Still Learning

They didn’t teach me
How best to express an ache
For people I don’t know,
Or how to help heal a wound
That never closes.

They didn’t teach me
Five steps to fix an evil next door
And a continent away.

But they did teach me how to love
They taught me to stand up
They taught me to be compassionate
Even when I’m afraid.
They taught me grace, grace, grace.

They taught me that no one is perfect
They taught me to listen, carefully.
They taught me “I’m sorry”
And they taught me apologies paired with action.

They taught me to paint with all the colors
Because no one ever made art
Just staring at white paper.

They taught me “all men are created equal”
And Jesus loves me, so He must love you
Just as much.

They taught me so many things

But here I am, still learning.

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Time Signature for a Fool

I stand ankle deep,
Clutching dirty rags in lonely fists,
Attempting to soothe my soul with bitterness.

Until you pull me further in:
You begin waltzing me through the dark waves.

You lead me back and forth,
Disregarding the rhythm I expected.

You move me.

And we dance,
Until every step glows in the midnight ocean.

 

 

Never Forget

It’s a sunny and perfect day again,
But this afternoon the airplanes
Remain on their straight paths across the sky.

I see a building with two colors of stone,
And a chronological sea of benches.

I thought never was a long time,
But then fifteen years
Still feels like yesterday.

 

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Bookmarks

Currently: A paint chip, “English Channel”,
From when we considered painting the living room
Some version of navy blue.

Previously: A gum wrapper;
An envelope with a Polish return address;
A strip of mint green ribbon;
A ticket I didn’t buy, for a Corinne Bailey Rae concert
Which I never attended.
Once, a hair tie.
Often, ripped corners of old coupons and junk mail.

I have a collection
Of real ones, neat and rectangular,
Complete with tassels and everything.
But rarely do they have the initiative
To be there when I need them,
So instead I fill the pages with bits of life
Snagged from side tables and pockets,
Colorful, folded, and sometimes torn,
But always ready to remind me of where I am.

Driving After Midnight

I don’t remember the very first time
I loved driving at night,
But I recall an early July evening,
When a phone call at 1am snapped me
Out of self-pity and
Took me and my car keys out the door
In search of a gas station for supplies
To help a friend stranded on I-495.
And as I drove there, on the bend
Just before the state line,
I saw what they meant by open road,
And I felt relieved of a worry
I’d refused to consider.

Lately I’m more inclined
To driving highways at night
Without even a plan or destination,
Chasing green signs and red tail lights,
Music playing loud.
Except I don’t sing. I sit and
I think,
And I move faster than usual.
I sit quiet and straight
While the vivacity of the world
Pours through the windows,
Tugging my hair and taking my breath,
And the only choice
Is whether I’ll return home,
Or keep driving–
In the dark but
Between the lines going on forever.

A Fortunate Poverty

This is not the grace I was looking for,
This nibbly bit of blessing,
Dragging me through one more day,
But just barely —
Like the painful frustration
Of brushing out every tangled curl
And split-ended knot,
Only to face the same task the next morning.

I’d prefer a measure of Dying Grace,
The kind packaged with enough Courage and Faith
To carry me through many moons
And unto some glorious ending.
Instead here I am
With my plain, everyday ration
Whose meager portion obliges me always
To return for more each morning.

 

Knowing Doesn’t Always Translate

You know you’re safe, right?
It’s just the fear,
Just the fear telling you what to do:
A recoiling from the appearance of danger,
Forgetting the reality of harnesses and ropes.

So I tell myself I’m not afraid;
I tell everyone else as well.
I pretend to be daring and courageous–
Exercising my cunning skills
In lying to myself
And presenting a brave front.

I hope no one sees my hands shake,
Or the way I feel my feet
Almost slipping.
My stomach is a thousand tangles.

You know you’re safe, right?
You can come down if you want,
But you’re letting Fear decide.
Is that what you want?

So I climb higher and higher
With sweaty palms and shivering knees
Until I reach the top.
I hear cheering which I’d rather pretend
I didn’t need,
As if I’d conquered something.

And with feet to the edge
I hope no one will hear my breath leave
When I jump.
Can they see how white my knuckles are?

Count to three then jump.
You know you’re safe, right?

One, two, three…

That Thing Which Keeps Me In

Hope, so they say,
Is a thing with feathers
Which springs eternal:
The sustenance of faith.

For me, what is left:
Defaulting to hope
As a seasonal activity
Intermingled with rainy clouds
And bursts of sunshine,
Here again, back again.

