A Frozen Spring

Juli [Juxtaposed]
The behaviour of our world leaders is extraordinary. These creatures trot out one ridiculous line after another about whatever and whoever, seemingly oblivious to the irony of their expedient relativism, all the while projecting as if theirs was the light and the way. They make policies based on any outlying prediction of convenience that their hypothetical histrionics can fashion and these become as the self-fulfilling prophesies of their tragic little imaginations. I’d say you couldn’t make it up but I reckon they do.

The scope for all manner of catastrophe by their obnoxious, cynical hands is horrifying. And we keep being told that there’s no alternative; that it’s competence or chaos; mainstream or radical fringe; with us or against us; deserving or undeserving; ally or monster; either-or. Always either-or… To do this they oversimplify each issue and circumstance, scapegoating or sexing up, until it is reduced to a catchy, polarizing meme and then they feign consternation over all the threats and distress they’ve conjured. Or do they conjure up a load of threats and distress and then simplify them to polarize everyone…?

How are we continuing to tolerate such an industrialised scale of hypocrisy and hubris? How on earth are we still bearing their cold indifference to cause and consequence; the expedience of their cruel, misguided pragmatism? How do we stomach the interminable provocations and funnelled paranoia? I don’t believe our modern species is so readily predisposed to such superficial extremes. I think we’re far too full of contradictions and nuance once you get underneath the first couple of layers. Why are these creatures still being allowed to get away with their obscene behaviour? At what point will we admit we are complicit and have learned to love our chains? For, if we are not; have not: where are our blazing pitchforks?

And Mainstream News’ content and delivery? It mostly seems to collude to serve the Powerful. We get fed shallow headlines followed by even shallower analyses; celebrity big-up or tear-down; something about someone, who apparently should know better, not toeing the latest line; a report about a report on something so appalling that people cannot understand how it could ever have happened at all, must ‘never again’ but probably will; a few temporary and meaningless economic numbers, followed by even more meaningless analysis; another story of hair-raising incompetence or fraud, quickly justified or deflected; another populist policy to tempt, punish or placate, framed as anything but the tinkering that it is; merit given to sheer electioneering mischief… And on and on. Every day more surreal and yet so sterile.

There are moments, some days and some whole days when it’s as though my outrage and numbness have been whisked into a solid fusion. It’s like I’m flung, for a period, into suspended animation. The passion of impotent protest, crowding in and freezing my whole being. I know it’s a fleeting overwhelm of emotion and thought but, well, it’s visiting more often and staying longer. Sometimes I think I’m only saved from losing ‘it’ due to lashings of healthy irreverence, an eye for the wry and a great deal of there but for the grace of… And I wonder at the leadership which creates and depends on a world of fight or flight for its profit; at all those around the world for whom this designed overwhelm is an imposed, perpetual constant. How are there not more people running around, demented, with wild eyes, pulling their hair out? Or curling up in a corner and rocking? I think we are, though, in our souls. Is it just me being temporarily consumed by the fanned extremes of my own angst or am I tripping into the angst of collective consciousness?

For the global atmosphere is a heavy fog of fear and denial, so widespread, so deep, so prevalent that, whether consciously or subconsciously, it must overshadow and infiltrate every individual to some degree. Even if you’re paying only a little attention to national and international affairs and conditions, you surely cannot fail to be at least uneasy about the interminable, mind-blowing ineptitude that has put our world in such a state – however you measure yourself by pressing ideological instruments. And they are pressing, aren’t they? In this reckoning coming – for reckoning is our current trajectory – there will be teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing for everyone.

And yet…

I have hope. It’s in that inextinguishable light contained in Humanity’s heart and mind and an enduring faith in our capacity for enlightenment and generosity of spirit. And I tell my shadow self that this grotesque age, too, shall pass. That the People will rise. That these monsters of narrow, selfish ideology will surely be slain lest our doom be sealed because, simply, it’s the grotesque or the rest of us. And I tell myself that, whether I’ll still be sane (please smile at that) or even still around for our healing, it matters little. Others will be. However long it takes. And that those generations will conduct themselves a bit better, perhaps for longer, next time around.

© 2017, Juli [Juxtaposed]

The Light of Laughter

I was thinking about what to write for this month’s BeZine theme of Spirituality. Honestly, lately, I have felt anything but spiritual. It’s hard to feel a closeness to the Divine when you’re angry, or depressed about what’s happening in the world. This time of year is at least partly highlighted for spirituality because of the story of Mary and the birth of Christ, yet the stress of the holidays can be overwhelming…so many people are lonely, or forgotten, or living in poverty that it almost feels wrong to celebrate at all when such problems are so widespread. It can make a person question the existence of a benevolent God, question one’s own spiritual beliefs in the face of so much pain and suffering.

These thoughts made me pause, and it occurred to me that maybe when we’re down, or angry at the state of the world, or despairing of humanity is when we need spirituality most? For me, part of being spiritual is spreading light and love to as many others as possible; be a representative of the spirit you wish to manifest, to honor that divine spark inside. One of the most common precepts that crosses into almost every kind of spirituality or religious principles is that of Joy. And what is true laughter but an unfettered expression of joy?

In the same vein of laughter being the best medicine, I decided to look for humorous stories or jokes with a spiritual or religious bent and share them with all of you here (sources listed at the bottom). Please forgive me if you’ve read or heard them before. Perhaps after smiling for a few minutes, you’ll feel lighter and better able to deal with any spiritual challenges you might face. Maybe you’ll even discover ways to keep the flame alive and share the light with other candles. May you all have a blessed (and joyous!) holiday season. 🙂

* * * * * * * * *

1) Spiritual Gifts

During the French Revolution, three Christians were sentenced to die by the guillotine. One Christian had the gift of faith, believing God for big things. The second one had the gift of prophecy, and the third had the gift of helps… a real problem solver.

The Christian with the gift of faith was to be executed first. He declined a hood over his head, saying he was not afraid. “I have faith God will deliver me!” he shouted. As his neck was positioned under the guillotine, he said a short prayer and waited confidently. The rope was pulled, but nothing happened. His amazed executioners believed it was an act of God and they freed the man.

The Christian with the gift of prophecy was next, and he also refused the hood. “I am not afraid to die,” he said as he was positioned under the blade. “But I predict God will deliver me from this guillotine!” The rope was pulled and again, nothing happened. The puzzled executioners assumed it was a miracle and freed this man too.

The third Christian – the man with the gift of helps – was next. He likewise refused the hood. “I’m just as brave as those other men,” he said. So the executioners positioned him, face up, under the guillotine. They were just about to pull the rope when the man stopped them.

“Hey, wait a minute,” he said. “I think I just found the problem with your guillotine!”

2) Zen Koans for the Internet Age

• If an anonymous comment goes unread, is it still irritating?

• What is the sound of no hands texting?

• If nobody likes your selfie, what is the value of the self?

• To see a man’s true face, look to the 
photos he hasn’t posted.

3) Will it Be Heaven or Hell?

