“Notches in the Neoprene.”

So, in late September, having moved to my own place in Ottawa, I bought a pair of bright-red twelve-pound “Neoprene” dumbbells on eBay. This has been an excellent choice, because they’ve helped me to stay (sort of!) strong and supple during various phases of isolation, lockdown, and “social distance.”

I noticed the other day that one of the two dumbbells had some cracks in it; I don’t know why. It feels like a fitting metaphor for life in the age of COVID-19, so…this poem was part of the result.

– – –

Notches in the Neoprene

We’re still too close for comfort, but we are

Yet miles away from post-war Dublin and Sinn Fein.

We’re neither sane nor sanitary, yet here we are.

The solipsism of this endless plague

Leaves holes in the hearty hardwood of our souls,

And notches in the Neoprene of our paradigms.

It’s just past Christmas, and it’s raining too.

The freezing drizzle drenches everything in sight—

The pavement looks like April, though it’s less alive,

And every street is emptied of its soft stability.

SARS-COV-2 has silenced our society.

Sure, birds still sing, but we can’t join them now,

While every local store puts up a sign

To show us where to mask and sanitize.

How can we bear the weight of loneliness?

How can we leave our siblings in their griefs?

I read the news each day, and still I ache

For disenfranchised Mi’kmaq in their lobster pounds,

For desperate rebels in hardened, burnt-out Homs.

Which actions make a difference, when

We’re all six feet apart, and not by choice?

The shroud of loneliness is lighter on some days;

A well-placed letter, a soft touch, can set it right.

We cannot let our kin-folk grieve alone,

But let our laments ring out, both soft and loud.

My words are far more formal than I mean…

Our solitude is salutary now,

Our “social distance” meant to save and soothe.

Someday our isolation may be a blessed cell

Where having and not having rise as one.

Each action makes a difference, for in love,

We can become our better, gentler selves.

We cannot sing together, or feast as we might wish,

But we can call, and write, and eat, and play,

And walk. (There’s lots of walking, at this point.)

Our walking may become a pilgrimage,

A sanctifying of our solitude

With wine, and Chinese food, and crosswords too.

The stakes are high, but we still play the game

Here in our dusty cells. We’re not alone;

We bond together over Firefox and Zoom.

Suffused with ethereal azure lights,

We can divide our griefs, and add our joys,

Until the sum of all our fragile parts

Is greater than a googolplex—so great

No decimal, no pen, can spell it out.

What Love has joined, no force can tear apart.

“Sacrament and Solidarity: Bartimaeus, Disability, and Church Community.”

I preached this sermon on the morning of November 15th, 2020, for the good folks of First Presbyterian Church of Warren, Michigan. My text was Mark 10:46-52. Enjoy!

___

I have a low voice. Can everyone hear me? Great. Thanks! In that light, I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Can someone say amen?

Several weeks ago, Marijo asked me to preach. I wasn’t sure which text I should choose. After she and Julie gave me some guidance, I’ve decided to talk about my theological research. Broadly speaking, I teach and write about a sacramental ecclesiology of disability. Those forty-dollar words mean, roughly, that I examine how people with disabilities – people like myself, and like some of you folks – can use the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion to create and maintain equitable and loving communities within the church. This morning, I’m gonna do three things. I’m going to introduce myself; I’m going to segue from that intro into the broad strokes of my research…and then I’ll show you folks a little about Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. I’ll particularly demonstrate – using that encounter – a few principles that Christians of varied abilities can embody, in order to really demonstrate God’s love to each other.

First, then, the intro. My name’s Michael Walker; I call myself Mike. I was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, in an old hospital, to two people from Prince Edward Island. My dad’s a surgeon, and my mother’s a pharmacist. I was born on September 6th, 1984, so I’m thirty-six years old. I have spastic cerebral palsy. That’s a neurological condition that affects motor control: it means that my muscles are always tense (the “spastic” part), that my limbs shake at all times – even the left one, my dominant one (the “palsy” part), and that I had a traumatic brain injury that affected my cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that regulates motion. Because of this condition – or, at least, concurrent with it – I have a number of mobility issues, as well as logical, spatial, and mathematical deficits. I have very little spatial sense; that is, physical directions are very difficult for me. I’m forever lost in space: I can’t make my way from Wrigley Square, in downtown Chicago, to Lake Michigan – a distance of two hundred yards or so – without a map. Additionally, as you’ll likely notice while I’m talking, I sometimes make great logical leaps in conversation. J I also have a very curved spine, so I experience some chronic pain, and I limp when I walk.

