the wild love

growing wings

Category: poetic

on poetry (a guest post for Seth Haines)

Today I get to share over at the wonderful Seth Haines’s space about poetry. About why I love it, how I love it, why it makes me move and think and wonder. Join me over here?

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

Keep reading over at Seth’s place, and let’s celebrate poems and poets and the way that words make this world so beautiful.

Love,
hilary

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

- See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/on-poetry-by-hilary-sherratt/#sthash.nHqJImSk.dpuf

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

- See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/on-poetry-by-hilary-sherratt/#sthash.nHqJImSk.dpuf

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

- See more at: http://sethhaines.com/uncategorized/on-poetry-by-hilary-sherratt/#sthash.nHqJImSk.dpuf

all I know how to do is read

“To write good poetry,” he said, that cold afternoon, the kind where the fall burns to winter, our bodies huddled in bulky sweaters, feet crammed into rain boots a bit too small for us, pens and pencils out and at the ready over the white spaces, “you must read good poetry.”

This was not the first time he said these words, not even the first time he had reminded us that most of the work of poetry is reading it.

We were ready to slice sentences like bread into fragments tripping over the page, to pair words the rhymed with precise, clean movements. We wanted the ease of the clicking consonants and the sticky slow rhythm of iambic pentameter. We were ready to be poets – but perhaps most of us thought poetry was the easiest art, since it had the most silence?

He told us to read.

It was Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda and Ellen Bass. It was Katha Pollitt and Tom Hennen and Donald Hall and Richard Wilbur and Linda Pastan and a hundred others who write into the vast world without our knowing, most of the time. Every day, a poem. Every day, a person who saw the world and who spoke it back, its absence, its presence, its earthy goodness, its salt.

He told us to read, and for the first time I became hungry for words, for the way they each sound and how they flow into one sound which is many which is one meaning which is many, again. I wanted to read as I had never read before, savor the pages of the thinnest books, not the hefty pages of great American novels and trying physics textbooks. No, give me the lightest touch of pen to paper, the silence of Emily Dickinson’s dashes and the desperate yawning chasm of Edward Hirsch’s “Self-Portrait as Eurydice”. There is something deep in the words, something I would start to grasp just as I finally let the book slip from my fingers, and with it, the memorized neatness and the words and all that was left was the impression that I had met something, been asked a question, been gifted a bit of living fire.

He told us to read, and I have been reading.

And not just the books in the old poetry bookshop down the side street in the heat of summer when I am falling in love with Preston, not just the poetry I find and write and make, no, I have begun to read the world.

I have begun to see the way the sun rises slow in the April and too fast in fall, how there is a dance to rain against a windshield, a hypnotic, unending chaos that draws you in. I have begun to read the steps between home and the pond, the wind like Braille against my fingertips, hands moving like scissors as I run. I have begun to believe that to read the world like this is, indeed, to love the world, as it is, as it must be, as it yearns to be.

It is this way with the man who shovels snow too early in the morning to talk back to the silent trees. It is this way with the woman I see making her way nervously, heels-clicking, down the sidewalk towards the post office on Saturday, the way it is with the bird chatter or the dog and his patient tail thumping the song of our mornings.

All I know how to do is read, for poetry does not teach you to write, only to see everything new through the ache between your eyes and your pen, between the word you must delete despite your love of it, its syllables and sounds, because the poem itself does not need the word. I know how to read and, if I am patient even with myself, the world who is patient with me still will read me, open me up like the well-worn copy of Farmer Boy that I watched my father open, night after night, years ago.

This is the most brazen command of and to the poet - read. 

Love,
hilary

this is a place of remembrance

“I AM DONE WITH THIS!” I scream it over and over, part hysterically crying, part hyperventilating, the oxygen fighting to enter my body. “I am done. I am done. I am. DONE.” Who am I talking to, on the drive back to campus to charge my now-dead phone? What am I talking about?

Is it the ever present shadow of bride to be workouts, the ticker of the treadmill and the stairmaster, the well meaning tight lipped smiles of the people in the gym all out to prove we love our bodies, love ourselves, have the balance, have the motivation, the stamina?

And the way that I tell myself that 382 calories is insufficient for an afternoon, add up the numbers, spend them again and again, streams of numbers divided and earned, calculated on the drive from Starbucks to work and home again, and so I climb stairs for an extra ten minutes because you must, you must, be above 400 every time. You must or else what is the point and do you know what will happen, the wild collapse?

