Three Snapshots of Saliency

A series of poems written for a homework assignment exploring personal identity.

I. Peccatoris

It’s safe to come out when the sun has gone down —
when there’s no one to see you, to hate you, to burn you
and you’re tired of being everyone’s everything
during the daylight: when it’s not safe to come out.

You put on your masks when the world awakes:
perfect son, perfect student, perfect brother, perfect friend…
your daylight is no life to you, for you are someone else.

But you try, and you wait, and you wait day by day
for the sun to go down, and when the night falls,
you rise,

but all you ever do is walk,
walk,
walk…
because all you’ve ever done is run.

Run to church, run to school, run to play, and run back home,
run from sin, run from work, run from joy, run from — love —
and walking is all you can do anymore.

You’ve run out of tears. You’re tired of crying:
you’re not even sure what to cry about now.
The night’s all you have, though midnight is burning,
so you savor the air that you’ll lose in an hour.

Breathe deep, breathe slow.
Two decades to ask, who am I?
No one knows.

II. Ad Orientem

You’re not alone in the dark, so you’ve found:
there are dreamers, and hopers, and lovers, and givers,
and they’ve taught you how to breathe again.

The streets are alive with the sounds of the night,
and they beckon you in with warmth and delight.
Their house is a strange one — a bit queer, if one will,
but it’s home nonetheless, and you’re welcome within.

You find yourself asking if shoes are okay,
if they hug their parents, or if they eat rice.
(Isn’t that a bit nice?)

What did their parents worship? What are their weddings like?
Did they grow up speaking in more than one tongue?
Is there family they can never speak freely among?

Once again, you’re alone, yet surrounded by friends:
bit-by-bit, they turn you around to face West.
So you’ll talk like them, walk like them, love like them,
yet explain to them that

red is for joy,
gold is for wealth,

but white, strangely, is for death.

III. Corpus Christi

you’ve never quite understood why it is
that humans kiss. quite frankly, it’s gross.
you thought you’d figure it out for yourself
when you finally did it, but the closest thing
you can compare it to is pressing two warm oysters together
and you don’t like oysters.

you’ve never quite got the hang of arms and
legs, clumsy! tripping over things that don’t, exist and
your body is a broken car for your brain.
weighty. stiff.
aching —

If only your hands and your feet would obey!
Dance free, take flight, like notes off a page!
Your daydreams are full of a song at command,
but jostled awake, all thoughts crumble like sand.

But raise;
you’ve only got arms to raise in praise, and fingers
graze sheer grace in the Body and the Blood.
“God has no hands but yours”, as they say.

you’ve never quite been so full of light,
flesh being more than casing for your soul and
the only thing you have to love with.

The Weight of a Body

Sometimes I feel I am barely a body,
a tenant by chance in a lodging of flesh.
Its hunger, its sweat, its carnal desire
seem to weigh down the flight in my chest.

A temple, a gift, a lease on this life —
I’m supposed to be finite and yet satisfied?
And what of this nagging, persnickety tug
on my heartstrings? Damn, he’s so cute I could die.

I’m more mind than meatbag, or so I might think;
I’m inclined to decline the things it requests.
I’ll mind-over-matter it! That is, until
the weight of my body makes clear its behest.

The things that I’d do to be by his side…
WAIT NO. You stop that. Dumb body. Behave.
Just take a deep breath and try to be cool;
he’ll think you’re a weirdo — or worse yet, he’s straight.

I’ll try to remember that bodies are good,
though twisted and tongue-tied’s my talking untucked.
I wish I could scrape off the rust in my brain,
’cause right now it’s busy repeating “oh HECK.”

It’s okay, it’s fine. EVERYTHING’S FINE.
He’s laughing; that’s good. He believes I’m not a socially-anxious-overanalyzer-who-focuses-way-too-much-on-everything-that-could-go-wrong.
At least then today I’ve made a new friend!
But don’t hold your breath — you’ve talked far too long.

As soon as it’s over, I’m proud of myself.
I didn’t seem crazy or over-the-top.
The weight of my body keeps dragging me down,
but I’m thankful for vocals that know when to stop.

And though I’m confounded by much of my form,
it’s taught me a lot about knowing oneself.
The hunger reminds me of how much I’m blessed;
the sweat keeps me humble and thankful for health.

The hole in my heart is a question to ask —
will I still find meaning in life lived alone?
Yet surely it isn’t a sin to desire
the weight of a body pressed down on my own.

I wonder if Jesus felt weighed down like me.
Does being embodied mean feeling askew?
Or maybe it’s simply a matter of space:
that I am a body to be here with you.

Ephemera

Today I fell in love with phantoms,
serenading sand and light,
watching from their weeping ashes
memories of joy and strife.

We built ourselves a house of paper
wilting underneath the rain,
kneeling in a soft cathedral,
singing hymns to ease the pain.

Taking up our fists of gravel,
burnished dust, and frozen stone,
carving out a refuge world
from a war of flesh and bone;

Steadied by those iron bastards,
whetted arms by sparkèd force
blazing into hellish glory
shedding corpse by silver corpse.

Those haven walls became our downfall —
buried by the broken glass,
dust to dust from earth surrender,
scattered by the sky to pass.

Yet flowing on, our phantoms echo
through the silent stream of life,
building us a new cathedral,
safe from every storm and blight.

