I remember the day the doors opened again
and I entered with caution.
I first came here with optimism and a new quilt.
I folded everything into drawers, stored old things away,
and soon found that life wasn’t so easily sorted.
But that day, the paint was like the lavender bush at home,
the windows were draped in white, and the place was new.
A lamp on a table had never made my heart swell that way.
Upstairs, someone fixed a shelf to hold flowers in vases
Window frames and warm welcome adorned the hall
Those four walls surged with evidence of rebuilding.
It was a matter of paint and light bulbs, fabric and tacks
Light like the feel of cotton filled dark halls
We all returned to the wall, each to our work.
So we built the wall.
And all the wall was joined together to half its height,
for the people had a mind to work.
Little houses unfold between paper-white columns
Pairs of blushing leaves are caught red-handed
Spirits soar on a diagonal and laughter rings nearly true
In little houses, a little goes a long way, but not quite long enough
I saw a quivering lip drown in fifteen ounces of sleeplessness
If she slips away, at least she’ll be awake to feel the fall
Ear to the ground, a soft pulse quickened
It ebbed away. I did not hear through such thin walls
Then I lingered in the stairwell; even hinges weep aloud
Blank, papery sunlight streams between ashen columns
Raise a lantern to the welded mass of congenial smiles
Even little houses have cellars full of rot
Like a chisel against a pale veneer, smile warmly
Catch the swinging door before it closes
with firmer, kinder, battle-marked hands
There is safety in truth, and truth in broken things
Shatter pristine castles, let the glass tear light asunder
Torn curtains make little houses into safe places
[from the unpublished vault, summer 2012]
She tells me to talk about something, and I mumble the first thing that comes to mind; a few mildly directionless sentences about going to India. If my voice is a little high-pitched, it’s only because there’s a needle in my right arm and my eyelid is twitching. (If you’ve never heard a high-pitched mumble, you’ve never seen me with a needle in my arm.)
“Where are you from?” I ask the lab technician.
“Afghanistan,” she says, and repeats it. “Afghanistan. A neighbor to India.” She pauses. “Do you speak Hindi?”
“No, I haven’t had the chance. They speak Tamil where I’m going.”
“I learned Hindi from Bollywood movies.”
“You did?” Partly gritted teeth become a broad smile. “I love Bollywood actresses. Such beautiful eyes. Who’s your favorite?”
She grins. “Aishwarya Rai.”
“Mine too!,” I exclaim with enough enthusiasm to alert the entire hall, partly because I love Ash, partly because the needle’s out of my arm.
I thank her and leave and I suppose I’m all right with trading a test sample of blood for a good chat.
You know, Emma
Sometimes there are these stories
that just well up and run over
for a long time
and you tell them in order to make sense of yourself.
But little by little, you find yourself telling them
less and less often,
and they simply become a handwritten part of you.
Time goes by. You become a deeper well than you were before.
And Emma, it isn’t that they haven’t healed,
but whenever you draw up that bucket
and think of it
and speak of it again
it feels raw, exposed, and fresh.
Healing can be like that.
Sometimes healing is natural;
Sometimes healing buries it deep,
but sometimes healing still feels like it happened this morning, Emma.
I wish you could bury the bad
and keep the good,
but sometimes you have to bury it all together
and trust in resurrection.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written a hundred words that mattered to me.
Hundreds of days and people and places worth capturing in prose went by, and words left unwritten twisted up in knots behind my shoulder blades. I fell in love and barely wrote a line about it that was simply for the sake of remembering. In the meantime, I wrote tens of thousands of words and wondered the whole time if they mattered to anyone.
As a discouraging academic year drew to a close, I searched for some sign of change or renewal in myself since I first traipsed barefoot across my stately college campus. At the end, the person I saw was weary and distant; wilting despite a steady watering of Coke Zero. We spoke more that semester of chapel attendance than of the Gospel. My own priorities, regardless of how clearly I articulated them, were disordered and blurred by discouragement, anger, and shame.
“I have done nothing well,” I said in the spring. Maybe I was right.
