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Noticing

April 19, 2012 2 comments

A few observations made when I was visiting the Vienna Coffee House in Maryville, TN.

Noticing

I’ve been too busy to notice
the light vibration of tearing sugar packets,
the pattern coffee and cream swirling,
the gentle sound of spoon tapping
against the sides of a warm cup
soothing my cupped hands.

I’ve been too busy to notice
three green glass bottles
full of light and patches of color,
standing on the mantle
beside a cobalt blue jar, and
a plant that might suddenly bloom.

I’ve been too busy to notice
the older man sitting beside the mantle,
chewing gum,
drinking coffee,
reading page after page
of notes scribbled on a yellow legal pad,
and wearing plaid pajamas pants and dress shoes,
with the textured face of a character from
from a Finnish film.

I’ve been too busy to notice
table of wrought iron with
curls to the left
and curls to the right
in way that makes me think of
flowers blooming on a sunny hillside

I’ve been too busy to notice
how the window frames my view,
focusing my vision on brown lines
of a tin roof surrounded by tree branches that
reach out of frame toward light.

I’ve been too busy to notice
the purple molding separating
the pink ceiling from the beige wall,
and the strange spelling of beige,
which I momentarily forgot
until Google corrected my “color baise” to “color beige.”

there’s so much more I failed to notice
like the wondrous shape of noses
the way a smile shines light into the eyes
the familiar sound of laughter in the unfamiliar sound of
two German ladies talking at the rod iron table.

I’ve been too busy to notice
how the marbleized door handle reflects
me and my coffee,
the green bottles, the older man,
the wrought iron table with the German ladies,
the window, and the purple molding.

Doug Floyd, April 18, 2011

Categories: poetry

Autumn Report on a Summer Morning

August 2, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo - Autumn Sun and Leaves by Adam Hillliker (via Creative Commons)

Today I as I reflected life through poem by Michael O’Siadhail, I saw a snapshot of my own life–both the joy and the ache. In “Autumn Report” O’Siadhail describes the haze of autumn’s tilted sun casting light across his path and life. A superscript above the poem quotes from Dante’s Comedy, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (in the middle of the road in my life).

This superscript casts its own light across the glory of this “summer’s afterthought.” As I read, I realize O’Siadhail is catching a glimpse of his own momentary existence. As I as read on, I realize he is catching a glimpse of all our momentary existences.
He is writing from a place that sounds insignificant at first,

…- so propped in this sidestreet
doorway, a gap on the pavement between two vans
affords a patio where sunlight swabs our regrets,

In this sun-captured moment, he “snatch(es) the tenor of the whole.” From one tiny spot, in one fleeting moment, he beholds the whole of life and glory of being alive. And from this one place, he offers a brief account of his life. He writes,
I tender friends and shareholders an interim report:

In this place of seeming insignificance, O’Siadhail begins with praise, with rejoicing, with proclamation of good news. For even in the fading summer of his life, he has been blessed to live. Makes me think of something GK Chesterton once wrote, “Merely to exist for a moment, and see a white patch of daylight on a gray wall, ought to be an answer to all the pessimism of the world.” From his tiny, unnoticed spot in the universe, O’Siadhail rejoices in the glory that surrounds him.

Even in this fall, wholehearted life reverberates
some almighty gaiety, invites me to adore
the immense integrity; wines my veins until
I’m sure my frame will warp under such
exuberance. I’ve never felt so near the centre
of all that is.

O’Siadhail’s proclaims that the glory of this being aliveness “wines my veins.” He is drunk with the joy of life bursting forth within and around him. Once again I turn to Chesterton for commentary. He writes, “At the back of our brains, so to speak, there is a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life is to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair may suddenly understand that he is actually alive, and be happy.”

In this moment of joyous realization, O’Siadhail wants to write, to speak, to sing in the primal wonder of Eden.

…history has
accumulated this moment, now funnels through me
the urge to utter. In this instant, I’m Adam
the first to mouth, to feel the garden overflow
in word and rhythm.

Yet even in this moment of wonder, he is fully aware of his many weaknesses, his failures, his shame. As he remembers, “idly watch(ing) the digital clock matchstick away my time…,” he also remembers the power of love that unjailed him.

…Some all-embracing love
forgives my shortfall and I am glad to present
this reconciled account.

Before he moves on from this brief autumn reflection and re-immerses into the “entrepreneurial everyday rush(ing) forward” O’Siadhail offers an assessment and challenge to himself as well as his hearers.

…Why hedge our bets
or play too cool; detached we might miss
the passion to broaden the bore, deepen the joy?

