Friday, August 22, 2008


here are some delayed photos of my time out west one month ago.  see the post entitled 'trains' for a little written proof of my journey.

      lake josephine and mt. gould of the greatest places on earth

britta, danny and me on our rafting adventure

trees, clouds and sunshine coming down from grinnell glacier

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I have a new routine.  Now I’m not exactly sure how long you need to be doing something before it becomes routine, but 2 weeks is habit enough for me.  Within the initial stages of waking up, I walk into my kitchen that is more of a storage unit than kitchen, and pick up my favorite mug.  Sometimes it’s found dried and stacked neatly in the cabinet, others it is clean and waiting patiently on the drying rack, but usually it’s exactly where I put it the previous day of my routine-the sink.  It is one of my treasures from the many yard sales I’ve scavenged in my day.  In this instance, however, the seller was also the creator.  Handmade on a potter’s wheel with the signature 'Beth' on the bottom, it was sculpted with simple imperfection, decorated with a sky-blue basil glaze and speckled black, ridged for the thumbs to worry themselves away, and like a tree, its stained dark inner rings prove its long life. 


With the sheer stupidity of how fabulous it feels in the mornings this middle of August, I bear the warmth of coffee as my fingertips cusp together around my cup, and walk outside.  My destination has been, in this two-week routine, on the backyard stairs that go to the upper level of our quad complex community building of love, and without bug repellent.  And there I sit.  I would say that my sitting is in silence, but that’s not exactly true.  You see, my thoughts begin as loud interruptions that sometimes become a more peaceful hum and hopefully, eventually, merge into prayer.  For example, in my small head and breath of a life I have felt absolutely sure of certain things - the past 6 months, in particular - that have crumbled before my eyes and pierced my wounded heart [loudness].  That sureness then evolves into the recognition that nothing tangible can be truly defined, encased, known in absolutism [hum].  And because God is good and his grace is more constant than my hums, those noisy thoughts somehow become more of a recognition of how the reality of Christ’s atonement and the presence of his ultimate reconciliation supercede my desires for earthly confidence and knowledge [prayer].  It is at this point, when the mystery of God covers all the earth including my small head and breath of a life, that I can see with new eyes and hear with new ears.


And so I then see the garden that decorates our yard in the middle of what some may call a ghetto (I think it’s more politically correct to think of it as the perfect location for a quad complex community building of love), the coop that houses our 13 baby hens who are blossoming into young ladies, and a haven of brush that our neighborhood kids refer to as ‘forest’ and is bordered by the old train tracks and a drainage ditch.  And then I hear the birds as they eat from the feeders, our ladies clucking as they jump on top of one another and peck away at grass and bugs, and the rather obnoxious traffic of planes as they make their way northeast of the airport.  I look up, ask them to be quiet, and wonder if they can see what I see. 


When I was young and played basketball in my family’s backyard, I would always do fancy hook shots, lay-ups, and 3-pointers when I heard the bustle of airplanes traveling northwest of the airport.  I would wave after my impressive moves and say hello to the passengers.  Then I turned 12, flew on one of those planes going North for the first time, eagerly took a window seat with my face pressed against the pressurized glass in hopes to see other kids hit a reverse lay-up and wave back at them, only to realize that you can’t see jack from up there.


Even now, however, I hope that just one person can look down from such heights, see beyond the endless patterns of green grass and white rooftop, and understand the harmony that exists in our backyard—a bird’s eye invitation to a peculiar existence.  Maybe, if such a magnifying glass was magnified enough, they could have seen the performance of two days ago. 


It was just like every other morning of the past few weeks with my coffee and my mug and my recognition that all things rest in the palm of God’s love, that I saw a leaf spinning in midair.  On the edge of our brush/forest, stand a few older, taller trees that are still covered with green leaves until later this fall.  From my step I saw this odd movement beyond the garden and chicken coop.  At the time there were no planes and the girls were being rather quiet, so the gentle wind that twirled (and it actually twirled) this leaf 15 feet from its home base of a branch, held strong by one singular thread of spider silk, was its own soundtrack to nature and all things beautiful. 


