In Memoriam

I only knew you with hair for a little while.

You told me a story about wind and a crosswalk and an errant wig that fell off in front of some poor soul. I still laugh about that one. You were sure you frightened him. You told me about a little boy who was surprised the first day you greeted him while bald. You told me about coming in headwraps and the cost of a wig and how to sew seven layers of hair to a jean cap just so. And then you put a glittering pin on it, because of course you did. I wished I had your bravery. I wondered if you were afraid of those who didn’t know, with that seamless little gap between your own blonde strands and the manufactured ones. I wondered how you would do this summer with that hot wig and that untiring smile. I imagined what your house looked like, with a wig stand by the door. And then I did see it and smiled and saw your real hair again, gray this time, and I couldn’t tell you that I was glad I got to see the faceless heads by the door and the crown of splendor that was yours.

I wonder what your hair looks like in Heaven. Is it ye old faithful blonde or the brunette I saw in pictures? Is it long enough for braids and ponytails and French twists and is it a gift that makes you laugh instead of cry?

*

I only ever knew you as a divorcée.

You kept that one close for a while, until it came out in our hundred days of conversation. You told me of faithful friends and favor on other floors and those who supported your work. You never said how terribly hard it was or how manifold were the sorrows of that season. You told me of singing tours and the always that he was and the leading of the Lord and prayers at night. And then you said, with wistfulness, that you had received the joy of the Lord and His sorrow, too. I wished I had your forgiveness. I wondered why you didn’t begin again and bit my tongue at my asking and you never spoke of those years as anything but delight. I wondered how you managed to see the gifts without their poisoned ending. And then I learned of your kindness and honesty and your choice again and again to stride in faithfulness when you were surrounded by unfaithfulness.

I wonder what it is to drink of His faithfulness now. Do you know the ways you spoke of Him without words? Do you see everything He is now and is it more heartbreakingly certain than anything or anyone you ever knew?

*

I only ever knew you as a boss.

You interviewed me on the suggestion of another. I don’t remember what we said, only that your laugh was loud and quick. Your laugh was everywhere, even when it wasn’t. Or wasn’t supposed to be. I would peek in your office and you would turn around and look up and put down and never said never. You were always a boss and always the boss and somehow in the questions and moments and tears you became more than that. I wished I had your wisdom. I didn’t know how to trust you until your truthfulness became normal and I realized that I had already begun to somewhere among those hours. I wondered how you did it and you never said something other than what it was. I wondered how they felt and you never hid the hurts. I asked how you were and you told me the good and the bad because that was the truth. I had lived with a gap of personhood and maybe you never knew the ways you gave until I realized that it hurt less than it had before. I listened when you said asking was normal and I stopped when you were surprised at my stubbornness and I hurt when your gentleness responded because I had not expected you to care.

I wonder what your honesty looks like now. Are you friend and mother and sister wrapped in bright colors there, too, still giving and caring and welcoming end upon end? Are you wholly daughter and bride and saint in ways that have swallowed the imperfections now and made them new?

*

I only ever knew you with cancer.

You didn’t tell me that. And then I asked and then you did and I wondered why you hadn’t, but it wasn’t a big deal. Or so you said. You never said it was a big deal while it knuckled at your spine and stripped your hair and slept in your organs and filled your lungs. You never said when it hurt or when it was too much. You closed your door and napped with a blanket and said it was a cold and said it was a new thing and it was always new as your thyroid sputtered and your hands swelled and somehow you still wore rings and heels and the perfect earrings for that necklace. I wished I had your perseverance. I asked you why, once. I shouldn’t have, but you let me, as you always did with my questions when I had no one else I trusted to ask. I asked and you answered and said of course. You said of course you would, day after day, for you had children to love and grandbabies to hold and the Lord had walked you this far for this long and getting up to face each day was in your bones, no matter how fragile they became. You had a  basket of yarn waiting and a trip to Mexico to make and someday you were going to return to India and of course you were going to keep going. I didn’t know if you knew how long I had yearned to ask that question and hear that answer and know that there was life to yet live in these decaying bodies.

I wonder if you are different without cancer. If your joy was already bright with laughter and draped in a sari with golden shoes, are you now glittering beyond belief? If I could sit here and listen for the laughter of your presence, does it echo across all of Heaven now that you have His breath?