As I pause on this humid summer morning to reflect on O’Siadhail’s “Autumn Report.” I find myself quickened to the heart. In the midst of a life the is rushing past us, we might do well to pause remember the glory of being alive, the opportunity to step forward into the risk of loving and living deeply.

Thomas Merton once wrote, “To hope is to risk frustration. Therefore, make up your mind to risk frustration.” In the midst of disappointments, in the midst of failures, in the midst of loss, we are tempted to retreat into the safety, into passionless pragmatism. But everyday each of us are invited to “broaden the bore, deepen the joy.”

Whether we work as accountants or actors, cashiers or clowns, all of us are alive. All of us have the privilege of being immersed into the vital stream of existence. All of us are invited to take the risk of loving deeply, living fully, bringing our whole selves into the splendor of the moment. Let us not lose this glorious moment in the ashes of regret or the disappointment of dreams not realized.

Instead, let us lift up our voices in thanksgiving the Creator of all and breathe deep the glory of this life He has given us. Let us follow O’Siadhail as he spends his life in rejoicing, blessing and praising.

…Please give me
a few moments more, just to exult in this
last reflux of summer, luxuriate its praise.
Then gambling on, I’ll bless the breeze and go.

Categories: poetry

The Night Will Never Stay

June 9, 2010 4 comments

Night Trees with Stars (photo by jpstanley via Creative Commons)

As I’ve stated before, poetry softens my heart to listen. So I often start my time of reading and reflection with a poem. Currently, I am soaking in the penetrating words of Michael O’Siadhail. Today’s poem was such a treat that I wanted to share it with you. In this poem, O’Siadhail alludes to a poem by Eleanor Farjeon,

The Night Will Never Stay.

The night will never stay,
The night will still go by,
Though with a million stars
You pin it to the sky,
though you bind it with the blowing wind
And buckle it with the moon,
The night will slip away
Like sorrow or a tune.

With her poem in the back of your mind, listen to the words, phrases and images of O’Siadhail as he explores the turning of seasons, of night to day, of dark to light.

Springnight

Framed by our window, trunks and branches
of chestnut trees are handbook illustrations
of arteries, veins charcoaled on a frosty sky.

Unnoticed tee-shaped shoots fuzz the outline.
After a winter’s wait an increment is sprung
in slow motion, growth catching us unawares.

Night is falling. The foreground darkens.
A trial of mauve clouds along the skyline
tones into the murk. A change of scene.

I gaze. You, my love, are tucked in sleep.
On edge, I begin loneness of a night;
all eyes and ears I’m keeping this watch.

Starlight throws a window oblong on our wall,
a screen where homing cars project the trees–
slowly, then rushing back in previews of dawn.

The night will never stay. A half-refrain
from the primary reader unreels in my mind
like a mantra. Will a bird come on cue?.

A distant lemon streak. The trees blush.
In my vigil a world is disclosing its meaning:
wonderful terror, terrifying wonder of waiting.

Categories: poetry

Mei Yao Ch’en on Spring, Death and Beauty

March 1, 2010 1 comment

(Photo used with permission, "Potential" by jspad)

When I sit down to read, I like to begin with poetry as a means of opening my hears to hear more clearly. Poetry slows my pace, stirs my heart and helps me to focus in the moment. Lately, I’ve been reading Kenneth Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

Mei Yao Ch’en (1002-1060) writes beautiful poems of loss and death. Mei Yao Ch’en gives voice to real sorrow while still voicing creation’s praise. He captures the wonder and terror of the world in a single moment. Even in death, he is overcome by the unstoppable force of life all around, and must give voice to the glory.

1,000 years later, I am overcome with the life that continues to burst from his heart.

On the Death of a New Born Child

The flowers in bud on the trees
Are pure like this dead child.
The East wind will not let them last.
It will blow them into blossom,
And at last into the earth.
It is the same with this beautiful life
Which was so dear to me.
While his mother is weeping tears of blood,
Her breasts are filling with milk.

Mei Yao Ch’en

(If interested, you can also read some of Rexroth’s translations online.)

Poems to Live By in Troubling Times

February 12, 2010 2 comments

A friend gave me a copy of Joan Murray’s, “Poems to Live By in Troubling Times” last December. So far I haven’t been able to get past the second poem.

