empty, edited, purged

we all experience doubt and despair from time to time. this raw poem was a breakthrough in detailing my doubt, not in God as such, but my place in the church. the accompanying nude photo was pushing boundaries, sticking it up to the church, who have long-sidelined my vision.

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  • deleted: all emails, ever sent or received/questioned: all i once fervently believed/edited: too many tears, all easily cried/ friendships: tested, tempered and tried – some found wanting, some still true; where will these new paths take me to?

    purged: seventies music long collected/ internet unplugged: socially disconnected/ unsubscribed: abstract news unwanted/ blessings: held in check, doubts: granted/ absent: good soul friend eagerly esteemed – were narratives naieve, too easily dreamed?

    prayer: after decades, now silent, unspoken/ bible: shut tight, no longer cracked open/ hope: still humming but slightly subdued/ fellowship: stripped down to just a few/ ecccentric this pilgrim in a heartless land: how strong now his once hopeful hand?

    chase this ferry across the Irish sea/ prove persistent amazing grace to me/ i hesitantly cross the thin red line/ i no longer expect any special signs/ my dreamy head now close shaved / currently trying hard to be well behaved.

    this pilgrimage unwanted, not wished/ too long my Father not kissed/ celebration needed, cigar-smokey room/ burnt mahogany censes trad-jazz tunes/ strange hijera, rod and staff declined: recalibration required for heart and mind…
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    photo: Dora Kazmierak  https://www.instagram.com/dorakazmierak/

    ” …I can’t take it much longer.When you put us through the fire to purge us from our sin, our dearest idols go up in smoke. Are we also nothing but smoke?” – Psalm 39 excerpt

Mahalia, let it rip!

As a child, I was exposed to jazz and blues 78s and LPs. In the early 1970s, as a pagan teen, I heard my first Black Gospel hit, ‘O Happy Day’ by the Edwin Hawkins Singers. When I became a Christian, I was delighted to discover Black Gospel music. The gospel artist most popular in the late 70s was Andre Crouch. In my listening pilgrimage, I also discovered Mahalia Jackson, the queen of gospel music. Her passion and delivery still send shivers up my spine…

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hear that happy hand-clap beat
make me shout & stomp my feet;
black song hope, clap-sing tonight,
God’s jazz flame sets souls alight.

trouble-tinged voice, poignant pain;
you refused to sing the blues for gain;
Jesus, your shelter and solid rock;
you didn’t sit with them that mock.

poignant piano, trill organ backing,
emotionally apt, pathos packing;
encourage us on, never you chide,
swing low sweet chariot, let sinners ride.

energetic empathy spanks ugly grief,
you colour-in my black & white belief;
O Mahalia! let those grave stones roll,
start a righteous riot, stir up my soul!
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Mahalia Jackson (1911 – 1972) – one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. It was said that when Martin Luther King was stumbling over sermon notes during his monster meeting in Washington, Mahalia hollered her help: “Tell them Martin! Tell them you have a dream!!….”

How to make stubborn pianos sing true?

Pianos have played a mythic role in my family. My father in his 1940s youth played jazz and blues piano. My siblings and I were “encouraged” to take classical piano lessons. Of the three siblings, I alone am still semi-regularly playing, albeit still stuck on Grade 3 after forty years!

Piano

how I have poured out my heart to you!

how to make stubborn pianos talk true?

to be proficient, long i have yearned,

now I regret lessons poorly learned.

 

pianos played, passionate or poignant,

I play these days for personal enjoyment;

joy and sadness, both emotions you wring,

O holy timbre, felt hammers strike strings.

 

in vain my father forced me to play:

the upright Bechstein just wouldn’t obey;

sheet music illiterate, pater played by ear,

stiff hands now play,  jazz tunes endear.

 

I was a locked away loner in my sitting room,

Joni’s songs spoke hope to that teen’s gloom,

O complex compositions, lonesome lyrics too

  • how I envied ‘Spark’ and empathised with ‘Blue’.

 

on a second-hand, baby-grand, now I play,

slight and short my practice every other day:

sight reading guesses, tempo quite awry,

try as i may, wrong chords never lie…

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Joni Mitchells seminal 70’s LPs were ‘Court and Spark’ and ‘Blue’

 

 

Blackberries asterisk autumn’s hedges

as a child i grew up with blackberry hedges at the end of our suburban garden. as a father i often took out my two young boys to pick blackberries. i like the fact that they are free to pick but at least one of my boys put more in his stomach than in his empty ice cream box!

BLACKBERRIES

Chill-sharpened autumn, browning edges,

brambly blackberries asterik hedges;

I set out on bike, cycle toward fields

  • what bounty will wild berries yield?