So, a significant part of my life consists in my lived response to those conditions. I work methodically, I move slowly, and I sometimes take a long time to make decisions. All of those parts of my personality can frustrate my loved ones, but I’ve found that my own experiences of unconventional embodiment, and physical trauma, make me responsive to the needs and pains of other people. We’re going to talk more about that sort of compassion in a little bit.

 Partly because of my responses to these conditions, I took a long time to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. (I haven’t fully grown up yet, either. If you have pointers, please let me know.) After I did an undergrad in English at Mount Allison University, in Sackville, New Brunswick, I went to Knox College, the Presbyterian seminary at the University of Toronto, to study theology. That initial decision in the summer of 2006 became three graduate degrees in theology, particularly a doctorate in theology, called a Th.D. This is the second point I want to make, the one about my research.

My doctoral dissertation – supervised by Dr. Tom Reynolds, and published in May 2018 – is entitled Embodying Community: a Transformative and Sacramental Ecclesiology of Disability. That document starts from a Reformed Christian sacramental paradigm because I was initially Presbyterian (I’m ecumenical now). The text delves into the Christian and Jewish scriptures for evidence of divine hospitality, and draws significantly on my own life-experience: in general, this project explored how the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion can empower Christians with disabilities to create loving and just church communities.

The short version is that these rituals can activate and motivate relationship: their material elements – water, Word, bread, and wine – reveal human beings’ resilience and our capacities for creativity, desire, and connection. Baptism and Communion invite people into varied modes of accessto equity, especially affective access, which allows people to support and befriend each other. If I may, here’s the slightly-longer version…

Baptism and Holy Communion offer Christians of diverse abilities physical access to equity by creating the conditions for healing and intimate relationship: physically and emotionally, these rituals remind us of Jesus’ welcome of human beings, and invite us to welcome others to know Jesus’ love. They call us into solidarity with each other: because the ritual elements are material things, they invite all of us, of all abilities, to offer food and drink to people who are hungry and thirsty, and to meet the needs that people have where they are. For instance, if we see a stone step up to the choir loft when our sister needs a ramp to get to that place, our baptismal vows and our participation in Communion encourage us to work for the ramp!

Significantly, because the Communion rite still reminds many believers of the ways that people with disabilities are excluded from ecclesial community, the late Lutheran sociologist of religion Nancy Eiesland calls the church “a communion of struggle” (1994, 116). When she says that, she’s not wrong: the ways that many denominations perform the ritual of Communion are ableist, and quite often those who eat the meal do not think of ways to change their ritual to accommodate their brothers and sisters with diverse impairments.

Moreover, and significantly, physical access correlates very strongly to the sacrament of Holy Communion because of that rite’s material elements. The bread and wine bear witness to the potential for compassion and availability between and among communicants, and the bread and wine – evenly distributed among the communicants – testify to the fact that there is enough food to feed everyone in the world. Catholic theologian and storyteller Megan McKenna argues that way in one of her books; I’d be happy to talk more about that.

The sacraments also help people of varied abilities to show each other compassion by providing us with intellectual access to equity. That is, they invite us to use our imaginations to perceive other people’s needs, to meet each other where we are, and to exercise patience with each other in sacramental community. For instance, baptism and Holy Communion beckon us to simplify our overly-cerebral language in liturgy and sermon (a serious but worthy challenge for me!), and to use language appropriate to people with disabilities. For example, I detest words like “lame,” “cripple,” and “retard,” all of which have been applied to me. I assert that the pejorative use of disability language, even that couched in clear references to the Jewish or Christian scriptures, signals intellectual laziness at best, and cruelty at worst.

