Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The blessing

The weather was not cooperating. It was rainy and dreary and windy when we wheeled Mom from the nursing home and edged her into the front seat of our car for the trip to another nursing home, this one back home. She'd been outside only once in a year or more, and that was the day she'd come to the facility we were leaving.

Her room had been very small, but the staff was sweet, and she had a roommate, a woman who'd set up a home in that 12 x 12 space--moved in her own easy chair and hung the walls with family pictures--weddings, babies, clippings of kids and grandkids who'd made the news. A homemade flip-up calendar stood on a dresser--the date, a picture, and a little penciled-in memory on each laminated card. Yesterday's featured a cat and remembered them in the barn. The woman was loved.

It took three of us to wheel Mom out of that room and get her into the car. To say she's not strong is to overstate--she's been in hospice care for two years, going on three. I pushed her slowly because dizziness is a constant. She doesn't see well, nor hear. There have been times in the last two weeks when to be awakened by a middle-of-the-night telephone call would not have been surprising, nor, really, sad.

When we came to the outside door, her roommate walked over and took Mom's hand. I don't know whether Mom would have known who it was if we hadn't told her.

Roommate is an odd word here. I've been a college teacher my entire working life. "Roommate" doesn't seem to apply to nursing home residents, but that's what they're called, two old people in the same room for the last semester.

"Well," her roommate said, "you're leaving, huh?--on your way?" When there's not much to say, we all fill in by tossing in what's perfectly obvious.

Mom tried to raise her head.

"Well, you've been a good roommate," she said, and then, "I hope you have a good. . ."

And then there were no words. She didn't break down or reach for a Kleenex; she simply didn't know how to finish that sentence--what, really, to wish for. The woman was a blessing for the two weeks Mom was there. More than once, when Mom needed help, she was the first responder. But there at the door, this loving woman simply didn't know what to say.

What do you wish the dying? In all of us, the drive to live is instinctive. It's almost impossible to wish death on anyone, and it takes elaborate art to tiptoe around it. I don't think right then she could have come up with something like "a peaceful transition into eternity." So there she stood, smiling, no good words to finish her best wishes.

That sweet old woman's sudden silence was, to me, a blessing for which I'm thankful this morning, because most of the time I don't know what to say either. Most of the time, I'm just as wordless when it comes to best wishes. That she would be too, made me feel less tongue-tied, less alone.

Amazingly, Mom talked often during the long ride home. She's doing well.

This is what we know: despite the rain and pounding wind, despite a new roommate and a new facility, at least Mom is home. Sort of.

Still, there are no words.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Still of some use

A couple decades ago I stayed at a friend's and loved the way his family's brand new stack stereo outfit ushered grace to every room of the house. I was so impressed that, once home, I took my family out to Best Buy and bought a Sony stack three feet wide and two feet tall, complete with two speakers so big we could barely get the whole outfit in the station wagon.

We set it up in the living room, stuck those massive speakers behind the couch, and flipped it on. Beautiful. Great sound. But the truth is, we didn't use it all that much, no more than we used the living room in this old house.

That was 20 years ago. For some time now, our children--who are no longer kids--giggle at that bulky old, big-as-a-love-seat Sony. Today, music lovers get great sound out of a wrist watch. Having a stack system that huge is, well, flat-out silly--even embarrassing. I'm old enough to read mockery quite personally, and since it's easier to get rid of the Sony than to call in the grizzlies, like Elijah did, we simply decided to get rid of the doddering monster.

I don't have a day of Depression-era skimping in me, but I was reared by a couple who did, including a mother who remembers her father crying about where his next buck is coming from. What I'm saying is, it wasn't easy to get rid of that old Sony, not because it brought back such great memories, or because it was in perfect shape (the amp was tempermental anyway) or because it was such a lovely piece of furniture.

I took off the glass door, dismantled what I could of it, and hauled it away, in pieces, on a day the city was running a program through which people could dump their left-over electronics--TVs, computers, printers, and what not--for free.

Just not the speakers.

I don't have a stomach for dumping stuff that still works. Call me a Calvinist or Silas Marner or whatever you'd like, but I hate "planned obsolescence." I mean, I didn't shed tears or anything, but, after all, with some coaxing the thing still worked, sort of. I was dumping that old thing because of the derision, I think--"ha ha, look at Mom and Dad's dorky stereo." Well, pardon me for living.

But the speakers--those huge, powerful speakers--I just couldn't dump 'em. I remember my father scowling at the "Strawberry Fields" when they wailed out of the first stereo I ever owned, years ago. I got in trouble at the Christian college where I attended for playing Simon and Garfunkle so loud people could hear it in the President's Office. The speakers could move mountains. Besides, they contained no electronic circutry, no lead, no landfill contaminants, I told myself. I can't just dump them.

So I set them outside, a comprimise. It was garage-day sale time in town, and the streets were full of bargain hunters. We put a "free" sign on 'em, and I set 'em out front.

It was raining slightly, which I'm sure wasn't good for the two of them, but I lugged them out there, stood them up on the grass, where they stood, sadly, leaning into each other as if sharing mutual grief.

For about fifteen minutes.

Some guy in a car came by, opened his trunk, and that was it. They were gone.

I felt like a saint. The Sony stack is history, I'll bear no more grief from my kids, but someplace, somewhere, those great old speakers are still turning out sound, filling the house with the joy the way they were meant to, way back when. Somebody grabbed 'em right off the street, and it didn't even take a half hour, and I'm thrilled that they're still of some use.

Made my day.

Shoot, I'm still smiling.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The truth is, I'd tried to hit on a girl, and missed. Not lost big time, just missed. Anyway, that may have had something to do with what I remember of that night. The move I'd put on wasn't a big deal, and it was desperate, as I remember, because there would be no tomorrows. But it went nowhere.

The feeling of going nowhere was what I remember that night, especially just a couple hours later, when a bunch of us brought the girls back to campus. We'd spent the evening at a club, dancing and tossing back a few beers because the next day was graduation. They were staying in the dorm, and it was late, very late when we got back to town, so we went in with them--to drop them off, I suppose.

