My Heap of Words

By Andrew Lazo

Image by Andrew Lazo | Excerpt from "Till We Have Faces" by C.S. Lewis
Image by Andrew Lazo | Excerpt from “Till We Have Faces” by C.S. Lewis

Go ahead and accuse me of pandering and let’s just get that out of the way right up front, shall we?

This month I’m musing on Kelly Belmonte’s stirring senryu series “How I Talk to God“, recently published in Malcolm Guite’s Lenten collection Word in the Wilderness.

Sure, she’s already reflected on it, but can only see that gathering of little birds in the form of little, spare poems from her own perspective. I want to tell about how one slipped the nest and found its way southward to Texas, nesting itself in my heart like a bluebird.

No, Kelly’s not paying me for this. Or, better yet, she already has. She wrote the thing. She typed it up. She sent it off, crossing her fingers and praying wistfully.

She said yes, leaving written proof and, in so doing, offers us a kind of lifeline, a little, paper-and-ink plank of salty wood in the stormy seas and shipwrecks we sometimes make of things and people who we try to love.

So here it is. Proceed at your own risk, but wear long sleeves so that you have something to wipe your eyes on. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

How I Talk To God

by Kelly Belmonte

Coffee in one hand
leaning in to share, listen:
How I talk to God.

“Momma, you’re special.”
Three-year-old touches my cheek.
How God talks to me.

While driving I make
lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try.
How I talk to God.

Above the highway
hawk: high, alone, free, focused.
How God talks to me.

Rash, impetuous
chatter, followed by silence:
How I talk to God.

First, second, third, fourth
chance to hear, then another:
How God talks to me.

Fetal position
under flannel sheets, weeping
How I talk to God.

Moonlight on pillow
tending to my open wounds
How God talks to me.

Pulling from my heap
of words, the ones that mean yes:
How I talk to God.

Infinite connects
with finite, without words:
How God talks to me.

As a singer I knew once said of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” I wish I’d written it, but I’m glad someone did.

To my credit, I did track this poem down as soon as I possibly could, and I’ve read it aloud to more than a hundred people in three states and two countries. I pretend, whether it’s true or not, that Malcolm first heard this in San Diego at our little open-mic cum poetry reading called Bag-End Café. Perhaps that’s just a small urban legend to inflate my fragile ego but whatever. I’m claiming it.

Three of these little senryu stand out to me each time I read them aloud, and they always make my voice quaver and turn on that tiny tap of salt water at the edge of my eyes. Emily Dickinson says that you know you’ve read a poem when it causes the top of your head to come off. Very well, then, Kelly–mission accomplished.

While driving I make
lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try

You see, this brief permission slip to hate helps me so much. Because however I wrap myself round in religious life, I still see such a hateful, angry heart inside me, seeping out in sarcasm and judgment. My friend Margie calls sarcasm “hidden rage,” which seems about right.

Kelly reminds me that it’s ok to hate. It’s not ok to stay there, and, and she wisely, gently guides us, it’s not ok to hide that part from God. Such a sigh of relief. And an added relief that the verse, the thought, my day does not end in “hate,” but rather in “try.” Yes. I can do that. hate, then try–to be honest about it, and not to hate so much. Maybe even love instead.

I’ve often thought that, in relationship, we either soften or harden our hearts. This verse gives me hope for the former, and even hope that when the latter befalls me, the story hasn’t quite ended yet. Because even such ugly emotion honestly expressed can prove itself prayer. And isn’t that just like half of the Psalms?

And then how about this:

First, second, third, fourth
chance to hear, then another

What just jumps me every time I read this, especially aloud, comes from those lovely consonated words “then another.” How many times shall I forgive my brother? Seventy times seven. Then another.

How many times can my heart pluck up the courage once more to set my hand to whatever particular plow I’m driving? Well, this time, now, today (and in the background, whispering, “then another”).

Michael Card once remarked that the silence we sometimes hear in prayer comes from God straining in to listen to our every word, however meekly muttered. I tell my students that I’ll never measure them by how they fall, but by how they struggle and stand up again. Then another.

And then, for the love of God, there’s this. Here’s where I lose it every time and choke up, and somehow muscle my way through the line:

Pulling from my heap
of words, the ones that mean yes:
How I talk to God.

Ruefulness at my own “heap of words”, almost always far too many for anyone’s need or notice. And then, breathtakingly, “the ones that mean yes.” I have elsewhere made the case that “You” is the holiest word we can say. But I have my misgivings today, for even as my yes must be yes, in Christ, all God’s promises are yes.  And the end of the good book describes the best of yesses.

All day long (and most of the nights), I heap my words, hoping somehow that a few slip through and leave a mark worth making. Kelly puts a finger to my lips and lets me know that in little there is enough.

St. Paul knew how to abase and to aboud. In this stately simple paean of profundity, Kelly softly suggests that the two might prove the very same thing.

And just now, that is how God talks to me.

*****

Andrew Lazo is a teacher, writer, and sought-after speaker on C.S. Lewis and the Inklings. Read more from him at his website: http://andrewlazo.com

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