Tagged: poem

I’m So Sorry

I’m so sorry
You’re dealing with so much
I feel afraid to offer any commentary
because I don’t want to risk
offending you
or say anything
that will compound your pain

I want to say things
to heal
or help

but I know
nothing can
and I don’t want
anything that could be beneficial eventually
to be trivial or superficial or even insulting
because it comes at the wrong time.

I’ve been here before
in the line
at the viewing
or the luncheon
after the entombment
not knowing what to say
or how to say it
not wanting to put you through this
not even sure
how much eye contact
to make.

But I’ve been someplace
like where you are now
I know not the same place
but someplace cold
isolated
on display
in front of
what seems like
a never ending
stream of well wishers
yet so alone
aching
aching
aching
so that you just want
to be left alone
but under sedation
put into a coma
so that you
don’t have
to deal with it
anymore

I’m sorry
so sorry
not only for your loss
but because
I have no idea
what to say
or how to say it

I’m here
if you want me
but I won’t be
if you don’t
I just wish
I could tell which
because
it doesn’t see fair
to ask you
to have to tell me
one way or another

I’m so sorry

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Poem about shutting up

c.Oct. 2008
There’s been ink in my veins from an early age

but it seems like it wasn’t meant to be

either I wasn’t meant for it or it wasn’t meant for me

I want to give it up

I want to do what you want me to

don’t know if you’re afraid of it,

or if it makes you not like me

I’m trying to give it up,

because I don’t want to lose you

but I swear God made me this way

so what am I supposed to do?

I’m haunted by the ghost of Tom Joad

I asked God to take me away from me.

to make me silent and submissive like Winston Smith at the end of 1984

only without having to face the rats or betray Julia first

Evolution of a Painting

 

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The day after the election I was a basket case (as you might have figured from previous posts on this blog). A professor of mine once suggested that our most prolific times would usually be times of emotional stress or poor mental health. He said it matter-of-factly, not even alluding to art therapy.

I remembered this advice (or admission) and decided that I needed to create something.

On the first day, my grief for my country was so deep all I felt that I could paint was what I felt. As Frida Kahlo once said, ” I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”  So this is what I painted:

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I’d been teaching about the New York School. Action painters who emphasized the process as a cathartic, meditative experience and color-field painters who created pieces intended to invoke a contemplative mood in their viewers. It was very satisfying.


It wouldn’t leave me alone. It called out to me. This past Summer I’d read a biography of Lutheran theologian and WWII resistance member Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This Fall I re-read his reflection on Christian fellowship, ‘Life Together.’

Bonhoeffer refused to compromise genuine Christian discipleship to mollify the demands of the Third Reich. First this meant pioneering the “confessional” church movement and underground seminaries, but eventually he was recruited by the Abwehr (a German intelligence agency which pre-dated the rise of NAZI power) and thereby a number of assassination plots against Hitler.

He was For a year and a half, he was kept in a military prison, then to the Gestapo’s high-security prison, then to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was hung in April of 1945 days before German surrender.

So I attacked my muddy brown canvas with black, then built an almost ghostly face with stark white. The under-painting began taking shape.A ghost in a concentration camp. Certainly not the prophetic voice of hope which I had met in his writings. But definitely a product of my own angst.

I thought I remember reading somewhere that angst is the combination of anger and anxiety born from the inability to control a situation or effect change. This is certainly how I feel about the election of Trump; a hateful, unprepared, unqualified, angry, entitled, demagogue.

There it stood on my easel for a week. Students commenting that it looked like me- perhaps an indictment of my melancholic disposition. To me it felt like Poe’s raven, constantly reminding me of the death of equality, liberty, justice and any hope of any kinds of peace at home or abroad. A dour ghost haunting my classroom.

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I experimented in Photoshop with blending the original photo with my under-painting. The image was exciting and moving, but still ghostly. For me it evoked the spirits of Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Viktor Frankl, not just Bonhoeffer.

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Finally this week, I resumed painting. Like the prophet Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, I attached flesh to the bones. But alas, dry ache became weeping sorrow. But at least students told me, “now it’s finally starting to look like him instead of you!”

