Saturday, April 19, 2014

Love in the Time of Climate Change

--I feel like I should have more to say about the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I feel like I should have more to say about his work.

--But here's my guilty confession:  I haven't read the novels.  I do love teaching "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I want to think I will read the novels some day.  But each year brings more and more that I want to read.  Sigh.  Maybe in retirement.

--What am I reading instead?  This week it's Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction.  When I first got it from the library, I felt a bit of disappointment.  I want her to be discussing the current extinction, also known as the Holocene Extinction.  She is, but she's doing it in a round-about way, by talking about 13 species who have died, 13 species which have a larger symbolism.  It's a compelling book.

--It feels like a perfect book for Passover and Holy Week, those high holy days which celebrate events which must have felt like a visitation of end times.

--On my theology blog this morning, I wrote this post about my Lent of many cancers--none of them mine, thankfully.  Still, it's been quite a season of reminders of mortality.  I was sitting at Good Friday service, thinking of those metaphors for mortality, the dry bones, the ashes.  But modern mortality feels more like murderous cells running amok, swimming and sailing along the blood stream.  Modern mortality involves rising seas.  Modern images of mortality are very wet.

--I still have hopes that decades from now, my friend and I will be little old ladies rocking on a porch somewhere.  We'll look back to this time when she struggled with esophageal cancer as one of those times when we were afraid and weepy but it all turned out OK.
She'll mock me gently.  You'll say, "You worried about me, but you should have been worried about sea level rise and how stupid you were to buy a house that's so close to the beach!"
We'll raise a glass to all the houses that have been swallowed by the sea, and all the ones we've loved, those who are still with us, and those who have gone on ahead.
--Kolbert's book talks about background extinctions, the ones that are happening all the time, the ones that are too small for us to notice.  She contrasts these to mass extinctions.  There seems a sort of poetry in these ideas, a symbolism waiting to be mined.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Wishing for Safe Passage

Yesterday I confessed to a friend at work that I have "trust fund envy."  She reminded me of all those trust fund folks who don't show outer evidence of groundedness.

I thought of the volunteer appreciation breakfast that had started my day.  I went to Collins Elementary, where I am a Reading Pal.  I wasn't sure what to expect.

The Reading Pals comprised about 1/3 of the group.  There were 5-8 people there who were members of St. Ruth Missionary Baptist Church, just three blocks away from the school.  Some people had attended the school when they were young.

I could be wrong, but I'd guess that no one in that room had a trust fund.  Many of us have been lucky enough to have our needs met, either through our own hard work or through the hard work of our parents or grandparents.  And of course, if we came to that breakfast, it seems safe to say that we understand the value of giving back to the more vulnerable members of our community.

Collins Elementary has a student body primarily composed of minority populations.  I want to believe that those children have as much of a chance at success as anyone, but I know the odds are stacked against them.  I understand the demographics of the U.S. prison system.

When I got to the school, an older child was summoned to escort me to the Learning Resource Center.  The boy held the door for me as we left the office and as we entered the LRC.  He made polite conversation.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for him.

I think of my Reading Pal who is so eager to please.  The program uses this trait to promote reading; on Wednesday, he read a whole book to me, which was a first.  I think of all the predators out there who could abuse this child's desire to please adults.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for him and all the little children.

The elementary school is set up for the safety of children and to encourage their natural curiosities and learning potential.  I know that many students don't have this same experience in middle and high schools.  How I wish for a life of safe passage for them.

This has been a week season of reminders of the fragility of life.  We think we have a secure job and that because we do it well, we will avoid lay offs:  but we believe at our peril.  One minute we have glowing good health and the next minute we're being screened to see if cancerous cells have set off on a journey.  It's Passover and Holy Week, with the ritualized reminders of this fragility of life all week.

How I wish for a life of safe passage for us all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spiritual Insights--and Poems!--at the Airport

Sunday's post of a few weeks ago put me in mind of poems I've written, poems that explore the intersections of air travel, bread, and spirituality.  It's not necessarily a path that many poets explore. I refer to Maundy Thursday, after all.  Who even knows that festival anymore?

Still, I send these odd poems out, and they find a home.  This one was published in Florida English.

Today is Maundy Thursday, so it's also a good day to post this poem.  And I got the good news last night that my best friend who has esophageal cancer was able to eat a regular meal last night.  Between tumors and nausea, she hasn't been eating much at all this year.  This poem reminds me of her, of my trip to visit her, of that long afternoon in the airport.

