“My Near Horizon.”

I started this one three weeks ago, and just finished it tonight. I hope you like it!


My Near Horizon

The robin sky can still inflate my soul,

Collecting all the pent-up, aching energies

From every noisome night I roll around alone,

And focusing the deadened disciplines

Of one more round upon the chin-up bar,

Of swimming through a tidal bore of lies

To find the embers of the camp-fire Truth

With bits of broiled fish just lying there.

I’m not sure where I get the aimless angst

That yearns for pleasure’s rolling hills and vales,

That turns a smile into a gracious nod,

A nod into the fiery orbit of the dance.

 

I’m glad I’m here. I’ve made it just this far,

So…where am I? I see the golden, toasted crescent moon

Obscuring every star that’s near its light.

I hear the calls of geese and mating crows,

And see the stalking ire of cats in spring.

I don’t know my location, but my speed

Is like the blue electron zipping through

Each full-moon orbit, like a charioteer

Engulfed in fear because his car’s in flames.

 

I joined the circus sixteen months ago,

And I’m still learning everything I can about

The flips and tricks to stay on the trapeze,

And how to make the elephants sit down.

I never see old Barnum’s withered face, but I hear

His hoarse and yodeled shouts. They entertain,

But do they edify? I mean…what’s solid anymore?

My near horizon shines, inviting blue,

But here beneath the big white tent, it’s dark,

Or only lit by lanterns (when they’re lit,

And ice-storms don’t play havoc with the power).

The vendors’ cries, and solemn animal howls,

Still turn me from my stately drudgery,

Entrancing me with lures of opulence,

Like vegetables upon a golden skewer

Or brass knuckles hid by soothing silver gleams.

 

I turn away, and closed my wearied, calloused ear

To all the shadowed cries of penury and want,

To blustered threats of fire and flood and war.

Sometimes, the sunset flaring through the trees

Restores my pensive joy in all its pacing moods.

The sun will send my aching back a soothing pulse

That can correct my spine like archer’s bow.

It doesn’t matter if the elephants sit down;

I’m still the blue electron, but I feel

The nearness of my azure destiny.

It sits and waits below Orion’s belt,

And bids me on, beyond the furthest moon.

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“Green Hope Cloaked in Darkness”: a sermon for Wine Before Breakfast.

…and, on the Tuesday before Good Friday, I preached a short sermonette on Mark 15. It’s contained below. The sermon concerns my experience of disability, and other phenomena, as betrayal and loss.

I hope you like it!

Green Hope Cloaked in Darkness: Wine Before Breakfast, March 27th, 2018

I remember that feeling well; at one moment, I had been standing mostly upright on my mother’s front steps in December of 2008, shoveling away snow, feeling pretty useful. The next moment, pain was radiating up and down my lower back, and into my legs, and I felt like I could hardly move…I had pulled a large muscle, and I felt like I was betrayed by my own body. I felt like I had lost motion, and agency. I felt such pain, both physically and psychologically.

On other days, I have had serious conversations with family, and with friends. People are happy together, and then they break up; friends move away; often, people die. All of this is loss.

In moments like these, I have felt betrayal and loss. In the same way, when I think about Jesus’ death, I think mostly of betrayal and loss. (SING: “Every time I think about Jesus…”)

The passages before this show us that the religious authorities mock Jesus—one form of betrayal—and that Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, denies Jesus in front of others, because he’s afraid to be recognized and taken in for punishment…another kind of betrayal and loss.

Then Jesus undergoes another humiliation: after the Jewish leaders demand the Lord’s crucifixion, Pilate lets his soldiers make fun of Jesus with whips and a crown of thorns. I have never worn such a crown, but I imagine that it hurt, a great deal: Jesus is dizzy, and has blood pouring out of his scalp and other parts of his body…and all the while, the soldiers shout, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then he stumbles to Golgotha, with the help of Simon of Cyrene, while he’s carrying a big cross made of wood. Then the crowd makes fun of him some more, while he’s nailed to the tree. The tree brings pain, and remembrance of rebellion. On this tree, Jesus will pull himself up by inches, struggling to breathe, over several hours; on this tree, he will die.

