Four Word Sad Story

A FOUR WORD SAD STORY

Two hundred fifteen children.

– KW-

“Write a sad story…in only four words.”
This was the prompt I spotted on Facebook a week ago, posted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I wrote what immediately came to mind, being immersed in media, conversation, and reflection on the week prior’s news of the undocumented remains of two hundred fifteen children found on the grounds of a since closed residential school in Kamloops, BC. An unearthing revealing the underbelly of my country’s colonial past – Government policy, from 1883 to the 1990s, enacted by its agents and police, whereby First Nations children were forcibly seized from their parents and placed in residential schools to have the Indian schooled and worked and punished and abused out of them. And we wonder what else is hidden and how many more remains of innocent Indigenous children are to be found?

I’ll close with the lyrics of a song I heard recently by folk singer-songwriter-activist and all around fine person, Maria Dunn.

LITTLE ONE

You are that little one
Sacred as the morning sun
In your mother’s arms
Your father’s heart the same
Taken from your family
By brutal, bared, bureaucracy
Instead of opening your mind
They shut you up in shame

You are that little one – hold on

What child denied her mother tongue
Underfed and preyed upon
Who among us could survive
A stripping to our soul?
In waves of rage that rock you now
Any other might have drowned
But you’re still here
Determined to be whole

You are that little one – hold on
You are beloved – hold on

How slow to open up our eyes
Say out loud “we spun those lies”
Sorry’s but a start upon the road
It’s not enough
Until we walk the path that shows
To every child who suffers so
Your life matters
You are truly loved

Much love and kindest regards, dear friends.

Having Come This Far

HAVING COME THIS FAR

I’ve been through what my through was to be
I did what I could and couldn’t
I was never sure how I would get there

I nourished an ardor for thresholds
for stepping stones and for ladders
I discovered detour and ditch

I swam in the high tides of greed
I built sandcastles to house my dreams
I survived the sunburns of love

No longer do I hunt for targets
I’ve climbed all the summits I need to
and I’ve eaten my share of lotus

Now I give praise and thanks
for what could not be avoided
and for every foolhardy choice

I cherish my wounds and their cures
and the sweet enervations of bliss
My book is an open life

I wave goodbye to the absolutes
and send my regards to infinity
I’d rather be blithe than correct

Until something transcendent turns up
I splash in my poetry puddle
and try to keep God amused.

– James Broughton –

Our province has just announced a fast track re-opening post Covid plan, to make this “the best summer ever.” More slogans and clichés that fall flat on these ears. Few of us have received our second vaccinations with no word as to when. So until that time, having come this far maintaining safety protocols for me and my community, I’ll do my best to keep God amused as I’m sure she’s been with all these political shenanigans.

Pray for Peace

PRAY FOR PEACE

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail,
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, twirling pizzas–

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your Visa card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

– Ellen Bass –

This poem prayer was posted this week on social media, I suppose in response to the current re-ignition of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Today, I read that a ceasefire has been called.
May we see peace, bring peace, pray for peace, make peace, and be peace.

A Settlement

A SETTLEMENT

Look, it’s spring. And last year’s loose dust has turned
into this soft willingness. The wind-flowers have come
up trembling, slowly the brackens are up-lifting their
curvaceous and pale bodies. The thrushes have come
home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow,
happiness, music, ambition.

And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to
go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of
this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my
mind.

***

Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you

for everything.

– Mary Oliver –
What Do We Know, 2002

I Worried

The Arches, Newfoundland

I WORRIED

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

– Mary Oliver –

Recently this poem has shown up on friends’ feeds and in other social media. Personal life circumstances and the still staggering impacts of the pandemic here and around the world are reason enough for the reminder.
I was taught to worry in that less than obvious way parents transmit what to do, though not necessarily what’s true nor even effective. It’s become a habit of mind, an addiction, even. And it never amounts to anything, always comes to nothing.
When I catch myself, and have the presence of mind, I turn worry into prayer, the kind that Anne Lamott describes as the “help, thanks and wow” prayer. That helps, even if only by making me feel better and giving me space to put it down for a while.

