Kilmurvey House

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I’m not in Ireland today, but the grey sky in West Texas has been pouring steady water for over twenty-four hours. When I went running down the flooded little streets in the drippy dusk earlier, I lingered over my memories of wet days in the Aran Islands back in March.

And I decided to post this little poem that I wrote earlier this week in Dr. Bob Fink’s creative writing workshop. The poem was an attempt to distill the essence of my experience at Kilmurvey House, a lovely historic stone home that serves as a lodging-place for island visitors.

The photo included here is not my own, but it is just how I remember Kilmurvey House. The lighted window on the right side of the picture is the window into the “rose tea-room” mentioned in the poem – a room where my now-fiancé and I read a little book of W.B. Yeats’ poetry on a wet, wet day much like this one.

IMG_0567The poem I most clearly recall reading was “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” because we discussed it at some length and questioned whether cynicism is a natural accompaniment for age and, if so, whether it must be?

Yeats famously visited the Aran Islands in 1896 and told J.M. Synge: “Go to the Aran Islands, and find a life that has never been expressed in literature.” Kilmurvey House was standing when Yeats was on the island, but no one in our group was certain whether he ever went there specifically.

When I first set out to write this poem, I wanted to know for sure – I thought it was important to the poem. But as I began to think about it more deeply, I realized that this small fact is immaterial in the scheme of things. What matter is that I was there, reading Yeats and wrestling with what he said and I wanted to give words to that experience. So this is my best attempt.

KILMURVEY HOUSE


No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
       (W.B. Yeats, Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?
)

I don’t know if Yeats ever came here or not
on a pitching ferry passing
the wild atlantic way the saltgrass air in his nose
the gulls wheeling.

There are always red coals in the rose tea room
the kettle about to bubble
and the little warm milk pods in the bowl on the
ancient piano.

Why should not old men be mad? Even the ocean
is white with rage
throwing beaten egg stones up on the beach
howling in the boulders.

Yet will you sit with me here in the circle
of bodhran thunder and light?
Sometimes the mind breaks and spills
birdlike solos.

We Should Talk More About The Country

Nasmith
We walk roads that seem endless but we know they’ll be tapering off like a candle with a thread all out of wax. And if you’re on a trail of tears, the finish line might seem like a release. But if this little jaunt has been a party, the fact that it gives way to long strings of funerals sometimes makes everything seem like a pretty expensive waste. I wish we would talk more about the country we’re coming home to – in friend groups speculating about the future and in worship and at work and with the scores of somebodies on the street.

I tried to express this some months ago in a little poem. This week, that poem won a quite special prize over Utmost Christian Writers, and so I thought I would share it with all of you.

Have a glad week, all you born-abroad ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven!

WE SHOULD TALK MORE ABOUT THE COUNTRY

I.
The summer had besieged us like armies, like slow wildfire, like cruelty
and when the high sea broke open and bled white water it was high time.
We did not see it like that: with eyes greedy for justice and gaping.
We were growing older, expected less and less, and celebrated everything:
the crinkled white leaves in the wet hearts of beans, bellicose mosquitoes,
gnats like stardust in the fire-wind, charred asparagus needles,
thin tea, and the yellow teeth under the tongues of purple snapdragons.
We were old enough to be thoroughly happy about the pond hosting
black-winged whistler ducks with beaks like bursts of flame, the garden
making a home for rugged white parsnips and the green pebbles of peas;
to relish donuts like spun sugar, trees shedding water like tears,
nightbirds in the moonful sky, and the steady drip of rain through our dreams.

II.
After a time, even drought-break and jubilation begin to taste of sadness.
When we stand in the pool of our contentment, wearing each other’s presence
like a coat of many smiles, we will never stand here again, never with the
water hurtling off of the shingles, and the ants chewing our naked toes,
never with the baby tangling his pink fingers in our hair and our mouths
glad with songs, and our hearts full like hosed cells of celery.

III.
We should talk more of the country we are coming home to, and less
of the land we are living in like unhomed swallows on the waves of the sky,
like beached sailboats straining at the bar, their wings clapping the salty air.
Talk of the houses that are waiting behind yellow curtains to be filled
with laughing and the lilting piano, and puddled crushed citrus spiking the rooms.
Swaying in our rocking-chairs and wrapped in our respective twilights,
we should not speak of our histories as though we stood before the banquet
of delights and were too easy on our dinnerware. We should not speak
of what has been and will never be again. We should talk about what has
never been, though we have been waiting for it all our lives. Talk of the gold
city that shall break on our sight like rain on brittle grass, when we shall go
up from the house of slavery and swing over the threshold of the promised land.

Sometimes

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While I’m adjusting to a new schedule and a new city, and all out of time, here are some words by someone else, that underscore the music in the world, that left me a little breathless here. May it happen for you.

SOMETIMES
Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscatel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.

[Sheenagh Pugh]

EDMUND VOTES YES [after Prince Caspian]

Edmund-Aslan
She said it in three words, “Look, look, look!
The mane and the golden fur!
Over the gorge on the mountainside—”
The others were not so sure.

We were so footsore and so worn,
chasing our muddled maps.
And maybe she had been right, but maybe
she had been wrong, perhaps.

Twice on the nays I have staked my claim;
the stories were much too rich.
But the wardrobe opened upon the wood
and the queen was a wicked witch.

So if all of my days have narrowed to this,
a way that I cannot guess,
and you see the lion upon the road,
“Yes, little sister, yes!”

(Bryana Johnson)

In Confidence

GileadInConfidence
It’s that time again. Summer is closing off and all my favorite things are up around the bend. Like rain and days under the white veils of clouds. Like early sunsets and the ground damp and sloshy and smoke on the frosty air and little blinking lights and choral music.

There is one thing that gives radiance to everything,” wrote Chesterton. “It is the idea of something around the corner.” Well, I have been thinking: we who are coming home to the home we have never been to before, what a lot we have got ahead of us to be happy about.

Come away, come away. We’re going up around the bend.

Yesterday I had three poems published in the Fall 2013 Issue of Grey Sparrow Journal. One of them is about waiting, and the manner of our waiting. I thought I’d share it here with all of you. If you’d like, you can click on through to the others as well. I’d love that.

Grain cars of a Fresno grain train roll into the sun.

IN CONFIDENCE

“What is real about us all is that each of us is waiting.”
(–W.H. Auden, A Christmas Oratorio)

for the clean sun the clean rain
the big wave and the grey-eyed hurricane
for the children to come home
we have put supper on
it will not be long now

for red over the great hills
the big fish with the gold scales and thirsty gills
for the blue river to arrive
out of the high mountains
it will not be long

for the white star, the white horse
and whatever is at the end of course
for the little lacy flowers to open
for the wet butterfly-tongues
not long now

for the trumpets of the trains
the big sky smoky-white with aeroplanes
we will jump high laughing
waving our small hands so fast
not long

for whatever is coming
with big slow footsteps and soft humming
to get here wearing just
whatever it has on hand
will be perfect

we who have been hanging, hanging
on the noises in the darkness
will not hang back we will
run forward with our arms wide
calling welcome welcome