Baptism and Holy Communion enable people of diverse abilities to experience affective access to God’s equality and justice, as well. These rituals can empower you, me, and all of us to experience God’s love through physical and social sustenance, and so enable us to desire and befriend each other. For me, friendship is a dance, involving a negotiation between two or more parties, across difference. All of our emotional states – joy, pain, anger, fear, sadness, hope – are dance-moves. Friendship means that I seek someone else’s well-being, and I respect their boundaries. Also, friendship emulates the love of the triune God: Miroslav Volf calls the Trinity’s love “mutual interiority.” The members of the Godhead are part of each other, and so are human beings called to be. We’ll talk more about friendship when we talk about Jesus.

So, by virtue of their material elements, baptism and Holy Communion offer interested parties, like us, a window into the classic “four marks” of the Church. Baptism and Communion make us vulnerable and available to each other, so they show us how the church is one, united in our fealty to Christ. They also point to our holiness in Christ, the way in which we engage in the suffering of the world; they demonstrate our catholicity, our resonance across all of Christian tradition whether Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or Coptic, and our apostolicity, the way that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ friends and figure out how to do what Jesus did.

Speaking of Jesus, this is point number three, my attempt to link my research in the sacraments to the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52. I’ll read the text again, so that we know where we’re coming from.

46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ 52Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

So we might notice several things about this text, in terms of the research that I’ve talked about. For context, the text makes clear that Jesus is on his way out of Jericho, going towards Jerusalem to be killed… So, Jesus and his friends are walking along the road, and Bartimaeus, the blind Son of Timaeus, is sitting by the roadside waiting for him. Then Bartimaeus has a great idea: he decides to shout at the top of his lungs so that Jesus will hear him. I have to applaud his audacity… He gives Jesus a unique title and he shouts, “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!” (47). Bartimaeus shouts so loudly that the crowd can’t shout him down…even though they try. I imagine them saying things like, “Hey, man, be quiet. The Master’s busy. Jesus has a three o’clock with Jairus after a lunch near the Temple. Go panhandle somewhere else” (48).

…and then, again: Bartimaeus keeps shouting. “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!” He shouts loudly enough that Jesus “stands still” – for, quite possibly, the first time in the entire Gospel of Mark – and he decides to dance with Bartimaeus. He gives the blind man physical and affective access to his ministry. Even though there’s no water, bread, or wine in this story, Jesus exercises the patience to which God’s love, embodied in sacramental community, calls us. Rather than calling out Bartimaeus, Jesus pays attention to him, the person on the periphery. He asks someone to call Bartimaeus over, and the crowd, which was harassing Bartimaeus for making himself visible just a moment ago, requests that he get up and go to Jesus (49). Because the crowd affirms him, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak –an instrument that he needs to beg – and jumps up, and goes over to talk to Jesus. Bartimaeus is active, not passive!

In his classic, axiomatic simplicity, Jesus asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” (49). Hear me clearly, friends. This is the question that people with disabilities want to hear within the Church! This question – the kind of thing Jesus is most famous for – is the sort of question that the Church can and must get better at asking believers with disabilities. Rather than allowing financial or personal concerns like the cost of helping Bartimaeus, or his physical awkwardness, to interfere with the encounter, Jesus simply and directly enters into Bartimaeus’ situation and empathically asks him what he needs. Jesus meets him where he is, and gives him personal and intellectual access to the transformative things that God is doing.

My colleagues in Toronto, at the Ontario College of Art and Design, have called this principle, “Just ask, just listen.” One enters into a situation, and without judgment, asks how s/he can help the other person. This is the kind of question we as a Church ought to ask people when we see them in pain. Not just, “Can I pray for you?” Not, “Why don’t you get a job?” Instead, we can say, “Hi! How can I help?” It’s a simple change in perspective from the ableist, prejudiced norms that think first of the finance and furniture of our rituals…and because it embodies that openness to change, and that appreciation of diversity, it’s worth it.

…and, returning to the text, we’ll simply notice that Bartimaeus says he wants to see again. Without much preamble, and without any apparent physical contact, Jesus restores Bartimaeus’ prior visual acuity. “Go; your faith has made you well.” We might say it like this… “Dude. I appreciate you asking. Here you go; take your sight, and go on your way.”