Perhaps it's time to think about putting together a new chapbook or full-length manuscript.  Maybe it's time for a book that's more overtly spiritual.  Yesterday I got my copy of The Nearest Poem Anthology, where my poem "Heaven on Earth" appears.  That poem is a favorite of so many people.  Maybe it's pointing me in a direction I should follow.

In the meantime, here's the poem.  I wrote it when my flight was delayed by hours and hours on Maundy Thursday at the Atlanta airport.  As I observed the airport and thought about the ancient holiday and my home church, the poem practically wrote itself.

Maundy Thursday at Hartsfield

 We long for Celestial food, or at least to leave our earthbound
selves behind, but it is not to be. The airport shuts
down as late thunderstorms sweep across the south.
I resign myself to spending Maundy Thursday in the airport.

One of a minority who even knows the meaning of Maundy,
I roam restlessly. I cannot even approximate
a Last Supper—the only food to be had is fast
and disgusting. I think of that distant
Passover, the Last Supper that transformed
us into a Eucharistic people.

A distant outpost of a vast empire, teeming
with a variety of humans, all hurrying
and keeping our heads down: Jerusalem or the modern
airport? I watch my fellow humans, notice
the hunger in their faces, their haunted feet,
so in need of love and water.

I watch Spring Breakers and athletes and moms
and gnarled elders and unattached children, all racing
through their earthly days, hurtling through time,
crossing continents, without any rituals to ground
them. I think of Christ’s radical
agenda: homelessness, care, and listening,
ignoring rules that made no sense,
making scarce resources stretch,
food eaten on the run, a community hunted
by their own and by the alien government.
I miss my own church, by now gathered in a dark
sanctuary, participating in ancient rituals
we don’t fully understand, looking for that thin
place between the sacred and the every day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

National Poetry Month: the Half Way Point and the Mountain Top

We are halfway through National Poetry Month.  How is your month going?

I have not been trying to write a poem a day.  In ordinary times, I would be happy to write a poem a week; this month, I missed a week, but I have hopes of writing some extra poems this week-end, since we have Friday off.

I did submit my poetry manuscript to Copper Canyon Press.  I thought I had submitted before, but I looked through my submission log to discover that I had not.  I like that I paid $35 and got not only permission to submit, but 2 books.

I will buy more books of poetry too, before the month is over, but I do that most months.  The trick comes in remembering to read poetry, not just support the poetry community by buying books.

In short, my National Poetry Month looks a lot like every other month.  In many ways, I think that's a good thing.

Some years, I've ramped up my poetry activity during April.  I often end up exhausted by May and not writing anything for a month or more.

And yet, I look back to those years with some wistfulness:  all the poems I wrote!  all the ways I felt fully engaged and alive!  the fact that I felt like I was doing what I was put on earth to do!

Could I capture that feeling without the full-tilt pace?  What are the ways to cultivate those highs in my daily poetry life?

Or are those years of full participation in National Poetry Month more like going on a retreat or pilgrimage?  The mountain-top-experience is great, but one must return from the mountain.

But must we return?  Can we not infuse the mountain top into our daily lives?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Celestial Signs

As I write this, the moon is coming out of eclipse.  It's stunning to see it shining again after several hours of muddiness.  I didn't see a blood red moon so much as a smudged moon.

The sight of the moon coming out of eclipse puts me in mind of Advent texts, not Holy Week texts:  "The people who have dwelt in darkness have seen a great light" and "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

Of course, some will think of the Passover texts, of nature behaving oddly (because God orchestrates it or because of other reasons) and bending the will of rulers.  The moon this morning could have been confused with a moon marked by clouds, but I'm guessing it looks different at other points on the planet.

I got up at 3:30 and wondered where we were in the progress of the eclipse, so I slipped outside.  Yes, mostly eclipsed.  I'm always amazed at how slowly a lunar eclipse progresses.  I went back inside.

A bit later, the phone rang.  It was my friend and back yard neighbor who rents our cottage.  We met in the back yard.  As we stood there for half an hour, she told me she'd never seen an eclipse.  One does have to make an effort with most eclipses, so I guess I'm not surprised.  And even if the hours are right, it doesn't take much in the way of weather to disrupt viewing.

And it takes time.  The first time I viewed an eclipse down here, I sat and waited and got amused at my lack of patience.  Now I just return to viewing throughout the eclipse, as I rarely have the patience to watch for several hours.