Knife

Molokai, Hawaii

KNIFE

Something
just now
moved through my heart
like the thinnest of blades
as that red-tail pumped
once with its great wings
and flew above the gray, cracked
rock wall.

It wasn’t
about the bird, it was
something about the way
stone stays
mute and put, whatever
goes flashing by.

Sometimes,
when I sit like this, quiet,
all the dreams of my blood
and all outrageous divisions of time
seem ready to leave,
to slide out of me.
Then, I imagine, I would never move.

By now
the hawk has flown five mile
sat least,
dazzling whoever else has happened
to look up.
I was dazzled. But that
wasn’t the knife.

It was the sheer, dense wall
of blind stone
without a pinch of hope
or a single unfulfilled desire
sponging up and reflecting,
so brilliantly,
as it has for centuries,
the sun’s fire.

– Mary Oliver –

The photo above, taken when we spent a few days on the “off the beaten path” Hawaiian island of Molokai, might be a better correspondence with the image evoked by Mary Oliver’s words. Yet, I love how LIFE finds its way into cracks and crevices, making beauty within the improbable.

Agrigento, Sicilia

Homage III – to social consciousness

Pádraig Ó Tuama

your voice the companion to my otherwise silent walks
reciting others’ poems in my ears
offering interpretation and invitation into
new contexts, meanings, shapes, and forms

I’d thought that glorious enough until
I heard your voice recite your words
interpret and invite me into hearing anew
holy scripture and story

your poems a clarion call
to love and justice
to curiosity and compassion
to wondering as I walk
who am I and how am I complicit
in empire’s delusion?

Naomi Shihab Nye

hearing her disembodied voice
coming to you across the plaza in Columbia
telling you of kindness and its peculiar kin
you take the only possessions you have left –
save the clothing on your back –
and with pen and notebook alone
take dictation, writing words that become
iconic for their naked, known truth

too, in Albuquerque’s airport
you hear her call
and with your broken Arabic and wide-open heart
you tend to the distressed grandmother
both of you delayed at the gate
soon a party breaks out
as Arabic cookies and American juice boxes are shared
community made among women
dusted for those hours of waiting
in something far sweeter than powdered sugar

something my heart yearns for
with every poem of yours I read

This is my third and final set of poems written as tribute to poets for National Poetry Month. I “met” Pádraig Ó Tuama last spring walking with Annie and listening to him host the podcast, Poetry Unbound. Becoming a fan, I discovered he was Poet-in-Residence at NYC’s Church of the Heavenly Rest, leading virtual workshops on contemporary interpretation of scripture, guided by his work in social justice and conflict mediation in Ireland. Naomi Shihab Nye came to my attention with her wondrous poem of tending and befriending at the Albuquerque Airport, Gate A-4. Her work often sheds light on the plight of refugees, immigration, cultural conflict, and belonging. Both poets incisively invite me into deepening consciousness of my privilege, complicity, and commitments.

Homage II – to noticing

Mary Oliver

you were the first poet whose words I memorized
your famous question becoming
my mantra
my north star
for realizing mine was
a life wild and precious and
worthy of planning

you said you got saved by poetry and the beauty of the world
that in your later years Rumi became your daily companion
bringing refinement to – what in my eyes are – your already perfect observations
your morning walks with pencil and notebook
pausing to notice and note, your practice
rendering with words the details of God’s creation, your gift
amazement, your holy vow

bentlily (Samantha Reynolds)

yours are words that fit exactly the shape of holes in wounded hearts
you write one a day –
pithy, poignant, piercing –
about your life’s everyday moments
about your husband, children, friends, and jeans
sometimes
less than twenty lines, barely more than twenty words
those are the ones that
take my breath away
urge me to winnow mine to essence
to notice well and
choose what to let be

Today, two more poems to two more poets whose words instruct me in the art of noticing life, and in so doing, make sacred the mundane. Mary Oliver needs no introduction. Vancouver’s Samantha Reynolds, writing under the pen name “bentlily”, began writing a poem a day ten years ago “to find more joy in the tedious rhythm of life as a new mother.” It’s a practice she maintains to this day, delighting us who receive her weekly collection in our inboxes.

