Poetry Friday: “The Field”

Field by Michael R.P. Ragazzon on FlickrI find solace in the natural world, in those precious moments alone, outside, away from the clutter and din of my material life. In “The Field” by poet, teacher and translator Jennifer Grotz we are invited to an open field “past the convenience store and the train tracks.” She tells us that as a girl, she would escape to this place to “sit on an oblong rock” and observe the crepuscular life and movement around her. Within this meditative poem, Grotz translates the natural world through concentrated and poignant imagery. The sun a “fiery stare blinking shut beneath the horizon” or stars “like needles piercing through velvet.” This poem engages all the senses and we can sit alongside the young poet and ponder why, as a fellow witness to this “naked field” at dusk, we are not so alone after all.  

—Jessica Gigot

[Read more…]

My Own Desert (Tortoise) Father

This post originally appeared on “Good Letters” on July 21, 2014.

I didn’t spend enough time with Oscar this summer. For forty years I’ve believed time will never run out.

Visiting California, I took my annual walk through my childhood backyard of bougainvillea, crepe myrtle, and fruit. I picked some strawberries, paid homage to my name scratched in a concrete border in 1980, then wandered to the side yard to find Oscar.

I sat in the gravel as he gummed a piece of lettuce hanging in seaweedy strips. He’s always been a sloppy eater, clomping around the yard with leftover pollen or hibiscus petals sticking to his mouth. We exchanged eye contact briefly: aging gray meeting steady green sea-glass. I tapped his nose, just as I did as an annoying kid, and he snorted, yanking his head back in his shell.

My mother rescued the brooding desert tortoise when I was four. She found him lumbering across the street, a reptilian tank with no regard for traffic.  She grabbed the huffing beast and went door to door asking if he belonged to anyone. According to Mom lore, everyone laughed, exclaiming, “We don’t want that ugly tortoise!” and slammed the door. [Read more…]

Practicing Presence, Part 1

The following two-part post was originally delivered as the 2017 commencement address for Trinity Academy in Portland, Oregon.

Thank you for the high honor of inviting me to speak on this special occasion. My heartfelt congratulations to you graduating seniors for having reached this important milestone in your lives. Given the deep and demanding curriculum you’ve just completed, that is quite an achievement and I hope you feel justifiable pride in having reached this point. I know that your parents, family, and teachers feel that pride.

This is a special moment for me for a number of reasons, including one that you could have no way of knowing about. At a conference nearly forty years ago, when I was but a green behind the ears undergraduate student, I met a gifted, imaginative man named Kerry Koller, who shared with me his plan for founding Trinity School, which would be based on a wide-ranging liberal arts curriculum that integrated faith and learning according to classical educational principles going back to the medieval and Renaissance eras.

Now here I am, speaking to a graduating class from an institution affiliated with a whole network of Trinity schools.

Thinking back to that meeting with Kerry the immortal words of Darth Vader come to mind: “I’ve been waiting for you, Kerry-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”

Seriously, though, I still consider myself the Padawan to Master Kerry and I salute him across these four decades with respect and affection for the movement he began and continues to inspire. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Love’s Last” by Christian Wiman

The spring equinox was on Monday. I am slowly seeing a flush of new life around me, like plum tree blossoms and nettles, while winter’s dank decay is still lamentably present. Christian Wiman’s haunting and tender poem “Love’s Last” from his collection Once in the West (originally published in Image issue 81) echoes loudly for me right now during this transition of seasons. Within his austere couplets, Wiman ponders the passage of time and recalls memories from his youth. The poem begins, “Love’s last urgency is earth / and grief is all gravity.” As a poet who battled an almost fatal illness, Wiman reminds us of the spiritual guidance we can receive from our own lives, from our past selves. The daring and curious child he once was, slashing at bee’s nests, shows Wiman how “mystery mastering fear” can illuminate the perpetual questions we carry. We are all able to start anew yet we are never that far from death and, in the in-between, may we all unearth a bit of hope and redemption.
—Jessica Gigot


“Love’s Last” By Christian Wiman

Love’s last urgency is earth
and grief is all gravity

and the long fall always
back to earliest hours

that exist nowhere
but in one’s brain.

From the hard-packed
pile of old-mown grass,

from boredom, from pain,
a boy’s random slash

unlocks a dark ardor
of angry bees

that link the trees
and block his way home.

I like to hold him holding me,
mystery mastering fear,

so young, standing unstung
under what survives of sky.

I learned too late how to live.
Child, teach me how to die.

GL banner

Christian Wiman’s newest book of poems is Once in the West, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. He teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

Poetry Friday: “Bewilder”

Beluga whales swimming in a bluish cave with light illuminating them in the ocean.This is a poem about scale, about the awesome power of the Creator, who in turn gave humanity the power to create. And it’s about the power of a created being, and its potential to do good or evil. Here we have a whale sighting, her powerful fluke useable for constructive or destructive acts—“so many gestures// a fluke or fin can make with or/ without ruin.” Over time, the Leviathan has stood for evil of various kinds. Yet the bulk of the poem celebrates the whale’s beauty without romanticizing or anthropomorphizing. Indeed, it makes deliberate strides against that temptation, admonishing: “her eye deeply/winking at my eye, no more/ human for that.” The poem affirms, if for no one else than for the speaker, that the whale was made for her own good purpose, for God’s own good purpose, “to sing… for enchantment and for love.” The mystery of creation rises into view, immense, blinking its wild eye, and then disappears again, leaving our hearts pounding. Leaving us feeling more alive, as any good poem— creation—ought to. 

—Melissa Reeser Poulin


[Read more…]