But even strongholds fixed of iron
crumble to the sands of time;
still every moment founds the next,
an ever living-dying rhyme.

The phantoms which I call beloved
are known to be ephemera,
the phoenix ashes spread among
the flowers in memoriam.

So to your grave I take my love,
my hate, my joy, my guilt, my peace…
knowing each new path begins
with letting go. With setting free.

Pulse

To the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.

Yesterday I walked with you down that beaten asphalt path,
my brother-sister-neighbor-father-mother-friend,
because you were brave and you were you, the way God loved you.

You were a warrior — you fought for us, for us who had no voice —
and you were and are and forevermore will be with us
in our hearts, in our minds, in our tears, in our songs,
in our voice-cracking-sobbing-breaking whispers because

sometimes courage is written in bloodstains.
Sometimes fear is written with bullets.

Sometimes prayers feel so weak,
running down saline rivers to a crumpled-up whimper:
“Lord, in Your mercy.”

Continue reading “Pulse”

Clipped

Originally posted to my Facebook on June 8, 2015.

They say that just to touch the sky,
to see the world with eagle’s eye
is our pure joy, our apex grand,
our purpose, and our life’s demand.

And great it seems, to watch the dance
of shifting wings in sweet romance;
but what of us who cannot fly
who cannot soar, not touch the sky?

“Your wings are bright,” they say to us,
“too bright and far too dangerous;
the color of your plumage bright
shall blind all others in their flight.

“So do not fly! Do not succumb
to sweetened poison on your tongue.
You wretched thing, we’d pity thee
if we weren’t so far up this tree.”

And thus I stayed here on the ground,
tethered to the earth, and bound
fast to running our good race
for Him above, for His good grace.

But dust and dirt, they sting my eyes;
they stifle every sound and sight.
Perhaps this life here in the soil
could use a Friend to share the toil.

For all who touch the floor will leave,
and each step leads to parting grief;
but until then we share the dust,
and until then we walk — we must.

Although this race below the sky
can still be run if we can’t fly,
this path on which we slowly roam:
it needs a wing to walk us home.

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained
in this our earth where hot seeks cold, up down?
Your right seeks right, and thus forsakes its crown,
for left is Right, and right is left as stained.
Yet conflagration bright still burns as white as first of day;
and passion laid to waste, self-spurned, cannot imprisoned stay.

You ask me much, o love, this price to pay,
of crosses borne alone with no respite,
with rusty thorns to add to sorry sight,
and yet expects to steady, come what may.
What good is faith when trials come? when brothers shake their feet
and spit on those to thirst succumbed? How fragile this conceit.

Or hast thou, love, seen brokenness so sweet,
that comfort overcomes your wish to live?
That desperation surely shall forgive
the broken soul so joyful in defeat?
When gentle tethers turn to chains that on the heartstrings fray,
all heaven’s mercy does contain the jury’s cold dismay.

And wilt thou, love, press on and seek to pray
for God to be your only evermore?
Since witnesses betwixt thee wage their war,
what hope is there to down their weapons lay?
If murderers and whores shall find their company with Christ,
then friends among the outcast bind their hearts together thrice.

O love, your conflagration seeks no ice;
it burns to be contained by equal flame.
But Nature’s heralds turn such warmth to shame,
as if for every fire shall snow suffice.
The blaze alone, they say, shall raze the paradigm set forth
in Eden, when in Adam’s gaze good eros showed its worth.

How tragic is your face, o love, to Earth,
whose soil feels the wretched sting of sin,
and groans to be redeemed as once had been;
and loveless love, you mourn your day of birth.
How different should your hope appear had ice been your desire?
Would grace still quell your fearless fear, still tame your fireless fire?

For years to come, o love, shall you yet tire;
how long to still believe in rest at last?
If barely crawling through the race, surpassed
by all, then love, will you so soon expire?
If goodness comes to those who seek the will of God divine,
then let me hear the ones who speak out life from Christ the vine.

And as the deer who pants for streams and longs for fall of rain,
my pining soul cries out; it screams for balm to ease the pain.
O thou, o love, in darkness will you shine?
Will doubtless doubt be yours to still contend?
Will unto hope you hang until the end?
So long as Jesus’ righteousness be mine.

If God alone forevermore

To everyone whose only love will be God.

If God alone forevermore shall be my only love,
why then, o soul, do you still want? Is heaven not enough?
For hearts can ache and bodies break for lovelorn days aside,
and still my yearning soul cries out, lest all my fears subside.

If God alone forevermore shall be my desert song,
then from parched lips and swollen tongue may all my praise sing on.
For if by Him I am assured eternal rest above,
then surely thirst for forty days cannot negate His love.

If God alone forevermore shall be my sword and shield,
then for the sake of righteousness could I my passions yield?
For yet while others seek to gain the blessings God ordained,
my lot is salt, my treasure light, my destiny the rain.

If God alone forevermore shall be my strength and stay,
then surely I have naught to fear, but save my fallen way.
For if by Jesus’ sacrifice I have been washed anew,
why then, o joy, are you so small, your moments far and few?

If God alone forevermore shall be my only light,
then in the darkness there I find a hope in fire bright.
May love and hope and mercy great all but burn away
my sin and shame and shadow in the Lover’s blameless name.

2/14/15