Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Awakening Gaze

The Awakening Gaze
-- For Ricky; and for James and Bob and Emerson and all the others who are still hidden from view

She stood in the door
                                         the light in the room
no longer just from the sun coming in the window
had been quieted and browned by the yellow
fluids dripping from bags  the blue and red and white
blinking lights
                           the drawn curtain
                                                             the flat grey metal
cabinets   tables and poles

She watched the lights speak to no one
                                                                  when the nurse
and the other lady found her
                                                  they would be mad
she knew this

                              Squeezing the brown and white and
red and black stuffed dog she
                                                    came to the man and said


it was the only voice  the only sound  able to cut through
the whistling and hissing and clicking clacking of the sentinels
waiting for him to give over finally


             just this once  someone sees me and not the red
and purple and green camouflage my skin has become
         is not afraid
                                 to see me
                                                       and so
in her gaze I am able to remember

I was boy-long-before-remnant    I had a name   a laugh
and secrets
                                   Now, he remembers,
                                                                           I am disappearing
Into nothing but a flask for fluids   that distract
the nervous staff
                                               More of this   and
More of more of the same will comfort

        he will  be still

and we will lessen our scratching guilt


              Do you know a story   please?
If you will sing me
your favorite song
                                    I will tell you
a story

                     And when the nurse found them

she was singing    “go to sleep  baby mine”
the flickering machines stopped

to hold

his silence

                         -- Luke

AIDS Memorial, Carbondale Illinois
28 April 2013

Shared on the occasion of the 20th Annual AIDS Walk in Carbondale

Monday, January 21, 2019

"Go Down, Moses"

"Go Down, Moses"

On a day when we are called to remember and renew our calling, let us hear what a  real dream sounded like, a year before King was murdered.

From, The Trumpet of Conscience, Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper & Row, 1967:

“I have said that the problem, the crisis we face, is international in scope. In fact, it is inseparable from an international emergency which involves the poor, the dispossessed, and the exploited of the whole world.

Can a nonviolent, direct-action movement find application on the international level, to confront economic and political problems?  I believe it can.  It is clear to me that the next stage of the movement is to become international.  National movements, within the developed countries – forces that focus on London, or Paris, or Washington, or Ottawa – must help to make it politically feasible for their governments to undertake the kind of massive aid that the developing countries need if they are to break the chains of poverty.  We in the West must bear in mind that the poor countries are poor primarily because we have exploited them through political or economic colonialism.  Americans in particular must help their nation repent of her modern economic imperialism.

But movements in our countries alone will not be enough. In Latin America, for example, national reform movements have almost despaired of nonviolent methods; many young men, even many priests, have joined guerrilla movements in the hills.  So many of Latin America’s problems have roots in the United States of America that we need to form a solid, united movement, nonviolently conceived and carried through, so that pressure can be brought to bear on the capital and government power structures concerned, from both sides of the problem at once.  I think that may be the only hope for a nonviolent solution in Latin America today; and one of the most powerful expressions of nonviolence may come out of that international coalition of socially aware forces, operating outside governmental frameworks.

....Indeed, although it is obvious that nonviolent movements for social change must internationalize, because of the interlocking nature of the problems they all face, and because otherwise those problems will breed war, we have hardly begun to build the skills and the strategy, or even the commitment, to planetize our movement for social justice.

In a world facing the revolt of the ragged and hungry masses of God’s children, in a world torn between the tensions of the East and West, white and colored, individualists and collectivists, in a world whose cultural and spiritual power lags so far behind her technological capabilities that we live each day on the verge of nuclear co-annihilation; in this world, nonviolence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis, it is an imperative for action.”

[in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James M. Washington. Harper & Row. 1967. pp. 652-53]

From, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Martin Luther King, Jr. Harper & Row. 1967:

“We can no longer afford to worship the God of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate.  History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals who pursued this self-defeating path of hate.  As Arnold Toynbee once said in a speech: ‘Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil.  Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.’