Go. Go where, exactly? Significantly, Bartimaeus doesn’t just go on his way. Rather, the Son of Timaeus follows Jesus “along the road” into Jerusalem…where the latter will die a painful death. And, because Jesus has slightly improved his social standing, and entirely given him back his sight, Bartimaeus does so with joy. Dear friends, this is the joyful accompaniment to which the sacraments call us. This is the empathic engagement to which Christ invites us.

I promised you folks principles that we could draw from this encounter, based on my research. I can see three such principles in this text, borne out by the work I’ve done in ecclesiology. First, by shouting for Jesus’ attention, Bartimaeus advocates for his own needs. Not everyone can do that – for instance, many people with profound intellectual disabilities don’t have that capacity – but those who can advocate for themselves and others definitely should. Jesus wants us to shout, as loudly as Bartimaeus, for the creation of real and sacramental community within the Church. I think that that advocacy is terribly important.

Second, by stopping and attending to Bartimaeus’ cries, Jesus offers him the patience and empathy that are the backbone of an accessible community within the church. Jesus doesn’t just listen to Bartimaeus. He mobilizes others to help him too – he gets the crowd on-side, in a way that it wasn’t before he met Bartimaeus. That’s significant: when we in the Church do advocacy, we must use all our resources to show others why the work of Jesus is important.

Third, by engaging with Bartimaeus in compassion, Jesus offers him an indispensable aspect of access to loving community. Jesus both asks Bartimaeus exactly what he needs, without any sort of prejudice, and then offers him precisely what he asks for, without reservation. He asks Bartimaeus what he needs; Bartimaeus says, “My sight, teacher,” and Jesus gives him renewed sight. In this way, Jesus demonstrates the sort of love that we, his friends, are meant to offer others when they’re suffering. We’re called to meet people where they are, simply and without attempting to offer ourselves security and comfort. We’re meant to offer what we have to others without asking for reciprocity, change, or good works. Jesus offers us the opportunity to dance with others, with people unlike ourselves, in friendship.

I hope that today, and in the days to come, you’ll take up the Saviour’s invitation to dance. I hope that you’ll go out into the world still pondering some of these things. I also pray that you’ll exhibit the patience and compassion of Jesus, and the alacrity of Bartimaeus, in your encounters with others. I share those hopes and prayers with you in the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Can someone say amen?

“(Mood) Swing State.”

I wrote this poem on the evening of November 12th, 2020, and finished it the next day. It concerns my outpouring of relief upon the outcome of the American general election, and my desire for peace in light of Remembrance Day.

I hope you like it!

____

(Mood) Swing State

Seigneur, faites de moi un instrument de votre paix.

All right. What kind of peaceful instrument am I?

Am I a trumpet, with its cutting clarion call

And its monopoly on the high notes in the Star Wars theme?

Am I chisel, or hammer, or rusted saw?

What is the tenor of the peace I bring?

Wait. I know I’m not the centre of the jigsaw puzzle.

No matter which calming and conclusive chords I play,

The symphony of peace is in no wise finished yet.

It hums among the peach trees of smooth Georgia,

And whistles in ardent, arid Arizona too.

Peace is a garment of many fabrics and diverse hues.

Peace is clemency for the men of Stateville prison.

Peace is a container of Costa Rican coffee, shipped to Chicago;

Peace is a ceasefire in Damascus,

And Syrians building life anew in New York State.

It is a gaggle of greying Canada geese on the Rideau Canal,

And lives in groaning prayers for Abrams, and for Ossoff too.

It lives within the hands of those who clean the burnt-out lobster pounds

On the shores of Nova Scotia in November.

All my complicated and callous chords

Must fit into that meticulous melody.

No matter which caring and compassionate chords I play,

They’re meant to make sense of what’s already there.

So what is peace, for me, tonight?

It looks like sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat

Listening to Cornell’s shouts and croons.

It might resemble pizza on another’s couch,

And Christmas movies in the falling dark.

Peace is a symphony of sympathy and solidarity,

Echoing long into the growing winter nights

Beneath the twinkling green and reddish lights

And falling silently upon our tiled floors.

It steals into our rooms, to take root in our hearts

And nourish every generation’s dreams.

“Equilibrium.”

This morning and early this afternoon, I went for a walk by the Rideau Canal. There I saw some ducks, who seemed to me to complement my relative emotional stability. This is part of my response, both to the ducks and to my inexplicable feeling of calm.

