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Lenten Poems & Commentary - 2008

Most of these poems were written during the retreat and reflect the meditations. Some began as fragments I carried around in my email notes to myself or on the backs of junk mail envelopes and scraps of paper. An aging poet needs these bits of permanency to record images and hints of images as they occur--the memory can still be plumbed, but it helps to have some cues along the way. A word of caution: these poems are all early drafts, subject to change as I review them with my writing group and editor. So you may not see the same poem twice. Such is the nature of unfinished work.

This edition includes poems and a commentary. If you prefer to read the poems alone, please click here.


Getting Up
Disconnecting the dots
Morning Prayer
The Unmoving
Speaking out loud
Evening Prayer
Lesser Feasts and Fasts
After the storm
Broken for me
The words
In the eye of light
An invitation to breathe
In the fullness of time

Return to the Preface

* * *


As a ritual,
he lines up the wooden tiles of letters
for the word I have added to the board
so the edges are as if a ruler
were laid against their side.

Half a state away
I am listening to a fellow pilgrim
speak about the chaos
that has crossed her life
a husband plucked from an idyllic scene
extinguished by an indifferent tower of a wave.

Our teacher speaks of order,
the holy as not the momentous
but the mundane--
I am feeling only momentous disorder,
as if someone knocked the game board
and the tiles are jagged lines.

7 Mar 08

As we began learning about the rules of St. Benedict, we heard how he brought order into the chaos of the middle ages. I was reminded of the rituals in our lives, even the small OCD moments of my younger son's., and how they help us face the chaos in our lived. I cannot begin to fathom Carol's story in the second stanza. But I can connect to how the "disorders" that befall us throw everything out of line. I was also reminded of one of Father Mayberry's favorite lines, that God draws straight with crooked lines. I left that one out of the poem but it's here nonetheless.

Getting Up

"What do you here?"
the monk is asked;
"we fall down,
we get up;
we fall down,
we get up"
again and again

I am at the bottom of the stairs;
in my hand
I hold a Q and Z
but no matching vowels
I listen to the letters' sounds
and stutter.

7 Mar 08

I love this answer. This is what I suppose the guru at the top of a mountain would say when you finally reached the summit. When we fall down, we are reminded that next we get up; when we are on top of the world, we are reminded that we fall down. Learning to speak that language of wisdom is like holding the letters Q and Z in Scrabble--which returns from the prior poem--without a U or two O's.

Disconnecting the dots

She called them blowers
with the wonder of a four year-old;
she held it by the stem
a tiny constellation
at the purse of her lips
and blew--
all the stars in this orb of spores
tailed off into the wind
its dots disconnecting
into the air,
scattered, random.

I was left
with a stamen moist at the end
of a shoot that leaves stains
on my fingers.
It is gone;
or just becoming?
Is it is?

7 Mar 08

This title of this poem is a chapter title in Dean Slutyer's wonderful book "The Zen Commandments," my Lenten reading for this year. Among other things, the book is about the opposite of the rational mind that ever seeks to connect the dots. In the image of the ripe dandelion I remember my daughter picking and blowing with glee, I saw that my reality of the Dandelion is my memory of it, my interpretation--and yet it isn't so, it's gone. The rational mind asks "is it becoming?" The Zen master challenges to see it as simply being; it is.


He tells a story
of a group grappling
with definitions--
integrity is today;
it's sharing roots
with integrate
and integral.
In this teaching,
the clutch pedal lifts,
the hidden gears
mesh, turn and hum
as a chord engaged.

7 Mar 08

This is a story from a wise counselor triggered by Dr. Linman's etymologies. How do we become whole? Perhaps by connecting to our roots as individuals and as community.


Watch for those times
in your life
when you come alive,
animated, he says;
see your arms gesturing
like two old men in the market
relating the news--
pay attention;
there lie the clues
to authenticity,
Go to that place;
write it down.

7 Mar 087

These were words from another wise counselor years ago. I was reminded of the relationship in words but the etymology Dr. Linman presented in each meditation. Getting back to sources, to the roots is reading the dictionary of ourselves.


The river slows here,
full of froth
from the rapids upstream;
it makes a turn,
nudged by this rise of land
as a liner coaxed by a tug--
it moves with a weight
of all that is.

I go to the summer,
a slowness in the air

legs and arms
over the inner tube,

7 Mar 08

The Housatonic was such a presence this year. The heavy rains had the river raging. And yet in all the turmoil of the river, brown with silt and branches, it slowed around the bend where the hill on which the conference center sits. It was reading a book on meditation, on slowing down the mind and just being in the present, floating around a turn.


