Written for the Sue Boynton poetry contest last year. Unused.
A memory pulled from the deep.
It was a skate, sting ray’s cousin,
With a barbed tail like a hot poker.
In the shallows, I watched
The pin prick grab of the mans hands
Wrap around its tail
And he screamed.
I was five and my world exploded
In fear and wonder.
A leviathan within reach.
Iron Man – Maggie – 7 years old. (Iron Man’s Laser, today, played by our pet hamster Koko)
While not the leader of the pack, she is the brains behind some hair-brained schemes that tend to include Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye. Stoic at times, but playful and full of ideas. Schooling outside of the public eye, she excels in designing new structures (for family members and dolls), constructing heretofore unknown technology (thanks Lego!), and engaging in seemingly endless battle against all number of threats (Tolkien’s Orcs, Lewis’s Traitor King Miraz, and Disney’s gigantically misunderstood Neverbeast). Her smile has never been so bright, her intellect never so sharp, her joy never so unbridled.
Thor – Louisa – 5 years old.
Wielding the hammer of sibling justice, Louisa knows that it is nearly unliftable by anyone else. She is serious and determined, but her smile is the light of Asgaard (aka. Maplewood Ave.). Mostly using the Rainbow Road, she travels great distances with ease and with the pumping arms of any great battle tested (read: play-set and swing using) Asgaardian. Her intellect is astounding, retention of mathematical equations and facts and figures, proving that earthlings have a new force to reckon with. Seeking to acquaint herself more fully to her new home on earth she is learning the very fabric of our planet (sewing, paper weaving, playdough).
The Hulk – Henry – 2 years old.
(Should not be a surprise to anyone with a boy in the house.) He is still learning his strength and dearly hoping to understand what causes his angry green changing. When not the green monster smashing aliens, his love of music has grown to include rock and roll, some jazz, a little classical, and a lot silly songs. He plays his guitar to quell the inner beast and when needed lets off steam by banging on drums in the garage. However, when needed, he’s a bruiser. Often demanding training in the form of tackling, tickling, wrestling, etc with his good friend Captain America (Jake).
Hawkeye – Beatrice – >1 year old
Bea is relatively new to the team. Her first impressions are a little cocky for all of her realized skills. She fires vocal arrows at all who disrupt her or her team, but aside from volume she’s still establishing herself. Walking has become a true means of transport and after the “Battle of the Cutting Teeth,” the “Battle of Rolling-Over,” and the “Battle of Overzealous-Carrying-Siblings” its no wonder learning to walk took on renewed fervor. Retreating is just as important! Her Avengers name may be Hawkeye, but her real name, Beatrice, Bringer of Joy, is truer than she could know.
Black Widow – Talia – 36 years old.
The swiss army knife of the family. Literally and metaphorically. Simultaneously juggling the strengths and weaknesses of the team as well as assessing the daily training needs. Single-handedly keeping Hawkeye alive. Add to it incredible beauty, lethal with weapons of all sorts (frying pan, knitting needles, paint brushes, and an Ergo ™), fashion sense, a subtle but undeniable crush on the Captain, and an allegiance to the team that runs deep and you get one incredible member of the Avengers.
Captain America – Jake – 34 years old
The driving force, the steadying hand in the face of upheaval, the Captain stands tall in the face of all adversity. Boldly running into the heart of battle with little regard to his own safety (or that of his shirts: potty, poop, puke; of his books: little hands that rip and tear; of his sleep: nightmares, late night potty breaks, cups of water). Co-leader of the team, he gladly shares control with Black Widow and relishes in each moment they have together. On his own he is, day in and day out, braving tight spaces (crawlspaces, attics, office conflict) to bring warmth (insulation) and shelter (home repair) to those who need it.
Nick Fury – Maryanne – 4 year old Cat
Temperamental, uppity, foolishly believing that she’s in control. Yep, that’s about right.
We are, at least until I figure out a better metaphor, The Avengers!
I fancy myself an amateur poet. I appreciate the task of compressing words to maximize what’s understood whether it be emotion, place, a person, a movement, or something more grandiose. I’ve always been drawn to the storytelling of singer songwriter poets – Paul Simon, Josh Ritter, Sufjan Stevens (can you tell how old I am?). I love the minimalism in former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s writing. Who doesn’t love the cadence in a Frost or Dickenson or Wordsworth or Silverstien?
Side note: Kooser’s poem “Splitting an Order” is bar none. It’s found in his collection called Valentines.
This year I set about to submit a poem to our local Sue Boynton Poetry Contest and jotted down a couple of ideas in two or three journals and a scrap of paper while I was driving one day. Like all initial creations they felt full and perfect when I was done. How could I not win! I’d used comparison to great effect! I’d pulled a few spelling bee words out of thin air and wove them deftly between pronoun and adverb! I’d held back! It was not a Homeric epic!
As with all things, time wore away at the edges, and the next time I looked them over, ready to gloat, I found a mess of bad simile, unexplainable metaphor, and moral heavy-handedness. It was downright sad. I rewrote, changed lines, added and removed, pared down further, disliked the narrator, etc. For the professional poet these things are natural, no less painful, but more an anticipated part of the whole.
In the end, I sat on the couch with my wife and asked if she’d listen for what may be wrong or right. The poems still had a parental finger shake at the end, reminding the reader that “life is good, stop pouting!” A simple edit removed the offending sentences. Finding more balance in restraint.
