"The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines."
Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Bird

Winking at me with a
bold, black eye,
the bird with the
garish yellow coat
hopped outside my window.

Flirtatious and cheeky,
as though we were old
friends and this
moment our reunion,
he strolled closer.

Beak to glass,
hand to heart,
I held my breath,
hoping and hopeful
he would settle on that sill

But noting our differences,
a chasm between us,
he flew away,
joining avian revelries
at a backyard feeder.

Exhaling a sigh,
I keened his loss between
sips of coffee,
wishing for fluency in bird –
a “thank you,” for stopping.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How Do I Pray?

How do I let go of
DISGUST
ANGER
RAGE

How do I speak
LOVE
HOPE
COMPASSION
PEACE

How do I pray?
Heartsickness and despair
have bound my tongue.
Dread and powerlessness
constrict my heart.
Revenge whispers its
bitter nothings in my ear.

Hatred fills me
I know how tightly
I am caught in the
Tempter’s snare

How do I pray?

All I have is trust
God speaks tears’ language
God transforms rage into TENDERNESS
dread into COURAGE
hate into HOPE

God hears my faltering
feeble attempts
holds me close
releases me from the enemy that is me
sends me out to LOVE
as I have been LOVED
not because I feel it, but because
LOVE is LIVED.

Prayer is not limited to bended knee.

Sometimes prayer is in the walking.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Storms



Crawling under a table,
my fourth grade storm shelter,
I read, the unfolding story
drowning out sounds of wild rain
demanding entrance at the windows

Clucking teachers pecked and whispered
my oddness promptly reported
disquieting quirks of
my parents’ youngest born

Facing off with grownups
a gunfighter without a gun
stammering an answer
“I was scared of the storm,”
“I did what made me feel safe.”

Safety left me long ago
 my body a crooked “S”
I lie quaking under cover
no unfolding story but my own

cat's purring, insistent warmth
tucked into the bend of my 
knees is small comfort as I lie
waiting, waiting
for the storms to pass




Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Nice Boys

            Kevin pursued her the summer after ninth grade. A year ahead of her in school, he spent those three months before junior year riding his moped to her house on warm afternoons. They would talk and kiss on the swing in her parent’s backyard before he rode away again to his job at the music store.   
            Kevin was unfailingly polite whenever her parents were around. He was friendly. He invited her over to his parents’ house for dinner, and she immediately made a friend out of his mother. They spent the 4th of July together in his backyard. He shot off rockets and tried to impress her with his daring. She rewarded him with kisses and hugs. 
            She’d never really had a boyfriend before. In junior high, she and a boy held hands on the bus for a school trip, but this was the first time she could claim a real boyfriend. Her parents would not let her go on a car date with a boy by themselves yet, but his mother would give them rides to the movies. She hated scary movies, but she watched them with Kevin, so she could grab his arm and his shirt and squeeze close to him for protection. 
            They would call each other late at night and talk until one set of parents or the other finally yelled for them to hang up and go to bed. But even that didn’t keep her father from pulling her aside one day and telling her,
“Kevin is a nice boy. That’s the kind of boy you need to go out with. He’s a nice boy.”
            At the end of the summer, she used the babysitting money she had saved for two years to fly to Washington State to visit her favorite cousin and his family. She promised Kevin and his mom that she would take pictures of west coast sunsets and the Pacific Ocean. She sent him a postcard each day while she was gone. But when she flew home, something was wrong. Kevin didn’t return her phone calls. His mom told her she would have him call when he got home from work, but he never did. One afternoon, just before school started, he rode his moped up her driveway and told her that it was over. He didn’t want to start school with a girlfriend. There was just too much for him to do. It was better this way, he assured her. 
            She spent hours in her room crying along with every sad song that poured out of her radio, wondering over and over again what she had done wrong. Finally she got tired of crying and sad songs and found her way back to normal again. 
            But Kevin was still around. They ended up in Ensemble Choir together. She ignored him. He ignored her. Yet by her junior year, they had reached a truce. They were not exactly friends, but they didn’t hate each other either. She looked at him one day and realized she didn’t care if he liked her or not. It didn’t matter. She was in love. As she declared to her friends every day, she was really, really, really in love. Liam went to a different school. He was two years older. He was rebellious and funny. He smoked cigarettes and loved motorcycles, rock and roll and her, but not in that order. She wrote his name over and over on her jeans; the ones with the holes in the knees. Her mother never got mad at her for doing this, but the jeans were washed more than usual. It didn’t matter; she would just write his name again. 
            Her parents didn’t like Liam as much as they liked Kevin. Her father never pulled her aside and told her that Liam was the kind of nice boy she should date. Instead, they laid down unprecedented rules. 
            “If you’re only going to date one boy, then you can only see him once a week.” 
She was defiant and found a million reasons to sneak off and see him anyway. Finally, her parents gave up and let her date him. But she knew they thought he wasn’t the nice boy Kevin was. 
            Just after her 16th birthday, the school had a blood drive. You were supposed to be 17 to give blood, but she wanted to so badly, she lied about her age and gave blood anyway. There was a choir concert that night, and the nurse advised her to go home, rest, eat a healthy dinner, and she would be fine for the concert. But something went wrong. At rehearsal, as she stood on the front riser in her stuffy choir dress with the lights shining down on her, she felt dizzy and weak. Spots did gymnastics in front of her eyes. She grabbed her friend’s hand and said,
“I think I’m going to faint.”
She did. She dropped like dead weight. The strength of her friend’s grip on her hand saved her face from being smashed into the floor. She woke to find the panicked worried faces of her choir staring down at her. Even Kevin looked scared.
            Some of the choir members helped her up and dusted her off. Her dress was brushed clean, and the other girls clustered around her and helped to redo her makeup and smooth down her hair. The concert went well, without any more shocks or fainting. She didn’t realize, though, that her body wasn’t going to be back to normal for a while. The next night a friend threw a choir party. No parents, no supervision, and plenty to drink. She drank two beers, then giving blood caught up with her again. She was drunk. She felt dizzy, and her legs shook. She tried to walk to the bathroom, but she stumbled. Kevin caught her. He helped her. He took her to the bathroom and held her head while she got sick. He wiped her forehead and the back of her neck with a cool cloth. When she finally stopped throwing up, he led her upstairs to a back bedroom, took off her shoes and told her to lie down on the bed.   
            She had never been so grateful to this nice boy she had once cared about. But why was he lying down next to her? Why he was putting his hands all over her? Why he was trying to kiss her and roll her on her back and hold her down? He was touching her and pulling at her clothes. She was so drunk and so sick, she couldn’t make him stop. She couldn’t fight him off.
She tried to say, “No. Please. Don’t do this.”
But her words slurred. She wanted Liam. She wanted Kevin to leave her alone. Just leave her alone. The door opened and someone poked her head inside. 
“Oh, sorry.” 
            She opened her mouth to scream, “Wait! Don’t leave me!  Help!”
Her voice seemed to have abandoned her; no sounds, no words. Yet maybe the door opening, maybe the fact that there was a witness pricked Kevin’s conscience, because he stopped touching her, pulling at her. She rolled away from him and cried into an uneasy sleep. The next morning Kevin was gone. She drove home, still sick and now so scared. Should she tell Liam? Should she tell anyone? 
            One of Liam’s friends called her that day, and she started crying on the phone. He picked her up to go for a ride. Finally, her words rushed out. She told the friend what happened the night before. What should she do, she pleaded with him? What should she do? He grimaced and told her to try and forget about it.
“Never tell Liam,” he warned. “Never!”  
She never told Liam. She never told her parents or her other friends. She was ashamed and embarrassed. She was convinced that everyone would blame her. It was her fault for giving blood and drinking. She didn’t remember leading Kevin on. But maybe she did. Maybe she did.
            In choir practice on Monday, Kevin would not meet her eye. She glanced over at him once only to see him staring at her. He turned away when he saw her looking back at him. She wondered how she ever liked him or willingly kissed him. She could not imagine ever crying over him again; never again. She heard her father’s voice. 
“Kevin is a nice boy. That’s the kind of boy you should you go out with. Kevin is a nice boy.”

No, Dad. He is not nice. He is not a nice boy at all.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Why?

Too pretty for its sad purpose, 
the blanket covering the small body
 was shiny gold.
A baby doll lay beside it,
dropped, I guess, on impact.
One more life lost
among so many lost lives.
More parents going home 
without their children,
more children falling asleep 
without their parents.

If you're keeping score
hatred earned another point,
swooshed the net, slipped past the goalie
knocked the damn ball outta the park.
I'd like to say that
love will get the next one, 
the game's not over yet.
Surely we're due a photo finish.
But as long as there's a scorecard
we'll never see the end.
Just more pictures of
shiny blankets, small bodies, and
a doll who's lost her child.




Friday, October 2, 2015

Lament



She asked us to lament.
Lie down on the floor
weep, wail, wring our hands
learn suffering’s sound.