That’s not an indictment on poor writing. Just the opposite. It is a voice of gratitude for words that “git way inside us” as Sterling Brown once wrote of “Ma Rainey.” Published in response to the bombing on 9/11/2001, Murray’s early words still resonate. Listen to her introductory remarks,

I was moved by people’s urgent and unembarrassed need for a poem–for words that cut through all the pages of reportage…

We live in an age of too much reporting and too little resonation. From the earthquake in Haiti to continuing economic problems in the US and throughout the world, we need to hear more than facts. Yes, reporting can be helpful and facts may convey aspects of specific events but we need to learn how to mourn, how to lament, how to rejoice. Eugen Rosenstock Huessy accused the modern man of losing his humanity in the constant bits of data that pound us daily, and he wrote this in the 40s. He suggested the modern man has forgotten how to wail and how to moan as well as how to shout and dance with all our hearts. Instead, we live muted lives somewhere in between.

Murray offers a collection of poems that help train us to lament. That call upon the wells of grief in our troubled souls. Shortly after 9/11, she was riding on a train with “six young men on their way to New York to dig at the wreckage site.” In this difficult time, she waas overcome by their willingness to face the task ahead. She writes, “Yet by coming forward to do this very difficult thing, they had stepped across the line and had become larger than themselves. They seemed to be lit from within.”

Responding to this encounter, Murray wrote the poem, “Survivors–Found.” She writes, “It was clearly an occasional poem, admittedly not a great poem. But it had to force of an inevitable poem, as if someone needed it.”

We need poems. We need poets. We need to set aside times for listening and responding to our world in ways that reach deeper than the competing facts dancing on the surface. In our soul starved age, we need more inevitable poems, and I am grateful for the heart and the gift of Joan Murray’s voice.

Buried Treasure

October 22, 2008 Leave a comment

After hours of digging, we finally quit. My sister and I were going to dig to China (or at least discover some buried treasure in the process). I guess we choose the wrong spot. Like most children, visions of treasure chests often danced in our eyes as we longed to find that one map that would lead us to “x marks the spot.”

I never found that map.

Over time, the passion of childhood dreams is buried beneath layers of pain and disappointment. Hope that is frustrated again and again goes underground. But it still bubbles, and once in a while we feel fleeting sensations of this childhood ache for Christmas magic, buried treasure and the world of fairies. Chesterton and Lewis realized that this we wouldn’t have this longing if it wasn’t for something real.

Here is a delightful verse from my favorite poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Hope you enjoy, and may it stir a little longing in your soul.

Labrador
By Bobi Jones

Cold ugly lady with beads
of icebergs around your sea
like stumps of teeth,

Uncivilized, empty, and fruitless apart
from the ore beneath your soil that is
a complex in the sub-conscious.

Out of sight your embryo, in
your wine cellars, the love child
deep beneath your desolation,

Is about to flourish like a fountain. Overhead
the sun is always moon
shining over the blossoms

Out of sight beneath the soil forever.
Singing was hid there,
colours are buried: here it is all

A waiting, all of it is about to come,
and the strain of holding the possibilities
inside, a discipline

We in Wales don’t know much about.

In Praise of Pasture

July 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Notes on “To a Scrap of Pasture Pushing Itself Between the Slates of Pavement”

Bobi Jones sings a song a praise “To a Scrap of Pasture Pushing Itself Between the Slates of Pavement.” As he looks out upon the square in the middle of town, he sees a blade of grass growing up through the pavement. He hears God singing through this pasture, and revealing in image His wisdom in parables, His holy presence, His birth and death and resurrection.

Though we pave over the earth, His song cannot be stopped, and “His lightning will tongue-lash freely from the earth.” In this small blade, Jones sees a “deluge” and an “eloquent greenery” that “narrates His life and speaks in parables on all sides.”

Jones calls us to look with him,
“When we look, there are angels near the stage
And the mist at the back, its head in feathers.”

These words call to my mind the image of Isaiah’s encounter with the holiness of God in the temple. Isaiah sees the Lord “high and lifted up” and the “train of His robe filling the temple.” Around the throne he sees angels, covered in winged and hiding their face and feet before the holiness of God.

In the middle of a town square filled with people moving to and fro, God reveals His holy power and glory in a single blade of grass. This blade of grass becomes a “thin place” where the glory of God is revealed, shouting aloud the wisdom of God. But the simple pass by and miss the awesome display of God’s wonder.

The song that is sung is the song of the Word made Flesh. For in the blade of grass, Jones sees a mystery. He “watch(es) Him being born there.” This blade of grass speaks to Jones of the nativity and the irrepressible life of Christ, but the image of pasture also speaks of grain that is formed into bread.

As Jesus proclaimed, “Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains a single grain.” Jones sees this grain springing up in bread that feeds the people of God with the bread of heaven, the Lord’s Supper. Jones writes,
An herb whose flesh’s heap of crops we taste
In the tasting it turns to wormwood like each scrap that grows
But I know beneath my ribs the coming of the hour’s astonishment.

