Monday, November 28, 2016

A poem for a friend

I would have written a poem for you
But the long, grey leagues of the sea between us
Swallowed my words,
And blew my songs away.

(Seagull and albatross,
Wings that rise and fall,
And beat across my mind
An alien rhythm,
And the sea and the spray, and the wind and the waves
Seem one,
Just one,
I turn and try again.)

There is no rest here
Until the winds are spent
And the storm has moved away
(Wherever it is storms go)
And the words fall back in place,
And cadence rules again.

Will I offer such a poem?
A trumpery of syllables?

But there are more than poems
In the warp and weft of breathing,
In the sacramental reaching
Of the hearts that He would join,
Music without notation
But a pilgrimage of joy.

Therefore I would send you
Not the stale words of my typing
But the breath of my heart’s leaning
From the weariness of life
To the resting place we find
When the heart says, “yes, YOU see!”
Following kind whispers
To the music of the spheres,
Tracing a moment’s giving
To the grace that binds us close.

And where we reach, we touch

Despite this world’s wide winds.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Grandmother's House

Grandmother’s house had always been her safe place. There was no shouting here, no clash of angry voices, and no sudden tummy pains that she needed to keep to herself so as not to get their furious attention. Grandmother’s house had a glorious old garden, with a clump of banana trees that was perfect for hide and seek, and an old glasshouse full of plants that nobody had looked after since her grandfather died, but somehow they kept on living in that damp, quiet place, where the air was so heavy with the smell of wet soil that it was always a little bit hard to breathe. She always expected that one day magic would happen there, it was so different to the dry, dusty back yard of her own house, where a just a few bushes clustered by the fence, bushes with bright berries she had been warned never to eat.

And now she was going to grandmother’s house. She huddled in the back seat, hard up against the window she could barely see through, and tried to block out the sound of her father swearing at every other car on the road. Her mother had refused to come; “No Michael, you take her. Your mother never wants to see me anyway!” but she knew from the suitcase filled with her stuff that had been thrown in the boot, that this time she would be staying for a while. That made her happy. She thought of grandmother’s scones, with real strawberry jam, and all the old story books that she was just learning to read, and the nightlight shaped like a fish that grandmother left shining by her bed all night long. It was so peaceful.

There was a soft rain falling as they arrived, and her father impatiently chivvied her up the steps. He hated getting wet. But inside it smelled of fresh baking and old roses, and she relaxed. She curled up in the corner of the couch with Grandmother’s big fairy tale book, absorbed in the pictures: the fairies, the princes, the dark forests, the castles and the ridiculous frog with a crown on page 33. He always made her laugh.

The phrases from the adult conversation washed over her, half-heard: messages from another country she had little interest in. “The bitch!” (that was her father’s voice, followed by Grandmother’s hushing – she hated rough language) There were a few minutes of subdued conversation, before his voice was raised again. She was taking no interest, but some bits stuck in her memory, to be replayed when she was older, and trying to make sense of it all:

“Take no more!”

“More than flesh and blood can stand!”

“No, I’m done. But she’ll be safe here, look after her.”

“Send money when I can,”

Then he was gone, with a brief prickly good bye, and she was sitting at the table with Grandmother, eating chocolate cake.

She had no idea that she would never see her father again.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Murder

 “We’ve done it!” There was exultation in the words, and not a skerrick of guilt.  She put down the axe, which would have to be cleaned, of course, and looked at the blood on her hands. How had she managed that? It had seemed such a clean kill.
Oh well, put it down to inexperience. After all, it wasn’t as if she’d ever done it before, and it wasn’t exactly something you went round practising, was it? But, before they did anything else, she would have to wash her hands. She spared a passing thought for Lady Macbeth, who had been so upset she couldn’t get her hands clean. All that emoting over bloodstains on her hands! She had found Shakespeare ridiculously over-the-top at the best of times, (such a waste when she could have been learning something more practical at school!), but Lady Macbeth was the limit. Didn’t they have any soap in ancient Scotland?