When they shut the door behind them, we walked away down a hallway that for some reason has never faded in my memory. Dorm residents--mostly already gone--had piled their sheets and pillow cases outside the door, as instructed; so at regular intervals, outside every last door, the dimly lit, silent corridors were splashed with ghostly bundles of bedding.

That's the image I remember, maybe because, right then, just a few hours from my own college graduation, I felt I'd hit on a college education and somehow missed. I had no job, hadn't even applied anywhere. I'd flunked my draft physical just a week before, and that was a joy. It was 1970, and hundreds of guys my age were dying every week in Southeast Asia. I had no desire to be one of them.

But there was nothing in front of me. I wouldn't leave college with a wife or a girlfriend or even a one-night stand. I was going home to a place where the President I called "tricky Dick" was prayerfully esteemed as the God-ordained leader of a Christian nation, and it wasn't going to be easy. I was going home because there was no other place, right then, that would have me--a Robert Frost-style homecoming.

In that dark dorm hallway that night, I thought maybe I'd wasted four long years because sometime the next day I knew I'd be simply going back to where I'd come from, a circling rabbit. I wanted to leave that college, but that dirty bedding made me feel as if I was taking absolutely nothing along. I was going nowhere.

There ain't no way I would have guessed I'd spend the bulk of the next 39 years just a hop, skip, and a jump from that those dismal dorm hallways. There ain't no way I would have guessed that in just six years I'd be back, almost forever. But that's what happened.

And now it's grad time again--one of my favorite times of year, a time when old profs like me live vicariously in the excitement our students carry about where they're going and what they'll do, an excitement I didn't feel years ago at my own grad.

But I also recognize what I see in some of the kids, because it's what I felt that night. One significant chunk of my life was over, and I seemed to have nothing of it in my hands or heart. I recognize a kindred sadness in their eyes.

Maybe, way back then in 1970, standing in that dark dorm hallway I was just plain scared. I wouldn't have admitted it, even to myself; but it sounds plausible right now, when I remember standing there. I was flat out scared. A week before I'd flunked my physical, and two weeks before that I'd marched in Washington, cock-sure of my politics. But that night, even though I wasn't going to Vietnam, I was deathly afraid. I never admitted that before, probably never knew it. But I was. I was scared to death. I was just a kid.

There were all sorts of reasons for me to be afraid that night. But this morning, 39 years later and just three blocks south and west from that darkened hallway, the old scary image and those quaking feelings are still filed away in me.

Really, I was just a kid.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sweet neighbors

The backyard is alive with activity these mornings again, and it's wonderful. When I leave in a few minutes, even though the stars will be hidden behind a quilt of cloudiness that's been with us since Friday, the backyard will be hummin' with birds, in chorus, piping up the morning--just one more blessing of spring.

The really complex arias belong to the robins, virtuoso soloists. If they were arrogant, they could be divas; but it's hard to be proud on a diet of worms. The blessed cardinals light up the place gorgeously, but their chirping doesn't rank with the accomplishment of their hugely-breasted fellow choristers.

A pair of doves have been hanging around this spring, like last, making a home in the big spruce, I think (although I haven't seen it). I'm tempted to call them contraltos. Their recitals are never showy, quite understated, in fact, as if they don't want to make a big deal of things.

Our preacher opened up Noah's floating circus yesterday and pointed out something I'd never thought about before: the first spy he released from the ark was a raven, a raucous, muscular scavenger, who, would he have found dry land, inevitably could have filled his belly, what with the massive destruction and death of the flood. But the raven returned, ribs showing.

Then Noah sent the meek little dove, the second of which, as everyone knows, came back sweetly with a sprig of olive branch. Must have been as beautiful as a rainbow.
A dove. How perfect. Noah didn't grab some cocky, strutting grackle, and thank goodness it wasn't a blue jay, who, once he'd have returned, would have loved the limelight and made a huge deal out of being the hero. I can just hear him.

It was a sweet little dove, not a raven, nor a shrill seagull, nor some rusty red-tailed hawk--not even a screaming eagle. It was just a dove, a sweet little dove, an ancestor of the one that found a place in story of Jesus's own baptism, and--who knows?--maybe of this unassuming pair on our clothesline.

Don't know what all of that means exactly, but it just feels right.

It was a wonderful, comforting sermon, and as it ended in prayer, the doves in the coves of the roof of the old church where we were meeting cooed, well, approvingly.
Honestly, they did. This morning, I'm thankful for the doves.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meds for English majors

The congregation
“nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” Psalm 1

Not long ago, I ran across some scattered notes of an old preacher who died some time ago at the age of 102. He was reared in a tiny country church on the edge of what was then the frontier, the son of devout Christian parents.

Sometime close to the Sunday the new elders and deacons were to take office, this young deacon’s wife decided to primp a bit and get her hair bobbed, a “do” that, as they say, just wasn’t done in those parts. The authorities hastened a meeting, talked about the situation, and ruled, confident of their righteousness, that the new deacon could not take office until his wife coiffed her hair more clearly in line with approved, Calvinist fashion.

Even though I live in a rural area some still might well consider to the frontier, it's impossible for me to imagine any similar kind of exacting judgment in any church I know of today. Those kinds of congregations probably still exist, but I don’t know of any in the neighborhood. And that’s why I think that, really, no self-respecting evangelical Christian in the early 21st century can buy into the sentiment of this verse.

But then, maybe it’s just hyperbole, poetic license. Maybe we should give David some leash here: he let his enthusiasm get away with him, just as he did in that very public sacred strip tease his wife Michel got so burned at him about. You know how writers are—once they get going, the words just fly. It’s just, well, poetry.

Here’s what Charles Spurgeon says: “Every church has one devil in it. The tares grow in the same furrow as the wheat. There is no floor that is not thoroughly purged of chaff. Sinners mix with saints as dross mixes with gold.”

It's unlikely that Spurgeon is wrong, of course. But among devout, seeker-sensitive evangelical preachers today, who would dare say sinners won’t stand in this congregation? Yet, more than a century ago now, thousands thronged to Spurgeon.

Go figure. What’s changed is contemporary church practice. What’s changed is rhetoric. What’s truly sinful today is prejudice—broadly speaking, the idea that some are not good enough for “the congregation of the righteous.” What’s truly righteous today—or so it seems to me—is tolerance. Anybody can stand up in our church.

