Wednesday, December 11, 2013

for the trite
trivial and twee;
when the mysteries of heaven
are swaddled in shabby perfection, the skies aflame
with the songs of men and angels.
We wonder:
what child

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

to make
Theoretically, that'd be fine.
But then we are just

Monday, December 9, 2013

that night
really was
not silent after
all. Babies cry; sheep are noisy.
Still, in the not-so-stillness, Mary pondered these things
in her heart. The eternal word
became unspoken
for one brief

Monday, December 2, 2013

on the sheep
and the oxen and
the ones who were selling the doves
on silver chains. He took their cords and bound them into
scourges, and he took their scourging
upon his own back
and by his
stripes we

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

spaces, you taught
me how to rest with the canyon,
how to wrestle with the canyon, and still, how to love,
within the incomprehensible
divide; and to find
the hidden
the weather
on the street corner,
and how you've got to accept good
and evil from God's hand. When the light turns green, I leave
with my two-buck benediction.
Selfish on my part;
she'll prob'ly
spend it

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

were the beams
you carried plucked from
your own bright eye? Did you stumble
underneath their weight, climbing the hill of sacrifice?
Trembling in the dark, did you sweat
drops of blood, or were
you silent
as a

Monday, November 25, 2013

the year
snaps shut. All
the summer's humid promises
are frozen and cracked. They say that hell is just getting
what you want; I have dreamed of this.
August taunts me, vows
to return.

Friday, November 22, 2013

one, you are 
so small. There is room
for you to perch in the narrow
spaces at the center, and sing. Sing clear and sweet, child,
until great shafts of light break through
and the mountains move;
the kingdom

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


The sun with golden fingers lingers,
stroking each long blade of grass.
Cold dusk creeps along behind her;
evening comes to pass.
heart, soft wings
feathery with hope
and fear and dread, be steady now.
Find the wind's sure pulse, and beat, beat
the rising rhythms of the gentle air, and beat, beat,
let your fluttering find firmness
soaring light. With faith
and love, keep

Monday, November 18, 2013

can, should.
All the rest
of us must teach, teach,
until we finally start to learn
that to teach is to enter the learning, stoop to squeeze
through the tiny, child-sized passage
where the kingdom is
glimpsed through the

Saturday, November 16, 2013

when dust
light descends, and bends
the clouds in loud, fantastic hues;
cues for this proud day
to end, just
as all

Friday, November 15, 2013

we wander
under flame and cloud,
achingly hungry, and tired of 
bewildering bread. We crave yeast. Who knew redemption
would involve so many blisters,
and so few onions?
Even tears
might quench

Thursday, November 14, 2013

to see
the dragons.
Enormous cables
suspended their bones from the roof.
Safe behind velvet
ropes, we gape:
their fire

spell ancient
words long rusty, cold.
We shiver.

stripped of
flesh, fire, and



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

as though
you can leave
the leaving behind.
Stay or go,
you still

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

you are blessed.
In your rise and fall
remember that the one who sits
in the heavens laughs, and his laughter is the laughter
of a tender father watching
his children play; but
only if
that's who

Monday, November 11, 2013

then you, bursting from
your alabaster tomb, poured out
your unbound glory
at the feet
that bring

Friday, November 8, 2013

for? Why do
our groans and grunts and
squealings coalesce into words?
Gathering like snowballs, the phrases tumble faster
faster down the steep slopes of mind,
melting in the end,
 to form slow

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

will be
your silence,
and her song unleashed,
pouring out when the Spirit comes.
Hear the little Galilean sing; the poor are filled,
the lofty emptied. Now you must
deny your name, scratch
out the words:
his name
The sibyl with her leaves of maddening verse,
Enchanted by her captivating curse;
Nor she nor I can say which one is worse:
    the silentness of sight
    or wind of words.

Cassandra sits with her among the leaves,
And Ariadne, weeping as she weaves;
Their sisterhood, this common curse of Eve's:
    the silentness of sight
    and wind of words.

Mother of God, whose face is ever bent
Toward thy Son's tree, assist me to repent,
That I may walk the way in which you went,
    who held in silent night
    both Wind and Word.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Woman's Work

Some things, like space, with all its sundry duties,
come with every human's territory,
and for a few, who grace their space with beauties
sweet, serene, the home's a field of glory.
I am human, too, and tread on floors
which must be swept to clear a space to think.
We all do all, but each from different cores
of strength from which to work; mine's not the sink
or vacuum. Eve herself did not at first
have clothes to wash; I do because she shares
as help meet in the woes with which man's cursed.
But these are human, not just female cares.
    We each must have our own ill-fitting labor,
    as well as strengths with which to help our neighbor.

Friday, November 1, 2013

the thoughts
that formed God's
works so wise, to wrap
your mind around the thing that stands
sure and certain, ancient patterned plans; to  know beauty
of earth and skies, spiraling out from the still center, first you must dance with the quick-bright
ever-moving images, and learn to learn from their
learning, lean on their leaning on
you; in that image,
see the sight
of Him


I was very good at saying sorry,
but I always knew that good was not enough.
Over and over, I'm sorry, I'm sorry for
never enough, never sorry enough, and plus,
all these annoying apologies: I'm sorry
for them as well. It was never enough. I wrapped
myself in comfortingly righteous rags;
no hope for enough, but at least it might be more.

No more. I have heard the creaking of stones, and the voice
from the cleft of the rock, felt the steady rhythmic whoosh
of blood again. The time has come to fold
the swaddling graveclothes neatly in the cave.
My righteousness was shit. True holiness
was pulsing through the mercy I once scorned.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

These are the days of dust, the days of sand-
paper sack-cloth scratching off the skin
of flesh to dust, dust; the days of ash,
of burning hallelujahs withered dry.

Remember when the words poured out like water?
When you opened up your mouth and your tongue just moved?
Life bubbled from the hidden springs within;
the water was like wine, and there was was healing.

The wind blows where it wishes. You hear
the sound. And when you don't, the stagnant air
suffocates. The wind blows where it wishes, the murmuring
leaves cry out. You wait your forty days.

Your throat is raw, your lips are parched and swollen
shut. In the burning sand, you still take off your shoes.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Teaching of Kindness

Big families are complicated. With six kids in the family, there are fifteen different sibling relationships to figure out. Which is quite a lot, even before you take into account the complex ways in which those individual relationships affect one another, even before you add in the twelve parent-child relationships and one marriage. As my kids (and family!) grow, I've had to grow a lot too, and I've been scrambling to keep up with the challenge.

As I reevaluate my parenting strategies, I've been mulling over the book of Ephesians lately. I'm trying to practice the counter-instinctual, grace-infused rhythms of Christ-centered authority; the nourishing, self-giving, if-I-your-master-wash-your-feet-then-how-much-more authority of Jesus. The kind that doesn't come from threats or force, but teaching and up-drawing and the washing of water and the word, word, word.

So many words, and they can be so hard to find, buried in all the clutter and confusion. So many times, all I want to do is send everyone to separate rooms, put a quick stop to all the ugly words. Sometimes that's all I can do, and sometimes that's okay, but mostly I'm called to show up with the right words. The good words, the true words, the life-giving words of love and joy and peace.

And washing through my soul like water, I keep coming back to the words my wise husband repeats to me over and over: "the teaching of kindness is on her lips."

The teaching of kindness.

Teaching them kindly, teaching them to be kind.

