Tag Archives: rain

Bittersweet: a sort of book review

At the tender age of 10, I wrote my first poem. It was a truly terrible one. It started off with these words, “I heard the coyotes howling one night. Howling to the moon so bright.” It went on to say something like the coyotes howled like this at the moon before any white men stepped foot in America, and I think it also said something about coyotes howling at the same star that the wise men followed. I am not sure how the star and the moon connect. Like I said, it was a terrible poem.

However, ten-year-olds can be excused for writing terrible poems. I remember I wrote it after waking up one night and hearing the coyotes howling. Hearing the eerie, lonesome sound, I lay there, moved by a longing I could not express. Why were they howling? What did they know that I didn’t know? Why did it move me so much? I needed to express what I felt and so I tried to write a poem about it. I think now what I wanted to say in the poem was that the coyotes knew of things that we didn’t, that they had howled long before I was born, and how it felt like they were steeped in some kind of ancient knowledge that I had no idea of.

As a child and also as an adult, I struggled with the way that beauty hurt. Why did a beautiful sunset dying over greening wheat fields pain me so much? How could a few words from a poem stir me with longing for something I never knew? Why did the stark beauty of November prairie grass framed by barren Osage orange trees haunt me with its images?

Ten years ago, when I was putting together my first book of poetry, Echoes of Eternity, Beulah Nisly kindly let me use her beautiful photos for the book. Beulah is my mom’s spontaneous yet thoughtful cousin, and a lover of beauty. Beulah loves to capture this beauty with her camera, and I first met her when we got together to discuss the photos for the book. After reading through my poetry, she suggested that I read C.S. Lewis’s “The Weight of Glory” and even printed it off for me to read.

I did and my heart leaped for joy when I read this:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. (C.S Lewis, the Weight of Glory)

That, I thought, “the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited”, that was why it hurts so much. It hurts because I can’t get enough of it. I can’t hang on to it. It is only the echo, the scent, the news that reminds me of that “something else” that waits for me.

That is why a road curving into the distance beckons my heart, why the moon rising on an October night over cornfields hurts me, why being alone on a misty mountaintop makes me cry, why rain falling on a gray day brings gives me a deep, delicious sadness, why the sound of the freight train mourning through the night makes me shiver with sadness and joy at the same time, why the words, “The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms,” resonates deep within me, why I listen to sad songs like Fernando Ortego’s “Now That You’re Gone,” or lonesome Chinese flute music or Gregorian chants of the Psalms or ancient Jewish songs. It reminds me of a place that I am going to, somewhere that I have not visited and yet somehow I carry the memory of that place imprinted on my soul.

Because of this, I was eager to read Bittersweet by Susan Cain after waiting for the book for months. Cain put even more words and clarity to what C.S Lewis began to explain for me. She talks about melancholy, longing or the “bittersweet,” how it calls to us, and how the desire it stirs up in us is a desire for the divine, even though she insists she is agnostic. She talks of embracing pain and an imperfect world, in order to find healing. She also discusses how sadness or pain triggers compassion and empathy for others, and how closeness to death makes us realize what truly important.

Cain writes, “We think we long for eternal life, but maybe what we’re really longing for is perfect and unconditional love; a world in which lions actually do lay down with lambs; a world free of famines and floods, concentration camps and Gulag archipelagos; a world in which we grow up to love others in the same helplessly exuberant way we once loved our parents; a world in which we’re forever adored like a precious baby…” This was in response to RAADfest, an event focused on anti-aging, radical life extension and physical mortality in which people who are determined not to die gather together for a seminar on advice on how not to do so, or that is the vibe I got from what Cain said. These people believe that if death were eradicated, then the inner selfish desires that drive us to survival would fade away as well, and humanity could be united. Cain writes, “And I believe exactly the opposite: that sorrow, longing, and maybe even mortality itself are a unifying force, a pathway to love; and that our greatest and most difficult task is learning how to walk it.” Cain argues that the fullest life is experienced when we embrace both pain and joy, death and life at the same time.

Cain also talks how we sometimes carry the pain of the generations past and how studies show pain from our ancestors can affect the way we are wired. I have often wondered about this, if some of the heaviness I feel at times is my own or from others. She talks about her own loss, how her relationship with her mother disintegrated as a teenager, and talks about dealing with loss and grief.

