Testimony of Earth

For this demon who harms men and corrupts them is particularly anxious that his servants not gaze up to heaven but instead that they be bent over to the earth and make bricks inside themselves from clay.
(Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses)

At the moment of exhaling, he sanctified
the clay he shaped by his outbreathing, yet
sacred clay was only ever for shaping, not
to be shaped by. Instead
my eyes are always turned groundward and I
play in the mud pies of my mind despite
the heavenly witness that clamours for me with its voiceless speech
and, for lack
of willing human witnesses, rocks
clear stony throats to shout.

George Herbert at Bemerton

I am the man who has seen affliction…
(Lamentation 3:1)

His portrait would have him
serenely contemplating a garden,
one hand raised beatifically
like the saints of old.

Often I would have my days like that,
passed in that perfect serene of green,
spirit quiet within like the waters without,
no trouble straining pastoral brow.

But poems and pastors are not made like this;
the cure of souls is the work of the broken,
and contemplation is fuel for deed,
the quiet where turmoil turns to seed,

and the man who knew thoughts that were all cases of knives
was no doe-eyed dreamer but a brother to affliction,
and in earth’s pulley his grief pulled upward
and poems sprung from the love-mended rhyme.

Toddler-speed

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
and time
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.

If Ye Love Me

So many ways to wash feet:
the posture, not the precise nature of the action, matters – poised
at ground level, familiar with the dust
and grime of the day’s streets,
outer garments shed to throw off all show,
the creak in the knees accompanying the splash
and the mess of the self washing off in the bowl.

So many ways, yet I
am more comfortable to be Peter:
indignant, swinging
between pride and gung-ho humility,
reserved and haughty in equal measure,
more at home with excuses
than the flagrant shame of love.

If I would be a disciple, I need only start
with the crick in these old, ossified joints
as I teach them to get love’s job done.

Poema

You create and give; I take and arrange
words like atoms, rhythms like pulses
and the matter of your cosmos like
the setting of a table:
an act of grace here, a wilderness feast.

You create and I, created, imitate.
More, I steward
the tones you have embedded in our movements, our speech.
I listen and echo
the hidden poundings of the muted heart,
to say
as a host at table might –
Here, a space is left for you.
And then I point,
first to you who, poised at the vast edge of nothing,
said, Let there be.
And then, second, to the open arms,
the nails, the wood,
the carpenter carved up to make
a home for us.

For the New Year: Again

And so it starts over: our spinning way
Around the sun; our cycle of light, dark,
Hot, cold; plants losing, gaining leaves and bark.
If we hear what the seasons have to say,
It will be only their incessant bay,
Their insistant reminders – at the park
Or down the street – to heed the spark
Of summer light, and the dying winter day.
If dull the repetition, or senseless
The way we never move on or remain,
I will take a toddler’s view and address
The new day with the delight its maker
Feels when he sets the sun’s circuit to recur,
That this – all this – can happen again, again!

Advent 2: The Shoot

When You come back again
Would You bring me something from the fridge?
(Steve Taylor & Peter Furler, “Lost the Plot”)

Remember praise?
It fed your roots back when you learnt to crawl,
back when you burrowed into soil
eager to receive all the earth had to say.
And today?
Defeat is the last refuge of the desolate stump.
Promises of orchards seem taunting,
a mockery. We hoped such things when we were young
but now…
Even Nebuchadnezzar, cut down,
hangs no gardens, only grazes like a cow.
But remember Job of the cutdown tree
when the first shoot of green
defies the brown stump.
Remember the farfetched, microscopic life
that burrows like a promise
and fells kingdoms with its might.