I was asked to contribute a piece to our church's Lenten table this year that centered on the Main street corridor near our house. In the midst of the earthquake in Japan, and the Love Wins controversy, and the Arab Spring, and everything else, I wrote this poem for that first week of Lent. I rewrote it for the last week, and then did some slight revisions for here.
Roots All the Way Down
Elemental reflections on Lent, 2011
Rushing water invades spaces,
all of your gathered
crushing like week-fresh teenage infatuation
dashed, sneaks under the doors, rats
bringing a new plague, nipping at your toes
under blankets, your bed was too low, friend, your house
built too close to the sand.
I always imagine Death is green, glowing
like in paintings of Chernobyl
that hung in our church hall in Minsk,
lumbering with his scythe, skeleton
sweeping through skinned skeletons, the helpless
and the helpful, and I'm sorry Irina, and
I'm sorry Andrei, you don't get to have legs. Or
a mother besides this cold crib, one more
in a cubicle sea dropped in an ocean of dry white
buildings where they can't afford enough nurses.
And yeah, yeah, amazing grace. But also,
what amazing destruction.
Minsk made it through. They seeded the clouds with cannons;
you could hear them booming in the morning.
It was only the country that died.
And I'm sure Japan will make it.
Okuma isn't Pripyat, I tell myself,
whisper with all the courage of
God is now here.
I walked the earth to Main last night,
the light turned down to amber,
wanting to be plucked by a great hand
off to a valley chock with metaphor
where God would ask me a question I had no answer for,
and he would answer with breathing
life into death,
and I would finally have a good word for you now.
And I know Main isn't 27th, isn't Detroit, I know
some businessman will breathe life into these bricks again,
replace rock-emptied panes. The sunshadow
of long-dead Auto Parts signs will
be filled again, life abundant. I believe, brother.
I believe, sister.
But if God met me there at all, I couldn't touch him like
I held a flaked shard of a concrete window sill,
broke it, thought to taste,
laid it back to rest instead.
On a walk like that, when you don't meet God,
you expect the devil, coming along with
look at her walk, why can't you afford
this bauble, turn that
unused parking barrier into bread.
But I didn't hear him either,
just the voice of the city,
the vast empty rush of tires on pavement,
dirty windows, NO standing, get a loan you'll never afford.
This also I heard: the spaces between waves of cars and buses,
drywall hung -- not finished, and will it ever be?,
black windows further up than a man's throw,
and the alley between a pair of houses condemned.
And if he's not up there somewhere in the sky,
looking down on us, causing tsunamis and breaking all our hearts,
maybe this was God.
There's a fire burning in the womb of the world,
it's a pool they can't cool before it steams,
pouring and pouring, can it ever be filled?
And it's people walking the earth, out into streets, asking
for a voice, crying for a voice,
and hearing bombs in return,
our bombs and their bombs, and who couldn't pull a trigger
in a place like that?
And it's a city divided by a street and a color and a state line.
And it's all the things you can't hear, even straining.
I hear hope lives. I pray hope lives.
But there isn't a man on a hill,
right here, bushy beard, smelling of campfire smoke
and a long second mile
to tell me don't be afraid,
selling all I have and giving it all away
will wake me to a new view, a new kind of crushing empire,
an empire of love the Leader killing you like you love your brother,
like you love your own self,
and if you were the one hurting you, what would you do?
All we have is alleys, lovers' whispers you can't quite hear,
waiting rooms, and wind chimes,
and the long silence after the shaking stops.
So we huddle lonely on the mountain,
waiting for the waves to come,
afraid only of now, of when,
afraid of everything,
then. Even living.
Asking what we'll do
when the fire consumes us,
the silt and mud suffocate,
the wind topples over the edge.
Saying farewell to those who dare think
we could have a scrap here and now,
the only question to ask is when to jump. Not if.
All the paths directed to the same damned place.
Unless, there aren't any questions anymore because
there aren't any answers except
reaching over and clasping hands.
God off his throne,
in the warmth of our fingers.