Teaching them to use their words to offer healing and redemption. Teaching them to "step under the waterfall of God's grace," teaching them to offer that grace like water, until it soaks us all and transforms our family into a twenty-eight-fold image of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Reduction: On the Art of Self-Medication

There's drugs for this, I'm told.
Trial and error calibrate the dose.
There is no eros, only poisoned darts,
doting potions and their antidotes.

All the syntax of our synapses
has been distilled, boiled down and swallowed
whole, or divided, as circumstance requires.
Trial and error calibrate the dose.

This poem won't pretend to diagnose
treat, prevent, or cure any disease.
Always consult your doctor first before
embarking on a verbal regimen.

Perhaps I ought to pop a pill or two.
Maybe then I wouldn't have to write. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Seven Quick Takes and Four Burning Questions

One... exhaustion is a way of life.
but the burning questions never stop to wait.

Two... the laundry pile and questions both
multiply with each new kid you add.

Three... with clothes to fold and poems to write
and questions to answer, still I can't let go of

Four... burning questions of my own.
Why is the earth's orbit an ellipse?

Five... if Sol is one of two foci
of our squashed orbit, what on earth's the other?

Six... the music of the not-quite spheres:
why is it so nearly--not-quite--tempered?

Seven... without answers to all this,
can we really still believe in math?

For more quick takes, visit

Monday, October 14, 2013


Before you shake the dust, you have to let
it touch your beautiful feet. You have to salt
the mud with your trickling sweat. You have to dust
the earth with flecks of skin awhirl with wind,
spinning through the narrow shafts of light.
Listening for the pathway to their ears,
you have to walk a mile inside their words,
blisters on your feet, until the turn.

You have to wait for the turn. You have to trust
that maybe they've been listening as well,
slogging with you through this common mud
to earn the right to show you something strange.
Hands clasped together, gasp at the good news,
the clear pure streams, the firm and solid ground.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Seven Quick Takes and Nine Lives

One... We have a cat. For now at least.
Stray kitty needs a home. It may be us.

Two... she's gentle, but the two-year-old
is scared of her. That's probably just as well.

Three... we've had a lot of training sessions
on proper cat-stroking technique.

Four... he's scared to try them on the cat,
but he pets his baby brother beautifully.

Five... subtle differences matter.
Litterbox =/= sandbox, and vice versa.

Six... I'm glad for human cleverness.
Lidded litterboxes are good things.

Seven... thank God the baby hasn't yet
figured them out, but the clever kitty has.

Visit for more Quick Takes!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Songs in the Dorian Mode

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
                             --T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

Truth be told, I was actually looking for the dance station. Between corralling the little ones during the twins' "RMS Titanic" practice and scrambling around looking for costumes, I was exhausted. I needed some good rhythms to keep me awake until I got home, or at least to someplace where I could get some coffee.

The interchange snuck up on me while I was flipping through the dial, and by the time I was safely on the right road and traffic had settled down again, the kids were engrossed in a radio drama on the Christian station.

It's been a long time since I've listened to much Christian radio, mostly because of a few too many "safe for the whole family" ads five or ten years ago. I want a magnificent, life-giving, holy Christianity, and "safe" doesn't always have a whole lot to do with it. Safe is good, but it's never enough, and I need music that will help me be brave. So usually I just do a whole lot of dial-surfing while I'm in the car, looking for good music wherever it may be found. Sometimes I have to switch the station pretty fast, and sometimes we need to have important conversations about things we've heard on the radio, but I guess I'm okay with that.

After a few minutes, the radio drama ended. Soon we were all singing along at the top of our lungs to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," and it was a beautiful moment of family togetherness. I was so glad that my snobbery had been thwarted. This was totally better than "Gangnam Style."

But then the news came on, and suddenly I wished that it really was "safe for the whole family."

Kermit Gosnell had just been convicted, and the reporter described his crimes in vivid detail. In the space of time that it took my hand to go from the steering wheel to the radio dial, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about his methods for killing unwanted newborns who accidentally made it out of the womb alive.

I'm pretty open in what I talk with my kids about. We talk about war, and the economy, and just a few hours ago I'd spent most of the drive downtown fielding questions about gender and sexuality. But this was one conversation I wasn't ready to have with them.

Is it even possible to live and love and nurture tiny fresh souls in a world so full of ugliness and horror? My soul shakes, quavers. In a mad attempt to steady itself, the immaterial part of me grabs hold of something deep inside my belly, and jerks hard. In a moment or two, my eyes would blur and my hands would start to shake, but I am careful. I have lived long enough to grow a few callouses, and I deftly shift my knowledge of the dead babies over to the part of my soul that is already too dead to care. It's a survival mechanism, and I mean that quite literally. This SUV holds all six of my own babies, dearly wanted and very much alive, and if I'd like them to stay that way, I'd jolly well better be alert enough to hit the brakes when that maniac in the white Escalade cuts us off. Eyes on the road, Elena, eyes on the road.

With scissors? Why would he do that?”

I want to live in a world where scissors are for making extravagantly decorated paper airplanes and snipping herbs in the garden, a world where babies are always, always cherished and protected. I want my kids to go back to blithely filling the house with snips and scraps from their paper crafts without conjuring up images of horror and brutality. 
And the worst of it is, they probably will. Before too long, they will have grown enough soul-callouses of their own to go back to their games and crafts. Like as not, they, too, will get used to these things. This is not okay either, but it's better than the alternative.

I remember a walk that I took with my Daddy many years ago, when I was fresh home from the hospital after a nervous breakdown. We passed a crushed frog lying flat on the road. The creature had been exquisitely beautiful, so very alive, and now it was destroyed. The horror overwhelmed me. I vomited into the ditch, and Daddy finally understood what was wrong with me.

It's just a piece of frog leather, Elena. You'll be hurting all the time until you can learn to just see it as frog leather.”

But it isn't just frog leather. The hungry, mangled bodies and souls that fill this broken world aren't just blobs of pulsing tissue. The seeing is easier now that I know more of what I'm supposed to do with it. Later on I will sit down at my writing desk, and perhaps the pain will be transfigured into something beautiful, if I don't miscarry. But at times like this I have to just pretend that none of it matters, because getting into a car wreck won't help anybody.

Sing me some songs in the Dorian mode, courageous songs to sing for my children. Songs that will help us to see without being destroyed, make us brave enough to act with our eyes wide open, with the measured serenity that every true crisis requires.

I do not want to talk to my kids about abortion; not on this excruciatingly busy day, and certainly not in rush-hour traffic. But now I have to do it anyway. It is not good for the soul to think of such things, but it is worse for the soul to shrink back from them when they are there. This is the task before me, and I must be brave.

"Why can't they just wait until the baby is born, and then give it to an orphanage?"

I explain that it's not even a matter of orphanages; thousands of mommies and daddies are waiting in line, longing to give those babies loving homes. But it's not that simple.

It's not that simple, because it's so much more than nine-months waiting, more than a little womb-space. The gift of life is no small thing to ask of a mama. The child is formed from the transformation of her body, and his little soul unfolds inside her soul. For better or for worse, no matter what happens afterward, she will never ever be the same. To hold a child within one's body is terrifyingly profound, and to pretend otherwise does a disservice to everyone who has ever been born of a woman. No, it is not that simple at all.

And yet, in a way, it really is that simple. It's as simple as duty and honor and giving up your spot on the lifeboat, as laying down your life for the vulnerable.