I hope you like it! 🙂

– – –

Equilibrium

The ducks stoop down to feed, come up for air,

And bend their beaks to foraging again.

They represent my lightened load of care,

And symbolize the brief surcease of pain.

Today, I feel no anger, grief, or fear;

The blue sky and the breeze can hold me fast.

My spirit feels well-balanced, cool, and clear,

And no regrets have surfaced from my past.

This balance is a freedom I must share,

For freedom’s not just meant for solitude.

When carefree, I can bear another’s care,

And do my part to build the common good.

This equilibrium empowers me,

And counsels me to share my liberty.

“Wildfire: in Response to Pádraig Ó Tuama.”

I wrote this last Tuesday night, after reading a new-to-me book of poetry by an Irish poet, and simultaneously rereading Amos 4 with friends from church…

and this emerged in response. In light of the terrifying American political landscape, I thought this makes even more sense than it did last week.

– – –

Wildfire: in Response to Pádraig Ó Tuama

Emerging from the fragile shelter of each other,

Seeing shocks of red hair and fair skin

Only made brighter and fairer by fluorescent light,

I am overwhelmed. I darken and grow cold,

Like some ancient star a galaxy far away.

I hear the ancient Hebrew words in my own voice!

I drown beneath the torrents of the river Justice

And hear the clamours for the cleanness of teeth

Still echoing on Ottawa’s streets today.

You wouldn’t know it from the gentle street I live on,

But the wildfire’s coming to sweep us away too.

Old Amos had it right. The vinedresser

Will speak truer words than those in three-piece suits.

I’m swept away by forty years of pelting rain,

By deconstruction and deregulation

Of social safety nets:

Our nets can’t catch fish anymore; they’re too full of holes.

Holes: young men with First Nations ancestry

Sit outside the Coffee Time in Parkdale;

Holes: a wizened woman weaves her way between the cars

At Foster and Pulaski in Chicago;

Holes: above the Arctic Circle, near the poles,

Are holes and gaps where icebergs used to be.

Now water fills the gaps to quench its thirst…

What fresh apocalypse will rend our veils?

What Thunberg voice will tear away our blackout blinds

And help us seek the holy higher ground?

Our sanctuary’s in each other’s arms.

Our sustenance, our root, is reciprocity,

For only by our earnest giving back

Can we be given once more to ourselves.

“My Race is Royal: Reflections on Regal Stature.”

My family has Scottish ancestry. One branch of my family has a Scots Gaelic motto that reads as “’S Rioghal Mo Dhream,” which roughly translates to, “My race is royal.”

All right, then. My race is royal. Since I moved back to Canada this summer, and am much closer to my family, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on that motto, and on other similar sayings. What does it mean, in the midst of a devastating pandemic, and in a matrix of political volatility, that my ancestors carried themselves with some kind of regal stature?

Let me start with an experiential definition. How are kings and queens supposed to act? What do folks of royal stature do in the world?

When I was young, I loved the stories of King Arthur, the legendary king of Britain who ruled from Camelot amidst the collapsing Roman Empire and Saxon incursion. The tales of the Round Table indicate that, by and large, Arthur and his knights defended people who were weak and oppressed, and upheld great standards of equity during a period of social upheaval. For instance, the famous knight Sir Gawain empowered women, and befriended younger knights. So, kings and queens are supposed to help people with less privilege than they. This indicates, even indirectly, that Diana Frances Spencer, Princess Di, was truly a person of royal stature.

Based on my other reading and experience, it appears that royal persons are devoted to their families, and do their best to promote familial cohesion. In that light, this Vanity Fair article from August suggests that Breonna Taylor was a queen. I can think of other examples, too.

Kings and queens do not necessarily dramatize their suffering, or make a melodramatic show of their personal lives. In that respect, witness David Robert Jones, called Bowie by his many fans, who did not make his diagnosis with liver cancer public knowledge before he died. The last days of Gordon Edgar Downie, late singer of the Tragically Hip, also stand as a testament to that same regal attribute of emotional evenness. Gord cared for Canada’s Indigenous people so much that Perry Bellegarde honoured Downie with a Lakota name, Wicapi Omani, which means “man who walks among the stars.” That’s a highly-charged attribution of status.