Who’s right about all of this? God only knows. Count on this, however, in life itself the only constant is change, and fifty years from now today’s political or ecclesiastical correctness won’t wear the same livery. Maybe we'll go back to getting divinely-approved haircuts.

What won’t change is Psalm 1.

I think that's really something.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


In an interview with NPR this morning, Christopher Buckley, son of William F. and Patricia Buckley, talked about his parents. Today is the first anniversary of his mother's death, and he was talking about the book he wrote about them, Losing Mum and Pup.

I was all ears, not simply because the elder Buckley was such a wonderful character, but also because well, losing parents is something of a big deal with me and my wife as of late. I told my wife I was going to go to school this morning because I had to read student papers--"I'm going to put my nose to gravestone," I told her. You don't have to be Freudian to interpret that slip.

What Buckley the younger says is that in the 40-day stint it took him to write the book, he enjoyed 40 more days to be with his parents, even though they're both gone now, having died within a year of each other. And then he said he especially enjoyed those forty days he spent with them, because those days featured mum and pup "when they were in their prime. . .when they were young and vital."

Which started me thinking about the word vital, whose origins aren't much of a mystery even to those who failed Latin: "from L. vitalis 'of or belonging to life,' from vita 'life,' related to vivere 'to live.'"

What is life, really, or how to we judge its efficacy? Most of us who have ailing parents understand the complexity of that question. Buckley's mum, he said, "died of a thousand cuts." In the last two years, I've come to understand, like never before, just what that line means.

In the minds of the 90-year-olds I know--those only 30 years older than I am--life itself can be fitted into a circle that progressively grows ever smaller. Medical problems and reports constitute most of what's of interest, for good reason. Just exactly when and how one gets lunch or dinner becomes the means by which people that age number their days. Breaks from the those defined rituals can be traumatic because when the consciousness grows smaller, what does find a place therein is conversely magnified.

My only memory of my dominie grandfather is of someone fastidious about how long I ran the faucet in order to get cold water when I was a kid, a kindergartner. He died when I was seven, I believe. I have no other memories, other than his scolding, an attitude nurtured by his Depression memories--and his age, when small things loom large.

And it makes sense, I suppose, that as of late I've started to think about those intervening thirty years and just exactly how I'll spend them--if indeed God allots me the hours. I wonder how I can avoid the crotchetiness that seems so frequently to accompany the years.

A good friend used to say that he thought "sanctification," the Christian belief that one's walk with God grows increasingly closer and closer throughout life, is, in fact, a fiction. He said he didn't know any old men, even those who were strong believers, who weren't forever grouchy. I'd like to believe him wrong.

This week my assigned topic for a student chapel was simply "getting older," specifically, what gobs of grace accrue to those of us who have run the race well and all of that. I told the chaplain it was a topic I didn't think I could deliver right now--at this far-less-"vital" time in my life. Maybe next year. Maybe someday when I'm shuffleboarding in warm Florida sun.

I remember a time, years ago already, when I decided to back off of my dreams, when I told myself that I'd never get reviewed in the NY Times Book Review. That realization--at the time--came as relief. When I'd finally come to admit that there were some mountains I couldn't climb, the concession seemed liberating.

Now I wonder if it wasn't at that point, or someplace close, when the boundaries of my world began to narrow, to tighten, to withdraw. It's true of all of us, finally, of course.

But then I know from literature that thoughts on mortality don't have to be laments, that those who may know best how to live are those who've come to understand that one's life eventually reaches a closed parenthesis. I've read enough of others to know that such a realization can make every last bud on our front yard maples even more worth noting.

How to nurture that joy--how to stay "vital"--that becomes the question, the vision, the dream, I guess, even for old men.

It was cloudy this morning, rainy. I didn't go out with the camera.

But there will be another bright Saturday soon; of that I'm sure.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

In weakness

In a long essay in Perspectives magazine, David A. Hoekema makes an impressive case for the success of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was created in 1995 to begin to unravel the tangled, brutal tale of what had really happened under apartheid. The stories that were told were uniformly horrible, and while that racist political system had to be blamed for its systemic violence, bloody death left both the black and white (and, in S.A. "colored") communities in pain and anger.

Hoekema says that the proceedings of the TRC felt almost like, well, church: "Commissioners filed into the hearing rooms in a clery-like procession, and a candle was lit to signify the opening of the session," for instance. Archbishop Desmond Tutu started the very first session by praying.

On my one-and-only trip to South Africa, I remember some white South Africans telling me that they believed the "new South Africa" could succeed (post-apartheid) in part because SA was such a Christian nation. They didn't mean "Christian nation" the way some of the religious right mean "Christian nation"; what they meant is that so many--black and white and coloured--were, in fact, Christians.

Hoekema tells a Tutu story in his essay that I can't forget. You see, SA's Jews and Muslims and agnostics objected to Tutu's opening the meetings with prayer. Tutu, respecting their wishes and conceding that SA wasn't a "Christian nation," stopped the practice.

However, after not praying for some time, he started up again, despite the protests, because--or so he told the audience--he simply couldn't stop himself: "he could not bear to listen to the testimony before the panel without first acknowledging God's justice and God's mercy," Hoekema explains. "He begged the indulgence of Jews, Muslims and agnostics for this personal weakness of his."

There's something so telling about that story.

I will confess I have problems with the Christian right in this country, and one of the reasons is made clear to me by Tutu's apology. It would be good for Christian America to confess, once in awhile, that prayer is weakness. Too often here, it's not. It's a weapon.

You can find David Hoekema's Perspectives article on line at .

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Car wreck

That some psychotic killer found victims by way of Craigslist isn't at all surprising these days; that this Phillip Markhoff is the fiend, however, apparently is. An honor student at the university where he did he undergrad, enrolled in the Medical School at Boston University, and engaged to be married, Markhoff was nailing down his own sweet corner of the great American dream tent.

He's innocent 'till proven guilty, but the police aren't just speculating; they believe they have their man.

All of that was not what I needed to hear yesterday, after a very long day--and night--at school. After so many years, you'd think I'd remember that, almost without an exception, if the end-of-the-year offers any kind of dramatic climax, it's a car wreck. Students are up to their eyeballs in work they should have done sometime in February, and that means day-to-day assignments don't get done, which means, in turn, that classes become professorial soliloquies--at least mine do. I've got a dozen kids in a lit class; yesterday, I'm not sure half of them read the stories--and the stories were by Alice Munro.

