Lost Behind Clouds in a Sky of Blue

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When I think back upon those days,
I remember only one textbook
the nuns parceled out to us, their
semi-sentient little lumps of clay.
The catechism’s soft covers of sky blue
and white reminded me of a sky full
of wispy clouds half-hiding my view of heaven.
Mom already dug the foundation of her child’s
certainty that the Hereafter nestled
behind that star-strewn real estate
above that some called The Firmament.

But black-habited virgins swinging rulers,
sticky gold stars and glow-in-the-dark
rosaries required to teach me
the necessary tenets for gaining admittance
into that divine eternal housing project
only brought blink-inducing pain and
phosphorescent bling. The same as if
I devoured all the Sugar Smacks to get to
the prize at the bottom of the box.

So my faith stood built upon those
flurried clouds, apparitions of such
small substance that persistent breezes
whispering gossip about Fathers X and Y
and one of my fellow acolytes blew
enough doubt to topple it. They tore
from me my willing but rickety belief
in the unbelievable as easily as an
abused and angry boy ripping those soft
cerulean covers from their holy rule book.

I was asked to write a poem on the subject of Faith. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. I want to believe in something bigger than I, in earning the fabulous prizes available for one who lives a good life, a life of treating others as he would want to be treated. But so many of the men who served as the arbiters of the rules of the road to that Better Place, men I knew personally, carried souls within as black as the outfits they wore without. I still lead that good life as best I can, because it’s the right thing and…well, just in case. But that’s Hope, the surviving little brother of a Faith I fear shaken to its foundations apparently built upon sand.

Fallen But Willing

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The storm slaps down the trees’ hands
that reach in prayerful supplication,
or maybe to protect themselves as I would.
Many inevitably fall, which I have
many times in this stormy existence,
to the steady beating and beat-down
brought upon us from above.

Some splash-land upon the soggy grass,
some divert the rainbow runoff
from the oil-slicked blacktop driveway,
others recline their spindly backs
upon the gravelly roof shingles.
They look up at the path upon which
the watery host forced-marched them here.

If I was to fall, I’d lie like those
on the angled roofline, eyes tracing
the individual drops’ paths,
feeling assured we’d one day rise and
find our vaporous way back to the clouds.
Your faith assures me that could be,
even if I’m never anointed like that driveway,
even if I fall to buffeting by my will and not
some unseen baptismal force in the clouds.

I can’t really expect to be resurrected
like you raindrops after becoming one
with the earth beneath its green shroud.
But I’m willing, willing to faithfully face
these storms again and again if it means
I have a chance to see the good in you all
when my tearful tempests end
and the Sun comes back once more.

Not so religious or blasphemous a piece as you might think. Just the freely dropped rainy Saturday thoughts of a fallen altar boy whose faith has been shaken by the floods and gales of doubt that have battered my spirit over years of seeing and knowing too much evil. Shaken, but not shattered, though. As I said, “I’m willing’.”

All God’s Plan

Seymour, Texas Tornado

Seymour, Texas Tornado

“Will this rain ever stop, Grandpa?”

“Always has before, child. I imagine it will again someday soon.

“Why won’t it stop today?”

“Because it’s not in God’s plan, I guess. We have to have faith that He’ll take care of us in our time of need.”

“Then why would He want to flood our fields and drown Mr. Bennett’s cows? That doesn’t seem like taking care of us.”

“We don’t always understand the ways of the Lord, Lizzie. Like I said, we’ve got to have faith.”

“You said that last year, you know.”

“Said what?”

“About having faith, about God taking care of us.”

“Yes, and I believed it then as I do today. You should, too.”

“You said we had to have faith that God would make Mama and Grandma well again. But he didn’t. He let them die. Like he let that tree fall on my Papa. I hate God now.”

“Don’t you say such a thing, Lizzie. The Lord has blessed us beyond reason and your mama and grandmother were just called to His side in His own time.”

“I think God needs a new clock, calendar and almanac then, Grandpa, ‘cause his timekeeping is bad. And I still hate him.”

“Don’t blaspheme, child. Our faith in Him will pull us through. Just you wait and see. Now, come over here while I read you some scripture to help you understand and believe.”

“Will reading the Bible again help keep us from drowning, Grandpa? Will it keep us warm again until the rain stops?”

“Not exactly, Lizzie, but come sit on my lap beneath the blanket and I’ll read to yo something St. Peter said that might help you understand why we need to keep our faith that the Lord will provide.”

“Awright, but I believe in a warm fire and a boat more than some God who’d kill off people I loved and trapped us in our own house like we missed Noah’s Ark.”

