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Lenten Poems & Commentary - 2009

Most of these poems were written during the retreat and reflect the meditations. Some began as fragments I carried around in my email notes to myself or on the backs of junk mail envelopes and scraps of paper. An aging poet needs these bits of permanency to record images and hints of images as they occur--the memory can still be plumbed, but it helps to have some cues along the way. A word of caution: these poems are all early drafts, subject to change as I review them with my writing group and editor. So you may not see the same poem twice. Such is the nature of unfinished work.

This edition includes poems and a commentary. If you prefer to read the poems alone, please click here.


Contents

Retreat Poems

Seeing
Muscles
The Sign
February 2009
Not a single day
Recessed Lighting
Reflection
Clementine
Daylight
Ode to French Toast with Berries
Three Benches
Route Seven
Paying Attention
When were the moments of joy?
Feeding frenzy
Compline
Morning on the third day
Worry
The Oz behind the curtain
Betsy

The Seven Deadly Sins

Pride
Greed
Sloth
Envy
Lust
Gluttony
Anger

Spring Poems 3/21/09

Wind
Blackbirds
Poet Reflecting
Alliteration Again

Holy Week 4/11/09

East Norwalk Historical
Reversal

Return to the Preface

* * *

© Copyright 2009, E.G. Happ, All rights reserved

Seeing

Nothing seems as unclear
as the sun in my eyes this morning--
even St Paul's is a shadow.
Give me a rising
or a setting
with the purple undertones;
a storm rolling in
or out
with a sheet of rain flapping
over the green hills outside of town;
the change in your breathing
deep in the night when you begin to dream
and stir, reaching out for my arm;
these are the moments of radiance,
clarity,
poetry,
living

5 Feb 09

Walking down Farringdon Lane on the way to work it is a rare sunny morning in London. It made me aware of the moments when God in all her beauty breaks in and illuminates the now--fitting for this Lenten Silent Retreat.


Muscles

I stop to watch the gulls prepare a meal;
They glide in slow arcs
And pause in mid-air
Letting the muscles go
And flutter-dive like autumn leaves to follow
on the rocks at low tide
a cold muscle tight within itself
splits as an egg left for an instant
rolls off the table
and anchors to the floor
its yolk blooming from the sharp edge of it shell as a sunrise.
A gull picks the center of openness
tosses his head back
and gulps it down

7 Feb 09

I saw this scene of gulls feeding on the wooden bridge to Canfield Island in East Norwalk--a place I like to go for a walk. I later realized the gulls were anticipation of the seven deadly poems written on the retreat, below.


The Sign

For Ash Wednesday.

I lean into the priest as if he is a shower head,
into the ash flowing from his thumb;
as a river parted,
it flows from my forehead
divided by nose and mouth,
over my rising arms, to my feet
where it pools in soot around each ankle
until my toes are rooted in the carbon soil;
it rises slowly, each year another ring of grounded being,
the strain toward light more urgent,
bees stick to my forehead,
birds sing in my ears,
I drink sun from my mouth.

2 Mar 09

The Ash Wednesday service at the St. Francis Chapel, 15 past noon on the 25th of February. It breaks the day, the work week, and grounds me into reflection as surly as being planted.



February 2009

This year February is gone,
left last night after the lights
were out;
I discovered the bread crumbs
on the table where I sat,
mouse hovering over the date,
March 1st winking.
Where has the time gone--
a cliche about a conversation gone well,
a work week lost in a flurry of I do's;
but now on this Sunday morn
I am missing what will never be again,
even as I ache for the green
running like a flood across my lawn and the next
and the next.

2 Mar 09

There regret and remorse in this poem for things done and left undone as a month passes and another arrives, but this month will never come again. And yet it is also the ache for renewal. It is confession and it is repentance in the watching march of the seasons. Here in this corner of New England, the changes are dramatic and they are deep.

Not a single day


“Can any of your worry add a single day to your life?” –Matthew 6:27

On the porch
a dozen clay pots
gather and cup the bulbs
beneath the long window panes;
who brings the spring
into the closet of January,
tomorrow opened to today?
So daffodils rise up
as a month of dawning,
not a single day goes by
without stopping on my way
out the door with my pack of worry
slung over my shoulder subtracting
to stop and sway
clothed like one of these—
the zeros of their mouths could add up
to a single day.