So, kings and queens care for vulnerable people, love their families, and control both their emotions and the way that they interact with the world. Moreover, kings and queens empower people, and offer them the dignity that they themselves experience by virtue of royal status and power. For instance, Chadwick Aaron Boseman – brilliant actor and all-around good person – made people laugh, lifted them up, and inspired them. You can find him immortalized in this moving clip from Fallon, which amply demonstrates his multifaceted talent.

Kings and queens lift up the people around them; they walk amongst the stars. What does that mean for us, and how should we act in that light? By we and us, I mean the human race. By virtue of these definitions, we – all human beings – are meant to act with dignity, empathy, and alacrity to right the wrongs that we see in the world. This means that the US justice system’s treatment of Breonna Taylor’s killers is not at all worthy of persons of regal stature. This means that Mr. Trump’s refusal to peacefully transfer power, should he lose the U.S. election, is not fitting of one with great status. It means that we – kings and queens, spiritual siblings all – should cry out against the systematic and brutal slaughter of civilians in both Yemen and Syria. These are just some examples; as necessary, I can think of numerous others.

And what does it mean for me? “My race is royal.” My stately ancestry means that I hold my head high, even in the middle of a pandemic with no clear end-point. It means that, although I do feel self-pity and shame and grief – quite often, these days! – I can hold back some tears, and save them for others. The regal status of my ancestors means that I sit here at my computer and write, every day, in the midst of a world wracked by climate crisis, reeling from violence and hatred, and plagued by both the looming threat of respiratory illness and entrenched economic uncertainty. It means that I depend on my family and friends for emotional and spiritual sustenance; it suggests that I spend time both praying for my loved ones, and finding ways to edify them. And it means that – even in the thick of these and other trials – sometimes, I can listen to the Hip, and Bowie, and Kendrick, and walk with them amongst the stars.

My race is royal. May I live as one worthy of such a great status.  

“Panther King (T’Challa).”

I write this one with fear and trembling…

I’m a highly-educated white guy, and am more and more aware of my white fragility. Thus, it seems best to me to let African-American, and -Canadian, and other folks, do most of the talking…but I could not stay silent.

Chadwick Boseman was a genuinely good, kind, humble person, and a great actor. This poem is therefore humbly dedicated to his memory.

Panther King (T’Challa): a Poetic Ode to Chadwick Boseman (1976 – 2020)

No heartfelt praise can name the power or grace

Of every staunch and regal syllable;

No shining movie camera can recall

The laughter and the loss of every line.

Behind every regal role, we see the grief:

T’Challa, falling down the waterfall,

Speaks to the burning streets of Portland, and

Of T-shirts blazoned with a hundred names,

Of Kenosha yearning to let loose its rage.

You traverse time and memory, like Augustine

Whose lyric lines still haunt philosophy.

Your liquid voice recalls old Langston Hughes,

Whose fire and form gave new substance to the blues.

As Marshall, you were clipped and loud and stoic,

Creating arguments from shredded silken scarves,

Expelling exhortations from another’s lips,

Exonerating servants from their shadowed shame.

Then, as Davis on the streets of New York City, you

Paired passion with purpose in your tireless pursuit

Of two ex-servicemen with bricks of coke.

Each righteous role retained your body’s prayer

To drink life to the lees amidst your pain,

To show us your submission to your craft.

I’m not like Kendrick, for not many are;

My words come ponderously, for I am slow of tongue.

Your talents blazed up, like some ancient star,

As you were lauding heroes yet unsung

By eggshell crowds in brittle northern climes.

You were a superhero for our times,

A laughing avatar for Truth and Right,

Still speaking to the planet’s long pandemic night.

You were the hero of this world’s deep need,

Because you held yourself with catlike grace,

O jungle-king who gave T’Challa life.

You wore the bone necklace Bravery through your silent suffering,

And held your head high through countless rounds of chemo.

No words can contain our sorrow at your passing;

No torch can bear to hold your living flame,

The fires of rage suppressed for centuries.

You brought your beauty to the burial-ground,

And lo! Each grave-site floods with freshest green.