It's as simple as that, and also as brave.

Sometimes I hear people say that birth is nothing more than a few inches travel. Biologically speaking, that's not quite accurate—after all, a baby's first breath is nothing short of a miracle!—but I get the point. A baby is a baby, and birth, for all its profound sacredness, doesn't change that. It's human life before, and it's human life afterward.

But when we reduce birth down to a matter of inches traveled, we commit the same error as abortion proponents when they talk about babies in terms of cells and tissue. This is not just any collection of cells, but a baby, and the space through which he journeys is not just any space, but the borders of a woman's body. Both mother and child are human, and both of their bodies are sacred.

I'm pretty sure that nobody intends to reduce women down to a set of dimensions. Nonetheless, the way we talk about these things matters, and my body bears the marks of what nice people can do to mamas when we trivialize birth. And even after all these years, I too, have a visceral response to scissors every once in a while.

We're both okay now, and that's what matters, right? A healthy mama and a healthy baby? But health is a relative term, and the scars are deep and jagged. Sometimes my mind still flashes back to the tray of sterile instruments, the dismissively mocking words. My own words haunt me, too. I was ready to be hurt for the sake of my baby, but when he said he wanted to cut me so that he could tug on my baby's head to speed things up and get home in time for dinner, I was startled and unprepared. Up until that point, I had honestly believed that my body was worth more than his schedule. Chastened and humiliated, I reassured him that since he was the doctor, he should go ahead and do whatever was most convenient. For a long time afterward, I hated myself for being worth so little, and I hated myself for not having been brave enough to tell him no. Because when I knowingly let him hurt me, in my ignorance, I let him hurt my baby, too.

Here, too, we get used to things; he was a nice man who loved helping babies be born, and I know he didn't mean to hurt me. Really, it was only just that he was so busy.

But this is a theme that I hear repeated in birth story after birth story: whenever we dismiss and ignore the mamas, babies get hurt, too. That's just the way it is.

Traffic slows to a crawl. My breasts flood with milk as my littlest begins to wail in the back seat. I stretch my arm back and jounce the car-seat behind me, trying to calm him down, trying to calm myself. I'm not sure if this accomplishes a whole lot other than torquing my shoulder, but I have to do something.

"If I study real hard, maybe I can become one of the people who make the laws, and make abortion illegal."

We can hardly hear each other over the screaming baby, even though we're practically shouting. Inch by inch, I steer toward the next exit.

I pull into a Wal-Mart parking lot, and get the baby out of his seat. His sobs shudder to a stop, and my own heartbeat slows as I bury my nose in his chubby little shoulder. My mind knew that he was just fine, but my body panics all on its own whenever my baby is upset and I can't hold him.

I settle in to nurse, his tiny feet tucked underneath the steering wheel. While the baby drinks from my body, the rest of us talk. We talk about abortion, and we talk about what we can do about it. We talk about aspirations for the future, and about the things that we can do right here, right now.

I tell them that even though good laws are important, they're not the only important thing, or even the most important thing. I tell them about how utterly, completely stuck a mama has to be before she'll even consider something like abortion, and how we can't just stop at "be warmed, be fed, and do the right thing for your baby." There's a place next to Kroger; I've been hoping to get over there to find out what they're doing and how I can help. Maybe the kids could come along and... I don't know... fold baby clothes or help organize the food pantry? Images of our own laundry pile, our own disorganized pantry flash before my mind's eye, and I wonder if those good intentions will actually materialize. None of this is easy.

Right here, right now, we're rush-hour refugees, stuck in a Wal-Mart parking lot with a hungry baby. We're not in a position to solve anybody's laundry problems, so we talk about laws; about good laws and bad laws, and the laws that never really turn out the way you want them to. I do not go into detail about the mama and baby who died in the court-ordered c-section, or the drug-addicted mamas who choose abortion over jail time, but I tell them that sometimes good intentions are not enough to make good laws, and sometimes we end up doing more harm than good. I remember how I cheered so hard whenever a state would pass laws mandating that the unborn be considered legally separate from their mothers. They were supposed to pull the ideological rug out from under the very idea of abortion, but now that the stories are trickling in, my stomach turns. It seems likely that some babies were saved because of these laws; we know that some babies died, and their blood haunts me.

Sometimes our cause is so massively important that we're ready to let Solomon use his sword just so we can make our point. Sometimes the principle of the thing seems so much more important than the particulars, and sometimes the mama's voice gets drowned out in the shouting match.

We have bigger things to think about. I get that. But the only reason any of this matters at all is that we care about the little people too. So we have to be careful enough to get it right, and we have to be brave enough to do the long, slow work of listening well to all the little stories.

And in the mean time, I tell my little ones their own stories, these stories that only a mama can tell. How they danced in my womb, each in their own particular way, everything that they are now folded up inside my belly. Every day as I get to know them better, I'm learning a little bit more about what it meant to hold them within me. I tell them, too, about the amazing transformation that happens at every birth; those profound sacred moments when they first took in the breath of life, when all the pain was swallowed up in the joy that a new human being had entered into the world.

What are these paltry words when so many thousands are hurting? But these are my five loaves, the two fish that I have been given. And so I offer them up with a prayer of thanksgiving, even (at long last) for the scars. 

* * *

May the judgment not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still. 
                                 --T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not Far From the Kingdom: My Little Defense of Ponies

If you haven't heard about it already, the show "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" is gaining quite the adult following.

And I think this is awesome.

 If it's a good show for kids, it's also a good show for adults.

I'm with C. S. Lewis on this one.  Lots of worthless things will hold a child's attention, but if something is actually good for kids, it's also good for grownups.

Some things that are good for adults are entirely unsuitable for children, and it's easy to slip into thinking that if something is for grownups-only, that makes it better than "kiddie" fare. This isn't true, and sometimes this can lead to absurdity. This kind of muddled thinking is part of the reason why young starlets must prove their maturity through their lack of decorum.

So then, either MLP:FiM is good for both children and adults, or kids shouldn't be watching it. Seriously, if you can convince me that I'm wrong to enjoy this show, I'll find something else for my kids.

But for now, we're having fun watching it together, because I'm convinced that it's good art.

I know that a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, because the animation is so simple. In the same way that it's easy to conflate an M rating with actual maturity, it's easy to mistake complexity for excellence. There's a common assumption that complexity automatically makes something better, but it's simply (!) not true.

Complexity (by itself) is not a virtue.

If it was, my house would be a better piece of architecture than the Rothko Chapel. It isn't. =)

The animation of MLP:FiM is simple and clean, and works well within the limited constraints of its genre to produce something really beautiful. Lauren Faust has pared the world down to a few simple lines, clearing everything else away so that we can focus our attention on a few particular themes. This is what all (good) art does--it filters the massive glut of visual stimuli for us, to show us what was there all along. The way she distills facial expressions has changed the way I see my kids faces. My world is a little bit happier now that I've noticed the particular element of kid-cute that Lauren Faust loves.

Yes, the animation is simple. And it's good.

The simplicity of the story lines and ethical framework attracts as much criticism as the simplicity of the animation, but I'm not buying it.

There ARE things to criticize about the stories. There's no excuse for that episode about the Buffalo. But the problem there isn't that that the story was simple, but that it was untrue. The episode seriously misrepresented the conflict between European settlers and Native Americans. There may or may not be a story on that topic that is both simple and true, but if so, they certainly didn't find it. That episode was offensive and untrue, and I have no desire to defend it.