6 Mar 09

I wrote this during Dylan’s first meditation, “Be Not Anxious.” The passage we read in Matthew’s gospel is the well-known “consider the lilies of the field...” text. But it is the prior verse that caught my eye, “can any of your worry add a single day to your life?” For some reason my mind drifted to our sun porch where there is a gathering of clay pots with paper-whites, hyacinths, tulips and daffodils in various states of bloom. Gardeners call it “forcing.” I enjoy it as an early taste of spring. In a sense, tomorrow is brought into today. The “month of dawning” can be either the month-long blooming as each group of bulbs seems to pick a different week to show off; or it can be the dozens bloom that rise up and “dawn.” I think this is what we do when we hope and imagine; we are yearning for fulfillment to enter into the now. For me, that adds to today, while worry subtracts (I like all the alliteration of the strong of “s” words in these two lines.) Of course, the remnants of the math student in me goes to the richness of the zeros (the shape of the daffodil mouths), no matter how many there are, not adding anything. And yet they are adding everything to this moment in this single day of noticing.

Recessed Lighting


Lying on my back
under flood lights
illumines things unseen—
there’s an embryo
of filament curled
in this flask of resistance
as if the air were the table
and I the legs
of ideas popping up
as bulbs

6 Mar 09

For past readers on the Lenten Poems, you will notice the recurring theme of things noticed while laying on the floor—what I like to do during the retreat meditations. It’s easier on my back, and I like the change in perspective while I’m listening. I was taken by the glowing filament in a dim flood light in the ceiling. It looked like some of the images of an embryo from an ultrasound scan. It was as if I were this distant observer, looking through the bottom of a glass examining table, and my imagination wandered to the insight like the proverbial idea bulb that pops up over the cartoon characters head: an “ah hah” moment.

Reflection


You can watch a room behind you in a dark window
as it happens without you,
people seated on a couch
knitting, reading a book,
staring into a fire
resting an arm on the table
reaching over one’s head scratching.
Someone is talking now;
I can tell by the way her head moves.
If I look off into the night
remnants of snow hinting on the porch
and onto a lawn
I remember being
there under it all—
and these pair of eyes closest to the cool glass
staring back,
is me.

6 Mar 09

I rolled over to write something in my notebook and looked up. When it’s dark outside, a window reflects a room. I found I was watching the group during Dylan’s meditation through the full-length window in the door. I think this is how God speaks in the Bible. We are looking in on the stories others are telling. We catch glimpses of what’s going on. It looks familiar, but we don’t have all the details; no one was recording the parables with a webcam. Then we realize through the stories that we are connected to these people, to Jesus and the disciples. And in our remembering, we realize that these are also our stories, and like the man looking at the reflection in the window, I am myself in story.

Clementine


Sticky
is its surprise—
its been leaking its orange-ness
against the dry cotton cuff
of my hand;
my thumb invades
its rind
opening a window;
veins of white curse the light;
now its clothes lay back,
fall to the floor,
a trail to the bed
of my tongue—
a tiny arc of truth
undressed on my lips
blooms.

6 Mar 09

This was a memorable exercise Dylan had us all do that first night, taking a Clementine and slowly peeling it, pausing often, and taking in each moment of the experience—getting into the “now” of being here. Sectioning an orange was the theme of a movie I saw in college—one of the most erotic movies I recall. The sensuousness carries over to this poem—how could it not! But oh how the truth of this blooms in the sensing.

Daylight


Sun coming up in the mountains
undresses the top of trees—
the forest is a crescent moon,
trunks in the shadows,
river wets their feet,
shade drain from the hills,
runs with the rapids,
washes out to sea,
white birch begin to sing.

7 Mar 09

Sunrise in the Berkshires happens from the top down, turning the rising upside down. It became for me a metaphor of the weekend: the shadows, the hidden draining from the moment of paying attention.

Ode to French Toast with Berries


Oh,
I know you are pretending to be dessert,
masquerading at breakfast
with your custard wet with berries;
you really intend to finish my day,
push me to the end of the poem,
where what begins
ends with
Oh!

7 Mar 09

Breakfast Saturday morning! The French toast melted in my mouth like the best of desserts. And I’m having fun with the poem circling from the last “oh” back to the first. See the “Gluttony” poem below. This is not the fasting side of Lent!

Three Benches


Three benches sit
in homage to the edge
of lawn long under snow
before the earth trips
over rocks and tree trunks
to the river roiling by.
I imagine two or more people gathered
sitting deep in contemplation
in late spring
when the greens have run
together,
looking up from the Feng Shui gurgle
of the Housatonic slowing to summer
and see each other
for the first time.

7 Mar 09

The lawn behind Trinity Center stretches to the river where there are three benches overlooking the Housatonic. It brought to mind the warming of community, where two or three are gathered, Jesus is in our midst and we see the Christ in each other as if meeting for the first time and meeting again after a year apart.

