Dandelion Pavement

I've seen cracks in the pavement
Where slender grass and blooms thrust upward.
It's never been clear - 
Does the green shatter this graveyard concrete?
Or does vulnerability attract growth?
Or does some friendly wind drop seeds into dry and broken and unforgiving cement,
On the hope that such armor may have kept the soil damp?

I don't know, but cracking and green comingle,
And I cannot escape the yearning that
Growth should be gracious
When these tendrils tangle
And the cracks crumble
And the pavement has lost even its hard wholeness
So pleasing in its precision.

But the cracks splinter longer
As these stubborn dandelions, 
Impervious to passing feet,
Cycle through yellow breath.
And feathered death,
At once resilient and fragile,
Now scatters life with wind,
And the cracking and death are strangely resurrection. 

So the grass grows greener
And I watch it grow - nevermind how it came to be:
Birth is always more mysterious than death.

Maybe next year I won't see any pavement.

____________________________________
Photo by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash

After a funeral

This world is full of life - 
Preserved.
Hospitalized.
Medicated.
-- These rasping attempts to cheat
The uncheatable
(Which has by your death-miracle
And green Easter appearance 
Been rendered defeatable).

Your glory's lost on me at times.
I'm bound by dirt and dust,
My ears are lulled by science lies
That my  body will not rust
And I miss the glory of Son-rise
Because how little I've been touched
By this pain.
This reality.
This brutality.

And yet this newly motherless child
Newly exposed to the loss
Newly bereft of such a pillar as grew me strong
Ran fearless and sweet and unaware
Of the deafening silence of a grave. 

Your gaze was fixed

It was a TV show:
A produced, manufactured
Fiber optic-fashioned glow
But my gaze faltered
Because even this constructed casualty assaulted me
And I flinched at pretend pain.

But you...

You saw Auschwitz and Ahmaud
And Flanders and Philando
But your gaze was fixed.

Now my eyes, 
Blurred by time and DNA,
Survey such a world
And a ragged question stirs from blood-torn fields:
Were you there at the slaughter, my Lord?
Was your vision masked, like mine,
Or did you see it all?

You must have:
For you stare bold at horror.
You saw Jerusalem,
And your gaze was fixed
You saw Golgotha,
And your gaze was fixed while your mouth was shut
And the coming glory blazed so clear that
You hung guiltless and gory on graceless wood
While still your gaze was fixed.

But your unhindered gaze sees all years alike.
Years seen as days
Days seen as moments
You stare time down - 
Flinty and fearless - 
And you've seen - 
Since Cain's crime! - 
The havoc that haunts us.
But still your gaze is fixed.

How?

How can you, unshattered, see our unvarnished violence?
How can you watch unbroken? 
I recoil from the director's cut -
But you watch reality unblinking.

But then, you know this road.
You chose brokenness before,
When your sight and breathing failed,
So your broken children
Could at last see you truly.

Yes, you were broken once before.
But at break of day - 
Stone seal broken, shattered, gone! - 
Your gaze was fixed once more,
Past death's broken, shattered back,
On a still more distant breaking dawn.               

_________________________________________________
Photo by Joel Staveley on Unsplash                                  

Original Sound

I believed you made light first:
Particles and waves smashed headlong,
Bashed about the universe
Or a rising, leonine, endless curve
Of a nascent, cosmic dawn.

But you called out first - 
Sonic waves unbound from matter
Coursed through black void
And maybe pure and rushing sound 
Combusted into light
From the strength of holy voice.

What love has caused such sound to still?
Your voice unbound by physic's laws
Loves silence when in the pin-drop
These tiny tears gather mass and courage
To splutter and fall.
And you pause - 
And the universe gasps, withdraws,
For the voice is silent and receiving,
And in this chosen silence,
I am heard. 

Calming Nightmares

I suppose we've all had them
Those silent dreams of
A kidnapper, a murderer, a thief
And you see the danger
And every fight or flight instinct prickles
And you run.
Run so hard that even in your dreams your chest aches
And you scream, child or full-grown,
Scream for their safety or your safety or even just help
But no one hears you.
Either they're inside and the music is blaring
Or they're talking and they tell you to hush
Or worst of all, you try to scream until there is no air,
No breath to force through your throat,
And you gasp, choking on your futility and their rushing
But still your voice falls silent,
And no hears your crying.
So the danger creeps in
And the small, weak, vulnerable are left open to a butchery, 
Open to a ravishing that you saw but could never stop.

