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)

 

 

 

 

 

My Life Is His Answer

God answers prayer.

He uses the answer itself,
When it comes, to
Comb my heart and tease out the snarls.
Always, always.

His answer and my repentance –
One brings the other as sure as a
Baby’s head at my shoulder
Invites a storm of kisses.

The enemy of my soul feeds on my heart-snarls
Rasping in my ear that all I have done before
Is empty.

His accusations are exact, a perfect recitation
Of my rankest hidden moments.
But he is so very limited in his conclusions.
He takes the pieces, but
Fails utterly at the point of ‘Therefore, . . .’
And isn’t that the magic of the gospel,
That the enemy is right,
But I’m still not condemned.

Because
The Lover, the Answerer, breaks in and speaks
Truth.
Even as He answers my prayer,
He fills all I did before with
Himself. And so His
Good answer, the fruit I bear, is whole and
Life-giving;

His answer and my life are
The same thing.

         

April on Woodland Street


 

Getting Merried

In June, our daughter and her love will be
Merried! We attendants will merry them as they
Promise to
Merry each other
‘Til death does them part.

As busy as I’ve been, working toward the merry day,
It wasn’t real to me until my friends
Gave a tea and
Made it so –

Sabbath afternoon, when mind and body
Long only for green pastures and still waters,
My church sisters,
In high heels,
Decorated and celebrated my daughter’s
Merriment.
With me. For us.

I’ve been to teas and showers, and the
Stuff on the tables is fascinating
In the abstract.
Oh, what a beautiful painting by Anna.

But these things, this painting,
This towel, were for my daughter
(six-weeks-old in her pink onesie, surely)
In her St. Elmo home.
With her husband. Her husband.

It’s very different.

The groom’s grandmother Mary,
While carrying a table, asked
‘Could I be part of the second load going home?’
Adding even more muscle and sacrifice.

There is nothing fragile about tea-givers;
They are giving life
More than I ever understood
Until my own child was the merried one.

My friends. They make me merry.  ~

           
Tea-givers                                                             A guest of honor

              
Lovely touches

 

 

Ode To March: Covered up

January showed herself as
Sticks against the
Indifferent back of
Stephen Crane’s deity.

March is those sticks fanning out from
Within themselves,
Expanding their marrow
To the east and west,
Joining hands and
Becoming thatch –
A Radagast roof that
Turns the softening sky into
Tiny triangular pieces.

March is the blush-beginning of
Being covered up.
~
Covered up.
Around here, when people say they are
Covered up, they mean they are
Busy,
Behind,
Overwhelmed;
Their production line isn’t meeting
Incoming orders and sirens are going off
All over the factory floor.

I get covered up like that,
Flat covered up. Oh, me.

And when I do,
I do the Adam-and-Eve thing –
Worry
And sew up a fig-leaf.
As a spider’s web is made of
Spider, so my skirt is woven of my
Panic and pride and dyed with a
Peacock’s palate of self-righteousness.

I wear my skirt to Sunday
Worship and there sing,
“Cover my defenseless head
In the shadow of thy wing.”
Tucked up there, He lets me hear
His heart beat the calming rhythm of
“It is finished.”
He removes my scrappy fig leaf,
And covers me up
With Himself.
He whispers over my head that
The production line is not my job.
~
I am covered up, oh, me.

A Perfect Valentine’s Evening At Barre

I give you
A sketch of a perfect
Valentine’s evening:

Right hip at the barre,
Heels together, feet in a V,
Up on tiptoe, perched like a
Stork in mid-air,
Deep knee bend, hips tucked up
And staying in ‘the work zone’,
Big old thigh muscles
Parallel to the floor
(Or at least they should be)
And screaming like my Fiat when
I’m on the phone and can’t
Shift gears,

Following verbal cues
From our Pink Rose of an instructor
Who prompts in the gentle, reasonable
Voice of a
Prison guard
Saying, Pull the shank out yourself and
Get back to busting rocks.
And pulse it out to tempo.

Poised here on the brink of
Peanut Brittle of the spine,
My friend Tina Hulse,
Who asked that her
Name not be used,
While doing the extra leg lift
For the challenge,
Turns around
With the look all our faces
Share,
That slack but pin-pointy look of
One who is ultra-focused on
Making the body obey the brain,
And making the brain obey
Christopher Walken,
And says:

You know you need to blog about this.

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W
e sort of look like this.  Sort of.

A Thousand Mirrors

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Some days God answers, ‘Not today.
Trust Me here; this is My love.’
A rainy answer, a cross-shaped hug,
Planned when my days were not yet one.

Some days His glory spills like sun
Through limbs of February trees,
Anoints my face, salves my disease,
Brushes soft my shook anxieties.

He wraps up suffering in the sun
And bathes me with the latter first
Before the pain clouds crack and burst
And jagged pieces are dispersed.

But here’s the thing with jagged rain,
Its facets form a thousand mirrors
To reflect the sun just that much clearer,
Than round drops ever could deliver.

I cannot love the jagged rain,
But, oh, I love the Sun it rides.
Like childbirth turns out our insides,
Rain magnifies what first it hides.

My Warrior

I would not have chosen this
Particular fire.  Or any fire. But
Here it is, licking my toes and
Eyeing my legs for a good shank
Of meat. I am done for. And then . . .
In a flicker, I see into the air,
Or through it, to the
Other side of its translucence.

A Warrior there fights for me
Against arrows aflame.
Tireless, frontline, He shields my soul.
How He must value my soul that He,
War-clad and wielding, would
Condescend to rally for the smallness of me!

David’s shouts of deliverance
From ever-attackers suddenly speak for me
As his war songs never have before.
My enemy lives for my foot to slip,
My walking feet of joy, of peace, of faith!

But my Warrior is my salvation;
He explains to me with His arms and His strokes,
That I could never love to
Watch Him save me from
The fire if there was no fire.

Psalm 37 and 38

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