who must have started out
with such high hopes.
What magnitude of suffering,
the immensity of guilt,
the staggering despair.
A mind the size of the sun,
burning with longing,
a heart huge as a gray whale
seawater against the pale sky.
Man god or beast god,
god that breathes in every pleated leaf,
throat sac of frog, pinfeather and shaft—
god of plutonium and penicillin, drunk
sleeping on the subway grate,
god of Joan of Arc, god of Crazy Horse,
Lady Day, bringing us to our knees,
god of Houdini with hands
like a river, of Einstein, regret
running thick in his veins,
god of Stalin, god of Somoza,
god of the long march,
the Trail of Tears,
god of Allende and god of Tookie,
the strawberry picker, fire in his back,
god of midnight, god of winter,
god of rouged children sold
with a week’s lodging
and airfare to Thailand,
god in trouble, god at the end of his rope—
desperate god, frantic god, whale heart
lost in the shallows, beached
on the sand, parched, blistered, crushed
by gravity’s massive weight.
To the best of my knowledge, Ellen Bass does not identify herself as a religious poet, or as having any personal belief in God. What I love about this poem is the way that she has kept that worldview out of the picture as it were and created a universe in which it is possible to imagine a being (Anne Lamott says if you can’t cope with the word ‘God’, try David Byrne, the name of your favourite pet, or the word Phil) who is sentient, suffers, and therefore goes through grief like the rest of us, its ‘heart huge as a gray whale’. As I enter a new stage of grieving, this is the kind of god/God I want to believe in. That Ellen Bass has outstripped her unbelief and created this space in which it is possible to spend time believing, if only briefly, is something I am grateful for this morning.
Thinking of you as you walk through your grief in these days. A strange time overlaid on a strange time. Thank you for continuing to post from time to time. Folding you into the blanket of my prayers.
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My love pours out to you and your family. Your mum.was and always will be the most lovely of women. Bright, so warm, affirming of me always, despite being so different in stature and personality I felt she always saw me.and loved me for me. That is a rare gift. And her accent and her three kisses and her smile and her gentle but determined faith. What a lovely mama.you have. Her going on ahead of you home is the right order but painful of course, so raw.
I remember the prayer meetings we had for you all those years ago when you were so ill. Your parents love for God in the.midst of their fear was very real.and a.reminder to me in life to hold true to God and reality. To deny fear and pain is never helpful and to deny God his character is dangerous but tempting! They did neither.
I enjoy thinking of your mum sitting with Jesus and chatting over her life and making sense of the bits that were unfathomable. I enjoy seeing her relaxed and happy and expectant of full new life, a new beginning. I think heaven is a bit like a railway station like at pancras. She will know you will all arrive at some.point but she’s not sure of the exact train so she’s full.of expectation and excitement for being back together but no sorrow. I often think.my dad is in this state of joy, with Jesus and waiting with anticipation for the saints to arrive one by one.
Praying for you to have the space to process and cry and enjoy memories again. All.my love Anthony xxx
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Thanks for doing the one thing I value most from anyone posting on the internet – adding value and it’s real value – it’s a rare and precious skill and much like any craftsman, the value that comes from real work of choosing the raw materials, fashioning and presenting them. These all seem like statement pieces to me made all the more valuable by the real personal investment you make. I imagine you are now very adept (or at least more awake to the possibilities) than most at picking out pieces to “curate” – I use that word deliberately because it is a term I’ve heard Brian Eno talk about (https://www.wired.com/1995/05/eno-2/) – he says:-
“An artist is now a curator. An artist is now much more seen as a connector of things, a person who scans the enormous field of possible places for artistic attention, and says, What I am going to do is draw your attention to this sequence of things.”
“This is why the curator, the editor, the compiler, and the anthologist have become such big figures. They are all people whose job it is to digest things, and to connect them together”
“To create meanings – or perhaps “new readings,” which is what curators try to do – is to create. Period. Making something new does not necessarily involve bringing something physical into existence – it can be something mental such as a metaphor or a theory”
I like, value(!) that you explain your thoughts and feelings and give reasons for your choices; this is your core strength imho. I think anyone really engaged with writing learns to dwell on the writing of others when something in particular catches their attention – in order to try and work out why something hits the spot – it’s magicians admiring the work of other magicians isn’t it?
As far as writing poetry goes, i find myself inhibited by the worry that it is hard to add value and yet I feel that is the most important thing. That thought is not helped by Don Marquis who said:
“Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”
There is a therapeutic value to trying to make sense of my life by reflecting on it and a satisfaction from the creative act of distilling or “solving” that into words but this deflating quote sums up a lot of my misgivings about the point of writing poetry – i know publishing isn’t everything, learning your craft is but poetry is such a broad church I do wonder, especially when I meet other writers, how many of us really speak the same language.
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