Jesus is being beaten, mocked, and slowly killed, over the excruciating course of hours, because he believes in peace and love. He believes in a different economic system; he empowers women, and people with disabilities, and other people marginalized by his society. Friends, our brother Jesus is being killed because he wants to show people the way to goodness.

Betrayal and loss. Jesus goes to the cross because Judas has handed him over to the Romans; he goes to the cross because the Jewish establishment wants to retain some shred of false dignity and power. Some say that Jesus goes to the cross to forgive sins. I believe that…

Yeah. I believe it, and I can sing it, but it’s really hard to act out the forgiveness of sins. I know that my body can betray me, and it does—a little bit every day—and it is hard to forgive that, to slow down and to be patient with my reluctant muscles. Similarly, sometimes, I have tense conversations with people I love, and we say hurtful things. It’s hard to forgive then too. And as others have pointed out to us in recent weeks, it is difficult to extend divine generosity to people who are in love with power and wealth, and who would use violence to protect it.

I’m sure that you know how I feel. I know that you feel betrayal and loss, too. Am I right? (Wait…) Yeah. We all have a rough idea of how Jesus feels…

So is there hope in this passage, hope at the foot of the Cross? Yes. There is…but that hope is tenuous, and fragile. We see in verses 40 and 41 that a number of women are watching from a distance, enacting shared grief, as Luke talked about last week. They trust Jesus, and they follow him to the end. A bit later, Joseph of Arimathea gives us hope too, because he gives Jesus’ body a decent burial in a new tomb. All that said…

Our hope is muted, and cloaked in darkness, and we must wait…

We wait, in the darkness of the early spring, for the green pulse of hope. We don’t know entirely what that hope looks like, or when it will come…but we dwell here together, with our yearning, and our feelings of loss. I hope that our empathy and solidarity are enough. Amen.

“No Michaelangelo.”

A few days ago, after an intensive three-day burst of academic writing, I wrote this. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂


No Michaelangelo

“In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michaelangelo.” – Eliot, “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

 

These words emerge without judgment,

Without the chapped feeling that skin has in winter.

No guilt spills out alongside blue-black ink,

For I have done my best to clarify, to polish,

To hew my thoughts into the stones of history.

 

Despite my name, I’m no Michaelangelo;

Though we were both touched by the seraph’s wing,

Our medium differs, in seed as well as fruit.

He sculpts with all the grandeur of the gods;

I write, my winged words pale shadows of their forms.

 

I won’t distort the envy that I feel:

At twenty-one, I couldn’t carve a stone,

Or use a chisel to reveal a face.

No rock-face spoke its ancient name to me.

Instead, I used my brazen words to obscure my point,

To dance around the edges of significance…

Some days and nights, I still perform that way.

More often, now, I feel a rush of bracing air,

Like frigid gales off frozen Baffin Bay,

As I can feel my pen impinge on truth.

Desire’s ancient onyx flame still stirs my soul

To point towards Reality with ink-stained hands.

 

I know that I’ll never sculpt a Hebrew warrior;

I feel that a lean gait that does not lope

Will forever vanish just beyond my eye.

That’s fine, because—just as the Lion says—

My story’s only ever told to me.

I will display my verdant purpose best

If I become myself. I cannot be another,

For these shortened limbs and scattered thoughts

Comprise my integrity, and waken in me

A desire for coherence, though not for unity.

I point towards the spires and buttresses

Of the great castle Diversity, in which all are stones.

I clamber over flying scaffolding

And scale its endless marble city walls;

I watch the living igneous rocks collide, combine,

And collect themselves into the columns of community.

 

Although my glasses are scratched and my hands still bleed,

Although I feel the wind blow through me with each step,

I will not yield to foe, fatigue, or fear.