Ah, that was better! At least she had soap and running water. Now the next job was to hide the evidence and dispose of the body. Geoff was already straightening up the yard, just as they had planned, and she knew he had been working on the wire for the last couple of days. It had to look like it had been worn and pushed aside, it mustn’t look like they had cut it. People had sharp eyes; it was really important to get the details right. That was how you got away with things without anyone suspecting.

She glanced at the sky. Not long now till daylight – time to keep moving along. Yes, even if it had made more mess, she was glad she had used the axe. Strangulation, she believed, was the more usual method, but that would have involved touching it, and she wasn’t sure she had the strength to carry it through. Imagine the noise, the outcry, if something had gone wrong! And the possibility of escape! No, there was far too much risk of discovery that way. It was much better the way they had gone about it, even if Geoff, always squeamish, had insisted on leaving the actual killing to her. And MacGregor, infuriating, prying, lecturing neighbour that he was, wouldn’t be back till Monday to make the discovery. And by then the evidence would be disposed of and the trail gone cold.

Relief washed over her again. No more screaming in the middle of the night, no more arguments with neighbours. And nobody would be able to prove a thing. There would be gossip and speculation of course, but they could easily add a few speculations of their own. Hadn’t they thought they’d seen a tall man skulking around the laneways in the dusk? And couldn’t MacGregor use the insurance money?

Now she just had to dispose of the body. It looked pathetic lying there, as if it had been deflated. Was this sad, skinny specimen the one who had been wrecking their night’s sleep for weeks and driven them to the point of madness? Well, the feathers could be burnt, and as for the rest … She picked up MacGregor’s rooster with one hand and eyed the sorry carcase. “I think I’ll make chicken noodle soup,” she said.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Political Icarus (lines written at a concert)

The silly boy whose hubris spans the sky
Believing utterly that he can soar:
Apotheosised in his own desire
To dare and rise where no man rose before.

He is the champion of his own self.
(So, he declares, should all right-thinkers be.)
The god-like grandiosity he wears
In all its weirdly pompous crudity.

He does not own the limits of his reach,
Nor any boundary set upon his realm.
The skies were placed there for his conquering,
Himself the power, his desire the helm.

What if his wings are built from lowly wax?
In his own mind his flight is steel and fire,
Even the sun is subject to his lust,
And his great fury will not faint or tire.

He has not learned that pride builds to undo
(Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad.)
And when his body plummets to the ground,
His own may weep, the earth does not feel sad.

But that’s to come. Now, poised upon his cliff,
Waiting ambition’s leap, ambition’s fall,
He writes the same old story yet again,
We shudder, who already heard it all.

**    **    **    **    **    **

Meanwhile, this music. Here my heart finds wings
Woven from wonder by these singing strings,
Till this self resonates, and stumbling sings
The sorrow and the beauty which it brings.
For love shall take me where no wings constrain,
For love can lift and carry and sustain.
And I, all naked-souled in this stark light,
Shall watch another Icarus take flight,
And though, in landing, he may fall on me,
Still grace notes hold my heart’s entirety.

Monday, November 21, 2016

On Listening to Double Bass Music

As the dark velvet falls (my love, my love):
These rippling notes, half-wistful in desire,
Turned towards rest (as lonely mortals can),
Knowing such peace can never be entire.

And yet we sleep, for flesh must find surcease.
All things are partial till the Kingdom come,
And beauty is a promise that will hold
Though hearts grow weary, and our souls grow numb.

What sweet musicians dreamt and poets seek
Through melody and harmony and song
Enfolds us for a moment and is gone;
And yet a moment can be very strong.

Pity me not to float upon these waves
Who know not to what landfall they may bear;
For I would sing although I have no words,
And you and I have our rest everywhere.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Planted Seed

He tilled the ground, grumbling at the thorns and thistles. His parents said it had not always been like that, and he more or less believed them. But it was odd, just the same. After the tilling came the sowing, and then the watching of the crop, and the dealing with the weeds. (Why had his parents … ? Oh, never mind!) Finally it was time for the harvest, and all the hard work of getting it gathered in. And all the while he watched his brother with resentment.  While he was labouring bitterly over his crops, his brother would take out his flock, and sit and rest all day. Sure he watched over them, but really, in this land that still carried vague memories of Eden, it wasn’t that hard. The very weeds that Cain had to battle with were food for Abel’s flocks. It simply wasn’t fair! He had no idea that all the while he was diligently sowing his crops, another kind of seed had taken root in his own soul.