“I am done with this” – with what?

With the endless looping ribbons of thought about whether it is worth writing a blog post about something as small as climbing stairs at the gym on a Wednesday, that who needs or wants to read such a thing, with the frustration that even when I start to write it I want to tell it better, that there is some other voice asking if this is the right word choice, if I would get more traffic by using some other words, if I got to the Jesus part of this quicker then I would be a better blogger, a better writer, a better Hilary.

With the frustration that there is no clean telling of a story that I live in my skin and bones with oxygen that still fights to enter my body and leave it, the most common of journeys, the most transforming of journeys. With how much I have paused and deleted and revisited, thinking I will find a new ending if I hit “save” enough times.

There is a Jesus part to this. There is a part about God. But I can’t run there because when I run there I get pushed back into the hurricane. We have arenas of salvation, arenas of sanctification, Julie told me once. This is mine: that I am not allowed to run from the fact that I struggle, wonder, worry, count and obsess and overplan how to keep my body in the form I have chosen as right enough (but always, the enough, because there must be room for improvement, there must be more zumba classes and more pilates and more of everything else that might make me better). This is the arena of sanctification, me and God in the ring, wrestling as much with each other as with the bystanders, the voices offering those classes and the quick fixes.

Didn’t Jacob call the place Peniel, where he encountered God and yet his life was delivered? And wasn’t it there a striving with God? And wasn’t there the fierceness of blessing, the ache for it, every muscle overworked with the longing?

And I build a place of remembrance between my dashboard and my heart, a remembering that somehow my life is preserved. That’s the Jesus part to this story. That when I drive away from the overcounting and the oxygen fights with my body for permission to breathe again is that this whole post is a wrestling. This whole story is a wrestling.

A day after I scream there is a cancelled appointment, an idea in my head that I’ll go to an extra class, fit in one more day at the gym, an email to my father to ask if he can bring the gym bag I left behind with him, and not five minutes later his head pokes around the door to say he is already here, he can’t go back for it.

Who will say this is not all a wrestling?

Nor this writing my own place of remembering that my life is being delivered?

a poem is still

There was no reason for me to fall in love with poetry that first semester in high school. We sat around a fireplace, notebooks ready, pens hopeful. But we didn’t write anything right away.  Charles told us that to write poetry you must read good poetry. He told us to read poems twice, once for sound, once for meaning, that the better question is always, how does this poem mean? and not the elusive “what” or “why” that the poet so often slides by you, unconscious as water, so that it isn’t until you read the poem years later that you realize it must have meant something about faith, or something about how humans hide from each other, and in hiding, are revealed. Charles told us we would read much more than we would write that semester, that to be a poet you must be a listener to the beauty and weight of words.

Oh, I want to be a poet.

Preston sends me prompts in the morning, ideas and quotes and snippets of things he must have overheard or imagined while he drinks a dry cappuccino before work. He doesn’t give me more than a sentence, a moment, a question, but he tells me quiet in the afternoon where we sit side by side in the ordinary, he says, you are a poet, Hilary Joan. 

But being a poet is stillness incarnate, wild enough to sing freedom to a shuttered heart, soft enough to whisper over you in the desperation of another morning of unknown. Being a poet is love. Being a poet is listening.

I’ve been trying to write this post for so long, to confess the dream, that I want to be a poet -

and maybe I need the stillness first.

Maybe being quiet here, on this blog, is about learning to listen again for the good words of others. Maybe it is not just the poems that must be still -

maybe it must be me.

So I will write – words on the page like this – and pray.

Childhood Friend,

It was a happenstance morning
looking out my window
while coffee dripped behind me.
My husband slept to the quick
rhythm of water. You ran
past – a ghost? A memory.

I am no longer young enough
to drink from the well in your backyard,
to prance in white dresses, splash pink flowered
selves along a sloping hill behind your house,

but remember with me once
how we whispered to each other
clutching teacups in the forbidden living room,
grownup ladies dressed as children,
children dressed as they someday dreamed.

You wore lace before
we knew its name.
Our friendship grew barefoot and wild,
your mother planted roses the year
we forgot.