Homage I – to sacred inspiration

Konya, Turkey – the school and final resting place of Jalaluddin Rumi

Rumi

eight hundred years ago  
words tumbled from your mouth as you whirled in ecstasy 
caught by the quill of your scribe 
creating images read the world over in a future unforeseen  
a reed burned hollow yearning for your breath 
a ground knelt upon and kissed in hundreds of ways 
a house guest greeted warmly as holy visitor  

your own blazing love and searching,
afire with your Beloved’s glory  
now the flame that lights  
now the song that dances  
me home  

Christine Valters Paintner

a modern monk moored in a Celtic landscape 
contemplation and creativity your stock in trade 
prayer and painting  
poetry and dance 
song and silence 
evoked by your 
Benedictine vows and 
wide awake discerning eyes 
where illness and grief have polished smooth the cave of your heart 
making space for 
the shimmering of earth, wind, sea, and sky and 
the wisdom of ancients and ancestors 
to tell their stories and shape your words into  
offerings for a holy communion

As April is National Poetry Month, in appreciation and celebration, I have written a poem to each of six poets whose words, for me, inspire, instruct, and illuminate. This week, through the lens of sacred inspiration, I write to Rumi, the founder of the Whirling Dervish community of Sufism and author of several of its sacred texts, and to Christine Valters Painter, poet and abbess of the Abbey of the Arts, a global online meeting space for contemplation and creative expression. In the past year, I’ve participated in several of the Abbey’s retreats and shared here impressions and impacts of their numerous prompts and invitations.

I Am The Bread

I AM THE BREAD

This supper a somber affair.
The feast of Passover always is, but tonight is more so.

A foreboding hangs in the air, though it appears only the man they call Jesus knows its source. The other men, twelve in total, follow their master’s lead, talking quietly among themselves, unsure of what is unfolding.

I am the unleavened bread made special to order for this gathering. My flavor is bland but when I am broken and dipped into the finest quality olive oil, I come alive in the mouths of those who chew me.
I fill their stomachs with a hefty goodness.

Now I hear the man they call Jesus say I am his body.
What does this mean?

Now I absorb my cousin, the heavy, dark red wine that each man sips, as the same man says, it is his blood.
What does this mean?

Together, I and my cousin, the fruit of the vine made wine,
are proclaimed the body and blood of this man. I know not how this is so.
But I do know that as each man slowly chews me, and reverently sips my cousin, savors us together with this man’s words, we warm their bodies as we nourish and enliven them.

Now, we are part of them and what is to come.

Now we, in each of their bodies, travel to the Mount of Olives, the home of our friend, the olive oil. 

Now, I sit heavy like a stone in their stomachs as they hear their master tell them they will fall away from him. I feel their stomachs clench around me.

One man, emboldened by that inner alchemy between me and my cousin, steps close to his master and passionately declares his love and commitment.

Now, this same man, resisting the bile rising in his gullet from us as we sour in his belly, the reaction to being told he will soon deny his master three times, more passionately denies this.

Soon, for some, our life giving to be denied, too.

– KW –

An experiment in Midrash, the ancient Jewish practice of re-imagining sacred text, I wrote this piece during my participation last spring in the Abbey of the Arts “Soul of a Pilgrim” online retreat. As weekly my photo and poem feature, I’m posting this a day early, in acknowledgement of the Last Supper, commemorated in the Christian tradition on Maundy Thursday.