There is more, much more, to the book and I recommend it. I wanted to read it slowly and savor it, but I had it on a 2 week loan from Libby at a time when work and study and life clashed, and I had to read it in gulps. I don’t agree with everything Cain says, but it helped me become more aware of myself and that longing, and realize that much of my own poetry, especially anything printed in the “Heartsong” section of my book Dustbeams comes from that innate longing, that melancholy bittersweetness that Cain talks about.  And perhaps why I even write poetry in the first place.

“All the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor…” of that that source of the longing that we feel (C.S Lewis, the Weight of Glory), the glory that Cain simply called the divine, and I call God. The writers of the Psalms felt it too in their laments of pain and songs of joy, and John when he penned the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

William Herbert Carruth wrote a poem called “Each in His Own Tongue”, which I discovered years ago and memorized a part. Some of the verses may be a bit controversial, but here are the ones I consider the best, and that rightly say what I am trying to say.

A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high;
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the goldenrod —
Some of us call it Autumn,
And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent sea beach,
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come welling and surging in;
Come from the mystic ocean,
Whose rim no foot has trod —
Some of us call it Longing,
And others call it God.

I think that the Preacher says it best of all,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Spilled

The moon tipped over in the clouds tonight

Tipped over in the sky, in the cloud-tossed sky

It spilled down to earth, through the deep-scented dark

In the black-broken hours of the rain-drenched day.

It spilled light on the road-ribbon and light in the field

It spilled light on the tassles of the brown-headed corn

It spilled light on the river as it wound through the valley,

And I caught some, I caught some, moonlight as it spilled.

But even as I caught it, it slipped through my fingers

And glimmered to the ground, light-liquid, pulsing

For only a heartbeat; then it slipped through the ground-cracks,

Slipped down from the sky to the heart of the world.

My hands glimmered strangely all evening long

But my heart ached an ache that could not be told

The ache of a lost love, the ache of a lost dream

The ache of a lost soul gliding through the sky

Mae Sariang (#1 Vignettes of a Journey)

Dawn

The sun rises, one fiery eye

From behind the drought-scarred mountains

Wreathed with smoke

Noon

The heat whispers in the cornfields

Burning its secrets in the ground

Writhing around the withered stalks

Afternoon

The dry wind catches the fallen leaves

Pushes its heat into a dust devil and

Twirls the leaves to the tops of the trees

Twilight

Fire licks in V’s in the ridges, up and down

Fire rings the valley about

Fire on the mountains

Midnight

The Tukay laughs and calls on the porch

A confused rooster crows

And the cat sprawls on the cool tiles

Although all photos are mine, and were taken in the Mae Sariang disctrict, several of the ones with fire, as well as the Tukay were taken last year, some up at Saohin.

The next series of posts will be vignettes of a journey as I travel from Thailand to the States, Lord Willing and I don’t catch Covid, on Sunday evening. This includes a 6 hour layover in Switzerland, a day and a half in NYC, 3 days in Lancaster, PA at the Reach conference, and then home to Kansas for several weeks, and then flying back to Thailand in late April, with a 12 hour layover in Germany. If anyone comes to Reach, be sure to stop by the INVEST booth, which will be right beside IGo and MTM’s booth. I am holding all these travels in an open hand and trusting God (or trying to, I should say) to orchestrate this all ( and keep me from catching Covid before travel, since many of my acquaintances have had it recently).

These Days

These days are bright with heat, the humid, sultry weight of unreleased rain weighing down on us each morning. In the afternoon, clouds pile up high above the mountain, with the occasional growl of thunder punctuating the brooding heat. These days the skies are mostly clear of the insidious smog that covered our lives and souls in March, and in the evening, after the dusk rolls in, the skies release their rain. Each night we go to bed with the drumbeat of hope beating on our roofs—and in our hearts.

And why should we hope? Why should we dare to give life to this wild thing beating in our hearts, that gives way to the ridiculous, the kind of dreaming that leads to walking on water? Do not we know that walking on the water is unacceptable for bipeds of our kind?

But while hope seems to contradict every circumstance we face, it is conditioned in us. The very threads of our being are made up of hope. When we breathe, each breath that we inhale and each breath that we exhale are breaths of hope. Why else would we do something that borders insanity, this continuing to live and breathe in a broken world, except our bodies hoped? Why else do we continue to flip the light switch even after we realize the light is no longer working? Why else would we scan the skies with furrowed brows, unless our lives were not conditioned to hope?

When that hope is gone, life fades.

Hope is not optimism. Hope is not positive thinking. It is something stronger and frailer, more powerful and more delicate than we could ever imagine. It is rooted, planted into our hearts at birth, but without nurture it is like the succulent that my friend gave me–withered and dead, because I forgot to water it.

