Saturday, April 19, 2008

Calvin Festival, the Vortex, and Franz

Sometimes my on-going conversion feels like a tornado keeps touching down, sweeping me up, spinning me senseless and abruptly flinging me onto the hard ground of someplace I thought I'd never be. Like the Catholic Church. And it's never where I thought was home. Never Kansas. But not quite Oz, either.

I went to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing to do nothing. Just hang with my confirmed (literally) bff Lisa Samson and recharge my writer batteries. Why do I think I will just do nothing at any time? Of course I found myself right back in the vortex, my ambition flying wildly, and me screeching because just last week my future seemed almost tame and made sense. Then BLAM! I'm on strange (though familiar) territory and life is suddenly different. I'm not in Kansas and the whole writing future thing is somewhere else or even, for a time, no place at all. For me, on-going conversion is violent, leaving me limping and with both a broken hip and a blessing.

But there is always that gentle surprise that lets me know a winsome, lovely Jesus loves us all. For me, for all the wonders at Calvin this weekend, there was my quiet falling deeply in literary love. His name is Franz Wright. I didn't care that he won the Pulitzer Prize. He captivated me immediately by his ragamuffin demeanor and quiet voice I had to strain to hear, even though he spoke in a microphone. He was like me. I just knew it, his broken pieces now bonded together with the Bread and Wine that is life. Like me he loves words, only he's honored this part of himself and served it. I have not. He's bipolar. I knew it immediately. He was saturated in sorrow and grace. I could have written his poem myself--if I honored the craft as he does. What I mean is I have lived this poem.

The Only Animal

The only animal that commits suicide

went for a walk in the park,

basked on a hard bench

in the first star,

traveled to the edge of space

in an armchair

while company quietly

talked, and abruptly


the room empty

The only animal that cries,

that takes off its clothes

and reports to the mirror, the one

and only animal

that brushes its own teeth—


the only animal that smokes a cigarette,

that lies down and flies backward in time,

that rises and walks to a book

and looks up a word

heard the telephone ringing

in the darkness downstairs and decided

to answer no more.

And I understand,

too well: how many times

have I made the decision to dwell

from now on

in the hour of my death

(the space I took up here

scarlessly closing like water)

and said I’m never coming back,

and yet

this morning

I stood once again

in this world,

the garden

ark and vacant

tomb of what

I can’t imagine,

between twin eternities,

some sort of wings,

more or less equidistantly

exiled from both,

hovering in the dreaming called

being awake, where

You gave me

in secret one thing

to perceive, the

tall blue starry

strangeness of being

here at all.

You gave us each in secret one thing to perceive.

Furless now, upright, My banished

and experimental


You said, though your own heart condemn you

I do not condemn you.

Now that's a poem, lovies. That is a poem.

I couldn't stop thinking of it. Or him. The way he sat in his chair, as if he had no right to be there, carelessly tossing words on me like blossoms after a long, cold season of no green. I don't write much poetry, but I love it. I wrote Franz a poem:

Just a note...

Dear Franz,

I know you. I've seen your back curved into a question mark with sorrow arching and descending till it plunges straight down into an empty space. An emptiness interrupted by a black circle of pain much too heavy to hold.

I know you, even though I don't.

I've never heard your voice though I've lived with it through a thousand winters. Even now I feel it murmuring, a breath flowing through the hollow body of a flute, filling cavernous holes in me with music.

Jesus told me about people like you. Said you were poor in spirit. I thought, once again, who the hell wants to be poor? But because He said it, I pondered it in my heart. He said you were blessed.

Yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Only sometimes heaven takes a really long time to see.

I just wanted to write to say I know you. Even though I don't. And I've always heard you, your voice falling down and covering me like snow on a grave. And I still ponder you in my heart, even though Jesus said you're blessed. Or maybe because of it.

mair francis


Heidi Renee said...

lovely mair, just lovely.

meeting someone our soul already knows is a wonderful feeling.

i think martin buber called it the "i/thou" experience. deep calling to deep.

Wes said...

...thank you!

