Saved by Poetry

(Caution, rant alert.)
I am really tired of people who are in charge of things – leaders, authorities, and grown ups – fighting. I am annoyed with how much of the “news” consists of offering ringside seats at the latest knock down, drag out. I am sickened by sarcasm, cynicism, stridency and the legitimizing of fear, anger, and blame as reasonable and acceptable points of view in communal problem solving. I am annoyed by emails which trumpet, Read and weep and conclude with This is bad…..real bad….these guys MUST be stopped, stopped now, and stopped HARD!!!!
Thank goodness, April is poetry month. It has arrived just in time to save you from the black hole of my self righteous indignation.
When my brother and I picked, poked, badgered and teased each other into tears and blows at bedtime, my poet mom would holler up the stairs, “You kids settle down or I am coming up there with a stick with a bee on the end of it.” Mom rarely raised her voice or showed anger, but that image of her bounding up the steps waving a stick with a bee attached would hush us up and settle us down right smart. Just contemplating mom doing such a thing was sobering. So we turned over in our beds, sighed, and fell into the sleep we so sorely needed.
Flannery O’Conner wrote that poetry is the accurate naming of the things of God. For me that means everything, for what does not belong to God? For accuracy we must step away from bombast, pontification, egotism and fear to look courageously into what is so. Rather than exalting anger and fear and attempting to defend truth by diminishing all other competing truths, poetry invites us to gaze generously upon the reality of our common experience that points in the direction of truth, which poetry would never claim to possess, but only to love.
Poetry is the sensuous earthy praise of dirt, color, and detail. Poetry holds in its open palm the transformative reality of the winged sparks of sun bouncing off the blackbird’s belly, and the piercing sting of a stick with a bee on the end of it.
God, who consented in Jesus to be tethered to time, space, race, nation – the unique, speckled, flecked and marked human form of one homo sapiens, has in that startling incarnation blessed and made holy the spare, the absurd, and singular. In each particle of creation the deity scintillates, and truth shouts for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
A poem has been haunting me for the past two weeks. Remembering only snatches, It’s lemonade. It’s lemonade. It’s April, I finally hunted it up. Read it out loud right now to your cat, your friend, or just for the glorious sound of it.
It’s lemonade, it’s lemonade, it’s daisy.
It’s a roller-skating, scissor-grinding day;
It’s gingham waisted, chocolate flavored, lazy
With the children flower-scattered at their play.
It’s the sun like watermelon,
And the sidewalks overlaid
With a glaze of yellow yellow
Like a jar of marmalade.
It’s the mower gently mowing,
And the stars like startled glass,
While the mower keeps on going
In a waterfall of grass.
Then the rich magenta evening
Like a sauce upon the walk,
And the porches softly swinging
With a hammockful of talk.
It’s the hobo at the corner
With his lilac-sniffing gait,
And the shy departing thunder
Of the fast departing skate.
It’s lemonade, it’s lemonade, it’s April!
A water sprinkler, puddle winking time,
When a boy who peddles slowly, with a smile remote and holy
Sells you April chocolate flavored for a dime.
-Marcia Masters
I recall this poem every April, but I probably hadn’t read it for more than 35 years. Hmm, things have changed. Some of the images sound dated. Scissors grinder? What’s that?
The polite soft spoken man showed up every spring with his neat kit and folded soft rags that smelled of oil. He would sit on the front steps, while I watched him sharpen my mother’s scissors. A small man with creases in his face, he worked carefully, thoughtfully as he ground, polished, oiled and then replaced his tools, and folded the cloth he wiped the scissors with. I smell the oil and metal, see the dandelions on the lawn, and feel the warm sidewalk under my bare feet. He told me he lived in Florida in the winter. From spring to fall he worked his way through towns across the country, sharpening scissors and knives, talking to children, and carefully folding his rags.
Other images sound out of touch: The happy hobo pausing to smell the lilacs has been replaced by large numbers of homeless people – most not so happy.
However, the rich magenta evening like a sauce upon the walk, trips over the tongue like a tap dance and coats the mouth with the aftertaste of expensive chocolate. Just the other night, I watched that magenta evening spread its warm sauce over the streets and sidewalks of my neighborhood.
You can see how a poem can evoke, expand and unfold within your own experience, taking you to places you have long forgotten and inviting you to see your present with new eyes.
I used to think our problems would be solved if all politicians were required to take a weekly ballet class. The intense focus on the body with its specific articulation of holiness, seemed to be good for the soul. To pay attention to the turn out of the leg, the strength of the abdomen, and the way the arm and wrist occupy space would ground lofty ideologies and silence talking heads. The sweet and humbling honesty of doing all this surrounded by mirrors would level the playing field. The thrilling self surrender of a grande jeté would put many things into perspective.
Maybe all it would take is a few good poems.
Why not write one yourself this week? Stretch yourself to accurately name some of the things of God. With a smile remote and holy, post it here or on the Sanctuary Facebook Page, and add your singular, sane and supple sanctity to the dance.

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4 responses to “Saved by Poetry

  1. I agree. We need more workers.

  2. Ah, I remember the scissor man! He was a poem. Still is!

  3. Ah! Thank you! This poem plays in my head at the most incongruent times. Right now there is a missing child crisis in our neighborhood–and it’s the most gorgeous fall day you can ever ask for–and this poem creeps in. Thank you. Somehow, if freshens my prayers. Thank you for publishing it.

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