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late.  Procrastination is still the thief of time.  Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity.  The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on.  Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words:  ‘Too late.’  There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on...’ We still have a choice today:  nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.”

[in A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by James M. Washington. Harper & Row. 1967. pp. 632-33]

21 January 2019

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"At the Border: Joseph Reflects"

At the Border: Joseph Reflects
Matthew 2:13: “Then Joseph got up, took the child
and his mother by night, and went to Egypt

The dreams are worse
                                     and I am
a coward to pull you    child
this dark cloud

                            But your eyes
oh your eyes
                       are the same light
the old men brought in bags and
boxes   that night
                              when my heart
could stand no more
devouring you
                          soul-draining hunger
surrounding us like sand

                                        The side-short
glances and grins tell me
                                          I am
breaking with them
                                  holding you
when I should be
shaving   routing  the wood

rules outweigh
                          my fear
you    little
soft and calm
                        you stop

like the trumpet sounding
within my soul
                                that night
when the whispers first

We will not rest
                     we will
cross the border

                           You must
live beyond the delirium
death hurries to suffocate
the dreams
                    you will be
for now   my only warmth

all  we all   must

           And all I can
ever hope

to hold

-- Luke

23 December 2018

Sunday, July 8, 2018

"I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray"

Every day during this season of doubt and drought and deserted dreams, it becomes harder and harder to know where the light is, and where the road is to lead us up, at least, if not out of the valley of trauma and sorrow.

“Filled with the holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert, for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry.” (Luke 4:  1-2)

But we are trapped in the desert of delusion and addiction to power; and denial and utter non-feeling cruelty. Oh, let the children come to me, He said.

No.  This is not, nor has it ever been “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”  We who know this, we who bear the stripes of the crucified, abused and abandoned, are called now, to do exactly what Jesus did.  Say, “no”, to the satanic seductive chants; say, “no”, to our doubts as to whether we are sufficient for the evil of this day. Say, “no”, to the devouring of the children. As surely as in the days of Elijah, the children are being thrown into the gaping jaws of Baal. And we stand, horrified. And we stand....and stand....and stand.

Way down yonder, by myself. And I couldn’t hear nobody pray.

Oh we, some of us, are gathering in vigil. We are singing, marching and organizing. And we are, some of us (more than is tallied, if the deepest, darkest, most shadowy whispers can be admitted), afraid that nothing we do will be enough. Over and over during the season of Independence Day, 2018, we have had the grand debate, “This is not America. We are a nation of laws, of due process. We do not abuse children and destroy the bonds of families. This is not America.”

And the Native people look on --
And the eyes of those descended from the torn-away Africans, look on --
cold and unblinking.

This is the America that some of us have endured for more than 450 years – since the Spanish landed and discovered a land already populated, already civilized, already free. This is the America that was forged in war, tempered and seasoned with the blood of the helpless, broken and traumatized – and then ratified in a document that never meant, “We the people,” for all who were thereby defined as less than fully human.

When He had resisted the temptation to use his power without regard of the consequences, He returned to his place among the people.  He walked into the assembly, changed and noticeably so. The people in the worship space asked him to speak a word of comfort.  His, “yes,” became their, “no.”

     He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
     He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
     because he has anointed me
     to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty
     to captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
     and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
     Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
     and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
     He said to them,
    “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

And when they had truly heard him, they were enraged; and they drove him out of the synagogue, and sought to stone him. To death.

“Recovery of sight to the blind’?  That is the stumbling block, it seems. Do we know that far too often it is we ourselves who “have eyes but do not see; ears, but do not hear”? That this prophetic utterance is aimed at all of us who are convinced that we really do belong to an exceptional nation, that we are a people set apart, chosen and blessed.  What is it we do not see.

Seeing is not the problem. Facing up to the cause of the paralysis of will is the problem. And none is immune.  From my first experience of traumatic stress – being left alone in a hospital ward, about to undergo an operation, aware only that my parents walked out of room, closed the door and left me – to the most recent example of being devalued, marginalized and ignored by those who have benefited from my decades of service, I know the hesitation that comes from a sense of nearly overwhelming powerlessness. Will I make a difference? Can I be heard above the whirlwind? Does anyone care? Everyone is susceptible to this virus of discrimination and the myriad amoral displays of non-concern.

