Author Archives: sport152002

New Poem: Falling

A new poem for you all. I hope you can imagine this scene at the swimming pool as I recall and imagine my own experience from childhood of being tossed into the air by my father.

 

Falling

-At a swimming pool in Palm Springs, 2023

 

Hold on daughter, but never too tightly.

Take my hand and I will lead you deeper

Out of the shallow end. The bottom is further

Than you can imagine. Step out and onto my knees.

Don’t yet look down, but feel with your feet.

Place your palms on your father’s shoulders

And look high to the sun until together

We count. We will rise, together, on three.

 

And when you fall, dear Katherine, remember:

The bottom is deep down. I’ve been there,

So I know. I can still touch it with my toes.

But look how I float now, next to your mother.

I promise we will always be here. So Let go

And look down. Let the water rise to meet you.

 

For V.T.

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Homily for August 21st.

Homily for August 21st

Luke 13:10-17

10 And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.” 13 And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. 14 But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? 16 And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17 As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.

 

“When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.”

I have to admit, that the stories I read in the gospel more often confuse me than encourage me. More often I am moved to feel indignation, much like the religious leaders, rather than astonishment.

For me, my skepticism and resentment comes from my own inexperience with the swift and justice-bearing acts of Jesus and his miracles. My impulse is to target, take aim at, and take down those parts of today’s passage that inflict the most damage on my own pride; and in the process, I disregard those details that more often prove to be the most beneficial. In this case, I quarrel with the immediacy of the crippled woman’s healing.

It still seems like it was just the other day that I walked, a crippled man myself, into the basement of another church building: Ballard First Lutheran. I was there to attend my first A.A. meeting. When I said my name and made my confession—my name is Paul and I’m an alcoholic—the broken silence of my guilt and shame was matched and then overwhelmed with the intensity of a cheering crowd. In that room, any number of sober days is cause to celebrate. In that room, even the meager presence of the most down-and-out sufferer is reason enough for welcome and rejoicing.
As wonderful as that experience was, and as many times as I have played that scene inside my head—again and again and again—the truth is that I left a that room a still-crippled man. That day, there was no laying on of hands; and there was certainly no miracle.

In today’s gospel, a woman appears at a gathering probably much like I did that day. Maybe she is hopeless or living without a home. Maybe she is simply afflicted from the day to day despair that comes from having lived a significant portion of her life limited to seeing the world in only one way: downward facing, back bowed, a posture of her humiliation.

But we are told that she is called forth by Jesus, that he places his hands on her and—immediately—she is healed. For her there is great happiness. She praises God, most likely by lifting her face to the entirely-new-to-her heavens. But as I read this story—again and again and again—it engenders in me more anger than it does rejoicing; more jealousy than joy for the afflicted.

The way I see it, this miracle comes nowhere near my own reality. My own process of healing has been, so far, a long and difficult passage, one that I must show up for—again and again and again—by standing, day after day, on the threshold of those same downward steps into the church basement. Just keep coming back, one old-timer tells me, just keep coming back. We will always be right here when you do.

As an alcoholic, what bothers me most about many of the passages in the gospels, including this one, is the apparent disregarding of what I have concluded beforehand should be the most important facts. I want a lengthy treatment of the miraculous. I want enough details as to how the woman is made well so that I can take the instructions and conduct the experiment myself. Give me a story of healing that I can believe, I say to myself, not just these two declarative sentences. Or better yet, make my story conform to this one. Make this woman’s story my story instead. Fix my life in under a paragraph. Please. Do it now.

But as a poet and a writer—or, I should say, when I let the word of God speak to me as I truly am, as I truly am able to understand it—what encourages me most about this passage is the velocity in which it expands. There is in it an ever-increasing speed with which it passes beyond the horizon of my own narrowed vision. It transcends the boundary created by my own personal history which makes me see it with my head down, one way, as only a story of spiritual transaction rather than spiritual connection. As a poet and a writer, I am better able to notice how the lack of attention paid by the gospel writer to the details of the miracle are overwhelmed by the attention given to the interaction between Jesus and the religious leaders. From this I can draw a different conclusion.

Maybe today I am not the crippled woman. Today, I may not even be one of those gathered few at the synagogue, one of the lucky men or women to witness a miracle and therefore rejoice. No. Today, I most likely resemble the synagogue leaders: my head held high, and so overly confident of my place in God’s kingdom that I feel I deserve recognition for my suffering; and therefore compensation for all my pious acts.