I grew older and the fears switched,
And so too the nightmare,
And boogeymen in the dark became 
The boisterous fear of failure
Or deprivation
Or loneliness.
And still we are left crying,
Gasping in this abyss
Where no one hears our mourning
Because the music is blaring
And a million tasks bid our pain be silent.
So we scream into Tinder
And howl into Facebook
For any voice, any face, any feeling 
That will shatter this echo chamber.

But who will listen? 
Whose wounds are whole?
Who has ears to hear when our own voices cannot breach our mouths,
And our thoughts clatter like pennies in forgotten glass?
We hold our heads to press out the pain,
But these hands so full of grief cannot hold space, too,
And this bruised and crumpled world collapses
Until the voices are silenced,
Until the hearts are crushed
Until these griefs constrict in death spasms,
And one final question splinters the silence:

"Is no one listening?"

I AM.

_________________________________________________
(Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash)

This beautiful breath: Choosing meaningful rest in creation

Photo by Nihal Demirci on Unsplash

This is the fourth installment in a series exploring how I, as an artist who is a Christian, invite Christ into my artistry, not in terms of content, but in terms of how I actually produce my art. You can read the other installments herehere, and here.

It is with some trepidation that I write this next installment in the ‘This beautiful ____’ series. Given that this series functions a little bit as a how-to, one might imagine that I would be more adept at accomplishing myself the things that I suggest for a healthy life as an artist. Nevertheless, I confess that I do not always rest well. I don’t mean sleep. I usually sleep just fine, but sleep is not always rest. Sometimes sleep is just an escape when I’m faced with a reality I’d rather ignore, or sometimes just because I’m lazy. Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime/etc. are even less restful. I may have been entertained, but I don’t think I’ve ever finished binge watching a show and thought, ‘Wow, I just feel so refreshed right now!’ If anything, the overexposure to blue light results in diminished sleep quality and a certain restlessness in my body as I attempt to make it rest when really it has glutted itself on inactivity and needs productivity even while mentally I am sleepy.

True rest is proactive. True rest is more than a cessation of activity. I’m struck by the language that Scripture uses. We are called to find rest for our souls, to enter rest, to return to rest. It’s strangely proactive.

This is as true in my artistic life as it is anywhere else. The first time I felt the truth of this was when I was teaching full-time elementary music and middle school choir and drama, and maintaining a private voice studio on top of all that. I quickly discovered that I had nothing to offer my students artistically if I was not replenishing myself artistically. In this particular setting, the refreshment I needed was to continue to learn new music for myself, not music that I would teach to my students, or music I would prepare for church, but simply to expand my own boundaries as a musician and artist. So I learned some new songs – some Broadway, some jazz, some classical. I began writing more poetry. I stopped blogging about teaching and began, slowly, to write about art and faith and life. While the transition took some time, this blog in its current format was born out of this season of discovery. It had been Hungarian Rhapsody for about 3 years (hence the reason ‘Life in Hungary’ figures so prominently in my subject cloud). It was freeing to create on my own terms.

That’s all very well and good for life as a teacher, but what about when we are worn out from the music itself? I cannot count the number of times I’ve opened the door to a practice room and thought or said, ‘I really don’t feel like singing right now’. It’s a deeper frustration than simply not wanting to practice (which happens a lot, too, but which I overcome by being, you know, an adult). When I don’t want to sing, it’s because I’ve been stretched too thin by too many instructions and too many expectations, made worse from too little time spent remembering that music is beautiful and (hopefully) fun. It’s a soul-weariness.

So what’s a girl to do? It’s true that in this situation, sometimes you simply need a good night of sleep. However, there have also been times when I’ve gotten plenty of rest and the weariness persists. I find in those moments/hours/days that the following practices can be helpful.