While walking down the street one day a US senator is tragically hit by a truck and dies.
His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance.
“Welcome to heaven,” says St. Peter. “Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around these parts, you see, so we’re not sure what to do with you.”
“No problem, just let me in,” says the man.
“Well, I’d like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we’ll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity.”
“Really, I’ve made up my mind. I want to be in heaven,” says the senator.
“I’m sorry, but we have our rules.”

And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.

Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and reminisce about the good times they had while getting Rich at the expense of the people.
They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne.

Also present is the Devil, who really is a very friendly guy who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go. Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the elevator rises…

The elevator goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.

“Now it’s time to visit heaven.”

So, 24 hours pass with the senator joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.

“Well, then, you’ve spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity.”

The senator reflects for a minute, then he answers: “Well, I would Never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell.”
So St. Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down to hell.
Now the doors of the elevator open and he’s in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and garbage. He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the trash and putting it in black bags as more trash falls from above. The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder.

“I-I don’t understand,” stammers the senator. “Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there’s just a wasteland full of garbage and my friends look miserable. What happened?”

The devil looks at him, smiles and says, “Yesterday we were campaigning. Today you voted.”

4) Whale of a tale

A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.

The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.

The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.

Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.

The little girl said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah”.

The teacher asked, “What if Jonah went to hell?”

The little girl replied, “Then you ask him”.

5) The Preacher’s Donkey

A man bought a donkey from a preacher. The preacher told the man that this donkey had been trained in a very unique way, (being the donkey of a preacher). “The only way to make the donkey go,” the preacher explained, “is to say, “Hallelujah!”. And the only way to make the donkey stop, is to say, “Amen!”.

The man was pleased with his purchase and immediately got on the animal to try out the preacher’s instructions. “Hallelujah!”, shouted the man. The donkey began to trot. “Amen!”, shouted the man. The donkey stopped immediately. “This is great!”, said the man. With a “Hallelujah”, he rode off, very proud of his new purchase.

The man traveled for a long time through some mountains. Soon he was heading towards a cliff. He could not for the life of him remember the word to make the donkey stop. “Stop”, said the man. “Halt!”, he cried. The donkey just kept going. “Oh, no…’Bible!…Church!…Please Stop!!“, shouted the man. The donkey just began to trot faster. He was getting closer and closer to the cliff’s edge. Finally, in desperation, the man said a prayer…“Please, dear Lord. Please make this donkey stop before we go off the end of this mountain, In Jesus name, AMEN”.

The donkey came to an abrupt stop just one step from the edge of the cliff.

“HALLELUJAH!”, shouted the man.

*** Sources:
1) https://lolwithgod.com/category/spiritual-gifts/
2) https://www.rd.com/jokes/religion/
3) http://www.clearvisionbiblestudies.com/Humor/Heaven_Hell.html
4) http://gatewaytojesus.com/humorouschurchstories.html
5) https://www.cybersalt.org/clean-jokes/preachers-donkey

© 2017, Corina Ravenscraft

 

Looking for the Light

The things I used to write about–travel, photography, family fun–seem trivial as I watch my country die the agonizing Death by a Thousand Cuts.  It’s like staring into the sun–what little I write these days always seems to circle back to Trump and the Republican Party, as they rip apart the fabric of my homeland.  Like 72% of all liberals, I suffer from an actual phenomenon called Trump Anxiety.   Here are a few suggestions on how to stay positive.

Carry a camera wherever you go; search for beauty to photograph, and you will find it, even in the dark.  

 

Find comfort in a single ray of sunlight.

 

Get outside and let the soothing sensations of the natural world calm you…

 

…even in the rain.

 

Find a moment of peace in the simplest of pleasures.Painting by Andrew Wyeth, currently on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

Like the sharing of music…

…or laughter…

…or a story…

…or even just a cup of coffee.

Be social, even if you have to stretch yourself…

 …and you will probably be glad you did.

If you need to escape, always have a good book in hand, and the next one in mind.

Patronize businesses that embrace your values.

If you can’t affect what happens in the White House, you can still help make your community a safe and welcoming place for everyone.  The local library is a good place to start.

Eva Abram, Roger Fernandes, and Allison Cox tell stories of Self and Solidarity.

To alleviate the feeling of helplessness, speak out whenever you can…

 

…however you can…

 

…wherever you are.

You will soon discover that you are not alone.

Anger eats away at you from the inside.  Love is better for your health.

Remember to be thankful for what you have, and don’t lose hope.

Especially this time of year, it is customary to push back the darkness and
celebrate the light.

It is there.

It is there.

 

It is there.

And keep in mind the words of King Solomon, who said, “This too shall pass.”

 

©2017NaomiBaltuck

The Spritual Life Is One of Constant Choices

Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian, Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)


“The spiritual life is one of constant choices. One of the most important choices is the choice of people with whom we develop close intimate relationships. We have only a limited amount of time in our lives. With whom do we spend it and how?…

As people who trust in God’s love, we must have the courage and the confidence to say to someone through whom God’s love becomes visible to us: ‘I would like to get to know you, I would like to spend time with you, I would like to develop a friendship with you. What about you?’

There will be no’s, there will be pain of rejection. But when we determine to avoid all no’s and all rejections, we will never create the mileau where we can grow stronger and deepen in love. God became human for us to make divine love tangible. That is what incarnation is all about. That incarnation not only happened long ago, but it continues to happen for those who trust that God will give us the friends we need. But the choice is ours!”

– Henri Nouwen in Here and Now

Photo credits: portrait on Henri Nouwen by Frank Hamilton under CC BY-SA 3.0 license; photograph of Henri Nouwen’s autograph taken at the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archives and Research Collection in Toronto, Ontario by Dnllnd under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

Toward Becoming “Un-Lapsed”

Our resident skeptic, James R. Cowles, has a regularly featured column (this is a sample) every Thursday on our sister site, Beguine Again.

For the past … I dunno … dozen-plus years, I have been what polite people would call a “lapsed Catholic”. I say this even though I met the Catholic Church at a time of spiritual shipwreck / accedie – what some call the “noonday demon” — and that the Church gave me a vision of humans in community with the Divine that I never found, either as a fundamentalist, or as a non-fundamentalist but still conservative-evangelical, Christian. It may be that the Catholic Church saved my life. To this day, the issues I have are not only or even primarily with the Catholic Church – I mean, who among us with a non-flat-line EEG does not have issues with the Church? – but primarily with that Church’s God. (Or as I usually express it these days, “Gawd”.) But that latter is another rant for another time. The question I want to deal with now is one that, unlike my issues with God / “Gawd”, I have never before broached in a “Skeptic’s” column:  the sky being the limit and ignoring issues of possible / impossible, what would I have to find in a religious tradition, Christian or otherwise, that would enable me to be “un-lapsed”? Two “first principles” up front:  (1) when I cite biblical references, I do not assume that whatever narrative I am discussing is historically factual, and so treat it purely as a religious / theological parable; (2) I speak only and purely for myself and myself alone, no one else. After several years of reading and meditating on this issue, this is where I am now … tentatively. I am looking for a religious tradition that …

o … minors on God – assuming God plays any role at all – and majors on people

“Luncheon of the Boating Party” — Pierre Auguste Renoir
Pillars of Creation — Hubble Space Telescope

