The Cross is More than a Whisper

I wrote this poem after visiting Israel/Palestine. That trip forever changed how I view war and our world. However, a poem uses specificity to speak to universality. These words came from the Middle East but speak to all injustice, whether across the ocean in an ancient desert, or a few miles away in Memphis, Tennessee or just outside my door in Olive Branch, Mississippi.

If our God is for us then who can ever stop us…

If our God is for us,

then who are we
for?

What do we stand against?

I have to ask, because

the bombs are steady falling.
I watch the babies die,
the mothers cry,
the men turned each day
to animal instinct,
to survival at expense
of love, life, peace.

The bombs fall and we

who claim to believe
our God can do anything…

What the hell are we doing?

How dare we debate doctrine

as our brothers die.
How dare we who follow the Christ
throw stones and walk past
the beaten man in the ditch?
How dare we side
with human power?

The bombs fall.

The people cry.
The bodies are broken
and peace will die.

Because we stand by

motionless
and let this happen.

We are letting this happen.

We quote the Old Testament

and Revelation
but never Jesus.
We can’t quote Jesus
to defend ourselves
because deep down we know
that Jesus is ashamed.

How dare we claim

not?

You go to Israel and watch

the agony and hate,
watch as you read
the Sermon on the Mount
and then you tell me
if Jesus is proud
of all we see
in his homeland.

Was the cross only for me?

Was the cross only a whisper

when it’s meant to be a scream?

 

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Saint Mama

If you are trying to know me,
watch my mother laugh.
Better, even,
you be the one
to make her.
First, there is her giggle,
when her eyes dance,
and I have to smile,
because I love her so much.
But, more perfect that even
her giggle,
is when she laughs so hard
she has to put her head down
on the table,
arms all akimbo.
At these moments,
my mom is pure light,
and if you see her right then,
you’ll know her,
and by knowing her,
some part of you can’t help
but know me.

 

I wrote this after a baby shower. I’d attended with my mother and got to watch her in a different environment than the one we are used to. She was with an old friend, and she brought a quilt she made as a gift. Everyone praised the quilt. It was gorgeous. The things my mama can do with a needle…

I loved watching her that day, how she laughed.

Mom had to go to work when I was in 5th grade, and she worked long hours. She was tired a lot, and I never appreciated her or helped her the way I should have. I suppose that is typical for a kid, but I wish I hadn’t been that kind of typical.

As an adult, most people would tell you how like my daddy I am. I look a lot like him. We are both readers and writers. I tend to isolate myself and live in fantasy worlds like him. I get it.

But I am also like my mother. I see it more and more as the years pass. The bluegrass music Mom loves is a comfort to me. When I am lonely or homesick, I play MP3s of Mama singing Loretta Lynn songs.

I shop like my mother. We are frugal. Sometimes to a fault. Despite my mad-artist tendencies, I turn practical when it comes to spending money on myself. I love to buy gifts, but I want them to be gifts the person will actually love and use. I don’t enjoy forcing the gesture.

Mom will watch TV while she quilts. Many of my memories include her silver thimble and the tomato shaped pin cushion. I didn’t inherit her talent with cloth anymore than I inherited her singing voice, but I do watch TV while working on my own creations… Project Life or graphics for Middle Places.

The first year I lived away from home, when Mother’s Day rolled around, I flipped out. I thought I would be fine without my mama, but I was wrong. And so, in the middle of the night, my husband piled me and our newborn into the car and drive six and a half hours to drop me on Mama’s doorstep. He had to turn right around and drive the six and a half hours home and go into work. He’s a saint.

My mother, who worked so hard and loves so much… She’s a saint too.

I love my Mama.

If you can’t hug your mom today, hug someone else’s. Just find a mama and love on her.

Love on yourself a little too.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

I Ride Horses When I’m Sleeping

I ride horses when I’m sleeping…

Horseback riding is one of those things I always wanted to do but never could. As a little girl, my best friend would get off our bus at a horse farm and take vaulting lessons once a week. I watched longingly from the window as she walked toward the barns. Sometimes I went with her and sat to the side, watching but never allowed to participate. My family couldn’t afford for me to ride horses. Once, my friend’s family took me with them on a trail ride at the YMCA and it is one of my favorite memories in the world.

When I think of happiness and freedom, I think of riding a horse.

When we first moved to Tupelo, we were renters, on the lookout for a home to buy. I fell in love with a specific house that I drove past daily. It was out of our price range, but I couldn’t shake my need for it.

Why did I love that house so much?

It backed up to a horse farm.