...mentioned you on my blog this AM

...grateful for you and your honesty and courage

wilsonian said...


+ +


(that would be me, making the sign of the cross)

Ann Kroeker said...

Oh, Claudia, what a privilege to meet you at the Festival of F&W. You were so gracious and charming and open to invite me into your world for a few moments that afternoon on the comfy chairs, along with Lisa and Donna.

I was honored.

And as I read your pensive, poetic, rich post about the conference, I have to laugh, embarrassed and nervous like a silly schoolgirl, to think of my giddy post complete with poorly exposed snapshots of all the neat people I met. Accompanied by lightweight commentary.

And here, as a dramatic contrast, you offer depth. Insight. Beauty. Honesty. Power.

Your skill...your energy...your depth...

I feel like I'm scribbling with crayons on crumpled construction paper, while you're swirling calligraphy pens across the canvas making art.

Thank you. Thanks for making art.

heather said...

I went to an art and the Church conference a couple of weeks ago. One of the things that Andy Crouch said hit me: artists do two things that rely on seeing life as a gift--play, and enter into pain. This is why one moment I'm skipping through puddles and the next crumpled in my closet asking God, "How long?" Encapsulating it all is God's gift of life.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I love your heart girl.

Joni said...

I'm having a hard time reading the poem on this computer. I will have to try it on another one.

Over the weekend, I was at the local Barnes and Noble. Walked over to the Christian fiction area, and there were ALL THREE of dear Claudia Mair Francis Burney's books! I had to take them and show them to my husband. Too cool, too cool.

God's grace and peace be yours today.

Joni said...

Okay. Something worked, and I read it fine this time. How beautiful and heart-wrenching. Thank you for sharing it.

Llama Momma said...

I also discovered Franz Wright last week. And Mary Karr, who is my new BFF, but doesn't know it yet.

What a gift.

Karen Deborah said...

that's heavy. I just read a wonderful old book. The Von Trapp Family, by the real Maria. You know the sound of music. It was an awesome story and a great example of a beautiful Catholic faith. She really really really describes her love of God in an extraordinary way. It would bless you if you have time to read some one elses stuff.

D. Gudger said...

How encouraging! I love how you describe Jesus - I love the poem by Franz.

Paula Moldenhauer drove the "There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus" into my heart this week.

I've been fighting w/ God, not willing to receive my calling as a writer b/c of the cost. I didn't want to be poor in spirit, even though the poor in spirit are blessed.

I stopped fighting. I shed the identities Satan has heaped on me all my life.

God called me to be poor in spirit. In the past month He's provided not one, but TWO beloved communities (like in Z & N)!

Now I receive that call. I receive the call to write.

Love you!

Elysa said...


I love your new blog topper...though I do have to admit that i miss the smiling face one of you. You just looked so free, happy, and youthful.

But this one is definitely artistic, my darling!

And I do mean artistic in the nicest sense of the word. ;)

Joe said...

Dearest Claudia ...

I have been too remiss in not keeping up with your blog and you. When I read your blog, I feel so much hope, faith and that I'm OK even when I f-up big time.

When I saw the following words at the top of your new blog design ...

"I made so many beds in hell they thought I was the chambermaid down there" ...

I laughed my ass off!! How funny and how true for me. I'm talking about me here. After all, it IS all about me (not).

What beautiful words you shared in this entry. Thank you. I am happy that you have found a soulmate in life and entered that blissful state of connectedness. Paperwork! Bah!! Love beats paperwork, doncha know?

Head over to my place and, well, you'll read all about the ups and downs. But it's me ... really me. Open. Authentic. Real. With my heart out ... no matter what ...

Lastly ... I'm listening to Bobby Darin's "Simple Song Of Freedom" as I write this comment/note/diatribe to you. I'll close with these words because they fit in a lot of different ways:

"Come and sing a simple song of freedom,
Sing it like you've never sung before,
Let it fill the air, tell the people everywhere
That we people here don't want no war."

Grace and peace,


markpetersen said...

I've just discovered you ragamuffin. And so glad I did.

Thank you for your poetry, your language gift.