When I say “God”, I mean a personal God Who could, perhaps occasionally does, intervene in the world and in people’s lives.  Even a cursory study of religious history will demonstrate that such a personal, “interventionist” God has wreaked havoc and butchery in human history. But I am powerfully attracted to the Holy, to what Rudolf Otto, in his classic The Idea of the Holy, termed the mysterium tremendum et fascinans (“the tremble-inducing and attractive mystery”).  Otto’s mysterium is more a feeling, an intuition than it is something that can be grabbed hold of, articulated, and described discursively. Think of Antonio Allegri’s great Miserere. Think of looking at the Hubble Telescope’s images of the “Pillars of Creation”. Think of Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party”. Think of reading Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”. I think of a question I once encountered on a math mid-term that had me stumped – and that I solved by whipping out scratch paper and a pencil and proving from scratch the theorem on which the solution was based … then implementing that theorem to derive the answer.  In other words, think of Maslow’s concept of a “peak experience” or of R. M. Buck’s “cosmic consciousness”. That is religion at its best. That, in fact, is what Christians, whether they realize it or not, mean by “grace”. That is religion that majors on people and minors on God.

o … takes seriously people’s personal experience

One reason I dropped out of Christianity altogether – in fact, one reason I dropped out of monotheistic religion per se altogether – was because I got sick unto death of being told, almost always by clergy and quite often by lay people, that my personal experience was deceptive and not to be taken as revelatory of anything in particular, and that what was worthy of being taken seriously was another layer or level, invisible and inaccessible to me, that lent that experience a credibility it did not have on its own. (On the other hand, when my personal experience tended to corroborate official dogma, the same people who before counseled skepticism turned around 180 degrees and now counseled acceptance. Go figure … ) The world looked chaotic, but I was told that there was a level of Reality that would resolve the chaos into a sublime Order.

Try explaining this, as I had to do during one period in my life as a para-professional grief counselor, to someone whose child has just died of leukemia, despite having just completed the latest protocol of chemotherapy and radiation. What possible level of Reality possesses an Order that can resolve the unalloyed tragedy of the death of someone’s twelve-year-old daughter? Along toward the end of my tenure as a counselor, I was driven to adopt the approach of C. S. Lewis, as depicted in the movie Shadowlands, when, Lewis’s beloved wife Joy Davidman Lewis having just died, the local Anglican clergyman tries to comfort Lewis by reassuring Lewis that all the chaos precipitated by Joy’s death was resolved by some transcendent Order:  “No, Harry,” Lewis tells the well-intended clergyman, “It’s just a damned mess”. (I learned a new word recently:  “gas-lighting”. The minister’s remark is a perfect example of gas-lighting:  convincing people that they did not experience what they did experience.) Anyway, I am looking for a religious tradition that does not traffic in gas-lighting, i.e., that begins with the mess, lets it be a mess, and simply sits with the mess with no attempt to “redeem” or to “resolve” it, least of all to “explain” or to “justify” it. And if the experience in question is something positive, do not drain it of significance by attributing it to God. Stealing any human exercise of any human virtue and using it to enhance God’s “street cred” is an act of moral plagiarism that decisively refutes any claim to righteousness of any monotheistic God commanding one’s allegiance.

o … uses religious / sacred literature without being used by it

“Diogenes” — Jean-Leon Gerome

I long ago became accustomed to Christians — in fact, to monotheists generally — who, upon reading some especially horrendous text in their sacred literature, felt immediately impelled to defend God’s behavior as actually good and beautiful. (By the way, such a defense always means that one is not allowed to take one’s personal experience seriously, in violation of the previous principle.) My “canonical” example in this regard is the slaughter — more accurately, the genocide — of the Amalekites in I Sam. chapter 15. This text is most likely not historically factual. But think of the implications, even on the level of theological parable:  God’s character is such that God not only countenances, but imperiously commands, genocide. Now, no one I know approves of genocide by anyone in any context … except for certain Christians — by no means all — who read this obscene text and immediately turn around 180 degrees and shift into “theodicy mode”, concerned to praise God for committing an act that would land any human agent before the International Court of Justice in The Hague to stand trial for a crime against humanity. Not to belabor the point, but such is the moral conundrum that becomes inevitable when you avow a belief in a personal, monotheistic God Whose character is authoritatively revealed in any religious / sacred text. Such a combination virtually guarantees that any religion promoting such a theology is immediately converted into a thinly veiled species of celestial fascism. So any religious tradition for whose sake I would consider being “un-lapsed” would consider its sacred text(s) — to whose existence I have no objection at all! — as on the same plane as, e.g., Shakespeare, Lao Tzu, and Flannery O’Connor.

o … does not conceive of prayer as an efficient / instrumental cause

Religious traditions that emphasize prayer to an omnipotent and omniscient God as a means of “doing stuff” are guaranteed to “lapse” me. This is another reason why I walked away from Christianity:  my experience with Christianity has been an almost unrelieved experience of serial disappointment, where I prayed for X … and X did not occur.  It seems to me that, even if you believe in a monotheistic, personal God, such a conception of prayer is at least blasphemy-adjacent, because, as I argue elsewhere, it amounts to an attempt to “leverage” God the way you would use a tree limb on a fulcrum to move a boulder.  Aside from that, combining religion, belief in a monotheistic God, and prayer-as-efficient-cause has, speaking only out of my experience, guaranteed disappointment, occasionally catastrophic levels of disappointment. I no longer believe in a personal, monotheistic God, but if I did, here is the advice I would give Her:  if You promise what You have no intention of delivering, all You succeed in doing is giving people an excuse to walk away, in other words, to become “lapsed”. I can be fooled once, in fact, I am a push-over. But fooling me twice is damn near impossible. So just don’t start.

The religious tradition that comes closest to satisfying the foregoing requirements / criteria is Pure-Land Buddhism. But this is a work in progress. Will advise … and thanks  for listening!

James R. Cowles

Image credits

“Pillars of Creation” … NASA, Hubble Telescope … Public domain
Gas-lamp lighter … Gunnar Lanz … Public domain
Bullshit … Mabdul … CC by SA 3.0
Diogenes … Jean-Leon Gerome, Walters Art Museum … Public domain
Virgin Mary image … Pixabay … Public domain

Old Church, Old Hat …

By the age of nineteen, my budding intellect had already decided that God was a figment of man’s imagination, but it was, as it turned out, a powerful figment; a very exceptional piece of imagination. My budding scientific and engineering education reinforced this agnostic feeling, but, because I was brought up as a regular church goer from the earliest age until I left school at the age of seventeen, I know that, deep down, I have a kind of belief that can never be erased completely. In my budding dotage, this kind of belief is now founded on a better understanding of man’s ultimate fallibility and frailty and is evidenced, everywhere you look, by the repeated failure of human endeavour, to live peaceably and with respect for our Mother Earth. This may sound very gloomy and negative, but it isn’t intended that way. It may, nonetheless, be touched by reality. I do hold a very strong feeling about the value of church and religious faith in our lives.