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Yesterday I made a great deal of progress, although I think it looked more like a cross between William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Now I felt like it had some indignation and resignation rather than just depression and despair. Somehow I hoped to add some sense of hope or faith, since these are the things Bonhoeffer demonstrated most to me.

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Today, I feel like I gave it a great deal more dimension and solidity. I feel like it looks more realistic and closer to finish. This may be prejudiced somehow, but I think it even looks German or at least European- although I’m not quite sure it looks like Bonhoeffer exactly. I’m also not sure how to capture any hope. It may be too late for that.

It’s hard to imagine a martyr with any hope or joy- but that is what is so amazing about Bonhoeffer’s story- witnesses claim that they were amazed by his warmth and encouragement for his fellow prisoners and his amazing composure and bravery even in his final moments.

I haven’t decided whether or not I’m finished with it. Perhaps if I live with him for another week, he will tell me again. But I do like it. Of course, I liked that ghost-like mummy from the second and third days too.

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To check that I had the spectacles in the right place, I held my canvas up to the projector on the SmartBoard in my classroom and projected the original photo onto the painting. I loved what I saw so much, I had to take a picture of it. It seems to me still sorrowful, but challenging as well. “What are you prepared to do, Ted? For democracy? For authentic Christianity?”  Would I have the faith or the courage to make the kinds of sacrifices he did?

I pray I’ll never have to. One biographer notes that while he wrote treatises and essays and devotions and letters, he never really wrote much poetry until he was imprisoned. But I have to say, one of his poems is one of the most amazing pieces of reflective existential art that I’ve ever run across.

Once you read it, look back over the various stages of my painting’s development and imagine them reciting it to you.

Who Am I?

by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

Frosty Road

Everyone reads (or hears)

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

And they think, “Oh good for him,”

What a great decision!

He’s such an inspiration.

But that’s because no one bothered to actually read the entire poem,
let a lone the line just before the part about two roads diverging-

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:”

Ages hence you’ll tell it with a sigh?

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Why tell it with a sigh?

To me sighs aren’t about accomplishment or joy or pride.

Sighs are at best about close calls and relief

but more often sighs are when you know you’re beat.

Sure, the one more traveled has tamped down paths
and broken limbs, picked flowers or even occasionally some trash,

but roads less traveled by?

They’re the roads with bears and badgers and skunks

and evil clowns.

An evil clown can make all the difference.

How d’ya like that?

Don’t get me wrong,

I love ya ta death

but I’m sorry

I don’t like you all that much

Oh, I wish I liked you

I’d like to like you

but I’d like it if you were more likable,

which is unlikely

I’m as likely to like you as the next guy

but that’s not all that likely either

and since it’s unlikely that your likability is likely to increase much

as long as you’re like you are

liking to tell everyone how much you dislike likable people

I’m not likely to start liking you soon

although I’d like to like you

I really would

I hate the fact that I don’t like you

but you don’t really like me all that much anyway, right

I mean, come on

how likely is that?

So, as they old timers sometimes say,

“ya just gotta use that one up like they are.”

I promise to keep loving you

loving you in spite of our mutual dislike.

 

The Chorus at Vespers

A poem for April (National Poetry Month)

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Coming home
one cruel April afternoon,

the red sun hit
a robin’s red chest
through the red buds of an awakening tree’s
red crest
during the peak
of the golden hour.

Though frigid as any day in February
thanks to the bitter wind,
my eyes were blessed
with every bit of May’s glow.

The chorus was so loud that it seemed less like song
and more like chatter.

Who do they sing to?
These multiple denominations
of robins
and grackles,
red-winged black birds,
sparrows
and swallows?

Each congregation louder than their neighbors.

Do they sing to the Lord,
or to the setting sun,
or to me
or to each other?

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A Poem on Christmas Day

Christmas Day the sky is white with fog
Christmas Eve layered snow
upon every hill and slope

and every bough
of every tree
tangled branches

of each bare ash and elm
and on every limb
on every juniper and fir and spruce

but instead of basking in
the tranquil scene
steeped in peace and hope and joy

I’m disappointed
that there’s no cardinal
hiding here within