lenten journal: what the poet said

0
339

I love it when a poem catches me by surprise.

Most of the time, I do a pretty good job looking for them, but every so often (I’m happy to say) one shows up somewhere unexpectedly, ambushes me with alliteration or metaphor, and I am the better for it. Today was one of those days. Our worship today at Pilgrim was both Children and Youth Sunday and the ordination of Jake de Nap, one of our former students who is now a hospice chaplain in St. Louis. The children led the liturgy and read scripture. They were awesome: well prepared, enthusiastic, engaged. Jake had picked out the scripture readings for the day and, I found out, had also chosen a poem. This poem by Adrienne Rich. That caught me by surprise.

For Memory

Old words:  trust   fidelity
Nothing new yet to take their place.
I rake leaves, clear the lawn, October grass
painfully green beneath the gold
and in this silent labor thoughts of you
start up
I hear your voice:   disloyalty   betrayal
stinging the wires
I stuff the old leaves into sacks
and still they fall and still
I see my work undone
One shivering rainswept afternoon
and the whole job to be done over
I can’t know what you know
unless you tell me
there are gashes in our understandings
of this world
We came together in a common
fury of direction
barely mentioning difference
(what drew our finest hairs
to fire
the deep, difficult troughs
unvoiced)
I fell through a basement railing
the first day of school and cut my forehead open—
did I ever tell you? More than forty years
and I still remember smelling my own blood
like the smell of a new schoolbook
And did you ever tell me
how your mother called you in from play
and from whom? To what? These atoms filmed by ordinary dust
that common life we each and all bent out of orbit from
to which we must return simply to say
this is where I came from
this is what I knew
The past is not a husk   yet change goes on
Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark—
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

Without parsing the poem to death, I have to say there were a couple of lines that stopped me in my tracks. The first was

there are gashes in our understandings
of this world.

Not gaps. Gashes. As we endeavor to make sense of what is happening to us, much less to others around the world, there are huge tears in the fabric of our comprehension. What a powerful word picture. The second one comes at the end of the poem, in simpler language:

freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.

These lines make we want to stand on my front porch and holler, “Yes!” as loudly as I can. Freedom isn’t being able to do whatever I want, it is remembering what I was called to do and doing it. The gashes in our understanding are healed by the quotidian care and compassion we offer one another.

Old words:  trust   fidelity
Nothing new yet to take their place.

Nothing indeed, thank God.

Peace,
Milton

0

Leave a Reply