Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Leaves from the Tree of Life

Some how I got the reputation as THE poet of the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois largely on the strength of being pushy and obnoxious about putting myself forward at every occasion possibleworship services, special readings, coffee houses, benefit events, vigils, and demonstrations.  If folks would stand or sit still long enough, I was sure to declaim original verse in their faces.  It helped that 14 years ago Skinner House Books, a publishing arm of the Unitarian Universalist Association  (UUA) issued my little collection We Build Temples in the Heart from which a handful of poems have been regularly used in denominational services.  I also have the benefit of a platform on this blog which regularly reaches a few hundred readers and on social media.  After years of such efforts my visibility has risen to the second from the bottom rung of minor Midwest poets of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.
But I am not the only poet in the Congregation nor, alas, even the best.
A few years ago our former minister, the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison, himself a poet, convened a regular poetry group at church.  Several members and friends signed up.  They used writing exercises and cues, and shared each other’s work in a nurturing and supportive environment that encouraged each participant to fully explore their own voices and styles.  I was invited to join the group but as a non-driver I couldn’t make the sessions.  It turns out, I wasn’t missed.
When Rev. Sean left the church, the group continued to meet.  This January they were tapped to lead a poetry service.  When the worship plans were announced some folks thought I would be in it, probably front and center braying loudly and dramatically.  Nope, the women of the Poetry Group had it covered just fine thank you.  
The service was a roaring success.  The Congregation was moved and thrilled.  And I was deeply impressed.  I had heard some of them read their work at our former Haystacks Coffee House series, but others were a complete revelation to me.
The service was accompanied by a few stapled pages of the verses that were read.  Here is a sampling.  We will begin and end poems about poetry, but don’t let that scare you.

Living Things

Our poems
Are like the wart-hogs
In the zoo
It’s hard to say
Why there should be such creatures
But once our life gets into them
As sometimes happens
Our poems
Turn into living things
And there’s no arguing
With living things
They are
The way they are
Our poems
May be rough
Or delicate
Or great
But always
They have inside them
A confluence of cries
And secret languages
And always
They are improvident
And free
They keep
A kind of Sabbath
They play
On sooty fire escapes
And window ledges
They wander in and out
Of jails and gardens
They sparkle
In the deep mines
They sing
In breaking waves
And rock like wooden cradles.
Anne Porter
Gale Harris
Gale Harris is a social worker and a talented ceramic artitist as well as a long time promoter of the arts in Woodstock with her spouse Deb Glaubke.
Lessons from a Dog

My dog has been rolling in death.
Somewhere in the dark tangle
Of the underbrush has found remains
Of a creature broken down
To its essential self.
He is ecstatic, transcendent with joy.
He wants to share the gift,
The story of this little life
He's read through smell.
I pull a fact from something I have read:
Like a piece of kibble I might
Step on with bare feet—  
It tells me that dogs roll in death to hide
Their scent from predators and prey.
That fact, alone, does not explain his joy.
And, as I carry both of us, reeking
To the bath, I think of how we humans
Share the stories of our kind
And, at their funeral feasts, retell their lives,
Laugh, cry, ecstatic in the sharing.
When I die, I want someone to roll around
In my remains, carry my scent, my stories,
Rub them on everything they love—  
Like a little black dog
Rolling in death
Transcendent in joy.

—Gale Harris
Sue Rekenthaller reading at a Haystacks Coffee House Open Mic.
Sue Rekenthaller and her husband Gary Gauger are truck farmers who supply vegetables to local customers and sell at Farmers’ Markets.  She is also a veteran social justice activist with special interest in sentence and prison reform, immigration reform, and homelessness.  She is a hand-on activist who visits immigration detainees in McHenry County Jail and is a mainstay of the Compassion4Campers program for the homeless.
No More
It starts as a slow gnawing-gnawing.
Up from the belly straight to the heart.
The gleaming crystal of anger is growing-growing.
My saccharin shell soon will part.
Splitting down the middle falling-falling,
Glistening chain mail rising to the sky.
Pewter sword held high over head.
My voice a roar screaming low to high
I will take no more.
My gloved hand tears your heart from your chest.
I present it to you. No more.
Sue Rekenthaler
Jane Richards is working on a poetry collection and is also active in the Atrocious Poets which meets in Woodstock and is now sponsoring poetry readings at the Old Court House.

Desert Song
To Carlos Nakai

On your lips flute song takes flight
breath strokes the breeze
eagle dances in the wind
each inhale a dive of faith each exhale
a soaring prayer and on the updrafts,

Does your flute teach your fingers?
Can you taste the desert sand riding on each tone?
Does the sun’s heat hover inside your skin?
Will the silence beat inside you
till Spirit

—Jane Richards
April, 2017
Phyllis Cole-Dai
Phyllis Cole-Dai is an author, singer-songwriter, and poet who curated the mindfulness poetry blog A Year of Being Here. The group selected this poem to end the service.
On How To Pick and Eat Poems
Stop whatever it is you're doing
Come down from the attic
Grab a bucket or basket and head for light.
That’s where the best poems grow, and in the dappled dark.
Go slow. Watch out for thorns and bears.
When you find a good bush, bow
to it, or take off your shoes.
Pluck. This poem. That poem. Any poem.
It should slip off the stem easy, just little tickle.
No need to sniff first, judge the color, test the firmness—
you can only know it's ripe if you taste.
So put a poem upon your lips. Chew its pulp.
Let the juice spill over your tongue.
Let your reading of it teach you
what sort of creature you are
and the nature of the ground you walk upon.
Bring your whole life out loud to this one poem.
Eating one poem can save you, if you're hungry enough.
Take companions poem-picking when you can.
Visit wild and lovely and forgotten places, broken
and hidden and walled up spaces. Reach into brambles,
stain your sk
in, mash words against your teeth, for love.
And always leave some poems within easy reach for
the next picker, in kinship with the unknown.
If ever you carry away more poems than you need,
go home to your kitchen, and make good jam.
Don’t be I a rush, they’re sure to keep.
Some will even taste better with age,
a rich batch of preserves.
Store up jars and jars of jam. Plenty for friends.
Plenty for the long, howling winter. Plenty for strangers.
Plenty for all the bread in this broken world.

—Phyllis Cole-Dal


No comments:

Post a Comment