In these days of lockdown (my city, Melbourne, is experiencing the toughest restrictions of anywhere in Australia so far), I have been finding myself drawing increasing inspiration from the small things that I notice in my local environment, looking ever closer and closer to the consolations of the everyday. This video poem came from a moment of stillness while walking my children along the Werribee River, persevering through intermittently heavy rain. May we all keep noticing the small fingerprints of God in the easily missed details of our lockdown lives. Stay safe.
Sanctify the compost heap
where I trudge in dark with the day's dank scraps.
Sanctify the living stench,
soil's second chance,
barren fig-tree's friend.
Sanctify the dishes piled
on piles around the cluttered sink.
Sanctify the time it takes
to scrub and dry,
to sort and stack.
Sanctify numb fingers, ice
on windscreen that delays the day,
brittle tests when patience is small.
Sanctify unholy pain;
sanctify this senselessness
that drives me to the end of me
and sends me to Your feet.
“…dirt [is] matter out of place.”
(Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger)
When the day’s settling is done, I seek
order in domestic chaos, restoring
categories I never previously held:
that these trains belong together and those
trucks do not; while this bus driver
does not fit that car, nor
does that book belong in
the middle of a gleeful floor.
But what to do
when categories are stretched beyond
rational recognition? For instance, what
to do with an unaccompanied sock
keeping company with a lone building block?
And the day must leave unsolved the mysteries
of where the baby monitor went or why
those DVDs are now room-mates with a train.
I calm the room like the baby who wakes
as the last Lego block is returned to its place,
while the unsorted debris of my own fractured day
must sit in its chaos, held in unuttered prayer.
These days when all of the socks are odd
and all your thoughts are scrambled eggs
and, try as you might to talk to God,
nothing much makes any sense,
for the rubbish awaits in noisome piles,
the bills are due and so’s the tax
and the laundry measures its depth in miles
and the devil has pains for idle backs –
unjumble yourself in a heap at Christ’s feet;
ramble and rant to the maker of ants
and all that creeps the planet, replete
with all its tangled, unnecessary plants;
rejoice to be useless and childlike and weak;
rejoice that you cannot make anything work;
rejoice and delight that the end of the week
will come round regardless of what you deserve;
and delight to know that mindless you are
yet He who is mindful of you holds the stars.
I stubbed my toe on a London bus;
it stood in the doorway, just under us.
And by the door a bright Tonka truck
lay just where an unsuspecting limb got stuck.
And in the night a train might stray
far from its tracks into my way;
and you, dear you, might show up right
when I would rather turn in for the night
yet love is seldom a smooth affair,
and ground is better than ideal air.
True, I’d prefer to not stub my toes,
but love must bleed; that’s the way it goes.
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.
In hard rubbish week, while the street is lined
with broken couches and abandoned TVs,
someone has shredded a phone book, leaving
white and yellow pages like autumn leaves
all down Grandview Street. Some pages
have drifted into gardens, some
line the pavement or the nature strip.
Some look like a wild animal has gone to town,
some as though an angry child has destroyed
all evidence that the rest of the world exists.
If pieced together, they would make names:
Michael who cleans the pool, and Vince
who’ll re-gas the aircon if you ask.
Wanton destruction, this shredding of leaves.
The names are torn; the refuse remains,
and their lives clamour down the street to be known
while memories too are thrown away,
with all the things that we just outgrew.
But first: there’s the stockings to fill.
Some products may be unavailable in stores,
but this one ships before Christmas.
Rejoice at same-day dispatch;
rejoice that you’ve met your Kris Kringle requirements.
When the presents are bought
and the turkey is basting,
when the family’s sleeping,