Moments of awareness are a craving of mine.  I search them out; I climb mountains and get lost in the woods to seek their presence.  But it is in the most unexpected and unusual times that they occur.  That seems fitting in the over-arching narrative of the good news: exist where it’s least expected to exist, redeem those who’re least expected to be redeemed, honor those who’re least expected to be honored, and shine where it’s least expected to find a city on a hill. 


And so it is that a leaf danced in the backyard of Binghampton, and brought illumination to the pierced holes of my wounded heart.  

Thursday, August 14, 2008

for rent

Lemuel, Trenton, baby Makai, and their family lived right down our street.  It took about 6 months for their sweet, protective mother to allow them to freely play in our yard and rooms.  They had quickly become a part of our beloved crew; Lemuel even dressed up like a pimp (literally) for Halloween which made me laugh...a lot.  Then, without warning, furniture was in the front yard, discarded from an apartment that is need of new occupants.  It was so quick, and such a common aspect of inner city instability.  This specific incident was a trigger for my hidden, welling emotions.

November 19, 2007

For Rent


You Bulldozer of time

You Billow of clouds

Turn your Blind eye

And take mine as well

As you hurtle

Over lives of children; lovers families




Sitting on steps I wait for storms

But I have not nailed my shoes to this place:

I have made no promise to storm or step.


If love is a battlefield

Recycle our guns

Remove planks from our already blind eye

Turn our smutty tear-stained cheek

Tape crowns of flowers round bombs and camouflage

All fear and doubt and risk and laughter

Give, instead, imaginations to create and empower


The fly on the wall watches the elephant in the room

But there is no chair to sit table to eat bed to sleep


psst psst

I am back in Memphis, and have just finished moving every piece of paper and clothing back into my old community.  With moving comes getting rid I was diligently going through those old pieces of paper that needed to be discarded and saw some scraps of poetry-some finished, some just scribbled.  So I have tried to make sense of some of the scribbles.

June 17, 2007

psst psst

Don’t tell me all is well

Tell me tears and anger

I tell you I don’t know how I’m supposed to live without her

You tell me


“That vase came from the woman who does my hair.”


psst psst


“Those beetles are just destroying my garden.  What are they called?  Jasper? Japanese?”


Tell me you’re here, you’re solid-

Full of mass

So that I can hit and stain you with tears


Tears she cannot cry, mass I cannot hit;

Presence that is now just a breath.


Again, June 17, 2007


Don't forgive me.

Then I would have to say,

"I'm not strong enough"..."I didn't love you"

For I bit and chewed and swallowed

Not your meal

But one I thought more evocative than wine

and savory than bread.

Don't forgive me.

For I desired eyes made of sunflowers

Rather than the intimacy of your sight, o God.



Forgive me.

For I am ash

in need of flame.

Friday, August 1, 2008


Friday, July 25, 2008

At the north end of Union Station in Chicago, Illinois, a man with salt and pepper hair and a gentle demeanor looked at my ticket, tore down the perforated line, and handed me a small orange stub with the bold letters, GPK, typed alongside the 2015 that pre-assigned my neighbors for the next 28 hours.  The GPK stood for Glacier Park, Montana, my final destination, and was placed directly above my seat while others said PDX for Portland or FAR for Fargo.  All in all, there may have been 15 different destinations that I saw in the three carts I strolled through giving each cardholder a kind of ambiguous identity.  Was this vacation, or going home, or moving to a new one?  Or maybe it was something similar to my own:  revisiting an old, rugged love…for me, that love is Montana. 


I can’t help but find it strange, and a bit ironic, that the cross-country train ride through tunnels, over bridges, beside small towns with bowling alleys and local restaurants, was filled with the migration of a couple hundred people going and moving across the ever-changing landscape of Northern America, and yet its original purpose for my personal migration to PDX was abruptly postponed, keeping me in the all-too-familiar landscape of Memphis. 


