National Poetry Month: Prayer As Poetry

I’m in the Bible belt so I’ve been having conversations about Scripture and faith. I keep thinking about how the Psalms are poems. I’ve spoken about how I spin the prayer wheel and reflect on whatever it lands on. Earlier it landed on this, a prayer via a poem.

Fully Alive — Dawna Markova

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

National Poetry Month: Auden

The past few days I’ve focused on poems I wanted shared at my funeral. Tonight I’m sharing a poem made famous during the funeral portion of Four Weddings And A Funeral. I would be so lucky to find a man to love me enough to make his feelings known to the world as W.H. Auden does in “Funeral Blues.”

“Funeral Blues” — W.H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

National Poetry Month: Mary Elizabeth Frye

My wish is to be cremated. Give my organs and usable tissue to those that need them and burn the rest.

“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye is that gentle reminder that, although I may be gone, I’ll still live on in memory.

“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” — Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

National Poetry Month: Crossing The Bar

I’ve had death on my mind for a while now. It’s probably because my dad is in ill health and I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be in this world.

I want to live a long life and live to be 99 and ½ so I can participate in the tricentennial. I’m not looking to die anytime soon but I have given my funeral more thought than average. There are certain songs I want played. There are definitely certain poems I want read. Today, tomorrow and Friday, I’ll be posting the poems I want read at my funeral.

The first is “Crossing The Bar” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I don’t know when I first encountered it, probably in junior high, but it has stuck with me. And, coincidentally, I’ve discovered that my maternal grandfather, the one that my middle name comes from, had this poem printed on his funeral memorial cards.

“Crossing The Bar” sums up everything I feel about death and dying. I’d rather people not cry at my funeral. I’m not sure what lies ahead after this world but I have faith that it’ll be better.

“Crossing The Bar” — Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
     And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
     When I put out to sea,

  But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
     Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
     Turns again home.

  Twilight and evening bell,
     And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
     When I embark;

  For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
     The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
     When I have crost the bar.

National Poetry Month: Song: To Celia

When the legendary Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, a lot of people were upset because they did not consider song lyrics to be poetry. I do not fall into that camp. I feel that lyrics can be as poetic as a Shakespeare sonnet.

I mention Bob Dylan because today’s poem serves as a great example of classical poems as song. The Renaissance period had so many lyrical ballads. “Song: To Celia” by Ben Jonson is a shortened lyrical ballad. It’s about rejected love. I’ve performed the song with a choir and it’s one of those songs that will occasionally pop up in my head.

“Song: To Celia” — Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
        And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
        And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
        Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
        I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
        Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
        It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
        And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
        Not of itself, but thee.

National Poetry Month: Langston Hughes

We all need to have a dream, a goal to strive towards. I feel that it’s the fact we can dream of better that keeps us going. In the LGBT community there’s a fairly new community platform called “It Gets Better.” I know when I was younger, the dream about my soon to be fabulous LGBT life, is one of those things that kept me going.

Dreams can change over the years. I was recently talking to my friend, Michelle, about turning 40. She was telling me that she wanted to write a list of 40 things to do during her 40th year. I love that idea but I think I’m going to take it farther and make a list of 50 things to do before I turn 50. It’ll be a revised buried life list.

Langston Hughes knew about the power of having a dream. He wrote two great poems about dreams and, since I can’t choose which one to post, you get both this morning.

“Dreams” directly addresses the notion that having a dream gives us life. Without a dream, life becomes a blur of days that seep into each other filled with monotony. “Harlem” addresses what happens when you defer your dream and the consequences of deferring it to the point you forget about it.

Now, I know I’m going to have at least one person argue that they are too (fill in the blank) to see their dream come true. I say pish posh to that thinking. Some dreams are meant to be unattainable. I think we all dream of winning the lottery, especially when it gets to those insane jackpots, but we also know that the statistical odds aren’t in our favor. Yet, we still buy a ticket because we have hope we might beat the odds. Other dreams are within our grasp if we can separate the concept of having a dream versus being successful at that dream. Maybe you had a dream that you’d rock the Grammy stage and you find yourself at 26 without that Grammy. Well, the dream really was about singing and you can always rock the mic at the closest karaoke night.

May you always be able to dream

“Dreams” — Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

“Harlem” — Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

     Does it dry up
     like a raisin in the sun?
     Or fester like a sore—
     And then run?
     Does it stink like rotten meat?
     Or crust and sugar over—
     like a syrupy sweet?

     Maybe it just sags
     like a heavy load.

     Or does it explode?

National Poetry Month: Pray For Peace

It’s Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Jesus, being of the Holy Trinity, knew that he was entering the city in which he would be crucified. His disciples, his flock were unaware so they greeted Jesus as a conquering hero and threw palm leaves in his wake to honor him. It’s a juxtaposition that has always been in my head, the fact that Jesus could go from hero to villain in less than a week.

My heart is heavy. I’m typing this at McDonald’s. I’m having breakfast before I head for church. I know that my breakfast will cause me to be a little late but I’m usually late.

CNN is playing on the TV near me. David Petraeus is talking about the bombing of Syria. He likens Syria to Humpty Dumpty and how he feels that Syria will never be put back together. Petraeus cautions that whatever is done, it’ll have to be a generational act. He talks about blood and treasure and I know that’s what this fight in Syria is about. So many innocent people will be killed so the country’s oil will be preserved.

The poem I’ve chosen for this morning, Palm Sunday morning, is by Ellen Bass. It is called “Pray For Peace” and it’s exactly what I’ll be doing this morning and most mornings. And what I especially love about this poem is that Ellen Bass realizes that we all have different names and faces for our idea of a higher power.

“Pray For Peace” — Ellen Bass

Pray to whoever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or marble or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the Bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah, raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinhah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, Record Keeper
of time before, time now, time ahead, pray. Bow down
to terriers and shepherds and siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,
pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus
and for everyone riding buses all over the world.
If you haven’t been on a bus in a long time,
climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latté and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already a prayer.
Skin and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile case we are poured into,
each caress a season of peace.

If you’re hungry, pray. If you’re tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
Pray to the angels and the ghost of your grandfather.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else’s legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheel chair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer that as the earth revolves
we will do less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas, pray for peace.

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds for peace, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Gnaw your crust
of prayer, scoop your prayer water from the gutter.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.