Imperfect though they may be, religious faith and ‘the church’ are still symbolically the last bastion, the writing through the stick of life’s rock, of family, community and a of nations. They represent a foundation and an anchor in stormy times; a prescription from the Spiritual Health Service. Whether for religious devotion or simply to reinforce community spirit and togetherness, it matters not, as long as the routines and rituals are maintained, reinforced and always accompanied by the search for truth.

The development of the established church and of all world religions over the millennia of the existence of the human race, has come from a fundamental human need, borne by political instability, pestilence, plague and all sorts of stuff that, whilst it may not have been experienced on a worldwide scale since WW2, still prevails in pockets everywhere you look. It is also driven by our need for security, for a common understanding; an understanding that, because of our undeniable individuality, our uniqueness, however wealthy, privileged and in control of our lives we may feel, we cannot achieve this alone.

The drift away from the church and the breaking up of communities; our increasingly technologically and commercially aided isolation, is attributable to an ‘enlightenment’ of the material age. This is an age in which our physical health and life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last hundred years. As evidence of this, the population of the world has more than doubled in my own lifetime; and all of this whilst our mental health has deteriorated inversely.

In the West we have developed a selfish and arrogant expectation of health and wealth and, at the same time, a denial of the need for a God; denial of almost everything spiritual, which, in our quest for an increasingly material life, full of countable and measurable stuff, has become intellectually unfashionable. What will it take to bring us together again?

Could we envisage a moment of cataclysmic crisis across the world, when even the calculating super-rich, sceptics and non-believers alike, could be faced with their own frailty and begin to wish, as I imagine we all will, when faced with our imminent mortality, for the coming again of a truly benign Messiah; a Saviour? Some beneficence would nice, but I personally don’t want to go as far as assuming a cataclysm. The process of decline is far more insidious and therefore harder to detect and calls on all of those who can, to be mindful of our own contributions to that decline.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone.

JNA

[This post was originally my response in a comment to a post by poet, Kona Macphee, over six years ago, in her rather special blog, ‘That Elusive Clarity’, but because of the subject and of the fact that this thought process has preoccupied me philosophically throughout my adult life, I thought it worthy of editing, updating and enlarging slightly for inclusion, where more appropriate than here, in The BeZine, as a post in its own right ].

© 2017, John Anstie

Stille Nacht

British and German troops meeting in No-Mans’s Land during the unofficial truce.

Liebe Mama, the letter began when she opened its mud-spattered paper. Unfinished, it was, like the life that penned it. On the other side of The Channel. It read Dearest Mum.

And then their stories began of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when the guns ceased their booming bursts for that time and young men peeked over the mole-run, rat-hole front lines with no fear of dying without a head to send with their bodies, home to Liebe Mama and Dearest Mum.

They told of going over the top clutching tobacco and biscuits, candy and sausages, instead of Enfields or Mausers, to trade season’s greetings instead of death. And carols were heard instead of the screams of the shells, the wails of the wounded, unanswered calls to Mama and Mum.

But these were mud soldiers, the ones whose bodies would fertilize the poppies one day, perhaps, when church bells would ring for Christmas services and not to bury mein junge or my boy.

It’s said the clean uniforms at the rear called a cease to the ceasefires in later years, because such fraternization was not in keeping with Victory for King and Country.

And so barely again did boys in Khaki or Grau join hands in the brotherhood of men who looked the same when covered in the mud of Flanders or to the addressees of these, their last letters home. For after the final strains of Stille Nacht, there’d come no more silent nights except where now poppies grow, between the crosses, row on row.

The Christmas truce, “Weihnachtsfrieden” in German, was a series of widespread but unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front around Christmas 1914. In the week leading up to the holiday, German and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In areas, men from both sides ventured into No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. Maybe this free write prose poem is a reminder that it can be done, if only for a short while, with hope for something more permanent someday.

Wild Turkey Neat

This is a story about a guest I served and had a life-changing conversation with. It’s a story about gratitude, loss, and no regrets.

As soon as I laid eyes on the old man, I remembered him from last year’s Christmas party. Wild Turkey neat—that’s what he drank. As a bartender, I pride myself on remembering what each person drinks, but I was shocked and impressed that I still remembered this man’s preference. Waiting in the coat line, he stood out with his classic, custom-fit look. He wore a camel-colored cashmere overcoat and a light-brown fedora cocked to the side and angled just right. The fedora punctuated his confidence—what the kids today call swagger. After he checked his coat and hat he circumnavigated the room with his gaze. He was alone. Within moments people were washing up to him like the waves at Waikiki and wishing him Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. As he approached the bar, I immediately began to make his drink. Wild Turkey neat in the rocks glass. As soon as this gentleman arrived at my station, I presented him his drink.

“Here you go, sir,” I said. “Wild Turkey neat.”

His expression was priceless: ghostly shock. I told him I remembered his signature drink from last year’s Christmas party. He immediately shook my hand with a firm grip and introduced himself. “My name is Joe, and thank you for remembering my drink.”

I told him my name and said, “No problem, Joe.” He reached into his front pocket, pulled out his money clip, and began peeling off some bills. I couldn’t help but notice his well-tailored sports coat and pants. He was also wearing gold-plated cuff links. I noticed them while he was holding a twenty.

“Joe, this is an open bar; the drinks are free tonight.”

He then put the twenty in my tip cup and said, “That’s for you.”

Wow, I thought, and I shook his hand again. “Thanks Joe! That’s very generous of you.”
He just smiled and began talking to the other guests.
Joe appeared to be in his late eighties. His whole ensemble was impeccable. Even his silk pocket square, a rustic orange, made him look dapper.

***

When I saw Joe moving toward the bar again, I began making another glass of his signature drink. After he arrived at the bar, I handed it to him. His smile was bright and warm as he stood and watched me serve the other guests; I was on point that night. This was a holiday party, and everyone was in a great mood. Joe took out his money clip again, removed two twenties, and dropped both into my tip cup. I remember watching the bling reflect off his gold cuff link as the bills were slipped into the cup. I couldn’t believe how generous this guy was. Most people were tipping a dollar with each drink, although now then someone would give me a five. But Gentleman Joe had just given me forty, not counting the twenty he’d given me for his first drink.

“Thanks, Joe,” I said.

“No problem, my friend.” Then he asked how long I had been bartending.

“On and off for about eight years.”

“You’re a good bartender. I was in the business for forty years myself. You make great drinks. You have a good personality, and you know how to work a crowd. I’m a retired wine and liquor sales rep. I sold wine and liquor to bars and restaurants all over New York and New Jersey. I was the best in the business. Over the years I’ve met plenty of bartenders, but not many as good as you, my friend. It really impressed me that you remembered my drink.”

That was the best compliment I had ever received as a bartender. I was so proud and taken aback by Joe’s impression of me.

“Thanks, Joe, for saying that! It means a lot to me, especially coming from you with all that experience.”

Joe smiled, lifted his drink, took a sip, and said, “Salute.” I bowed my head and repeated the word. And then he said, “I shall return.”

There was something special about this guy Joe. I couldn’t put it into words, but he had a gravitational pull to him. When I was talking to him, I could tell I had his undivided attention. He was listening in an effort to understand and not forming his own reply. He had an intense, friendly, and relaxed focus to his eyes. It was apparent that he had seen a lot in his life. Joe had a sage-like presence, and I felt it.

