River

The river flows dark and cold

memories dance

down this viscous highway

sparkling eyes of a young girl

dreaming of her lover

across on the other shore

a lone bell rings

echoing across the valley

reminding her of loss

the river flows deep and muddy

where bones lie quiet

and catfish roam

Advertisements

Village

Down in the village,

children run

half naked through the streets,

dirty faces smudged,

snot running from red noses,

no one seems to care,

an old lady squats,

fanning the fire under her pot

mouth cherry red

from chewing betel nuts,

next to her stands a boy,

his face half gone

the remains of a uniform

hanging like a limp flag

from his broken body

the cost of madness

of debt never erased

Southern Border

At night it’s colder
but they cannot see
as you crawl,
following the stars
on your back
the few items you carry,
in your arms a sleeping child
each step taken means 
one step closer,
each step taken means
finding sanctuary,
lights ahead betray their search
if your found then it’s back
back to the street gangs
who raped and killed your sister
back to the slums and mean barrios
where life is cheap
sold for a pittance 
paid for with your body
until one day you are used up
a lifeless rag that was once a person

Nighttime in Qui Nhon

Above helicopters
circle like vultures 
propellers beating out their call,
sounding like a million bees
they spout their lethal projectiles 
raising a cloud of dirt and dust,
the angel of death has come to call
rockets flare out whooshing
no red glare, 
no bombs bursting,
just a spark of fire then gone
finding targets below
enemy hidden in a green tangle 
burrowed deep underground 
waiting out their Passover.

The Dash Between

Walk through a cemetery, slowly. Gaze at the various grave markers, take note of the person’s name, the date of birth the date of death, look around, see what offerings have been left by others. The gravesite tells much if we are really attentive, we get to know who this person is, those bits and pieces of offerings give us a glimpse into their life, when they once roamed this planet, when they were fully alive and present. Between the birth and death there is a space or a dash, that small part represents all that person was and did, how they lived, loved it represents their hopes and dreams, the pain and joy, all that life brings.

I have done plenty of funerals, have seen many gravestones and read about those who lie beneath the ground. Some heroes, winners of medals and adulation from a grateful nation, some mothers who sacrificed so much for children and grandchildren, some husbands who once stood as the providers for their families, all once living breathing human beings. The space, the dash is where their story lies, it is in that place where we find discover their true self, it is in that space where we discover ourselves.

Memoir is mining the dash, going beneath its surface and diving deep into those memories that have made us who we are, and will be the legacy we leave. I am coming now to the end of another period of life as retirement lies out there on the horizon. I have been a priest in the Episcopal Church for over 26 years, I have served my current parish for 17 of those years. I have made many mistakes, I have suffered depression and felt defeated, yet, I have also felt great joy and love. I have experienced the full spectrum of the human condition, witnessed birth and death, held the hand of one facing great struggles, watched as others have turned their backs and walked away. My heart, has been filled to the brim with joy and broken also by great heaviness, a sense of failing not just the people I serve but the God whom I have given my life over to.

Vocation is a calling. It is answering the call to follow and follow I have done. Not the most perfect of followers and definitely not one of those bright shining stars that populate the universe of clergy. I have been the person whom God created me to be, I have tried, failed and tried again and through the trials and tribulations I have grown to love these people whom I have lived with. Last Sunday was Easter and it will be my last Easter here in the place I am. As I looked out at the congregation, knowing many only come once or twice a year, I saw so many stories and each one has touched my heart. The teens who I held in my arms so many years ago, pouring water over their heads as I baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, bringing them into the community of faith. The families who I sat with as we watched a beloved member die, as we stood at the edge of the grave, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It was hard, it will be hard, to say good-bye, to bid these people farewell, even now as I write this I feel the clutch in the throat, tears on the edge of my eyes, remembrances pouring out.

My own dash, the space between birth and death, is where I am now being called into, to write, however imperfectly, about this life. If anything, I write this for my grandchildren and those who will one day walk into some graveyard, stare down at a stone with my name engraved on it with a birthdate and death date, and that all important dash.

Sabbath

The city is quiet

merchants and hawkers

silent, shops shuttered

outside at the killing field

two bodies hang

scavengers picking

at their decaying flesh

as black clouds of flies

linger about dried blood

at the tombs

soldiers play at dice

while the cock crows

its sound echoing

down empty streets

while in a darkened room

they sit behind locked doors

waiting for the fateful knock.