Fourteen months ago, I parked my Jeep in front of 3116 Waynoka. The backseats were filled with clothes and furniture and pictures to decorate the new walls of my newest residence.  I was immediately introduced to a clan of kids that would become daily residents themselves:  QuiQui, Kinisha, Dria, and Kenny.  The girls who were six, five, and four respectively, carried some tee shirts, a pillow, and a pair of shoes up the stairs to Apartment #4.  Even Kenny, better known as Big Daddy, who at the time was 2 years old and a hefty 35 pounds, waddled my Nalgene bottle for the cause. 


I had just moved from Colorado and had an earnest need and desire for community and neighbors who didn’t hide behind security gates or TV screens.  Beads of sweat marked that summer along with the pain of losing friends, and mothers of friends, and learning to long for new and different things in love.  I lived with a group of people who knew the worst and best of one another. Marked by such vulnerability, intimacy was natural and love was being tilled in the core of our hearts.  Seasons came as months passed and that love planted its seeds and began to gradually burst its swelling need of existence through the course concrete of our flesh. 


When it happened, when love blossomed and spoke its words in prayer or lavished its arms around sweaty children, it was the love of God.  Only. 


I saw this up and down our street, in the front and back yard, on cookie sheets, plastic bowls used as drums, sidewalks meant for chalk.  And for three gracious months in the winter, I saw this in Nepal:  God’s love.  Seventeen children invited me and Britta into their family in Southern Nepal as they taught us Nepali (‘dee-nu-nah’), showed us the most proficient technique to extract lice from scalps, took us by the hand, threw their hands around our legs, and put their hands together for a cheerful, consistent, “Namaste.”  We loved and were loved deeply in those short months. 


I came back to Memphis for what was to be a short few months in preparation for my final departure to the Northwest.  The West had captured my romantic spirit with its mountains and waters, a land that forced its residents and visitors outdoors to learn from nature rather than television or the internet.  My affection was much akin to the ‘love affair’ John Steinbeck references in Travels With Charley, as he wrote as a hypnotized wanderer entranced by the woos of Montana. 


I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it … It seems to me that Montana is a great splash of grandeur.  The scale is huge but not overpowering.  The land is rich with grass and color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.  Montana seems to me to be what a small boy would think Texas is like from hearing Texans.


And so I had followed every step to find myself back there in the land of mountain and big skies, but alas, my steps found themselves nailed to the ground, instead, in Tennessee.


For two days I sat and talked and watched people from all different homes walk off the train in small and big towns across Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.  Some were by themselves like me, others in small groups who played cards and watched DVDs on small DVD players.  You could tell how the other slept during the night by the degree of desperation for coffee in the morning.  I was able to finish a novel, start two others, write, and work on my scrapbook in those cumulative 48 hours. 


Just when productivity was beginning to bore me, I began to see the outline of peaks.  It’s the similar effect of driving from Utah toward Las Vegas:  45 miles away you can swear that fire is erupting in the desert only to realize another 20 miles in that it is actually the lights of Vegas…a forest fire’s worth of illumination.  And in the 45 miles from the initial sight of Glacier’s range, small mounds became glorious, heaven-made masses of rock.  In the interminable passing of those minutes, I pressed my face against the window and smiled with childlike giddiness.  I wanted to jump out and give it, something, a huge hug…and so, 30 minutes after I myself stepped off the train onto Montana land, I gave that hug and happiness to Britta. 


It is still strange in some ways that I’m not going on to Portland; in fact, it’s still strange on some levels that I’m not back in Glacier.  But, I saw enough PDX tickets of people making that their new home or old home or momentary place of residence.  Those mountains and that coastline can be for another day.  This day I have Glacier, and the love I know here will do nothing but encourage the steps I have left in Memphis.