Still be our star, to light our errant way;

Still be that eldritch music beneath the misted trees

On that stern astral plane that claims us all.

Still come to us before the microphone

With hearty laugh and wrathful iron glare.

Remind us of the best that we can be,

And give to us the terrible oath of kingship,

To treat our subjects with your dignity.

The King is dead. Long live our Panther King.

“August Blue.”

Hi there! It’s been a little while.

I wrote the following yesterday, and edited it lightly just now. It reflects on our continued global experience of pandemic, and talks a bit about the impending U.S. election too. I hope you like it.

August Blue

I wake into the soothing haze of August blue,

Collecting all my thoughts with wooden beads

And telling useless jokes on glassy screens.

I get my tell-tale hand to stop its spastic writhe,

And drop and give my twenty to the sound

Of bright harmonic six-string, and brooding thunderous bass.

My frantic days are filled with binary black-and-white:

White edifices are drowned out by shouts of “Black Lives Matter”

(Oh, how they matter, for they mourn, mediate, migrate, and mean –

They speak their souls, and straighten the soft spine!),

And black words, in a glossy twelve-point font

On a stark white background, still pour forth

Their muddle and their metaphor through the haze.

Each word’s another glass of Rowan Creek,

Each page a pushing back from the abyss

Where we may fall forever, to the tune of Ted Nugent.

Although despair still yearns to hold us in its tiny fists,

There are a million ways to elude its childish grasp:

We wear our masks in public, and we wash

Our reddened hands each night when we come home.

(We wash the masks too – it’s a simple thing.)

The Ottawa River can’t redress all our sins

Or clothe us in the garments of integrity,

But Zoom becomes our catechumenate,

And children’s books become our liturgies.

What will our future hold? What scarlet thread

Will we tie around our wrists to trace our ways

Back through the labyrinths of capital?

Vast Huron beckons us with navy blue,

With wild blueberries on its rocky shore.

We reminisce with Facebook, and we solve

The endless jigsaw puzzles of our grief.

We wait, with bated breath, to doff our masks,

To stand within the world’s loud theatre

Where – holding hands – we’ll take another bow.

The curtain falls. What then, o souls, what then?

Is it the blackout curtain of our misery?

Or, nearer, the red-tasselled cloak for our stage,

This next stage in our evolution on this plane?

What songs will ring out in this brave new world?

What slogans ring more hollow with each year?

These questions circle in our spinning heads

Until we put the wine-glass upside down,

And place the dish detergent in the chute,

And (creeping up the steps) fall fast asleep.

“Mayflowers.”

This poem is based on true events…

On Saturday, April 18th, 2020, someone went on a killing spree in rural Nova Scotia, and killed 19 or more people…including a Mountie — a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the elite corps of Canadian police). The regular cops still don’t know the motive. And the coronavirus makes it worse…so that became part of my processing.
These tragic events necessitated a response…and this sonnet is the beginning of that response. “Portapique” and “Enfield” are communities in Nova Scotia.

Mayflowers

I dig the sweet dark chocolate from the drain,

And feel the fires of fury in my bones.

How could someone inflict such senseless pain,

And leave so many families alone?

 

I sit at table, and I try to write,

But all my words turn back. I’m cold and void.

I know that many will lose sleep tonight

Because their fragile peace has been destroyed.

 

Their movements are constrained; they still must mourn.

Enfield and Portapique feel insecure.

Each day brings back to them the killer’s scorn,

And springtime brings them little that is sure…

 

Perhaps the spring will give their fears surcease,

And mayflowers offer them some gentle peace.

“Green World.”

I wrote this one last night, after I came in from a walk in the rain. I hope you like it!


Green World

The rain laughs softly at the things we build,

For rain will humble steel and lift up clay;

The April rain restores the plants we’ve killed.

The green world survives into another day.

The snare-drum rain recalls eternity

And that sweet love that waits beyond our death.

Staccato raindrops speak integrity

To the green world that lets us catch our breath.

The wind still whistles its cold lullaby

And lulls the earth to sleep beneath the moon –

Reminding us that, though green life must die,

Still, April pays its muddy debts in June.

The world is full of sordid grief and pain;

Our aching wounds are bound up by the rain.