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Lenten Poems - 2006


The Ashes Fall
Light Leaking
Prepositional Places
Stephen King's Advice
Late Winter Morning on the Housatonic
Seasons change without us
The Faith of Juncos
Two Artists

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* * *

The Ashes Fall

As he rubs the sign into my forehead
ashes fall before my eyes--

reminding me of Spielberg's scene:
when the train pulled in,
the "anti-snow" falling.

This is life passing
as if it were only seasoning--
Oh, that we touch it with our fingers
with Oskar Schindler
and look up
that this is a beginning.

2 Mar 06

Like the Eucharist, Ash Wednesday is sensual--we taste, we see, we feel--and then we do. It is Oskar Schindler's realization that he must act and, like Michelangelo's David, it is the point where he is most human and most moved: the point of decision. With all the introspection of Lent, this is what we are called to remember.

* * *

Light Leaking

Driving west
late in winter
the sun's rays escape
the lips of gray clouds--
a mouthful of light leaking.

When we were still naïve
We thought this was God
reaching down
in a DeMille moment
with full orchestra
If it were water,
it would be standing up
in terror
while astonished captives
spilled over into freedom.

The images come back
as readily as rain--
sweet superstitions
sure as an old barn
broken fence
and barren trees across a field
on flat water canvas.

10 Mar 06

Driving west on Route 4 on the way to West Cornwall for the annual Lenten retreat. The late afternoon sun is low in the sky, rays appearing between the broken clouds bringing back the childhood memories of the DeMille films. With all their literal drama is the temptation to dismiss the story. But this would be too simple, like dismissing the reality of a painting even in its two-dimensional rendering. The winter landscape watercolor by Carolyn Blish that hangs in the Trinity Center library brought this to mind for the comparison in the poem.

* * *


In less than a season
of Sundays
all these gray and broken limbs
will be swept behind
in a sea of green
and blown blossoms scattered
beneath our feet again.

I will remember
the robin's nest in the tall rhododendron
and the chick out on the branch
not sure this is a good move.
Parents will be screaming from the oak
reminders to flap hard,
don't look down.

I will remember then
that you left
at the turn of spring
and despite all the wishes
platitudes and best intentions
this will become an empty place.

Friendships evergreen
winter with the leaves;
we will pull up empty chairs
to a table with white linens
and wish
for the warmth
of a silent ear
the touch
of a knowing smile.

5 Feb 06

This poem was written in honor of Ann Moore, a dear friend who moved to Toronto just prior to the retreat. It was the first retreat she missed in many years. Written before Lent, it nevertheless is apropos of Lent. It is about good-byes, separations and ultimately passing from this life. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (BCP, Ash Wednesday, pp. 264ff)

* * *

Prepositional Places

After sunset
out the nine light window frame
below the transoms
double pairs of lights--
angle across the river
cars moving south
between the trees
jumping pane to pane
a vision distorted
by the glass.

Behind the conversation
under the recessed lights
at the round table
I am distracted.
"Are these Dutch windows?"
but perhaps you are thinking
of bulls eye glass"
from colonial days
which bends the light...

10 Mar 06

At dinner, before the silence of the weekend begins, I am distracted by the cars traveling south on Route 7 across the river in the dark. The angle of the glass distorts the headlights, making them two pair, moving across corner windows in the dining room where we sit. All the prepositions in the poem seek to place this one image in its fleshed-out context. Hearing about "bulls eye" glass in the conversation that ensued, completed the image for me. The bending light--the light out of the ordinary--was exactly what I wanted to say and see.

