors where the panels were cedar and the strips on the panels were gold and the golden girls came singing: We are the greatest city, the greatest nation: nothing like us ever was. The only singers now are crows crying, “Caw, caw," And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways. And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards. 4 The feet of the rats scribble on the door sills; the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints chatter the pedigrees of the rats and babble of the blood and gabble of the breed of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers of the rats. And the wind shifts and the dust on a door sill shifts and even the writing of the rat footprints tells us nothing, nothing at all about the greatest city, the greatest nation where the strong men listened and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.

When we vaunt ourselves as the best, the greatest, the chosen, the first..., we blind ourselves to all perspective.  We fool ourselves and think the world is made in our image. We are the center of creation, the pinnacle of history.

We are not.

This does not mean we cannot rejoice in who we are and what we accomplish, only that we must recognize that everything is in a context, all life is part of a great web, we are part of that greater whole. There are other ways of seeing things, of thinking about things, of doing things, of solving problems, of celebrating what is good.

The gift of studying foreign languages has helped me understand this.  That and visiting other cultures where I could meet truly wonderful people who are just like me, yet who live differently as they meet the same human challenges in their geographic, historical and cultural context.

Life, and any culture, can be amazing and awesome and magnificent without ever being perfect, the best, or the greatest. So can individuals.  So let's chill and allow each to shine in its own way. Light involves the entire visible spectrum, not just one hue.

--the BB

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Monday of Lent 1 - 2017

There were several reasons why I abandoned this practice a few years ago.  One of the most pressing was the theology of conquest and the dispossession of the people of Canaan. So, I propose, once again, to ignore the Daily Office readings.  You do not come here to listen to me rail against the dark sides of our tradition.

Instead, I propose to play with sundry poetry, as things leap out at me.

The Unpardonable Sin

This is the sin against the Holy Ghost: —
To speak of bloody power as right divine,
And call on God to guard each vile chief's house,
And for such chiefs, turn men to wolves and swine:—

To go forth killing in White Mercy's name,
Making the trenches stink with spattered brains,
Tearing the nerves and arteries apart,
Sowing with flesh the unreaped golden plains.

In any Church's name, to sack fair towns,
And turn each home into a screaming sty,
To make the little children fugitive,
And have their mothers for a quick death cry,—

This is the sin against the Holy Ghost:
This is the sin no purging can atone:—
To send forth rapine in the name of Christ:—
To set the face, and make the heart a stone.