Friday, July 23, 2021

The Mature Poet Takes a Walk in the Woods

 “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” (T.S. Eliot)

Whose woods these are
I think I know

but I’m not altogether certain
and will therefore
try to be discrete.

It’s getting harder to see the path
with all this fog coming in on little cat feet,
but, after all, we learn by going
where we have to go.

And, it has to be said,
these woods are lovely,
dark and deep
and I do so love hiking.
I’m sure I’ll come out of them
in due time and go gently
home into that good night.

[Quiz: Can you identify the four poets I stole from, one twice?]

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Old Regrets

I never went steady in high school,
even though I prayed and asked God
to let some boy like me that much.
I never wore a ring around my neck.
Seventeen magazine showed me
which clothes to buy, which shade
of lipstick would be the most alluring
with my skin tones,
told me how to fix my hair
and gave me tips to make the boys notice me.
Either I didn’t do it right
or the advice was sub-par.
In the movies Sandra Dee
and Annette Funicello went to proms,
wore bikinis at the beach
and always sported a ring around their neck.
I never did any of that.
Last week I decided to make up
for my loss. I took off my wedding ring,
put it on a long silver chain,
and slipped it over my head.
Hal looked at me, asked, “What
are you doing that for?” And laughed.
I laughed, too, put the ring back
where it belonged and marveled
that somehow my life had turned out good

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Confessions of an Ex-Elder


In the early days
before the great divorce,
we used the dreadful language
of compliance. We, the elders, met
in our councils and carefully
considered doctrinal crimes
and excesses of inclusion.
It was a grim endeavor.
I shuddered under the weight
of words. Faith and Practice
seemed a stern Quaker bible,
precise and unforgiving.
But we did our job, pinned
our specimens to the board,
examined under magnification.
When deemed appropriate,
we issued judgment—
out of compliance—
and excommunicated whole
Since those days
I find myself in isolation,
not wanting to enter a church.
Secretly—or not—
I am out of compliance
with all of it.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Quaker Learns to Swear


You need to learn to swear, he told me.
A Quaker like you, so controlled
--it's not healthy.

I wondered if he might be right.
I did feel choked up at times
by the undone dishes and frayed edges,
not to mention the major injustices of life.

Leaning into memory, I brought up
words from TV and novels, phrases
my grandfather had used when provoked.
I rehearsed them mentally,
avoiding the mirror.

A few weeks later,
something he said (I can't remember what),
--a twist of sarcasm,  a patronizing hint--
and a voice whispered, Now.
I looked straight at him
and with a keen and measured ferocity said,
I just don't give a hell.

In the following silence, I realized
I hadn't quite brought it off.
Finally he said, If you're going to swear,
at least do it right.

  I'm practicing.
Next time I'll get it.
Mountains will quake.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Pardon Me, Sam Hill


For years I’ve been exclaiming, “What in the Sam Hill….?” I’m sure it’s an unconscious minced oath, keeping me from another phrase using the word “hell,” which I know I should not yell.

Recently I listened to myself and began wondering whose name I was taking in vain. I knew Mr. Hill was a character out of the history of the Northwest and that his museum overlooks the Columbia River on the Washington side. Considering all I have been saying about him, I was glad he was dead.

With so many academic resources at my fingertips, I went straight to Wikipedia. I was richly rewarded. Apparently, the oath has nothing to do with the historical character. One theory has it that the phrase appeared in the early 1830s and combines the term Solomon (the “Sam” part”) with the word hell (or “Hill”). Go figure. The early dating leads to the possibility that Sam Hill’s mother could have perversely named her son after the saying.

In my case, whenever I use the term, I am referring to a person, and it isn’t Solomon. So next I went to the entry for Samuel Hill himself, and right off the bat I learn he was born into a Quaker family from North Carolina. Somehow that makes my desecration of his name even more offensive. Haverford and Harvard educated Sam in math, science, literature, logic, and politics.

He moved to the Northwest and became a first-class entrepreneur. His diverse enterprises included railroads, electricity, coal, iron, telephones, and, especially road construction. This latter was his passion and he is famous for building the first paved road in the Northwest, near his own property in Washington and at his own expense. One of the bridges that spans the Colombia River, connecting Oregon and Washington, is named the Sam Hill Memorial Bridge.

World travel was another passion and Sam formed friendships around the globe, counting the likes of King Albert of Belgium and Queen Marie of Romania among his pals.

Sam Hill seemed tireless in his many projects, but he was not successful at all he attempted. In 1907 he bought a large plot of land in Washington, overlooking the Columbia River, named it Maryhill after his wife and daughter, and attempted to begin a Quaker farming community. This never happened, partly because he was apparently the only Quaker around that part of the country. But he did manage to set up a successful golf course and restaurant near the border with Canada. The restaurant flourished during the years of the Prohibition, being located slightly over the border on the Canadian side.

Another of his famous constructions is a replica of Stonehenge set up on the Maryhill property. He dedicated it to those men lost in World War I, a rather large Quaker gesture to the peace testimony. He contributed other museums and a Peace Arch.