Route Seven


She disappears there
among the trees
on the other side
of the Housatonic,
the light falling
among the late winter trunks
that are open to the in-between—
a red Caravan shutter-clicks north
and is gone,
its absence telling
of the tail lights
seen winking
the night before.

7 Mar 09

Looking out the window while listening to the meditation, I see things anew. I’ve looked out to this scenic stretch of Route 7 for 14 years and still I see new things. I believe the stories we reading in the Gospels, as we were doing this weekend, have that richness. We listened to each passage twice, from different readers with different voices and inflections, each time adding something new. For me, that’s what paying attention is about, hearing something new in something familiar, something repeated.

Paying Attention


Feel each step
she says—
it requires slowing down
so each step
bleeds.
I remember this as I strap
on snowshoes
and step onto wet snow
for a walk
of weight.

7 Mar 09

This was another exercise Dylan called us to do: walking with intent, deliberately feeling each step, each muscle, each bend of the foot. It was paying attention again, listening to our bodies.

When were the moments of joy?


Slipping sun settling down the late afternoon
peeks beneath the clouds
and illumines the room—
searchlight from the mountain top makes
exclamations of each tree,
as if they were the best word
at the end of the best sentence,
of the best wood
at the end of the best winter
and this is the best moment—
now.

7 Mar 09

As the sun set on Saturday afternoon, it descended below the late day clouds and streamed into the room. Each tree was lit with another “oh!” It struck me that having that child-like wonder at something that just happened, and is happening, is the “best.” And each moment has the possibility of being the best. And the best is not yet to come; it is now.

Feeding frenzy


I hold a bag of sweet potato fires
left from last night’s meal—
too much to consume in one sitting.
The gulls swarm, fall over each other and the swans
diving for any morsel
as I toss them one by one
into the air;
the gulls hover, timing their stop and lunge
to catch the bit of broken orange starch
in mid air as you click frame after frame.
there is no end to the feast
and I am feathered in the joy
of the Lord.

7 Mar 09

Likely during lunch, I wrote this about an experience of feeding seagulls at Marvin’s Beach late in February. Rather than explain it, I point you to the video of the experience and ask if the two forms of art speak to each other, here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5lFrpiQfCA . Thank you Shirley for the inspiration.

Compline


Three candles
snuffed.
Their light
turned to smoke
that twists
in fury
to the rafters
then disappears
swallowed
by the deeper night.

7 Mar 09

The Compline service is one of my favorites in the Book of Common Prayer. Saturday night, as the candles were extinguished the smoke rose and twisted forward in a memorable way. I wanted to bring in the anger we spoke about in the afternoon meditation and show it confessed and disappearing into the night.

Morning on the third day


Day pours
over the Berkshire hills,
sunlight soaks the tips
of the bare trees of early March,
their fingers burn,
even as their trunks are still
in the shadow of night,
roots still anchored under snow.
On a Sunday
deep in Lent
God comes
in the slow places,
a trace of touch
at the waking.
I burn.

8 Mar 09

The second memorable sunrise. I cannot add words to the poem. It says all I felt this weekend.

Worry


The problem with worry
is all the leaving
at the beginning—
so arriving
is departure,
never getting the coat of now
unzipped
and tossed across the chair,
keys still in hand
never make the bowl of the baseball cap
on the table,
its still on the head
turned to the door
still open
the knock
still sounding.

8 Mar 09

Sunday morning. The last meditation. “Do not worry about anything…” Paul writes (Philippians 4:6). It occurred to me that worry never sits down; it’s never at home. It stuck in the future or in the past, but is not now.

The Oz behind the curtain


Lying on my back
floating on this ocean
of green flecked carpet
I see the underside of the room,
behind the valences
to the bare curtain rods
the metal brackets
and Philips screws,
the hollow arms
of the window cranks,
the tongue and groove
of the porch ceiling planks—
all these points of holding
this house together,
the recesses of the glue
of home
and peace.

8 Mar 08

See “Recessed Lighting” above. I love Alice’s comment on this poem: “From now on no sitting on the floor at our home!” Oh what you will see when you look behind the curtains!

Betsy


"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." Luke 19:40

She makes the rounds
passing the peace
as if a greeter
at a door she carries to each of us
where we all enter
one by one
no ticket torn in two
a hug and a kiss
say we have a seat
in this chapel,
where even the stones
call out my name.

8 Mar 09

We are celebrating the Sunday morning Eucharist. At the passing of the peace, Betsy walks around the room and hugs each of us. She is at that moment God’s ambassador of grace, and I here Him call my name in her. She has done this more than once in my life. I am grateful for her friendship and her ministry.