I could have sat on my couch and watched horses out the big back window. I saw myself sipping coffee, writing in my journal, watching the horses…

We bought a different house. I gave up on the horses.

This month, our theme has been (Re)Plenish. I’m in a hard place as a parent and as a person right now. I’m struggling emotionally and not doing a good job of replenishing myself. Or, rather, my attempts at replenishing myself feel a bit like pouring buckets of water into a black hole. I’m never ever ever gonna fill that sucker up.

One thing I am trying is a class on writing flash fiction. Flash fiction is daunting to me, as are short stories.

In between book projects, this is something I like to do… take writing classes, read books on writing, and – most importantly – write something different. Last year, I took a free poetry writing class through Open Courses. Today, I reread the pieces I wrote during that class, and when I came across this one, I knew I had to share it.

Maybe, one day, I will ride horses while I’m waking…

I ride horses when I’m sleeping.
They are strong dark horses, and I
am long and lean against them,
my body held tight, fingers tangled in
soot mane, black hair,
our hearts both pounding
against the green of graves.

I saw myself dreaming
from a window in the house where shadows lurked.
I closed my eyes tight like hands on leather reigns,
and I pretended not to see
the phantom creatures coming…
bearing down on me.

Now a mother, a lover, a woman,
I open my dark eyes and choose
to saddle fear.
I break free on wild horses,
long and lean against them,
my body held tight, fingers tangled in
soot mane, black hair.

We are racing. We are are flying. We are hauling
battered hope
from ancient graves.

I saw myself dreaming.
I ride horses when I’m sleeping.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

Slow

I wake up slow, dreams lingering, whether good
or dark or strange, they hold
my arms and whisper. I wake up slow
and stumble through routine, because routine
is another kind of medication for me,
an antidepressant that doesn’t come inside
orange bottles. I have to want it.
Breakfast. Meds. Reading something spiritual and then
there is coffee and the kids are gone to school and the house
is quiet for a while. I am slow though –
slow to get started.
Dishes rinsed and in the dishwasher, and the coffee
drips into the cup and
should I pack boxes or work on a project?
I have an essay due and the floor needs to be mopped.
Again.
Sisyphus.
Me.
Up the hill of the day until
the school bell rings and the kids come home,
and I am tense, trying to balance one son’s moods and
the other’s exuberance with my own
exposed nerves, no pills entirely shielding
me from this.
I ride the wave,
and the black water swirls
so slow,
no hurricane today,
just a bathtub draining.
Back down the hill, I am Sisyphus,
until the sun sets and the clock blinks an okay time
to sleep.
I fall into the fresh cleaned sheets
and vivid dreams…
fall slow.
HT
I’m needing a jumpstart and a poet friend, Shaindel, mentioned these Poem-A-Day prompts for April. This one was to write a poem about an adjective.

What if Mary Didn’t

What if Mary didn’t want
her child to be special?
Maybe she did,
in the beginning,
when the word had only just
become flesh, but
didn’t her heart break

when he turned his family
away amid the crowd?
Wasn’t her heart pierced
as with a sword just as
the man at the Temple foretold?
Did she not, in that split second
when he met her eyes and gave her John
wish she could take back her words,

Let it be?
Let this be?
Let this horror, this nightmare,
this ending of her soul’s beginning,
this death…
Let it be?

Could I ever be the mother you are,
Mary?
Can I ever look at my son
at his most broken and abandoned
and say
yes, Lord,

Let it be.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

I Believe in Fan-Girling

fangirling

I believe in fangirl-ing.

I do.

Here’s the deal:

When someone inspires you, you should tell them. Tell them face-to-face or write them a letter or send an email or skywrite it with an airplane above their house. I don’t care how you tell them. Just tell them. We need to know when we inspire one another.

God uses people to help people. Often Person-A never even knows God used them to help Person-B. And then, one day, Person-A may be feeling really down. They may be feeling worthless. They may feel like nothing they have done really matters.

That’s when it helps to hear from Person-B.

I tell you this coming off a weekend where I totally fangirl-ed.

Eight years ago, I was a poet with no idea what to do with all of my poems. I sent them out and published a few, but that just didn’t feel like my purpose. I knew God gave me words but I was at a loss for how to use them. And then, on the big screen in a church we were visiting, a poet appeared. She spoke her words with passion. And a room full of people were hearing those words and thinking about those words.

A dream was born in me that day.

