Paired: Halved

As some have put it, it’s a day we both know is coming. Each husband and wife know it’s a moment on the horizon. But because it’s so frightening, we seldom if ever speak of it, except to make financial arrangements or deal with it through legal documents. Even poets seem to  avoid the unanticipated aspects of the loss of a spouse. it’s simply too painful.

 

It’s a subject often approached by poets,

those who are married or otherwise paired

in at least a semi-permanent bond.

 

But it’s an approach a bit like

an aborted approach to an airport…

“Yes, folks, that was a close call….”

 

Yes, there’s an allusion to one of you

going on alone,

and an admission of a glancing nod

toward the empty spot

beside the one who continues.

 

But there’s no acknowledgment

that for many of us half of the self

is no longer there.

 

Family memories, jokes, shared experiences;

knowledge of your glaring faults

and fumbling attempts at reconciliation;

your glowing moments of triumph;

your overcoming of dark failures

that could have demolished you;

the love you shared – and gave away –

that was deeper than life itself.

 

On and on it goes, as part of you, perhaps half,

or simply, and literally, the better half of you is gone.

 

You won’t just be missing the one who is gone,

but the best sides of your self, as well,

the ones that remain invisible to you

because they’re only seen by those

closest to you, yet outside of you.

 

 

 

Place your bets; place your bets

One guesses there is a breaking point for every non-believer, a point at which betting with the House makes more sense than betting against it. Here’s a probing try at finding where that point lies for someone who sits in the dark contemplating the Light.

 

No atheists on take off or landing.

Foxholes, of course, everyone knows about that one.

What about those swinging seats

when the Ferris wheel stalls?

Bet there are none there.

Skydivers — none.

Scuba divers low on air, too far from the surface — none.

 

So what does it take

to get you to take Pascal’s gamble?

A chute that won’t open?

Or simply the realization

that every beating heart

eventually

stops.

The crunch generation rodeo

The plight of millions who are raising families while taking care of aging parents has created a genuine crunch generation who must fight to stay in the saddle — a form of stasis — never really winning or losing, just staying afloat, bearing in mind that all such binds are time limited. They can’t last forever. Thank God!

 

Her hand must be wired

into the reins

in violation of all

sound rodeo rules,

and she rides astride

not one, but two

unruly mounts.

 

One threatens death,

collapse beneath her,

despite best efforts

to keep her moving,

head up in the chute.

 

The other writhes, jumps,

bucks, and climbs the walls,

heedless of calming words,

maternal clucking noises

and admonitions to calm.

 

But the chute gate never opens;

the rider tires, but perseveres,

and the announcer

seems to be reading

the 23rd Psalm

in the booming, amplified,

twangy, West Texas voice

so typical of rodeo announcers.

 

Will the buzzer razz,

signaling the end of the ride,

or will this noble cowgirl

get thrown under one ride

or the other.

 

Maybe that’s what

the announcer means

by that “shadow of death” line.

 

Maybe that’s the promise

of that last phrase —

“And I will dwell in the House of the Lord, forever.”

 

 

The FOS

We all enter into the Fellowship of Suffering from time to time. Some of us stay there for extended periods. Some seem never to emerge. But the Son of Man came to bring us permanently from the FOS into the light of his Father’s love. The rest of us are meant to assure that no one, even those who seem never to leave its clutches, feels they are unloved, that no one cares — about them.

 

The Fellowship of Suffering,

it occurs to me,

has a large membership.

 

Those shouldering the cross

of extraordinary burdens:

children with mortally threatening diseases

or facing addictions

and launch delays,

in their 20s

—   and even 30s and 40s.

 

Fatal diagnoses

and parents with Alzheimer’s,

aphasia, fatal tumors —

the list goes on.

 

Gloomy isn’t it?

But all of reality,

it’s not.

 

And part of the secret

to finding a smile

that’s not a grimace

is discovering,

just as we’ve been promised,

we don’t walk alone.

 

The sun shines on rainy days,

and storms also water the soul

as well as washing away the riverbanks,

sometimes, the very ground

on which we stand.

 

Jesus and Others

stand with us.

And sometimes

even plunge

into the flood

—   and save us.

Jane Kenyon lives

We all have favorite authors and poets. Though their words have a life of their own, there is a finiteness to their lives and their productivity. Too many of my favorites have passed beyond us, and I know too much of their lives — enough to suffer each time I read in their biographies of their passing.

