Daylight Savings Time

I crept inside my house to rewind the hands of the clock,

Then leapt to my front yard to fall back into the brown leaves with my daughter

One more time.

 

As I leaned my head back into the crunchy heap,

I saw her bangs hanging over my face, smiling, and I thought

Of all the gorgeous minutes I would get to see again.

 

In that extra hour, my girls become airplanes in my hands.

They giggle like a sheet of snowflakes.

Their bellies are made of chocolate chip cookies.

 

We all sit around the table like we were cut out of some magazine,

Music in the background as soft as the stuffed bear

Who occupies his own seat at dinner.

 

Then my children play the trumpet on two paper towel rolls,

Heralding the news that they are dinosaurs,

Searching the rainforest of the kitchen for a snack.

 

I guess I could have just waited to turn back the hour

Tomorrow morning before I leave for work

In the still light of a different dawn.

 

But who could resist such an encore? The chance to relive

My daughters wearing ice cream like ball gowns,

Pirouetting on bare feet, pink as the piggies we count at night?

 

So I close my eyes, covered in this rich mound of old leaves, and

Listen as closely as I ever have to the ticking sounds of time, grateful for

The sunlight of a second five o’clock.

Dad

On the mountains at the farthest border of the world,

Snow-capped and calling,

I felt my way to the thin line of the edge

And looked down into outer space

 

Where I could see the winds of stars fall asleep

Below my scarlet knuckles

As the northern lights, with their tin flame of foil fire,

Green and white diamond, filmed the midnight sky.

 

They told stories like my father,

Full of heroes and the beauties they fought for,

As every scene of laughter and of sorrow,

Played at once along the measures of their gleaming.

 

Then I balled a few rags of snow in my grasp

And clenched them hard enough for the cold to slide

Into my chest and crack my pounding heart alive

As I rose to my feet and steadied my shaking lungs.

 

I remember those tales well,

My father sitting by my bedside, holding

Oceans and sailing ships with the strength of

His love for me.

 

And I would follow him anywhere,

Through the forestry of childhood,

Keeping close to his heels as he

Showed me where to go,

 

Well into the iron winters of adulthood

As my stride slowly grew stronger, and

He taught me how to breathe

The mountain air of becoming a father.

 

For now, as I stand at the peak of this universe,

Filled with ice and the sweep of shooting stars,

I turn and see the faces of my own children and my beautiful wife,

Looking to me with the smiles of home,

 

And I know it is time to tell my own stories,

To hold their hands and lead them onward

As they keep close to my heels, and I show them

Where to go.

Wife

Your fingers felt the hem of your violet dress

When you first looked over at me,

And for a moment I swear the room rippled

Like water kissed by a skipping stone.

 

Then you spoke,

And all the watercolor rain

In every cloud between us

Began to fall,

Rinsing the beautiful stillness,

Bearing your words like notes on sheet music

Across the twirling wind,

The sweetness of roses,

The lovely taste of light.

 

Your smile curled at the corners like hymnals,

Bright with the glory of verse,

The joy of Christ resting on your gentle cheeks

And your eyes deeper than morning.

 

I stood helpless as you swept your hair behind your shoulder,

Arrested by a single sentence,

A hundred hummingbirds whirring in my chest.

For you were no mere person,

No woman on a busy street,

But starlight on the evening sea,

Melody in rosined strings,

Beauty in a violet dress.

 

And still, now,

As I rake the snow with my right hand,

Five fingers along the length of our front yard,

And the cold night laughs a flurry of new blankets,

I see our children dance around the staff that I have drawn,

Stepping out a chorus, leaving notes beneath their shoes,

And I know when I look up,

I’ll see my lovely wife,

And we’ll smile in quiet gladness

For the time that we’ve been given.

On Reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”  Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis


I drove home from school that evening,

My bag sprawled against the passenger seat,

Rain raking across the windshield,

And I mulled maddeningly over his opening line.

 

Poor Gregor, I thought,

It’s bad enough to endure

Unsettling dreams,

But to wake up one morning only

To find yourself transformed into a

Monstrous vermin…

What a way to go.