I didn’t do anything with it then. A year later, we moved to Tupelo, the place I first saw Amena Brown performing spoken word on a big screen. At that point, all I had done with my new dream was watch a lot of Amena’s videos and picture myself performing spoken word inside my own head. My friend, Ashley, ordered me Amena’s DVD for my birthday. I used it when teaching poetry at homeschool co-op. I offered it to our creative team to use during worship. I slowly started to tell people that I wanted to do something like that one day.

But I didn’t know how to do it. There were no open mic nights in Tupelo, Mississippi.

It was one of our associate pastors, Sapada, that started having me memorize and recite poetry as part of our worship service. He asked me to do the thing that scared me… the thing I wanted to do with all my heart.

And I did it.

And then I was invited to perform a poem at Asia Rainey’s show when she came to Tupelo. And I did it. And I felt good… right… alive.

So this past weekend, when I was hostess in the green room for a youth gathering in Jackson, it was no coincidence. Many months ago, I saw Amena Brown’s picture on the event poster and I sent a message to the guy putting it together (a friend of ours). I said, “Mike, does Amena need a ride to or from the airport? Is there ANYTHING I can do to meet Amena?” And he put me in the green room, taking care of the band and speakers, the DJ (Amena’s husband) and the dancers… Lots and lots of people. My introverted heart was nervous, but excited.

Now, a caveat on fangirl-ing. When I say fangirl, I don’t mean the teeny-bopper screaming, “sign my bra” bit that I have seen at concerts. If that is how you fangirl, that is your business. I prefer conversation. Also, I don’t do small talk. I’m not good at it. So when I say fangirl, I mean meeting someone you admire and being honest about admiring them while still remembering they are a person and not some superhero.

In the end, superheroes aren’t nearly as admirable as real people. They have superpowers. A regular person does not. And that’s what makes them amazing… a regular person has to overcome all of the obstacles regular people face. THAT is inspiring.

I met Amena, and we talked about writing and performing and also about life, about marrying youth ministers, about books we read, about people we admire… about fangirling. Because we both do it, and we’ve even fangirled over some of the same people (hello, Nikki Giovanni). It was wonderful to discover I like Amena. Sometimes, you admire someone from afar and up close there is no connection at all. That wasn’t the case this weekend, and I came home content, smiling, with new friends and new inspiration.

I believe in fangirling.

My challenge to you today is this: Go ye forth and fangirl.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

Thank You, Dr. King

My sons live a life
filled with color and the name
Jim Crow means nothing
in their ears.

I danced days
to African drums,
black and brown and
caramel cream
bodies moving in sync
with my own pale arms
and legs.
We flew across
the floor.

My father’s adoration
was born in Nephertiti
and brought me to a life
with multi-colored brothers
and sisters,
and my poet heart was formed
in the rhythm
of Nikki Giovanni,
her cotton candy words
a key to open me
forever.

I thank you,
Dr. King,
for your bold dream,
for your great hope –
the change for which
you gave up everything,
followed Jesus
to a cross,
the reformation wrought
by words, by ideas,
by truth,
wrought to give me
and my children
a world
worth dreaming in,
a world where all our dreams
can every one
in every color
dance free.

middleschoolmp

Middle School means “awkward stage” for a lot of girls (and boys). I was no exception. As a small child, I was used to being adorable and pampered. People commented on my black hair and big eyes and “china doll” complexion. Then, I suddenly had long gangly limbs and my hair held oil like nobody’s business. Kids called me Wednesday Adams or Casper. I hated my freckles and the fact that my dark hair meant my legs looked like money legs until Mom finally gave in and let me shave. Boys made up rhymes about my flat chest. You know… middle school happened.

But something else happened too. I started taking dance classes. They were public school dance classed, so we touched on all the styles, starting with ballet but also doing jazz and tap and modern. By the time I was in high school, I discovered I wasn’t half bad at certain kinds of dancing. One day, working on choreography in the gym, one of my classmates called out, “Hey white girl!” She motioned me over and included me in her group.

I was often shunned by my peers. Even after my awkward stage. I didn’t have the right clothes… enough money… the right opinions. I walked on eggshells around most white girls. Back then, I didn’t think of it in those terms. But, in hindsight, the girls who were mean and exclusive were all white. Instinctively, when I entered a classroom, I would gravitate to the black girls, the Asian girls, the Hispanic girls. I was never quite one of them, but they never once shunned me for being different. They never made fun of me.

I hesitated to write this. Probably, it’s not PC to say such things. I still have friends of all colors, and I have learned there are things we can say to each other that we could never say to the general public. But this is the truth…

I am so thankful that Dr. King and others stood up for justice and equality. They paved the way for a future where I could find friends who accept me for who I am. And that is the least of their great accomplishments.

Thank you, Dr. King.