But when I imagine the cross, or lift my eyes to the crucifix behind me—the still-in-stone center of our daily worship—I am confronted with a different reality. I see a man whose head is held up in anguish and longing; but what I don’t see is what I am most meant to see: that God is at the same time looking down.

And when I picture this scene from the gospel, the entrance of the crippled woman into the synagogue, the silence that might have fallen over the leaders because—suddenly—there stood in their presence a woman of the lowest standing, I picture this woman being called forth, her utter astonishment in being known by someone whom she, because or her ailment, is entirely unable to recognize.

I imagine Jesus kneeling down to meet her face to face—his forehead touching her forehead. His steady hands placed gently on her heavy and burdened shoulders. I imagine this woman, in her anguish and her longing, being greeted kindly; being healed, as Christ is; the world above and around her suddenly restored.

Whether or not this woman will remember forever the face of her healer, I don’t know. But what I know from my own experience, and what I believe should astonish us, is that she will more likely never forget where she came from—her lifelong communion of facing the ground.

And so, I suspect, that this is what the religious leaders have neglected to remember: that their circumcision and covenant with God is a reminder of all God has done, and it does not mean the exclusion of the outsider in order to uphold religious principles. Nor does it permit their disengagement with the downcast.

Rather, I think that Christ in this passage, and Christ in his posture, suggests the opposite.

When we look at the cross, do we see the immediacy of a relationship restored with God and with others? Do we see how God always looks down to meet with loving eyes our anguish and our longing? Do we see that Christ alive and kneeling before the woman is also the cross fulfilled?

Healing, I believe, is not limited to the realignment of our bones, but is most fully expressed in the restoration of our relationship to God and others.

The story of Jesus meeting the crippled woman is a triumphant reflection of the two postures present at the cross itself. Jesus embodies the grace, mercy, and compassion of the father when he kneels down to touch this woman. And the woman, in her painful bend and stoop, is made able, through Christ’s healing hand, to redirect her a gaze, full of her anguish and longing, into the eyes of one who is able to match it with overwhelming love and understanding.

The good news for all of us is this: healing takes place at the point of connection. Because of the cross we too can look up and meet God. Or look down—as Jesus does—to love and embrace all the world and people that God has given us to greet.


New Poem: Lent

I’m very proud of this latest poem. It is sentimental. I gladly admit that. But at least it is willing to resist the pompousness and academicness of all contemporary poetry. I can no longer open the New Yorker and find anything of significance. I feel at home in this style of appositive and addendum. I have one very humble aspiration: revolutionize poetry entirely, win the Nobel prize, own a dog named Seamus, or at least a cat, also named Seamus. Or Cormac. Or Fredrich, but only if he is hopeless and disturbed to high-anywhere-but-heaven-because-it-doesn’t-exist (A Nietzsche joke).

Anyway, this is a pretty good poem. And for the record, my dad is not dead. Sorry dad. You’re an inspiration.

Lent

What a pain in the ass, I think, as the priest speaks
Of confession, a language of love, she says,
How difficult it would be to be the builder
Of this space, how to construct the steeple, the naive,
The pews set to the the exact angle so the aisles
Are aimed and pointed toward the pinnacle,
The crucified spectacle we are required
to anticipate In our cheerless celebration of lent.

She is speaking of love, above all things,
Though she may as well deliver a sermon on sin,
On the reflection guaranteed by our 40 day fast.
Or deprivation, cutting out and cutting back,
Removing, replacing, making more simple
Our lives of clutter, Twitter, and self indulgence.

And yet, the building itself is extravagant.
No easy task, no matter your experience
in architecture or engineering,
Or the years spent on the job, building, concealing
The last joint or seam, where the beams of oak and alder,
Stained an icy gray, meet at a rare 70 degree miter.
And how to cut then on the saw at the milling factory–
A miracle in and of itself– and then join them,
While teetering on the rickety scaffolding,
The crane torqued and braced, holding

the leaning piece in place with its heavy chain.

Like the burden one feels holding up the truth,
That yes, last night I drank, nearly a fifth,
after the cat went to sleep, having to tell
the woman you love, who forgives you, again and again,
How you sat on the couch, drunk, in a puddle of piss,
Unable to imagine your life
Without alcohol, without sleep medication
Or outrage, full of fear, without your father, gone for so long now,
Without her, love or any language able to contain it.

