I Can Only Do So Many Things

I can only do so many things

Before my lungs give out.

So I’ll go for a walk to figure it all out

As best I can.

 

Although I do know how to look at flowers and the yellow silk of their petals,

The streetlamps, the pair of initials settled in the cement,

I could always learn to see them better.

 

My elementary school teachers taught me to type,

But sometimes I still make mistakes.

I have spelled my last name Hugg ten too many times,

Though I have yet to give ten too many hugs to anybody.

So today, I’m going to go outside and hug somebody.

 

Although I am thirty years old, I still find myself

Dancing like a scarecrow on a yellow road

When no one’s looking, and, every now and then,

When everyone is.

 

My arms are filled with atoms,

Peering around like periscopes as I write,

Seeking out some land where I can stand

And call out to the clouds of my brain for the next

Line.

 

I can spin a pen around the ball bearings of my fingertips –

It’s learning to use it that is agonizing.

 

I can picture your hands, your face,

As you read this,

For you, too, can only do so many things.

 

And as I wonder where you are from and what has brought us together in this moment,

I try to discover what is stopping us.

For though we can only do so many things,

There are so many things that only we can do.

 

So unravel the things you can do. Unfold them and rub them against

The edges of the table to iron out their creases,

Read the crisp handwriting of the notes that have been written

To you. Take notes on your forearms to remind yourself

Of that tree you climbed when you were young.

Perch yourself on the curb of a storefront and eat your lunch with both hands

Like a toddler waiting for his birthday to come.

 

Let the static shock of a plastic slide send you straight back to your childhood.

Buy a candy bar on the impulse shelves of the checkout counter

And eat the entire thing on the way home.

And I’ll set up the chess board for another round

Against my father, the man who taught me everything I needed to know

About knighthood.

 

So this evening, when the night sky swims into view,

Before I sleep like a puddle of rain,

I will know I have done all that I can do

And so have you

And maybe we’ll meet for ice cream before our lungs give out.

School Poems

The air in study hall was thick with the smoke of pencils,

Scribbling to find fire on the page, ten teenagers

Looking for love in the smile their words might make.

 

Over in the library, some have rolled their sleeves,

Bent over a row of screens,

Their hurried breaths gyrating the pinwheels of their poems

As their fingertips clicked like cleats on the pavement of their laptops,

Letters dripping on documents,

A thousand rain drops on an old tin roof.

 

I walked past the boy on the steps with a halo of reverb

Plugged in from ear to ear, connected to a phone synced to his heart,

Drumming his palms against his knees like his life

Had been lived only for this moment, the wild abandon

Of one who’d learned to walk the plank

As the pirates of passion loomed behind him with their thick beards

And blades sharpened

As if to say, “Rock this one out or you’ll sleep in the ocean.”

 

The girl in the courtyard crooked one leg behind the other,

Curling her fingers around her phone in the cold

Like she knew the next message he sent would make her warm.

So she bubbled her poetry in blue, mailed it on the airwaves, and waited for his ellipses,

Three dots in Morse before three words she longed to read.

 

Down the hall, the kindergarteners knelt outside their classroom,

Upturning waxy bags of crayon and a dozen safety scissors,

Peeling the ghosts of Elmer’s glue from their palms

As they told their parents they loved them

With a red construction heart and a firm crease in the center,

A greater declaration of devotion than any sonnet could ever sing.

 

So I kept walking briskly in the air of this century

Where people still write poetry, breaking pieces of their body

Like bread for summer swans

And pressing them deep into a dozen syllables,

The friction of pounding feet and chattering teeth

As they toss their own words into the rushing waters of time.

Passion

Behind my open eyes, I’m taking pictures of the lightning.

You see, I’ve got pitch-perfect timing, the shutter speed

Of eyelashes fluttering, stuttering through a thousand flashes.

 

And all the ribbons of this clacking typewriter in my ribcage

Spin faster than aging, ink hammers exploding,

Pumping blood just like it’s flooding.

 

So I pull back the curtained skyline, tear the North Star from its system

And grip it till it trembles, tremors shimmering like fool’s gold,

The cold charm of blindfolding a supernova in slow motion,

Surging through the paper-thin skin of my grasp into the bloodstream.

 

They say it’s not enough to have this engine

Raging in my iron bones,

But I’m so full of green lights, I’ve got Gatsby in my vision,

New York printed in my vein lines,

And I’m showing no signs of stopping,

For like that shining city, you know I will never sleep.

 

‘Cause this bonfire’s been howling, synapses hyper in the sparking,

Sending signals like embers

From my thoughts into the evening,

Till they burn from all this dreaming, decades in the making,

Taking laps around the circuits in my hands

As they seize lightning,

Rope it down and crack it open ’til I find the silver lining,

Write this poem before it blinds me, then rewind to the beginning.

 

Though these words may be my ending,

They may also be my living,

For that’s what passions do, they claim your life,

Like fire you just can’t take them lightly.

So let them course through every brainwave,

Even after my touchscreen flatlines,

‘Cause in ten thousand years, this typist will still be typing,

Writing on the pages of forever, etching metaphors for glory.

 

Till then, my lens is calling to open my eyes a little wider,

To fill my teeth with every whirlwind of dusk

And all this lightning, palms ready for thunder.

The God of Great Feasting (The Joy of the Lord Is Our Strength)

full_cropped_LOTR---The-Return-of-the-King-471In an age of rampant cynicism, intense narcissism, and deep defiance toward absolutes such as truth, goodness, and beauty, the ache for passionate and rich festivity must burn ever more feverishly in our hearts. This sour world, lost in the mirrors of its vanity and drowning in the white noise of feeds, posts, snaps, and late-night binges, is in dire need of a good feast, what Tolkien saw as an evening by the fire, filled with boisterous laughter and great dancing. Or, as Lewis saw, what greater way to herald the breaking of winter than the carousing of creatures at the coming of spring? The promise of resurrection is a great promise, full and strong, breaking like the tide against this screen-drunk land.

I am fond of saying Christians, by definition, ought to be the most celebratory, revelrous, festive, merry, jubilant, glorious, and passionate beings on Earth, for we are little Christs, microcosms of the cosmos-Creator. We are followers of the Maker of laughter, the Author of baby-babble, the Sculptor of forestry, and the Inventor of the taste of s’mores. We are disciples of the One who ringed Saturn, spoke light, and lulled the raging seas. We serve the God who made music and poetry, and as we behold His glory, we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (II Cor. 3:18). As we become more and more like our wondrous Creator, the world ought to see us laugh as He laughs, forgive as He forgives, dance and sing and shout. He is the prodigal Father, excessive and exuberant in His splendor. Indeed, as His cup overflowed with His grace, so must our cups overflow with His praise, held high in joyful cheer and strong power.

The psalmist declares, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound” (Ps. 4:7)

—“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).

—“Awake, my glory! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations” (Ps. 57:8-9).

In Isaiah, “Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (Is. 55:2)

In Ecclesiastes, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Eccl. 9:7, 9).

In Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

In Thessalonians, “Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16).

And from Nehemiah, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Everyone Moves Away – The Soundtrack of the Soul

10481858_298121743700397_3975414626893827198_nIn a clever turn, the music group Everyone Moves Away printed on their Facebook band page a rather revealing insight into what makes their music speak so beautifully and effortlessly to the humanity in all of us. For the “Location” section on their profile, they simply put: Earth.

This pithy statement speaks to the vast range of human experience and cosmic potential that EMA seeks to capture in the electric, near interstellar depth of their music. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to write a review of their first EP, titled I, in which I said the following:

“Hailing from the Music City itself, Nashville-based Everyone Moves Away is taking quite a unique approach to capturing the powerful and transcendent effect of music on each of us. Founded by music producers and writers of diverse backgrounds and projects, EMA represents the kaleidoscopic effect of varying styles and experiences blending into a unified, storytelling voice. […] The heart of EMA lies in the atmospheric, almost cinematic beauty of their music, a thrilling combination of lucid guitar phrases, sweeping ambient tones, electronica, and anthemic choruses that highlight frontman Chris Small’s soulful, yet melancholy vocals . In their debut EP I, EMA fluidly moves from the hauntingly-lovely dream quality of “East Lights” to the wild blood of the ever-hopeful “We’re Only Getting Closer.” Steeped in the natural harmony between music and memory, Everyone Moves Away explores what is most true and most raw to the depths of human experience.”

Now, I’d like to take the occasion to conduct a brief exploration of their most recent work, aptly titled II. For all the overwhelming intensity and spirit evident in their freshman project, II delivers power and feeling that only furthers the band’s firm command over musical and poetic effort.