My destiny is closer than I think,

Sitting at the curve of the road where I cannot see.

I feel the fullness of the living word that impels me;

I take my chisel and my hammer, and I tap away.

In hours, I may see an eye where none was there,

And in days, discern a graceful open ear.

I may not make the David, or even carve

A single bowl of grapes from sullen stones,

But what I make is worthy, for it’s mine.

It still reveals its gentle light to my waiting eye,

And sings its revelations to my sleeping thought.

“Unstrung.”

I wrote this one at the Anglican convent in North York on Saturday afternoon, while I was depressed and frustrated with job-hunting…

I hope you like it!


Unstrung

My wrists still hurt; I feel my listless eyes closing,

And pry my gaze away from glowing serpent screens

To seek out silent snow and buried stones.

I feel like withered Sisyphus; each day’s a stone

That I must roll uphill, to no avail,

Because the smallest stress will send it down,

Still rolling past my frantic tired grasp.

I’m unstrung, like a broken Fender bass

And out of tune, like some ancient woodwind,

Dissonant from years of stern misuse.

 

Oh, you who lives in silence, come to me!

I beckon you from every far-flung star

To shine your endless light upon my path,

To beckon me to claim my destiny

(If “destiny” is not too strong a term).

Reveal me to myself in white-hot light,

And show me what this path is that I walk!

 

My path is made by walking through the snow,

And over every jagged, broken stone.

My wrists still hurt. At times, my feet may bleed,

Preventing me from seeing all the flowers

And floods of verdant grass that make my way.

Sometimes I smell the coffee, sometimes not;

At other times, I catch the stench of weed.

Sometimes, I taste the softest olive bread,

While some loaves turn to ashes in my mouth.

 

I wake, and taste the loamy soils of the grave;

I know no joy in greetings from the dawn.

Instead, I forge ahead with aching limbs,

As though I cut through thickets with a blade

Or strike my oar in dark and stormy seas.

Come, be my anchor in this life’s new storm,

And redirect my fragile, failing craft;

Come, realign my sullen iron strings,

And let me sing your fulsome melodies

In every open, vaulted concert hall,

In every strained and straitened prison-cell.

Come, show yourself to me in fallen snow,

And let me hear you in the boles of trees.

Come. Let me drink your wine of ageless joy

And taste the fruits of heaven’s apple-trees.

 

You come to me in dark-brown cups of tea,

And whisper softly in my silent soul.

We sing together in the frosty air

Of rainbows made of endless neon city lights,

Of crosses in the empty desert spaces,

And unmarked cairns beneath the snowy hill.

My wrists still hurt, but now I know you’re here.

I wait for you to turn and speak my name.

“Refraction.”

I cut myself as I clipped my nails last night, and bled pretty profusely! That served as the catalyst for this poem, which concerns my frustrations on the job-hunt.

I hope that you like this. 🙂


Refraction

Today, the blood is dry. The snow still falls

Upon the empty, ardent, trash-filled streets,

Upon my wounded heart, still gushing blood.

I yearn for meaning in the morning light,

For pleasant walks with lattes in the sun.

My yearning for fulfillment gnaws at me;

I feel a void where pride and joy should be,

An emptiness that swallows each fleck of tasty chourizo,

And gulps down whole each tender sky-bright note

From post-punk or meandering blues guitar.

 

I do not feel the whimsy of a summer’s day;

Instead, my desires are concrete and dense.

I ache for solace from the slowly-drying blood,

For gentle touch to soothe my anxious, twitching limbs,

A lover’s kiss to wash my sullen aches away.

 

Although my scarlet blood still dries upon the page,

And even though my trembling hand still fights

To write the next line, to fill the space,

I hear the winter wind; the snow still falls,

Encompassing everything in penitent white.

Does darkened snowfall call me to repentance?

Is there some errant path I’ve walked these days

From which I must turn, like a slowly-moving train?