But when MLP:FiM sticks to pony-sized problems (like the ones that make up my own life!), it gets the simple stories right.
The ponies live in a simple moral universe where you really should love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Where if somebody slaps you on one cheek, the best thing to do really is to turn and let him slap you on the other cheek, because by repaying evil with good, you set the stage for evil to expose itself and lose its power.

I have yet to grow into these bromides and platitudes, let alone grow out of them.

The ponies live out the crazy notion that Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he told us how to live.

If a whole bunch of people in my generation decide they want to organize their lives around that, well, glory hallelujah!

Now, ponies can't save anybody, and if that's as far as it goes, it's not going to work. The problem isn't that those simple ideas don't work, but rather that we can't actually live them out apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. It's just like the lame man laying by the pool of cleansing waters beside the five stoas--we can't do it until it's already been done for us.

But there really is hope, because it's just like the ponies learned in the first episodes of Season 2. The ancient snake with his tempting fruits (it's true that discord comes with chocolate rain!) perverts our virtues into vices, destroying any tools by which we might hope to fight him. But there is also an ancient book, and there you may find the jewels with which he will be defeated. If you try to use those jewels as mere talismans, going through the motions hypocritically, it will not work. No, first you must read the letters sent from heaven. Reading those letters, you must remember who you are, and use them to remind the others too. Only then can you use the jewels found in the book to defeat the snake.

My Little Pony is just pretend, but Jesus is real. And he has sent his Holy Spirit to teach us how to do all that he has commanded us.

Jesus' crazy upside-down idealistic ethic doesn't always lead to sunshine and roses. Sometimes it does (more often than you might expect!), but other times it leads straight to a cross. But the way of the cross is the way of resurrection, and sometimes the simple stories are the true ones after all.

Friday, September 13, 2013


In the empty spaces underneath her skin,
does she feel the phantom flutter of small feet
before remembering: this is not that fullness,
but only hunger, exploring its newfound room
to stretch and rumble? Now it is her breasts
that are swollen tight and round. Scalding milk
splashes on her belly's tender folds.
In a world that throbs with hunger, is there none
to drink from her and satisfy this ache?

How is it my own arms are so full?
In the blur of motion and need, there's hardly room
for thoughts to rumble, rearrange, but still,
through the spaces in between the clamor, cries
from Ramah work their way beneath my skin.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The thing about ponies is that they really do
shimmer absurdly, bizarre explosions of pastel
when the scorching August sun beats down and shatters
against each coarsly snarled strand of their tails.
Between the dust particles, infused
with dry manure, colors sparkle and dance.
In that flagellating light, it's too damn hot
to care that horses look like rainbows. I'm thirsty.
I am weary of ennui, burnt out on cynicism.
Grit stings beneath my eyelids, and I wait
for the sudden pearl-grey clouds to gather, burst.
Small rivers streaming down my dusty flesh,
I helplessly receive the mud and splendor.
The kingdom must be found as by a child.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

She would have blown out candles on the beach,
except the wind was far too strong for that.
The ice cream melted, but we ate our fill
of chocolate cake, and built sand walls
against the tide. I came home covered in salt,
peaceful and released; the sea tastes just like tears.
I guess that I was ready for the news.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Thank you, Holy Father, for the light
that skims along the surface of the deep
in waves more true and terrible than those
that churn beneath its pulse, and for the foam
that bubbles lightly underneath the air
and sighs in little rings out on the sand.

Thank you for the tiny pointed prints
of sandpipers and seagulls, and the chance
to make footprints of our own, and castles too,
that melt away, but touch the waves and wind.

Monday, September 2, 2013

When you were six months, finally old enough
for sunscreen, we played on the beach all day. We all
got burnt, except for you. The white cream caked
in your scalp like vernix, flecked with blood-brown sand.
Try as we might, the sea water wouldn't wash
the earth away from your body until it all
wore off on its own, leaving you bare,
vulnerable to the burning light.
We were very careful to reapply
every hour, until the earth itself
turned around to shield your shell-pink skin.
The light grew softer, colder, then was gone.
That's when we bundled you up and took you home,
back to the city with all its safer lights.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Over scrambled eggs and coffee, we
finally found that mythic quiet hour.
The kids were still asleep, except perhaps
for one or two; I don't remember much
besides the morning light, and wind's soft breath
through the door. We wanted to talk about math,
or at least some ancient esoteric text.
This hour might be easier to find
if it proved really useful. Instead we talked
about my trip last week, and what it might
be like to live a life with no regrets.
Just little stuff like that, but it felt right.
Perhaps our clocks were wrong; the Sabbath came
at quarter after six on Thursday morning.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Young and foolish, so the cliche goes;
the wise ones shook their heads, years later now
it's clear that they were right. Nobody knows
who on earth they'll be, or even how
the change will happen, except to say it will.
I'm glad back then we didn't understand.
We might have sensibly waited. Of course we still
would have changed, and everything might have panned
out just fine, but we would have changed alone.
This has been the harder way, but we
have found it sweeter. Still, if we had known,
we might not have been brave enough. You see,
as father to the man, the child made
true vows to grow up into, unafraid.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

First Flight

We're going fast now, faster than the wheels
rumbling below can grip the ground,
and we are rumbling, too, part of a sound
too big and low to hear, but that still feels
very odd. The little baby squeals,
halfway scared, half happy. Air begins to pound
us upward 'til the trees look small and round,
and up some more until a thick cloud seals
us off from everything on earth below.
The bits of sky beneath us seem so still.
It looks as though we're going very slow.
Strange to think that by lunchtime we will
be back on the land in a faraway place,
where time moves along at a normalish pace.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


We got the kids all out the door, and that,
at least, is something. Maybe Zeno's right,
and life just boils down to tic-tac-toe,
where once you understand it, everyone
is stuck. It's just as well that we don't get it.

Somehow rabbits manage to outrun
turtles, if nobody stops to take a nap.
Everyone's raced to the bathroom one last time,
and dashed back in to get their favorite books.
Naptimes notwithstanding, here we are.
We're finally on the road, and I believe
in miracles. We may get halfway there,
and halfway yet again, until we leap
beyond infinite inertia into change.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Full Circle

The flicker of your breath: life is so small
pulsing under butter-golden cheeks.
The final rays of evening light the wall
behind us. Minutes melt to years and weeks.
Tomorrow you will crawl, and in a blink
of brightly piercing drowsy-lidded eyes,
all that's done will be, and we must drink
of some new cup that will inevitably surprise
us all. For now, you guzzle from my breast,
voracious, craving every creamy drop,
grasping at my newly-shriveled skin.
Birth took its toll on both of us. We rest
curled  together. Earth whirls like a top.
Your pulsing heart reminds me of its spin.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

It's dark again. We've come back to the spot
where the trail curves around, and you can taste the creek
blowing on the wind. My hair is sticky hot,
plastered against my neck and cheek,
stuck beneath my backpack's shoulder strap.
Have we been walking thirty-eight long years
or an afternoon? This is the final lap.
We plod along until the pool appears,
green and still beneath the countless stars.
Just beyond, the water bubbles light
upon the rocks. It will not be far,
but there's more desert still to cross tonight.
I plant myself upon the mossy mound,
stretch out my toes: could this be holy ground?

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Turns out, the tile went under everything,
with no exception for the kitchen sink.
Counters, cabinets, drywall had to go.
Old and nasty anyway... but, still.
And here we thought that it was just the floor.

