Inches: A Poem About Courage

I left as the only desperate act
of hoped-for courage I could muster,
my face damp with lingering humidity
and root-shaking fear of the unknown.

Texas opened up before me
wide with brown grass and possibility,
as I had imagined often
while I steeled myself to go.

But the trees surprised me.
Short, scrubby, grasping for firmer purchase in hostile soil,
the green of their leaves a sickly pale
but singing skyward nonetheless.

They were live oaks,
but nothing like the verdant, moss-hung
coastal giants I had known,
and held, and left.

I loved them, though,
from the first glimpse.
Their branches reached inside me,
taking hold of who I so hoped to become.

They made me dream of different beauty,
of life fought for,
inch by inch by inch,
naysayers be damned.

They are still the shape I will my soul to take:
Unexpectedly strong, yes,
as I have found myself to be
But brave too, braver than I dare to hope.

In such a world, they tell me,
it takes strength to survive
but courage to grow,
inch by inch by inch.

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Snow Come In: A Slam Poem about “Home” and Psalm 84

This was my first ever attempt at writing and performing slam poetry. It is a response to Psalm 84 and was performed during a morning prayer service at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary on October 24, 2013. (Text below the video)

Disclaimer: Part of this poem speaks to my coming out experience and my struggles with a sense of home since coming out as bisexual. My coming out has been challenging not only for me, but also for others I love whose views of queerness vary. While this has been hard, I want to be clear that I have been largely received with beautifully stubborn love. I am grateful for it, and it gives me much hope.

Snow Come In

In 1993, we had a blizzard.
But it was Georgia, so that meant inches
5 solid inches of apocalyptic snow
made for an ice age, a transformed world
we didn’t know

We ran out gloveless, ecstatic
our glee frozen in the chill
and dug down deep into the whiteness
traded politeness
for the thrill of throwing magic
tore through bushes where it gathered most
made snowmen, angel prints like ghosts,
And it was beauty, it was love
until it hurt,

it burned my gloveless fingers, all that snow
it soaked them wet and made them raw and red and so
I cried, betrayed, and ran for home.

They set me by the fire
blanket wrapped around my shoulders
and I trembled like a train track
like a cairn of tiny boulders
in an earthquake
But it didn’t take
too long to thaw my fingers,
dry my tear tracks in the heat
I let it hold me, let it fold around me,
let it reach
so far inside my heartbreak
I forgot that snow was anything but sweet.

Is this the sort of place we mean
when we say God’s house is home?
where even sparrows, even swallows
find a rest to call their own
and trust the safety of their children
to the one who calls their name and knits their inward parts
and conquers all the shame
the world has thrust upon their hearts
and left them flightless
I would want no less

And so I hope so, but I have to say
that in this world, and in these days
it mostly doesn’t feel that way.

Too often, Church is “church”
That is to say, a building and a cross
and a password at the entrance
and a dress code and a boss
they say is God
but sounds an awful lot
like human error
the type that thinks conditional grace
somehow makes things fairer
and proclaims that if you tear apart
the Bible into verses
you can find the truth of God
in such a way to suit your purpose.

Is this the sort of place we mean,
when we say God’s house is home?
Please tell me no, please tell me no

And what has home become for us?
well it’s distorted, it’s defective
we purport it to be elective
and say that if you lose it
it must be because you choose to
But I know, I’ve seen the way it drags
when home’s a tattered backpack
barely halfway full of rags
and soaked with rain that pours in buckets
so the straps dig through your skin
and if you stop for just a minute
the cops will make you move again
it’s endless, not a place to rest
your weary wings

Or else it’s silent, tense, and fearful
with a hollowness that rings
and you tiptoe through your hallways
scared to cry, speak, do a thing
it’s quiet, ceaseless torture
when your home doesn’t feel safe
it’s just a day by day reminder
you don’t believe in such a place
there are no monsters in your closet
but you’re haunted just the same
and the worst part is, you love it,
because it’s all that you can claim
It’s not a haven, not a place to dwell
in joy and praise

Or if it ever was, it left you
some time while you were blinking
and you’re clinging to the thought of it
while you and it are sinking
here’s the trouble I can speak to
that’s a kind of home I know
because it’s been 7,530 days since that blizzard
and sometimes, I still feel stuck out in the cold
it’s gotten old, it hurts like frostbite
there is no respite
Because it’s been more than a year
since I first told them I was queer
And everything’s been different since
and home’s no longer clear
And all I’ve got to hold to is
the things that I know we both miss
fire, blankets, blizzards,
And a love that lets us risk
being known.

Is this the sort of place we mean,
when we say God’s house is home?
Man, I don’t know

But look, this poem’s not just derision
I’ve got hope, I’ve got a vision
I’ve seen glimpses of what could be, will be
when we spell church h-o-m-e
And grace is not a concept
so much as the air we breathe.

it will be bold, it will be wild
It will break every mold
that’s ever failed us,
Even snow will come in from the cold
to be reminded it’s a child
And we’ll sit at rounded table
Every person able
to find place and space for feasting
and we’ll empty every platter
And then, we’ll each and every – finally, finally shatter
into shards of human brokenness
we could not mend and can’t forget
Alone
And so, we’ll wait for God to fix us
But to our surprise, she’ll mix us
all together, every colored piece
of each into a window
stained with beauty we forgot
that we were made for
And we’ll shine like grace
with light that streams in through the open door

Oh to be a window in that house.
Oh to witness to that holy mass
and feel the warmth of new day’s sun
pour itself through us, the sacred glass.

Is this the sort of place we mean,
when we say God’s house is home?
cause I hope so
God
I really hope so