At this point of the party the main course was being served, and everybody scattered to their assigned tables, which meant it was downtime for me. I was able to stretch and get some ice for my sink and restock my bar. After I was done filling my backup sink with ice I saw Joe in the distance heading toward the bar. I put the ice bucket under the beer cooler, grabbed the Wild Turkey, and started to pour it into a rocks glass. Before Joe reached the bar, I had his drink on deck. He glanced at me with his warm smile and said, “Outstanding.”

The DJ played some light Christmas music while everybody ate. Joe stayed at the bar and sipped his Wild Turkey. He turned his head to scan the other guests and then he turned back to stare at his drink. He appeared to be in deep thought. He glanced back at me, smiled, and went back to gazing at his drink. I wasn’t sure what was going on.

Still staring at his drink he said, “I lost my wife three years ago, and I really miss her, especially during the holidays.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Joe,” I said with a heavy heart. I could the see the pain in his eyes.

“You know she waited for me; she kept her word.”

Joe seemed to read the confusion on my face.

“When I returned from the war, she waited for me.” He broke eye contact and once again set his vacant eyes on his signature drink. It was as if Joe were time-traveling to his past. The other guests were still eating, so it was only Joe and me at the bar. He finally lifted his eyes back to me and began to narrate his life.

“I grew up in the Depression. I fought in the war and later married the love of my life, my soul mate. I raised a family with her, and we had two amazing kids. I’ve watched them grow up and have families of their own. I have three loving grandchildren. All my kids and grandkids are in a good place . . .”

Joe paused to take another sip of his drink. Then he stared hard into my eyes and said the most realistic but stunning thing I ever heard while tending bar: “My friend, I had a good life: wife, kids, grandkids . . . The only thing left for me is to die.”

I was floored. Bartending school hadn’t prepared me for this. Who was I to give this military veteran, husband, father, and grandfather advice? Silent night was playing in the background made the moment even more poignant.

“As I’ve gotten older, Christmas music makes me sad,” he said. “I used to love it. Now it only depresses me. I’ve become a Scrooge.” And he smiled faintly.

“Well, you sure don’t tip like Scrooge!”

That made him laugh. He needed to laugh. I followed my instinct and changed the topic. “Joe, what’s changed about the bar business, in your opinion?”

“Ha!” he blurted. “Where do I begin?” He started in on the martini. “It’s made with gin, not vodka! And the men today don’t know how to drink; they order these weak drinks.”

While Joe ranted, a young man came up and ordered an apple martini. The timing was impeccable. After I served the apple martini, Joe and I waited for the young man to abandon the bar. Then I looked at Joe and said, “Drinks like that?” Both of us laughed hard.

By then other guests were rediscovering the bar, and I was busy serving them. Meanwhile, Joe talked to some guests. Finally, the night was winding down, and I made last call. I saw Joe approach the bar, so I reached for the Wild Turkey, but Joe put his hand up and said with a smile, “Not this time; just water.”
“No problem, Joe.” I gave him a large glass of ice water, and he thanked me again. Then he handed me another twenty, but I didn’t want any more of his money; he had already been so generous. But Joe insisted.

“Thanks, Joe. You carried this party with the way you tipped me. And Merry Christmas. It was an honor talking to you. Thanks for sharing with me.”

Joe smiled, shook my hand, and said, “It meant a lot to me that you remembered my drink, and you’re terrific at bartending. Merry Christmas to you and your family.”

I thanked Joe again and said goodbye. I watched him slip away from the bar and toward the coat check. He put on his overcoat and then strategically cocked his fedora to the right. The sharp angle gave him a larger-than-life aura.

I stood behind the bar watching Joe say goodbye to everyone and wish them a Merry Christmas. The warm smile he shared with everyone masked the sadness he felt at the loss of his beautiful wife. As he approached the door to leave, it felt as if he were riding into the sunset, secretly counting the days until he would be reunited with his wife. And I knew I would never see that man again. But I was lucky to have crossed paths with Gentleman Joe. Those were my golden moments in bartending. Nothing will ever compare. It was a simple conversation that changed my life.

***

That experience with Joe was well over ten years ago, but it changed everything I do every December as I approach Christmas and the New Year. I go to a bar and order a Wild Turkey neat. I sit by myself, slowly sip my drink, and think about the past year of my life—the ups and downs, the goals I’ve accomplished, and the goals yet to be achieved. I anticipate with excitement the approaching New Year. I also reflect in gratitude on my family and my friends. And it’s all because I drink like a gentleman to honor a gentleman. Salute, Joe.

© 2017, Anthony Vano

First Christmas

for children

It’s white with snow and all is bright
on Christmas night. An image of your little face,
framed in elfin hat, as your eyes, open wide,
reflect the twinkles of a tree-borne star.
In awe we are, in awe you are
at your first site of wonder, magic, mystery.

It swells the very hardest heart
to see the perfect innocence that carries
all our fears and dreams and marries
them to faith and hope and charity
and love, that many fingered hand,
provides and guides you to your history.

A very Happy Christmas, little life.
May all this wonder, all that’s truly good,
be with you forever and without strife.
May love, not things, sustain you, as it should
provide the fuel, the fire inside, slowly
to burn throughout your life, empowering you

To give abundantly in turn.

© 2017, John Anstie

Christmas

Christmas

The night is short like a breath
and long like a cry –
a woman who hard is giving birth of
a day.
A flame, glimmered above water:
one and only,
invisible,
sacred.
Immovable star.
Nothing born in Spirit
passes away.
Neither does it repeat.
The circle is broken –
after the life, a life is coming.
There’s no death.
O, mother – give a birth!

A God’s voice over the dark:
“He was born…”

© 2017, bogpan

Ash and Prayer

summer mornings
my fire
is snuffed.

dream of the spelt and salt
cake I will fire for you

and before you can seek
the future
from the way I burn

clean my fireplace, clear your head
old ash and cinders block gust
makes for poor-burning,
makes for poor-thinking

piled ash in my grate
piled ash in my head
crumbles like walls
from incendiaried homes
in the Blitz

ash up against my fire-bars
makes them overheat
makes you overthink

so they sag and “burn through”
make me virginal
something to focus on

recall collecting ears
of spelt in reaper’s baskets

rake remains of my last fire
the last fire between my temples
so ash falls through my grate
train steam in your nostrils

pick-off the cinders for re-use.

my lightweight dark lumps,
not my powdery un-burnable
pieces of roasted shale.

clear my fire-bars of small cinders,
clear all my ash, clear all the dead,
dry bones out of my head

recall the crush, grind then roast the ears of spelt, yeasty
like a pint of beer

with dry, unfinished paper
cheap-newsprint not glossy magazine-print. screw sheets into rough balls,
packed into this brain space
not too tight, but not too loose.

keep the paper open & crinkly
don’t pack paper into hard nuggets,
make them roughly spherical.

should cover my grate,
with plenty of space to allow gust
to blow away focus these eyes

only one layer, as paper burns down everything on top will drop,
roof falling in around my ears
leave it at a couple of inches

recall preparing the salt,
pound crystals from the brine
from a salt pan in a mortar,
pack and inhale seafret
cut the lump with an iron saw

paper is to ignite the wood (next),
the next thought
only enough,
too much will clog fire-bars
cause stack-collapse

as your paper doesn’t burn well,
stuff a loose sheet under my grate
under my thoughts
light it
stuff sheets underneath
burn them

recall forbidden
reading, books in flame,
memories of things not spoken
discarded ideas

break up my ash with a poker

recall stir of salt and spelt
into carried spring water pure
never touched the ground
into meal that must be rested

my pulped treeflesh
a support for my woodflesh
a flicker of an idea
a first layer of contemplation

WOOD

my thought needs substance
crouched supplicant
to our hearthmind

you can’t light my coal with paper
my wood layer is for coal
as my paper is for wood

layer on my paper
small pieces of wood (kindling)
watch for splinters embedding
in fingers for pain all day
or a heated steel pin to remove.
with care
make a wooden-pallet
a raft of images
on balled up paperwaves
to support the coal
so my imagination flares
as it it burns.