Refocus your vision on who you are as an artist. This is far less gushy and feel-good than you might imagine. Remember that you are an artist who is enabled to create because you were made in the image God the Creator and First Artist and Most Beautiful. He is eternally invested in the how and why of our creative acts on earth because creativity inherently reflects him. Regardless of what professors and audition panels say, your creativity matters. More profoundly, refocus your vision on who God is as Creator and Sustainer. There is a direct correlation in my life between the amount of time I spend seeking God and the amount of energy I feel as a creative.

Make something just for you. Cook dinner. Sometimes I try to paint. I’m not amazing, but smearing water colors around on a page is refreshing. More often, I write. Sometimes those writings actually make it on this blog, but I have many, many drafts that were devoted to me getting my brain out of an artistic funk. They’re not any good. They don’t need to be. Maybe sing/play/draw something that is not in your ‘wheelhouse’ just for the fun of it. Decorate your house or dig in a garden. Keep on creating, but do it on your own terms.

Enjoy art that you cannot critique. I love going to concerts. Of course I do. But I can make intelligent commentary on music. Sometimes it’s hard to be moved by music (especially singing!) because I do a heck of a lot of it and I teach it, and by virtue of those two career choices, I constantly analyze voices. It’s not even critical, necessarily. I just notice stuff about voices. Yes, yours too, dear reader. I guarantee if we’ve ever spoken in person, I have, at very least, noted your average spoken pitch levels and enunciation. Sorry if that’s weird. I’m a voice teacher. We tend to be a weird bunch.

But you know what I can’t analyze? Dancing. I’ve taken roughly two dance classes in my life. I can keep a steady beat, but that’s about all I bring to the stage as a dancer. That lack of knowledge is what makes watching dance so refreshing. This was never more clear to me than when I attended the Joffery Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker this past December. I cried. Not because the story was moving. It was The Nutcracker. I cried because participating in beauty when I cannot reproduce it or assess it beyond my completely subjective opinion, is healing. It’s healing to remember that not all art has the same aesthetic. It’s healing to be pulled into a story, and quite frankly, to let someone else do the artistic work. Being an artist of any kind exacts a high price. Every so often, allow someone else to pay that price, be it at a museum, the ballet, or the library. Drink that grace.

Take it easy. If you’re struggling with this in the first place, then you’re probably an artist with exacting expectations for yourself, and such feelings of exhaustion or even disinterest perhaps make you wonder if you really love your craft enough, or if you’re really creative enough. From one who’s been there, let me suggest that if you’ve run yourself ragged in your art form in your pursuit of excellence, I’d hazard a guess that you love it enough, and you are creative enough. In those moments, I allow myself to feel those emotions, but I also remind myself that feelings do tend change quickly. These will probably pass, too.

Be quiet. Have you ever noticed that you mind comes awake at night when everyone else has gone to sleep? We live in a very noisy world, both literally and figuratively. Nexflix, the news, social media, work, texts, cars, people – the amount of stimulus that confronts us every day is staggering. Creating anything demands that we access something deep inside of ourselves, distill it to its most elemental form, and then form it into something lucid for an external audience. That is taxing work. To accomplish that with the constant hum of the 21st century world as background noise is especially taxing. I wonder if the exhaustion that I sometimes feel as a creative is not exhaustion from my art, but exhaustion from the competition for brain space. I sometimes leave my phone in my locker or office for this reason when I go to practice. I cultivate a rhythm of quiet in my life, usually at the lake where I can stare at the water and the birds and let my mind unravel. I dump my brain into to-do lists and weekly practice schedules so that I can free up a little space to create. I don’t believe that God created in a state of chaos when he made the world, and I don’t believe that we can create from a state of chaos either (although we may often create from a place of pain).

Yes, all of these suggestions take discipline and practice, and even as I write, I sit here and think how I ought to do all of these things more often than I do. On my best, most-mature, a-little-more-sanctified-than-normal days, I do these things. Many more times, I sit in the frustration and gripe about how I don’t feel like singing, but I muscle through yet another practice session, and think to myself, ‘well, that happened’. I want better for myself, and I want better for us all. So, please, the next time I’m in a songless funk, please ask me: have you rested yet today?

III. Easter Morning


Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash
I waited for the sun to rise
Alarm was set - 5:55
Half-light met my opening eyes
But very much to my surprise
I had not planned the timing wise - 

And the joke was all on me.