 

Will i fill empty plastic tubs full?

Will there be thorns to pull

from foraging fingers after finish?

Will wild crop be soon diminished?

 

Fingers tattooed, dark purple stains,

taking care to not slip in deep drains

  • but why sly nettles grow so near

to the very berries that I endear?

 

Bird rustle well-hidden by leaves,

hallowed harvest from maker received;

hazel-nut husks crunch under tyres,

cold hands dream of warm log fires.

 

Mugs of tea, berry and apple pudding,

through window see grey clouds scudding,

stomach satiated, perhaps book to browse

in front of fire, possibly to drowse…

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image credit: Dianne Sutherland

diannesutherland.blogspot.ie

Thirty Married Years: a romance

This poem is in two parts; the first part was written when my wife and I were first engaged in 1984. The second part was written on our thirtieth wedding year, 2016. It pits early innocence against some life tensions.

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Just married (1985) hanging out washing in the rain, for joke photo.

THIRTY YEARS

1.

Skipping down a forest path,

she’s the one who makes me laugh,

swinging slow her arms & hips,

sowing longing in these lips;

she’s the one I love,

gifted from good God above.

Kissing in the darkness sweet,

outside this cupboard, voices, feet;

amorous arms embrace your back,

sunlight seeps through cracks;

I am speechless & in awe,

sweet her freckled face I saw.

Eating lunch above book shop;

laughing, kissing, couldn’t stop,

sweet figure-of-eight pressing me,

that old sofa sings, blessing me;

bride-to-be, soon my wife,

God will bless our married life.

————————————

2.

Thirty years since have passed,

some days shine, others overcast:

anger-slammed, old heavy doors,

mice scrabble under wooden floors;

“summer storms” test marriage mettle

hearts still hum, sentiments settle.

Now her hair turns gorgeous grey,

two grown lads have moved away;

a recalibration is now required,

new dreams need to be inspired;

how many years do each have left,

who the warp and who the weft?

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“Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out.” –  from 1 Corinthians 7

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Above two photos taken December 2016

by Dora Kazmierak  www.instagram.com/dorakazmierak/

Poignant song sung half secretly

I love watching women in groups, or in couple friendships, interacting so instinctively and (usually) in sympathy with each other. To be honest, I’m slightly jealous of that kinship. This poem was written observing a gaggle of female college students exit en masse for a lunch break.

POIGNANT SONG

Women gather, pulled together by delight,

succulent and sensual in sunshine bright:

O fruitful, fulsome, feminine reactions:

I savour them, satiated with satisfaction.

 

Watching womens’ eyes widely brighten,

hearing voice-pitch sweetly heighten;

I’m magnetised by such womanly charms:

cheek-kissing, all-encompassing arms.

 

Speechless, I’m utterly in awe of her,

this poem feebly attempts lauding her:

girlish, graceful and…oh so kissable!

Bright her lily-bloom, utterly unmissable!

 

I salute her hearty lack of hesitation,

emotions embraced: no explanation

required; open-hearted, bountiful blessing,

sweet perfume scented, smiles impressing.

 

This poignant song sung half-secretly,

sincere this serenade, broadcast discreetly;

romance-revived, Eve allure well-known:

easily lured but for covenant cornerstone…

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image: ‘I tried to draw my soul but all I could think of was flowers..’
Kate Powell https://society6.com/katepowell

then comes his damp black head

i never felt so useless as when “helping” my wife give birth to our three children. however, i am happy that i took in a lot of what was going on and was able to make a half-decent poem that tries to reflect that dynamic time for newly parents…

DAMPL BLACK

full speed the fan rattles,

pain pulls and pushes, battles;

your body contorting in spasms,

birth widens both gender chasms.

I’m segregated from your suffering,

my pathetic presence a useless buffering.

 

two teenage girls soak up sunshine

on rooftops, prams aren’t pined,

just pop tunes and handsome boys,

secret conversations both enjoyed,

wafting to upper windows where I wait,

almost spilling all my emotional freight.

 

my heart melts like wax; you thrash,

you grimace, exposed teeth gnash,

deeply you sink into a drugged depth

both of us separated by birth’s breadth;

 

your powerful grip cramps my hand,

this painful passage hard to understand.

you push on the pressure within,

i feel slightly sick – (where’s the bin?)

you scream, my spirit shreds –

then out comes his damp black head,

his tiny torso slithers out quick,

translucent cord then quickly clipped.

