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 stretching out 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.
Nighttime cradles you in my arms
but I am uncradled,
and what strength I have to cradle with
is finite and growing finer yet,
my widow’s mite at the temple gate,
libation pouring out.
Daytime is an offering too,
a departure yet a giving,
an act of will to defeat the Will,
a living sacrifice that draws
fire and taunts the futile Baals.
Yet I am drawn to Baal.
At night again, while summoning sleep
into your limbs that want to climb,
I climb Mount Carmel again and seek
the fusion of my breath with His.
My memories of self from freer days
are rocked to stillness yet they climb.
This tangled prayer I bundle up
and sacrifice it whole.
…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.
Unintentionally, I keep vigil the night before
while my son, restless for the dawn,
unsettled by the changing of the clocks,
bids me stay awake and pray.
Some sleep gained before sunrise, yet when the lights comes
it feels somehow the natural outworking of the night,
for I’ve walked through all its stations,
met its passing watches.
And when it’s time
to take off the rags of sleep and roll back the stone for the sun,
day seems natural, an arrival at home.
Yet when it comes I am weary,
ready to return to night,
and when night comes the routine
of dishes and rubbish bins consumes
the wonders of the vigil past.
Sun and moon and clocks distract:
in spite of us, eternity wins each linear day
and Grace keeps vigil over tapering hearts.
History has few exemplars to be proud of.
The Greeks did well with Priam, at least,
willing to face “iron-hearted,
man-slaying Achilles” for the sake of a son.
My own culture’s replete with absent men,
“bronze Anzacs” taught from birth not to cry.
The Biblical witness, too, leaves something to be desired:
most too busy with wives in multiples to see
sons ganging up on sons, hurling into ditches,
covering many-coloured garments with blood.
Some simply could not hear, over
the chewing of fruit, the sound of the older
saying to the younger brother, “Come for a walk.”
One king learnt too late that all
the years at war, or watching rooftop baths,
did not teach a son to trust or respect his old man.
Only this cry rings out as a lesson: “Absalom,
my son, my son! Would that it were me instead of you.
Absalom, my son, my son. Absalom, my son!”
Perhaps the polygamists, war-mongers and liars
have this to teach us: the insufficiency of one
man of dust to be the all, the end, of the home.
In his frailty and deceit he clears the way
for another tale, another sight:
the wealthy man embracing pig-stained rags,
the fattened calf killed,
the Father’s arms stretched.
This witness alone can teach the twisted tongue
the meaning of our faintly-voiced, “Father.”