Tattered and frayed,
This year finds me
A little worse for wear.
Yet still I cling
To tendrils of hope:
Searching for beauty
In unexpected places;
Taking wobbling steps
With strong certainty;
Weathering the days given me
With quiet joy
And sure expectation.

In Reference to the Pothole on 1st Street

I drive over the same pothole in the road
Every time I come home.
Today I notice it
Like it’s something special,
Like that bump I feel
Is suddenly worth noticing.
I suppose it could be a metaphor
If that’s what I really wanted.
The way it appeared in the wake of a snowplow
Over a year ago
And is always patched yet always widening
And how I drive over it
Over, and over, and over.
I know my car can make it
But still I worry.
One day my tires will burst
Or something else will break.
Who knows.

So maybe my life is summed up
In driving over the same patched potholes
Over, and over, and over,
Praying I hold together
Just one more time.
And maybe you could draw
Significant Spiritual Conclusions from this
If you really wanted.
Something about Total Depravity
And/or Man’s Need For Grace.
Maybe you don’t even need to go that far
To realize that I’m human
And therefore a Natural Born Idiot
Who bets her car
On the potholes
Because she doesn’t want to change lanes
Right before turning onto her street.

 

 

Pieces and Promises

I’m terrible with resolutions. I’m always making commitments to go running more often, and then I don’t go running all winter, because it’s too cold, it gets dark too early, there are other things to do. I enjoy running, but only when it’s convenient and I happen to be in the mood for it, which means I rarely go running. I have multiple excuses to shield my conscience from my lack of activity, but therein lies the problem: I’m good at sliding out of promises to myself, no matter what they are. When I really need things to happen, I tell someone.

I made a commitment to write more often. Not that anyone really knew that. I didn’t spell it out or sign any documents. But it’s important. So I guess this is my way of telling someone. The problem is I have things I know I’m supposed to write,  but I only ever want to write what is so pressing and obnoxious that the only way to deal with it is to put it into words. So you see I don’t want to work on those poems I know I should be writing right now.

The other day a friend asked what the highlights of my life were. Those kinds of questions are so hard to answer. I always want to say something deep and meaningful, want to talk about something that changed my life, and then all that comes to mind are these small moments that aren’t even what I’d call “highlights” in the traditional sense of the word. Just random, regular memories, I suppose.

I remember my junior year of high school I played keyboards with the youth group worship team, and I got to know the drummer, Alex. And by “got to know”, I mean “had a crush on.” I don’t recall the occasion, but at some point he was driving his Ford Escape and I was riding in the backseat with another friend. I think we’d just gone to 7-Eleven to buy Arizona Tea and Slurpees. We were on a back road of sorts, and it was straight and flat and there was no one else around, and Alex started accelerating faster and faster and we were flying, and I remember feeling a little tense rush of uncertainty about going that fast, but the next second deciding to enjoy the moment: I clutched my can of Arnold Palmer and laughed into the wind rushing through the car windows.

I remember student teaching and having Prof. Vanden Bosch come observe me. I was teaching a lesson on gerunds that day. In my list of examples I’d accidentally included a participle, which looks exactly the same as a gerund except that it’s used as an adjective instead of as a noun. I caught myself, but only once it was too late. I sat down after class with Vanden Bosch, who gave me beautifully encouraging feedback, but couldn’t resist chuckling and noting the error. “I was wondering if you’d catch that, Ms. DiMaria,” he said with a smile as I turned pink and acknowledged my mistake. I teach gerunds and participles all the time now. I also think Gerund could make a fine name for a baby boy. My students disagree, and my friends think it would be mean. Personally, I think it’s preferable to Participle.

I remember singing in Cambodia, sitting on the floor of an empty tiled room, afraid to lean against the wall because of the bugs and lizards crawling all over it. We all sat in a circle in the dark; we couldn’t find the lights, and anyway they would just attract more bugs. The moon and thousands of stars glittering in the black sky cast a pale outline on those sitting closest to the open doorway in the corner. We tried to talk about the day, but everyone was tired and the floor was hard and it was humid and sticky. Instead we sang the Doxology. It was one of the most beautiful things I think I’ve ever heard. The hard tile of the room echoed and reverberated our melodies and harmonies. Our nine voices became a full choir and I forgot for a moment that I was in the middle of nowhere in a third world country, because for thirty seconds I was sitting in the greatest cathedral, singing to a God who occupied our dirty little tiled room with us, and who surely must have been pleased by this music his children sang to him. Praise, praise God, from whom all blessing flow. Praise him, all creatures here below. Praise him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.