Rented studio with all six kids:
kitchen, bathroom, beds and couches crammed,
smaller than our bedroom back at home.
Like sociable sardines, no place to hide;
time to finally learn to get along.

Underneath it all, there is my heart,
and everything that has to be torn down,
stripped and scrubbed and built back up again.
And here we thought that it was just the floor.

Friday, July 5, 2013


I didn't have the camera with me, or even a cell phone, and that's partly why I remember.

September desperately wanted to go look for blackberries in the brambles just beyond the playground, but Andrew was camping with the twins, I was coming down with a sore throat, and Kai-kai was behaving in perfectly typical two-and-a-half-year-old fashion. The mere thought of stepping outside the house was entirely too much.

By the time he got into the dental floss, though, I realized that this was a false economy. I wasn't really up to taking them outside, but I certainly didn't have the energy to keep them cooped up.

So I helped Kai-kai put on his monkey back-pack (the one with the leash!), tucked Amos into my baby-wearing wrap, and we tumbled out the door.

The boy next door met us right there on the sidewalk, and we all tromped down to the playground together. We didn't find any blackberries, but they ran and they ran with the wild ecstasy of sheer movement. Golden hair flying, bright laughter flashing from face to face, and it was so beautiful that it almost hurt to watch.

Thick clouds were rolling in from the west, deep blue against the sunset. The proportion was so perfect that it set my whole being vibrating, like something Rothko might have painted if he could have used light instead of pigment.

Above the dark storm clouds there were light frothy ones too, pearly white and edged in gold, shot through with a hundred threads of light, opening southward at a 60 degree angle to let condensed sunshine rush through, flowing out into an infinite equilateral triangle.

I had never seen a sunset quite like that, and I was too achingly exhausted to appreciate it. I wanted to take a picture, save the moment for some other time, because here was glory and all I wanted was to fall asleep.

But night falls soon enough, and you can't put off the sunset.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


These days, I find so much comfort in our little patio garden.

The fence is lined with an almost absurdly colorful explosion of gerber daisies, impatiens, vincas, and roses, and the raised beds are filled with heaps of basil and oregano. The gangly overgrown sage that produces far more than we ever use and is always encroaching on the scraggly sparse thyme. The graceful purple-blossomed garlic makes up for the lavender that never seems to bloom, and when the wind blows, the scent of peppermint fills the patio.

The plants wilt without water, as sure as we wilt without beauty, and I drink it all in, remembering that not so long ago this space was just an ugly bare slab of concrete.

We plant and we sleep and we rise. We weed and we water but we don't know how it happens. We go to sleep and we wake up to find that morningtime and harvest emerge from the dark unknown.

And lately when I'm discouraged, I slip out for a moment into this unruly patch of bountiful order, and breathe the scent of hope.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Parenting by faith, and not by sight

So I finally (finally!) finished Ann Voskamp's spiritual memoir One Thousand Gifts. This one took me a while; it's one of those books that changes you in the reading of it, and so I couldn't really read it faster than my soul was capable of changing.

Which... is... s.l.o.w.l.y.

But anyway, I finished it, and it's a wonderful celebration of the sovereignty of God; doxological Calvinism, like Piper at his finest. The prose is stunning in some places, tough slogging in others, but the whole book is well worth the effort.

Voskamp burrows deep into the concept of gratitude, finding it to be a way of looking at just about everything about the gospel and the Christian life. Her claims about gratitude seem a little over-the-top, but I keep looking for parts of the Bible that aren't about gratitude in some way or other, and I'm having a surprisingly difficult time of it. She's right; it's everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, I'm most deeply moved and convicted by the parts where she talks about parenting. I keep coming back to the scene where her boys are squabbling and being all-around little sinners to one another, and she chooses to practice the "hard eucharisteo" of giving thanks to God for them, right there in the middle of it. And God transformed the situation into something beautiful.

It's hard to work up the courage to try this at home. Frankly, it's terrifying, and completely unpredictable, because thanking God for my children as they are means loosening my white-knuckled grip on the beautiful little golden image of what they're supposed to be.

Thanking God  for my children means trusting God with them. It also means loving them aright. Augustine tells us to enjoy God alone, merely using everything else as a means through which to enjoy God. I never quite understood what he was getting at until now, but I'm convinced that this is what he meant, and that he's right. It's only when I'm thanking God for my children that I'm truly loving them; the rest of the time I'm only really loving what they can do for me. Perhaps all our loves really boil down into either a love of self or a love of God.

When I thank God for my children, I am loving God through them. And when I love God through them, I am loving them more deeply and truly and fully than I ever can when I think I'm thinking only about them. And Jesus takes this love and breaks it and multiplies it, and this is when the the miracles happen.

It's terrifying, because none of it adds up, none of it's anything I can make happen, and none of it's anything I can take any credit for. This thanksgiving before the miracle is a leap of faith, but beyond the dying of the mustard seed, there is shade for rest, and birds sing overhead. From the golden blossoms there grow new seeds, and I gather them up with the memory of mountains moved. As little as I know about tomorrow, it will certainly require yet more faith.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


No poems today, please.
Just the bare, prosaic fact
of a leaking faucet.

Ignore the rhythms if you can.

If you must, commit them to the leaves,
but be sure and bind them up,
to save them for tomorrow.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Crossing the Sea

After the five barley loaves and the two little fish, broken and scattered and gathered like manna from heaven, the crowds wanted to take him and force him and make him be their king.

But Jesus went up on the mountain alone, and while he was still gone, his disciples got into a boat and tried to cross the sea.

Darkness was over the face of the deep, and a great wind rose, stirring the waters. The waters were rough and they were right in the middle of them, three or four miles from either shore, when they saw Jesus walking, nearer and nearer, and they were terrified.

"I'm the one. Don't be afraid."

They wanted to take him into their boat, but already they were at the land they sought.

When the crowds back on the other side woke up, they knew that there had only been one little boat, and Jesus had not gone in with his disciples. But as soon as they figured out that he was really gone, they got into the next boats that came along, to chase him down and try to make him give them more bread. But his body is the true bread from heaven, broken for the life of the world, and he will not get into our boats. These are hard sayings, who can accept them, but there is nowhere else to go. He alone has the words of eternal life, and for all that we try to save him, he saves us instead.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

To Odysseus, With Love

I trace your footsteps in my mind
every night you linger
weaving and unweaving improbable tales
picturing always impossible poscards:
the feast flows forever
wish you were here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: Pity the Beautiful

luscious, silky words
glide sweetly over my tongue
leave me poem-tipsy

For my birthday, my dear friend Sharon gave me two slim volumes containing some of the loveliest poetry recently published; Sounding the Seasons by Malcolm Guite, and Pity the Beautiful by Dana Gioia. I had every intention of savoring them, enjoying them just a few poems at a time, and with Guite's sonnets, that's exactly what I've been doing. His imagery is good, and very wise; worthy of much slow contemplation. But with Gioia... well, I got a little carried away.

I sat down in my rocking chair with baby in one arm, book in the other, intending to read a poem while I nursed. But one poem turned into two, and two poems turned into three, and I ended up sitting in that rocking chair long after the baby had passed out in my arms, long after I ought to have gotten up to fold some laundry. As a matter of fact, I didn't get up until I'd finished the entire book, and I was a little bit dizzy the rest of the afternoon.