Poor Alice. She always ends the semester. I plot it that way, assuming the students will like her more than Ray Carver and Andre Dubus or whoever else is on the syllabus. Never happens, and I don't learn, and poor Alice-the-Great never gets her due, or my estimation thereof. I walk in, thrilled with her work, and the class looks at me as if they've scarfed down mud pies a half hour before.

Teaching is a way to make a living, but I don't think I'd have stayed at it this long if it weren't for eyes. When you get them--startled, bright, lashless eyes--the joy is worth the anguish. Well, that may be overstatement.

But when those eyes are glued to the desk top, I wonder if I wouldn't have been better off with a more satisfying career, say cleaning toilets. At least they sparkle.

Last night was the end of just such a day. Half the students--at best--in my night class were not prepared. I swear it. Maybe more. And it wasn't even Alice Munro--it was their own work, their own writing. All I'd asked them to read was their own blessed writing.

When I walked home after nine, the western sky was still backlit from a sunset that had officially doused itself in the horizon an hour earlier. But the scudding clouds against all that dark, dark blue was so stunning, so compelling, that I told myself I really ought to quit the blasted classroom because the fact of the matter is, I love sunsets more than I love students. Kept saying it to myself, all the way home, in fact.

So I was completely blitzed--it was a long, long day. I turned on the tv and who comes on but some lisping college rooomie of Phillip Markhoff, who claims that the guy was a model student: all As, exemplary kid who had no enemies. Great guy. Clean-cut, all-American type. Now a psychpath, a murderer.

Just what I needed to hear. How many of his college profs would have thought the same blasted thing?--good kid, hard-worker. How many of them would have written recommendations that touted his industriousness, his commitment to task, his going to extra mile, even his bright, responsive eyes. "At the end of the semester, at least I can trust that Phillip will do his work"--that kind of thing.

What the heck do we know anyway?--teachers, I mean. That's what I asked myself. The role you play in a kid's life is, at best, incidental. Why the heck should I care? Besides, I like sunsets far more than my dang students.

You know, there's something flirtatious about teaching; what you're trying to pull off, it seems, is something akin to seduction. You want them to love it. We're professional sweet talkers, especially these days, if you teach literature. "You're going to love Alice Munro, really!! Isn't she something?" And they look at me as if I'm the one in the ditch.

When you get the door slammed, honestly, you wonder about sparkling clean toilets.

But then, self-pity is unbecoming , so forgive me for playing my own sad song. But this Markhoff was all I needed to spin out of control.

If I look up just now, outside my basement window the sky is beginning to brighten once more. Besides, I'm likely uttering the same morning prayer that's going up all over the dorms these days: "Lord, just a week or so left. Get me out of this car wreck." Or words to that effect.

It happens every year. It does. I swear it.

Shuttup and go to the gym, thou sluggard. You ever read Alice Munro?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Carpe Diem

Something I picked up from Martin Marty's Context. Marty discovered it in an essay in Search, by Stephen Prothero, who teaches a course at Boston University called "Death and Immortality," in which he challenges his students to think about their own mortality and thereby enjoy, more greatly, life itself.

A prose poem by Mary Oliver.

"You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks-when you hear that unmistakable pounding--when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the battlement, the long falls plunging and steaming--then row, row for your life toward it."

Someone once told me that when age begins to erect its boundries around and in us, we'll regret less of what we shouldn't have done and did, than what we didn't do and might have.

Sometimes I wonder if I didn't paddle hard enough myself.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meds for English majors

“. . .for you are with me.” Psalm 23

At the outset of the medieval play Everyman, God summons Death because he’s sure that humankind will follow its appetites to even more scurrilous ends than those to which he sees them moving already. Go to Everyman, he tells Death, and show him in my name that it’s reckoning time, “which he can in no wise escape.”

In no time at all, Death grabs at the unsuspecting subject. His first words aren’t exactly direct but the point is made. “How is it that you seem such a dandy?” Death says. “Have you forgotten your maker?”

The play is 500 years old, and I’m not going to pretend I know exactly how to spin every line in medieval fashion, but I honestly think Everyman’s response, his first lines in the play, are as telling as any. He turns to Death and says, “Why do you care?” There’s nothing 500-years old about that line.

Alas, Everyman is told that it is, in fact, his time, as they say, and he should prepare for his final judgment. “How about this as an alternative?” Everyman says. “How about I spot you a grand and you come back some other day?” Nothing 500-years old about that either.

What follows is a series of excuses and a debate about whether Death’s sudden appearance is, well, appropriate? But the Grim Reaper is on a mission.

Everyman’s friends show up as a character called “Fellowship,” but when Everyman asks this friend to come along with him to the grave, Fellowship exits. Everyman’s family drops by and, after swearing their eternal allegiance, are the next to leave, post-haste, once they discover where he's bound. Enter Goods, often a fat man, Everyman’s material possessions. He too demurs. “In fact, if I were to go with you to your reckoning,” Goods tells Everyman, “you’d fare a whole lot worse.”

At this point, Everyman is very much alone, Death there at his side, ready to deliver him to judgment. And perhaps I’ve made it sound more entertaining than it is. Perhaps there’s something in the allegory that lightens the burden of the real subject. Perhaps, when it’s told as I just have, it becomes just another quirky story.

But somehow it was Everyman that I thought of so often in those days when I sat at my father’s side as he died. My sisters were taking care of my mother, and I watched the frightful wrestling match between life and death. We all own an immense will not to go, the instinct to fight on and live, even when summoned, even when unconscious.

Unable to help, I watched something in him wage a courageous battle against what was inevitable; but honestly, I was of little or no help as my father, a World War II vet, fought the most horrendous battle of his life. Even with me there beside him, he was very much alone, as abandoned as Everyman, as we all are and will be.

Psalm 23 has offered solace to millions for far more than 500 years. But this single line seems to me to be most unforgettable—“though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

“For you are with me.”

