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Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday poem

This will probably offend some folks, but I wrote this after recalling a statement made at a Holocaust Remembrance Service some years ago, based on the line from the Psalm, "by his stripes we are healed."  The speaker commented:  "by their stripes we are healed,"  referring to the victims of the Holocaust.  So years later I came up with this poem, which is in my collection, Field Water, available at

by our wounds

from his high perch he watches us, the ones
normal as shoe leather and sandal straps
who go about the dailiness of life while
the world in madness destroys itself                                     
for gain or for food it doesn’t matter
the wounds he bears center in
barely breathing now, air scarcely
helpful, the pain numbed by mercy

he was wounded for our transgressions
            and by his bruises we are healed
in a distant place children wander
in search of lost parents who may
lie hurt or dead in the streets
of the city ruled by hate –
out of sight now we wander aimlessly          
toward the shadows accomplishing little
but passing by the terrors of night and war

the suffering ones cry out despair splits air
carried in waves to the crossbar beam           
overlooking agonies we never saw
each sorrow or hurt or dying or death
appear to serve as balm on his skin
peeled from the overbearing sun and
blows with instruments of battle

those soldiers lying in heaps from the small
explosions pounding them beyond necessity
bring their pain to soothe the thirst their blood
to staunch the flow from his brow where sweat
mingles with the covenant of redeeming love
the child whose belly holds nothing but gas
to fill the empty body takes one last look at him
upon the high beam before death comes
and offers another solace to the pain-stricken figure
by this small sacrifice to the gods of war

each sorrowed death each tortured frame
comes to this hill this place this one
who watches and receives and finds healing
one wound at a time one stripe from the lash
of the whip one piercing one piece of torn flesh
and the nails loosen from heavy wood one slight bit
at a time as the cries of victims bring release
            by our bruises he is healed
            crushed by our iniquities
            upon us is the punishment
            that makes him whole                                                 
            there is balm in Gilead
            there is balm in the land

upon the high beam he leaves our infirmities             
upon the high beam he lays our diseases
makes them all disappear he leaves . . .
what is left is not him not the one not not not him

there is no one there the high beam the heavy wood
is empty nail holes remain but with nothing to hold
it is a freedom statement a shalom word a peace
we have liberated him through our pain        
through our deaths and wounds and sorrows                        
by our stripes by our bruises by our love redeemed
empty timbers on a hill where he stands free
            it is accomplished

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Excerpt from My Book

Here is a piece from Rachel's Children: Surviving the Second World War,  published by All Things That Matter Press in September, 2010.  Perhaps this will pique interest in reading more:

A seven-year-old girl living in Honolulu at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor retained memories “of fear and horror as a war began without warning just a few miles from our family’s home.”  Later, living in Oregon, she and her family returned for visits.  “Now, we take our children and grandchildren back to Hawaii to see the Arizona, still visible just beneath the surface of the water.  There is little else to remind us of that Sunday morning when bombs fell from the sky and children awakened to learn that their world was no longer secure.”40

               we cannot live forever in that time
               life refuses to indulge our
               memories yet we know and we remember
               so that grandchildren will be witnesses
               to our stories.

Memories for children in the European war theater were strongly laced with fear and terror.  The remembered siren sounds, the air-raid shelters with crying babies and frightened adults, the overpowering dank smell of the earth surrounding them, remains for a lifetime.  The conviction that such events must never again take place is also a result of these experiences.  Never again a war.  Yet our histories since that time show that these determinations have been disappointed many times over, as each war in turn makes way for the next one.

             Reminders of earth stenched by human use survive
             in nostrils depriving memory of moist soil
             rich with smells of life blooming to fullness.
            Forever lingers the shrill song of the sirens of death.
            We learn that never is what happens despite our hope
             in every moment.  Yet we cannot forgive the stink of war
             on earth, our good earth, earth of home.  Never again,
             we swear, never again, never must the raven of death
             dare cover itself in false purity.
             Never again must children remember
             forever what dirt smells like underground
             what hunger tastes like what fear feels like
             never should they ever know this for the rest
             of life and afterward in the dark earth.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


I have trouble understanding why I can't hold to my resolve about pulling back from all the activities I once participated in, issues advocated for, causes I wrote about.  Just as soon as I do that, another compelling issue comes to my attention, and there I go again.

Well, I may be coming to some understanding of how this obsessive compulsion seems to be the case: the internet media.  Each morning I open up my email site and there sit at least half a dozen stories about dire situations in need of my healing touch, my money, my presence, my attention.  Not one of these deserves to be ignored.  The guilt begins when I hit the "delete" key for any of them. 

About two years ago, I think it was, I made a promise to myself: my attention would now turn to matters of writing: poetry, non-fiction, perhaps some fiction . . .  and to do so would mean I would let go of most of the activities which took up my time -- usefully, but all the same, took my energy.  My life's calling began to peep into my psyche like some small Easter chick, insisting upon my attention.  And I was successful to some degree.  Had a book published by a small independent press, unlike my previous self-publications.   Became active in writing groups, mainly those having to do with poetry.  Started attending more readings and studying books about writing good poetry.  Then when my book about children of World War II came out, began concentrating on readings and marketing.  Joined Twitter.  Posted on Face Book.

One problem, however: I was receiving more and more messages, more pleas for help from needy organizations,  more guilt layered on my barely liberated spirit.  But once again, I am vowing to cut back:  the only non-literary endeavors will be my participation with the NC Council of Churches, my responsibilities as a Benedictine Oblate, and perhaps filling a pulpit or two on occasion, in addition to the church choir.  My energies will still address the compelling issues of the day, the needs of the poor and dis-enfranchised, the least of these, but now through the written word rather than my body on a street corner holding a candle or a poster.  All of these groups do important work and I want to support them, from human rights to animal rights, but it will be through what I write.  There's is a definite sense of liberation in doing so.  Now to hold to what I have resolved.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


About 6 months ago, something happened in my lower spine.  I have learned that the official title for that event is "spinal stenosis."  Or: pinched nerve, sciatic nerve problem . . .  whatever.  It was difficult to ignore the pain that would appear without warning, but manageable.  Since then I have gone through months of pain and finally some treatment that resulted in physical therapy exercises. 

To experience pain that has a life of its own, comes unpredictably, lingers for hours, has given a new way for me to understand the "dailiness of life, " a phrase borrowed from the poet Randal Jarrell.   The constant presence of discomfort is to say the least, distracting.  I learn for this time in my life what ongoing pain does to one's psyche, one's body.  There have been many times of experiencing pain, but only for the short term.  This is big time, all time pain.  And I go through feelings of anger, frustration, self-pity, helplessness, despair . . . and wonder what tomorrow brings.  The one positive effect on me, however, makes up for the down sides of this time: hope.  I know, or I hope, that the next day will be better, less pain, and the next day less, and so on until I no longer have this constant companion, uninvited.  

What has made the difference for me, above all other efforts to deal with pain: writing.  Poems.  Blogs. Articles.  Reading: books, books, books.  Words lined up one after another, each one removing a piece of the pain.  Each one taking my spirits to what matters.  In all this is faith.  In all this is a redemptive element to pain, which becomes the awareness of what pain is like for others.  For others.  Those outside myself.

Determination to overcome and to find the remedy.  Determination to be able to stand for longer than 10 minutes.  Ability to walk for 45 minutes with Katie, as she studies the scents laid down in this meantime in those woods.  It is waiting for the time ahead.  For now, may I learn what this time has to teach me.