*

I only ever knew you in slices of time here, ones that are precious and marked and full of the golden hue of fellowship. I only ever knew you between office doors and pieces of paper and the borders of what we were supposed to be doing. I only ever knew you as the woman who hired me twice and loved me a dozen times over. But I will know you again, in the fullness of time, full of precious delight and the golden hue of the New Jerusalem. And I will know you in a place beyond borders and full of feasting and we will both be in bodies that carry no expiration date. And I will hug you when you do not feel like paper and tell you one more time how dearly I love you and it will not be for the last time. And it will be good, as He is.

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2018 Books: June

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2011 edition)

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novel)

 

Less reading this month than I expected, but I’m in the midst of some wonderful books heading into July. Also, Neil Gaiman, whew. The man writes stuff with equal parts profundity and profanity. I wish more authors understood the nature of idolatry and sacrifice as well as he does.

lost.

to be shocked to tears by a glimpse;

the clear shade of light and

the dark blurring of shadow not

the paint-by-numbers of human hands

and soak it in as if this place of near-hue could possibly flood all the gray corners of dead space

to know the trueness of a scent;

the realness of color and

the piquancy of reality not

the bitter tang of chemical mockery

and gasp for it as if you can only breathe one more time and this last taste is what you choose

to hold a piece of former things;

the tracery of forgotten touch and

the ownership of your own fingerprints not

the betrayal of misplaced memories

and clutch it again and find that your hands are not small enough for this to feel the same

to chase down lanes of new life;

the cresting hill of new memories and

the worn grooves of your own footprints not

the treacherous cobblestones of old lifetimes

and look for known lands through the refracted haze of dust and ghosts

to hear the strains of yesterday’s loves;

the wistful line of once begotten and

the thumping echo of heart songs not

the muffled clatter of foreign feet

and lean towards the light-spun notes that can neither be held nor heard again

to reach for another’s touch;

the honest smiles of welcome and

the generous hearts of selfessless not

the choking grip of needy arms

and find new callouses and listless hands and familiar lines composing a stranger’s face

to be placeless.

Unfinished

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I fight?

***

Who is this God who was when there was not?

Who is this God who breathed life into dust and formed kinship from bones?

Who is this God who walked with His creation in the garden?

Who is this God who clothed those who hid from His face?

Who is this God who heard the cry of wrongful death?

Who is this God who passed through fire and covenant blood?

Who is this God who promised faithfulness to the faithless?

Who is this God who called forth and sent out and was with to the galaxy of generations?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I plead?

***

Who is this God who heralded himself with trumpets and a chorus of angels?

Who is this God who announced himself with a baby’s cry?

Who is this God who clothed his glory in human skin?

Who is this God who spoke to the outcast and lifted the face of the least of these?

Who is this God who wore the nakedness of emperors and the scorn of sinners?

Who is this God who stretched out his arms before the world?

Who is this God who could not be contained by tombs and rags?

Who is this God who goes to prepare a home for me?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I strive?

***
Who is this God who draws near to me?

Who is this God who draws me near to him?

Who is this God who said to Jacob: “Let me go”?

Who is this God who will never leave?

Who is this God who plagues with blood and darkness?

Who is this God who restores the years of the locusts?

Who is this God who grants weeping in the night?

Who is this God who sings the lullabies of heaven?

Who is this God who teaches His children to walk?

Who is this God who allows them to stumble yet again?

Who is this God who collects these precious tears?

Who is this God who will wipe them away?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God to whom I cry?

***
Who are you, God?

***

Who are you, God, who walk before and behind and hold all the earth even as it is under your feet?

Who are you, God, who hold back the floodgates of destruction yet send the rain on the just and the unjust?

Who are you, God, who listens to us cry and weeps with us over this world that is not as it should be?

Who are you, God, who heals the sick, gives rest to the weary, and carries the lambs who cannot walk?

Who are you, God, who does not heal me?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God for whom I yearn?

***
Who are you, God, that I should grapple with you and grip your promises with bloodstained hands?

Who are you, God, that these hands should be cleansed by the lifeblood of the Lamb?

Who are you, God, that you rename us and place us in new families of grace upon grace?