When the cloud envelops us, we should viscerally understand the temptation of Christ in the desert and see that it is the same as His agony in the garden.  And the old folks sang us that story, too:

Why, indeed, are we here?  Is it comprehensible that the pain our souls feel is so deep that we wish we had never been born?

But, yet, we live.

At a vigil of concern for the children who have been deliberately and cruelly traumatized by those who worship themselves as greater than any God who has ever been revealed, I called the participants to shake the blindness from their minds and admit that if we are conscious, we are able. If we are able, we are obligated. And if we are obligated, then we are blessed.  Out of one of the greatest collective sins in human history – the transatlantic slave trade --  came the groaning and moaning that transformed itself into song. The song transformed the singers and the listeners into people whose birthmark is “resistance” and who learned to fly from the gates of Hell, by the power of their determination to be free; and if not, them, their children.

There is nothing left, but to walk out of the tombs in which we find ourselves, bringing the children with us.  Nothing was ever so dark, do corrupted by greed and lust, that somebody, somewhere could not shout down the very walls of Jericho.  We need to find that power. The children have no one else.

They do not belong in anybody’s jail. Neither do we. Neither did any of those women and men who learned to fly from the fire. Maybe our voice will be the one sign to someone captured in darkness that nothing is ever final, and they are not alone.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

'What Kind of World"

All of the editorial comments with which I could surround this poem are so obvious, upon reading it, that silence serves us best. Only this:  Almost 50 years ago this poem was published in The National Catholic Reporter.  The triple evils of materialism, racism and militarism, enumerated by Martin Luther King, Jr., still feed the fears of this country, and continue to define so very much of its drive to dominate, destroy and silence most of the world. But that was true in the days when the decree of Caesar Augustus went forth, that all might be subject to a census...and it is true now, when far too many are not counted at all.

what kind of world
is it indeed that forces
christmas to our winter
and some poor ragged jesus
to stumble over starved dead
rotting in the jungles
to steel himself against
shouts of men behind
stone walls and take upon himself
a cold world and fall again
in his still fruitless coming

we have never fully
understood what kind of world
it is indeed
                     we have
in our land this winter
a famine of simplicity:
magnificent hallelujahs
for a hundred resurrections
and a thousand births
but no straw
no animals
no shepherds struck
dumb with fear and wonder
no virgins
no silent and adoring kings

no not this year    i
do  not want a savior’s coming
our nights are neither quiet
calm   nor bright   we have
everything to keep us living
and go about collecting
scraps of mute despair
to stuff in window cracks
and under doors to keep away
our loneliness
this biting awful cold
what kind of world
is it indeed

wait awhile   sweet
jesus   just a year
to give us time
just a year    to give
us time
               but  you will come
i  know:   you must
you will come now
in this dead
and barren world
and stumble
and be cold
and grow more ragged
and more poor until
gasping blood   you spit
your anguish into the dry earth
and cry to be delivered

and you will
and we will
and they who come
after us will

this winter waiting
is our ritual
it must be carried out
even though we
no longer keep the mystery
of our fathers

give us time

perhaps a year

will bring us mysteries
and we may beg
a savior’s coming
                                     -- Luke        (1969)

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

'Come I Said, Be Warm"

No   I was told
                           to say
If you do not see their
              if they have only
small belongings
                                  tell them
          But his eyes cut
into my throat   and I could
not breathe
                         or look away
then I would have had to stare
at her skin   her hands   her
eyes    even more commanding

The old man who had told us
stories every evening after evening
spoke in my mind
                                         It could be
you    it has been    us
                                          All is still

I was the only one in the door

Come   I said   you can at least
(and then the air swirled and I knew
the dream in his eyes was my hunger
long denied)
                            Come    I said

Be warm
                     Your child shall
not be

8 December 2017

[Even though very many of the eyes that scan this place have looked at these words, in other sendings, the poem is persistent. So it is here. And so are we. And so is the Child in us all. Nothing of grace can be denied.]

