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.

Ludwig van Beethoven

It was just him and me that evening

In a dimly lit coffeehouse on the south bank of the Thames,

Like we’d somehow met halfway.

 

Though I knew the Atlantic to be wider than his short jaunt from Vienna,

I offered to pay for the drinks

As he was the one who soared valiantly across the stars of two centuries

To meet me, and I simply took an early flight and a cab.

 

When we sat down, I happened to glance over his shoulder and out the window,

Catching the London fog along the length of the still river

As if it had wandered straight from some

Penciled copy of Eliot’s poetry

Or a chapter from that Dickens novel

Sitting softly on the shelf in a used bookstore near Piccadilly.

 

But all I could do was ladle my mug with both hands

Like a beggar warding off frostbite

As I tried to think of what to say, desperately wishing to avoid

The stilted air of an interview

Or the false pretense of coziness, talking about the weather

Or something equally grey and dull.

 

Yet, in the silence,

As the moon held its head above the water of the gentle, pebbled tide,

I looked to his navy coat, his shock of famous hair,

And, finally, to his curled fingers on the table

As they drummed lightly beside his empty cup and the black dregs

Splattered like notes along the bottom.

 

They spoke for themselves

The way they’d spoken all those years ago

In the Moonlight Sonata, the riot of the Fifth Symphony,

The glorious Ode to Joy.

 

And now, strolling down the street into the marble cool hours of night,

I slowly attach these headphones

And choose his Seventh Symphony in A major,

The one he reportedly wrote to convalesce from the storms of illness.

 

And I carry two thoughts, one for each pocket,

The first, how beautiful the winter air,

The second, a quiet wish that I could tell him how good it is to know

He’s still got it.

Time

Before the sun rose this morning, I left my coffee cup

On the table next to the vase of flowers

And pulled a chair around to the far side near the window.

 

I brushed aside the still air of early kitchen light

And lifted myself up, towering toward the ceiling,

To unspine the batteries from the clock on the wall.

 

I wanted to place them next to one of your drawings,

The one with purple and blue marker on yellow paper

In which you carefully illustrated your little world

 

Filled with sunshine and letters of the alphabet,

A summer sky hovering above

Your endless fields of doodling.

 

You told me it reminded you of Blueberry Mash Hill,

That fantastic landscape of games and laughter you climb

On every walk we take around the neighborhood,

 

Or Apple Hill, the other street that bends toward the cul-de-sac,

Perhaps even Strawberry Hill, the one with the sharp incline

Followed by a spectacular view of the clouds.

 

But as the sunlight began to trickle through the window

And illuminate the hills of your imagination,

I laid the pages back on the table

 

And glanced at the pair of batteries,

Rolling lazily along the wooden surface,

Disregarding my attempt to freeze this moment in time

 

As I can just detect your small voice

Calling out from the top of the stairs,

Ready for another day of constant and beautiful growing.

The Trees

For Dr. Cathy Sepko


She saw the light first as a little girl

In the hard knuckle granite of West Virginia –

A distant fire in a snowy wood

Filled with the paddings of foxes,

Crickets in the indigo dusk.

 

She learned to read the braille of wood bark

Leading toward that flame,

The rust of sky heavy on the trees.

 

Can you hear them? she would call to us,

Can you hear the songs of old?

The wide winds of rhythm,

The open mouth of the moon

Cooing along the quiet river?

 

She taught us in the forest

To feel the poems in the pines,

To dig our teeth deep into the dirt to taste the earth.

 

She taught the rocks to rhyme,

Pressed a shard of coal into the stone

To carve her spot in time.

 

And now, she sits on a smooth stump before the fire

Surrounded by the faces of a generation,

Ten thousand family trees

Singing softly in the starlight, leaning in to listen

As she warms her tired feet.

Play

We folded our arms around each other

As the pages of our scripts flurried like glitter

To the floor, making eights in the air,

Surrounding our slow dance between the walls of an elevator, descending

From our room to the lobby.

 

We couldn’t care, neither of us,

To catch a line, or even a single cue.

You just watched my eyes as I lit up all the buttons,

Resetting the clock,

Pulling you in closer as the doors begin to close.

 

Only now the air was softer, small enough

To hear the snare drums in my coat,

The train of bells along my sleeves,

And the electric guitar in every fingertip

As I sent my love to you.

 

For our laughter, yours and mine together,

Carries spectral lines, neon

And warm, as we play in this metal box that

Rises and falls like chests along this building.

Even the fog from our hurried talking

Brushes the inside of the cold window, reminding me

To engrave our initials, if for a moment,

Into the cloud that we created

Before it fades away to time

And frost.

 

I know our evening’s slipping

Farther down the wishing water,

But still we crowd our fingers,

Intertwine them for a moment.

And in that still frame

Before the kites of our words and our laughter have risen,

I send my love to you,

And you, me,

Pulling you in closer as the doors begin to close.

Outside Hopper’s Nighthawks

A new poem…


I was shuffling down the sidewalk that night,

My hands fixed in the pockets of my coat,

Thumb and finger turning at keys, aping

The turning in my mind,

When I found myself outside Hopper’s Nighthawks.

