Monday, November 17, 2014

Poems written with pens that need to be used up

I. The bakery two blocks from my house

It is made of brick the color of marzipan folded with flakes of iron,
those spiny needles that reach themselves into Soviet castles, sharp and feathered,
if you hold a magnet above them,
and tease.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Poem, right now, in 337.

Stone

When I think about stones, just one stone, one of them,
it's the singularity of it that holds out,
Something about it that feels impossible to invade,
solid, solid, not made to break or to cut into.
A stone, then, is safer than I am,
a woman lassoed by plane tickets,
pried open with words.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Poem on the train this time last year.

The trees are yellow, orange, candy-red fruit falling, in the morning frost dusts the grass.
On the train the sun shines through the trees, makes leaves look like hammered gold.
I realize that if I focus on waiting, I lose the sweetness of looking
I can't see anything before me-- the same if I think about pictures, 
documenting or whatever.
I sit my chin on the windowsill. Steam from my nose blurs the glass.
I'm looking at the sun, flashing between birches; a window to heaven.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Didn't write this.

"Small Wire"
by Anne Sexton

My faith
is a great weight
hung on a small wire,
as doth the spider
hang her baby on a thin web,
as doth the vine,
twiggy and wooden,
hold up grapes
like eyeballs,
as many angels
dance on the head of a pin.

God does not need
too much wire to keep Him there,
just a thin vein,
with blood pushing back and forth in it,
and some love.
As it has been said:
Love and a cough
cannot be concealed.
Even a small cough.
Even a small love.
So if you have only a thin wire,
God does not mind.
He will enter your hands
as easily as ten cents used to
bring forth a Coke.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Galette

Usually-- with batches of cookies,
artisan breads, simmering soups--
usually it takes longer than this to recognize failure.
You have to marinate meat for days, even!
Layers of juices and herbs--
thyme, tarragon, basil, dill--
we can’t know right now how we’ll turn out
golden or browned or still bloody and pink.

You’re never at risk with an apple.
Keep it raw, plain, separate,
and you don’t need to worry
if it will taste good;
I mean, almonds speak for themselves.
No one ever complained about a lone,
juicy, red and gold nectarine.

Today I’m making a nectarine gallete.
At home I’ll be slicing globed fruit into thin half moons,
rolling a buttery dough into a wide round,
arranging those slivers into concentric circles,
layered like the petals of a flower;
I’ll fold the crust over itself, the pleats of a dress,

and I’ll put it all in the oven;
the telling moment.

This still-pale crust, folded over,
brushed with egg, dusted with sugar
spiral of yellow converging at its center,
brief hearts dipped with deep red,
each part touched with my hands--
See? sugar under my fingernails,
the stain of juice on my blouse,
I made all of this, pieced it
together all afternoon for you.

In this moment, it moves from my control;
it could all burn to ash, those careful folds
and rows, that taste of summer,
glittering sugar and slick gold with red veins;
it could all go to waste now.

What I mean to say is, sure! You’re right!
My stupid oven could this whole beautiful thing
into a charred and hardened brick! And summer
could turn you and me, these nights swimming
in overturned heaven in the lake,
into choking anxiety or real disdain--

but it’s just dough and fruit now,
and the oven turns nectarines into jewels,
that egg-slicked crust into hammered gold,
studded over with diamonds of sugar,
and you will never love the taste of rolled dough
between my fingers, and nothing good can come
of unbaked, unpolished fruit,
scattered in nervous pieces,

on my kitchen counter.

Poem 9/16

You're eyeing the air above your head, grasping
At fleeting small-talk questions, tiny hooks tossed into the lake of me
Some draw out raw statistics, impersonal details
(My hometown, places I've travelled, what book I'm reading);
Others are strung at their ends to great matters;
They pull from within me, like trembling silver fish,
Gasping for breath.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

If God So Clothe The Grass


Note: A few weeks ago, my bishop asked me to give a talk on the topic "how the way we dress reflects how we feel about the Savior." Knowing that such a theme was loaded with social and spiritual implications, I spent a lot of time researching and studying in order to write something I felt was doctrinally sound and thoughtful. I gave my talk last Sunday and since then a few people have asked me for copies. Soooo I just decided to stick it on my blog. 

An apocryphal allegory titled “The Hymn of the Pearl,” chronicles the story of a prince whose parents send him on a mission to obtain a great pearl. As he leaves, his parents promise him a beautiful robe and heirship with his older brother when he returns. However, upon arriving in this new land, he wanders among strangers, forgets who he is, and writes, “I put on a robe like theirs.” He soon adopts the customs of this new place, forgetting his mission altogether. When his parents remind him of his mission in an urgent letter, he remembers his identity and finishes his quest by defeating an evil serpent and obtaining the pearl. He strips off the filthy robes of his former life and returns home to his family.