        "She hath often dreamed of unhappiness,
        and waked herself with laughing" --Shakespeare, "Much Ado About Nothing"

      I am telling the story
      of the pig with a wooden leg--
      a bit of a shaggy dog
      with a surprise turn at the end;
      we are both laughing
      from our hips
      and life is good.
      It may be a hundred times
      and still I laugh,
      awakened from the season's misery
      in the shining of the telling.

      7 Mar 08

      Bruce Smith and I were trading stories at dinner, before the silence. Like two blokes at the corner pub, we were telling stories and jokes. The "pig with the wooden leg" is one of my favorites. And we enjoyed a hearty laugh at the punch line--new to Bruce and familiar to me, yet in the telling and the laughing it was a shining moment of renewal and camaraderie.

      Morning Prayer

        "In you we live and move and have our being." BCP

      We read the morning prayer
      and I remember
      her story of the two baskets:
      the kingdom in the outer
      and our fragile wicker abode
      afloat in the center.
      I imagine two handles
      up above,
      and reaching for them;
      at times I can steady the rocking.
      When we die, she said,
      the smaller basket falls away
      and we see
      that we were always in the larger basket--
      and I dream of falling
      through the loose weave of life
      and being held
      in nothing at all.

      7 Mar 08

      Though the first memory is of last year's retreat, and Barbara Crafton's powerful story of the two baskets, this is also about the remembering in the liturgy of morning prayer whose we are.

      The Unmoving

      The uphill path
      through the pines
      has remnants of ice,
      pine needles,
      half-way up the rise
      two naked pine trunks
      have fallen across the way,
      short limbs of broken branches
      radiate out as the spokes of a ship's wheel;
      I grab hold as if to turn
      and lean into the unmoving.

      8 Mar 08

      The unpaved road that runs across the wooden bridge over the train tracks and up the hill to the summer cabins was blocked by two fallen pine trees that looked to be dead before they fell. All the bark was gone from both and the smooth yellow wood of the trunks shone in the rain. The branches of a pine radiate out in a rings around the trunk. It had the look of a ship's wheel, so I grabbed one and pulled. Nothing. There are times in our lives when we want to move the unmovable. But there's no way around it. We have to live it.

      Speaking out loud

      In the midst of naked trees
      x-rayed wet with cold raw rain,
      the lichen shines as lime dots
      of paint on a grey canvas--
      fog hangs over the river
      and the luminous
      is not silent.

      8 Mar 08

      This is a very short poem--an exclamation of sorts. Turning from the fallen trees in the prior poem, and walking back down the mountain road, I was stunned by how the lichen on the winter trees glowed in the rain and fog. I would not have seen it if it were not for the dominance of the all the grey of that day. This struck me as something of the message of Easter toward which Lent yearns.

      Evening Prayer

      The smoke pirouettes to the rafters
      with a flourish from the candles,
      extinguished to an end,
      one then the other,
      with a brass rook--
      a bow before, between, following
      the blessing.
      Wicks beacon orange,
      then fade into night.

      8 Mar 08

      The dance of the smoke from the altar candles was arresting. It was such an image of conclusion. I could not remember the name of the brass item used to extinguish the candles. A web page of instructions for a Lutheran Acolyte provided the answer. Fitting.

      Lesser Feasts and Fasts

      Putting away the Bible,
      I see a slim volume
      deeper in the cabinet,
      in the last row of books
      leaning into each other--
      "Lesser Feasts and Fasts."
      I close the paneled door,
      then saying its title twice
      to myself,
      I open the door anew,
      reach for the volume,
      run my fingers down its contents,
      and enter in whatever small way
      I can
      without the food of words.

      8 Mar 08

      In the great room where we meet for the meditations are a series of wooden paneled closets on either side of the fireplace. Inside are Bible of a few translations, Hymnals, the Book of Common prayer, and this slim volume I had never seen before. The title alone evoked an image that begged writing down. But they key turn in the poem is the "going back," the re-immersion in the moment that just happened. This is a kind of baptismal moment, when in that ritual we go back to the Jordan. But is it also a stopping and soaking it in.


      I dream about the electrical outlet,
      the one without its cover,
      the one I've neglected for years,
      since the basement office was built.
      It was a combination
      of round and square fixtures
      no standard plate would fit,
      its wires exposed--
      I had not searched for it,
      nor changed it
      to two rounds
      or two squares,
      where the proverbial holes
      would fit;
      nor was I ready to say
      it would not work,
      I'd make do--
      obvious now that it would never
      pass inspection.
      I woke with a sense
      of incompleteness,

      8 Mar 08

      Ever once in while I have a dream that just needs to be told, where my job is just to write it down. This is one of those "unfinished business" dreams about which we have a moment of panic, followed by a new awareness that there is something in our lives to which we need to pay greater attention.