The Seven Deadly Sins


The following seven poems were written in response to Jamie Wyeth’s paintings,
“The Seven Deadly Sins,” 2005-2008, one of my study books for the weekend. The
painting are all of seagulls. I wrote the poems in reverse order. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see. (see http://www.adelsongalleries.com/frame-7deadlysins.html for the artwork.) Look deeply at the painting, then read the poem aloud.


Pride (7)


It’s the last painting;
a red lobster glistens,
claw held in the beak
of the gull
whose eye looks up,
a half moon
lit to the heaven
he rules,
blind to his brothers
buckling under the web
of his strut
one’s shriek,
another’s objection;
one complicit,
one eyes closed,
already tucked to the death
of resignation.

7 Mar 09

* * *

Greed (6)


The gulls beak opens
to a grey billowed heaven
and breaks the silence
of a shared repast,
its body barring the boundary-less-ness
of a sandy beach,
the hungry to the south,
the feast to the north;
popcorn floats,
an egg sunny-side up:
a perfect yellow dome;
a cherry wet with sun—
even as the ice-cream melts the irony of blueberry pie,
and runs over its starving feet,
the single spoon resounding the shriek of
mine, mine, mine!

7 Mar 09

* * *

Sloth (5)


The gull settles into the afterwards,
the banquet taken in
as the wisdom of the slow times,
soaking as a full sponge—
where the angels dance
the demons lurk,
in the restful wings
and neglect of now,
while Prometheus, consumed in the dream
has not a leg to stand on,
the fire has not gone out—
so to fluff the feathers and loll,
while the soul is renewed
and plucked from us.

7 Mar 09

* * *

Envy (4)


These two with the red-ringed eyes
are steepling their beaks,
one just a feather higher—
there is the noble gull
there is the mirror gull
reflecting not himself
but this other.
The wise gull below,
with closed eyes,
is walking away.

7 Mar 09

* * *

Lust (3)


I save this one
until after making love
after holding your arms
taking flights
taking wing—
gulls feet upon
the shoulder,
gull shriek
at the taking
the taking
the taking

7 Mar 09

* * *

Gluttony (2)


It takes the divine cinnamon baked apple
in maple puffed pastry with crème anglaise
to send me over the edge.
A gull in a sea of beached catch,
fresh from the net
holds a fish aloft
in triumph
in giving up to this god
who so filling
we gag

7 Mar 09

* * *

Anger (1)


They are screaming
south and east
one over the other,
not at each other,
not at the god
who anchored them
to this stretch of gull sand,
but in an aria
to the god
shimmering off the still sea
the silver-backed god looking in the glass
and blind.

7 Mar 09

* * * *

Spring Poems


The following poems were written in the weeks following the silent retreat. Still in Lent, as in winter, yearning for Easter and spring.


Wind

The leaves swirl,
scirtch across the pavement,
rise up as a obelisk
in a Stonehenge cloister--
the shadow is cast just so,
from where the time teller stands;
here is the hour
of my belief;
here is the hour
I first began to doubt.

20 Mar 09

I wrote this poem after seeing the play "Doubt" for the second time. This time was the movie, also written by the playwright John Patrick Shanley. The wind plays an important role in the movie, marking shifts, insights and alarms. St. Paul uses the word pneuma for Spirit, which literally means "wind" or "breath." In the story in Acts, the blowing wind of the Spirit on Pentecost Sunday marks the rising of faith, and the apostles speaking with authority and beyond the limits of languages of what they had experience in Jesus life and death. So too we are moved beyond language to the realization of all we do not reason our way towards; sometimes the knowing comes to us. This is the great doubt and certainty of faith. In the swirling tower of leaves, I had the image of a giant sundial in the midst of the cloister at Westminster Abby, where I was last week. So I imagined the paradox of reason and faith together, and that for both the answers depend on our vantage point, just as a shadow seems cast in a different place as we move about a courtyard.


Blackbirds

Six blackbirds pepper the still barren tree
eying the high-rise feeder
made for smaller birds;
not quite half of thirteen
they whistle just after we fill
the feeder and wait;
the chatter of the sparrows call
and the blackbirds come
and watch
before taking all the seats;
hanging sideways
they try and curl their beaks,
flecking out the smaller seeds
in search of smoky sunflower gems;
now the squirrels gather on the picnic table below,
and eye the tall speckled column
even as they pick up what rains from
this little oasis of heaven;
everything points to God's
bounty,
His scarcity,
and this ache for something higher,
something more.