You pray the raft will hold
criss-cross the wood
a cohesive structure
your making of my fireplace,
my head is layered
geology reversed

as paper from trees
dead trees made coal
graduations of image,
thought and idea

When your paper is gone
the raftprayer to hold stays
a mixture of thick and thin
considerations
thin ideas burn easily produce heat,
thick sustains in depth
delights the imaginations coal

The burn

like wood is imagination solidified
sunblaze trapped
build a pile of imagination
on top of your wood-raft
have a nice pile in the middle.

choose pieces too small
air-flow round the head
restricted visuals cannot breathe

choose pieces too big
don’t get enough heat
from the wood to
ignite images properly.

ensure fire-front is removed
for maximum air-flow,
ignite the paper from underneath
ignite heads images underneath

in multiple places –
get as much lit
quickly as possible,
heat will feed between
ignition points

Imagination needs time,
the fire blaze
while wood and paper left,
this cellulose-fuel
heats imagination -fire
to self-sustain

hard images are buried deep
pressured become harder, blacker
used in locomotives and steam ships
pitsweat minehacked proppedimages

soft images are nearer the surface
browner nostalgic soft focus
biscuit tin tender

Imagination produces smoke
and tar
when heated only
when it’s “dried out”
you get the red-hot
carbon fire that makes
imagination so hot.

Recall tar melting on roads
in sunblaze, sticks to soles
coal tar soap photosynthesizes
calls back its days as a plant

onvd your fire is lit poke it gently
to release ash and break-up images
that may have stuck together
through tar production
sticky mind coagulates

arrange cinders around
the edge, add more images
around fires periphery
around minds periphery

do not throw a bucket
of imagination
on a fire, always put a
bit at the edges
or in the middle.

the images are poked
so ash falls through the firebars
so ash fall through the head

lift the burning images
ensure ash is removed
from under the fire bars

imagination needs time to warm up,
don’t smother the fire with cold-images
these will kill the lovely heat,
take longer to burn up.

pile it up around the edges,
when it starts burning:
poke and rake it
into the centre gradually.

divine futures from the way
food thrown on fire decays

how virgin cakes of salt
and spelt bake
towards decay in heat
tongueflicked wild
jig of ideas

before their ashreturn

© 2017, Paul Brookes

From “The Headpoke And Firewedding”

 

#I just wished#

I just wished a handful of shower ,
Pouring down the lawn of my barren heart ;
I just wished a gust of cool wind ,
Blowing through my burning heart ;
I just wished a slender moonshine ,
Reflecting from the sky of my grave heart ;
I just wished the ripple of a little stream ,
Flowing through my droughty heart ;
I just wished a blooming flower ,
In the dry branch of my bosom ;
Whatever I wished might be trifle to you ,
But everything I wished was priceless for me .

© 2017, Kakali DasGhosh

Selection from Nothing Remembers


The following poems are from an unpublished manuscript, Nothing Remembers. This selection explores the spirituality and rituals of death (and remembering), among other themes. [Autumn 2018 update— the poetry collection, Nothing Remembers, is scheduled to be published by Finishing Line Press during summer, 2019.]


For Irwin Gooen

…for man goes to his everlasting home,
and the mourners go about in the street.

—Kohelet 12:5

The door closed. Clouds cover the moon;
the rain a memory blocking out the stars.
Desire has drained into the trembling house,
tools disused gather dust. Seeing nothing
out the windows, the house wraps dark arms
around the one in his old chair, quiet now.
Some music might have played, but his lovers
forgot the words and did not sing anymore.
Higher on the ridge, a lone bird calls alarm.
The mills on the river below fall in on themselves.
But apple trees still blossom, lilacs scent the air.
The oxygen tube shines silver, snapped
like a cord, unneeded. A pitcher of water
fell, crashing into the silence. At dawn,
a golden light suffuses the house, the man’s
body empty in his old chair. His fountain of
words evaporates off the wall where he wrote them.
The wheels have fallen from the truck.
When his friends find him, they lay him
beneath the stone he carved.

And the dust returns to the earth
as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d,
Who gave it.

—Kohelet 12:7


nb: Kohelet is the Hebrew-Jewish name for The Book of Ecclesiastes

Originally appeared in print: “For Irwin Gooen.” Voices Israel Poetry Workshop June 2010. Jerusalem: Voices Israel. 2010. p. 17.


 

Drawing Breath(less)

A bit stretched,
this line we pen between life
and death, between life
and life. Sometimes
our own. Sometimes
another’s.

Elongated,
my legs akimbo on the couch
reading some poetry, a novel,
a bit of a bitter philosophy.
You sip coffee in the morning—
maybe wine, if evening
falls while we.

Opening up
the locked cabinet we find as usual
an emptiness familiar, comforting—
vacuumed of emotions, better.
Like work and social
gatherings where
they pretend.

We pretend.
Something involving chocolate,
painted skin, holding
each other together
against centripetal forces.
Central petals of the flower
tight in bursting buds.

Reaching stars
when standing, that is, seeing
them tired, failing to drink enough.
Glimpses of intimacy obscured
and hidden while seeming to
reveal. Grief in a game of
hide and seek.

I don’t know if
you or I will ever understand. This.
Perhaps I am in the psychiatric ward
again. Where I used to work. Or perhaps
you are in rehab, for your failure to drink
enough alcohol to fuel the economy.
Forgetfulness sells.

In explorations
such as these nothing can be found,
everything lost forgets where it lived,
death lives and life, well, you know.
Toss the rounded river stones
into a pile, throw some flat stones
skipping over water.

In explorations,
I don’t know if
reaching stars
we pretend—
opening up,
elongated,
a bit stretched.