But the crossbeams, who could have the patience,
To sand and stain, sand and stain, and set
Them, immovable by the metal brace, bore out
And sink the massive bolt that helps them cohere,
As if they are one piece. And this is love also,
The attention and time it takes,
To hold them and match them grain to grain,
A detail that might not be noticed, unless by a man like me,
So utterly imperfect he must find in perfection
A certain beauty that no one can achieve,
And more beautiful for being flawed in it’s many ways.

And how to confess, as the priest suggests,
That love must sometimes subtract, make room
For different joys to be added. Say goodbye
To the self you have been: underachiever, insomniac,
Anorexic, or alcoholic. Above all say farewell
To the gift you were given, the one you loved more than anybody else,
Your father. Lay him peacefully to rest
Into all your uncertainty. Then take her hand,
This woman who at the same time you love
And annoy, hold and hold at a distance. Let her in,
Let her narrow toward your terrible pinnacle,
The center of yourself, your burdens and lightenings,
leavings and enterings, endings and beginnings,

Let love hold your every earthliness, Seam or gap, joint or separation,
Where the beams of your aging limbs are held together,
Imperfectly beautiful, always noticed by the one who beholds them,
Even in their trespass, and whom confesses always to love you
Even when the walls of your beautiful body finally collapse.


New Poem: My Brother’s Guitar

I’m feeling a bit uninspired to write a witty introduction. I just spent the last hour translating Descartes from Latin into English. Apparently, part of the reason Descartes translated himself into Latin was because he didn’t really know what he was trying to say in french. But we should be grateful, otherwise that classic line “Cogito, ergo sum” would sound like a sneeze.  

Descartes: I did not think
[therefore I disappeared]  

Anyway, here is a poem because I like my brother and I really like the myth of Orpheus…Byron, sorry I touched your guitar.  

My Brother’s Guitar  

When he wasn’t home I’d play in secret,
Shape myself against the body of its music,
Pluck a string and listen for the full vibrato  

That wavered with transparency, sounding board
And listening post, where foreknown language
Filled me to the senses, so that I became  

One of the newly born to the halls of Hades,
Delivered a blow by the first note
From the fist of the living, left stuttering,  

Dumb and repentant, like a dead man
With an ear to the world I could not waken,
Speechless and still damned but raised to attention.


New Poem: For What You’re Worth

If you ask me why I would privilege Jesus’s humanity over his deity I would post the link to this blog on your face. Only if personalized stamps were made that quickly. Look, let me out myself and subject that same self to scrutiny. I don’t think Jesus needed to be God for us to have hope…but I also, and I hope more so, this poem doesn’t offer any answers, unless embedded and discovered by the greatest critics, because hey, at least it got their attention (it won’t).

I don’t think Jesus needed to be God. when I read the story of Jesus being blessed with perfume by Mary Magdalene, I’ve always thought, “damn, what is Jesus doing? giving or receiving?” I didn’t mean for that to be sexual, although some feminist critics do find it sexual…apparently feet are phallic.

But, full disclosure, I rather prefer Jesus the son of man to Jesus the son of God. It elevates you! Elevates me. I would like to believe that if you died a horrible martyrs death tomorrow that it would matter not because it recapitulated a symbolic death that occurred at a relatively recent moment in history, but that because that death, and by association yours, was one that has been imitated and made meaningful long before Christ. like when the first star died to make gravity, which made room for gas, which made room for stars, which made room for life, life that will, I hope, make room for eternal life.

I would like to add this: Doubt about Jesus as the messiah is a Christian narrative. it is supported by the gospels. Our hero is Thomas. Or all the disciples. Pagans never cared. The Romans only questioned its legitimacy for the sake of political stability. And the Jews, my personal favorite, simply preferred to defer to a later date. I consider myself of the more Jewish temperament. It’s not that I won’t believe in a messiah, its just that any human offering will not be satisfactory. it has to be wholly other. completely inconceivable. Did the Jews doubt Jesus’s legitimacy? I don’t think so. I think they rejected it. another man, not a king, not good enough. I can understand that. You can believe whatever you want to be believe about Jesus, unless that narrative means you dishonor the sinner beside you. Then there’s a problem. then it is obvious that you have no idea what messiah means.