Trust Everyman. No one else will be.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Scots star

Quite frankly, I don't care that the whole story deconstructs into a cynical script without too much hard work. And I don't care either that her handlers manipulated an audience (and us) to think that the near-50 year-old-woman was a frumpy clown, a buffoon, the kind of dumb belly-fl0p that shows like American Idol like to haul out in the opening rounds, as if to give the impression that, at least initially, even the idiots get a chance.

And I don't care if humanity is a sucker for underdog stories, and that those kinds of stories are stupid and thoughtless, like Slum Dog Millionaire. Furthermore, I don't care if some base instinct in me sees my own failures in Ms. Susan Boyle--and likewise identifies the hopes of my own triumphs in the shocking reality of her very, very real talent. I don't care if some academically privileged psychologist claims the ovation she received was so touching to all of us because really it was meant for each of us, losers all.

Quite frankly, I don't care about any of that.

If you're among those few who haven't seen the video of Ms. Boyle, the British talent show competitor, see it for yourselves. It's food for the soul. Forget the wingnuts on both sides of political civil war presently raging in these so-called United States; just spend seven minutes watching this woman change hearts, and it'll do yours good.

Tomorrow, of course, we'll go back to the war; but for right now, grab the Kleenex and play it again, Sam. That clip is fabulous.

She's a reason for thanksgiving.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


According to this morning's Writer's Almanac, it's the birthday of Gertrude Chandler Warner, who was born in Connecticut in 1890, a first-grade teacher who got sick one morning and couldn't go to school. Sweetly, for us at least, she stayed home and came up with an idea--what if a bunch of kids, all by themselves, take refuge in an abandoned boxcar? What if they have to find a way to live all by themselves--without parents or protectors? What if they're left on their own to figure out what they're going to do?

The result of one of the most fortuitous sick days in the history of employment was a series of 19 books about "the boxcar children"--four kids whose parents die and who don't much care for the grandfather who becomes their would-be protector. They run away and find refuge in a boxcar, where they set up their life, on their own, no adults anywhere to be seen.

Sometimes these days I wonder if those books wouldn't be just as thrilling to college students as they were to me, years ago, when I first heard my fourth-grade teacher read them in class. The truth is, Warner's books were frowned upon by some adults way back when because those children appeared to be having too much fun outside the watchful eyes of adults and parents. These days, when I hear helicopter parents thwack-thwacking through the hallways of the college where I teach, I wonder whether some of my parentally-beseiged students--even though they're a whole decade older--might not just as dreamily entertain the idea of boxcar kids as I did when I was ten.

But I digress. Mention of Warner's boxcar children brings me back to one of the very first moments in my life when a story literally swept me away. Story-time was after lunch and the long recess, when we were still sweaty from basketball or football or whatever it was we were playing. We'd come in, take our seats, and she'd read from The Boxcar Children.

I can't really point at that experience as the moment I knew I would be a writer. Nope--it didn't happen that way. But when I opened up the Writer's Almanac this morning and discovered it was Ms. Warner's birthday, I remembered moments I might well have otherwise forgotten--classroom moments when I imagined those kids in the boxcar, living on their own. Just after lunch, hearing their story, feeling their independence, was sheer joy.

Good stories take us away to another place, another time. For twenty minutes or so, I stepped out of the classroom and hung around with four kids in a boxcar I created in my mind.

Right then, of course, I was far too young to be thinking of what I wanted to be when I grew up--thank goodness. When I heard The Boxcar Children, what enchanted me is simply what might be.

Today, it's Ms. Warner's birthday, and, when I remember those precious moments long ago, I've got to confess that it may well be something of mine, too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Something told me that Rick Warren's missing a date with ABC's This Week would be big news. I was wrong. Something told me he had, after all, every right to be exhausted--which is the excuse he gave. Apparently, FOX news decided to air a couple of worship services from his church and demanded the place get fresh paint. Reportedly, the fumes got to Dr. Warren. He got sick, and he canceled his appearance with George Stephanpolus a half hour before he was to go on.

Such last minute dodges are not kosher, of course. He left poor George scrambling. But I thought his baling the way he did would be THE news because one could hardly help thinking, when it happened, that Warren's earlier, apparent flip-flopping on the issue of gay marriage was about to get him tarred-and-feathered, the only question remaining being, by which side.

Right now, there ain't no middle ground on gay marriage, just as there isn't on abortion, although with abortion what little there is is getting wider, for better or worse, perhaps because by way of the combatants' sheer exhaustion. Once upon a time I asked a friend of mine, a respected, nationally-known theologian, what he thought of the whole business of gay marriage. He said he just didn't know; what he did know, he told me, was that nary a week went by without someone from either side calling to campaign for his endorsement. George S knew he had a hot number for the Sabbath news show sweepstakes because it looked for all the world as if Dr. Warren had waffled. That was news.

So was his dropping out so late in the game. But if there's a story here, no one's found it. The exhaustion was physical, created by a new paint job.

There is a straight-and-narrow way here, of course, but the question, at this point in time, is whether the straight-and-narrow argument extends to American democracy. Some say yes, of course, because we've always been a "Christian" nation, or at least a nation conceived in values that are Judeo-Christian. Gay marriage puts us even farther down the road to Vanity Fair.

Other believers say, quoting scripture, render unto Caesar what is his, to God what is God's. Of paramount value is my personal determination of what is right--and wrong, not the nation's. Such moral questions as abortion and gay marriage can't be settled by your or my religious values because politics is the art of compromise and the number of non-Christians in America continues to rise; we're not a "Christian nation."

And the beat goes on. The fire rages. Tea bags get tossed in the ocean. People wail and cry and preach and console. And grow nauseous from paint fumes.

For whatever reason, last Sunday Dr. Warren may have dodged a bullet as artfully as President Bush dodged a madman's shoes, but he's not yet out of the woods on the issue of gay marriage. None of us are, and not either side.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Morning Thanks

The problem with feeling sorry for yourself is that one can always find someone who has no legs. My father used to toss out the old cliche once in awhile--"I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no legs." True enough, of course. Weariness--like grief or sadness--is relative after all, transitory. We pull out eventually. Most of the time.

Soon enough, it's over. Soon enough it's barely there in the rearview mirror. We pull out eventually. Most of the time.

Maybe that's why this computer of mine has a thousand pictures of the dawn. There will always be another day. Soon enough. Most of the time.

