bring back everything

I wander in the thousand winds
that you are churning,
and bring back everything I find.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours I, 55

God.

I pray in the cloisters of a thousand older prayers that I have to believe someone before me prayed, that I have to believe are already well worn, broken in shoe prayers.

I am wandering in the thousand winds.

You’ve brought me here to the beginnings of everything, and there are a thousand winds, each so full it seems it will take a lifetime for the words to catch it. How can I bring you back what I find?

I find my old shoes on new pavement, a Texas sun planting freckles on my shoulders, a bridge over an unhurried river, the smallest breeze lifting my hair off the back of my neck between red lights, almost as if you wanted the ordinary world to come a little closer to me. The air, the sweat of the morning, the silence.

How can I bring you what I find? Because he is next to me when I wake up in the morning and when I go to sleep, and there is suddenly, finally, and all at once, the ark of marriage, as much mystery as calling and covenant and courage. Oh, the courage it is to be married, to wake up next to each other with so much more than ever can be said between you, with so much fullness, and so much wonder? How, God? How can I bring you what I find?

You are churning these thousand winds, O Lord, and I am so small. How can I bring you what I find?

The question echoes along the corridors of my heart, walks with me into the grocery store, when we walk down the street to talk about our days, or what has surprised us, when it is morning and the words don’t seem to be there, for what it is that I want. But this is what I want: to bring back everything I find.

To be a gatherer of the scattered pieces of your goodness in the world, the smallest goodnesses of muscles that move me along that unhurried river and the goodness of the man who moves with such ease in the small kitchen, his smile betraying so much more joy, the goodness of the well-fought fight, of the bigness of Texas sky or the way a phone call will pour water on a thirsty heart, of Life of Pi read out loud one morning, of country music through speakers, of running out of words long enough to be asked to listen again.

This is what I want, God, to walk these cloistered prayers and to be in the churning winds and to bring you what I find.

I find your fullness in these thousand winds.

I want to bring back everything.

Amen.

Love,
hilary

for when the poem makes promises

I’m a haphazard writer, at best. These days I turn to the keyboard and I find that I have little to say, that everything coming to the surface is about the waiting, this endless waiting, or about the hurry-up-and-slow-down dance we’ve been doing. I keep thinking that I have nothing new, that there is nothing new under the sun, to gift or to give, and I want to sigh like Anne of Green Gables, exhale all the sorrows of the ages into the world, breathe in the goodness, breathe out the worry, begin again.

My wordpress dashboard tells me that this day two years ago we began here, a wild love for people and God and words and the way those things are in each other and through each other. Two years. The two years of agony and wonder that only a life lived full can bring at the same time.

And there, the silver thread running through, the minnow in the shining water, is poetry.

It is the beginning of every metaphor I have given in the past two years, the end of every sentence. It is the heart behind the heart I present, the asked unasked question that shivers in the dark. It is the stolen moments at work when I type to remember how to write at all, to stitch limbs with words like so much dissolvable surgical thread, hoping the body, the poetry, will heal itself. It is itself, too, spurning my company in an instant for the sticky sweetness of the afterword, the last punctuation, the ghost in the air.

I started this blog with the idea that love is wild, and maybe that is the prayer which is the poem which is not either thing, but I want it to be so I can be writing about poetry, so that I can be a poet, a prayer. Love is wild. Is it?

The poems command me to say yes, that it is an untamed thing, living like fire, the other breath in our lungs. Love is basic, built from what builds our bodies and yet, like our bodies, beyond its elements. Love is hormones firing in the brain and then pushing out into the kiss, the skin cells meeting, the silent late night sorting of the recycling. Love is basic, built up from the periodic tables we live in, then reaching so far away from us it takes a poem to pull it back in, takes words, takes the Spirit’s speaking. And a listening ear.

Poetry is that listening ear against the galaxy, against the spinning chaos, against the noise that becomes the music that still is chaos.

Poetry is my surgical thread, the minnow I imagine at the bottom of the pond that most days looks too ordinary to notice, poetry what turns my gaze back towards the world in horror and awe.

Poetry pulls the wild love out of me, of you, makes more of us wherever it is, sitting in dusty chapbooks abandoned by the world.

Day by day, stitching us whole.

Love,
hilary

for when the poem hurts your pride

This is for the poems that stand defiant on the other side of the fence from you, sure that they have evaded your grasp, and you are tired, limb-tired, arms hanging off your shoulders like skinny stockings, and you are too tired to understand them.

This is for the poems that read me better than I read them, aloud in my office in the eerie stillness of an evening working too late, my halfhearted defiance against the ordinary. The poems that sat contented to watch me struggle in pronunciation or in prayer, poems that I imagine laughed at my third or fourth reading where I adopted a British accent in the hope that would uncover the meaning in the page.

Poems are meant to hurt our pride.

They are bruising things to the tender fruit of our thinking ourselves wise or right or people with understanding. The poems tear down our defenses. The poems reveal and reveal past layers of skin and shards of interpretation to that quickening heart, the one that beats and beats and goes on beating even in the longest day.

When I wind my way home on an afternoon, when I am convinced that I will be weighted and measured by the accomplishments that gather dust in the old battered shoe boxes at the top of the creaking stairs in my house, there the poems arrive.

One after another they cling to me like stubborn water, in my hair, in the hollow spaces of my ears.

I can hear them even now, their echoes -

“so, through me, freedom and the sea” (here)

“He had cancer stenciled into his face” (here)

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall ” (here)

“Out on the flats, a heron still
as a hieroglyph carved
carved on the soft gray face of morning.”(here)

That’s Pablo Neruda meeting Edward Hirsch meeting Robert Frost meeting Leonard Nathan.

And still, they devastate me with the promise that I am not the accomplishments, I am nothing as neat as a checklist or a perfect score. I am nothing as simple as dotted i’s, for the space between a lowercase i, ee cummings, and the regal I of Margaret Atwood’s “Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing” – that is where  mystery begins.

If a poem was a graph, I think, I could map its meaning, plot it, make a line of best fit to zip the untidy grammar and preserve this idea that I can be known by what I do, and by that I mean you can know me by what I presume and present.

If a poem was a graph, but, then – a poem in the midst of the thought -

the small clustered army of empty boxes
marches across the white desert, line by starved blue line
awaiting the signal to scatter
plot, parabola, sharp V like the neat geese northbound
in June.

I can’t even write a post about poems without being taken up with the idea of one, the promise and peril of words on paper. These poems wound my pride until it sits meekly in the corner, finally, aware that there are a million acres of understanding between me and the poem, me and the poet, and those acres in an instant no distance at all.

This is for the poems that make me think I can never love poetry.

Those same poems preach in my worried heart that I wanted to be taught the wild love, and they are the unrepentant teachers.

These are the poems that will uncage us. These are the poems that call out our sweet, living flame.

Love,
hilary

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