A devout gardener, my eldest comes out here
each day, to inspect, to water.
Sometimes he waters the concrete, sometimes
the soil. Most of it
is sapped up by unseasonal sun,
some soaks in. Butas we persist, he and I, we see
this transformation, like
a renewing mind: creeper grass
green tendrils into a former wastelandand I am mindful to watch
the miracle of creeping grace
expanding where it is not seen.
Only when we are going somewhere does he dawdle,
suddenly eager to investigate every fencepost,
every garden paver.
When we’ve all the world’s time, he hurries,
as though life might catch him before he is done,
as one learns to do when small
and only grown-ups can open doors for you,
where moments must be seized
before a “No, Eli!” takes them away.
But when on a journey, each surface and texture needs study,
each streetlight’s a marvel,
and each fence might contain a “Woof Woof” to call friend.
No hurry then, no trajectory,
only the entranced study
of a miniature scientist at his craft.
And so I, clock always in mind, must submit
to this other time. The urge to say,
“Come on, Eli,” must be tempered
by the truth
that his toddler-speed shows me:
that all this is wonder, and world enough
are in our Father’s hands who holds
our fingertips and says, “Come on,”
not for haste
but so we may take it all in.
Slowing down, I take more in.
and the laundry, piled up
in crevices and corridors as though to say,
“You can hide me, but you cannot do without me.”
Toys underfoot and books scattered wide
amongst other toddler treasures:
a measuring cup, a rooster,
a brochure considered la mode before
some other fancy flitted through the growing mind.
Some things are permanent, like
dishes, some new –
an Amen! after grace.
Unsettled nights and
teary mornings only serve to say
that all this may pass, but God
it is good that it finds me at all.
…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…
In truth, I teach this child very little.
So much is sheer instinct, determination,
what HR would call “get up and go”.
But there’s little of HR, more of
the deep-sea diver
or the alchemist at his art,
to how this small enthusiast takes
to his knees, then feet, then –
I did not teach him this.
No, this has a deeper logic,
one taught to joints and sinews,
flowing in marrow, raising from soil
to soul, teaching the human spirit
Best is the Father who says, Let it Be, and all Is.
Best the Father who teaches Baby Father me
to bounce the pensive child and sing
a song in the night for dreams.
For I too, often reduced to a crawl,
must also learn, down in the sinews and the marrows of the self
the truth that says, Rise up and walk.
Grand plans will have to wait.
Time works differently here:
sometimes it hums,
sometimes skips, sometimes
You will think, “There’s a thought;
I’ll write about that-”
Only – catch the thought, before
nappies and necessity
make it dissipate
in baths at 8
and all that joy – the total joy
that nonetheless necessitates
that all grand plans will have to wait.
At end of day, the poem is this:
the breathing child
upon the chest.
Catch the moment while you can:
stardust spark in the grandest plan.
Will this be your first? they ask.
So what do we say?
That before you was another
who got lost on the way?
Unviable, out of place,
yet loved, oh how loved.
How do we name the agony
of hidden loss, and a treasure
held only by us?
No: not only us. For
before there was you,
or me, or your mother,
there was Life.
And what Life: older than stars,
yet one of us,
made flesh among us.
What a journey this Life made,
across multiverse to wait
nine months like you do now
to come out to this atmosphere,
to beat and to breathe.
What truths this Life knew,
our little lost one now knows:
Eternity’s arms, the comfort of perfect
the absence of tears.
What tears we have shed.
We will tell you, one day;
one day hold you, and show you
how Love can remain.
…you will not find my actual life in these pages so much as my thoughts on the graces Our Lord has given me. I have reached the stage now where I can afford to look back; in the crucible of trials from within and without, my soul has been refined, and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm and see how the words of the Psalm have been fulfilled in my case: “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing…”
St Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul
My brother led me to prayer,
a child, afraid in the dark.
My sister taught me, downcast, to say,
Why so downcast, O my soul?
My parents taught me to ask and search
yet not be controlled by the heart’s wild waves.
My teachers fed my questions
and books sustained my mind.
Lewis taught me magic
and Love deep, deep in time.
Robert Frost was early rhythm;
Eliot and Herbert came later on.
Auden taught me the happy eye,
the sober perspective on the folded lie,
Kierkegaard the lily’s glory
and the grace that strikes in anxious thought.
Bunyan and Luther and Thérèse
knew the scruples that strike, and the way –
the Little Way at Jesus’ feet –
so once again I’m led to pray.
My wife has taught me the open heart;
now my home and hearth expand.
O Love that finds me everywhere:
Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.