A poem of body and song

On the last day of National Poetry Month, Sarah J. Donovan, creator of Ethical ELA, invites teacher-poets to celebrate thirty days of writing for VerseLove. In studying a collection of poems dealing with struggle and celebration about what we are told and believe about ourselves, Sarah says: “I thought a lot about how our bodies hold and shape so much of who we are.” Today we write to own that we are writers and poets, considering figurative body language, other voices that have influenced us, and our own song.

For me, writing calls from sacred places, inherently requiring, as an act of creation, sacred spaces.

As such, writing, poetry in particular, takes on a life of its own. It starts as one thing and becomes another. This may be more than one poem. I am just letting it be.

Polyhymnia at the Core

And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.
—C.S. Lewis, “How the Adventure Ended,” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
 
The ghost
of my father
and grandfather
are here 
in the shape
of my face
something of them
about my cheekbones
my mouth
a certain turning

My grandmother
is in my bones
those are her arms
in the mirror
fixing my hair

no denying
my mother’s eyes

the Spirit sighs

I imagine Polyhymnia
nearby
(if I can choose
my Muse)
in long cloak and veil
finger to her lips
bright eyes glimmering
silken rustlings
as she leans
whispering, 
always whispering

it is with great love
that she raises
the lion’s claw
piercing every knobby layer
of my being
peeling away
until all that remains
at my tender core
is wordless song
singing there
all along

you are alive
alive alive alive
in the listening
in the remembering
in the faces
in the sacred spaces
where you have been brought
to learn
the unforced rhythms
of grace

now find your words
and be

Polyhymnia. Joseph Fagnani, 1869.

Polyhymnia’s name means “many praises.” She is the Muse of sacred poetry, hymns, and meditation.

The lion’s claw in my poem is an allusion to the referenced chapter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Aslan peels away the enchanted dragon skin from Eustace, restoring him to his true—and transformed—self.

“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace” is from the paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message.

Take heart

For Spiritual Journey Thursday

As it’s February, the word heart came to mind when I prepared to write for Spiritual Journey Thursday (the first Thursday of each month).

No doubt Valentine’s Day conjured the word. Still feels a bit early for that, although I saw grocery shelves being stocked for it back before Christmas.

I began thinking more along the lines of taking heart. As in courage, which derives from Latin cor, meaning heart, and encourage, from Old French encoragier, to make strong, or to hearten.

One of my favorite images of courage and being encouraged is a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, young Prince Caspian’s ship has sailed into a mysterious, enchanted darkness where nightmares come true. Lucy prays to Aslan, the Narnian lion-god: “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us, send us help now.” The darkness doesn’t change but Lucy senses an inner change. She sees a speck of white materializing above. It comes closer and closer. An albatross, which whispers in her ear as it sweeps past: “Courage, Dear Heart.” And it leads the vessel through the infernal, terrifying darkness to the light just ahead.

We are nearing the year mark of nightmarish things come true. The COVID-19 pandemic rages on. Numbers are still high. New and more virulent strains are developing before vaccines can be obtained. Schools closed last spring and are still in various stages of reopening. There’s been turbulence in the streets, at the Capitol, a heavy toll taken on people’s lives, livelihoods, psyches, and souls…a long, long darkness.

Yet there is faith. And prayer.

Even when it seems eternal
Night cannot last forever.
Courage, dear hearts
One guides you onward
Until the morning comes.
Remember you are never
Alone.
God Himself walks alongside you
Every step of the way
.

While the darkness may not have lifted, we can always sense the light.

There are, after all, the children.

They are unique encouragers. At the end of some of my remote learning sessions, students have signed off by holding up “heart hands.” My own heart lightens as I give heart hands back. While our church was closed, kids mailed handmade cards covered with crayoned hearts to my husband and me: “Pastor Bill and Miss Fran, we miss you!” Years ago, long before I entered the education profession, my oldest son, around the age of five, spent his own money to buy me a little piece of artwork bearing this quote on encouragement: A teacher in wisdom and kindness helps children learn to do exactly what they thought could not be done.

That is true. For it is exactly what the Teacher did for His students, otherwise known as the disciples, just before the the darkest days they’d ever experience. They could hardly have imagined the light ahead. Nor, I imagine, can we. But the heart, it senses. And clings to that hope.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. —John 16:33

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Spiritual journey: Grateful for belief

For Spiritual Journey Thursday, on the theme of gratitude.