Reading on, it turned out that the one I was most fond of was actually two poems masquerading as one, like a stack of kids in a trench coat trying to get into the bar as one “man.” It had been impossible to add my favorite line to the poem as it was because it had no place in two poems at once! My wife stated the facts plainly, the poems were divided, and the word…. “Leviathan”… had it’s place again. I was pleased. That was the poem I submitted of the three that were written. That poem, titled “From the Shallows” will remain unpublished until either I’m selected as a winner or not. If it is not selected, I plan to put it up and brag a teensy bit.
Here, however, I’ll post one of the other two poems. Not sure what I’d title it… yet.
A small boy ran along the dock
His mother close behind.
All smiles and eyebrows raised
At the barnacles clinging to a boat.
He poked at them with a pudgy finger
Lengthening his small frame
Like a rubber band
To reach out over the water
And touch the rough calcified whiteness.
I watched from where I sat sipping coffee.
How long had it been since I stretched
Across my own ocean between dock and boat?
“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.” – Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
Our rabbit died this last weekend. A week after escaping his cage and running free for a week, he was hit by a car late at night. I know because I found the dark smudge of his body along the side of the road. He had escaped once before and, as my family and I imagined it, ate dandelions, pranced in the field across from our house, chased butterflies, and had a ball. For a week he indulged, then we caught our dear pet and put him back in his cage. He’d tasted freedom though and it was only a couple days later that he leapt over the cage fencing, a feat to be sure, and ran free once more… for a little while. I don’t know how long it took. I’m hoping not long. We buried him beneath the lilac and woke the girls up to say goodbye.
Death doesn’t follow people, but I’ve seen my fair share.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12
As a boy, I’d stand at the window after the still of the afternoon was broken by a thump, a flutter of feathers, and a dusty after image appeared. I’d look down into the flower garden and cry quietly for the bird lying there. I can only liken it to the joy of Easter Sunday when that bird regained its faculties and flew off. I felt like the world was off of my shoulders. My wife notices, to this day, the change in my demeanor when we come across an animal in the road.
I do not like Death. I do not look forward to it and at 33 I should not.
My brother died when he was nearly fifteen. I was twenty-two at the time and he’d been sick since birth. He’d broken past the “dates of no return” the doctors and specialists had set. He’d long since proven false the gifted education of so many MDs and physicians. He walked, he talked, he ran, he joked, he wrote a book (with one finger, sounding out each word); all in defiance of those who “knew best.” I remember the day he died. I remember screaming without noise in my parent’s bedroom. I remember listening for another intake of breath. I remember my father crying out on his way upstairs, “Oh my son, oh my son!” I remember his last breath. When Death saw his soul sitting up, or rather, when he met Jesus.
Small things take me back into the aftermath of my brother’s death. I can smell root beer on the breath of my own children. I hear the rhythmic pulsing of an oxygen machine. I feel the wispiness of my children’s hair. Every time I eat potato “jo-jos,” as we called them, from the grocery store. Adventures in Odyssey. The death of anyone that I have a connection to reminds me of my brother. But more importantly it reminds me of Death. Of the end of all things.
That person is “not.” Is no longer.
… and yet.
There is a promise. There is an Easter, a resurrection story, an empty tomb, a “catching up in the clouds.” These things I hold dearly. David lamented his son for a time then, without fanfare, wiped his tears away and went about his business. When questioned, he said, “My son cannot come back to me, but I will go to my son.” (2 Samuel 12:23). The forcefulness there. I Will Go. My younger brother cannot and should not come back to my family and I, as much as we’d love to see him. “But,” oh the gloriousness of that word, “But” – We will go to him. And to all the saints of old.
Through one man, the worst was turned around. Flipped on its head. Death worked backwards. A wizard in the face of evil raised his staff and shouted, “you shall not pass!”
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” – Romans 5:18-19
It may feel as though the night is long; that hope has left us in the desert surrounded by wolves, but it is not so. We have been passed over, in a way. Passed over by the specter of an endless dying, an endless separation. The Light of Life has shone a great light and thank goodness.
I still cry at the sight of a dead or dying animal. I still ache remembering my brother and so many others who have, as Paul lays it gently, “fallen asleep.” But I will always remember, in the midst of tears and “in-the-desert-anger,” the gift of future life. The blessing of hope and joy from the sacrifice of One.
I remember hearing this as a boy and thinking… “too long!”
I remember hearing this as a teenager and feeling a stirring in my soul.
I remember hearing this as a college student and weeping and then wanting to write.
I know now the joy of listening. Of sitting still and letting storytellers shine a new sun on an old story. So I sit in a chair, waiting for my own children to be old enough to enjoy the story told anew, listening. Someday, when the story has changed its luster for my own, we will sit and listen and let the joy run down our cheeks.
The link above is to a site that is streaming the performance… or was.
Today I present to you an astonishing poem, post Old Testament Psalm. One that must be read AND heard. The heart-wrenching simplicity I ignored early on. Now it is what reduces me to tears. Find a snippet online, buy the song, buy the album. Just figure out a way to listen to it.
Behold the Lamb of God – Andrew Peterson
Behold, the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men
Behold the Lamb of God
Who died and rose again
Behold the Lamb of God who comes
To take away our sin
Broken hearts–behold our broken hearts
Fallen far–we need you
Behold the Lamb of God
Son of God–Emmanuel
Son of Man–we need you
Behold the Lamb
The hope of man
Behold the Lamb of God