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Cambodian Silver Napkin Ring: for my Mother

in memory of my mother, missionary to Cambodia 1927-1954

Six intricate patterns etched

into this silver napkin ring,

all alike, yet not just quite, each shaped

and poked by grizzled peasant hands

in a far away land, in a far away time;

unnamed, unknown, an artisan at work. 

*

My mother stands at his market stall,

fingering the labyrinthine motif,

mirror of her own complexities,

her apprehensions, questions, joys, all

twisting through a life she can hardly imagine

to be real; birthing daughters

as she swelters in the tropic heat,

as she wraps her tongue around

strange words—Preahyesaou sraleanh—

“Jesus loves”—a love at times elusive

in a world so crowded with beliefs and fears

as ancient, as mysterious as the royal ruins

in the jungles of Angkor Wat.

*

She bargains with the seller,

counts out piaster bills, fondles

the ring, her luxury, rare treasure 

in a life severe and spare.

*

The ring now holds my napkin;

I stroke the tarnished band, trace

the patterns, irregular, complex;

the peasant’s life?  my mother’s life?

my own?  our fingers touch,

our stories merge, a tangled,

twisted circle of life.  

 

 

Riding to Death: a Palm Sunday Poem

“Ride on, ride on, in majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die.”

Henry H. Milman

He knew what was coming, but that did not

stop him; he relished the palms swishing

their homage in the gentle spring breeze,

accepted the accolades, the jeers as well,

knowing deep within that the very stones

upon the roughened ground would cry out

if they could, to shout their joyous affirmation

of his life, even though he rode now to his death,

jolting along on the back of a silly animal, ears

flapping in the wind, hoofs trampling

brightly colored robes of adoration.

*

To his death he rode, a death with arms spread

wide to lift God’s love beneath a hiding sun,

patterning for us how we might face our final

ride to bid farewell to this good earth;

teaching us, when that long journey comes,

to welcome accolade of voices, those within

and those nearby, embalming us in love

and singing the importance of our dust soon

to return to dust; to hear the growing silence

on our donkey-legged beds become the very stones

beneath the Savior’s feet, crying out  

the worth of every minute of our falling to the earth;

to see again those cross-wide-open arms,

that stone unhinged, that open door,

a promised rising from these fusty winding sheets.

Gray Days: a Lenten Poem

Disheartening, unsettling, dark,

the drabness of these backyard winter days;

my world is weeping, weeping

for the spindly shrubs befuddled

by the warming climate’s ups and downs,

for Monarch wings that used to flit

across my deck as they journeyed

to a home now vanishing,

as other homes are vanishing

amidst the storms of nature, war,

and words that label and demean.

*

I want to turn away from this abyss,

but the drabness pulls at me;

something in the air within

this hostile gray, a tenderness,

faint echo of a song sung long ago

by Spirit as she moved across

the murky waters of the deep;

grace notes, scattered in the ashes

of last summer’s grass, spill across

the stones, reaching to the spindly

shrubs now shrouded in the mist,

hushed music of the spheres

enclosed within the silence of eternity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep in the Heart of Amaryllis

 

 

 

Deep in the heart of my red amaryllis

the red turns to the blood-bold

red of the setting sun, a scarlet blaze

of fire, a passionate warmth in this cold

awakening of yet another year. 

I’d like to rest awhile inside this petalled

womb, sift through the remnants

of my yesteryear; ponder the hours

that lie ahead, each day the start

of a new year, each moment holding a lifetime. 

I breathe this fiery strength, absorb this radiant

hope, in this red silence wait to be re-born again

and again to live the truth, the beauty

of my amaryllis so alive.

Christmas Tangles

 

Tangled tree lights, memories of Christmas

past dancing along their twisted wires,

dashed hopes and dreams interlaced

with child-happy faces, the aromas

of gingerbread, fresh greens.

*

But memories aside…

as candles, carols, bells sing joy

to all the world these clear, cold nights,

I wrestle with the tangled images

that flash across my screen,

lives dangling from the wrath

of winds, relentless rains,

mired in mud of bigotry and hate,

shriveled up by lust and greed,  

unmoored by guns and ranting tweets that clang

against the all is calm and all is bright

for which we yearn and pray.

*

And the Word was made flesh and dwelled among us…

birthed himself into the tangles

of our winter world

to walk with us,

to ache with us,

to lead us to that

someday tree whose leaves will shelter

all the world with healing joy,

under whose calm, silent branches

arms black and white and red

and brown will intertwine, together

bend the knee before the Child,

whose coming sings the promised hope,

a lion entangles his limbs with a lamb’s,

in a never-ending tango of peace.

 

Sparrow and Me in Autumn

 

So small, so ordinary brown

against the brilliance of the golden

leaves; I watch his anxious body (heart

beating four times faster than my own!),

twitch this way and that, head bobbing

up and down, all a-tremble in the falling

leaves that augur cold, white days to come.

*

Oh, little one, I’d like to offer you

the sureness you are held in tender eye

of God, but often so like you I am;

fearful of tomorrow’s frost, I knot

myself in petty this and foolish that,

fail to lean into the sturdy stillness

of the trees, fail to touch the love

that paints my world so vivid bright,

fail to breathe the calm that whispers

in the crimson winds that brush

across your rapid-beating heart—

and mine.

*

So let me simply sit with you

on your slim, sky-reaching branch,

savor the fragrance of this autumnal

now; let’s hold each other close and trust

we will not be alone as the crystal

walls of winter ice close in

around our fragile lives.