“All right, Lizzie. You bundled up? Here’s what St. Peter says in his first letter to the Romans:
…who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

“See, Lizzie? Our salvation’s coming if we have faith. Aw, the poor little tyke’s gone to sleep. Probably for the best in this God damn cold and this God damn rain, in this godforsaken piece of Hell. And now the God damn fire’s gone out and what little kindling we have’s still soaking wet.”

With that, Hank Beene laid his granddaughter on the little bed he prepared for her near the fireplace. He walked to the window and saw nothing but gray and black in all directions though the wind-driven torrent. In the distance, a black line dropped from the clouds to the ground.

He turned and took his wife’s old rocking chair in hand. He pulled it’s rockers and legs off, separated the slats from its maple seat and placed them all in the cold fireplace. Hank looked about the room for some tinder to touch off what little wood they had left. He went back to his Bible and ripped out the page he’d just read. Lighting a match to First Peter 1:5-9 he tossed it beneath the last physical memory he had of his Elizabeth, whose faith had sustained her to her grave. Who believed so hard that even a tornado’s funnel cloud was God writing his plan on the land. Ben crawled next to his little Lizzie and gave her a kiss and hugged her close as a sound like a locomotive came closer.

“God’s plan, my ass.”

Semi-experimental piece for Story #6. Supposed to write about a character unlike myself. I just wrote about characters in crisis of life and faith. And that’s that.

The Sons of Shem

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The Arapaho boys came across the dead body of the Rev. Linus Quimby wrapped in a wool blanket at the bottom of a buffalo wallow, a thick book clutched in his frozen hands and an expression of joy upon his face.

“It is already the Moon When the Buffalo Calves’ Noses Turn Brown and the first snow came last night, so to find a man, even a foolish white man, traveling without a horse or even a dog to carry his provisions shows he was as crazy as he looks,” said the younger boy, taking the blanket from the would-be missionary.

“Look at the useless fire he made of these white skins with markings, not the leavings of the buffalo or even a stick from the trees on the banks of the Niinéniiniicíihéhe’, only two days ride from here,” said the older boy, as he relieved his brother of the blanket and Rev. Quimby of a knife and a piece of flint.

After riding east until the sun had almost reached its highest point, the boys found the remains of Rev. Quimby’s horse being picked clean by coyotes and birds, stripped of its saddle by a roaming band of Cheyenne hunters and with more of those marked skins scattered on the yellow grass in the melting snow.

If the boys could read, they might notice one that was dated two days before, November 20, 1830, and it said: Last night I burned all my maps, Psalm 23 and First Thessalonians from my Bible, my Lord God, because where I am going in Your name, I have faith You shall guide me, help me lead the sons of Shem back to you, and we shall never be lost again.

A story of unrelenting faith, based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, Maps

Away, Near a Manger

Stables

Stables (Photo credit: Earlham College)

Get-together at Cliff’s barn, and the evening stable smells,
chilled like leftovers from an equine Christmas party,
sting my nose like the host overseasoned the hay,
tossed nutmeg in the meal, or gifted the gelding
with too much Paco Rabanne.

And once agin it crossed my mind,
if the faith-spawning story is totally true,
did a similar cold night in a barn
on the other side of the world
carry somewhat similar smells?

I try to envision the reality of that scene,
mindful that the people in the Nativity story
didn’t appear to be carrying their own
key lighting and Martin guitar accompaniment.
Did they sense the same ambiance as I do?

Or did the application of a little of that gift
frankincense and myrrh make their barn smell
a wee bit more festive than these present-day digs
for old Dobbin.  I think I think too much…
But every Christmas, I still wonder.

The Web

Spider skills

Spider skills (Photo credit: Arkadyevna)

It’s so beautiful in the early morning light,
diamond crusted and inviting, a place to rest
your lonesome, weary wings. You see those
mirror images of you in the dewdrops,
a swarm of kindred souls, wings beating for you.
You wonder, should I keep my wings whirring, too,
just far enough away to maybe taste
the nectaresque joys of belonging?

You know how it has snatched others in
its sticky tendrils. You see it festooned
with bundles of sarcaphagal husks,
the spoking networks, the concentric loom
of trap and tripwire. You get too close,
and it has you.
You’ll struggle and fuss, your signal louder
to the spiders who subsist the weak.

Aw, you’re too smart, too hip,
too popular to be caught and emptied,
wasted by a mere bit of gossamer. Right?
But that swarm of our dreams, standing out
as the brightest wings, you can taste it.
Yeah, come on, they’re all waiting, just for you.
All you have to do, my friend, is get close enough
to click ENTER.

©Joseph Hesch 2012