These poems are very nearly perfect. Deeply rooted both in tradition and in his own place and time, the formal poems are effortlessly fluid and the free verse is measured and balanced. In poem after poem, the flow of words evokes exactly the right feeling for the subject matter. The verbal craftsmanship alone makes this collection a joy to read.

The content matches the form in loveliness. With a tender immediacy, he explores our shared experience of mortality, and in so doing reveals the sacredness embedded in the mundane rythms of modern experience. Here, too, we are human; this life also is the stuff of myth. It just takes a bard to make us see it.

Like a good friend, these poems offer deep companionship and a fresh perspective. And like a good bottle of champagne, they go down easily, but do be careful. They will probably make your head swim afterward.

Friday, May 31, 2013

In which I mention just a few of the many Ann(e)s who have inspired me

The other day, Isaiah looked over my shoulder at the computer screen, and asked what I was reading. He said it seemed like The Wuggy Chronicles. As a matter of fact, he was right. Those were my words, and I wasn't sure which pleased me more; that my son was able to accurately identify narrative voices, or that I'd finally found mine again.

It's been a while. The prose dried up a few year years ago. I stopped writing very much of it, and when I did write, it would be dry and forced. But thank God, not all words have to be prose, and I wrote a lot of poetry in the mean time. A sonnet doesn't drop down from heaven full-formed after all, but is something that you can sit down and force yourself to do. There's no guarantee that it won't be horrible, but sometimes the very force of your forcing is what gives a poem its life and energy. And then I found that sometimes sonnets really do just show up in your mind full-formed; that if you spend enough time forcing yourself to write poems, sometimes the poems will begin to force themselves upon you. This was exhilarating, and also slightly debilitating. Poems don't wait for convenient times, and I burned a lot of dinners.

But then the poems dried up too. All those time when I thought I was forcing myself to write sonnets, it was really partly an illusion. The choosing was real, and was needful, but it turned out to be only a small part of it. There was something else there, too, and all the choosing in the world couldn't bring it back.

The timing felt just terrible. There were things that I needed to say, had to say, but the words were gone. So I read a lot books on writing, and I tried to learn to write my prose on purpose like a grownup. I crafted meticulous outlines, set myself word count goals, and if this was some sort of school assignment, I'm pretty sure I would have gotten an A. But for all that, the fire never made it out of my bones and onto the page.

I fell in love with Anne Lamott quite on accident, when I got her name mixed up with Annie Dillard and read Traveling Mercies. After that I read Bird by Bird on purpose, and I absolutely adored it. I tried so hard to take her advice and write lousy first drafts, save the editing for later, but it never worked. If I didn't edit myself, word by painstaking absurdly slow word, I wouldn't be able to find any more words to write at all, good or bad. And on those rare occasions when I did manage to get it out on paper, I wouldn't know how to fix it.

Looking back, I guess I learned that always, always, I'm writing blind, and when I pretend to know where the words are supposed to go, it's just not true. There was nothing to do but to simply write what I could, and to wait.

But then a few weeks ago, a perfectly ordinary day was suddenly and decisively a story about everything I've been thinking during those proseless years, and I've been chipping away at it ever since. It's slow slogging, just a few words a day, with much more rearranging and polishing than the story seems to warrant, but I'm starting to be okay with the fact that this isn't up to me. I don't get to choose whether or what to write, and I don't get to choose how fast to write it or how well it will turn out. All I get to choose is how faithful I will be in the living and the telling of my stories, and in the perplexing ever-changing interdependent tension between them. It looks a little different every day, and I can rarely see more than a few words ahead. Faithfulness turns out to be more about faith than I thought.

Last night, Andrew took September to the beach for a little father-daughter camping trip. Whenever he's away, I like to fall asleep listening to a lecture or an audiobook, and this time I found an Ann Voskamp interview on YouTube. And oh! She too writes slow, editing as she goes, and for her as well, the writing comes before the seeing. So apparently this too must be a way of writing, and I am ever so glad, because this is the only way that I can write.

And now that I'm chipping away at the story that I have to write, but don't know if I can, I'm starting to jot down the beginnings of all sorts of other stories too. Perhaps these are stories that I can write at convenient moments, when I'm not in danger of burning anything. We'll see. There are no guarantees, no knowing ahead of time, only the blind faithfulness of showing up and writing anyway. And come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that's what Anne Lamott was getting at all along.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


He wants me to read him a picture book,
and he wants it to be the one that he took
away from his brother, and he wants to look
at the pictures all by himself and alone,
and he thinks that his brother ought to have known
better than ever to take a look
at the book that he wants to be shown.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


You have been compared to a summer's day.
Shall I count the ways? I know you have forgotten.
Forgotten, remembered, and forgotten again;
so fleeting is the warm light of the mind.

Drowsily we wait, under cold and silent stars,
for another sudden springtime, another poem,
another dawn.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Your soft eyes are closed now, and you are dreaming of milk, tiny fists fumbling around your lips.

You are breathing, and I am so glad.

You weren't breathing so well the other night, and the more raspy your breath the more scared I got.

And the more scared I got, the harder you cried, and the less you sounded like my baby, and the more you sounded like a helpless stranded seal.

I gathered up your helpless little seal-ness into my arms, and I held you.

And I prayed for you, and I prayed for me too, because that was what you needed, and it was all the same.

Oh, sweet Jesus, still the salt waves of my soul.

And I calmed down, not because you were okay or even because I hoped you might pull through, but because this was so deadly serious.

And then you grinned at me, and barked.

And you and I together held each other both, until finally we could breathe.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


This is not redemption. Nonetheless,
through the silent shame of waiting, still obey.
Blow a trumpet in Zion, for the press
will flow with blood like wine before that day.
The hour has not come yet. Even so,
do whatever thing it is he asks.
Waiting through the waters here below,
gather them. Fill up the six stone casks.

What the locusts ate, he will restore,
in due season sending forth the rain
'til from the hilltops milk and honey pour,
but the cup of joy must be the cup of pain.

This is not redemption, but the sign
of waters deep from which he forms new wine.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rush Hour

It is not daytime anymore, and stars
these days have ceased to complicate the sky.
Our lesser lights are earthly. Rivers of cars
now mark the times, and we are measured by
how well we wrap ourselves around the flow
of the bright bedazzling rhythms here below.

'City Lights' photo (c) 2013, Brett Florence - license:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tree of Knowledge

Wise serpents call, eternal fall from grace
still tempts with sweetly scientific fruit.
Bright gleaming walls, majestic tall the place
where babbling exiles search for Eden's loot.
    But oh, the spoils are spoiled in the quest,
    our toil a foil for our desired rest.

 'Growing Olives' photo (c) 2009, Stew Dean - license:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In which we are very busy teaching a certain someone some boundaries....

This morning I was sitting in my chair,
eating eggs and drinking breakfast tea,
when one small boy with tousled sandy hair
came down the stairs and sat on top of me.

He took my fork into his little hand,
and told me that I ought to move my book
lest it get wet; who knows where eggs might land,
and anything nearby might get some gook.

I thanked him for his sweet consideration,
and offered to saute an egg for him,
but much to my surprise and consternation,
he looked at me as though I'd grown quite dim

and motherhood had turned my brains to fluff;
THAT was his egg, and one egg was enough!