I faced days, dark days years ago, when I lived one day at a time, one hour at a time, on feet that dragged heavy. In the evening I would lay my head down and cry until I was exhausted–without knowing why. Now, I can look back and see some reasons for the darkness, but at the time I was only confused and tired, looking at the next day and dreading the thought of facing it. Hope was something I could only dimly make out, and I clung to the remaining threads I had. Friends walked with me. I scoured my Bible. I journaled. I talked with my dad. I held on tight to words that brought light.

And the light returned slowly. There were some physical changes, some emotional changes, some spiritual changes. We are people that are knit together tightly and our physical can affect our spiritual and our spiritual can affect our emotional and all the other ways around. Somehow that hope that flickered began burning brighter and brighter.

Hope hurts. It’s such a ridiculous thing. There have been so many times that I’ve seen my hope knocked to the ground, bruised and bleeding. I usually look at it and say, see I told you!

But I’ve met some people who keep on hoping against reality, who live with unfulfilled dreams, who hope for more despite the pain; those people are some of the most beautiful people I know. They live life with a deep, quiet rest, a trust that speaks of something more inside even while pain is mirrored in their eyes. They have hearts that have been ripped wide open, and perhaps never sewn fully shut. But they are strong and quiet and wise.

And I want to be like that.

These days the sun is bright and the heat is oppressive, but hope comes to us at night when the rain chatters on the roof and the wind gathers up fistfuls of the scent of green. We sleep the sleep of those who remember the days of darkness and rest in the new life that each droplet brings, knowing that the Maker of the seasons is also the Maker of hope.

Hope

come

 

                                                                                      down

 

wash

                                                                                                                             away

 

             thirsty                                  dirty

 

                                           dry                                                                  gray

 

              leave                                               green

                                                                                                                                                hope

gleaming

                                           while                                                              each                                                 drop

 

              sprinkles                                                        drips

                                                                                                                                 washes           splashes

 

                                                                        lift

 

                                parched                                                        hearts

heavenward                                   dreaming

               hoping

                                                                                                                                                              dancing

                                                                         hope         spills              on

       cracked lips

drink   in             liquid joy

                                                                                             scent of                                            hope

comes                singing          on                              the                       night breeze

           while           hearts             soak       in          streams        of

                                                                                anointing       life is     hope      and      rain gently       sighs in   every inch                    of my            cracked heart and           every breath    is    joy and           every step of          this       dance       in        the              rain      is a grateful thirsty heart’s praise and tears  mingle in  this rain and I can believe againinhopeandYouaremyhopemyhopeisinYouandYouaretheMakeroftherainandhope

 

photo credit: pixabay.com

I Think I Shall Still Remember

When I am old and gray-haired and stooped

I think I shall still remember

How we sat on the balcony tonight

Beneath a cloud-shrouded moon

In an ocean of sky;

How our spirits sang and swooped and soared

In awe,

And how the lights glimmered on the mountain

As it listened to our song

As all mountains do.

 

Yes, I will remember how the rain, light-footed

Came dancing down, teasing us

While the wind played in our hair, sweeping

To the tune of the songs we sang.

And the raindrops rested on our glasses

Forming little half-moons in the glimmer of light

Fairy lights,

While in the distance the mountain slept

Yet in its sleep still listened to our song

As all mountains do.

 

And there was laughter and there were tears

Spun together in harmony of song

And our prayers floated up like dandelion dust

Caught in the night wind; driven by worship;

Our hearts soared to heaven and our spirits blazed

With fire,

While the mountain sighed in its sleep

And listened to us dream of heaven

As all mountains do.

Dusk: Doi Sutthep

Below is a poem set to the same style as Sara Teasdale’s  Sunset: St. Louis  

 

Hushed in the still gray fog of July rains

When humanity teems below in wild chatter

How many times have I seen my eastern mountain

Dream by her city.

 

High and still, shrouded in fathomless mist

That feints and flickers in a fickle ballet

Beneath muted sky she stands silent and strong

In lengthening shadows.

 

And when the light from the western sun breaks through

In soldered bars of gold and bronzed creation

Striking the clouds, my mountain still stands shining

In green and gold glory.

 

But I love my mountain most in rainy haze

When the gray rains come furtive and silent at dusk

And the lights blink on, gleaming through mist as my mountain strong

Dreams by her city.

-July 2017