Moon Glow Cemetery Row Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Moon Glow Cemetery Row, Digital art, ©2015 Michael Dickel

Nothing remembers

where in our times we these rocks piled into buildings
that fell down a thousand years ago dis(re)membered from war
or earthquake raised and razed again into where nothing
recalls again the warm day anemones bloom hollyhocks
poppies forget no one and another rain day another dry day
pass hot and cold while an orvani drops blue feathers in flight
a hawk sits calmly on a fencepost and flocks of egrets
traipse toward the sea no cattle no grains all harvested
in this place we would call holy land nothing left to it but conflict
with the passing of her life that tried so hard to hang onto one
moment many moments missed so many more empty echoes
a difficult way to say goodbye to a mother watching her
evaporate like rain in the desert her mind dust that dries
lips her droned words faded as warmth from a midnight rock
meaning what the layers of history these rocks un-piled
reveal sepia photos a couple of tin-types dust school
reports cards newspaper holes the shells of bugs raised and razed
again and again into our times where nothing remembers


Originally appeared in print: “Nothing Remembers.” The Indian River Review. 2. 2013. p. 9.

Here is a video of Michael Dickel reading it (in Tel Aviv):

 


©2010–2017 Michael Dickel

Braid Your Hair with His

God – has many names,
But “Love” is the one that counts
Most aptly “Love is”… “Love”
“Just Love” only, one word
Like…”God” isn’t it?

God – has so many names
Each acts as a veil…
But “Love” is, “Love” only.
So braid your hair with His…
Embrace, lock fingers with His.

His is a tree twining roots…
His is the first branch you perch on…
His is trees-bough at your centre
Your hearts bead is a locket of amber
“The trees name” is “Love.”

© 2017, Mark Heathcote

There Is Music in Silence

I write poems almost daily now
For me, that’s why I was, given life.
So I could drink this beverage
In His, Elysium fields with butterflies
Live my life beside Daylilies & mayflies.

And dance, skate with dragonflies
Sometimes, I can be that unobtrusive
There is music in the silence
Before any lips, are seen in verse
Or thoughts are formed or metered out.

© 2017, Mark Heathcote

Workshop

“Ad Vitam”

You ask

and I say delicious

(that cell/splitting glory that

unfolds until we expire)

angels on fire

come remind us

that this life

is just a prayer

 

we have been

rendezvousing with the dead

in the small hours

they say death is nothing

but a change of clothes

and setting the stage before

the next act

 

we are corpsing

our way

through a comedy hour

so as not to let on

that we are amused

so as not to expose ourselves

as alive

 

while they climb Jacob’s ladder

we drive along the coast and

make waves with

one hand out the window

pushing through air with an open palm

and it is our prayer

(all this living

is just a prayer)

The First Thought Was “Yes”
 

this business of 
creating worlds

comes naturally to

the child who,

in her closeness

to God,

abandons doubt

and boldly fashions

her reality

 

though every authority

in her life
tells her NO

(her mother,
her father,

her teachers,

and peers)

she disregards her

obligation to comply

and makes airplanes out of paper,

castles out of sand,

and wings out of duct tape

and feathers

 

her dreams materialize

before her eyes
in response to

the organization
of her thoughts

thoughts

the focused collation of desire,

the force that precedes
the birth

and arrival
of matter,

the essence that
breathes life into form,

the source that gives
substance
to all we see—

 

the child knows
in her innocence

that she is not
the first thinker

nor is she the most innovative

or original at that—

 

she knows that

consciousness

gave rise
to genesis

that her origins

are ancient

and her inception

sacred

 

inception—

that moment when
every hidden potential

appeared at once

to the pure and settled mind,

when everything
that

would ultimately manifest

revealed its face as a promise

of what could be—

when Peace Beyond Knowing

was once aroused and
invited to react

 

and even the child knows

that its first thought

was Yes 

“Woman, be another god”

Come in like a fool

and let me dance with you.

I might not kiss you yet;

I may never need to.

Melt life’s ice and remember

the hard heart’s only work

is to throb

in this young universe.

 

I had seen you—

you were with ghosts.

But now this self is waking.

Go from your prison

like those gods from hell sky.

Magic may make you

live after all.

 

(This girl’s spirit is kind, I know.

She is quiet like peace.

Some men like to go fast,

but boy, I want her musically.)

 

Woman, watch what you want.

Need less and live frugally.

Sing. Let music put a stop

to your sordid urges.

Some goddess beneath your skin

is shining.

 

Never compare joy to his touch.

Trust that time lifts another

beside you.

Thousands will give their

hearts away

wishing you were theirs.

 

(Look: this life is full.

She should want a true thing.

She should want them all.)

 

Woman, be another god.

Look out on we, the tiny.

Smile at your work,

make your spirit strong, and

come make it lively.

Here, the faithful must

receive time:

 

(We who would be loving.)

 

Some rhythm haunts this day.

This wild cup bleeds over

and you look good in champagne.

Slowly smoke the will of

sacred desiring;

the secret is never needing.

Dance with a child, sister.

We open our hearts to breathe.

 

(We wake universes

and God is blushing.)

© 2017, Julie Henderson

This collection of short poems was composed between 2016-2017 within the University of San Francisco’s Writing MFA program in Poetry.

December Sky

The clouds slide across the sky
like crib sheets being flapped flat
and floating down upon the place
where a child will sleep.
Between them you see the room
colored a blue distinct to winter.
Not so deep as a spring Carolina sky,
nor the chill azure
the northern firmament glows in autumn.
Between the gossamer sheets
waiting to drop their crystalline
whiteness, blooms a blue so bright
you think you might believe
you can see right through it.
But to where? At whom?
Maybe for that child waiting
for his moment to rest upon
man’s simple crib called Faith.

© 2017, poem and photo, Joseph Hesch

Our Better Angels

What if our guardian angels,
our guides to the light,
aren’t as perfect as we hope?
What if they’re merely “good”,
maybe barely adequate,
as winged messengers go?
Perhaps they can get as socked in
by a Blue Norther of Spiritual Woe
as we can. Problem is,
they’re the only angels
we’ve got. It’s not like they can
go to the gym, or get retrained,
or even call out for a temp.

Maybe the angels and I can
pray together for a mighty wind
to blow away these clouds
that beset us.
Miracles do happen.
I’ve been blessed by a few.
And, besides, my angelic friends
went to school with the maître d’
at the Chateau Ciel’s
pearlescent entrance station.
Table for one, please.
Amen…

© 2017, poem, Joseph Hesch; © 2012, photo, Diana Matisz

‘especially in times of dark’

Always
but especially in times of dark,
encroaching space,
my hope alights and leans
on an enduring faith
in the human spirit
and the myriad illumined pockets
of kindness and enlightened thought.
They are as the stars in a night sky:
escape the density of beamed artifice
and they are constant; visible.
For the heart sees what it looks for
as much as does the mind’s lensed eye.

© 2017, Juli [Juxtaposed] (Subject to Change)

Earth Music

I will lead you by the hand to the hushed hum
of the gentle oak, an evening breeze sounding

shivers into leaves, quiet turbulence in the air
and the gravity of sound settling on mossed stone.

I hear its tongue-lick in ivy the way a bat hears
the silhouette of trees, or a whale the shape of its home,

touching the skin like sound braille, tiny neck hairs
startled to its presence; earth music in the trees

and in the stony wind, atoms of light trembling in tiny
dust particles where body-bones separate, flesh disappears.

Between heart-pulse and light’s shadow-touch,
I will lead you to the quiet abundance of silence,

the wide emptying of voiceless things; earth’s pulse,
seamless and somewhere beyond absence.