This morning I'm thankful I know that is true.

Most of the time.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter sin on quality time

It was her idea from the get-go, but I was more than willings, it being Easter. Besides, lately it seems I haven't been getting enough sweet time with my granddaughter.

"You take my picture," she said, "and we'll put it on a card to send to Great-Grandma Schaap."

Sheesh--Easter brings out the best in us maybe? She's getting to the age when Grandpa is an old pair of argyle socks. I'm all go on this one.

Outside we go. I take a few, show them to her, but she doesn't like 'em. Too much wind, she said. Her hair was messy. Cute as a bug's ear, my father used to say. They're all plenty good.

Downstairs we go, out of the wind. The girl knows how to pose, believe me, but that's my fault, taking pictures of her constantly.

We bring 'em up on the computer. To her, not one of them is perfect, of course, but I can excuse that; after all, no picture is, if you're the one in it.

And then it comes out. She's seen that Microsoft commercial in which some three-year-old slaps together a panorama of her whole bedroom, takes the shots, processes them, and prints the whole thing. It bugs my grandaughter that she's twice the kid's age and nowhere near as savvy. Part of this is sheer grudge. But do I care?--she's on my lap.

She likes the same shot I do, so we don't have a problem. I get the picture up, give her a bit of sun tan, which she likes, and then she says, "Can you take this thing off?" There's a slight tan-ish mole on her cheek, hardly visible, her grandpa thinks; but the little fart is smart enough to know that the computer does skingrafts.

Done. Now her grandpa thinks this whole idea is almost Easter-like in its selflessness. All of it for Great-Grandma Schaap, who otherwise, I'm thinking, hardly gets the time of day, way out east in Wisconsin. What a granddaughter I've got.

So I'm getting the card stock out and outfitting the printer, when she says, "Can you whiten my teeth?"

I'm not kidding. She's eight. Just. And she wants her teeth whitened? Lillies of the field come into bloom, straight out of scripture. I'm thinking there ought to be a lesson there, even a sermon. WWJD?

But then--hey, it's Easter, right? Here we are, qualilty time, fiddling with her picture, and the outcome is going to please my mother like no letter from her liberal son ever could. So what if that's an old "means-and-ends" argument. Her vanity is childishness, thus excusable; and besides, I'm a grandparent. We don't sin when it comes to our grandchildren. And did I say, there she sat on my lap? Forget the sermon, Jeremiah. There'll be time enough later.
"Whitened teeth," I say, "I can give that a try."

Vanity, vanity--all is vanity.
Even for a Grandpa.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


In Mark's story of the resurrection, the women return from the open tomb in silence, even though they've been told to "tell his disciples and Peter." Instead, "trembling and bewildered," Mark says, ". . .they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid."

At first glance, one can't help but wonder at their timidity; of any mortal whose ever lived, each of them has reason to preach the gospel, to scream if from Israeli mountaintops. But they were afraid. What on earth is wrong with them?

Cradle Christians, like me, hear the story thousands of times--enough so that it can seem a yawner. It takes some adjustment to remember that the women's thoughtful cemetery visit ended in crippling shock. Not only was that massive stone gone, so was their very special friend. He's risen. He's left. Life returned. He walked away. The stone got moved, and he stepped right out of the cave, ladies. He's come back from the dead. Somewhere, he's back on his feet, just like you and me.

Imagine their stony silence.

They left, scared to death.

They were there when it happened, when a human being returned to life. They hadn't heard the tale a thousand times.

Pieter Brueghel's Numbering at Bethlehem shows us the wrong season for the day, but it's masterful in its portrayal of how incredible incidental Jesus's birth must have been in a crowded tax season. That's Mary on the donkey--center, lower right. What must it have been like to be there?--that's the question it asks, just as the women's deep fear begs us to live in their hearts. What happened at the cemetery made absolutely no sense, and they were scared witless.

Makes sense. So would I have been.

To think of it that way, Easter is still is shocking. He's up and at it. He's back at work. The stone is rolled away.

The story may get old, but it's still a miracle. It's still the miracle of all time. Is it any wonder they were scared?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saturday Morning Catch

Two weeks lost to cloudy grayness. The sun came up nakedly bright this morning, nary a cloud in sight. Here and there, lines of snow--some of it dirty, some not--filled the ditches. But once the sun was up, whatever spring green was already in the grasses flowered nicely and created that odd seasonal mix one sees out here almost every April--buds in snow. The morning was cold and bright, not optimum for landing the real lunkers.

I thought maybe I could catch some steam rising from the Big Sioux, but while I was at it a couple of Iowa deer (I was on the South Dakota side) wandered up for awhile upwind and let me shoot. I'd left my hefty lens in the car--not smart. Anyway, I had enough reach with the lens I had on to see 'em.

No champs in this morning's catch, but it was a great sunrise service, Easter or not.

Friday, April 10, 2009

a Braveheart for Good Friday

Some believers consider Braveheart, the epic 13th century story of William Wallace, a proud and glorious hero to some Scots, to be a kind of quintessential Christian film. I wouldn't be so quick to render a halo, but Wallace's incredible daring, and his dedication, is powerfully inspiring. Why he remains a hero is no mystery: he befriended the lowly by waging a unrelenting guerilla war against the occupying Brits. He showed no mercy to those who deserved none, and, most admirably, championed freedom. He was a man of principal.

All of that's in the name, really. If you've not seen the movie, you don't need to--the title says it all, Braveheart.

The two blockbusters Mel Gibson created offer completely different historial characters. On one hand, Braveheart, William Wallace, a bloody hero and freedom fighter; and on the other, his Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, who was just as principled, but very much the Prince of Peace.

I thought of Braveheart this morning, Good Friday, because of one haunting metaphor David uses in Psalm 22:14: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me." His intimate description of vanquished body parts goes on for another verse, but the line that stops me that heart of wax. "I am poured like water?"--sure. I think I've been there, not at the level of my savior, but I know that one, thin as gruel. "My bones are out of joint?"--a whole-body ache, yep, as if the county's new road grader just leveled me for the eleventy-seventh time.

But a heart of wax? The KJV goes on to say that it's melted; that helps a little, but still the image doesn't communicate as viscerally as the others: "my heart has turned to wax."