Sam Hill was not an easy man to get along with. He married Mary Hill, daughter of his early boss and railroad magnate James Hill.  (In later years his wife referred to herself as Mary Hill Hill.) Sam took Mary to settle in Seattle, but after a few years Mary decided that she did not take to the Northwest, so she and the two kids moved back to Minneapolis. (One suspects that Mary did not take to Sam Hill, and that was really why she moved.) They lived forever after in the two separate cities, although Sam visited Mary at least twice a year. He visited other women, too, but he recognized his illegitimate children, setting up a trust fund for each one. (Perhaps this was his Quaker background kicking in.)

His biographer offers the opinion that Sam Hill suffered from manic-depressive disorder, as well as paranoia, thus partially accounting for his unusual life.

At any rate, I now repent for having taken in vain the name of this interesting and somewhat Quaker person. If I ever get the chance to visit the museum at Maryhill, I will whisper an apology to his image.

In the meantime, and in the interest of gender equality, I will adopt his wife’s interesting name. I can just imagine myself saying to a grandson, “Just what in the Mary Hill Hill do you think you’re doing?!”

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Just Asking: Some Poems from Ephesians

Subject to Editing
Ephesians 2:10

There is no such thing
as good writing,
the gurus tell us,
only good re-writing.
Apparently that even applies
to God. I may be his poem
but he’s not finished.
Here and there in the manuscript
I come across phrases like delete,
stet, find a better word, needs
even an occasional
yes! The continual polishing
hurts but I believe
I’m beginning
to shine.


Just Asking
Ephesians 4

Was it optimistic naivety
when Paul told the children of God
to make every effort
to keep the unity of the Spirit
in the bond of peace?

Church history suggests that.
More than geography
and the accidents of birth
have divided the body
of Christ. While Jesus
wisely responded with silence
to Pilate’s question,
What is truth?,
the church has squabbled,
spit, and splintered its multitudinous
answers down through
the centuries. Even we Quakers
in the northwest corner
of a country once known
for its open arms
have sacrificed our reputation
as people of peace
and made every effort
to propound our separate versions
of gospel truth. Now, victims all
of the resulting divorce,
we seek revival and hope
to once again walk
worthy of our calling.
Lord, have mercy on us all.


Please, Lord, An Answer
Ephesians 6:5-9                                                                                                                      

How does Black Lives Matter
read Ephesians 6?
Paul’s words of submission,
respect and fear
with sincerity of heart,
obey obey obey,
leave no room for protest,
give integrity of personhood
no place to stand.
To acquiesce with a smile,
to say, It’s Ok to be less
than human in your eyes
‘cause I know God loves me
and is preparing a place for me,
is somehow not enough.
Unless there is justice for my here-and-now
hood, how could such a heaven
ever be home?

Friday, March 5, 2021

A Poetic Walk through the Scriptures

At the beginning of the year, I committed to the spiritual discipline of waiting in silence each morning until a poem came to me, asking to be written. (This is not some weird automatic writing, rather openness to the Spirit to capture the idea, with a willingness to later do the hard work of crafting.) Some of these poems are in the form of personal prayers and they will stay safely hidden in my journal. Others are worthy of bringing out into the air.

I am coupling this with a practice of reading the Scriptures, focusing on one book at a time, alternating between the Old and New Testaments. I sit with the book for as long as it takes to begin to understand on a deeper level what God is saying through this portion. Much of my poetry of late comes from meditation on these Scriptures. Some of the poems are interpretative. Others are reflections from my experience, bouncing off a phrase. Some are simply wondering and questions.

I just spent a couple of weeks in Joshua, always a challenging book for Quakers. (I’m now beginning the book of Romans. Gulp.) Here are just a few of the Joshua poems.

Joshua 2:1

I remember an adolescent Bible study
when my turn came and the portion
I was to read included
the town of Shittim. I stopped short
of the word. I couldn't read it out loud.
The other kids giggled. The leader,
a no-nonsense grown-up, made me
continue and I somehow mumbled
my way forward. Later I learned
that Shittim meant acacia, that the city
was probably near an acacia grove.
A tall acacia tree stood in the front
yard of the house where we lived
and I used to climb it. My secret place
was hidden in the upper branches.
I loved that tree, that acacia tree,
without even knowing its name.

No Survivors
Joshua 10:40 

In terrible obedience
Joshua subdued the land
      hill country
      the Negev
      western foothills
      mountain slopes,
together with their kings.
The target, by holy command—
any being that breathed.
No beast, no baby escaped
the brutal blitz.
A challenge, yes, but
not too hard for a band
of soldiers seasoned to kill,
not nearly as hard
as God’s latter command
to warriors of a new regime—
love your enemies.

This time, Lord,
you go too far.  

Old Testament War Revisited

As a sophomore
our daughter made the coveted
cheerleading squad.
Some of the chants underscored
the brutality of high school sports.
One afternoon, I watched
as the girls waved their pom-poms,
danced, leaped, and led
the crowd in
      Kill kill
      Hate hate
      Murder murder
      Go, Team!
I was glad when the school
year ended.