      After the storm

      After the storm,
      the river surges
      angry at its banks;
      in a small eddy
      four white mergansers
      the sun is still new,
      the shadows long,
      and this quartet
      eats the silence,
      feeds on the being in the world.

      9 Mar 08

      After a day and a half of heavy rain, the Housatonic is back with a fury on Sunday morning. While eating breakfast, Alice points to the four white ducks in a place of serenity in the midst of that swollen torrent. I ask her to write down the name. Mergansers. Beautiful. Those three syllables ate of all the silence for me by just being. Those who like to read the philosophers will also see the Existentialists in the final line.


      I rehearse the routines,
      the morning and evening
      making lists
      as I imagine
      reaching for things
      assumed in hand.
      This is how I prepare
      to journey,
      making the granted

      9 Mar 08

      Getting ready for my sabbatical at Dartmouth, I've been obsessed with lists, afraid I'll forget something I need (likely tied to the unfinished business it the outlet dream!) I often pack for a trip by putting in my bag each item as I use it in the evening and morning before heading for the airport. There's a ritual to this, a liturgy of packing, if you will. If you do this in your mind's eye as you pack you imagine the movements and add the items that would be at the end of your hand. These are all the things I take for granted. I assume that they will just be there. Packing and ritual, reminds me that it can be new.

      Broken for me

      In the prayers of the Eucharist,
      in the brokenness and redemption,
      I am aware that I have lived
      my life in chapters,
      full of words and fury,
      peace and kindness,
      climax and close
      and ever after.

      9 Mar 08

      The Eucharist is a powerful and rich image for those of us in the Christian heritage. The strongest message for me is that the brokenness is not the final word.

      The words

      Before he reads the Gospel,
      the teacher asks us to listen for the word
      or phrase that speaks to us.
      I choose "with her hair,"
      this washing of feet not with cloth or sponge,
      but a part of herself.
      I imagine Mary on her knees,
      leaning forward so her tresses fall
      about his feet--
      this is a giving that is an emptying
      an opening to be filled.

      9 Mar 08

      Read John 11:1-45. Lazarus dominates the passage, but Mary is the one who shines.

      In the eye of light

      The sun moves to the high window
      and blinds me,
      the dust on my glasses
      opaquely luminous--
      I cannot read the hymn.
      Visoring with my hand,
      leaning forward in my chair,
      the rays move over me head
      and I under its hand.
      At the end of the a capella song
      I look up--
      The single iris on the table
      is a aflame in the eye of light.

      9 Mar 08

      Last year, the train lumbering by awoke my senses during the Sunday morning service. This year it was the sun. This had not happened in twelve years; it was the first year of day light savings time in early March. And at the appointed hour the sun shone on me and the iris, blinding me and healing me, so I could see again.

      Good Friday and Easter lie ahead. As in Advent, we watch and wait. More poems will follow as this Lenten wandering unfolds.

      An invitation to breathe

      A sea of crocuses
      rolled in early
      and surprised me,
      violet so not the shade
      of winter,
      but the stole of Lent--
      oh the hope and welcome
      in that upturned cradle
      of a delicate palm!

      15 Mar 08

      Sometimes the repetition and the expected become new and unexpected. Breathing is so taken for granted, and yet the first signs of spring can take your breath away.


      Leaving on Good Friday,
      the night is a bolero--
      air cold, as winter
      will not relent.

      Through the boughs of pines
      supplicating to the wind
      shines a moon
      so piercing
      the clouds caught on either side--

      So this leaving
      down stone steps,
      the crunch of sand and salt so crisp
      I am in its hand

      21 Mar 08

      One of the most moving moments in the Good Friday liturgy, is the solemn, silent leaving at the end--especially poignant when the servicee is at night. There is no greeting, just departure. All the Passion is gone, the pain, the suffering, the evil-- gone. We have witnessed the other side of Christmas--Emmanuel, God is with us in the beginning and the end.

      In the fullness of time

      She opens the purple bow
      on the oval box
      of chocolate eggs
      "oh ho ho," she says
      touching the green foil wrapped one
      with her tiny hand.
      "Later," I say.
      Wonder dashed in her eyes,
      she backs away.
      After dinner,
      she is covered in chocolate,
      ringing her lips and each finger,
      the arrival sweeter
      from the longing.

      Easter 08

      In the eyes of babes is the loss and the triumph of the Kingdom.

      * * *

      All Poems © Copyright 2008, E. Granger-Happ, All Rights Reserved.

      Return to the Preface
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