Psalm 22 is the psalm of the day, it seems--today, Good Friday. Last Sunday, our preacher made the claim that when Jesus cries out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" he's not only quoting Psalm 22, but he's referencing the entire poem, the whole story told therein. Anyone who knows 22 can't help feel the Twilight-Zone-ish resemblance between what David feels and Christ experienced. How on earth could David have so meticulously plotted out the Messiah's own crucifixion? I don't know, but somehow he did--some kind of vision, I assume.

William Wallace is a man whose heart never once turned to wax. Braveheart never winced, never lost courage, never stopped fighting, never doubted himself or his cause. Braveheart skinned his foes once he'd killed them. Braveheart waged war until the very last moment of his life, when he was tortured and died. Braveheart cared not a fig for personal gain and fiercely led his rebels into victories they should not have won. Braveheart died for his people.

"My heart has turned to wax" is an utterance from the dark other side of human experience, or so it seems to me. And if our pastor is right, then that's exactly what Christ felt; he was quoting the line, after all. Hanging from a tree, he had no heart at all. It had turned to wax.

The great danger of immense human suffering is probably not the fatal loss of blood but the fatal loss of faith, the decided conviction that God himself has left the building. Titanic burdens make us "lose heart," as we might say, or turn it to stone--or wax. When it's impossible to "take heart," there's no heart there anymore. Hence, no more life in me. My heart has turned to wax.

What I need to remember today, Good Friday, is that's what happened to Jesus Christ. His heart turned to wax under the burden of human sin, my sin.

In a raw and tortured way, he became a divine Braveheart by becoming, horribly, no Braveheart at all.

My savior's very heart turned to wax, for my sake.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

"The New Calvinism"

"No creed but Christ" is fine sentiment, but somewhat silly. In some ways it's as easy to love Jesus as it is a stuffed goose, but the moment we think at all about that love or Him, we start to create an infrastructure--a system of thinking, something we've called, for centuries, a theology.

I was born and reared a Calvinist, although I never really understood it until I got to college, where, oddly enough, I started to dislike it, then despise it, preferring, well, nothing for a couple of years. Calvinism meant the picayune rules that made no sense in the late Sixties (putting tape over the coin slots of Coke machines lest Dutch Calvinist covenant children use them on Sunday and thereby violate the Sabbath).

I sometimes think I was brought back to faith--and to Calvinism--by Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Jonathan Edwards, and a host of other writers and preachers, the "old, white guys" of early American literature. New England, after all, is the seed bed of majority culture in America, and New England was, for 200 years, quite intolerantly Calvinist. Try as she might, Dickinson never could really wash the Calvinism from her heart. Melville couldn't stop kicking himself for being one.

Calvinism's ability to haunt even its rebels is itself a indication of its often sour puss, but also it's pervasive strength. For centuries, literally, Calvinism got dissed in these United States as a dour old wart-faced uncle who sits, arms across his chest, in the back of the room, snarling like old Young Goodman Brown might have. "Puritanism is the sneaking suspicion that someone, somewhere is having a good time," Mencken wrote--or words to that effect. It is said of Miss Emily's father that he was once known to laugh. And all of that is true. Hrruummph.

Eventually I came back to Calvinism, piped along by the merry music of all those rebels. As Melville said famously of Hawthorne, "Certain it is, however, that this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free." Count me among them; I don't trust easy answers. Then Melville says, "For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world, without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance." Won't somebody here say 'amen'?

I'm not thrilled by that definition or the truth of the statement. But I agree, almost wishing it weren't so. I'm a reluctant Calvinist, I guess, but then there's probably nothing I'd trust less than a spirited Calvinist.

Here's the deal. A couple weeks ago, Time magazine created a list (lists sell copy)of 10 Ideas that are changing the world right now, the third of which is (it's hard to believe) "The New Calvinism." That's right, we're making a comeback (woo-hoo). It is, after all, the 500th birthday of John Calvin, so I suppose it's fitting that he get gussied up for the occasion. (All those parentheticals come directly from Young Goodman Brown in me.)

Let me try to wash the skeptic out for a minute. Here's what the writer, Van Biema (a Dutch Calvinist himself?) says, among other things: "John Calvin's 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism's buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism's latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination's logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time's dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision."

There you have it--a Calvinist trifecta: God's sovereignty, human depravity, and predestination. And, if it's not there already, it's coming soon to a pulpit near you.

Truthfully, what Van Biema (and Time) says makes sense. The very next week's cover story was "the end of excess." The bawdy evangelicalism that still produces those over-the-top Christian stations on our cable system, the evangelicalism that married Christianity to the religious right, and that release movies like Praise Band (see yesterday's rant) may have finally run itself out of gas. The fact that many evangelicals are now finding a home in the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches makes all kinds of sense to me; they're weary of spiritual excess commonly mistaken for success.

Niebuhr may well have been America's last public theologian. You see his name over and over these days, for a number of reasons. Inside, Niebuhr was a Calvinist too.

But we're not talking about stars here, were talking about systematics. Here's how the article ends: "Calvin's 500th birthday will be this July. It will be interesting to see whether Calvin's latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians searching for security will submit their wills to the austerely demanding God of their country's infancy."

He's right. Honestly, I'm shocked by all the hoopla, shocked because I thought of me and my Calvinist ilk as guerillas with foilage on our helmets. Who knows? Maybe there's been a legion lurking, now, suddenly, ready to enlist.

I admit it--I like the attention. And, of course, this Calvinist will readily admit that evangelical Christianity could do itself and the Kingdom of God a whole lot worse than what it might accomplish by taking another look at what it so gleefully abandoned.

Interesting stuff.

T-U-L-I-Ps forever!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Praise Band: the movie

I've never been a big fan of praise bands, in part, I suppose, because some newly energized folks who love them have assumed them to be, in a way, the real contemporary saviors of the church, rescuing all of us from enslavement to tradition, Fanny Brice, and a cold, stone face. Salvation comes from Robert Schuller in raggae. When done well, praise bands rock--no question. When done well, they inspire some or many. But even when done well they only deliver the goods in a different way, a medium and fashion that tends, frequently, to glorify the singer as fully as the source of the song.

