That wandering Spring holyday is back again and means so many different things through different eyes—the hope of humanity, the critical validation of a faith, a fable, a fraud, rebirth, disguised folk fertility customs, community, family tradition, bunnies and eggs for the children. Maybe pick one from column A and two from column B with eggroll.
Today we will look at Easter through three alternative eyes. Poet and novelist Jim Harrison was an outlier—semi-reclusive, curmudgeonly, prone to profound melancholy and ecstatic joy in nature. “Someone has to stay outside,” he told a friend and admirer. Theresa Novack is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, now a dedicated hiker in lovely and wild places with her wife. Your humble host and proprietor of these National Poetry Month posts is also a U.U. but a lay person who is often unsure what to believe.Grizzled is the word that comes to mind for reclusive poet Jim Harrison in his last years.
Harrison was born on December 11, 1937 to a county agriculture agent and his wife in rural Grayling, Michigan. At the age of seven he was blinded in one eye in an accident which deeply affected his life and outlook. He graduated from high school in 1956. In 1959, he married Linda King, with whom he had two daughters. He was educated at Michigan State University, where he received a BA in 1960 and a MA in comparative literature in 1964. When he was 24, in 1962, his father and sister Judy died in an automobile accident, a severe emotional trauma for him. After a single year as an Assistant Professor of English at Stony Brook University in 1965–‘66, he permanently abandoned academia and turned to writing full time.
Much of Harrison’s writing is set in sparsely populated regions like Nebraska’s Sand Hills, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Montana’s mountains, and along the Arizona–Mexico border. He lived in both Patagonia, Arizona, and Livingston, Montana.
His wife left him a widower in 2015 after he tendered her failing health. As he predicted to a friend with nothing to live for, he followed on March 26, 2016 at age 78.
On Easter morning all over America
the peasants are frying potatoes in bacon grease.
We're not supposed to have “peasants”
but there are tens of millions of them
frying potatoes on Easter morning,
cheap and delicious with catsup.
If Jesus were here this morning he might
be eating fried potatoes with my friend
who has a ‘51 Dodge and a ‘72 Pontiac.
When his kids ask why they don’t have
a new car he says, “these cars were new once
and now they are experienced.”
He can fix anything and when rich folks
call to get a toilet repaired he pauses
extra hours so that they can further
learn what we’re made of.
I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there’s lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture.
Like peasants everywhere in the history
of the world ours can’t figure out why
they’re getting poorer. Their sons join
the army to get work being shot at.
Your ideals are invisible clouds
so try not to suffocate the poor,
the peasants, with your sympathies.
They know that you’re staring at them.
Retired and happy--Rev. Theresa Novak.
The Rev. Theresa Novak has been featured in previous National Poetry Month entries. She frequently posts insightful poetry on her blog Sermons, Poetry, and Other Musings. A graduate of the University of California at Berkley, she had a career as a Social Security Administration manager before enrolling at Star King School for Ministry and embarking on a second career as a minister. She is the Minister Emerita of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden in Utah. This poem was written last year in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic when newly approved vaccines were promising their own resurrection of a sorts.
I wasn’t ready for Easter
But it came anyway
The stone had been in place
The tomb was small
But felt safe
In its own weird way
It is like that I suppose
We can get used to almost anything
Slavery in Egypt
Wandering in the desert
Waiting for instacart
To deliver the yogurt
And over-ripe bananas
Not the green ones
I would have selected
But Easter came
And a vaccine
Better than any chocolate egg
The stone was worn away
And the tomb open again
So I crawled out
Ready to be reborn
In fear and trembling
I wasn’t ready
But Easter came anyway
As it always does
The Old Man at his desk.
About 20 years ago I was walking to the train station to get to work in the next town the line early one cold equinox/Eastertide morning when I was struck with this which was included in my 2004 collection We Build Temples in the Heart.
From that frigid morning
when the fog of humanity
hangs palpable before our faces
and that fat red sun pops
before our eyes at the far end of
the reaching blacktop,
then, when from the highest,
barest twig the cardinal sings
his whistle in the graveyard,
our hearts know resurrection and murmur—a
We are a cold people in a cold land,
and every creeping inch
if yellow willow hair,
in newly giving earth,
every ratchet tap of woodpecker
on lifeless wood
resonates with resurrection and nods recollection.
It is no wonder that in hot lands,
perpetual in green,
moist and ever fertile,
The natives snickered at tales
of a hanging god,
turned on naked heels,
and ran to sensible deities
who would not abandon them
only to hound them on return
with foolish promises.
But here, at turning time,
our arctic hearts surrender
to the sureness of the resurrection
that surrounds us.
And in the echo of this miracle
Understand redemption too,
in the merciful thaw
or our glacial souls.
This one was from an actual Easter morning experience in 2016. By the way spotting turkey vultures is mighty rare but not unheard of in McHenry County.
Waiting for a Ride Easter Morning
Easter, March 27, 2016
Waiting for a ride to church Easter morning
breathing welcoming Spring,
counting buds on twig tips.
Then, up there
against the high light gray sky
five turkey vultures gyre slowly.
What sign of spring is this?
Has the Body been found?
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