Sunday, April 14, 2013


You came with me, down into the world
of flux and change, the edge of the wine-dark sea.
You rose before dawn's blossoming had pearled
the sea-grey clouds, yearning for the free
expanse of pure and undistracted thought.
I held you, pleading: keep the discourse here.
Compelled by love, you stayed, and so we sought
to build our city of words between the dear
distractions: sippy-cups, reflux, and change
another diaper. Under brooding night
we'd fall exhausted, chafing at the range
to which we now resigned our minds' poor sight.
    Yet in these letters large we found the soul,
    written in each part as in the whole.

'Piraeus_8619' photo (c) 2008, flink's - license:

Monday, April 8, 2013


This my purgatory, pulsing words.
My forlorn pen looks out across the room,
all strewn with leaves, and splashed about with ink.
Minerva glides seductive through the groves,
and twines herself about the double tree.
The salty fruit still haunts my silent tongue
as I tidy up for dinner.

'Bontia daphnoides' photo (c) 2010, David  Eickhoff - license:

Monday, April 1, 2013

Of Fact and Matter

This, the ephemeral stuff of change
amid dancing waves of particulate light,
miniature galaxies holding their charges
suspended in mystic invisible flight.

Profound with the force of a lover's embrace
forever uncaught by the scientist's chase
for if we hold firm that they state the true case
the seen is, and must remain, unseen at core:
we know but a little, but little is more
than we can, because light
(whatever it one day turns out to have been)
changes all.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Saturday

Hope, like a mustard seed, is dead
and love alone remains.
Love, and the unremembered stains
from where love bled
when all the lesser loves had fled
forsaking hope and all its pains.
Watch now; beneath the first spring rains
the buried seed lies dead.

Blown on the wind to the ends of the earth
where truth grows up between the lies
and certainty lies buried with its doubts,
white as the labor with which a girl gives birth,
the mustard seed is dead; before my eyes
I see the resurrection's first green sprouts.

Monday, March 18, 2013


We're beset--long beset--by the gifts of many gods;
many fine gifts, but who would choose them?
Deathless, deadly gifts, but still we use them.

The grey-eyed goddess takes her father's shield,
from hatred crafted, flashing with deceit;
ambiguous thunder that makes men yield
their senses to her reason, melted by the heat
of sea-grey eyes all shining and hard
beneath a lustrous sky, but dimly starred.

Who can withstand Athena's bright blade
that turns sturdy souls into gibbering shades?
Hers is a game that they wisest have played,
winning the garlands of fools.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Just a minor grocery list mishap. Such a little thing, the sort of thing that I ought to have no problem adjusting to, but I'm so busy adjusting to the big transitions that even tiny changes are suddenly overwhelming.

I'd planned on taking everyone to the arboretum if everything went well and I was up to it, but now I throw all my plans to the wind, and load everyone into the car. We're going to the arboretum anyway, precisely because things are not going well, because I'm not up to dealing with anything at all.

The children frolic on the playground, the baby nestles against my chest, and I breathe.

The wind blows against my face, crisp and fresh and bracing.

It's a cliche. I know.

But sometimes cliches are the deepest kind of truth.

Everything worth saying has already been said, but still the wind blows, stirring my stagnant spirit, and God's mercy never changes, precisely because it is new every morning.

We change.

Our hearts beat out their steady restless rhythm, and we breathe, in and out, in and out. We cannot stop moving, and the moment we do, another sort of change will take over, and our bodies will decay, skin tinged with the green of a different sort of life.

We change, automatically and against our wills.

Time washes all things downstream, and you have to swim hard against the current just to stay put. Chesterton's fence post needs constant repainting in order to stay the same.

But here's the strange thing--even our attempts to keep from changing don't stay put. They stagnate, decay, and take on a grotesque life of their own.

There is nothing for it but to confess that our lives are like grass. Dust of the earth, animated by the breath of God, we are suspended between heaven and earth. There is nothing stable in ourselves, and it is sheer foolishness to pretend it.

We must keep repainting the fence post, and also our vision of it, over and over again, returning our eyes to the one who never changes.

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
 It is good that one should wait quietly
 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
                        ~ Lamentations 3:19-26, ESV

Monday, February 25, 2013


I've spent the past week mostly just staring at this sweet little face.

Happy one-week birthday, little guy!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Thy Kingdom Come

Dying on my lips, the words are born
out from their comforting longings to a new
and terrible nearness. If tomorrow the trumpeting morn
shone a sudden restoration, what would I do?
Too long I have wished for some shadowy vision of light,
neglecting to wonder what would be the cost.
Am I even fit for a world that's been made right?
Too much I depend on things which must be lost
if all would be made well. Here as things are
I must slowly learn to live in such a way
as not to need to move so very far
if heaven came to earth. Dear Christ, I pray,
    teach me to live without my fingers curled
    around the pleasures of an unjust world.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Yesterday, I sure felt like I might be having a baby.
Then it all stopped.

This is familiar territory. Last time around I had several weeks of pretty intense prodromal labor, followed by a sudden birth.

I'm enjoying working my way through the birth stories on this blog; it's very encouraging to know that this sort of thing happens to other women too. And that it will all be over . . . sometime in the next month or so.

On the bright side, slipping in and out of labor does have it's poetic advantages, and I'm having fun tweeting the experience. Not progress updates, of course; just micropoetry.

In night grown tender
with moon's dread light, I hold
my full-orbed belly.

Yes, contractions make me melodramatic, even when they don't actually produce a baby. 

Meanwhile, I've been reading some good stuff around the internet:

Sarah Winfrey has some great insights about helping kids deal with their emotions. (It's good advice for grownups, too!)

Sarah Bessey's writing is like a glass of cool water for the soul. Here's a gorgeous and bracing meditation on the sufficiency of Jesus.

Tania Runyan's haunting new poem explores similar themes, posing the question to Sarah's answer, I suppose.

And Jenny Rae Armstrong explains why you should stop treating your husband like a toddler and actually respect him.

What have you been reading lately?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

These Words

There do exist some things which would be best
forgotten, if indeed we could forget.
That being beyond our skill, we let them rest
beneath our heedless words; unseen, and yet
the shape beneath the surface. There are also
things that we would like to remember, but
that is impossible as well. We grow
a smooth forgetful pearl before the cut
of sand can dig too deep and make us change.
We may have spent the bulk of our life in search
of a way to carve, or maybe stretch the range
of the forgotten, until suddenly we lurch
awake at each familiar grain of sand,
of which there are many, between the sea and land.


"The truth will set you free."

It sounds sounds so pretty, but since when does the world work that way?

The truth didn't set Oedipus free. It didn't set Pandora free.

And tasting from the tree of knowing sure as hell didn't set Adam and Eve free.

"The truth will set you free."

This is not an insight into the nature of reality, but a greeting card sentiment; one of those pretty little things we say when we can't handle the truth.

Truth is brutal, and there's a reason why we avoid it. It will destroy us if we let it.

And yet, here we have this crazy promise: "If you remain in these words of mine, then you will be my true disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

The Pharisees response to him was something of a joke: "We are children of Abraham, and have never been enslaved to anyone."

This might have been more convincing if they hadn't been right in the middle of the Feast of Booths. You know: the big yearly celebration that was supposed to remind them of their humble origins as escaped slaves wandering around in the desert.

The Pharisees were convinced that having the truth automatically set them free, and Jesus exposed this for the big fat lie that it was. (Paul goes into this in more detail in Romans 2.)

"But if you remain in these words of mine..."