But I’d be amiss to turn the page without reflecting on the chapter, resentful of certain sentences and ignorant of their place in the whole story. Experience provides the structure for wisdom, and the sure way to waste a season is to leave the skeleton of experience untouched by the substance of discernment and gratitude.
I’d rather have hands that build.
The stories came from the depths of your chest cavity
and dragged the listening out of burdened ears
and the looking out of tired eyes
They tracked dust across pristine floors
Stained sterile hands with fresh, indelible ink
You measured out the red, the black
Threw blood and tears at unlined pages
With careful hands and reckless heart
And quivering tongue, always unsteady
Take a load off, Annie
And you put the load right on me
One day I saw you sweeping up dust
Scrubbing away the stains on your wrist
A story spun on your stereo
Lined your eyes dark and heavy
It bit your lips and arched your brow
Stories crease the leather in your boots
Bleed from your knuckles every January
Hang on the walls of the room you rent
Fill chapters of books from your childhood shelf
I hear you hush them in the other room
Try to make them go to sleep
But they’re not tired, not like you
Take the load off, Annie
But leave a light on for me
“The Weight” is a 1968 folk rock song written by Canadian-American group The Band.
The line above, “Take a load off, Annie,” is adapted from the song’s chorus,
“Take a load off, Fanny/ Take a load for free/ Take a load off, Fanny / And you put the load right on me.”
“Does anybody ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”
“The saints and the poets. They do some.”
— Thornton Wilder, Our Town
a welcoming-home like never before | 9 January
an excerpt from life together at osprey point, in more ways than one | 19 April
white dust and a pipe organ that reminded me what beauty is | 22 May
a divinely-appointed flight from Houston | 28 May
coming back home | 28 July
lost luggage and the beauty of simplicity | 29 July
an emerald green sari, breaking heart, and dancing feet | 7 August
a new season, a new space | 14 August
pomegranate frozen yogurt, and other sweet things | 16 September
for the wonders of the world, from one baby’s eyelashes to the Taj Mahal
for things of beauty; the veins in his forearms and midnight peals of reckless laughter
for the joy and grief and work and love and traces of eternity in each fine day,
I am grateful.
It was soft, shadow-streaked dusk
and I gazed at the eyelashes
of a brown, bare-legged bundle
I had seen the tearful ones
wide eyes and distended bellies
clutched against gaunt hips
She was crowned in black,
graced with a wrinkled frown;
sleeping trace of waking light
And I marveled
to hold something so light
and feel such weight of glory
A sprawl of steps, a stretch of pavement,
and the ragged edges of humanity
colour the space between myself and the mosque
A knot of three or four children flit alongside
brief, urgent steps marking time, sharp and shattered
barefoot remains of unclaimed existence
A tiny sea of cries, and from among them
a small hand reaches, presses against my hip
and remains there, as if a touch could heal
The hem of a sari brushes the street, the feet of Delhi
the hem of a soul comes unstitched, fibers drift
within a web of fractured light
Each day, simplicity becomes more and more precious.
Simple wonder, as Yokesh discovers a piece of discarded styrofoam beneath a bush and and bounds across the yard scattering synthetic snowflakes under the August sunset.
Simple solidarity, as one small girl takes care of another because she is old enough; because she has a comb and hair needs combing.
Simple delight, as the Eden-eyed girl from Semmandakuppam studies the printed portrait I’ve brought nine thousand miles to place in her hands.
Simple beauty, as eyes as bright as the sunshine in Bangalore meet mine; delicate features full of elegance in miniature.
Simple celebration, as we embrace spontanaeity and inborn rhythm for no reason besides surplus joy.
Simple giving, as Yokesh hands me coral roses, petaled relics of the sacred, gravelly earth beneath our feet.
They teach me that simplicity lends space to the spirit, clarity to the mind, peace to the heart, rest to the body, light to the eyes. They teach me that simplicity makes fragments into whole things. They teach me to leave my shoes behind and let the soul run barefoot. They teach me to look through a lens of eternity, a lens of gratitude, a lens of grace.
Endlessly, they teach me.