Review: Poetry in Michigan in Poetry

It seems strange to me, how many of these poems wind around death: by drowning, by black ice, a riot, drowning, shipwreck, drowning.

I suppose I still drive with the casual recklessness of one still too young to feel properly mortal,
and moreover, have not frequented rivers or lakes as much as one might,
and as such,
I have never regarded Michigan as, chiefly, the place that might well kill me.

Ten out of ten people die, after all:
in Texas, or Finland, or deep corners of close communities in Greece,
no matter how long that last death takes

(though that IS, perhaps, the matter, when black ice kills an undergrad –
perhaps the loud clear silences of grief float to the top,
the cream of all our poetic impulses)

– anyway, though Death surrounds us all and always,
it’s always seemed gentler here than otherwhere:
the nation’s, the world’s
earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes,
flash floods deeper than a broken sump pump’s 4 inches of water,
and calling Belfor to rid you of boxes
buried in your basement 20 years or more.

Of course the water can kill you
(Flint, anyone?  that
is what you call ironic)

but don’t forget that,
generally,
it enables you to live, first.

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gratitude

It’s already been two years
since I got the call
that my father had rung 911
– chest pains –
a stay at Sinai Grace,
and every single idiosyncrasy I’d miss
flashing behind my eyes.

Which bit of tang
helps one find sweetness in the move,
the boxes,
the sorting that he’s still around for,
for better or worse.

It’s just over two years
and/or just under nine months
since my nieces were born,
various degrees of early, tiny, and fragile.
Babies can die, said my pastor,
maintaining that
being subject to death,
they were subject to sin,
q.e.d.

God be praised for baptism, of course,
defense against the second death –
but God be praised more
that these tiny breaths
(and/or huge, red, screeching cries)
persist, right now, against the first.

And now it’s just over two weeks
Since hearing the sweetest “no”
– that your body is not in rebellion
(well.  no more than is common),
that today will not be the day to fight
to quell that invisible uprising.

Surely there are sour notes,
somewhere along the days
but by God I can’t taste a one of them
over the profoundly sweet relief
that today is not that day.

doggerel, occasioned by cocoa butter

If you aren’t brand new here, you know that I’ve got mild depression, which gets a bit less mild when the weather turns colder and the days shorter.

Thalia has long commended cocoa butter to my use, for days when ye olde brain chemicals are not leaping to attention as they should be, and promised to send me some back in September to sample.  “Maybe you won’t love it?  Maybe it won’t be worth your while, in which case you would REALLY hate spending $16-30 on a pound of it.  But maybe you’ll put it in your coffee and it will make you want to SING!”

I have been advised that this parcel is now in the mail, and shall reach me next week!

It’s certainly too early for Christmas carols, and a skosh too early for Advent hymns, but…now is the acceptable time for this silly rhyme:

Come, O long-expected cocoa,
Fashioned to aid our minds as we

bear the pangs of Eve’s transgression,
mood swings that join her legacy – 
You, O therobroma unguent,
You, O moisturizer sweet,
Come and allay our gloom and sadness,
In our coffee, or as we eat!

cocoa butter

Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Source: Good Friday; the Stations of the Cross

Malcolm Guite has written this beautiful sequence of sonnets, and shares with them St. Alban’s Stations of the Cross, Linda Richardson’s artwork, and his own audio recordings of the sonnets.

Among the lines that touched me most:

He and the earth he made were never closer,
Divinity and dust come face to face.
We flinch back from his via dolorosa,
He sets his face like flint and takes our place,
Staggers beneath the black weight of us all
And falls with us that he might break our fall.


Be with us when the road is twice as long
As we can bear. By weakness make us strong.

 

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.
But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.
And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,
And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.

Review: Luci Shaw

Every once in awhile, I find a new author (of prose or poetry, whichever) and decide to get as many of his or her books as possible, then read them in a great flurry to form a very clear concept of that writer’s style.  

It usually backfires, because I put off even the activities I enjoy, and fail to read them until they’re all due back at the library.  My tsundoku works against me and I end up reading, like, 2 books of a potential dozen.  

But that fate has been averted, more or less, with Luci Shaw.  I discovered her in trying to find poems about Petoskey stones (which, as you may recall, I adore hunting on the Lake Michigan shoreline).

shaw-petoskeystoneTurning up Polishing the Petoskey Stone: what a boon!  There’s only one poem about Petoskeys in it, but the book’s introduction explains why that title was chosen.  Shaw’s friend showed her how the fossils could be buffed on anything – one’s blue jeans, the arm of a chair, the fabric of a car door interior.  After a road trip’s-worth of rubbing at a stone, the resulting sheen made Luci consider God, polishing each one of us individually; our particular sorrows, joys, dull moments, energetic evenings, manic Mondays are all part of the process of making us shine forth.

Polishing the Petoskey Stone astonished me with its wisdom and imagery.  Every other poem, if not every single one, provided illumination of God’s work through a wealth of natural pictures: frogs, shells, the view from an airplane window, circles, blood.  So much of it provided new and weighty illustrations about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

I eventually recognized that the sub-headings within were not simply section titles but the titles of earlier collections.  Polishing the Petoskey Stone contains poems originally published in Listen to the Green, The Secret Trees, The Sighting, and Postcard from the Shore.  Not all of them, but about two-thirds.  

Likewise, a handful from The Secret Trees turn up in The Green Earth and Water Lines; accompanied-by-angelswhole sections of Water Lines in Water My Soul; various selections from this and that book in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation.  Where there is any overlap of theme, there will be an overlap of poems. 

And yet, the introductions to each book, the occasional endnotes, the different structure, and the fact that good poetry is worth re-reading and rumination all add up to a complete lack of regret for getting them all out.  

I tried to read in order, more or less, but the strictures of time and the MelCat system mean that I read certain later books earlier on.  Harvesting the Fog is a later book – published in 2010, not the 70’s or the early aughts.  I didn’t care for it half as much, as it seemed more concerned with simple description than with embodying the intangible.  

I still have six books of hers to read, and 4 more to track down and read thereafter, but I doubt they’ll change my judgment of Shaw: carefully observant, fresh and evocative, somewhat familiar in subject and tone to those fond of CS Lewis (while different in form).  I commend her to you all as a poet who will refresh your soul.

Kenning the Body

“If you treated anyone else as you have treated yourself during the past six hours, you would be guilty of assault.  This will cease.  From this moment on, you will show your body the respect it deserves as God’s creation.  You will allow your arms to heal and then you will embark on a sensible and moderate course of physical therapy.  You will eat regularly.  You will rest properly.  You will care for your own body as you would for that of a friend to whom you are indebted.  …During these months and for all time, you will cease to arrogate to yourself responsibility that lies elsewhere.  Is that clear?”

– Vincenzo Giuliani in The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

 

Your fleshhouse and bones-chamber
is the hall of your soul.

Vessel of clay it may be,
but by God
its contents are precious:
your sinew and skeleton garment
is your spirit’s place.

Do not destroy the potter’s work.

Stop fretting on all those slender jars
and their busy shining use;
be emptied, be filled,
emptied, filled,
to glorious ends.

Fill your heart’s coffer
and mindhoard
as filling the home
for your friend
and your lord.