Seeing you again, out my window
as it rained, your figure cutting through
the road, the morning,
no longer young.

I’ll be listening. I’ll be still.

Love,
hilary

 

a midwife in heaven

She will go before Shakespeare.

She will go before Shakespeare in the wild parade of the blessed, after the striving, after the yearning ache or the clambering up mountains to see something (was it just ourselves we wanted to see, after all?).

She will come forward, who labored two new beings into the world – the mother, the child – kneeling on a cold bedroom floor in countless houses in the town, kneeling to watch that which God made, new and new again.

She will be known among the crowds of the heavenly, and Shakespeare, laughing, will sweep his words aside to make room to praise her.

Because this is the kingdom of God, where love is too wild to be measured, where the parade is laughing and ever laughing, at the knots we tangled ourselves in thinking if only we had the recognition or the security of it, the words embossed in prizes or publications, the fame, the knowing.

But this is the Kingdom of the anonymous faithful named for all that was glorious in their calling, where the hierarchies are scattered in our abundance of eagerness, where we leave behind how we have named one another – famous or critically acclaimed or somehow not quite enough yet (oh, how often have I named myself that?) -

where we leave it behind because the Kingdom is coming, and our joy sees its fullness, and so we abandon decorum and procession and we run, children again, to the throne.

This is the Kingdom where a midwife marches in step with a poet, where the bankers and bakers and those who mothered and fathered six children walk through the streets, unknown by accomplishment but known by calling.

And some days I sit in a train car with a man whose calling I can hear sounding in me as fierce as my own heartbeat, and I write these words on the back of a receipt from a coffee shop where I met someone two months ago and told us both what I want to write here, what I want to shout to everyone: in the Kingdom of God there is too much joy and too much wonder and too much life abundant that our ladders will be unraveled by the power of the river of living water.

I write that the midwife will go before Shakespeare, and laughing, they will praise each other. She will whisper how she saw Twelfth Night once, and he will whisper that he ought to have written ten sonnets in praise of her hands.

I sit in a train car in a green dress in summer, remembering how my friend, she first told me this truth: that a midwife will go before Shakespeare, that in a Kingdom where last is first, our measurements fall to pieces, and this will be joy to us.

Thy Kingdom come.

love,
hilary

poetry is wonder (a guest post)

Hi y’all!

You know something I love (while I’m sitting here in Waco, TX, with that guy who makes my heart stop)? Getting to hang out and share some words over at Hannah’s space. I love her loud, wondering and curious heart – and it’s a joy to share at her blog. I even got to write about poetry, and wonder, and tell a few stories. I’d so love for you to head over and check it out here.

In a night of soft rain, she lies on her bed, angled just so her feet dangle off one edge while her head rests on the lopsided pillows. She feels her stomach rise and fall with the work of breathing, the letter still resting in her hand. She wills gravity to bring it back to the floor, but it stays nestled in her fingers. She won’t let it go, because in it is the truth, the kind of truth that once you read it sears itself onto your skin, an endless repetition. So she holds the letter and she closes her eyes. There is no music playing, not fitting soundtrack, just the night of soft rain and the rise and fall of breathing.
Keep reading with me, over here?
Love,
hilary

words keep vigil

I don’t remember the last time I felt this unsure about what to write. I can’t remember the last time I sat here and knew the words were waiting for something I wasn’t willing to wait for. The words are wiser than me.

Maybe that’s what writer’s block is about, sometimes, a protection of your heart from the things it wants to say but shouldn’t, or can’t, or if it did it might tremble the foundations in the ways that destroy but do not build.

Maybe the words keep watch over us. I’m not above believing that, in some mysterious way they have, in the way writers and words befriend each other, every day, and heal and reconcile and fight again. But maybe my lack of words, my sense that they are hiding somewhere just beyond my reach, maybe that is their offering of protection.

We will come back to you when your heart is ready.
We will come back to you when you have allowed silence to teach you as much as we teach you,
when you have given us up as your birthright or your talent or your calling or your property, and remembered that we
re-member you.

I sometimes hate how when I write I discover that there are a thousand things the words would like to reveal to me. The words find me out, hollowed by a lie I’m trying to tell or weighed down by the truth I’ve been avoiding. The words – about love or calling or fear or last night’s conversation or this morning’s prayer – the words gesture at the bigger silence I must enter. The words find me, too comfortable in what I know I can do, too sure of myself, and they look back at me from the white of the screen or the page and I see how little I actually know. I see the silence they point to – the delicate and unsayable – and I see how I hide from it.