 

my eyes brim grateful with tears,

passed your pain, gone my fears;

now you inspect our baby serenely

he cries out plaintively, so keenly,

observing us, one sceptical open eye;

your milk soon will silence his first cries….

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photo: Guy Hemmings

Suburban railway romance

for a while i lived in Dalkey and had to get the train to work. i loved the masculinity of diesel trains: the engine growl, the smoke, the squeal of badly oiled axels…

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  • what was it in me that sang out,
    what repressed my joyful shout
    when oncoming train symphony heard?
    Axels squealed in accents slurred,
    carriage connectors ground tensely,
    platform packed ever more densely
    waiting for lumbering train to stop,
    eyes consult watches, station clock.

    scrambling shoes xylaphoned floors,
    curses uttered, randomly-locked doors,
    cold breath mingled with cigarette smoke,
    dark clouds theaten – but only joke,
    uniformed men blow whistles in pretence,
    false alarm at anxious commuters expense,
    finally green flag raised dramatically
    engine accelertion, carriages jerk erratically.

    under stubborn granite bridges we pass,
    scenery seen through smudged glass,
    diesel growl grumbles, exhaust exhaled cloud,
    railside greenery obediently bowed,
    awkwardly held open news broadsheets,
    carriages sway, bodies bump, shod feet
    get accidently stood on, apologies made,
    commuters by railway romance conveyed.

    _______________________________

    photo: Aubrey Dale

Death in the afternoon

I wrote this after I saw a video, recounting the horrific cruelty made against bulls: multi mini-spears inserted into their torso, fireworks attached to horns….and more.

 

I pity your plaintive bellowing

from dungeon-dark prison echoing,

your ton-weight electrocuted,

then sadistically slowly executed;

what absurd theatre

– cruelty the main feature,

drunken the crowd, harmless the creature.

 

O titanic toro! charging provacteur cape,

circular hell, you cannot escape;

horns shaved, co-ordination a-kilter

taunted, mocked by lance-tilters;

stigmata-stabbed, wearily-confused.

Noble tradition? Riseable ruse,

animal rights seasonally refused.

 

Fiesta trumpets jocularly mock,

sober people should take stock;

over-animated inebriates jeer

goading on your primal fear:

blood-gargled plaintive cry,

terrified eyes, mercy denied –

bull for Spanish sadists died….

 

Where your kind creator now –

back on farm with calf and cow?

Flagged blades battle your spine,

body-mass sacrifice-supine;

last gasp, silver cord snapped,

sword thrust: conquered, capped;

dead beast dragged, arena clapped.

 

Blood graffitti curdles on sand

mutely cries, justice must stand:

a dictator slyly smiles, dry-eyed;

indifferent Iberia, life denied

  • not in contrarian Catalan

bull-baiting under ban:

Prou!” states Bible and Quran….

TORO

Animal rights activists in Spanish Catalonia gathered signatures to force the regional parliament to debate a ban on bull-fighting. They campaigned under the platform “Prou!” – “Enough!” in the Catalan language.

Begone Melancholia (Albert Schweitzer)

My father always raved on about Schweitzer, so one day I decided to read up on him. Amazed at his care for creation, from monkeys and Pelicans, to say nothing of cats and dogs, even down to the minutae of humble ants. In his Congo hospital he kept a menagerie of animals.

Schweitzer was a well respected theologian, doctor and organist. Playing Bach on the piano was a salve for his depression.

PS. This poem was used as part of a Bach / Schweitzer special celebration in America a few years ago. https://nashvillearts.com/2009/10/words-of-albert-schweitzer-and-the-music-of-bach/

MELANCHOLIA

Begone, melancholia Begone, melancholia,

blessing beckons from Bach’s well-tempered world,

joyful odes recreated on a lead-lined piano.

His baroque progressions defiant,

heaven-grasping, hymnal harmonies;

mathematical joy, sacred chroma-chords

make almost-Olympian octave “leap”.

 

Did operatic parrot screech compete?

Did roguish pet monkeys press random keys,

or pick pocket as you played,

causing your overweight laugh?

 

Did Bach’s hope holistically heal

bewitched pagan hearts in Lambarene,

as your medical mind blessed broken bodies.

 

Far from cathedral concert audiences

reverentially listening to your recitals,

piano melodies sonically haloed

that rainforest Congo compound;

adulating applause from animal audience:

the lion not yet lying down with the lamb.*

 

Your piano playing passionate:

an oceanic sound-swell, baptising brains.

Your eternity-searching gaze

curtained by tousled, unkempt hair:

hard-won your cosmic uncertainties,

lauding an abstract, cosmic Creator.

 

*  “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” – Isaiah 11:6