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,
I stood once again
in this world,
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
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...
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.