21 Mar 09

The blackbirds have taken over the bird feeder hanging from a tree in the backyard. I saw an echo of Wallace Stevens "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," especially Stanza V:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

There is so much innuendo in nature that echoes the Creator, and yet so much harsh reality that appears to speak of His absence. And we ache for something more. It is that ache that for me is itself an image of God. I imagine God aching for His creation and for us.



Poet Reflecting

I look at the blackened glass
late in the evening
and see an older man,
one with a tired face,
intense eyes,
graying beard;
the glow of the digital screen
illumines a face ever emerging
out of the unknown, the unseen,
giving voice to all that is behind
and beneath;
his mouth opens, hand raises,
finger points,
and there is not a sound
save the click on the keyboard
of digits searching for the dimly lit
letters that are each a full-belly sun
waiting to be pressed
and bleed.

27 Mar 98

Written late at night, sitting at my desk next to the window that looks out to the bay, no lights on save the glow from my PC screen. When I looked out the window, I saw my reflection--a moment of seeing and hiding, an opening light and a closing darkness. All of it struck me as part of the paradox of Lent, where the release of Easter is hidden in the reflection on the darkness.


Alliteration Again

Driving to church in the rain,
the still barren trees weep
for what wonder waits;
I strain to see the tint of red
on the hardwoods,
the yellow beacons before the lighting
of forsythia,
the hinting lime of the willows;
changing lanes on a Sunday late in March
reminds me
of a long winter slowing to a standstill,
a spring still silent, speaking
in the thin slices of the branches,
a hope forked in the lanes of sugar maples,
sweet sap shouting beneath smooth skin
that runs, if I watch and wait,
as surely as this rains rolls down the windshield,
puddles on the hood
and into the rich wine of a cup
that does not pass.

29 Mar 09

Today was the last in the series of the Lenten forums at church during which we had been reading the short passages in Kathleen Norris's book Amazing Grace. We were to write our own stories, reflecting on what Lent meant to us this year. It was a rainy day, cold, with just the hints of spring. Seeing these on the drive to church, along the Merritt Parkway, became the moment that brought to the fore what it has meant for me, if --as in Advent a few short months ago-- I watch and I wait. It is the riches of looking in, looking out, and being found.

Holy Week



East Norwalk Historical

1871, near the gate
47 years
1836, June
1881 aged 33 yrs, 4 mo's & 14 dys--abbreviated,
when the crowns of trees are full;
Carr, no dates, no years,
just Carr;
his wife, their mother,
dearest sister,
a member,
a captain,
father, Paul, Albert,
Sally widow of Charles,
Seth Smith
who departed this life--
this train bound for glory,
the row of granite ties
and rails of grass;
one enters once by an iron gate,
remnants of vines wound
in its curls;
but here
in front of Redling
is a thick cluster of daffodils
with all the power
of their yellow sun
trumpeting the silence.

10 Apr 09


Written on Good Friday morning, stopping near the end of a bike ride to enter the old gated cemetery in East Norwalk. The fragments of lives on the tombstones provide the image for this date. Though short on words, they are long in the shadows they cast. So too Good Friday brings us into God's darkness and death.



Reversal


Sometimes we are so startled
we stop in mid flight,
almost as if to go backwards
and see what just happened here,
what death has just become a life,
what life has been caught up in such reversal,
killed and lifted up?
what surprise
grabs us by the outstretched bones and feathers spiked
pulls and grounds us even as we soar?
what startling morning bursts
onto this night
and stains even the stones a linen white?

[so we are turned around
looking at the stones rolled away
from where we entered
and never saw it
for what has closed to us
ever flying that way
again.]

8 Apr 09

Written for Easter Sunday, based on a photo Shirley took. The gull shocked into a stop has the startled look I imagine the disciples had as the women ran to them with the news that the stone was rolled away, the tomb empty. It is such a reversal of the despair, the fleeing and hiding we read in the Passion narratives. Something caught them by surprise, unexpected, for which they searched the stories of the prophets for clues to understand. So too we struggle to understand the meaning of the empty tomb. Where are the categories? In our retelling of the Easter Sunday story we too often miss the magnitude of this reversal, the sense, like Moses, that we are standing on new ground.

The stanza in brackets was added after the core of the poem was written, first spoken into a cell phone wired into the car, while driving home one night, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus playing on the CD and the image of the gull in my mind. It is an optional stanza, looking back on the poem and the reversal of meanings in our life, where what we once thought, what we once believed, is closed; a path we cannot go back to, but must face forward and walk into the new. Blessed Easter.

Note: The Easter video-poem version of Reversal is on YouTube --egh

* * *
All Poems © Copyright 2009, E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved.


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