We pass into this world at birth. We pass out of it at death. And in between: holiness and horrors. This is probably the largest of themes that a poet could take on, and in “Intercession: For My Daughter” Brett Foster wraps his mind and language around it with consummate craft. First, to keep us grounded, there’s the reassuring pentameter beat. Then the three-line stanzas hold the expansive topic in a visual shape. And throughout: wordplay and stunning line-breaks elaborate the theme of our many “passings.” In stanza 1, the play with “helpful / and perfect, perfectly helpless.” In stanza 2, the play with “just being, / in being known.” “Still” in stanza 5 plays a double role: at line’s end it’s an adjective meaning quiet (“long and still”); but swept down into the next line it’s an adverbial “still / not length enough.” There’s more of this reverberating richness, but I want to point finally to the way the poem’s end (“The only place, this passing. There are so many”) circles back to its beginning (“There pass so very many”). Look at what Foster manages to do with the simple word “many”: there are so many passings, so many ways we pass into and through and beyond this life; and “so very many” of us enact these passings. All of us, in fact. [Read more…]
A few years ago, we invited the newest neighbor in our rural intentional Christian community to help us slaughter the chickens we had raised for meat.
Our neighbor told us about his guest up the hill; he was visiting from the city and he was a strict ethical vegan. Our neighbor warned his vegan friend, whom I will call Tim, what would be happening down the hill that afternoon. So early that morning, Tim visited the doomed fowl and blessed them before death.
I appreciated such a blessing on our chickens. Blessings over animals before slaughter have been part of animal killing in many traditional societies. Some Native American tribes would ask for forgiveness for taking the life of the animal and then offer thanks for the provision of its life for sustenance.
When he was in West Africa serving in the Peace Corps, my husband participated in the killing of an animal during a festival. In keeping with Beninese tradition, he offered the animal a sip of water before he took its life, as a sign of respect. [Read more…]
My prayer is not prayer, not exactly. It includes words. It may even begin with words: “Modeh ani l’fanecha / grateful am I in your presence; baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech Haolam, hanotein laya-eif ko-ach / Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who gives strength to the weary; ahavah rabbah ahavtanu / with a deep, expansive, manifold love do You love us.”
The words illuminate aspects of my experience. This morning, in the car on the way to an appointment with a urologist, I remembered that a couple of days ago I had set a quiet intention to say modeh ani at some point every morning. Tradition teaches Jews to say those words immediately upon waking: first words of the day. I’ve tried that practice and found it mostly frustrating.
Because I am a troubled sleeper, I feel alarmed when the tone called “ripples” sounds on my phone. When I hear that sound, the first words that usually come to me are, “How am I going to get through this day on almost no restorative let alone nourishing sleep?” Frustrated, embattled, defeated, afraid: that’s how I feel many mornings upon waking. [Read more…]
“Can you get it?” I called to him from my study.
“Nope, I’m changing my clothes. I don’t have pants on,” he answered.
So I ran downstairs and opened the door.
A small woman stood there smiling, wearing a suit and a straw hat that seemed to be from an era long past. She looked to be in her early sixties. “I’m Rose Goldman,” she said. “I grew up in this house.”
“How lovely,” I replied.
Not missing a beat, she continued, “I know it’s odd to have a stranger come to your door, and I’d understand if you weren’t comfortable letting me in, but…” [Read more…]