a poem for clara rose (what i remember of junior high)

Her middle name was Rose,
and she reminded me of one.
Small and fragile,
like a petal that would tear if too tightly pulled,
she was a flower.
The thorns were never hers, though -
they were put there by the barbs of other students’
words, the ones who
taunted her for being different.

Clara Rose was special.
She combined words into one sentence
that you would never dream of ever putting together;
she had a habit of scrunching up her nose
to keep her glasses on, and her
voice was unlike any that I have ever heard.
They laughed at her, as kids do when
they do not understand a person.
They laughed and the cruelty of junior-highers
is a yet unrivaled form of inhumanity.
But Clara did not hate – she seemed
incapable of it – and instead she stuck with us.

Once, in eighth grade, we were
practicing throwing and catching a baseball in gym class
and Clara was, of course, in our group.
My friends and I tried our hardest
to teach Clara how to catch a ball but it was hopeless -
she cringed in fear every time the ball came near.
Nevertheless, we kept trying, my softball-playing friends
utilizing every ounce of their skill to help her.
I remember the gym teacher standing
a distance away, watching.
After class, she called us into her office.
Said, “Thank you” and handed
us a piece of candy.
She meant it in kindness but I remember

not eating the candy, that we all
threw it away, that we did not want any reward
for showing compassion to Clara
other than the smiles and laughter
of a rose learning how to bloom.

Clara became a familiar shadow by our side,
the puppy at our heels that we could always count on
to be with us. Every time we moved up a grade,
she was with us, never in our
classes but always at our lunch table,
our field trip group, our
team in gym class.

The only time I ever went to the principal’s office
was because of Clara.
A group of girls who sat near us
in the school cafeteria took every second they
weren’t chewing on food to chew on us.
My friends and I ignored their barbs aimed at us,
but when they took to telling Clara
to bark for them like a dog, we had had enough.
We asked a supervisor if we could
change seats because the girls
were bullying Clara, and somehow, I still cannot
remember exactly how, we were
gathered into Mr. White’s office. A bald man
with an extraordinarily round face
shining with sweat, he was the assistant principal.
I remember clearly that his response
to our defense for Clara was to say, “Well,
the other girls were in here crying,” as if
their tears somehow made us to be the villains.

Clara walked the halls of my school for four years.
Sometime in my freshman year
of high school, she skipped up to me
and told me that she was moving.
The next week, she was gone.
I don’t think many people realized that she was no
longer with us – the ones who noticed didn’t care.
I don’t even know if Clara missed us,
if she was truly capable of realizing we were no longer
with her.
But my friends and I, we stood in our circle
in the mornings and we remembered
the rose petaled girl with
mischievous brown eyes
and we gathered a bouquet
of memories in our hands.

 

prayer: my harness to Christianity (or, why “I hope” is not enough)

There are days when the only thing that seems to be tethering me to Christianity is my aching need to pray for somebody else. My faith is weak. My love feels cold. My beliefs are held in ransom by a news story, a Texas execution, any one of the tragedies I read about in the news.

But despite all these things, there are still people in my life that I care deeply about, people who I want so badly to grow, or to experience healing, or to be set free in the Truth. And apart from the ability Christianity gives me to pray, what else can I do? Hope that by the power of my own words I may communicate something that will stick? Perhaps one result of being a writer is that I know just how frail my words are, how weak their ability to move. I think that there are two proofs for the existence of God that we cannot deny: one is the feeling of gratitude and having no one to thank; the other, and the one that is on my mind today, is the feeling of compassion for somebody else and having no ability to pray. I don’t mean that expressions of condolence and acts of kindness do no good for the hurting. But in the end, without God, the strongest language one can use is, “I hope.” What is without-God hope? Is it simply euphemistic for human desire, for “I want”? For a blind shot at whatever fate or luck holds the person’s life? What can hope without God possibly be but the random and illogical confidence that the random and illogical world will somehow specifically and logically answer your desire? You cannot have hope without faith. To hope is an act of faith – to trust, to have some sort of specific confidence that cannot possibly exist in a world without God.

And so I pray. I pray for my friend to know Jesus even when I have so little confidence that such a thing will ever happen. I pray the same prayer over and over and over again because maybe the 1000th time won’t be answered, but maybe the next time will. I pray because I cannot not-pray. There is nothing else I can appeal to, no one else I can ask to change another person’s heart. I pray because I love. And some days, I keep with Christianity for no other reason than because I need to pray.

Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

 

-William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Speech

a crossword puzzle conversation

Inspired by Sarah Kay’s poem, Questions and Answers, In No Particular Order

How far back can you remember?
The walk-in closet in my bedroom.
Should we tell the teacher?
November 2014, a week before Thanksgiving.
But didn’t it hurt?
With my poetry. Nobody else.

Is it part of being an artist?
Taboo – I’m an expert at concealing.
Why do you always keep your door closed?
The ink smears on the paper whenever I write.
Why did you love rollerblading so much?
There was always a fascination with darkness.
Do you like your name?
That’s why I’m always careful when I love.
Doesn’t it leave a bruise?
I was running away from something.