 

Then, as I drifted into my driveway,

I began to question the very nature of change.

The Metamorphosis, it’s called,

He awakes to find he had become

Something else entire.

Clever, but simply fiction.

No early morning spontaneous change for the rest of us in the

Real world.

 

I continued to ponder Gregor’s condition

As I walked through my kitchen,

Kissed my wife,

And knelt to the floor of my living room to tussle with my daughters,

To release the hours of giggling from the depths of their little lungs,

To wage another campaign in the infamous Tickle Wars.

 

I had almost forgotten Kafka’s novella

And Gregor’s plight,

When my oldest had settled her spurs in the floor

To summon her favorite horse for a quick saunter around the house.

 

As I bent to my hands and knees,

Lowering my back to help her saddle up,

I remembered the magic of change, the invisible truth that

Swells within the blood of fathers,

For all my philosophies and empty questions

Faded into shadow as my fingertips hardened to hooves,

Thick as iron,

And my mouth began to dribble the dabbled joy of stallions.

 

It was then,

As the cool carpet sprang forth with grass,

And the dusty wind howled through our TV screen to breeze across

My daughter’s laughing chin,

That I believed again in metamorphosis,

And I neighed loud enough to stay the dawn

And send Gregor back to sleep.

Together

A poem for my daughter, Julianna…


In the dream,

You and I were seated,

Side by side,

In the bench seat of a borrowed golf cart,

Touring the cracks and

Sparkling asphalt of our neighborhood

As the sun began to set.

 

Together,

We hummed through the endless turns

And quiet stretches,

Never bothering to circle back

(if that’s what one does in a winding subdivision),

And I laughed as your cheeks tightened

From smiling

And your blonde hair giggled in the wind.

 

I think we drove for hours,

You and I,

Always whirling around another corner,

Discovering the horizons that lilted with purpled light.

 

“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”

 

I looked over at you

And your bouncing knees,

Clapping hands,

As you climbed the little ladders in your eyes,

Gazing into futures,

Wondering,

Eyelashes swept with spring.

 

The warm pull of our small motor

Rose into the sky

As you colored the clouds with your singing,

Like fingerpaint against infinite sheets

Of 97¢ construction paper.

 

“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”

 

But then,

Slowly,

Our magic cart

Reached the end of the dream,

Our swirling atmosphere slurred to a stop

Like chalk,

Our wheels sticking on the fermata,

The song sustaining, the pedal dampened,

As my brain began to wake my body.

 

“Daddy,” you sang.

“Yes, Julie?”

 

I stumble through the early light

To open your bedroom door.

 

“I love you,” you sing.

“Good morning, Julie,” I respond,

 

And we both hear the click of the

Automatic coffee maker,

Heralding the dawn,

As we walk down the morning stairs

 

Together.

Ray’s Peaches

Another summer poem…


Our tires chewed the gravel road,

Tossing rocks into the palm of a single beam of sunlight

As we pulled the car crookedly into his driveway.

 

He sat enthroned in the yawning wood of his tumbledown rocking chair –

Still as the stale air of his ripening trees,

The former glory of Ray’s Peaches.

 

The A-frame sign by the old highway

Had lost two letters from the downpours of time,

The decay of decades, remainders from rain

And the Carolina sun,

The ghostly silhouette of the first and the second e

Unveiling the bright white of the untanned parts

And a vacant apostrophe near the top.

 

Ray watched as my family and I leapt from the car

And asked for a couple baskets for the peaches,

His freckled grin brawling against the worn grooves

Of his cheeks, and his eyes still laughing like the sky.

 

That morning,

We plucked our swollen wonders,

Warm as hands,

And kissed the gentle clouds with our giggling.

 

Ray simply watched as we lugged our teeming baskets to the scale,

Fifty cents a pound, peaches discounted

As a favor to the family grandfathered by the town preacher.

He felt the sharp cool of dollars between his thumb and finger

And winked at my daughter, quick enough to only spill

A flutter of magic at her dancing feet.