* * *

Stephen King's Advice

"get rid of the adverbs,"
he writes.
I am reluctant
to march a part of speech
to the door
and push it out.
I like a river that moves lazily
as much as one that lolls,
a car that idles noisily
as one that chatters.
But wait, you say,
these latter verbs are better.
just shorter, I reply

10 Mar 06

I remembered this line from Stephen King's memoir On Writing and wanted to write about it, but was never sure how to begin. While I avidly read all of King's advice, I was troubled by the judgment in eschewing this part of speech. Mind you, I agree that the stronger verbs make the adverbs obsolete, but in poetry we want to play with the language, inviting all the words and parts of speech to join the team. It is the connecting of odd words that is the grist of poetry. As such, it is a very old form of inclusive language. So to exclude some words bothered me. Oddly perhaps, I was reminded of this when John W. said that "It's not our successes that are judged, only our faithfulness, even in our failures."

* * *

Late Winter Morning on the Housatonic

Everywhere there are signs
of winter winds--
snapped limbs stuck in tree elbows,
broken on the ground.
White sinew under stripped bark
catches the morning light--
it says that storms were here,
swirling down the river,
rapids of basso clouds.

In the serene setting of stillness
under sky so blue it pierces
is the telling.

11 Mar 06

This is an abrupt poem, like the melting in the Prayer poem of last year. It is Saturday morning at breakfast. I'm enjoying the silence and looking out across the lawn at the broken trees limbs and the Housatonic River flush with late winter melt. The snapped branches spoke to me about the wind and snow storm that moved through Connecticut just a over a week ago. All the signs were here despite the blue sky and sun. I sometimes think that is how God speaks to us: with footprints and things disrupted in our lives.

* * *

Seasons change without us

I saw violet crocuses
while driving on route thirty-three
They were carpeting
a still brown-green lawn
like bees on spilled beer--
and I wonder about the gardeners
who come in spring
with their galloping lawn mowers
and wailing sirens of two-cycle Briggs & Stratton engines,
and the home owner running from the house
arms waving, shouting
not yet.

11 Mar 06

With the unusually warm and sunny weather on Friday and Saturday, I remember seeing these first signs of spring driving back from the doctor's office. The poem is intended to humorous and serious. The image of a homeowner who perhaps forgot to alert the gardeners not to mow made me laugh. But it also reminded me that, traveling aside, we don't choose the seasons. They come. All the planning and diversions we make cannot change that. And that is how I experience God.

* * *


The early warm sun
has the sugar maples
some of the white buckets
already half-full;
others the morning wind
has blown over--
narrow green hoses
leak sap
on thawing soil.
Bees and ants
still dormant
miss the early feast.
Friends walk with me,
recollecting a birch tree limb
cut and weeping sap;
a felled grape vine,
gushing from roots.
We connect through these
bound by the taps
and lattice of portals
dripping with essence.

11 Mar 06

Walking north on the entry drive, I go past the rows of the sugar maples and army of white plastic pails along the road and across the lawn. I upright the pails knocked over by last night's wind, put back the hoses and place rocks on their lids to keep them in place. On the way back, I meet Alice and Brice Smith. We talk about the maple trees, the pails and spilled sap. As so often is the case, one story led to another and to another. That's how we commune. We tell stories.

* * *


Walking back
along the old railroad tracks
I am aware of feet,
the rhythm of the ties
and the careful steps
to stay on smooth wood.
I do the work of walking,
watching my running shoes
timing my stride
step one, skip one,
avoiding the coarse gravel bed.

I hear the river
and the two-note birds
urging April;
feel the warmth
of midday sun
and the shadows of trees
peripherally there.

When I reach the crossing
and step onto the free flow
of macadam,
I look up and see
not one cloud
or syllable
on which to trip.

11 Mar 06

North of town, a small road winds past an antique shop and weaves with the railroad line. I walked the road north, then the railroad tracks back. The poem is about three things: the rhythm of the walk, the limits of work and the structure of poetic forms. It is about the simple joy of walking; it is about the narrow vision that work can become, for which so much is often at the periphery of time; and it is about the "tennis nets" of Frost's poetic forms. In the modern and post-modern era, it is the rare poem for which rhyme and meter has not become a fence that constrains rather than frees. (Frost's and Yeat's poems may be the exception.) As a fence, we are held back and fail to see all that may be seen in the poem and before it. Likewise, with consuming work we fail to see much of life around it.

