I sat across the table from you
leaking tears and talking, talking
trying to put my finger on why I wept
and felt embarrassed in a class where we
discussed the abuse of women and girls.
The tears began as I tried to articulate the need
for awareness of all those who at that moment
(when we were discussing their situations
in a much removed room at divinity school)
were alone in their abuse, with no relief in sight.
Trying to discern the reason for tears
while explaining to you the sense of distance
I felt between me and my body,
me and my skin, even while the invitation
to fill that space hung in the air.
What else would God do but weep? you said.
I rode your words bareback into that space
where compassion closed the gap. I felt
how the heart of God is the part of how
we are one with ourselves and with each other.
Mommy, come and look at this,
my son called from the back door stoop.
I can’t. I’m busy. What have you got?
His answer lost in the distance between us
I called out louder, What have you got?
A bee. He’s walking on my cheek. See?
Blinded by dishes piled up to the brink
of my mind mired down in mashed potato
I called from the sink, Probably a fly,
and chose not to walk to the stoop
where he sat waiting. In that moment
of meanness, the bee stung; starving
children bit the dust, the nails in our house
began to rust, and Jack Benny died.
And my son cried out, pouring tears,
healing rain, onto the infinite desert of sin.
A friend diagnosed with cancer
describes the reality of how it feels
to be beaten up over and over again
with pain, nausea from treatment
to treatment, then body-slammed
onto the floor, with cancer calling
out the challenge: Now show me
what you’ve got. It is in that moment,
she says, the gauntlet thrown down
and the body a mess of disease
that the choice is made to stagger
up to a standing position, and with
tears, tears of anger for the fact
of the need of this point of decision
and by that act of standing up
new life begins to build. First floor,
second floor, up to the third, where
treatment ends and hair grows back
not straight this time, but curly
and at a great rate.
Consider humus, that gift to the garden,
of rot. Layers and layers of life lived
of hurt and healing God knows
and presses down upon, compacting soil
and all matter, factored in to fertilizer
that grows the soul, making a way
for humility in place of arrogance.
Death before life is axiomatic; only
hear what Jesus said: that a grain
of wheat must fall to the ground before
it can ever give life; be gathered, threshed
and ground to flour, to make bread, to be
broken and fed to all for the sake of God,
who is Source of life, of rot, of humus,
that gift to the garden. Consider.
From “The Flower,” by George Herbert
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain
And relish versing: O, my only Light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
You thought you were doing your best.
Be that as it may, you’re different today
after scores of years of living
in this singular body, this rescued soul.
Dedicate yourself as never before.
Sweep clean the house and prepare it to be
an altar, a table, where God comes down
where the first is last
and the last is best withal.
Everyone is being called
out into their lives, those lives lying
about like Victorian women
suffering from neurasthenia
and learning through their suffering
that they are the shapers of those lives
for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer.
All parts of the self wedded, they take the field.
Write into the wound with the ink that heals,
the black blood that marks the place
where poison entered in.
Write into the wound with the ink that heals.