Thursday, February 11, 2016

Construction, Dust, and Resurrection

On Monday night, I had such plans.  My spouse would be out late teaching his Philosophy class.  I wanted to make some headway with the short story I'd been writing and maybe do some grading.  But the story stalled, and I felt grouchy--I try not to grade when I'm grouchy.  I thought I might just go to bed early, but then the phone rang, and I couldn't fall back asleep.  There was nothing good on TV.

As often, I got myself back into a good mood by reading.  I picked up The Fellowship:  the Literary Lives of the Inklings  by Carol Zaleski and Philip Zaleski.  This book explores both the artistic and spiritual lives of C.S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the literary circle that they formed in Oxford in the earlier part of the 20th century.  Based on the 50 pages that I read Monday evening, this book will be a treat.

I went to my computer to check on e-mail, and I read a friend's Facebook post that noted the anniversary of John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” with its plot of ghosts of shipwrecked lepers and Dave Bonta's description of construction cranes around London, and I came up with the poem that you can find here and pasted below.

But let me also post some background and pictures that will give present readers (and future scholars?) some insight into my writing process. 

The parking lot of my school is now a building site.  It began with the parking garage that we now use.  It was fascinating to see the way that buildings are created now, with huge slabs of concrete that are shaped elsewhere and trucked to the site.  Huge cranes, guided by humans, hoist the slabs into place, and thus, the walls come into being.

Last night as I left that parking garage for Ash Wednesday service, I caught sight of the sunset to the west.  I took a few minutes to capture some pictures. 

It seemed a perfect metaphor for Ash Wednesday:  a parking lot becomes a building, and we all know that the buildings that were here 10-20 years ago have vanished for many of these new buildings.

As I was writing the poem, I thought of those paper cranes that are a peace symbol.  I thought of our church a few years ago, with its dramatic Lenten chancel.

For Easter, we transformed this starkness by hanging paper cranes on the branches.  I tried to make a few, but my cranes looked crippled and deformed.  Happily, we had a teenager who was up to the task:

They transformed the trees:

I had these cranes on the brain too, as I wrote the poem below.  I like how the poem holds the tension of Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras, of dust and resurrection within its lines, but doesn't resolve it.



Who will live in these shipwrecked leper
colonies? The cranes, the workhorse
of the Industrial Revolution, crank
away without ceasing, heaving future walls
into place. Pre-fab has such a different
meaning now, as big trucks rumble
the concrete slabs across a nation.

In my office, I fold paper cranes
the way I learned long ago, at a justice
rally on the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima
explosion or maybe for an installation art
piece made of stripped branches.

I write lines from poems on the paper
before I make the creases. I tuck these cranes
into the corners of my office building
and the chain link fence around the construction
site. I imagine them coming to life
at night, a constellation made of cranes
in a starless sky, a navigation
device that no one will need or notice.

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