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.

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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.

Running from Joy

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
— Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

I admit: I’m a glutton for self-punishment. Not in the bodily, masochistic sense, but I’m a prototypical perfectionist who sets impossible standards for myself and then proceeds to beat myself up when I inevitably fail to measure up. I was raised with the concept of total depravity — the idea that there is absolutely nothing good in me apart from God, and that anything good is from God alone (which I have no actual part in).

Growing up, I internalized this entirely unhealthily. The idea that I was nothing but a worthless sinner may have made the concept of grace easier to grasp, but that never sunk in. I latched on to depravity so obstinately that my self-perception erased most of my humanity. I learned to see myself as a monster beyond redemption, every prayer and every good deed a worthless attempt to earn the affection of the Father who would never love me. And who was I to question that?

Continue reading “Running from Joy”

Glory in the Liminal

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

– Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV)

I was only 13 or so when my uncle asked me something that would change my life. It was just an ordinary visit from him (which albeit didn’t happen very often because he lived so far away), but in the middle of our conversation he posed a rhetorical question:

“Jason, how do you learn things?”

I hadn’t really thought about it too much before that. You learn what you’re taught and you’re taught what is true. After some unsatisfactory guesses from me, my uncle suggested an answer that has stuck with me ever since — you learn by asking questions.

Before you tell someone what your name is, you first need to ask, “what is my name?”. Before you put on your clothes, you first need to ask, “what should I wear today?”. Before you ponder a deep question, you first need to ask, “what should I think about now?” (wow so meta).

Call me a skeptic, but questions are the backbone of knowledge. We cannot answer anything without having first asked a question, and it is my firm belief that the deepest answers are given to those who ask the deepest questions.

Though recently, I’ve been increasingly bothered by what happens when we don’t get an answer.

Continue reading “Glory in the Liminal”