For Jonathan Baldini (And For Las Vegas)

Sunday, it’s gorgeous,
Though I’m the last that should speak for us.
A qualified poet must be bleeding at least,
Not savoring this glory, this revel, this feast.
The air’s shot with gold, the grass is white-kissed,
A drinkable sky, tapped pink and bisque.
It’s gorgeous, though,
Gorgeous, you know.
Problem is, the gold drops fast,
Can’t find the words to make it last.
Sisters weep, brothers fly
To the other side of that drinkable sky.
Mama wants his skin, oh, so much;
He’s never not here, she just can’t touch.
Daddy doesn’t cry; he wails inside,
‘We’re still six, though we look like five.’
But the baby’s so soft, so full in my arms,
She smells like life wrapped around my heart.
And the sky explodes yellow, red, magenta, blue.
A royal way, a Prince’s avenue.
It’s gorgeous though,
Gorgeous, you know.
Then the world goes silent; Evil shows his face.
I’ll shield you with my body and outpoured grace.
It’s beautiful, that grace, that flesh for flesh,
Monday’s sky is gray, but this flesh is blessed.
Sky wasn’t made to stay that way,
It will gold and it will part and we will touch one day.

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A Girl In An Emerald Dress

I think there’s this joy,
In spite of everything.
The joy of a girl in an
Emerald dress spinning
Out her skirt to jazz
Brass on an overlook,
Chattanooga lighting the
Night sky just for her moment.
The joy of a dark-haired girl whose merlot
Lipstick matches both her dress
And her crush on a boy
With sandy bristled hair
Freshly cut. And this is two thousand
And seventeen.
The joy of plaid ties and girls with
Bare backs. No wonder the masters
Loved to paint flesh. It is, of all substances,
Piercing and exquisite.
The joy of string lights hovering low
Under the benediction of a purple-black
Vault.
The joy of standing barefoot in the
Cool hillside grass
Watching the children hug their
Cousins, their connections to this rocky top
Wide and formative.
The joy of a boy who laces his suede
Bucks, and ducks out of the office
For twenty minutes under the stars.
He’ll get a reprimand, but it will be
Worth it. The stars are their own payment.
The joy of re-union, of time-spliced
Conversations with people we knew at
Twenty and are now Fifty.
I talk to, I see,
both Twenty and Fifty
At the same time.
And it’s hard not to stare at our
Exquisite flesh, growing waxy and
Taut over bone.
Where is the joy in this diminishing?
Only in the miracle, the life-after-death
Resurrection, the refleshing of our bones,
The thrilling rush of life where death was
Certain, the wooing belovedness of
Being quickened,
The rocky top truth that we will
Dance in emerald dresses to jazz
Brass with arms spread wide like
Glory over the lights of
Another Chattanooga.


PC:  Davy Granberry

 

Floods And Scars

How hard it is to watch others suffer.  Of the many recent images, one stays with me. A man – elderly, sparse hair – is being helped through Harvey’s brown flood to a waiting flatboat. Bad enough at that. But he is shirtless. And his chest has the long, livid, vertical scar of recent open heart surgery.

And I think, Wow, Lord. This man? This scarred, scared man?

I keep my theology straight and remember where floods and scars originated – two people in a garden rejecting the greatest offered Love, Love that kept offering through His own scarred back and hands and feet. He knows scars. He loves rejectors.

But why are the most vulnerable ones, the poor, the already scarred, taken through the water while I sip my coffee in the broad daylight?

A whisper: ‘I am doing something.’

In them. In me. My guilt is wasted time. He is doing something, and He will strengthen those in the water to cling to Him and those on dry land to send out rescue boats of every shape and size.  The other comforts are still true, too:  Good will come out of this, good we cannot see. We need waking up. We are on our knees and not drunk on pleasure. This will bring healing; it is the saline flush of a filthy wound.  My close friends Charlie and Leslie, in the water right now, proclaim this truth with tears and praise songs.

Lord, Lord! Keep us soft.

Walk Beside Me

The rhetoric of
Outrage
Burns itself out
In meme wars,
And cancels the
Righteousness on all sides.
Then the aching soul is left
With a clearer view,
That there are indeed
Two sides.
Sheep and Goat sides.
The only left and right
Are His left and His right,
The everlasting day of His presence
Or outer darkness.
And I, I simply
Marvel that He would welcome
Me and the one who walks beside me,
My brother, my sister, my friend in the skin,
Into the Day.

 

Mom’s Guide To Raising Sons: The Motorcycle Chapter

He’s 19 and he bought a Ducati.

A few of my friends, fellow mothers, tilt their heads and eyeball me and ask, “So how are you with that?” They seem to really want to know.

I have heard the many nicknames for motorcycles, including “Donor Sled,” a term coined by ER docs.  I’ve also been dragged to motorcycle shops by the enthusiasts in my family and (true story) had the proprietor crutch out with his leg in a cast and his arm not only in a cast but propped up on a 45-degree-angle, hip-to-elbow pole contraption. He proudly told us he had broken his femur in thirteen places and then turned to the happy and obvious task of selling us a bike. I was the only one in the showroom feeling the irony. So I left and went to an antique store with my mother in law.  No one’s ever been killed by a milk glass compote dish.

But.

Any thoughtful mother of a boy knows that nine-tenths of her job is backing up and praying. The other tenth is table manners.

So, when he tells you he’s buying a motorcycle, and you flash over the hospital horror stories and maimings and utter road pizzas you have read about, you have to make your lips say something you really don’t mean: “Son, that’s great! Ducatis are awesome.”

And then you quietly walk to the garage and you lay your hand on that bike, and you pray.  I prayed that angels would anoint the Duke with their permanent presence and blessing, that it would be an ever-visible bike, and its driver would be as savvy and prepared as a Boy Scout. That it would never leave our garage without a host, an angelic army, before and behind. And after praying, I rest in the knowledge that my prayers don’t evaporate, but are an effective conversation with the God of this universe. He hears and remembers.

My own ears have become fine-tuned instruments, cupped for the sound of the bike on its way home after a day at the work site or the twilight exhilaration of the cool pockets and mosquito slaps of a summer road. I can be sewing, cooking, studying, hostessing, or attempting sleep, and my ears are independently turning like an antenna seeking a satellite.  And although I am oblivious to the sounds of the car I drive throwing a rod, or jake breaks on the interstate ratcheting down, I can hear the cycle from a good half mile, turning off 31 on to Woodland Street, and then every neuron I possess goes soggy as a zinnia stem the morning after the dinner party.

Are there positives to the son purchasing a powerful, unprotective rocket? He is a man striding in with the freedom of a man. That’s the whole point of my neuron exhaustion, anyway, plus it makes me really happy. Surely some fine motor skills are being developed like balance and dexterity and coordination and intuitive bike IQ. Maybe some mechanical-tinkering know-how. You know, those guys.  Physics, algebra, principles of internal combustion? Or maybe none of that, but a whole lot of joy. Either way, I will look like that zinnia.

I age a little bit every time the popping, chesty rumble ignites in the garage. And I just pray for stamina to make it until someday when he is married and his wife is expecting their first child and the Duke has to be sold for diaper money.

That’s how I’m doing with it.

Moments At An Alabama Wedding

*** Warning:  This is sappy; I can’t help it; sappy is occasionally necessary.

A – Alabama. Yes, just Alabama. I love everything about this place on God’s earth. The slant of evening sunset tucking under the beams of the Festhalle, mimosa misting all the green with its garnet brushes, the solemn vesper hush of the ceremony, magnolias on the long banquet tables, Billy Atchison greeting our out-of-town guests with a heart-felt desire that they all feel welcome, Round 2 playing Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man, the evening feel of cool sweat and a party dress. When I walk home, this is where my feet go.

B – Beth Ann’s Box. My friend Beth Ann sent a box that would serve as assistant to Adrienne and to me since Beth Ann herself could not be here. It contained bobby pins, safety pins, tissue packs, bandaids, sewing kit, a kit “to occupy that difficult relative with a decorate-the-mason-jar task”, gum, chapstick, tea, little notes of encouragement, and a letter that contained the lyrics to Sunrise, Sunset which undid me.

C – Cocktail napkins. We ran out of water bottles, but by golly we had cocktail napkins. 1000 dove gray cocktail napkins. We’ll be chipping away at those for some time to come.

D – Dinner Plates. We were glad we bought 9-inch ones instead of 10. I think we eked out 30 more plates of food. Win!

E – Estrogen. Our house was bridesmaid-central and estrogen soaked . Every maid needed loving on through cramps, hunger, sore feet, pink eye, torn dress, nerves, bouquet making, chalkboard painting, singing, laughing, dress steaming, brow plucking, nail painting, cross-cultural experiences, accessorizing, dancing, crashing, and sleeping. They brought so much joy to the house.

F – Friends!!! I could not have done this without my friends. Jessi, Nancy, Denise, and Janice, take a bow!

G – Grandmothers. The best toasts of the rehearsal dinner came from the four grandmothers. Love, humor, wisdom, scripture, their words showed the heritage of faith and deep rich soil this couple came from and now carries.

H – Happy Groom. His face as he said his vows was one of those primary life moments I had to both look at and look away from in respect.

I – Invitations. Thinking we were cleverly saving money, we had the RSVP information printed on the back of the invitation. No one looks at the back of an invitation. Which meant we were flying on a wing and a prayer when we gave the reception caterer the number of plates we needed. Lesson: Spring for the cost of the separate RSVP card. 🙂

J – Jet Lag. Four days after the wedding I am suffering from jet lag and postpartum (not exactly) depression (but definitely a re-living of all of mothering this child in one big flood). “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2.

K – Kittens. The best parlor trick ever. We have two, and at the after-party, they were the hit. From groomsmen to toddlers to patriarchs to dear sisters to college roommates, we never knew who would stroll through with a kitten in the crook of the arm. The kittens were the common denominator that held the party together. Update: One kitten has gone walkabout. Will is trying to forgive us for being ironclad outdoor pet people.

L – Laughter.  My siblings and I gathered at my dad’s gravesite on Father’s Day, the day after the wedding, and placed Eliza’s maid-of-honor bouquet on his grave.  And we laughed together. As my sister-in-law said, when the grave holds no fear, there is joy in being together.

M – Mom. She put her hand on my back while Adrienne walked down the aisle and I cried.

N – Nieces and Nephews. These awesome people, young and younger, fill all the gaps. Calling it the wedding in cullmanalabama, they danced with skirt-swirling abandon and visions of sugar plums; they brought their smiles, hugs, and eagerness (Evelyn!); they ran impossible errands like the nephew who forever claimed my heart by bravely entering the seething world of the bridesmaids’ room to unearth a particular purse needed desperately and to present it within two minutes. That, my friends, is impressive. #michaelduboseismyhero

O – Odds and Ends. Cake knife, candle lighter, airport run, cups, ice, thank yous, half and half. These things kept me up at night and these were the very things God provided in the sweetest of ways and with His palpable smile.

P – Parenting That Never Ends. Our newly-married daughter dashed with her man through rows of sparklers and cheering family to the car chauffeured by her brother that would whisk them off to this new thing called husband and wife. Adults, they were. As she got into the back of the car Andrew and I simultaneously leaned forward because the train of her gown was about to get caught in the door: here, let me help, I’ll just go with you and hold it, OK??

Q – Quiet Moment. After the reception dancing and the cleanup, I limped home barefoot, sweaty, still in the party dress. Knowing I probably shouldn’t, I walked down to her bedroom and saw her dress flung across the bed and her gray suede sandals tipped over in a hasty, hand-holding run toward the honeymoon. I realized that this thing really happened. And it will be good – it already is, judging by the new family I inherit by virtue of her vows – but, like taking them to kindergarten or summer camp, it does take getting used to.

R – Red Pick-Up Truck. A serendipitous addition to the reception decor, the bed of Rachael and Kent’s 1971 Ford became our drink station. Alabama married New York, after all.

S – Social Media. On social media today, I see the word ‘wife’ and I see a different last name, like a whole different person, which in a way I guess it is. Once again, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, what exactly has happened here? Life is a big deal. Marrying off a daughter is as heart-squeezing as having her in the first place.

T – Trains. Small town life at its finest is the moment when the train roars through and everyone celebrating in the Festhalle alongside the old depot cheers the conductor on his northbound way. (Maybe it’s all computers now, but I like to think a conductor was waving back.)

U – Ushers and Groomsmen. The backbone of the wedding, these young men set up and took down and in between they were gentlemen. Yes, I do too know them, and I still say gentlemen.

V – Vases of Flowers. Oh, the flowers. I never knew. Curly willow, larkspur, orchids, seeded eucalyptus, the names themselves begin the enchanting thing that flowers do. Kim and Kelly guided the whole flower endeavor and taught us all how to let the flowers tell us where they need to go. I am a believer.

W – Water. Well, we ran out. Lesson: For outdoor receptions, however much water you think you need, triple it. And then throw in two more cases for good measure. Thank you, Jay, for a mid-reception Walmart run.

X – Xavier.  High school the groom and his brother graduated from. I needed an X. They captioned their picture: “On the bus going to Jonathan’s graduation.” The ceremony took place in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue in NYC.  Much as I love cullmanalabama, I have to admit, that reaches a level of cool we just don’t have. A bus to graduation?!? A bus, period?!?

Y – Yonder.  Where everyone came from, where the bride and groom went on honeymoon, where they might live, where I need to return borrowed cake plates, coolers, candles, and cloths.

Z – BelZes, BelZes everywhere. In desperation I Googled ‘Max Belz Family Tree.’ While there was much mention of him, I was on my own in terms of filling in all the branches and leaves and sprouting sprouts of this flourishing tree. I am reading Jean Belz’s Tell Someone Your Story and am finding in her a friend and kindred spirit in every essay. So it was meaningful to me to meet so many of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and if my mental tree-chart is accurate, perhaps even a great-great or two.

To God be the glory!

~

What Kind Of God Do You Have?

What kind of God do you have?

I have one who cares when I lament over
The burdens my friends bear,
And who shows me that
He is also big enough to hear my little prayer
That I find a figurine – a wedding cake topper –
In an antique store of
3 floors and 57,000 square feet.

How many millions of pieces are there
In a market that big?

And He not only says yes, but He
Leads me, as we talk about it all –
Friends and figurines –
To the third floor, to the
Locked cases, at the back end of the
Second hour scanning shelves,
To the
Very
Ceramic bride and groom that I
Had not bought in a thrift store in Michigan
Three days ago.
I don’t know why I didn’t buy those
Two dancing, happy people then,
But I see now that

These same two were waiting for me here,
Deep among the artifacts in
57,000 square feet of Alabama
Called Highway Pickers,
So He could show
Me that He hears me when I say His name,
That He enjoys my little ideas,
And that while I can marvel at
Fresh expressions of His love,
I shouldn’t be surprised at His character.
It’s just who He is.

That’s the kind of God I have.