 

She dies again,

and I cry again

appreciating her life.

 

Like C.S. Lewis;

like Loren Eiseley;

like the aging of Annie Dillard

who announced on her website

she might not write again.

 

Each time I experience sadness.

I mourn and I cry,

aware there will be no more words,

no more books,

flowing from this favorite.

 

Their undying works,

the miracle of

their productivity,

their creativity,

 

like the still-burning candle

on Jack’s coffin

as they carried it

outside to the graveyard.

 

By the grace of God,

the wind can’t blow out,

no breeze erase

the beauty of their words.

 

 

This will be my last post for a short time, the Lord willing. I go into the hospital Friday morning early for the insertion of a plastic mesh under the muscles either side of my abdomen to seal an opening gap or three down the midline of my body where I had another surgery in May of last year. The mesh has been used successfully in this kind of surgery for the past 25 years by this excellent abdominal surgeon, and he quotes a 95 percent success rate for the surgery. I intend to join the other 95 percent for whom this has gone well, again, God willing. It’s projected I will only be in the hospital two or three days and will be back at work in two weeks after the surgery. If all that holds true, I’ll likely be back posting poetry in a week or so. Please pray for me. Jeff

 

 

The joyful host unseen

My friend Ralph was a rather shy man, not given to much talking except in the intimate circle of close friends. In a group of a dozen or more, I’m pretty sure he’d remain silent unless urged to speak by others. But his funeral brought together all those who shared the intimacy of his friendship, which was warm and wise. I’m quite sure he looked on from heaven quite pleased that his friends got along so well.

 

After the funeral

we gather at round tables,

gathered ourselves by

our mutual friend’s death.

 

We make the briefest

stabs at establishing our

connections to the deceased

and then launch off

into tales of our lives:

places we’ve lived,

what we’ve learned

of employers, of living

in places the snow

stayed on the ground

six months of the year.

 

Ralph would have liked this,

his friends meeting each other,

talking over a meal

provided by the women

of the church.

This is just how

he’d have planned it.

A pleasant noon meal

as his friends took on

the look of friends themselves,

while he — or actually his peaceful demise — the reason

for the party, could simply

watch and smile

without the burden of being

the center of attention.

 

 

High above the river

It was a 17 year old who shared my last name. 

 

High above the river

at certain points along the ridge line trail

I’d leap from one rock formation to another

there in the Ozarks,

out to a promontory

for a better view of the Buffalo River

in the valley far below,

and the distant hills.

 

And later in the day,

listening to one of those

local mountain stations

with such limited reach

they sound like

an old style telephone party line

or someone reading off

the contents of

a supermarket bulletin board,

I heard of the falling death

that same day

of an Ozark native

who shared my last name.

Chills down my spine.

 

 

Baby steps

At the wedding reception of one of the sons of two of our closest friends, I had the privilege of holding the first grandchild of another of our closest friends, waltzing him around the reception hall, showing him the sights of the room, giving his mom a break, and, in the process, having the time of my life.

 

I hold a baby,

give my friends’ daughter a break

as I cruise the hall,

 

showing him people,

decorated wedding cake,

another baby.

 

Keeping tears at bay

by varying sights and sounds,

treating his young eyes

 

to this wedding feast

of men, women, and children

celebrating life.

 

Young Caleb and I,

performing this dance of love,

moving, mingling

 

with Christ’s body here

in varied and wondrous forms,

love making water wine.

 

 

Rolling, rolling…

The outstanding memory of the night was watching the mandolin player’s fingers moving across the strings so fast my eyes could not keep up. Five feet away from me they were a blur of movement. And the bass player, swigging on his beer all evening, laughing, leaning back while picking and playing chords, like Yoyo Ma. So in the moment, he made you regret every career choice that did not lead to you becoming a session musician in Nashville.

 

Rolling backwards down

the two carpeted steps.

BB King’s, Nashville.

 

I was the floor show

for the two tables of us,

bowing as I rose,

 

uninjured and glad

I’d not hit back of my head

with its plastic door

 

where surgeons went in

to re-arrange gray matter,

take out a tumor

 

and fix the plumbing.

All’s well that ends well, they say.

I wasn’t injured.

 

None the worse for wear,

we then went on for bluegrass

at a little club.

 

Two of us closed place,

walked back to hotel in light rain

as lightning rolled through

 

thunderclouds above;

cloud to cloud flashes of light.

Memorable night.