Unsure of this teacher
permitting us grief
we tentative students

persisted at blind happiness.
O! To reclaim that
blessed invitation.
Now my cry,

“my God, my God,
why have you forsaken us?”
would swallow the silence,

Subdue the void
left by that absence.
I would give heartbreak its voice,
sing agony’s crooked tune.

I would gnash my teeth
fashion sack cloth
drench my head in ashes.

If remorse could
stop Death from cradling
babies in his unrelenting arms,
if sorrow could melt

weapons like wax;
repentance dry the eyes
of every parent

of every child lost,
no sense, nor reason,
then I proclaim my remorse.
Shout apologies to the heavens.

I turn back, turn around,
change direction,
heed the prophet’s call.
Only Comforter, speak comfort. 

Cry hope. 
Soften stony hearts.
Reshape new from old, living from dying.
Teach us life, teach us love.

My God, my God, hear our lament.








Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Prodigal



            The dark chill of the store was an abrupt contrast to the heat and light outside. Solvay walked in and stood still for a moment, letting her eyes adjust. She scanned the merchandise fanned out across the room. Guitars hung from the walls on her left. Big screen televisions, all playing the same movie, lined the walls to Solvay's right. In between were metal shelves with appliances, dishes, and other random objects that Solvay didn't want to take the time to identify. It was all the debris of other people's lives. The counter was presided over by a stocky man wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt brighter than the sun she had just escaped. Its orange and red flowers looked neon in the dim light.  The man stared at the nearest television; his acknowledgment of Solvay's presence was nothing more than a flicker of his eyes in her direction. A wall of guns stretched out on the wall behind his head.  The sight of them caught her off guard. She wondered who had once held them and what – or who – was trapped in their sights. 

            Solvay took a deep breath and approached the counter. The bag of utensils in her hand banged against her thigh, sticking slightly to the sheen of sweat from the heat, then bounced away again with her next step. 

            "Do something for you?" He asked in a sandpaper voice.

            "I saw on the sign that you buy silver and gold. I have some of my grandmother's silver.  I wondered if it was worth anything."

            He looked skeptically at the assortment of knives, forks and spoons jostling in the clear plastic bag as she laid it on the counter. 

            "Full set?" he asked. 

            "Yes. I even have the serving pieces to go with it." 

            "Silver isn't going for much these days." He pulled a knife from the bag, and turned it over a few times in his hand. "This isn't full silver. It's silver plate. Can't give you nothing for it."  He dropped the knife in the bag and pushed it toward her, his eyes returning to the blaring screens.

            Desperation tinged Solvay's voice as she pulled a box out of her purse. "I have jewelry too; some earrings and a necklace."

            The storekeeper sighed, as though he already knew of how little value her things were. He opened the box. Pulling out an earring he rubbed it against a small, black rectangle plate. 

            "Nope."  Handing back the earrings, he started to turn to the blaring tv once more, then stopped staring at Solvay's right hand. 

            "How 'bout that ring you got on?" he said, eyeing the opal and diamond ring she was wearing.    
             Solvay looked down at the ring that rarely left her finger. 

            "This was my mother’s ring. That’s an opal in the center. It's my birthstone."

            "It's money. I'll give you $200 for it." 

            Solvay hesitated. $200 wasn't great, but it was something. It could buy groceries; maybe convince a creditor to stay away for a few more days.

            The man mistook her hesitation for a bartering scheme.

            “I’ll give you $250, no more.” 

            Solvay slowly shook her head. "No, I can't. I know this is worth more than that.  And my father ..." Sophie broke off mid-sentence realizing the man's attention had turned back to the television. 

            Embarrassed, she mumbled, "It's just, you know. It means too much."

            The shopkeeper grunted, as though such sentimentality were the bane of his trade.

            "Suit yourself."   
           
            Solvay dropped the earrings and necklace back into her purse and turned to leave, cradling the bag of silverware in her arms. Her shoulders which had relaxed a little at the prospect of making some cash hunched again with worry. 

            As she opened the door the man called out to her, "You decide to sell that ring, lemme know.  I guarantee no one else will give that good of a price for it." 

            Solvay looked back for a brief second then pushed the door open into the heat. Back in her car a moment later, she sat with the door open letting her old Corolla run for a few minutes before she drove out of the parking lot. Even though her time in the store was short, her seat and steering wheel felt like they had taken advantage of her absence to visit Hell.  Everything was hot, burning to the touch, and Solvay felt the sweat beading on the back of her neck and along her hairline. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe through her fear. 

            She stared at the ring.

“It’s money,” she said, repeating the man’s words. Solvay was tired; tired of being broke, tired of worrying, tired of always looking over her shoulder waiting for her fears to take shape and form and finally catch her.  But this ring was all she had left.