The supper is bitter for in partaking of His body broken for us, we are entering into the communion of death. Jones writes that the bread is literally beneath his ribs being digested. In the meal of death, we partake of life anew.

The bread of heaven nourishes. Even as our body draws nourishment from the physical bread, our whole person draws life from the bread of Christ. In His death, we know life. For in His death, we can participate in the great mystery of life after death.

Each day we rise, we taste the sweetness of death in Christ and the hope of life after death. His irrepressible life is at work in us. So no matter what happens in our world. The fools of the world can try to extinguish God’s word and life and power from the earth, but they cannot, for it springs afresh in us, in a little blade of grass bursting through the pavement, and in all creation.

He’s performing. The foolish civilization of today can
Kill Him and bury Him deep. The inherent will frolic through the soil.
In the hand of the grassblade the creation trembles,
And it sows eternity itself: tender is the land.

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

In Praise of School Teachers

June 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Bobi Jones lifts up an anthem of praises to school teachers. Drawing from a rich reserve of past Welsh icons, he compares them to the ploughman, the soldier, a preacher, and Orpheus.

As warrior people, the ancient Celts wrote warrior poems in praise of battles, great fighters, kings and triumphs. In the middle ages, a Welsh poet used to the warrior epic to write a poem of praise the ploughman. The ploughman is worthy of praise for his faithful tilling of the land that produces food for a nation and provides the very stuff of the Eucharist. So the ploughman ultimately unites the people together under God by his faithful labor.

Bobi draws from both images to write a warrior poem in praise of the exploits of teachers:

Ploughman of the daily children! Solider of a nation!
I will praise the chalk of your hair while I have breath.

The image of ploughman, soldier and preacher combine in the teacher as one who tills the soil of the young hearts, wars with ignorance and the threat of losing the Welsh language and identity, and the preacher who connects the student of the present with the great communion of saints in the Welsh past. By telling the stories, by remembering, the teacher keeps alive a people who survive as distinctly Welsh against the onslaught of the surrounding culture.

…The clichés of education
Are charmed into adventure by your modest cherishing,
Our country’s past turned into the following day.

In this beautiful poem of praise, I encounter the exalted role of the teacher who fights daily in the rich battle of the Welsh people to preserve their story, their language, their life-blood from generation to generation. The teacher’s words create the future through the children. Creating the future may mean change but it also means connecting the generations.

The teacher is connecting the students to the soil of their being that will inspire them to move forward with the vision of their people in new challenges and contexts:

A land’s in a man; and through it he opens out lands
Like dawn reaching a pageant of fingers toward them.
You’re the river across their ears as well; the waterfall that carries them,
Sparks for a sun, earth and water of their searchings.

In a world where the pressure of homogeneity constantly threaten the identity of the faithful, the poem resounds as a clarion call to keep the vital life of memory alive in our stories, in our classrooms, in our children. It reminds me of Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s exclamation that our present action is created by looking back to the past and forward to the future.

We are a forgetful people. We forget our names, our landmarks, our stories, our heritage. Without the stories of our past, we face a storyless future or a future filled with stories that submit to the demands of the trends that drive our culture from moment to moment. We need the bards to come forth and sing us awake into the memory of our heritage and our call forward:

A wraith’s in a river; you are Orpheus, rippling
Before each little life, bubbling up
Towards a free world of men, leading them from the dark
Without once looking back to their empty well-spring.

The Gift of the Poets

June 18, 2008 Leave a comment

In his poems praising various people, Bobi Jones writes a poem to the poet. The Celtic poets use the discipline of constant praise to offer thanks, challenge status quo, offer social commentary and more.

Such a praising of the harvesting of the keeping–the baby’s life,
The lad’s life, the old man’s life behind your door.*

Bobi realizes that the poet connects the generations. And for a people crushed either personally or as a nation, the poet transforms that pain:

And you turned the blows as well into a praise of living.

These Welsh poets have personally gifted me with the habit of praise, of sight to praise and as Bobi says, of learning to transform the struggles and blows in this world into a “praise of living.”

The poet offers everything–the very essence of his life–in service to the gift.

From your immense Preselau** you raised teh walls of your belonging
And in the presence of its sun’s rafters you consecrated your laughter’s values:
You made your people one in a mystery sea.
You included us in your family. You sang
The white guts of your praise and your being, and you planted
Your leaves in our back-garden in proper robes like a choir.

* – Bobi Jones writes poetry exclusively in Welsh, so when I quote him, I am quoting Joseph Clancy’s translations.

** – Preselau or Presely Hills, a place in Wales (whose location is in question). I think this poem is using it as a way of identifying the land of the poet (which like the ancient Hebrew is connected with his salvation).

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