Monday, August 28, 2017

My Lord, What a Morning

Oh, give me little time to pray: Jesus, Lay Your Head in the Window

“The wind blows east and the wind blows west, it blows like judgement day, and every soul that ever did pray will be glad to pray that day...”

In the very last minutes of a mighty day of remembrance and, I am afraid, not the last minutes of a viral cloud passing over our horizon, we should pause and think of the sacrifice of the thousands who marched for “jobs and freedom,” long ago, on August 28, 1963. As we are called to note about that great gittin-up morning, the assembly was met with the news that William Edward Burghardt Du Bois had died the previous evening in his destination home in Ghana. And we still ponder the promissory note waved in the face of the powers of the land by Martin.  But as only a few of us will know or find in many ways emblematic, the Roman Catholic community honors on this day the great life and genius of Augustine of Hippo. Three of the most brilliant people ever to be blessed with the designation of African. (Because I said so.)

We must remember them, call on them, and feel their presence in our lives today, in this time, when the world is being subjected to viral, toxic winds that are blowing from every direction, truly making our time feel like the Judgement Day.

Too many people declare themselves to be shocked or stunned or overwhelmed by the anger and venom spilling forth in every part of this planet. How could we be surprised or bewildered or undone by the violence, the addictive hatred that marches in our streets?  The sound of hatred on the march is the oldest rhythm of this country, devoted to equality and liberty and justice and fairness and decency – and greed; sexual coercion and domination; ego-driven assaults on the vulnerable and the marginalized; and the sexualized pleasure of public murders. As Martin Luther King said to us all, we should be concerned about the victim lying beaten and bruised on the Jericho Road, but we must be even more concentrated on why there are robbers on that road, and why there are so many who walk blindly by. The blindness is self-inflicted, the deafness is self-determined.  “But that is not the way most of ......are. We are better than this. We have moved beyond mouths dripping with venom and guns pointed at those who have the courage to stand and resist and say, “No,” to anger and threat and chaos.” Believe that, wish that, at our peril and the collapse of all we thought we knew. 

But there is a judgement day, for each of us. No matter how well-prepared we, some of us, thought we were, the death of each child; each young woman who thought that she was one of the free and unbound, each young man who believed that he had a right to dance to the rhythm of his heart and imagination; each sister, brother, aunt, cousin, father or infant – each death was enough to arrest our breath and pause the beating of our hearts. But none of these deaths could stop the determination of those who believed in their right to kill those who were defined as “them.”

What do we do? We do what the songs have told us over and over. My Lord, what a morning. But, more, this time, let our eyes hear the echo of the truth, “My Lord, what a mourning...” For we must stop and reckon with the devastation. As Audre Lorde told us, “we were never meant to survive.”  Of course we will mourn ourselves for our fear. And we will of course mourn the death of all hope in the souls of those who seek to destroy all they cannot embrace. We will mourn the disappearance of our hope when the hurricanes drown Houston and Corpus Christi, and Ferguson and westside Chicago, and Liberty Village and Grenada and Cairo. And all of Puerto Rico and the islands in that seas.
We will mourn.

And then we will say, Oh, no. Ain’t no grave can hold my body down. If those women could push past their fear and the near certainty of their own deaths and seek the tomb of the blessed son, only to find the stone already rolled away, then we can draw in our collective breath and do what our first fierce ancestors did in the bottom of those imprisoning ships when they woke from dreaming of their homes and found themselves still chained, still smeared in their own filth, still hungry and dehydrated. We can do no less.

They sent out a song that was nothing more and nothing less than a storm of truth. No. Yes. Never. Always.

We will stay on the battlefield.

Let us be attentive to Sweet Honey in the Rock and Sonia Sanchez as they remind us that we are obligated to see the horizon beyond the nightmarish cloud. A total eclipse lasts no more than a few minutes.  This darkness shall not prevail.

It never has.