Poetry Friday: “Erasure”

In dark trees by Alberto Garcia on flickrHave you ever felt that your own existence is being called into question? That you might be real but in the next moment disappear? Robert Cording explores this feeling in his poem “Erasure.” At first the poem’s speaker decides that his life is “too neatly drawn” and needs some erasure, some subtleness. So he goes out into a field as night falls. His experience there becomes more, though, than he can comfortably handle. Cording dramatizes this through masterful repetitions. Watch what he does with the word “here.” In stanza one, it refers generally to life itself; I’m “here” in the living world. In the following line (the beginning of stanza two), “here” is a specific place: the field. But by the final stanza, “here / I am” sounds a note of panic, as the speaker senses death taking him over. Death’s approach, meanwhile, is marked by repetitions of “dark/darkness.” At first, in stanza three, it’s the speaker’s own choice to place himself outside at twilight, with “darkness rising up.” As night comes on and shadows take away the names of oaks and ash trees, “the dark adds the slightest chill.” But “It’s then / that the invisible hearse of darkness / waits for me to get in.” The speaker feels his life slipping away as darkness overwhelms him. He calls out for “someone” to verify his living reality.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Ready to Run

running-by-patrik-nygren-on-flickr-editMidway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path

And the reason I had wandered off from the straight path, Brothers and Sisters, was because—for the first time in my forty-eight years on this weary earth, I started doing something I sworn up and down I’d never take up:

I have started running.

I can’t even begin to imagine the level of cognitive dissonance that this revelation must be inducing in my longtime friends. Even before there were European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that said “0.0,” with the tiny legend below “I Don’t Run,” there were the “26.0,” “13.5” and heaven forbid, “70.0” European-style oval black-and-white bumper stickers that smarty-pants athletic overachievers put on their Suburus.

And I scorned them all. I not only didn’t run; I was The Anti-Runner.

From infancy to middle age, I was an advocate of cars, air conditioning, and general immobility. Why was this? you ask.

Say what you will about today’s spineless “everybody gets a trophy” youth sports culture, but I would have delighted by such a thing in 1978 (the year that my fourth grade P.E. teacher in public school paddled me for talking in class, in front of about 100 other kids).

In 1978, if you were not at least passably athletic, you were in for it. I was awkward and clumsy, and I was always, always, always picked last for kickball. [Read more…]

Literacy Class: Learning the Language of Love

vintage photo looking down on woman lounging on floor reading. This past week, I taught my last English class for quite some time. Three years ago, I moved to my new city in the Midwest. Almost right away, I started teaching literacy to people (mostly women, mostly older, all East African refugees) who have been denied access to education.

The levels of trauma, displacement, oppression, and prejudice contained in that single educational qualifier “non-literate” are hard to explain.

I taught in the corners of crowded libraries, classrooms, computer labs. I taught inside of makeshift police offices and elder housing complexes. I learned about the housing crisis in Minneapolis, I met large families who lived in homeless shelters, I learned of the cracks in the system, how gaping and wide open they turned out to be.

I helped people fill out forms and connect with resources and each other, I learned Somali songs and went to weddings, I ate delicious food and learned how to put the proper amount of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom in the tea I made for us all.

I scolded people for driving without a license and visited women in their apartments after they gave birth. I delivered cheese and pineapple pizza to people, baked hundreds of Funfetti cupcakes, which were much too sweet for any of us. And in the end, I saw maybe one person learn to read. [Read more…]

The Song of the Desert

dots-by-barbara-w-on-flickrThe Word of God which is his comfort is also his distress. The liturgy, which is his joy and which reveals to him the glory of God, cannot fill a heart that has not previously been humbled and emptied by dread. Alleluia is the song of the desert.

—Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer

When the hospice nurse and social worker come to my parent’s home the first time, they are not what my sisters and I expect. Perhaps I was expecting a cliché: calm and restful sorts, hired because of their ability to show quiet dignity to patients who are dying. Instead, they are chatty and gregarious. Though their demeanor is initially surprising, there is a certain charm and assurance to their lack of worry about being so close to death; surely they also need a way to cope with the heavy burden of their job.

They are kind and highly knowledgeable, but they rush my mom through the heavy information about signing Do Not Resuscitate at Home forms, the different kinds of pain management options, and noticing the stages before death.

The nurse enthusiastically declares that she used to be afraid of morphine but she loves it now because of the relief it offers to suffering patients. I suppose it could seem jarring to someone newly acquainted with hospice care, but I think it’s necessary for my mom to hear. She’s been afraid of giving my father too much pain medication, afraid that she’ll be the one to kill him, not the cancer. [Read more…]