Neurochemistry

I'm not sure how science describes it but
sometimes a neuron
seeking safe passage yet
finding none
simply
enters black space
where nothing is thought
or felt
as reprieve from thinking,
feeling too much.
And in that space
is only static
only the humming of
lost signals.

Emptied, what can
speak or console?
What can reconnect?
Devils silenced, but so
the voice of angels.
In this deadness no strong man
need cast the demon from the house.
Only the Lamb
who was slain
can lie down and comfort
this brain.

The plans I have for you

Itching ears may long to hear,
All is well. Everyone relax.
But truth is rarely so welcome, or simple;
more often we hear All is not well before it is well.
More often the doctor diagnoses before healing;
the exiles must first be exiled
before coming home.

All shall be well. All manner of things
shall be well. But first we must learn
the difference between "well"
and the "fine" or "not bad"
that we utter without thought
when passing in the street.
Well is a deep, unfakeable truth,
a nature of being that has passed through the fire,
and, refined by the fire,
knows that His love
is there, even in fire.

Change the Heart

When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney, all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either…

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
It was not a flash day at Sydney Cove,
not a flash day for anyone.
Not flash for the sailors, turning about
for a week in that blasting Southern sun,

not flash for the prisoners with their lives on board,
not flash for the crew with their rotten gums,
nor for the ones who watched as the ships
docked with their goods and their crime and their guns,

not flash for the gospel the chaplains stowed
in well-intentioned suitcases,
not flash for the enlightened human race
with its scurvy tongues and pock-marked faces.

Neither was it a flash in the pan,
a single raising of the flag,
a peaceful changing of the guards,
followed up with rum and gags,

but day by day my white kin reap
the fruits of that unflashy day
and all the good that came from it
is only God's tenacious grace,

and history has its many tales
where villains have no wicked laughs
and sometimes they can sound like us
and bring us gifts in their subtle crafts,

but human ears are big enough
to hear more stories than our own
and hearts have room for other hearts
if we can step off history's throne.

Running with Horses

Michelangelo’s depiction of Jeremiah from the Sistine Chapel
Weeping prophet with the puffy eyes:
I've run with men and am at my end.
Tell me how you ran with horses;
tell me how you stood to run.

Prophet sitting in Zion's rubble:
did you see Messiah weeping
in the broken city's puddles?
Did He lift you, man of tears?

Broken prophet dragged by crowds,
did you see heaven's horses' flight?
Arms bound by men, spirit alight,
did you hear the saviour sing?

The Patience of Bread

To the toddler eye, yeast bubbles for pure delight
and the lump of dough is to be savoured now.
Try as I might, I cannot explain
why that treasure must go to wait in the sun,
why the instant must make way for the delayed.

I too cannot understand
kingdom yeast's delay in them, in me,
cannot let go of moment's feast
without the smarting of loss, although I know bread
and how it emerges, transfigured,
a wonder of bubbling life.

The Weeping Prophet

Rembrandt van Rijn, “Jeremiah weeps over the destruction of Jerusalem”, c.1630
To be a pariah takes only hate
and the unshaken conviction that you,
above all others,
are right.

To be an outcast you only need yell
when a listening ear
might salvage a soul.

To be Jeremiah, you need more than that:
not only conviction, not only the truth
but the burden of weeping,
the burden of love,

the knowledge that kingdoms are built of people,
that people and kingdoms are bound to fall,
and yet to love them all.

Peace and the Thorn

“Mellow out,” they say. If I only could.

Adolescent patient quoted by Dr Michael Piechowski
Three times, the Apostle, says he cried,
yet three times denied:
within his side the unnamed thorn remained.
To fester? To infect? No, to be the site of grace,

for only this reply came: My grace
is sufficient; in your weakness will my power be complete.
And when He said weakness He meant
all the foibles and flaws you could name,
the whole litany of human frailty -
all the deal that He assumed
when He was flesh and frail like us.

And so we hope,
and like naked ones in the cold
crave to be clothed.
I for one shiver with shame
when laid bare by how stabbing thoughts
and fears betray me, how I wince
within, without, at every twinge that divides us,
every failed aim at peace.

Though I long
for numbness, or the certainty of some, I turn
in naked longing and set
the beating of an unquiet mind
to the slow, steady peace at the heart of Christ,
to the quiet words of the Word Made Flesh:
All shall be well. All this shall be well.
You too shall be well.

Lost Things

In a house where
daily I lose, misplace or break
what really, in eternity's view,
means little, yet
has power to make or break my day,

I understand
the urge to ask Saint Anthony where
my keys are, or my glasses, or
any other easily hidden thing.
God in heaven is surely
too busy with the business of souls
and perhaps too quick to point out that
my soul might be freer without
these Lost Things dragging it down.
Saint Anthony, I expect,
might take a kinder view,
being dead, and having this
in his official saintly purview.

And yet at times
when I might ask a saint and not a God, I recall
the stirring way He painted the heart
of the widow after her mite,
and the shepherd's flight,
and how far He Himself came
for every small, disposable
needless thing on two legs that roamed
foolishly, willfully, where it did not belong,
and I fancy
that God in heaven might
have eyes for lost things as small
and needless as mine.

Freeway Towns (After Kenneth Slessor)

Freeway towns
with your dusty browns

and shady grass
all moving past,

with parks astride
the freeway's side

and hearts that know
and streets that glow

in summer sun
at half past one,

that tolerate
our hasty gait

while moving on
to where we're from:

you watch it all,
while freeway's call

denies the chance
to meet your glance.

The moment gone,
we part unknown.

I wish I knew
the half of you.

Valedictions

Once the new year came
in a traffic jam, at Borneo's mouth,
when the crowds who'd fled early to escape the rush
now bid each other a happy one
between their cars across the street.

Another time it came while I
and a friend were lost in the midst of things,
driving from one house to another where
the champagne was chilled
and the view guaranteed.
Instead we drove
through a ditch and came
out at a set of lights where the lights
skipped across the shop rooftops.

Now I try convincing my
three boys that there's no party on,
while they fight through bedtime, crazed
from a day of irregular food and cars.
And where many can't wait to see it go
and say good riddance to the year that's been,
I suspect I'll say good night and catch
the fireworks from my sleep.

But after years and years and years
of deserts, each new year the same,
fighting to smile while others raved,
to see the evening slip to sleep
while my children slowly do the same,
I cannot say good riddance, only,
Thank You, thank You Lord.