Clothing is deeply metaphorical throughout the scriptures, and is especially relevant in this parable.  The robe the young man wears in “mortality” represents his forgetfulness of his true identity as a child of royal parents, and his natural inclination to assimilate and take on the qualities of those around him. The robes he will wear upon his return represent the completion of his mission and the work he has done to earn his heirship. In mortality, the way we dress may at times represent different attitudes we have towards situations and people. This particular parable uses clothing as a representation of spiritual progress or the lack thereof.

In the book of Genesis, after Adam and Eve partake of the fruit and must be cast out of the garden of Eden, Christ makes coats of skins for them, as a covering. This gift of clothing is particularly interesting in light of the fact that Adam and Eve have made clothing for themselves only a few verses before, upon discovering that they were naked. Coming to this point in the creation, I think a lot of us want an explanation. What exactly was wrong with Adam and Eve in their natural state? What was the point of their being clothed?

In Mosiah 3:19, we read, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord..” In the scriptures, nakedness is a representation of man in his natural state. What’s wrong with our natural state? Essentially, it is void of progress. This brings new meaning to scriptures describing the judgement day, saying,”Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of… our nakedness.” We will be intensely aware of our lack of progress, of the ways we have fallen short, of the moments we chose to settle back into old, human, natural habits.

After Adam and Eve speak with the Lord and must be cast out of the garden of Eden, the Lord himself makes coats of skins for them. Adam and Eve are already ostensibly not naked, having made fig leaf aprons for themselves a few verses before. But somehow, the clothing that Christ has to offer is important. Maybe (and probably) it’s much better made. It will protect them physically. And most importantly, it represents his love for them, and will serve as a physical reminder of Him while they travail in the world, separated from Him and from their Heavenly Parents. This clothing represents His Atonement.

The verse on nakedness I quoted before ends on a different note, saying, “and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.” That robe of righteousness is the clothing that Christ has to offer us. It’s a clothing of progress, a clothing that allows us to change and become better than our natural selves. Sure, we can progress, to a degree, on our own. We can walk around wearing fairly primitive fig leaf aprons. Or we can progress towards the stature of Christ and wear the clothing he offers. We can become something greater than ourselves.

To bring this conversation up to speed, what relevance do these accounts have in relation to the way we dress today?

The Savior said, “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” These verses relay the idea that our Father will take care of us spiritually and physically, if we will rely on Him completely. As a materially limitless God, He is capable of this mercy. In these verses, God is telling us telling us he’ll clothe us better than the lilies, which are clothed better than the likes of King Solomon. He isn’t offering to dress us in burlap sacks here. He’s offering the best he’s got.

What does such an assertion say about the way God wants us to dress? What would clothes that come from God look like? Feel like? Are they beautiful? Are they simple? What do they say about us? 

The Lord asserts that “Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” The virtuous woman described in Proverbs “maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.” In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord counsels us to let our “beauty [be] the beauty of the work of [our] own hands.” Prosperous periods in the Book of Mormon are almost always characterized by the spinning of “fine linen” for clothing.

Still, expensive clothing used as a status symbol is condemned in the scriptures. The wicked are described as being “alifted up in the pride of [their] hearts, and [wearing] stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of [their] apparel.” They wear rich colors, jewelry, variable suits of clothing. They desire to attract attention and are probably appearance-obsessed. And yet, the Lord’s clothing is sometimes described as glorious. What does His clothing that say about Him? And in Matthew God promised to clothe us better than King Solomon. What do His promises say about us? 

The important thing to remember here is that when we receive blessings from the Lord, we must continue to remember the Lord. I doubt that the Lord would prefer it if we were to (somewhat masochistically) dress in itchy rags for the rest of our lives. Such asceticism (or rejection of the enjoyment of life) isn’t pleasing to God! He wants us to feel happy. I’d even say he wants us to feel beautiful, attractive, comfortable in our skin, aware of our divine heritage.

How does the way we dress reveal how we feel about the Savior? It shows that we know who we are, and we know our relationship to Him, that with him, we are heirs of a heavenly kingdom. The way we dress an expression of our divine nature and our love. I think more important than any display or non-display of our physical bodies is the display of obedience, the physical representation of where our hearts stand in relation to the Lord. While I don’t profess to understand all the reasons behind the importance of clothing choice, I think it’s doubtful that God instituted clothing as a means to shame us, or make us question our worth.

A harrowing scene in the classic novel Jane Eyre defines precisely the attitude we should avoid with regards to our clothing or the clothing of others. In this scene, the wicked schoolmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst, surveys his students and notices the vibrant red curly hair of an orphan named Julia. Although her teacher quietly asserts that Julia’s hair is naturally red and curly, Mr. Brocklehurst orders that her hair be cut off and somehow dressed differently. He then orders all the students to line up against the wall, so that he can ascertain their plainness, which he terms modesty.