 

It was eerie at first to see my curious look

In the reflection of the old diner,

Though not so old in this impossible present

Where I stood peering through the dingy glass,

Squinting to note the familiar figures at the bar:

The hatted cigaretteer, the suspicious woman in red,

Their hands eternally touching or not touching,

The amiable boy tending the bar

And the fourth with his back to the world.

 

I drew my forehead up to the window

To determine how cool this outside dark,

Placing my hands like parentheses around my eyes

Only to see the still figures inside

Staring at nothing,

Dwelling on absent futures, listless

In their fixed points where Phillies are only 5¢

And the lights are always on.

 

Yet before I pulled away to turn the corner to my car,

A lazy glance happened upon a single glass,

Idle and unclaimed,

On the nearer end of the bar,

Removed from the four characters

Paralyzed in their cold moments.

 

So I drifted inside,

Lay my keys and scarf upon the counter,

And asked the boy if he’d exchange the empty tumbler

For a coffee cup like the others.

But he wouldn’t take it, wouldn’t even listen,

Didn’t even stand up straight from his persistent stooping,

And I gathered the glass was meant to stay,

Left by someone else,

Destined never to be filled,

Perhaps stuck in his own still point,

Caught in a portrait of frozen dancing

Or motionless on the curb.

 

I scooped up my keys and turned them over,

One by one around the ring,

But not before I waited for a while

To see what would happen next.


Nighthawks_by_Edward_Hopper_1942.jpg

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.

Honey, That’s What Takers Do

In the tail end of Ephesians 4, Paul shifts his thoughts from what are, as my dad calls them, the redwoods of theology and doctrine that constitute Ephesians 1-3 (you know, the veritable grab bag of predestination, depravity, progressive sanctification, and a side of nachos) toward the stuff of practical living. He begins in 4:25 with the exhortation to “put away falsehood” and to “not let the sun go down on your anger,” clear encouragement that is forthright and incisive.

But what seems to be fairly easy-going in the first few pieces – speak the truth, be angry and do not sin – becomes quite complicated as the list continues. By the end, we are told only to speak what is good for building up and to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice be put away from us. Sheesh. It’s safe to say this collection of living wisdom requires the work of the Holy Spirit in us to bring it about, a truth which is more than likely Paul’s entire point.

Yet, as we rely on the Spirit of the Living God to be at work in us (Phil. 2:13), we are not given the allowance to drift slowly to sleep as Paul’s list reveals itself. Though it is God at work in us, we are still commanded to put our whole being to the task of sanctification with “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).

With this sort of focus and examination in mind, I’d like to hone in on one of Paul’s commands in particular:

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”  -Eph. 4:28

Though there is much to be gleaned from this verse on the virtue of work, the value of sharing, and the necessity of compassion in capitalism (for a separate post, I’m sure), I’d like to offer three observations regarding theft in the life of a Christian.

#1 – Taking what isn’t yours and not taking what is yours are both sins.

While the knee-jerk reading of this verse tends to lean toward a “Thou-shalt-not-steal” cautioning, we must not neglect the possibility of a more ubiquitous form of theft: robbing oneself. It is true that we must not steal what is not ours, but it is also true that we must not steal what has been freely given us by not allowing ourselves to enjoy it. This form of theft is quite familiar to many of us. How often have we refused the gift of forgiveness Christ offers? How many of us live under the condemnation and guilt of gracelessness when the grace of Christ has been extended to us? How many of us decline the gift the Giver has lavished on us in the name of self-reliance? For too many of us, we admit Christ broke the chains that bound us but rather than leave them at the foot of the cross, we pick them up and flagellate away. The chasm between penance and penitence is vast.

We must believe God when He says, “I give you grace, forgiveness, justification, joy.” To say no to these is to say no to Christ. We steal from ourselves when we acknowledge Christ with our mouths but decline the gift of salvation, the whole gift with all its bells and whistles.

#2 – Thieves steal more than treasure.

Stealing a car is bad. Stealing money from your neighbor is bad. Stealing time your children deserve is…well…

Though many American Christians balk at the notion they must be told not to steal (“Please, I wear a tie to work. I’m no thief.”), far too many of us steal regularly when it comes to the passing of our time. When Paul tells us we must no longer steal, we ought to look at the time we steal from our spouse by overcommitting to hobbies, time we steal from our children by lying on the couch, time we steal from our pastor by staying home. It would seem we do not need ski masks to be thieves.

#3 – Taking what must not be taken and not giving what must be given are both sins.

Similar to observation #1, this truth tends to glisten when you tilt the verse at an angle. Paul ends his verse with the overall purpose of the command: “…so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Paul gives us the why. We must no longer steal but work heartily so that we may have something to share with anyone in need. This means that it is not enough to simply stop stealing and start earning. Hoarding is theft. When we fill our own barrels for the sake of grinning at their fullness, we rob those in need of what God has called us to share. As the sage once said, humans have two hands and one mouth. We ought to contribute twice as much as we consume.

Most importantly, we must remember that “honest work and just reward” (to quote Javert) existed pre-Fall, thus they are a design feature built in to God’s original plan for mankind. Adam was employed in the garden before he was evicted from the garden (Gen. 2:15). We must enjoy our work as a part of God’s design which means we must both give of our plenty and receive of God’s plenty with the widest of smiles.