My fretful question whistles in the wind.

 

It doesn’t matter now; how could it matter now?

My emptiness and longing are my own.

They’ll still be there tomorrow, when I run

From bus to snow-slick steps to chapel’s warmth;

They’ll dog my soft, determined pace from Bloor

And Dufferin to Dupont, and be where I go.

I hear depression’s soft descending bass,

And sing the melody of faith and fear.

 

In sleep and wakefulness, I’ll hold the line,

Embracing all that darkness gives to me.

I feel the snow overwhelming the old world,

And whispering all the little birds to sleep.

The dawn will come, with its still-nascent fire,

To light my heavy soul upon its way,

To help me to refract the light of stars.

“A Primer on Primordial Ooze.”

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

All right, now. Hold on. You mentioned shithole countries, sir. Which ones do you mean?

Let’s get technical just for a second. I’m sure you don’t mind, stable genius that you are. Do you mind a quick world-history refresher, albeit from a biased source? No? Good.

There is demonstrable proof—science-based proof, the kind I know you love!—that human beings…all of us…emerged from a series of hominid ancestors in Africa. There are fossils and other records telling experts very clearly that humanoid life-forms like ours have existed in some form for a couple million years…and that all of us owe our existence to a certain small subset of those hominids who developed sentience a few hundred thousand years ago in Africa. So, if you want to talk about shithole nations, here’s your first lesson, sir. We all come from the same shithole nation, and have no business throwing feces at each other.

Moreover! Each individual nation has its own unique brand of muck…or, at least, we thought of each other that way. My ancestors come from England (Somersetshire), Scotland (Dumfriesshire, as well as Argyll and the Inner Hebrides), and somewhere in Germany. Not so long ago—a few centuries ago—those nations hated each other’s guts. For instance, it would have taken very strong drink, or very strong firepower, to get a Highland Scot to come to table peaceably with an English person. And not so long ago, what we now call England, Scotland, and Germany were all considered shithole nations, too. The Greeks called everybody who didn’t speak their language “barbarians,” because they all sounded like sheep. Bar, bar, bar. And the Romans—the fellows who basically launched the brand of the eagle, long before your country—looked down on Britons, and later on Saxons, as uncouth in those same ways. These were people fit only to be conquered, with their women raped and their resources pillaged. To the best of my limited knowledge, the island of Britain has been conquered by individual invading armies…seven times? Maybe nine? Thus, if ever there was a shithole nation, sir, then Britain—the place most of my ancestors come from—was indeed such a region.

You’re still following me, right? You are, by your own admission, very smart, so I’m sure I’ve set all your wheels spinning. Pay attention, now. I have one more big thing to say.

I feel like your claim about “shithole nations” is missing the point. Like most nations older than the three here in North America, Latin American, African, and Middle Eastern nations have tons of cultural capital. Think about it: you’re a first-rate businessman, so I know that you love math. I think I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: nations where Arabic is spoken and written gave us the math we use now. They gave to history algebra and other forms of higher mathematics; they laid the foundations of religious tolerance in their law…for the love of Heaven, they preserved Aristotle when younger nations had forgotten his works…and they brought us coffee, which essentially makes the world go round.

Good. I haven’t lost you. Don’t reach for the big Coke button just yet.

I know that I’m preaching to the choir; I’m sure that you already know all the things I’ve pointed out to you, good hombre that you are. Let’s just recap: we all come from the same place, Africa; Britain and other European nations were also called garbage heaps back in the day; and the nations older than the one you govern have given the world important things too.

And you`ve told us that you have the best words, right? Here’s a word that I’m sure you’ve heard used recently: xenophobia. That means fear of strangers. But, I mean, you’re super smart, and you’re currently the head of state in a powerful country…so surely you don’t need to be afraid of anyone. That’s just something to think about, sir. Go talk to Mr. Putin about it.

I’ll send in the guy with the big red shoes with your cheeseburger on my way out. Good night.