So I sit here and I wait, and I wait, and I think about how I’m trying to write a post about waiting for words that are patient inside my impatient heart, and again, even here, the words point to the bigger silence.

We will come back to you - the promise -

when you have allowed silence to teach you as much as we teach you – the work -

when you have gotten out of the way long enough to remember that He is always speaking.

I don’t know what to write. But the words, somewhere beyond me, keep a vigil.

Love,
hilary

be, still.

Tonight I walked back to the chapel, after the black caps and gowns had paraded past, had gone out to dinner, had found their way to celebrations and shouting and the I-can’t-believe-it’s-here that was my own just a year ago. I walked, and walked, feeling the blisters where my shoes don’t quite fit my feet, feeling the dip and pull of my shoulders after carrying the day, feeling the weight of my body pulled towards the earth.

Maybe my knees knew where they wanted to go before my heart did.

I sat alone in the chapel, in a back pew. I stared at the empty chairs, the empty, echoing room. There were only a few chandeliers lazy and lit, swaying almost as an afterthought of wind. We breathed, the room and I. We waited each other out. I waited, what felt like an age in the sweetly dimming sunlight, for God or maybe just for some sense of something out there, some echo of yes, we see you, from the pews and benches, from the hymnals flung in piles or the ferns beckoning me with their long green fingers.

Oh, God, love is hard.

It is hard to want a thing so delicate, so very unsayable, that our words gesture at it almost helplessly. It is hard to walk in a thing that I barely know. It is hard to widen my heart past the length of the day and the ache in my feet and the steady drumbeat in my left temple. I slid off my shoes – a reflex – and I folded in on myself.

God, love is hard.

I sat and sat and sat and sat. And nothing changed. No whisper in the breeze through the single open window. No flame of hope or joy streaming over me. No promises or reminders resounding in the empty room. I could hear the fans whir themselves to sleep. I could hear a clock keep its time. I could almost hear the slight shake in my hands against the edge of the pew in front of me. But the house of worship was quiet.

I’m the girl who always wants the voice from heaven reassurance. I’m the girl who expects Him to say it loud and say it obvious, a gold star on my forehead at the end of each day, an answer when I worry. And the stillness echoed so loud I was afraid I might drown in it. Be still and know… I’ve never know how to do that. Be still.

My mother knows how to make silence with the littlest ones on Sunday mornings. With them, she weaves stillness through their hands and toes and flailing elbows and anxious knees. The youngest learn to listen to the silence, the hollow widened space where God walks. Again, they must teach me. Again, I know so little, sitting alone in the chapel in the middle of the sunset chasing away the afternoon. I know so little about a world hollowed and lit by silence. I know so little about how God sounds; I wonder how much I have lost in not listening.

But it was still in the chapel tonight.

Maybe that was Him.

Love,
hilary

and we are hearing what we are

Last year, on this day, May 10, I wrote a letter to Preston. Something about it caught my mind when I was thinking I wanted to write something today, that I wanted to remember how much the years bend and shift with our changing weight. How gravity loves us, pulls us, releases us, how time spins, and stands still. How it all seems to change and not change and there is wonder, and there is grace. Always that. Something about this letter (originally published here) felt like it was the beginning of the right question. 

Dear Preston,

Isn’t it strange, this ache we feel for the departure we must have known was coming? I graduate in nine days – you in just two – and I’m sitting on my bed angry at the idea of leaving, as if it was a surprise tucked into my acceptance letter, a clause I didn’t read. You’re going to have to go from this place, it says, and I want to rebel, insist that no, we can always be here where it is safe and familiar, where it is challenging and messy, where hearts have emptied and overflowed.

But then the thunderclap, as you put it, and the sweeping in of departure. And we’ll never come back here, will we? Never as we are now, and the place which seems so familiar will bend with the seasons and look different when we happen upon it in ten years. Among the great and varied changes of this life, it’s places changing we forget about most. Baylor and Gordon will change; the green of the quad and the presence of the coffee shop on campus and the feel of the chapel pews and the long sidewalks leading past the baseball field to the track – they will weather new conversations and new feet, new adventures and heartbreaks. These places we love most will not stand still just to watch us move. They, too, will journey on towards their fullness. The places, too, will become more fully His.