I am grateful for a new morning. I am grateful to be writing about spiritual journeys on the first Thursday of the month, and for my fellow sojourners. As I write, silver-white stars are still glittering in the black sky. My kitchen bay window faces east where the sun is soon to rise. When it does, I will stop to drink in its glory.

I am grateful for books, for having developed a love of reading so early in life that I can’t remember learning how. I am grateful for libraries, for row upon row of treasures waiting to be discovered, for being ten years old and stooping to examine a curious title, for removing a book, opening the cover, and finding myself in another world.

Narnia, to be exact. That book was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. It would send me scrambling for the rest of the books in the series, always longing for more. I was given a boxed set for my twelfth birthday and the tattered copies remain on my bookshelf to this day.

When it comes to spiritual journeys, no character in Narnia with the exception of Aslan (the Talking Lion, “King of Beasts, the son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia”) outshines Reepicheep, leader of the Talking Mice. Reepicheep, who stands about two feet tall, is young King Caspian’s most loyal knight, quite fierce in battle with his small rapier. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep sails with his king to explore unmapped lands. He does not intend to return home to Narnia; instead, he means to sail to the end of the world, on to Aslan’s country.

No one knows if Aslan’s country can be reached this way. When Lucy (a human child from our world, if you did not already know) asks “Do you think Aslan’s would be that sort of country you could ever sail to,” Reepicheep says he does not know, but that when he was a baby a Dryad (spirit of a tree) sang to him in his cradle about finding his heart’s desire where “sky and water meet, where the waves grow sweet… there is utter East.”

In the movie, however, Reepicheep answers: “We have nothing if not belief.”

When the Dawn Treader can sail no farther, as it’s reached the shallows of lily-clogged, sweet waters where the sea and sky meet, Reepicheep makes his goodbyes. A tiny wooden boat is lowered from the ship and he sails on, alone, over the rim of the world.

No one ever sees him again.

At least, not in that world.

Aslan’s country is another matter…

I glance through my bay window facing east and see that the sky has changed. The upper canopy is now indigo, melting into turquoise, into lighter aqua nearer the horizon where the faintest yellow glows above a pale rosy blush… I cannot see the sun, but I know it is there… it is coming…as it always does.

I am grateful for a new morning. I am grateful for the coffee in my Reepicheep mug, for the eastern sky reminding me to rise above the things of this tainted world… as poet Robert Browning wrote: Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?

I am grateful for the journey.

*******

with thanks to C.S. Lewis and my fellow Spiritual Journey voyagers, especially Ruth who’s hosting today from Haiti. Visit her site, There’s No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town, for more on gratitude.

Also grateful for taking the plunge into creating this blog. A wonderful personal adventure it’s been, writing, discovering, remembering, and interacting with new friends all along the way. This is my 400th post.

Titanic relic

pier-54-april-2012

Pier 54,  April 21, 2012 – exactly one hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic.

Arriving by bus in New York City, the tour guide said, “This is Hudson River Park.”

Looking through the window, I saw a sign: Chelsea Piers.

Chelsea Piers – why does that sound so familiar?

The words buffered around my brain for a second or two, retrieving the information: Chelsea Piers is where the old old ocean liners docked. 

Pier 54 is where the Titanic survivors were delivered by the Carpathia – hey, that’s exactly a hundred years ago this week!

I scrambled for my phone and opened the camera.

I took the shot just as we passed.

There is no magnificent dock anymore, only a corroding steel arch standing like a neglected, tired sentinel as people go about their daily lives. It’s hard to imagine this unremarkable structure as a portal to luxury, to adventure, to the stuff dreams were made of over a century ago.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in the chapter entitled “The Dark Island”:

“Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams  – dreams, do you understand – come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

In other words, nightmares.

I tried to envision the crowd, the men in overcoats, the women in long dresses, everyone wearing hats, as the Titanic survivors disembarked on April 18, 1912. It was night. For a fleeting second, I could sense the darkness, the shattered dreams, the unspeakable horror of watching that massive, beautiful ship break apart in the icy sea, taking so many passengers with her to a deep, watery grave. The nightmare was real; it would never leave the survivors.

In an instant, the darkness vanished, my glimpse of long ago ended. I blinked in the broad daylight. As my bus sailed on, I studied the photo. A bright light shines in the very center of the arch, which once bore the words White Star. I cannot tell if my camera was poised just right to reflect a flash in the window, to be captured perfectly in the middle of that haunting remnant, or if it is a phenomenon of light from some other source; nevertheless it shines like the sun over this relic of ruin, like day following night, driving the nightmares, the ghosts, away, hallowing this entrance to another time.

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