I'd yearned to see its blazing glory,
And its rise would tell the story
Of the once despised and gory
Son of God, died! risen! for me.

But whatever curve the earth is on,
Is not the curve Chicago runs,
And past these buildings, light had shone - 
But not a clear sight of the dawn.

And then later, higher than I'd dreamed
The sun around the corner gleamed,
And I thought, how unlike that Saturday
Of waiting for the Son.

In that 3rd dawn, they saw death,
Where I see parable, and feel breath,
They saw mockery in two dawns dead,
So hopeless watched it rise.

But I know better than they knew
Because their stories were all true
Rejoice - this King will rise and come!
In that church auditorium,
This new-flesh heart wept the ancient-new
With those who saw not with their eyes
But who waited for the Son to rise.

As I wait for dawn


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
I. Good Friday

The black pall marched past silent, ceaseless
The flash of fabric shocked me
And my heart stilled an instant in my wonder:
What is this specter looming suddenly?
The quick fear settled as I saw:
Mere fabric.
And a quicker wonder and relief bloomed
As the shroud passed me by:
Death has passed over me.
Its mouth lusted for a greater, eternal meal,
Turned its inexorable steps toward one lonely hill
And there feasted on the blood pouring down.

But it did not stop for me.

And this veil now draping these crossbeams
Will never touch my mortal head
For the blood that drenches this black cloth
Has drenched and covered me instead.


II. Holy Saturday

And now we wait.
Every year, I seek to remember well.
I fast, I write, I mourn - 
But who remembers well in a post-Easter reality?
My whole life is staked on Easter morning truth,
And even this black day is tinged with green and laughter
Because this seed of a woman now grown and died
Is really the seedling firstborn of the dead.
Trees are budding out my window,
And I wonder how much he wants mourning.
For he is dawn, and dew, and springtime.

And so I wait, because He did,
But the laughter crouches at the mouth of the tomb,
And springs out at the first light of the dawn of His resurrection.

Photo by Steven Lu on Unsplash

Cajun sausage and black bean soup


Photo by Phoenix Han on Unsplash

I did not take that picture of a pot, nor is it my pot. In fact, I entirely forgot to take pictures of this meal until I was sipping the broth, savoring, and thinking how I should write a blog post of it so I don’t forget what I did. Then I realized that a picture of said recipe would be a handy thing to have. But, truthfully, my phone isn’t that amazing, and I’m a very mediocre photographer, so you’re not missing much. But don’t miss this soup! So yummy, so satisfying, and so easy!

Ingredients:

1 large onion, diced

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 stalks of celery, diced

3 large carrots, diced

1 red pepper, diced

3 links of good quality-smoked sausage (I got mine from Pete’s Fresh Grocery, and it became reason 1,374 why I love my grocery store – their in-house sausage is so tasty!), spicy or not – your call. Slice in 1/4 in. rounds.

1 cup diced fresh tomato or 1 15-oz. can of diced tomato

3 15-oz. cans of black beans, 2 drained, 1 not drained

1 cup broth

3-4 tsp. Cajun seasoning

1/2 tsp. thyme

Salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste

1/2 c. packed fresh parsley

Method:

Sweat the onion, garlic, celery, carrots, red pepper, and sausage in a large soup pot. When the veggies are slightly soft, add all the beans, the broth, two cups of water, and the tomatoes. Add in the seasoning. Adjust salt and spiciness to taste. Let simmer for 20-30 mins, or until all veggies are soft and flavors combined. Mince the parsley and stir into soup. Serve with a side salad and lots of bread and butter! Enjoy!

At lunch, after a hard goodbye


Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

We sat in sweet sacred silence

Full of spent tears

And the knowledge of unnecessary speech.

We tightened ranks to make the gap less yawning,

We shifted hard in our seats as stale jokes hit the table like crumbs,

And then we glanced away as words trailed off,

And we let the exhaustion run its course.

In some strange way, it is a welcome grief:

Love must flex its boundaries

When your blossomed dreams require distance.

And so I tear off small pieces of my heart

To send with you

And I receive small bits of yours,

And together we will weave this cord

Both tenuous and iron,

That stretches boundaries wide like earth,

As deep as time,

As high as eternity.