Who are you, God, that you should make yourself known in human skin and holy presence?

Who are you, God, that you give yourself again in bread and wine for those who hunger and thirst?

Who are you, God, that you should listen and long for and leave the ninety-nine to answer the pleading of the one who is lost?

Who are you, God, that you delight to be asked?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God in whom I live?

***

“I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the LORD.” Hosea 2:20

2018 Books: May

Here we go for this month…listed in the order read, as always.

The Graveyard Book, Vol. 2 by Neil Gaiman et al. (graphic novelization by P. Craig Russell)

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

Dreams of Gods & Monsters by Laini Taylor

A shorter list this month, but I blame the hazards of graduating, moving, travelling in Europe, and starting a new job. So instead I read pt. 2 of one of my favorite Neil Gaiman books, a book of semi-autobiographical Vietnam War stories, and a YA trilogy with gorgeous writing that I’m still not sure how I feel about. And in between were three other books that don’t belong on this list because I’m not done with them yet. See ya soon, June.

cardboard lives

I made him when I was a child

bits and pieces of paper and string

the misshapen trunk of a dryer hose

a cardboard box with a knee-shaped dent and a torn flap

tape and glue and silver threads of imagination

with googly eyes set to rattle around

always askew

I called him Mr. Robot.

*

I played with him when I was a child

concocting mud and gravel pies

stirred in with the pine needles and juniper berries

gold and blue and storm-grey gravel

he gave me a crooked sharpie smile

and an eye tumbled into the gritty stew

I scolded and fished it out and taped it back on his bucket head

still awry

I told him to eat his soup.

*

I talked to him when I was a child

sitting on the prickly ground of fir and elm

touching the bristly edge of glossy leaves

I gave him mittens for the hands he didn’t have

so he could touch it too

and could know why I liked it

and we found the place where the wind blew best

shushing a gentle storm around the pines

but never quite threading through the needles to us

in the eye of the hurricane

I told him everything.

*

I made him keep a secret

and his coiled neck crumpled and his head titled sideways

of course he could keep a secret

we were quieter than the hushing wind

and we decided we would run away someday

away from the scrubby yellow grass that pricked our feet

away from frowning trees that encroached the house

and away from the loud places

where we lived

I swore him to secrecy.

*

I asked him never to tell

his crooked eye drooped

and he reminded me he didn’t have feet

so he would always be with me

but I hadn’t asked him not to leave

just to keep my secrets

I knew people who left because of their unsaid lives

he said secrets shared were like little threads

keeping us able to grow up together

but people are most honest with their bodies

in the end

I thought maybe he was right.

*

I shook his hand in promise

and the mitten dropped from my fingers

clinging to dust-brown pine needles and old leaves

instead of to me

and the wind shifted and the bucket clanged

empty and cold when he looked away from me

the cardboard grew limp with fingerprints

and he was left under the porch because

we couldn’t have bugs in the house

or silently seeing eyes

I set him outside.

*

I didn’t recognize him

tipped over in the dirt

with one eye askance and a smeared mud mouth

the silver neck was crumpled

and there were no mittens

the neighbor’s dog had a new chew toy

and Mr. Robot went away with my secrets

or I left.

In Absentia

coins for currency

(euro or zloty?)

grocery store translations

(bezglutenowe)

kilometres and °c

(military hours)

rain jackets and backpacks

(gray on gray)

locked and gated wc

(check for tissues)

curtainless shower tubs

(less spray this time)

light switches outside rooms

(occupancy)

crackers and Tesco and day up

(still looking)

windows that tilt

(handles and magic)

duvet covers

(sleep under colored dreams)

kinder eggs

(loved and left)

traffic circles

(slow or fast or straight through)

flora and fauna

(new names for old beauty)

stick shift and motorcycles

(always someday)

little cars and scuffed bumpers

(Citroën Renault Peugeot Škoda Dacia)

signs and symbols

(true in any language)

embassy flags

(look look breathe)

life in a suitcase

(what else?)

living room couches

(hotel sheets and hostel berths)

sweeter sleep than elsewhere

(even the airport floor)

bungled words and baffled English

(laughter in failure)

choosing to be here

(hunger and ache)

wishing to stay

(why?)

things that feel like home

(surrogates in absentia)