When was the first time they started asking the right questions?
I never thought to ask.

“trying to remember how to pray”

Our Father, who art in Heaven
(Even when you don’t seem a father; even when you seem farther than the furthest stranger, even when the love and warmth and nearness I associate with a father do not resonate at all with how you feel…)

Hallowed be Thy name
(I don’t want to respect you. If I’m honest, my heart is fighting so hard from the command to honor and exalt your name because I don’t want to exalt something that is so hard to see, that is so hard to feel, somebody that can do whatever he wants and still be within the bounds of acceptability because what he did on that cross two thousand years ago means that anything and everything is fair game. There is nothing you can say or do that is not allowed, and there is nothing you can call me to say and do that is not fair game. But it is a command. Hallowed be thy name, Lord, even when that name feels foreign on my tongue.)

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven
(I want to do things my way. That’s part of what it is to be human – to have my own agenda, and my own agenda for how to do my own agenda. I want it to be quick and painless. I want to see the gold before the fire, the empty tomb before the cross. Help me to not just yield to your will but to love it because I believe that somehow it is good. Good, even when it scares me to death. Good, even though I don’t know what it is. Good, because it is yours, and all that is yours can only be good.)

Give us today our daily bread
(And yet, even as I say these words, I want so much more than this daily bread – I want tomorrow’s daily bread, tomorrow’s strength, tomorrow’s courage, because what if tomorrow never comes? What if I need a double portion today? Or I want less than the daily bread of aching and exile and homelessness. But today is all I have in my hands. It is all that fits in these clenched fists. Fill it with what you want to fill it with.)

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
(Forgiveness; it lies at odds with every single instinct in my human body of sweat and tears, blood and veins. It is drinking my own poison, and yet that is what you did for me when you drank the cup of wrath. Forgive me, Lord, of my poverty, of my filth, of my covenant-breaking, that i may find the grace to forgive those who have hurt me. Forgive me, Lord, even though I deserve nothing but condemnation.)

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
(There is so much evil here. In this world, on the daily news, in the hearts of the people around me, but foremost in myself. There is sin in every vein in my body. And there is a greater evil trying to seduce me with lies, “win me with honest trifles, to betray in deepest consequence.” Lead me not into temptation, but walk with me through the trials.)

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever
(It’s all yours. None of it is mine, as much as I’d like to think it is, as much as I act like it is. It’s all yours because you gave it all up. You took nothing so now you have everything – all the glory, all the power. Help me not to fool myself into thinking it is mine, or to think that it could ever be mine without being corrupted.)

Amen
(Have it your way. I give up. I relinquish my rights. Go ahead, do what you want. Amen, because as far away as you feel, as hard it is to believe that you love me, as impossible as the gospel may seem, I know that the only good in me comes from you. I have no power of my own. Amen. Your will. Your way. Amen.)

***

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”  -2 Samuel 24:24

the question every artist asks

Why do I wrote poetry?

I’m not really sure. It sure as heck isn’t because it’s easy to write (“Writing is easy – all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”) And it isn’t because the end result leaves me a little more clear on what I’m thinking and feeling; in fact, often times it’s just the opposite. I finish a poem and have even less of an idea of what’s going on inside of me than I did when I began it. When you ask a poet what their poem is about and they refuse to tell you, it isn’t because they don’t want to say. It’s because they don’t know.

So why do I write poetry if it isn’t easy, it isn’t enlightening, and it isn’t exactly what I’d call “fun”? I guess the most honest answer I can think of is that I write poetry because somehow the process of translating thought and emotion onto the page is the closest thing to purity that I know of. I don’t mean the reactants, the emotions behind the poem; those are often dark and tainted. And I don’t mean the end result of the poem. It is just as easy to write a dishonest poem as it is to make a dishonest painting or tell a dishonest story. But the actual translation of emotion and thought into poetry is a reaction – like a chemical reaction. Something changes in the process, something is created, and that act of creating – not the result but the process – is in of itself an entity, a noun. And that entity is pure. It is pure. It is untainted. It makes me feel clean in a way prayer or church rarely does.

 

pangea

From within
there is no from the outside.
The space inside
of bars
is the entirety of the
world
for the caged animal.

A flower rests
on the other side of
a wooden fence. Dirt dresses
the quiet petals in a facade of
spoiled beauty.
We step over it without
a second glance.
We define it by the ugliness of our
own existence and
declare its worth (the lack
thereof)

as something qualitative.

You are looking
(and not finding) the exit
from this mess of knots and nooses.
From the inside, the
metal bars are confining; from
the mother’s point of view,
they protect – a
safety net made of cages.

I am afraid
of glass existences,
of unlocked cages with
a dangerous animal inside.
I am afraid of pangea,
where what once was one
becomes shattered
and never knows it had
formerly known
a more complete form of
wholeness.