 

And as she paused to glance at Old Ray

Of Ray’s Peaches,

She lay her basket in the grass and scooped the smell of earth

Into her little hands,

Thanked Mr. Ray for the fruit,

And turned with her clasped fingers toward the car

While Ray lifted a prayer to God

That Elizabeth may turn her eyes down from heaven

To their small peach farm once more

As he kissed the gentle clouds

And shuffled to their bed to sleep.

 

13615208_884782098526_6764067680600471414_n

My Daughter Speaks with Thunder

This is a poem dedicated to my daughter Julianna, the girl who says hello to the thunder:


My daughter speaks with thunder,

Letting go of a thousand wishes drawn from her little well,

Lips stirred by the sweeping spells of starlight,

A congregation of electric clouds clapping the chorus,

Humming hymns.

 

When lightning rips the violet sky,

Like mice scratching faster than traps,

Cheese in cheek,

My child betrays her young lungs with the fragile yell

Of determined humans,

Daring to harmonize with the heavens.

 

She smiles and dances to me,

The harps in her throat still laughing with song,

When her hands outstretch to unveil

A dozen little berries,

Dizzy from the sugar they’ve drunk,

And I see the glory of this gummy communion,

As my daughter chomps on her backyard treasure,

Barrels her hellos to the evening,

And God the Father belly laughs

A shower of rain in response.

To My Mother on Her Birthday

My mother’s birthday is today, and I wanted to honor her and everything she has done for my family and me by writing this poem for her. Happy birthday, Mom.


I saw her breathing deeply

As I stared through strands of tumbling hair,

Like little wispy veils,

Slurring my sleepy vision as I shivered at her bedside.

I was small and scared and four.

 

My mother’s sleep lay on her thick as quilts,

Lulling her tired bones to the rest of sacred dreams,

Filled with the iron ballast of a day of boundless worship:

Her living room worn by the hymns of an aged vacuum,

Choruses offered as sacred vespers,

The clouds of sunset filling her temple,

My mother’s domestic liturgy.

 

I see her hands fold behind her pillow,

Fingers faded by the baptism of dishes,

The scrape of cereal from the bowl and the wisdom of rags

Wiping away the filth of human failures.

 

Her forehead lightens as her mind replays

The wonders of laughter

And the splattering grace of the evening meal,

Smeared cheeks chewing on the Passover,

Remembrances of a body broken

As my mother’s bends beneath the steam of a swollen oven,

Her electric altar of praise.

 

My little voice whispers through missing teeth

That the dragon in my room was snarling again,

Its bared fangs aching for the taste of boy,

And I needed her to rescue my wet sheets.

 

Her eyes half-closed,

Limbs dangling from the strings of endless love,

She stumbles to the linen closet as I anxiously peer through the dark,

Searching for the twin braids of smoke in the shadows of my urine-stained room,

Trusting in the holy strength of my beautiful mother

Whose arms bear the load of a midnight sacrifice

And whose kiss can slay the dragons.

“She’s Wonderful!”

83c2f10655cbee2174dd0a444fc0048eI am sure with a recent post of mine from last November riffing off a scene from Mary Poppins, many of you may be thinking a second one would simply be milking it.

Well, here goes.

First, Mary Poppins may very well hold the top seat in my list of favorite movies. It is one of the most finely crafted films I’ve seen, certainly Disney’s best. Mixing pathos, charm, depth, and the right sort of Dickensian atmosphere (though the film is set in 1910) with Dick van Dyke and Julie Andrews at the helm is simply remarkable. Add to that a medley of film’s most iconic moments (tea parties on the ceiling, jumping through chalk pavement pictures, merry-go-round horses in the derby, the bird woman at St. Paul’s) and best lines (“Posts, everyone!”, “Kindly do not cloud the issue with facts”,  “A wooden leg named Smith”) and you’ve got the makings of a masterpiece. Mary Poppins is the film that is at once both familiar and new, timeless and exciting. It is the only film I know of that allows its audience to feel like Mr. Banks and Michael Banks simultaneously – to be steeped in the wildness of childhood and burdened by the cages of adulthood in the course of two hours. It is a charming and delightfully fresh world that we have somehow always known.

