In a creaking house for family feasting, I sat
as summer light streamed through leadlight doors and
cracks in curtains,
fairy lights twinkling on pine tree while
I rocked my youngest, disrupted by
the change of place, his older
brother’s noise and the stubborn light,
and tried to make a darkness conducive
to an eight-month child’s much-needed sleep,
and fancied the Father
keeping vigil by my fretful side
neither slumbering nor sleeping
until true day arrives.
Early evening, cool of day, we walk
in the garden to find
evergreen branches to weave a wreath of hope.
My son is distracted. Not tall enough to reach with me,
he stands to watch but soon
decides instead to help
pile the compost heap with grass.
Evergreen and humus: these symbols arrest
as I finish my gathering and crush
fallen leaves to settle the soil
where it sits and brews in ever-cycling growth.
The constant, the growing, the long slow wait of growth
all have their moment in our pining Advent days.
“…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.
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.
The touseled children
have their own way
their own classification…
(Chris Wallace-Crabbe, “Timber”)
Some are named for likeness
to familiar things: the lemon tree
in Nanna’s garden becomes
a prototype for all other trees
in all other gardens.
And some are named
by analogy or comparison:
big tree, little tree,
special tree; and what
is bottlebrush but a metaphor turned
to proper use?
Yet others gain
the specificity of the eager learner,
like Adam flushed
with the daily discovery of all
living things and growing things,
and as tongue learns it way
around the tangled mechanics of thought,
a surprise clarity: paperbark!
a joyful melaleuca.
Gather your spiritual bouquet…
(Francis de Sales)
Plenteous winter rain left
the backyard a grassy forest
where mallow and clover ran riot
and kikuyu spread its runners wide.
The rhizomatic tangle, lush and unbeatable,
enfolded in itself a toddler’s trucks,
a sandpit shovel, a bouncy ball, a peg,
and I, bent on order yet at odds with nature,
push a feeble mower through the shin-high jungle,
and vainly seek a clearing
to untangle my mind.
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.