“He scrutinised the reverse of these living medals some five minutes, then pronounced sentence. These words fell like the knell of doom -

"All those top-knots must be cut off."

Miss Temple seemed to remonstrate.

"Madam," he pursued, "I have a Master to serve whose kingdom is not of this world: my mission is to mortify in these girls the lusts of the flesh; to teach them to clothe themselves with shame-facedness and sobriety, not with braided hair and costly apparel; and each of the young persons before us has a string of hair twisted in plaits which vanity itself might have woven; these, I repeat, must be cut off; think of the time wasted, of--"

Mr. Brocklehurst was here interrupted: three other visitors, ladies, now entered the room. They ought to have come a little sooner to have heard his lecture on dress, for they were splendidly attired in velvet, silk, and furs. The two younger of the trio (fine girls of sixteen and seventeen) had grey beaver hats, then in fashion, shaded with ostrich plumes, and from under the brim of this graceful head-dress fell a profusion of light tresses, elaborately curled; the elder lady was enveloped in a costly velvet shawl, trimmed with ermine, and she wore a false front of French curls.”

This passage shows that Mr. Brocklehurst’s true motivation is not one of devotion to God, but of condescension and the infliction of shame. He holds others to a standard to which he does not hold himself, or even those who come from a higher social standing than he. With regards to modesty, we must remember that the way others choose to dress is a personal decision. Rather than seek to hold others to our personal standards, we should seek to inspire the testimony of Christ, which is the only true motivation for any commandment-keeping. To very liberally paraphrase a verse in Mark 2:27, “And he said unto them, [clothing] was made for man [and women] and not man for [clothing].”

A verse in Joel reads, “ And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” More important to the Lord than the state of our clothing  is the state of our hearts in relation to him. When we choose to dress or act or do anything out of true love and respect for the Lord, we will always make the right choice.

The crowning and perhaps the only moment when our clothing will truly reflect our feelings for the Savior will come at the judgement day, when Christ will descend in robes of red, and say, “I have trodden the wine-press alone, and have brought judgment upon all people; and none were with me; ...their blood have I sprinkled upon my garments, and stained all my raiment...And now the year of my redeemed is come; and they shall mention the loving kindness of their Lord, and all that he has bestowed upon them according to his goodness, and according to his loving kindness, forever and ever.”

Our robes, if we are faithful, will be white, cleansed through the Atonement of Christ, our respective clothing a beautiful metaphor of his merciful exchange on our behalf. Speaking to John the Revelator, an elder asks, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?” Says John, “Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

I know that the Savior lives, because I've felt his influence in my life, and I believe that if we focus primarily on our testimony of Him and His Atonement, we will be guided and sure in our decisions. Our very lives will reflect how we feel for Him. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Poem from Novosibirsk to Krasnoyarsk

I was promised inspiration, here
cab car rocking in the middle of the night,
thin white birch trees flashing by in the darkness.
We rumble down the tracks, endlessly,
We stop in still towns, full of dachas, surrounded
by dark, forbidden woods.
Inspiration I've expected, since the first night I awoke,
peering like a child at the trees and stars reeling by.
Now I can't count how many times I've ridden the Trans-Siberian Railroad;
How many times I've felt the string of cars settle to a stop,
sitting outside brightly colored train station after the next;
How many times I've waited in the same stations,
laughed with sarcastic conductors and attendants;
Fumbled for my passport at the train platform;
Told stories in a two-person compartment-- to one, to four,
to ten people, huddled in;
How many times I've made my own bed, rolled out old mattresses,
thick, deep, dense pillows, wondering how to sleep;
How many times I've looked straight up into the night,
to see the stars, holding still, anchored, ordained to their stations,
stiller, stiller than the road or the train or I could ever be.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Scars

(October 2012)

I realize now that I am accumulating scars,
and that they mean things,
scattered into poems, knotted deeply into the weave
of my memory, veins in a stone.
This most recent, threaded with a blue stitch,
in my forehead, where everyone can see;
I watch people seeing it on the bus, and too,
they look at my nametag, at things that mark me,
and I watch them putting them together,
and I wonder how other people things that these things
happen, if they connect the details outside me,
fabricating events in my life, simple as an answer to
the question, “How did you get those stitches on your
head?”
Later it will be, how did you end up with those scars,
all of them, wherever they are.
Three thin lines by my right ankle, the slash on my left arm.
There will be some dark line here, on my forehead,
the white line in the little of my right palm,
and a cluster of scar tissue, like a tiny nebula,
situated over the arc of my hipbone,
and if I keep this up, this wild flailing and
misinterpretation and lack of awareness,
I will tumble haphazard through the world, dragging its nails
beneath me, trying to catch what it can catch.
I will leave skin behind; in return, here are scars,
deep memories in them, now like dreams,
now replayed so many times they are oral legend to me.
Where did you get those scars, says my mind to
my mind, as if a stranger asks me,
and this repetition begins: