Carter Hall: A Standing Stone For My Children

~Tonight Andrew cues up an
80s Smash Hits! playlist on a
Sherwood S-7100 receiver found
In the warrens of a junk store.

He plays the first evocative
Bars of every song,
Just the first, a medley of
One after another.

They take me back to 19.
To Carter Hall. ~

Josie vacations far away in a
Raspberry beret. Under pressure, she
Goes ahead and jumps. A happy jump, a
Go-for-it jump, because she
Builds a city on her music,
And blesses the rains in Africa.

I smell Carter Hall, to its bones, and
Feel the power and uncertainty of 19.
I assume in the unspoken places
That everyone else belongs here and is
Tearing college up. They are the real
Students. And I am flying
Just under
The threshold of adequate.
My professors must see me
Clearly,  “She’ll make a good wife.
Won’t write a book or cure cancer.”

I probably will make a good wife
Because I have a happy mother. But
Anthem songs talk about taking someone’s
Breath away. Life is a little too
Flesh and blood, too long-term for that.
Besides, it’s hard to be
Breathtaking in L.L. Bean Gum boots.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
Unique to this place
Break through all that and turn me around.

An Ed Kellogg painting hangs in the chapel lobby –
A cow (all of life redeemed, Amen). We joke
About the redeemed cow, but it is powerful,
And we are beginning to understand
“Far as the curse is found,”
And Ed’s greens are so real my teeth
Hurt when I look at them.

May Term and it’s cold and warm and
Campus is deserted and we have class on
The boulders outside The New AB Building that
My children will someday call Sanderson Hall.
It’s a Wildeman class so we get excerpts from
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Creative writing on those boulders in the Spring
Is seminal.

Belz Hall is its own lone ranger of a tower,
A mystery to me architecturally and genderly.
The art barn shelters behind it in the woods.
Professors live in Flintstones down the road.
If there is a Mac Scholarship,
I know nothing of it.

The other day we woke up and an 18 wheeler
Bringing our food had jack-knifed on the
Narrow delivery road behind
The mail room and the cafeteria.
We all watched from our windows,
Which double as refrigerators, cooling
Water and fruit and yogurt.
We take these snacks from the Great Hall,
Keep them cold on the window ledge,
And Mel is okay with that.

One soccer player doesn’t use sheets.
At the end of the semester a filthy outline
Of him is visible on the mattress. As I said,
Men are a mystery to me.

It is hard to stay awake in chapel. We
Give-and-go when we need to. I’ve
Done that once and felt a scalding dishonesty.
I wasn’t bored; I was dead sleepy.

Rumors abound of nooks and crannies
Wherein couples have been caught –
On a mythical catwalk high up
In the chapel, in maintenance tunnels,
Attics, water pipe closets, unused classrooms,
Practice fields, bluff trails, the tiny bathroom
In the chapel lobby that I never knew was there,
And power-line clearings.
We always tell these tales with envy and censure.

A girl from Indy says she wore her overcoat
To the RP church across from the gym.
Just her overcoat.  And a slip.
She was conducting an experiment to see if
In the winter
Dresses were really necessary
And she concluded no.

We arrived here in a preppy upsurge
And have been ambushed by
Cyndi Lauper’s fishnets and bangles.
The mountain has its own walk and talk
And style, too – its plaids and cardigans
And cotton tights,
So it gets muddled up.
We aren’t sure what we are.

But we do know we are temporary here.
We learn that truth as sophomores when these
Kids just out of high school in Maryland
Or Florida or Michigan,
Unload on Carter’s portico
With a fresh wind of complete ownership.
Bluster as we will and we do,
Our clock has started ticking
And we don’t ever not hear it again.
Freshmen children are the landowners and
That’s hard to swallow.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
In an assigned reading, a journal article,
Break through and eclipse me.

Foundations, Sire and Blamire.
They wake me up. The readings are
Devotional. My Fourth South, four-man
Corner room looks out over the chapel lawn
And also toward the overlook and
Chattanooga’s lights. I sit in these windows and read.
I think big thoughts, and define life,
But I also worry that
One morning I might look down and see
A body dashed on the flagstones below.
People have their problems, and
It is a real worry.

~Andrew keeps the hits rolling
On the Sherwood with its maple console
And its warm, red sound. ~

I ask him to Kilter Night as he sits
With Mark Jones in the Great Hall,
His back to the night-dark windows.
He’s already been asked, but, quick on his feet,
He invites me out for the night after. And that’s
Pretty much our whole story. We know,
Just as everyone always says you do.

Kilter Night is in February, and an ice storm
Encases all the mountain.
We go out anyway because ice is nothing
When you’re 19. We leave from
The far doors, not the main ones under the
Stained glass Covenant window
Near the switchboard.
Andrew slips on Carter’s icy front porch
And slides several feet flat on his back past
Pillars and iron porch chairs.
We laugh at this beginning and head down
The mountain to see The Color Purple.
I cry hot tears at this heartbreaking story
But am embarrassed in front of a first date.
So I don’t wipe the tears lest I call attention to them.
They course and collect in my lap.

We stop at TCBY for yogurt. And even if we don’t
Quite know, we know.

Josie is still on her vacation.
A piece of rebar pierces the
Tire of my Buick Skylark right where
Someday an Alumni House will stand in
Which both my daughters will work,
(Daughters! Breathtaking!)
The same spot I will tell Andrew
I love him as we part for
An eternal four-month summer that I will measure
On the calendar in inches,
The same place I will later have my maiden and
Married name on a brick, a standing stone.

We load our cars in Carter circle,
Where some students park permanently,
Their daily ticket flapping in the
Brisk wind.

And we go.
We carry with us Sire and Blamire and
Schaeffer and Anderson and Clark and
Hesselink and Kaufmann and Graham and
Dodson and Mueller and Voskuil and
Gallagher and Ed’s redeemed cow and the
Parking tickets and Weltanschauung
And the memory of all that old doubt
and Eileen in the mailroom and
Scandal in the tunnels and the
Ancient paths taught us for our children
And the smell of
Carter Hall
To its bones.
~

(Photo cred:  Colin Nottage, Covenant College, Carter Hall 6/12/17)

 

 

 

 

 

How Do I Reach You?

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I art my way to you.
Art is verb.
I art
Because the Artist
Made me to be His hands
At work.
I art to commune and co-create with
Him who whispers to me as we forge
Together. And the blood hums.
I art to be faithful to the
Original
As silk drapes a body’s
Swells and hollows.
I art to tell the truth,
Truth you hail as your own old friend,
Welcome and well met.
And then, you and I, we are
Connected.
I art for peace in a warring
World.  And art gentles.
Let this word fall in your ears –
I love you, dear one.

 

And Did You See That Sky?

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The beatitudes are a loop I start over
Again and
Again.

A good loop, though,
Not a stagnating seether like when
The guy in the car in front of me has a
Brake-to-accelerator time that is so
Incomprehensibly SLOW he just ekes through the
Yellow light and there I am for another
Eternal cycle of cross traffic and left-turners,
And not just that, but one block east, a train comes,
Crawling through at its
City-limits pace that, correct me if I’m wrong,
Is either slowing down or teasing me,
And the graffiti is exotic, but let’s not be
Postive here,
And the caboose must be down in
Good Hope. So I’m caught,
Apoplectic. Because the guy.

No, the Sermon is an
“Oh, Yeah” loop, a start back at the
Beginning that isn’t a regression. An “Oh, wait, let me
Go back and pick that poverty up again and hang on to it
This time.  Seems to be key.”
A loop where
Starting over isn’t starting over.

Oh, yeah, I’m lower than you,
You, who I am
Scorning right at this moment.
Oh, yeah. Judgment turns to humility, right quick.

Oh, yeah, that despicable thing you are doing, I do it
First and worst. Lament. . .Patience.
Starting with, Oh, yeah,
The guy.

Meekness only happens when
I squarely face the
Oh, yeah, I was empty; now I’ve been filled.
“And this not of myself,” but flood waters from the
Sky after
Drought. More than I need, so I can say,
“Take your time, guy,
And did you see that sky?!”

And I hunger, hunger for the wholeness of no
Holes.
Oh, yeah, start again. I am

Destitute, but! The destitution is that
Bait-and-switch of heaven,
That darkness-draped gift of gold.
That one more proof of a love so stunning.
And the loop is a steady line
Toward wholeness,
Holiness.

Oh, yeah.

Thanksgiver

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Ah,
Nova, Novem,
November.

You are a

Late-comer,
New-arriver,
Rein-wielder,
Rain-holder,
Leave-taker,
Leaf-taker;

Rouge-maker,
Wine-pourer,
Sky-painter,
Frost-flinger,
Henna-tinter,
Skin-shrinker,
Smoke-breather.

Ah, November.
You make me a

Fleece-seeker,
Sky-drinker,
Hearth-inhaler,
Wine-taster,
Mountain-tracer,
Droplet-needer,
Rein-releaser,
Peace-feaster,
Thanks-giver.
Ah, November.dscn6535Pictures:
*278 West into Cullman at Holly Pond, Nov 25
*Woodland St. Japanese Maples, Nov 26

November Went To The Beach

November went to the beach.

She’s just now returning,
Gulf water dried in her flaming hair,
Smelling of dark tanning oil.
She knows she’s late.

She’s a mare-beautiful
Girl in her knee boots
Blithing in after the bell
With no tardy slip.

She’s two overall-wearing Great
Hearts
Raking Delancy and Gus’s leaf-fall
Because Gus
Can’t.

She’s Regina
Stepping from her velvets and
Leaving them for the handmaids
To brush.

She’s the Sorceress in the air
Softly suggesting,
‘Hate them on Tuesday. Hate them!’

She’s eleven Men in red,
Eleven in purple
Tirelessly storming each other’s wall
To minimal gain but we can’t stop watching,
While the mealy apples simmer into
Applesauce.

She’s the Doyenne
Coming out of retirement,
Arranging her magenta mantle
About her
To speak the wind chimes,
One and all.

She’s the Inkling that urges
Sportsman Lake geese
To elect their first-leg point man,
And to give her regards to the salt life.

One thing she is not
Is
October.

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In An Oven-y October: What The Water Says

In an oven-y October,
Tolkien’s waning of the year,
Hush and hush and listen closer;
Hear the water through the sere:

“It’s all
Clear
All of it
Especially the
Frosted-glass, distorted
Mystery.

It’s all
Manageable
All of it
Especially the burden
Pressing hard on the bruise.

It’s all
Walkable
All of it
Especially the scouring road,
The abrasion, the raw hide.

It’s all
Art
All of it
Especially the colors of the trees and of
The days you drive away.

It’s all
Beautiful
All of it
Especially the singing at
Her funeral.

It’s all
Irreplaceable
All of it
Especially when we arrive
Empty-handed, not even a succulent
For the kitchen window.

It’s all
Temporary
All of it
Especially the night time,
Because the sun does what
The sun does.

It’s all
Worth it
All of it
Especially the exchange which only
Begins with a giving up.

It’s all
True
All of it
Especially the part you repeat to
Yourself with a tremor and a gulp.

It’s all
Breathed
All of it
By the Trust Worthy”

Sings the water.

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The Scream In The Night

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The Niece
I am thirsty, so I go
Silently
To the dark kitchen and
Ice a cup by the light of the fridge.
I gaze at the open sink window
And think how strange it still is to me
That they leave the windows open at night.
And portentous.
Then I turn to close the fridge door
And see my fears have come true –
A tall, hairy man looming.
I scream and drop my iridescent
Rainbow, but mainly green, juice
Glass on the floor where it shatters
Louder than one glass really should
On the terra cotta tile.
I fall to the floor.

The Son
It’s past midnight and I’m
Reading comparative politics,
The intro chapter. I see a light in
The kitchen and conclude,
Based on a lifetime of experience,
That Dad is engaged in one of his
(Mom calls them harebrained)
Projects.
So I go to say goodnight.
Rounding the corner, a pale face
In the fridge-light
Definitely not Dad
Looks up at me with
Stark terror. A scream and breaking glass
Tell me
I miscalculated something somewhere.

The Mother
My alarm went off at 5:30 this morning –
A Saturday no less! –
So by 12:45 a.m. I am on my stomach
On cool cotton sheets,
One leg out, in that first and sweetest phase of
What Bertie calls ‘the dreamless.’
Which comes first, the shatter or the scream?
Philosophers can debate that. It doesn’t
Matter really.
Together they function as a catalyst in an
Adrenal gland experiment. And the news is
Good!
‘Your gland is a medical marvel!’
Trembling and confused in the kitchen doorway,
Not even awake,
Night hair bun bobbling this way
And that, I am conscious of someone more confused
Behind me
Garbling something about the vacuum cleaner.

The Father
It makes perfect sense to me,
A preacher with a cold on a Saturday night,
To take four teaspoons of an out-of-date cough medicine
With hydrocodone.
At 12:45 I am inert; the only project I am doing is
Breathing.
Somehow the scream and the shatter pierce the
Opiate coma,
And I stagger up, man of the house, to confront
The Intruder I have always known would come.
I declare (or think I do) an immediate need to
Vacuum,
And the world tilts sideways, both ways.
I know I better lie down, and the bathroom floor
Seems like, yes, ummhmm.
On it I flail and make as much racket as the original
Shattered cup,
Because, you see,
I am longer than the bathroom floor, and
The world is rocking like a Mammy on a rocking chair.
One clear thought: the tile is cold. Bed.
So I crawl and make it partially up, legs hanging off,
Down near the foot of the bed.
And there I lie where my wife of 28 years knows
To leave me alone.

The Daughter
(On the way to church)
Wait, what happened?