© 2017, Eithne Lannon

originally published in barehands23 

full circle

one loses
the ability
to
sleep
with
awareness
every
event
and
sound
is magnified
in
the late hours
of
one’s existence
it is then
when
the
pulsing of blood
through
veins
can
be
counted
like
grains of sand
in
an emptying
hour-glass
where
each falling grain
echos
memories
that
replay
the events
of
our life
a life
where
options
were possible
and
paths
were taken
to
where we are
now
aware
seeing
more clearly
the lies
broken promises
and
preprogrammed dreams
of
what life
should be
but
could
never be
so
we lie
in our beds
in
a fetal position
just
before
we
die

© 2017, poem and illustration, Charles W. Martin

. saint anthony .

oh those little lost things.

you could always find them. now gone,

we wait for them to reappear.

remember,

some things

don’t.

He was known as an eloquent speaker. Saint Anthony of Padua is the Patron Saint of Padua, of Portugal, and of San Antonio, Texas. Prayer cards manufactured in Italy identify him as the saint of “miracles,” but to most Catholics, he is the Patron Saint associated with the return of lost articles and missing persons.

# look after your people, you may never find them again

© 2017, poem and illustration, Sonja Benskin Mesher

Waiting for My Nails to Dry

Reclining in an empty chair
like a bent-over palm
the young Asian woman leans.
Awaiting the next client,
leg kicking softly
head odd angled, staring
at nothing
and sleeping.
September creeps through
as the customer doorbell rings.
Ladies don’t come. Their nails
flake off the remains of summer’s
hard baked sands
from lake-front properties.

She shifts,
dreaming of a faraway place
where family lives
imagining rice fields tucked far away
where her tiny feet once ran
through a needle-thin pathway.
She becomes disillusioned,
while melancholy mood music
gently rocks her
till her lashes flicker
and close once more.

© 2017, Michele Riedel

The Scent of a Soul

If souls have a scent
what will mine be?

Will it smell of lavender
like clean laundry

or will it smell fetid
like a corpse flower?

how badly have my sins
spoiled the brand new smell
of my newborn soul?

I am curious.

One can hide behind good works
or the semblance of the good life
as defined by the world

but the scent –
the scent betrays
what rots in hidden places.

© 2017, poem and photograph, Imelda Santore

Contradictions

(Raanana, July 17, 2015)

To be and not to be,
That is the commandment:
To live and dream,
To dream one’s life,
The innocence of original sin
And the sin of innocence,
To love logic for its loveliness,
Its loneliness,
And its lovelessness,
To live forever and to live a day,
To run to and to run away,
To doubt and believe,
To be loyal and betray,
To live while dying,
To accept the question as an answer,
To love but hate that you love
But still to love,
To affirm your contradictions
And yes but perhaps no,
To be and not to be.

© 2015, Mike Stone

A Word’s Worth

(Raanana, April 23, 2015)

If words were what they pointed at
Instead of just pointing at things
And sometimes instead of things,
Then I’d build a castle word by word
And weave a dress for you word by word,
I’d make a mirror and put your reflection in it
Word by word by word.
And the castle would stand on an island
Hidden by palm trees and words
Within words and mountains
Surrounded by a sea of words,
And only my ship of words,
Its sails filled with words like wind,
Could find my island of words.
If stars were stepping stones
From birth until death
And back again,
I’d step across the heartless night
Until I reached the morning.
If clouds were countries
That no army could conquer
Because horses and cannon would fall through,
I’d move there.
If God were a word,
In the beginning was the word He would say,
And if He were real
I’d believe in Him
Because He created my senses
Of things to believe in,
But He’s just a word others say
Instead of the thing He’s supposed to be.

© 2015, Mike Stone

A True Believer

(Raanana, February 10, 2017)

Although there is truth
I will never know it
Or be absolutely sure.
Although the world
And universe above and below
Do in fact exist
I will never perceive or conceive it.
Although all this is true
There is not enough evidence
To make of me a true believer
A skeptic or a cynic
An optimist or pessimist.
According to forensic science
Every criminal leaves a trail
Except for God and His magicians.
All this and less
As we move forward in our time.

© 2017, Mike Stone

By the River Jordan

(Raanana, August 5, 2015)

Once upon a time forgotten,
Or so they say,
God walked alongside Abraham
On goat paths crisscrossing mountains
When they were still new and green,
When Moriah was not yet named.
But sometime later God took his angels
And his box of miracles to his bosom
Leaving us to our own devices,
Existentialism and science.
Perhaps because our faith was not enough,
Because we understood the letter
And not the spirit,
Because His creation could not create
But only destroy itself,
He left us to ourselves.
We fought our enemies oh so bravely
But, when the enemy was ourselves, capitulated.
Now we live in a moral flatland,
Two-dimensional creatures on a yellowing page
Without height or depth.
We kill because we can,
We hate and hatred makes a home of death.
By the River Jordan,
By the caves of Qumran,
By the hills of Jerusalem,
We lay down and wept for thee, Zion.

© 2015, Mike Stone

Sufi Ghazal

The seeker’s chest is heavy: A ribcage of fathomless doubt.

His heart always opens onto a cosmos of fathomless doubt.

 

People think his whirling feet are silent; they speak.—

An evocation of experimentation reaching an apex of fathomless doubt.

 

His whirling feet never tear up dead leaves because they are not

a devastating force. They just recreate beats of fathomless doubt.

 

Birds can’t measure the extent of his feet’s refusal because

their whirls are reminiscent of a philosophy of fathomless doubt.

 

His chest is heavy.—Although a burden to his body and soul, nothing

can empower him only sinking into seas of fathomless doubt.

© 2017, Ali Znaidi

 Originally published on 12/07/2016 in Harbinger Asylum, an independent Houston-based poetry journal published by Transcendent Zero Press. 

Doubt

Doubt

As he pondered,

& as he ruminated,

doubt came.

He saw Rumi

gazing at the pond.

Oh, what a mysticism

demystified by a cloud

of bats!

& bits of doubt

totally permeated

his mind:

Reality is only a

construct;

{a tract}

I must pierce my tongue

and see the difference, he

said to Rumi,

while he still

ruminated.

© 2017, Ali Znaidi

Originally published in International Poetry Review: VOL. XLII SPRING/FALL 2016 (double issue).[Print]

 

Mysticism on the Move

perhaps mysticism is the transitory phase towards

our metamorphosis into swirling butterflies {that

have weight.} But this transitory phase does not obey

any metamorphic rule. Au contraire, it has its own rules:

{body – carbon dioxide → spirituality + truth + water.}

Spirituality, & how to keep spiritual is of concern here.

—A controlling growth into a Bildungsroman aided

by the flowing water. The butterflies coil up into the sky,

still swirling. ‘Swirling’ is the key to renew decayed bodies

thru evading the terrestrial ground. The butterflies’ scents

move thru the ether and {once again} crash on the cracked walls.

Now, I can say this [meta]morphosis has to begin from scratch.

© 2017, Ali Znaidi

Originally published on NationalPoetryMonth.ca 2016.