Then the day came to make an offering to the Lord. He knew his brother would willingly have given him from his own flock to make the sacrifice (perhaps in exchange for a small portion from his crops), but he was having none of it. He would not engage in that messy, blood-soaked business (how demeaning!), and he would not be beholden to his spoilt brat of a younger brother either. No, the work of his own hands was quite good enough to offer to the Lord!

So he came, bearing a portion from his crop to make his offering – not too large a portion, for that crop had cost him a lot of effort and he was entitled to the fruit of his labours! His brother came also, bearing the fat portions of some of the first born of his flock. He brought his offering with a kind of gladness that Cain found very offensive. “Obviously it cost him little effort, if he gives it away so easily,” he thought. “Things are always easier for him.”

But then came the shock. The Lord favoured his brother’s offering, but rejected his own. And Cain was furious, and the jealousy in his heart proliferated faster than any seed he had ever sown in the ground. And the Lord warned him that his anger was unjustified and that he was in grave danger of committing a terrible wrong. But he was beyond listening, especially to a god who seemed to favour his brother beyond himself. It was all Abel’s fault! And in the secret places of his heart he cultivated that bitter crop, jealousy, anger, resentment, and it came swiftly to fruition.

The day came when he asked his brother to walk with him in the fields. Abel was eager to take this opportunity to sort things out with his brother. But Cain had other ideas, and out there, with no human witness, he killed his brother. He did not know that the very ground bore witness against the murder of the innocent, and that he would be eating from a bitter crop all the days of his life.

Monday, November 07, 2016

The source of strength

He was 75 years old when the call came to leave everything he had known and follow the guidance of an invisible God to a place he did not know, which would become his inheritance. He was to take his barren wife with him, and somehow, though they were both already old, he would be the father of a great nation. And through this absurd choice, which shocked his friends and acquaintances into scornful laughter, he would somehow become a source of blessing to all the nations of the earth (what did that even mean?). And so the old man packed up his whole life and stepped forward into impossibility. By faith he allowed his whole world to be turned upside down. And when, after the long hard years of waiting, the child of promise was born to them, he was willing, at the command of that same God, to lay down the life of that child, though every promise he had been given was dependent on that child’s life. Where did he find the strength? His eyes were fixed on another kingdom, a kingdom which could never fail, whose builder and maker was the Lord.

Another time, another place, another man. This one was eighty years old, and his life had become a bitter story of failure. It had all started so well, with his life miraculously spared and his adoption into the royal family of the very nation that had enslaved and mistreated his people. But in a moment of fierce anger he had acted impetuously and thrown all his advantages away. The last forty years had been spent herding the flocks in a forgotten corner of the desert. But now he was summoned by a miraculous sign to return to the very place he had fled, to face down the royal power in its stronghold, and demand freedom for his people> He did not even believe himself a fluent speaker, yet he was called to declare the impossible before a king. Where did he find the strength? His eyes were fixed on another kingdom, a kingdom which could never fail, whose maker and builder was the Lord.

Another time, another place, another man. This one was only about 33, and he had already put aside all the joys of heaven to walk in the pain and weakness of humanity. Now, in the middle of the night, he knelt in an olive grove, and the agony of his submission was so intense that the sweat fell from him like drops of blood. He knew what lay ahead. He knew that when he left that garden he would be going forth to face false accusations, jeering crowds, abandonment, torture and death. “Nevertheless,” he said, “your will be done.” Where did he find the strength? His eyes were fixed on another kingdom which could never fail, whose builder and maker was the Lord, and so, for the joy that was set before him, he walked forward, with deliberate intent, into all the agony of sin and death.