I’m trying not to be the guy who tells people they are wrong to think what they are thinking. But sometimes our thinking gets us in too deep. trust me. That I know.

This is not a theological blog, although there is no denying it could be read that way, so I won’t try and persuade whoever feels persistent otherwise. Just know I’m not responding to any theological comment, no disagreements. Trust me, we don’t want to go down that road. I’ve noticed in myself, for the purpose of not wanting to be wrong, that I will pretend to be believe anything. Maybe its the pride of the fall. maybe its biology. Maybe its how rightness is a construction of our culture that validates identity. At this point, I don’t care. What I care about is poetry. Poetry of compassion. That singular moment when for just a few seconds the words that you say to yourself erect another world. one in which you and your cousin know each others pain. or you see her, sitting on a fence, telling the demons to go away. or imagine her now, in the hospital, happy to be sucking air through a straw because it turns out she wanted to live, no matter what.

That is poetry of compassion. I don’t pretend to be good at it. But I do stand as witness to its power. after all, I’m still here.

this isn’t even about the poem anymore…

forgive my use of the word “certainly” in the first line. I’m certain of what I said though (all pun intended).

For What You’re Worth

Surely he wasn’t special, certainly no more than you
Or me. As a matter of fact, no more than your cousin,
The schizophrenic, who read Shakespeare and danced ballet,
Who one day, by the river, or while driving her Ford, found
Herself talking to a floating skull squawking in the trees.

No more than your child, or your children’s children.
Certainly no more than your mother, who you never knew,
Who tried to sell you for drug money to a priest
Outside the drug store. Could your life really be
Worth more? The one in which, when lonely,
Sometimes You touch your lower parts? Or discover

In the joy of a single summer breeze, the whole breadth
Of a childhood you never had, daddy you didn’t know,
Teaching you to ride a bicycle without needing to hold on
To the handlebars, the tunnel-rush of flying downhill,
Wind in the sail that helped you steady those two wheels.

Is my life worth that much more because I’m riding
Redemption’s upswing? Rehab going well, or 6 nights a week
I’m able to sleep. Consider the man who’s passed out
On the concrete outside of Harry’s Hardware on 3rd
And Main, or the man with too much B.O. beside you
As you take the 44 into work today. If he died could you stand

To tell him how you really feel? How it makes more sense
For you to spend seventy-thousand dollars for a degree
In art history, when that money, as Judas might say,
Could feed a hundred-and-one families for at least a week,
That Mary’s gift of perfume, wiped on the savior’s feet
Is for a savior only, that our decadence is reserved
For the one who was born into this world
All stable-stink, yet somehow, already, more holy.


New poem: Insomnia

“Although it is night,” from a meditation by St. John of the Cross. Sometimes I don’t sleep, sometimes I stay up too late thinking, thinking I should be reading instead of thinking, so I pick  up a book of religious Irish verse and finid Heaney’s translation of that poem. So I’ll read it, repeat it as I breathe and wonder about the dark night through which I’ve been, the dark night, as Whiman writes, in which a songbird goes on singing.

here, this my is poem.

Insomnia

For A.M.K.

And although it is the night, my eyes are wide,
The rain peeling off the skylight is like the sound of war
In some distant country. Once, my dog’s breathing

Would have been enough, enough for me to close my eyes,
Match up my breath with yours, forget the bodies
That all the bombs have called back into the earth.

But here, your skin is still warm,
And something tells me love would not be
The same without this body, and pain would be transformed,

Death not the release the teenager is waiting for,
Despite the joy. Like the other day, touching lips
But not really kissing, just letting the moment keep the distance in,

Denying the two that become one if the miraculous
God can intervene. And yet, being up against you now
Is the kind of love teasing at that mystery, that the skin,

Even the secret inner tissue, will not permit me enter
The temple of your world, that the heart hiding-dark
In your ribs, stays dark, except maybe to a coroner.

Beloved, when I die, have the surgeon cut out my eyes,
Place them last in the furnace, so that the white flame
Will be the first light I see, although it is the night.

i welcome your thoughts!


New Poem: Transplant

 

Oddly enough, another poem that finds as it’s initial subject the complications of the Kidney. Just so worried readers know, my kidneys are fully functional. I’m thinking a lot about what it means to be a body, or if some prefer, have a body. I hope you all enjoy.
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