Under ordinary circumstances, truth is more likely to destroy you than to set you free, but there's something wildly powerful in those red letter words.

I feel it. I'm experiencing it. Something crazy is happening, and those words are changing everything for me.

As the words of Jesus start to burn inside me, as I slowly learn to live in his kingdom of grace, the scales are falling off my eyes... but more importantly, I'm finding that I don't need those scales anymore.

My need to shield my eyes and hide is melting away, and by a strange miracle, the truth really is setting me free.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fullness of Time

Birth is a long, slow process for me. The fifth time around, I'm finally learning what to expect. I'm finally learning how to expect, how to wait in the fullness of time.

Birth is long and slow, and sometimes it happens in the twinkling of an eye.

Did it take a month, or ten minutes? It's hard to say for sure. There was no certainty to hang onto in between.

So this time around, I'm learning to rest in my labor. I'm learning how to wait.

And in a long, slow lightning-flash I'm learning that to wait in readiness is the same as to be ready for the waiting.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Obscurantist Found Poem?

My friend stared at the whiteboard, clearly perplexed.

"That's the theorem Andrew's been working on for the past few weeks," I explained. "It has to do with the Gergonne point."

"Oh, I hadn't looked at the math yet. I was trying to figure out the poem."

I wasn't sure what she was talking about, so I came around to have a look. And sure enough, there were some very esoteric lines scrawled to the left of the geometric figures.

orange, "Let's...

It was a list of spelling and punctuation corrections from one of the twins' creative writing assignments.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

At the Well

'Water Flow 1' photo (c) 2009, Luke Addison - license:

He met her at the well.

Jacob's well.

Jacob, who, in search of a pure bride of spotless lineage, had traveled far from home, to the well where his father's bride had been found.

You must not marry one of those Canaanite women.

So he traveled far in search of a bride, and he met her at the well. Dazzled by her beauty, he worked seven years to pay the bride-price, and the seven years were as a day.

Then seven years more, because the father gave him Leah instead; Leah of the gentle eyes, who had no form that he should desire her.

Yet it was through her that the promised one came; the stone that the builders rejected that has now become the cornerstone.

It was through Leah that he came, and when he came, he had to pass through Samaria, and he stopped to rest at Jacob's well.

He met her at the well, a Canaanite mongrel; broken, rejected, and used up.

He met her at the well. He asked her for a drink, and she asked him why. She was no Rebecca.

But an hour is coming and is now here, when neither on this mount nor in Jerusalem...

And he cried out with a loud cry:

If anyone is thirsty, come to me! The one who believes what the scriptures say of me, from that one will flow rivers of living water.

He met her at the well, and he speaks to us now, reshaping all our fairy tales until the fact is more beautiful than all the lovely shadows.

He has slain the dragon, and rescued the ugly stepsister, transforming her into a valiant princess. He restores our souls, and he meets us at the well.

He is the well, and he invites us to draw water, not for him only, but also for his servants and camels.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I'll add chicken to yours if you like, but I will have mine plain.
Just melted cheese, like the liquid golden sun
that would warm my back, crisping the sand
soft and grainy as tortillas, as the memory of rippling water
while my clothes dripped dry in the radiating coolness
of the thick stone walls around the stove
where she made us quesadillas.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Prayer Before Birth

Sometimes my soul is afraid, because I know I must walk through that valley.

I have tasted death's shadow, and tasting the shadow of death, brought forth new life; new life that must suffer also.

Lead me, kind shepherd, as I walk through that valley.

Comfort me with your rod and staff.

Under your protection, I will feast with gladness before my enemies eyes, knowing that though I fall, yet I will arise.

Dying, I'll be born to life anew; I will fear no evil if I'm with you.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Tonight, the words aren’t there.  My head is thick
and strangely self-indulgent sad songs blare
throughout the bright cold room.  The floor is slick
with sudsy water sloshing ev’rywhere.

I do not want to mope.  I want to write.
But ev’ry word I’ve written now falls flat,
And pictures everywhere accost my sight.
“Oh, look at this—no, this!—now look at that!”

And I would just get up and pace a bit,
Except the floor’s so slick, I’d fall—fall flat
As words, tonight’s flat words—and so I sit.
I sit, but still I can’t sit still, for that

Is something that requires the space to move,
Like moving needs the force to just sit still.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Complaining Song

Today I feel like Humpty Dumpty,
who I presume was rather grumpy
upon becoming bits of eggshell
covered in that stinky egg-smell
that's all that's left when white and yolk
are smithereened and garbled broke.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Augustine Remix: Invocation

Great you are, oh Lord, and to be praised,
with virtue great, and wisdom beyond count,
yet I, your little creature, slightly dazed,
must nonetheless attempt to scale that mount.

To pour the wind-tossed salt-sea in a cup,
I'd count by far to be a simpler task
than learning how to call you; lift me up--
unless you answer first, I cannot ask.

But you've compelled this thing that can't be done,
making me a vessel of your praise,
just as at your decree the lame will run,
and at your word, the wind itself obeys.

Beneath the wind, you measured out the sea;
make rivers now of worship flow through me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

e.e. cummings: i love you much(most beautiful darling)

Usually, when people talk as though the analysis of art automatically gets in the way of its enjoyment, I just roll my eyes.

Of course bad analysis can destroy any experience. But good analysis? That would only be a problem if beauty wasn't real.

If beauty has no rational basis, then aesthetic enjoyment can't be anything other than an escape from reason. This is the attitude toward beauty that flows through our culture, and that I'd absorbed unconsciously.

I remember the morning when I changed my mind about beauty. We were sitting in the university cafeteria eating waffles, when that strangely intense young man began talking about Lewis and Schaeffer, and laying out arguments for why beauty had to be real, and why that mattered.

I was actually quite hostile to the idea, terrified of believing anything so wonderful. But after a few hours of futile struggling, he convinced me that there was really no way around it, and I may as well just resign myself to living in a glorious world where goodness, truth, and beauty are real and deeply intertwined.

My life has never been the same since. I began to operate under the assumption that the more I know about a thing, the better I'll be able to enjoy it. It was a risky leap of faith, with the potential to destroy all my enjoyment of everything if I was wrong, but it turned out well. There were some things that I'd previously enjoyed, that crumbled under analysis, but that was a small price to pay in exchange for all the deeper beauties that I found, and for the certitude that they really were beautiful.

I fell madly in love with the intense young man who brought the glad news, and we've been married for ten-and-a-half years now. Our life together is one big conversation, and it's utterly continuous with that first conversation in the cafeteria, although more complex now. Our souls have grown, and tiny new souls have begun to chirp out their own contributions, but it's still the same conversation.

All that is to say that I'm surprised to find myself loving this poem without knowing why, and without even needing to know why.

But I do love it.

Analyze it if you wish--I won't mind. In fact, I'll be grateful. The poem is lovely enough that I'm utterly certain that there's good solid reason behind its loveliness.

And by now I'm so confident of that, I'm okay with not yet knowing exactly why.


i love you much(most beautiful darling)

more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky

-sunlight and singing welcome your coming

although winter may be everywhere
with such a silence and such a darkness
noone can quite begin to guess

(except my life)the true time of year-

and if what calls itself a world should have
the luck to hear such singing(or glimpse such
sunlight as will leap higher than high
through gayer than gayest someone's heart at your each

nearness)everyone certainly would(my
most beautiful darling)believe in nothing but love