Today’s Edges So Sharp

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The ghosts swarm.
They speak as one 
person. Each
loves you. Each
has left something undone.

Today’s edges
are so sharp

they might cut
anything that moved.
~Rae Armantrout from “Unbidden”

 

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The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are…
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.
~Frederick Buechner
 in “Wishful Thinking and later” in Beyond Words

 

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Seventeen years ago
a day started with bright sun above
and ended in tears and bloodshed below.

It is a day for recollection;
we live out remembrance
with weeping eyes open,
yet close our eyelids
to the red that flowed that day.

The day’s edges were so sharp
we all bled and still bear the scars.

We must not be afraid.

 

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When Life Provides Chicken Soup

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I have sharpened my knives, I have
Put on the heavy apron.

Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served
In blue willow-pattern bowls.

I have put on my boots and opened
The kitchen door and stepped out

Into the sunshine. I have crossed the lawn.
I have entered

The hen house.
~Mary Oliver “Farm Country”

 

 

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What did I love about killing the chickens? Let me start
with the drive to the farm as darkness
was sinking back into the earth.
The road damp and shining like the snail’s silver
ribbon and the orchard
with its bony branches.
All eighty-eight Cornish 

hens huddled in their crates. Wrapping my palms around
their white wings, lowering them into the tapered urn.
Some seemed unwitting as the world narrowed;
some cackled and fluttered; some struggled.
I gathered each one, tucked her bright feet,
drew her head through the kill cone’s sharp collar,
her keratin beak and the rumpled red vascular comb
that once kept her cool as she pecked in her mansion of grass.
I didn’t look into those stone eyes. I didn’t ask forgiveness.
I slid the blade between the feathers
and made quick crescent cuts, severing
the arteries just under the jaw. Blood like liquor
pouring out of the bottle. When I see the nub of heart later,
it’s hard to believe such a small star could flare
like that. I lifted each body, bathing it in heated water
until the scaly membrane of the shanks
sloughed off under my thumb.
And after they were tossed in the large plucking drum
I loved the newly naked birds. Sundering
the heads and feet neatly at the joints, a poor
man’s riches for golden stock. Slitting a fissure
reaching into the chamber,
freeing the organs, the spill of intestines, blue-tinged gizzard,
the small purses of lungs, the royal hearts,
easing the floppy liver, carefully, from the green gall bladder,
its bitter bile. And the fascia unfurling
like a transparent fan. When I tug the esophagus
down through the neck, I love the suck and release
as it lets go. 
I’m empty as I rinse each carcass,
and this is what I love most.

It’s like when the refrigerator turns off and you hear
the silence. Even in just this one thing:
looking straight at the terrible,
one-sided accord we make with the living of this world.
At the end, we scoured the tables, hosed the dried blood,
the stain blossoming through the water.
~Ellen Bass from “What Did I Love”

 

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For a number of summers, we spent most of the morning and afternoon of Fourth of July with neighbors at a farm down the road doing that most American of activities:
communally butchering chickens.

There is some risk to writing about killing living creatures.  I also pull carrots, radishes and onions from the ground, dig up potatoes and weed-whack thistles in the field.

It is what farmers do. As we shop at the local farmers’ market or grocery store, we are insulated from this harsh reality, this terrible one-sided accord humans have with the land and growing things.

It is how food ends up sustaining us, supporting the next generation and the next, and these living creatures deserve our blessing of gratitude.

I grew up on a farm where we raised our own meat and my parents, who also grew up knowing the animals that would eventually be on their plate, encouraged us kids to watch and participate in the process so we understood what it meant to sacrifice an animal or a plant for our benefit.  We knew that animal from birth, we named them, looked them in the eye, we petted and held them, we fed them, cleaned up after them, and when the time came, we watched them slump to the ground, their hide or feathers stripped and their steaming carcass prepared.

I cannot take this lightly.  These creatures, who I respected and cared for, were breathing heart-beating beings just minutes before, and have been sacrificed.

It has been quite a few years since we raised our own meat as a family, since those summers our children growing up also learned this relationship with the food on the table.  As a group of neighbors, we would combine our chicken butchering together on Fourth of July so we had an efficient assembly line approach to the process of putting dozens of chickens in the freezer all within a few hours.  There were catchers, holders, choppers, boilers, pluckers, gutters, rinsers and baggers. We all took turns doing different aspects of the task. There was an irreverent reverence to the day, a bit more joking and laughing than was warranted as blood is intentionally spilled.

We had to acknowledge the tight intertwine of life and death though none of us could bear to eat chicken for dinner that night.

We too bore the stains of the remains of the day.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Therefore Keep Watch

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“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
Matthew 25: 1-13

 

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We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
~ Czeslaw Milosz “Encounter”

 

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We do not know the day or the hour and must not be lulled by the routines of daily life; it could be tomorrow or the next day or maybe yesterday and we were passed by.

Each moment is a gift, like the flash of a blossom or the transparency of a rabbit’s ear, pulsing with each heart beat as blood flows and sustains.

Blood is shed, just as blossoms shed, covering us all.

Keeping watch.

 

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.

 

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fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

Color of Steep Sun

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Red is the color of blood, and I will seek it:
I have sought it in the grass.
It is the color of steep sun seen through eyelids…
This is the time of day for recollections
~Conrad Aiken
Twelve years ago it was a day that started with bright sun above and ended in bloodshed below.
It is a day for recollections;
we seek remembrance,
with eyes open,
and through closed eyelids
steeped in the red that flowed that day.
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A Bit Messy

“Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.”
G.K. Chesterton

Few things are as condemning in this day and age than being accused of being close-minded.  In religion and politics, the most zealous are the least likely to see another point of view, much less tolerate it.  There is no chance of growth or redemption when there is not openness and willingness to change and admit one is wrong.

But I’ve known those who are so open-minded, there is nothing left inside but “whatever.”   It doesn’t matter, anything goes, if it works for you, who am I to judge, it’s a free country.  No boundaries, no barriers, all windows and free to come and go breezes, no foundational beliefs, hopelessly robbed blind.  It is a terribly empty void to behold.

Instead I strive to remain unlocked and ready to answer the knock on the door of my convictions and opinions to see who or what may be there, to be receptive to the possibility of something other.

But in reality I’d rather be open-hearted over open-minded.  It is far riskier, this bleeding of the heart,  when touched, bruised or pierced.   Perhaps even a bit messy.

Intentional, not accidental.  Grace once spilled from an open beating heart and still does.

Always has.  Always will.

“I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.”
— Mary Oliver