Kaleidoscope

Our kaleidoscope
is rolling through rural New York,
top down, sun shining, upstate maize tasselling
in the September heat
of this endless Sunday.

A Smokie and a trash fire 
watch the road a quarter mile apart.
We don’t watch them back–
our eyes are full of alt-rock tunes,
sneakers, Pringles, and tangled whiskers.

Cumulus hangs from the blue of the sky,
but we are neither just nor unjust. 

Purple thistles reach from the ditches,
cursed and blessed with life like us.

Our vital lenses
fog from time to time, 
but we’ll push on, if we can hold together,
toward the north, toward the border,
toward God-knows-where.

The Flood

I knew a man once
(not fourteen days ago)
who went down into Jordan, rain falling
down and down, the dirty water
circling, eddying round his breaking
stone-soul, foam-flecked,
baptized into Death,

And the Baptizer stood by, 
beside him in the water, 
scarred feet set firm on the hard
stone of the bottom, flotsam 
caught in his beard, the wind 
whipping his hair in the mist, water
flowing round his belly.

But cold wet Death
burns strangely warm in the cold
circle of the horizon, and the Baptizer
smiles, and a living stone 
floats in the rain.

Cañon City

I’ve been here in Colorado for the past few days. I hadn’t seen the Rocky Mountains in person in fourteen years, and they’re even bigger, even more beautiful, than I’d remembered. But there are things so much bigger than the Rockies.

There are things so big that one needs a whole new horizon in which to fit them. But the eyes it takes to see those things fit like new glasses. They hurt. That’s what this poem is about.


Cañon City

I.

Does everything die? You fool,
I went out into a field in the night,
and a chill wind blew through the grass,
and a chill wind blew through my bones,
and I forgot the life I’d lived,
forgot the life I’d wanted to live.

Today I climbed a mountain–
the scenery here was spectacular.
But in this dark, in this fog, I couldn’t see
more than a hundred feet.

Home tomorrow. A hundred feet, huh.
I can’t take the rocks with me, can’t take the cactus, the blue sky, the Rockies, only memories . . .
I forget.
Tell me: does everything die?

II.

Lord Jesus,
tell me: does everything die?
I am the grass. Green and fresh now . . .
Generations go, and the Rockies are eroding.
I, I am the fool.

Home tomorrow. I am a fool,
and my works follow me, and my hands
hang down. Only one Rock in this night
stands firm, Lord Jesus.

Reach

New year, new page…

It feels like an age since my last post. It’s been an age, to tell the truth. But here’s a poem (I’ll get back to prose eventually—I promise!) fit for a new year: a poem about life and death, about outer space and inner peace. Enjoy!


Reach, boy,
catch the starlight.
Reach out and up,
grasp blue-cold Sirius, gold Capella,
thrust your hand toward the furnace of Betelgeuse.

Reach, boy, and
touch the hands that hold
stars in place.

Touch them if you can
put your fingers to the holes
from which light falls

So far.
So far to fall. Wouldn’t you rather
earth met sky
black on black, brass on iron, and a sudden spark,
a man at the horizon,

arms stretched?

Day Two

Yes, it’s been almost five months since I last posted. I have few excuses, really.

For three weeks in July and August, I toured Poland with the Hope Singers. Writing about a trip like mine can be hard—how does one accurately and objectively describe large-scale worldview adjustments? But here’s a poem (because who says poems need to be objective? Subjectivity is half their beauty) that begins to describe my tour experience. Or at least, it describes a program on our second day of tour.


Day Two 

have you seen
my heart?         I left it first
in Kolbuszowa, I think, at
the centrum kultury.         have you asked
Craig, the American?         have you asked
his wife?         his kids?         maybe
the lights guy knows

have you seen
my heart?         have you asked
our audience?         those unexpected people,
did they take it like they took
our program— our concert—
our muddled radośćią?         and call for
an encore?

have you seen
a heart full of prayer, and
half-learnt Polish texts, and connections
too vital to be faked?         a heart
full of sandwiches and coffee and hospitality?
have you seen  a heart
drenched,         a Szczebrzeszyn chrząszcz*
in a summer thunderstorm,
in a sudden outpouring of
foreign grace?