One scene in particular has struck me recently as I have been watching it with my girls over the past few weeks. As Mary Poppins arrives at 17 Cherry Tree Lane and makes her way through the nursery, Jane and Michael spot her rather cumbersome carpetbag (“You mean to carry carpets in?” “No. Made of.”). Yet, as she places the bag on the table and begins to unpack, the children are bewildered by what lies inside. Though neither Jane nor Michael can see anything in the bag, Mary Poppins pulls out a mirror, a floor lamp, several articles of clothing, and her famous tape measure.

It’s quick and subtle, but Jane and Michael have a short exchange that is, in its own way, quite revealing:

Michael: “We better keep an eye on this one. She’s tricky.”

Jane: “She’s wonderful!”

In this moment, I can’t help thinking if their response to Mary Poppins is the same sort of response the world has to the miraculous glory of Christ. Many may look at the gospels, hear accounts of healings and resurrections, and come to the same conclusion. This man is tricky, claiming to be the Messiah. He’s a charlatan, an illusionist, a sorcerer, a mere carnival barker if anything at all.

We better keep an eye on this one.

Surely no one can take seriously stories of a Jew walking on water, calming storms, and raising the dead. It’s a trick that the Pharisees and other Jews kept an eye on, even to His death.

Yet, there was a remnant that believed Jesus was not tricky, but wonderful. Though they (and I) cannot explain how He accomplished all that He did, the beauty of Jane’s response is the beauty of childlike faith. She did not have to figure Mary Poppins out. She did not belittle her position by assuming she was devious or false. She simply chose to submit herself to the enchantment of a charming mystery.

And so must we. It is not for us to “keep an eye on” God. We must simply open ourselves to the grand delight of a God who has come to fix everything, regardless of whether or not we can explain how He did it. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:3,

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

In their own way, Jane, Michael, and even Mr. Banks needed a nanny to swoop down from the clouds and fix all their chaos with a spoonful of sugar, someone to “turn bread and water into tea and cakes”, and in a very meaningful way, so do we. What’s more is that we, like the Banks children, must decide whether this savior is evil or good, wrong or right, tricky or wonderful.

I side with Jane.

 

A Person’s a Person

sneetches4-2bxxd4z_categoryAt the time this goes to print, I am substituting for our 6th grade English teacher during her after-lunch period. Needless to say, I am seated at a desk covered with brightly-colored supplies, trays full of classwork, and a beautiful, stately globe.

I am also surrounded by a wriggling bundle of 11-year-olds.

As they fidget, giggle, or pray frantically that God will intervene and provide them the right answer on their vocabulary quiz, I watch as they hurriedly scribble down their responses with determination and delicate care. Some twiddle their pencils, some bite their lips, and some (inevitably) need to go to the bathroom.

Yet, it is not the nervous energy and dangling legs that strikes me. It is the slow realization that I am in the company of a violinist, a lawyer, an insurance agent, a CEO, an actress, an Olympic gold-medalist, a deacon, a coach, a senator, a mother of four, and a city planner. These untied shoelaces and awkward braces adorn the feet and faces of the future, a brave new world that has yet to take form.

I am reminded of Dr. Seuss’ wonderful line from Horton Hears a Who:

“A person’s a person no matter how small.”

Perhaps now, more than ever, such a truth must be recalled and placed center stage in our culture, particularly given the horrendous onslaught of abortion statistics and the CMP videos. However, we must also turn our attention to the positive affirmation behind Seuss’ line. We are in the business of raising a generation of men and women, little persons, who are destined to pick up our torches and carry on with our different tasks, passions, and missions. Like the steady corrosion of Ozymandias’ visage, we are limited to a mere season of influence and opportunity; these little ones will one day pass by our monuments, and the Earth will continue to orbit the sun long after we have gone.

What matters is how we pay the right sort of attention to these people and train them up in the way they should go. And that certainly does not mean we ignore them or indulge them. A person’s a person. We must challenge, discipline, encourage, instruct, support, and inspire them. They are people, called to the work of the LORD, a work that will progress long after we have drawn our last breaths. Let the coal touch their lips and send them into this wide, wide world full of passion and adventure.

Oh, the places they’ll go.