Pure poetry

A note from a dear friend brought me news of a new granddaughter and put a smile on my face. For a moment I remember stories of the mother of this precious new one: stopping for frozen yogurt when she was a girl, being at church camp with her when she was a teen, standing in front of her as she made marriage vows to her husband. I got to watch her grow up. She always seemed to me to be a bit more mature than her peers - a bit more wise than her years. It doesn’t surprise me to think of her as a mother though life has meant that we live states apart and I’ve never had the chance to see her with her children. In a way it is harder to imagine my friend as a grandma than it is to imagine her daughter as a mother and I can’t figure out why. I have every reason to believe that my friend is a wonderful grandmother. I think any child would be lucky to have a grandma like her: brilliant, talented, self-assured, strong - a real example of what a person can become with hard work and a loving community.

This new baby is fortunate to have been born into a strong family system with loving marriages and caring relatives. Two sets of grandparents have time and energy to dote on the little ones and support their parents. Aunts and Uncles surround them with joy. When I heard the news, my instinct was to wish I could have been there to see the reaction of her uncle. The brother of the mom was so excited when he first became an uncle and his joy was such a delight to witness. Every child deserves to have their entrance into the world greeted with similar expectation.

Like this new little one, I was lucky in the uncle department. Both of my parents have several siblings and the crowd of aunts and uncles and cousins was impressive when we all got together. I’m getting old. None of those aunts and uncles are alive these days. Their bodies succumbed to the ravages of time, laid lovingly in the ground, their ashes spread to the four winds, their memories as powerful as their personalities had been. The Bible speaks of a great cloud of witnesses. I can see faces in the clouds and hear voices on the wind and remember some of the things they taught me. I learned about dry land wheat farming. I arranged tiny tiles into a mosaic while my aunt played the piano. I was taught to hand split cedar shakes for a cabin roof. I still cook the recipes of an extended family. I can hear an uncle’s voice to this day each time I back up a vehicle with a trailer. Indeed I was fortunate with uncles and aunts.

Maybe it is just a sign of old age. Maybe I’ve always been this way. I am reluctant to check the news headlines today. I much prefer to imagine the joy of a new baby born into the family of my friends than to read stories of suffering children which will surely fill the pages of the news. I want to live in a world where little ones are loved and wanted and nurtured and given care. I know that there are too many who find too early the horrors of trauma and hunger and abuse and neglect. I don’t have to exercise my imagination to see the faces of the victims and hear the stories of the survivors. I could preach a sermon about how our children are exposed to to much violence in the media, but I know in my heart that our children are exposed to too much violence in real life.

I don’t want to hide from the world. I don’t want to pretend that I am unaffected by the news. I do, however, want to linger with the words sent me by my friend: “We are elated and she’s healthy and beautiful!!” Two exclamation marks from an accountant who doesn’t waste anything. I don’t need an emoji to feel the joy, joy, joy. I’ve long been more effusive with words than my friend, but I know her feelings are as intense as mine. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if my friend’s husband paused over the display of children’s bicycles in his favorite bike shop. Even though it is way too soon, I know he is itching to buy a bike for his granddaughter. He’s that kind of a guy. The child will not suffer for presents at any of her birthday parties.

Last night I gathered with friends to share and discuss the poetry of Ada Limón, the 24th Poet Laureate of the United States. “Poetry is elemental, necessary, & deeply human.” From time to time I try to write poems, but I am no good at it. I once heard novelist Jess Walter say, “I write bad poems.” I think I share his gift. I, too, write bad poems. The problem with me is that I am an essayist. A thousand words is nothing for me. I flail at the challenge of coming up with a dozen that convey anything at all. I suspect that every poem I attempt begins its life with at least twice as many words as it needs. Sometimes I wonder if God gets tired of all of my words. Perhaps I pray like the lonely woman who sat in the chair in my office and talked nonstop for fifteen minutes so that I couldn’t get any words in at all and I am not at all sure what she meant with all the words she said. She just needed to talk. And I guess she needed me to listen even if I couldn’t understand all she had to say. Does God listen to my prayers that way? Should I learn to say less? If I were more disciplined, I’d take this essay and remove half of the words and then do it again and again until it became a poem.

Instead, however, I’ll read the note from my friend again and again: “We are elated and she’s healthy and beautiful!!” Eight words making a perfect poem. The news can wait.

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