*Wół mnie pyta: “Po cóż pan tak brzęczy w gąszczu?”
We’d stopped in Szczebrzeszyn earlier in the day to see the beetle. Plus, Brzechwa’s famous poem remains one of my outstanding memories of tour.

P.S. I love feedback. If you have questions or comments about the style or the content of my writing, leave them at the bottom of the page. Or message me privately via my contact page.

Lead Us In

We will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.
Take away our pain,
take away our sin.
Give us peace around,
give us love within:
we will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.

We will take Your hand,
hand by which we’re fed.
Living water, quench;
fill us, living bread.
Boundless life impart:
Raise us from the dead.
We will take Your hand,
hand by which we’re fed.

We will take Your hand,
hand that brings the light.
Come and touch our eyes—
come restore our sight—
Eyes to see by faith
Day defeats the night
when we take Your hand,
hand that brings the light.

We will take Your hand,
hand that took the nail.
We will reach to You
through the parted veil,
feel Your grasp of love,
grace that cannot fail.
We will take Your hand,
hand that took the nail.

We will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.
There’ll be no more pain,
there’ll be no more sin.
Perfect peace around,
perfect love within:
we will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.

 

The Weary

(Beware that I have been known to take eisegesis to ridiculous levels. Just like my literary-critic heroes.)

Lately I’ve been floundering a little, to be honest.

If you’ve talked to me in the last month, I’ve probably communicated that my life is finally beginning to come together. That I feel like I have some direction. And that I have a lot of ambition. And none of that has changed. But I’ve begun to realize that the short term is just as important in my life as the long term—and that’s uncomfortable, because short-term planning is something I shrink from.

Some of this feeling is a coming-of-age angst that will pass (I hope) in a couple of years. Wandering, though, is a trait of God’s people throughout recorded history. Just think of Hebrews: “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins”. Or Second Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair”.

I have a wonderfully charming book on this subject in my library—Chaim Potok’s Wanderings: A History of the Jews. The title says it all; Potok’s people have been homeless, restless, since the day God displaced their ancestor Abraham. Restless four millennia.

The story I ultimately find encouraging, though, is even older than Abraham. It’s from what many scholars have called the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job; and if there ever was a story of a displacement, of a wandering, of trouble and perplexity, this is it.

I was drawn to this story again because of Job’s words in chapter 26:14 (forgive me, I’ve already forgotten where I came across them): “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” But I decided I’d start at the beginning. And, ironically, I found comfort in Job’s first recorded outburst to his friends after he’s lost everything, in his raw ragged shock and grief:

“Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest….Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest….Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in (Job 3:11-13, 16, 17, 23)?”

(Here’s where I eisegete.)

Intelligent people through all ages have puzzled over the questions of existence and purpose; I dare not discredit them all. However, the entire issue seems so obvious to me.

As a Christian, I must believe several things about this scenario:

  1. That there is a God Who created every man (Genesis 1, 2).
  2. That this God determines men’s affairs (Daniel 4:17).
  3. That God is light, and no darkness can be found in Him (1 John 1:5).
  4. That God has provided a plan—a plan—a means by which His entire creation will someday see that light (John 3:16,17; Philippians 2:5-11).

Given these premises, I ought to reach a simple conclusion: that we exist solely to become part of the great Illumination. Then, since we know that there is no darkness in God, we can rest assured that any method He uses will bring us to that place of illumination. And further, we know that some of His methods favour ends over means: “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens; He scourges every son He receives (Hebrews 12:6).

Now to bring my wanderings back into focus—

No test seems fun in the present (Don’t be too literal about this. I loved taking English exams). No stretch comes without a little more pain. No prize comes without practice. No growth occurs without added responsibility.

But I am persuaded that the tests, the pains, the burdens of my life—the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, as Churchill famously put it—are in my life for a reason. I get to experience them in the process of learning how to reflect His glorious light.

Or as Job said himself:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold (Job 23:8-10).”


Sometimes other people’s words say it so much better than mine. And now is one of those times; since I can’t be bothered to write a poem this afternoon, I’ve got this classic attributed to Edwin Markham:

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can known the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

Love and peace. No matter what you’re facing.