A Letter to an Unborn Child: Chris Mann

Reflection of a candle in the window on a rainy night

Tonight, your mother and I, romantic still, intend to open our star-filled window and in the light of a candle first lit at our wedding, to bring your being, waiting already within us, into fuller life.

Your mother, with forehead smudged, has laboured all day to paint a canvas reality of trees. It fills us with wonder, that we who are used to the sweat of design, the pain of composition and revision, can hope, merely in a flash of joy, to usher in new life, the spark, moist and complex, wriggling in darkness, that’s you.

Being spring, the season is right for such a seeding. May the night’s tranquillity, the glimmering light of the stars, be gifts to cherish in your bones.

And should you ever, growing older, search your origins for the moods, the protein motions that nurtured you, don’t think a share of sorrow, of nightmare, remorse and illness was never, with ecstasy, not also ours.

Our choice, to build a space in which your being, molecule by molecule could emerge, is tinged with trepidation. It rises from a reverence, inchoate yet real, for the shaping spirit that we ourselves are children of.

And when, growing older, you see our imperfections, the frail glasswork of our dreams, remember this: that the night, the stars, this blue-quilted bed were wondrous to your parents.

You were conceived in love.

[From ‘Epiphanies’, by Chris Mann, published by The Cathedral of St Michael and St George, Grahamstown, 2017. After 15 years of poverty alleviation work in rural areas, Chris Mann moved with his family to Grahamstown, where he convenor of Wordfest South Africa, and Professor Emeritus of Poetry at Rhodes University]

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Living Flame of Love: St. John of the Cross

Fireflies

“Living Flame of Love”

Flame, alive, compelling,
yet tender past all telling,
reaching the secret center of my soul!
Since now evasion’s over,
finish your work, my Lover,
break the last thread,
wound me and make me whole!

Burn that is for my healing!
Wound of delight past feeling!
Ah, gentle hand whose touch is a caress,
foretaste of heaven conveying
and every debt repaying:
slaying, you give me life for death’s distress.

O lamps of fire bright-burning
with splendid brilliance, turning
deep caverns of my soul to pools of light!
Once shadowed, dim, unknowing,
now their strange new-found glowing
gives warmth and radiance for my Love’s delight.

Ah, gentle and so loving
you wake within me, proving
that you are there in secret, all alone;
your fragrant breathing stills me
your grace, your glory fills me
so tenderly your love becomes my own.

Translated by Marjorie Flower, OCD: “The Poems of St. John of the Cross”

[ Amazing poem from St John of the Cross. I first came across this particular translation in Larry Crabb’s book “Shattered Dreams” more than a decade ago, and loved it then, but think I’m only really beginning to ‘get it’ now, as the ‘flesh’ begins to loosen its hold on me a little as I approach 60!]

The Truelove: David Whyte

Walking Water

 

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly
so Biblically
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love

so that when
we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you don’t want to any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

 

[From The House of Belonging (Many Rivers Press, 1996)]

A Midlife Testimony: Chris Mann

Chris Mann1

I do not love you anymore.
I used to, when we were young
and words like love were tumbling in our thoughts.’
The scent of jasmine in the streets of spring,
the press of starlight through a sky of leaves
was what such words then meant to me.

But when I track back through the years
and see what we have shared,
the bliss and strain of parenting,
the stress of work and terror at the loss of work,
the illnesses, bereavements and despair,
I reach a truth we thought we knew
but only glimpsed in phantom silhouettes,
that more, much more’s enfolded in love’s youth
than carefree laughter, lingering kisses,
starlight and the scents of spring.

Ah no, my subtle-fingered humorous one,
stepping back a moment from your easel,
your hair tied back, your brush in hand,
oblivious to the ringing of the phone,
I more than love you now –
I cannot bear to wake without your body being near.

And when I recollect your flying curls,
your mulberry-coloured jacket and your black beret,
and see you standing in a midnight doorway once again
where jasmine’s fragrance drifted through the dark
and stars outlined your tilt of head,
your fling of hair, the white camellia of your throat,
that love, if such it be returns,
that wild, sweet, fiery exhilaration storms back
and cloudbursts through my midlife’s shaken heart.

somewhere i have never travelled: ee cummings


(This poem is usually trotted out as a love poem to cummings’ ‘muse’, but from the moment I saw my first daughter being born I knew it was for her!)

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully ,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

e.e. cummings

Trauma center: Luci Shaw

Trauma center

It was never meant
to burst from the body
so fiercely, to pour
unchanneled from
the five wounds
and the unbandaged brow,
drowning the dark wood,
staining the stones
and the dust below,
clotting in the air
dark with God’s absence.

It was created for
a closed system –
the unbroken rhythms
of human blood
binding the body
of God, circulating
hot, brilliant,
saline, without
interruption
between heart, lungs,
and all cells.

But because he
was once emptied,
I am each day refilled;
my spirit-arteries
pulse with the vital red
of love; poured out,
it is his life that now
pumps through
my own heart’s core.
He bled, and died, and I
have been transfused.

Luci Shaw

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