Identity: A Poem

Who am I?
Well, Lord, I’m a lover
of roses,
of the color purple
of wildflowers,
wild grasses,
open vistas,
rugged views.

I am, as you made me,
a climber,
a runner,
a dancer —
a girl with big toes
and flat feet.

And I’ve wandered
in countries
old and new —
a pilgrim
on oft trodden roads
and abandoned desert tracks;
a wanderer
in wilderness —
but you have an affinity
for those.

I am a scholar
when it suits me,
a daydreamer,
a passion-seeker.
I am no one
special, and yet —
and yet —

I am your beloved,
handiwork
of a master craftsman.
I was made of stardust
intermingled
with the breath
of God.

I am the product
of generations —
men and women who lived
their lives as faithfully
as they knew how
and gave their breath
back, in the end,
to the mystery
that held them.
My eyes, my laugh,
my too-large toes,
an inheritance
from forefathers,
foremothers,
I will never know.
They come to me
as gifts in an unbroken
chain of being.

I am your answer
to the void —
the echo of an eternal
Yes spoken
to the waters
at the dawn of time.
I am a created thing
and I am very, very
good.

Self Portrait: Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

Homecoming

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

Foxes have holes and birds
have nests, but you — Son of Man,
creator of galaxies — you
spent your nights on hilltops
and in gardens, beneath
strangers’ roofs, in unfamiliar
beds. You, who once made
a world from atoms, and handed
it over before the paint was dry —
said, all this, and more, is yours —
you never had a wife,
a child, a picket fence to call
your own

(even your grave was borrowed
property, a temporary loan).

Now you come, asking me
to make a pillow of my heart —
asking me to give you
rest, you who dwelled
in tents since the earliest
days — who wandered
with Cain in the wilderness,
who tabernacled in the desert —
who ate meals with Abraham
and brought water
to Hagar

(what is it with you
and thirsty women?) —

you have been a nomad
far longer than I,
yet here, you declare,
as you come through the door,
here at last is your temple —

here, with the bowls
in the sink, and the clothes
on the floor, here
the king of heaven
will choose to reside,

plant seeds, grow a garden,
exile no more.


Partially written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August. Adapted and reworked.

The Hide

If I were in Kenya,
this hide would be for watching
animals graze, approach the water,
drink — one would feel small in their presence
and amazed.

That was the kind of hide
I fought in with my brother —
ignoring the graceful movement
of gazelle, the slopping necks
of impossible giraffe. I heard
no birdsong that afternoon, my face
flushed in anger (at what exactly,
who remembers?). There were miracles
happening all around me, and I
as blind as any pharisee.

There are no wonders here
except the mountains — the
midday sun too hot for deer
(though they will come when
the dusk turns the world to purple-
twilight), the birdsong
soft and intermittent, drowned
out by flies and bees — yet
here, too, the wind is in the
branches, the spirit hovers over
the deep, and God cries
in that still, small
voice, Are you listening?

The Hide: Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Water Lily

The water lily proves nothing —
has nothing to prove.

It floats, it rests, it drinks deep,
it grows, and beauty spills out in every petal.

Iona Esperanza


I wrote this poem during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August. But it seems particularly appropriate for meeting the newest member of my family, my new niece, who is two months old today.

Evening

Dusk, and nature has reclaimed
her canvas.

The sun sinks below the purple
mountains (velvet gossamer in twilight)
and the deer emerge, spotted and wary, ears
large and cautious, to frolic on the watered grass.


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Names of Things

Annie Dillard says that writing is knowing the names of things.

So I ask the birds, the trees, the flowers. But while not exactly
silent, the birds speak no words that I can hear, the trees
seem more interested in magnifying praise than talking of themselves,
and the flowers miss the point entirely.

“Yellow!” They cry. “Purple, pink, white, wine, yellow, white, blue!”

When I tell them those are colors, and not, in fact, their names,
they merely shrug, unconcerned, as though to say,
well, they’re more than enough for us.

And who am I to argue?


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Lily Pond

Sharp origami petals open in kimono hues —
pastel pinks, yellows, whites.

And just two, at the very back, a rich,
bright wine — I’ll have my dresses made
from those, please.

This is no Monet, this garden —
no soft, impressionist blues, but greens
as far as the eye can see. Dusky desert
shrubs and evergreens, swamp weeds growing
alongside too-tall cattails and yellow
wildflowers on pine-strewn ground.

And one single purple flower by my chair,
as though it knew I was coming and saved
the best seat in the house.

And the wren sings heartily —
is it telling of its joy in lily pads
or just mentioning the coming rain?
Or maybe it, too, is greeting
my arrival with its song.

Why not? After all, I am the bridegroom’s beloved,
and this is mine as well as theirs — I, too,
their sister, a glorious created thing.


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

A Sonnet for St. Francis

Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, 19 August 2019

St. Francis, shepherd of a humble flock,
Friend of creatures great and small — make of my
Heart a wild place that seeds and vines might grow,
And the timid, shy ones of the earth

Find in myself a home. May it be a
Quiet garden, immersed with light and leaves,
With naught to startle fragile hearts but the
Hum of birds and bees. Oh work in me

To love the earth and all God’s growing things,
To notice love in all its shapes, with paws
And roots and wings. Oh Francis of the humble
Heart, who loved God’s children well, teach me

Your ways great gardener, help me till this
Thirsty soil, till roses grow like wildfire

And nowhere left is fear.


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

Peter

Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House
Easter Monday

Was that really the wisest
choice? That rock? Couldn’t you
have found one a little smoother
round the edges, a little more
stable on its feet? One less apt
to tumble over, less precariously
balanced, maybe not perched so close
beside a precipice? Surely there were better
choices for the foundation of a church.
Safer choices. Stabler choices. Even more
attractive choices, if it comes to that — choices
more likely to elicit awe than consternation,
confidence than fear. But I suppose that was the
point. Fisherman, betrayer, all faith and little
forethought — it wasn’t as though Peter could ever
have held the whole thing up — lumbering, lopsided
boulder, historic monstrosity. No, only your Spirit
could ever have balanced the weight of such
history, such folly, such human
bickering and greed. Kept it standing
against all odds. Preserved it,
somehow, until today. Your church
eternal. And the gates of hell
shall not prevail.


Written during my last silent retreat, at Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House, this past August.

The Hawks

Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House
Easter Sunday

As I walk these paths —
the delicate pink water lilies
open now to the radiance of the sun,
sheltering goldfish beneath the shadows
of their leaves — welcomed everywhere
by the verdant green, the moving water,
and the silent call of butterflies
delighted in their dance, I am met
by two brown hawks with snowy breasts,
unblinking gaze.

Hail sister, they seem to say,
unconcerned by my passing. We, too, are the Lord’s
creatures. We, too, are kin to a king.

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