I’m deep in Rilke, deep in the goodness of those words. After all this, it is Rilke who reminds me, in his gentle way, to trust and behold and marvel. Can I share just one small thing with you, because it’s too beautiful to leave on a page in a book?

“Orchard and Road” (Collected French Poems)

In the traffic of our days
may we attend to each thing
so that patterns are revealed
amidst the offerings of chance.

All things want to be heard,
so let us listen to what they say.
In the end we will hear what we are:
the orchard or the road leading past.

All things want to be heard. I wish I had learned this four years ago, when the stars clamored from the night sky, when the trees whispered, when the people I passed on the sidewalk looked longingly at me, waiting to be recognized. I wish I had learned to listen to what they were saying. I missed them. There are a thousand images I might have captured, rendered permanent in words or in the silence between words; a thousand people I might have loved, a thousand books I might have read, a thousand cool rainy nights I might have walked and prayed and thought.

But in the end we will hear what we are. What does he mean by this? By listening to the world, we will hear what we are. We who are so in-between, who yearn beyond the world but root ourselves in the world – how can we know what we are?

We are leaving, Preston, and the departure aches in places I didn’t know existed. In the traffic of my days I attend to that ache. I listen to what it says: it says I have loved. It says I have given my heart away. It says what I am is human, and to be human is to ache and love.

Today and tomorrow, I’m praying that you would hear what you are in the traffic of your day: that you would hear about how you loved, and rejoiced, and ached. That you would hear how you belong to Him. That you would hear the orchard, and the road leading past.

Love, and every grace,
Hilary

PS. A year later, still in the traffic of our now different days, still with our hearts and minds bent towards the true and beautiful – with a year of working and theology and sacramentality (things we know better know that we don’t know), and a year of crowded bars and dinner parties, a year of grace that sometimes ached and always lasted – I still wonder about Rilke.

I still want to hear the orchard, and the road leading past.

I still think this must be about wonder.

when you can’t go back to sleep

I’ve been waking up every morning at 3am, then again at 5, and then, finally, at 6:20 when I’m supposed to roll out of bed and open the day.

But some mornings, I can’t go back to sleep. I lie and look at the grey sky – the sun must be rising somewhere, I know, but I can’t see it yet – and I stare up at the ceiling. I like to imagine that if I could read it right, my story would be written in neat and beautiful cursive above my head. I want to believe that if I looked for the clues to the mystery of who I am and what I am supposed to do, I could solve it.

Solve the not-going-back-to-sleep, I mean, which is solving the I-don’t-understand-God, which is solving the what-is-this-life, solving the find-your-place-in-the-world.

When I can’t go back to sleep I do math equations in my head, add and subtract and subdivide by unknown quantity “n” looking for a way out of the grey. I wrote them on a piece of paper once:

Fear and hope about job – (trust in God / WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE) + a boy who must exist in the universe somewhere / messy relationships (people hurt! + people are wonderful!) ^ the power of deep friendship – how do any of us even know what friendship means! + N, unknown = the meaning of life. 

This problem, I think, should go on the secret mathematician’s list of “the world’s greatest unsolved problems.” They call them the Millenium Prize Problems: P v. NP, Riemann hypothesis, Navier-Stokes existence and smoothness… and then me, with “The Life Problem.”

On Sunday a girl in our Sunday school asked about the word “mystery” as the teacher presented on the Eucharist. “You mean like Sherlock Holmes?” She asked. The teacher, moving the clay figure of Jesus to the middle of the table, his arms frozen in outstretched blessing over his clay disciples, paused. “Do we solve it?” The little girl asked. I nodded with her, me and my life.

“Actually, this isn’t a mystery that we solve.” The girl wasn’t buying it, shot the teacher a knowing, I-bet-you-say-this-to-everyone look. I mimicked her. “This is a mystery we wonder about.”

We wonder about how Jesus in his outstretched embrace loves the world and moves in it. We wonder about our lives and the people we cherish and the people we hurt and the love that moves  freely. We wonder. And perhaps it is better unsolved.

Mysteries, Yes
by Mary Oliver from Evidence (Beacon Press)

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Love,
hilary

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