Call me an old fart.

But there's no accounting for taste, and I've lived with praise teams for years, confident that others--good believers--love them dearly. Many of the folks I live with would call me, theologically, a liberal, I'm sure; but when it comes to what goes on in worship, I'm an arch-conservative, even though (other than this morning) I maintain silence.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised to be the arch-villian in the latest evangelical film. I voted for Obama, who, according to Fox News this morning, hasn't gone to church in 11 weeks and has now pronounced that our country is no longer a Christian nation. "Is there a connection?" asked this morning's Foxy flavor of eye candy. Those who watched it all with me in the gym this morning know full well that in early ovember, I caved, big-time, to Satan. And, once again, this morning, they told me so--forgetting, I guess, that Reagan never went to church at all.

Anyway, the latest evangelical film is called, simply, Praise Band. It follows the heroic battle of a long-haired St. John of the Cross, a kid with a guitar who, after all, just wants to praise the Lord but who finds himself confronting the monsters of tradition, who, empowered by Satan, keep him off the stage. Their resolute idolatry to "the way it's always been done"--and to flat out stupidity--is the sin the praise band confronts. They want an end to "Just As I Am," I guess, and a progressive turn to any melody in a hard beat whose first line includes the "awesome."

It's no darn wonder that more and more evangelicals are lost these days, no idea what on earth and in heaven is up anymore. For the time being at least, I guess the enemy is those fat old farts in the pews who don't like praise teams--like me, I guess, even though I never really fought 'em all that defiantly. Here's high moral truth: a rockin' praise band is the key to making America a Christian nation again.

May a thousand flowers bloom.
Here's the trailor:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


It's hard to see ourselves as others see us, but my own guess is that I've likely taken more hits through life for not being a prude, than for being one. In the Calvinist world in which I've lived, one measure of godliness, it seems, is not dwelling on the disgusting--like, well, sex. Last night at an awards thing for student writers, I asked a student to read a short narrative he'd written, and, as he came up, he said something to the effect of "you would have me read something with sex in it." To which I replied, "Hey, I'm an English teacher." The students assembled thought that was a great joke.

Which is to say, I guess, lots of lit won't let sex alone. Or maybe it's just lit teachers.

Perhaps that generalization explains why I really like this poem. Honestly, I shouldn't; after all, I'm an English teacher, and the poem is about abstinance, about, well, unsex. It's a poem about the fragile beauty of virginity; but, I swear, it's not Puritanical. I honestly think the poet has actually homesteaded on some new ground here.

It's another poem by Laure-Ann Bosselaar, who I've been reading. Last time I posted one of her poems, I thought it was illegal. She actually left a note for me, appreciative--read it yourself (I have no idea how she found me). Anyway, her approval means no lawsuits are coming around the corner, so here we go again.

Bench in Aix-en-Provence

There they are again, the lovers
--midthirties, colorless
clothes, hair, hands--
having their lunch-break

on the same beige bench
--in the jabbering street,
pigeons nodding at their feet--
under a paltry plane tree.

They simply sit there, not saying a word.

I'm not sure what a "paltry plane tree" is, but you get the picture: bland and ordinary and colorless, but lovers nonetheless, AND, most importantly therefore, sufficient stimulation to catch and hold the eye of the writer. After all, she doesn't turn away--for days.

For days now, I've watched them
--from a narrow window
on the Rue Marceau--
place a single napkin on their knees,
a coffee cup on her side, a beer-can on his
--each at the exact same
distance from their hips--
and don't drink or eat,

but simply sit there, not saying a word.

More ordinariness in the picture--always the same. The French makes me think of Paris, but Ms. Bosselaar is Belgian. Don't know where it's set, but language makes an American think of the city of love anyway. But then, they're in love. They're lovers, ritual lovers.

There is such resilience in how they sit
--hands, knees, feet
together neatly--
in the way they stare at pigeons

or at the clouds moving in like frayed sheets
--and smile at the same things
or the same time--
that I know they haven't had it yet, sex.

Now we've arrived. I'm an English teacher, and the poet, like all of us, is drawn inescapably toward coupling--or so our students seem to believe. But note the sudden admiration here--resilience is such a kind word. My baser instincts tease me into believing that "frayed sheets" has some unseemly suggestions, but just let's not go there right now. This silent and sweet couple's ritual joys offer them--and the poet and us--an abundance of happiness. Amazingly, these days, they've not yet bedded; and the poet appreciates they're unsullied devotion. Read on.

And I find myself hoping
--as I close the window
on them, on noon, on Aix,
that they'll wait before spending

their lunch break having it: sex
--calling it making love but too soon
calling it anything but that--
instead of coming back to their bench at noon,

to simply sit there, not saying a word.

Isn't that wonderful? I don't think for a minute it's Puritanical. But if beauty, really, is in the eye of the beholder, then the story here belongs to the poet anyway, or, as English teachers like to say, the narrator or story-teller, for who knows what fiction Ms. Bosselaar is creating? That they are presently holding the line is dear--so the narrator claims, at least in her eyes.

When it comes right down to it, in one short poem Ms. Bosselaar redeems English teachers from their cursed reputation because the poem, in a way, is a lament, a lament for what is, without a doubt, about to happen. She knows, as do the rest of us, that they will get there--to bed, I mean. But just for the moment (or so sayeth this reader) the poet herself wants time to stop, to hold back those wretched hands of time, which is itself an ancient poetic theme. Shoot, it's not just a poetic theme, it's a handy human desire. "Can't I just take some joy in the present here? Must this life and me get old? Where have all the flowers gone, anyway?"

Don't we all wish we didn't hear time's winged chariot? Don't we wish we could hold our arms up, Joshua-like, and keep the earth from turning, or simply return to some child-like time in our lives, when things weren't so blamed complex and we didn't feel heavy-burdened with care?

Just for a moment, let me take some joy in your devotion, the poet says to this ritually silent, loving couple. Just for a moment, sit still and let me be thrilled. Just for a moment, hold off--not because you've sworn off the next step but because there are these moments we all wish forever not to end.

So don't do it, the poet says. Come back tomorrow again, please, for my sake?

I like it. But then, maybe I'm more a prude than I'd like to think.
Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Small Gods of Grief. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd. 2001.