* * *

The Faith of Juncos

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul --Emily Dickinson

Gray juncos gather
on the softening sod
pecking for...
one wonders what.
There cannot be
a bug alive
who withstood the feet of snow
that stomped down
weeks ago--
there's still a trace of white
on the river bank
across the lawn
among the trees.

Soon fishermen will descend
down paths
in green chest waders
and stand in high water rushing
to the Sound
and cast flies in straight lines.

When winter's washed away
I'll think of the juncos
casting beaks into the blades
of dormant grass
and hope will again become
a feather.

11 Mar 06

At lunch, watching the Juncos on the back lawn, they strike me as an act of hope. If the true opposite of hope is despair, as John W. said, then the bleakness of winter (after the snows has melted) is overcome by the Juncos faithfully returning (or never leaving!) More than any other image, this one spoke to me strongest this weekend.

* * *

Two Artists

“I take it as an article of faith that the air around us moves in ways which are organic, whimsical, and unpredictable” --Tim Prentice, kinetic sculptor

While showing a video clip
to friends
of a Tim Prentice sculpture
a large bug flies down my shirt.
On the screen, a flying carpet of silver tabs
moves sublimely in the breeze
reflects clouds and blue sky.
I'm fumbling with ivory buttons
as the intruder crawls about my chest.
The metallic carpet undulates,
giving face to the wind.
I twist and squirm
trapping it under my tee shirt.
God, I whisper, please not a bee.
The mobile calms.
I reach in and tweezer it between fingers.
A lady bug.
She as bewildered as I.
The clip ends where it begins.
She crawls on my fingernail,
spreads wings and levitates
into thin air.
In a moment of divine comedy
a spotted yellow-orange face
is given to Beauty.

11 Mar 06

This is a dialog poem of sorts, shifting back and forth between the two events occurring at the same time. It is Saturday night in the library. While showing the on-line video of the North Cornwall sculptor's work on his web site ( to a group of friends, a lady bug decides to interrupt this sublime experience by buzzing around my head, landing on my neck, and--escaping a swift swat--falling headlong down my shirt. The juxtaposition of this comedy with the beauty of the sculptures in motion was a perfect reminder never to take ourselves too seriously. That is the comedy of the poem. But the divine moment was the revealing of the more primal beauty when the lady bug emerged on my finger upstaging the silver carpet.

* * *


We wait for the evening meal
to begin--
forty pilgrims
sitting, staring
at the entryway
to the dining room--
waiting for the host
to signal
the buffet is ready.
Nothing builds a yearning
as the minutes before a sating.
It is the same
before a reading,
and this evening meal.

12 Mar 06

I remembered this image from Saturday night, after evening prayer, when everyone was gathered in the living room, facing front, ready to move at a moments notice to the buffet. The yearning reminded me of other anticipation, and these are more liturgical at the end of the poem, from the lectionary to the prayers of the people, the sermon and the Eucharist. During these moments of words and symbol, when we listen for God, there is an expectation that we will hear him in the movements of this liturgy.

* * *


During the litany
of Paul's separations
the train approaches,
ground shakes,
horn sounds
as it passes
from station to station...
neither height nor depth
nor trains...
nothing can separate us
from the love of God.
What trains trundle through
your life?
What shakes your very ground?
What sounds the horn?
Remember the mighty
are shattered.

12 Mar 06

This is the second year the morning train has been a part of our worship on Sunday morning in the stone chapel. This time it happened while I was reading the epistle for the second Sunday in Lent: Romans 8:31-39. The last two verses are my favorite and move me each time I read them. Paul's litany of neither-nors builds to a crescendo, even as an approaching locomotive, to the statement of radical grace that nothing will separate us from the love of God. The metaphor of the trains presses on with the questions and concludes with the words of Job (12:21)--that which we think separates us from God is shattered by His love for us.

* * *

All Poems © Copyright 2006, E. Granger-Happ, All Rights Reserved.

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