I think of the year that the eclipse would come early in the evening and be beautiful at the beach.  We invited friends over, but everyone had the same idea we did.  We ended up watching the eclipse from the back yard.  It was early in the history of our friendship as 2 couples, and I remember thinking the friendship had potential, since we all seemed adaptable to a change in plan.

This year, I want to hold on to that vision of the bright light returning to the moon.  I want to see it as a promise that no matter how long the shadow lingers over us, we will not be obscured forever.  That is a sign I need in this season of disease and death that seems to have settled over so many people I know.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Poem Possibilities in a week that includes Palm Sunday, Passover, and a Total Eclipse!

Some random thoughts as we leave Palm Sunday and head towards Passover and Holy Week.  All this, plus tax day and a lunar eclipse!

--Passover starts tonight.  I think of the Seder meals of my past, of the ways that Christians have tried to understand the Jewishness of Jesus and the shared roots of Christianity and Judaism.

--For wonderful insight into the Exodus story, see this episode of the NPR show On Being.  For a great resource that's very ecumenical yet rooted in Judaism, I highly recommend Marge Piercy's Pesach for the Rest of Us.  Lots of insight into the traditions and lots of recipes:  I think I'll bring it with me to work today.

--There's a lunar eclipse in the overnight hours.  I'll likely be up anyway between 3 and 5 a.m. in the Eastern time zone, so I'll keep an eye on it.  I'm always amazed at how much time a lunar eclipse takes.

--And it's tax day tomorrow.  I got my taxes submitted last week-end, so it's not a big day for me.  But the poet part of me wants to create a poem that weaves all of these things together.

--I've been thinking of a variety of poem possibilities.  I've got 2 Jesus in the modern world poems in my head:  Jesus goes to yoga class and Jesus shows up for the church happy hour.  Yesterday, I wrote down this line:  "I live in a universe of stray socks."

--I wrote this line down on the small refrigerator white boards where my spouse and I write notes to each other and to-do lists.  He gave me a quizzical look when he saw the line--but then again, he is used to lines that have potential showing up scribbled on all sorts of surfaces.

--I think of Palm Sunday again.  Will this be the kind of week where we meet acclaim from those who will crucify us just a few days later?

--I think of Passover.  Will this be the kind of week where we are set free from oppressions of all sorts?

--I think of tax day.  Have we paid what is due?

--I think of total eclipses.  What remains behind when something shiny is obscured?

--Yes, lots of poem possibilities!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blueberry Cake and My Attempts at Transformation

I have a blueberry coffee cake in the oven.  It's a cross between an ultra-healthy blueberry cobbler recipe from Jane Brody's Good Food Cookbook and my longing for cinnamon streusel. 

I had some blueberries in the fridge that needed to be used.  A week ago, a friend brought all sorts of fruit to our backyard cook-out.  My spouse assured me he would eat the blueberries, but he hasn't yet.

I thought about all the recipes I have for blueberry coffee cakes--but my weight is up this morning, so I didn't want to indulge.  Still, those blueberries shouldn't go to waste!

So, I remembered this recipe, which is more like a cake than a cobbler.  I added a streusel, to make it more like a special week-end coffee cake.  I'll give the recipe here; you can leave off the streusel if you just want a cake.  It's good with ice cream, if you need a quick dessert.  And it's easily doubled.  Everyone should have this kind of cake in the file.

An update, post baking:  I made far too much streusel, more than the yield below.  I didn't want to waste the streusel, so I used it all.  The resulting cake was more like bread pudding or chewy, warm granola--very tasty, but not what I was trying to create.

Am I simply using a cake batter that can't support streusel?  Or would it work with less streusel?  Will I try again?  Stay tuned!

Blueberry Cake

2/3 C. flour
1/2 C. sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 C. skim milk
2 tsp. butter (melted in advance, if you don't have a microwave)
2 C. blueberries (works with less)

Melt the butter in a 9 x 9 (or 8 x 8) pan in the microwave--or a 1 or 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.

Make the batter by combining the first 4 ingredients and pour it into the pan.  Sprinkle the blueberries on top.  If you just want a cake, go to the baking instructions.

For the streusel, cut with a knife or in the food processor, the following, adjusting as you'd like:  2-4 Tablespoons butter, 1/4 -1/2 C. brown sugar, 1/2 - 1 C. oats or flour, 1/2 c. nuts (if you like nuts),  a sprinkle of cinnamon.

You can sprinkle on the top, or if you have extra, swirl some of it through the cake and then sprinkle the rest on top.

Bake at 350 for 40 to 45 minutes.