  1. “Waiting for Futures” – The EP opens on an almost dizzying array of atmospheric sound, pulsating in and out to introduce the tone of the whole album. In effect, we are invited into a spiritual space, a devoted study of hope and melancholy that escalates dramatically as Chris Small, the frontman, lyrically unravels the beautiful chorus: “All we have is falling / What are you waiting for?” With this incredible opener, EMA shares the emotional richness of wistful yearning and passionate feeling, captured in a brief, yet moving lyric. A personal favorite. 
  2. “Collide” – A more pop, upbeat number, “Collide” takes the heart of the first track and transmutes it to a young, anthemic dance hit. Yet, for the stark contrast, the music doesn’t lose its sense of continuity. The song’s primary focus is on the steady beat as the guitars and Small’s vocals soar over the march, quite an artful choice to combine a pounding rhythm with lofty, elongated lyrical phrases.
  3. “The Pale Star” – The shortest track on the record, this song distills the solemn and pensive moments of EMA’s sound and creates a small but lovely “miniature epic.” To the film reel of II, “The Pale Star” is a simple snapshot, a moment.
  4. “With the Night” – Considering the full force and broad appeal of the song, “With the Night” seems to open with a sort of false start, a promise that the track will deliver a slow and soothing ballad as Small calmly drifts through the verse. Then, all promises break as he calls out to herald the chorus and the drums respond: “So what do we whisper now? / I can tell we’ve lost control / The sun is going down on us / We’ve never found ourselves so sure / Love is lost with the night”. Featuring a spoken-word piece (delivered by Small) during the bridge, “With the Night” is perhaps EMA’s most eclectic and surprising track to date.
  5. “Hollywood” – Seemingly a second-act to “Collide”, “Hollywood” starts right off the bat with vocals, drums, and a modulating bass synth, mingling to create a walking rhythm (get your earbuds and get moving!). The ambience and startling digital effects throughout the track make “Hollywood” an addicting, attractive pop wonder, perhaps underscored by Small’s haunting lyrics: “Everything is fantasy […] Our nights playing on a movie screen […] Will you dance with me one more time? One more time?”
  6. “A Lone Spark” – Another shorter track, “A Lone Spark” combines cloudy and foggy swells with a punctuated single note repeated like a dotted line as Small’s vocals fade in and out of transmission. Darker in tone and somber in effect, “Spark” brings us to the end, reminding us of the pain and loneliness of exile only to prepare us for the glory of home in their best track “Everything”…
  7. “Everything”  – “Everything with my eyes closed / I can see you come alive / And with our eyes closed / I can feel the sun” So concludes the beautiful quest. Small has led us through dream and memory, futures and sparks, and here we experience a wondrous resurrection as we “come alive” through the power and transcendence of music: “When we wake, we aren’t the same / Are we a dream inside the sky? / And everything that we can see is everything close to me”. The final phase of the song, and indeed the endnote of the record, is a glorious bursting forth of voices and instruments, electric and vibrant, loudly pulsing to a close as we are left singing along, with our own eyes closed, fully alive.

Everyone Moves Away’s music can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and on their website.

EMA is comprised of Chris Small (vocals, guitar, keys), Melissa Mattey (keys, vocals), and Tony High (keys, drums, percussion).

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“See, Mother”

Madonna of the BookA few weeks ago, I had the privilege of touring the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas and discovered a beautiful painting by Botticelli titled Madonna of the Book. In the center of this piece sits Mary with the Christ child on her lap as they both read from a medieval book of hours, a sacred devotional text common to Botticelli’s generation. Noticeably, Mary is pensive, contemplative, and even mournful in her pose as she studies the book.

Several striking images arise from this remarkable portrait, particularly surrounding the event of Christ’s death on the cross:

1. The Cross

If you look closely, a crown of thorns and three nails adorn the left hand of Christ, signifying his coming crucifixion. The placement of these symbols around the arm of the infant Christ creates a powerful harmony and continuity in the picture, for we are able to see in a single moment both Christ’s beginning and ending simultaneously. Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 1.33.41 PMHe was born to die. This is the will of God that “Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, [be] crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Indeed, Christ came into this world to “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). As Mark Lowry famously wrote in a song to Mary: “This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

2. The Gaze of Christ

Perhaps the most admirable feature of this work is the reassuring gaze of Christ toward His mother. As Mary appears somber, meditative, and hesitant to continue her reading (in a book which contains the gruesome account of the cross), the look of the Christ child is one of soothing comfort. “It’s okay, mother,” he seems to say, “we must keep reading the story.” Yes, we must. Mary, like many of us, nervously approaches the death of Jesus, the horrendous murder of her son. With pain she stays her hand to keep from witnessing the bloodshed. Screen Shot 2015-07-07 at 1.51.07 PMYet, Christ guides her hand with His. “Keep reading. Keep reading.” Notice His left hand holding hers and His right hand guiding her back to the story. We must keep reading. Christ must die on the cross so that we must not. His steady and victorious look to His mother tells us everything. “I must do this for you,” he says to her and to us. “I love you. You must keep reading.” For as we keep reading, we discover that the story does not end at His death. In the words of the Battle Hymn, “Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel […] His truth is marching on.” He marches on. He marches on. Glory, glory, hallelujah.

3. Mary’s Garments

Interestingly, Mary is clothed in red (the shedding of blood for the covering of sin), and red is the garment closest to her heart. Draped around her and enveloping her entire figure is the blue of Christian baptism. Through the death of Christ, Mary is bought with blood and baptized into a new life, picturing the hope of Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of the believers at His return. Though she is sad to think of His death, she is already clothed in His resurrection. Her joy is a future joy but a present reality.

4. The Dawn of Resurrection

Through the open window, we can just begin to glimpse the breaking dawn rising into view. “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 130:5). The death of Christ was a dark night, truly, but how glorious is His resurrection! “O Death, where is your sting?” (I Cor. 15:55).

Screen Shot 2015-07-04 at 10.20.15 PM

“See, Mother, I make all things new.”

All in all, may we be encouraged that, though we tremble at times in our reading of the great story of God, faithless in our fear of the coming darkness, the hand of Christ bids us keep reading, for behold, He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5).