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Through All of It

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Rising

Now available from Wipf and Stock,

JANE BEAL’s new poetry collection:

 Rising: Poems for America

BEAL-Rising

“Poetry is memorable language, according to W. H. Auden. Rising is a work of such vividness that I kept thinking about the poems long after I closed the book. Jane Beal is a strong poet with a sharp eye for landscape, a deep sense of history, and an intimate way of writing her language that is never less than bracing. I admire her work, and I hope that readers make their way toward this fine collection.”

—Jay Parini,
author of The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems

“Jane Beal’s poems draw deeply upon the energies of earth and sky, bearing witness to the ways the life force manifests in birds nesting and flying, in women giving birth, in rivers and wind and song. Reaching across time and continental boundaries, they take the reader to quiet places of encounter with self and others and God. This is a collection to be entered and navigated slowly, accepting its invitation to slow down, see into others’ stories and take stock of one’s own longing for sacred gifts.”

—Marilyn McEntyre,
author of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

Listen:

Touch the Sky

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What fortune lies beyond the stars
Those dazzling heights too vast to climb
I got so high to fall so far
But I found heaven as love swept low

My heart beating
My soul breathing
I found my life
When I laid it down

Upward falling
Spirit soaring
I touch the sky
When my knees hit the ground

What treasure waits within Your scars
This gift of freedom gold can’t buy
I bought the world and sold my heart
You traded heaven to have me again

My heart beating
My soul breathing
I found my life
When I laid it down

Upward falling
Spirit soaring
I touch the sky
When my knees hit the ground

Find me here at Your feet again
Everything I am
Reaching out I surrender

Come sweep me up in Your love again
And my soul will dance
On the wings of forever

Find me here at Your feet again
Everything I am
Reaching out I surrender

Come sweep me up in Your love again
And my soul will dance
On the wings of forever

My heart beating
My soul breathing
I found my life
When I laid it down

Upward falling
Spirit soaring
I touch the sky
When my knees hit the ground (2x)

Find me here at Your feet again
Everything I am
Reaching out I surrender

Come sweep me up in Your love again
And my soul will dance
On the wings of forever

Upward falling
Spirit soaring
I touch the sky
When my knees hit the ground

United

Psalm 118:17

I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.

Psalm 118:17

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He was so tired that he was scarcely able to hear a note of the songs: he felt imprisoned in a cold region where his brain was numb and his spirit was isolated.

1
Requite this angel whose
flushed and thirsting face
stoops to the sacrifice
out of which it arose.
This is the lord Eros
of grief who pities
no one; it is
Lazarus with his sores.
2
And you, who with your soft but searching voice
drew me out of the sleep where I was lost,
who held me near your heart that I might rest
confiding in the darkness of your choice:
possessed by you I chose to have no choice,
fulfilled in you I sought no further quest.
You keep me, now, in dread that quenches trust,
in desolation where my sins rejoice.
As I am passionate so you with pain
turn my desire; as you seem passionless
so I recoil from all that I would gain,
wounding myself upon forgetfulness,
false ecstasies, which you in truth sustain
as you sustain each item of your cross.
3
Veni Redemptor, but not in our time.
Christus Resurgens, quite out of this world.
‘Ave’ we cry; the echoes are returned.
Amor Carnalis is our dwelling-place.
4
O light of light, supreme delight;
grace on our lips to our disgrace.
Time roosts on all such golden wrists;
our leanness is our luxury.
Our love is what we love to have;
our faith is in our festivals.
5
Stupefying images of grief-in-dream,
succubae to my natural grief of heart,
cling to me, then; you who will not desert
your love nor lose him in some blank of time.
You come with all the licence of her name
to tell me you are mine. But you are not
and she is not. Can my own breath be hurt
by breathless shadows groaning in their game?
It can. The best societies of hell
acknowledge this, aroused by what they know:
consummate rage recaptured there in full
as faithfulness demands it, blow for blow,
and rectitude that mimics its own fall
reeling with sensual abstinence and woe.
6
This is the ash-pit of the lily-fire,
this is the questioning at the long tables,
this is true marriage of the self-in-self,
this is a raging solitude of desire,
this is the chorus of obscene consent,
this is a single voice of purest praise.
7
He wounds with ecstasy. All
the wounds are his own.
He wears the martyr’s crown.
He is the Lord of Misrule.
He is the Master of the Leaping Figures,
the motley factions.
Revelling in auguries
he is the Weeper of the Valedictions.
8
Music survives, composing her own sphere,
Angel of Tones, Medusa, Queen of the Air,
and when we would accost her with real cries
silver on silver thrills itself to ice.

If I had died today,
that would have been it –
no more sunset skies,
no more birdwatching,
no more being

a midwife at the birth
of a beautiful baby,
no more writing
poems or stories or songs,
no more telling
the ones that I love
that I love them.

I get that.

If I had died today,
my last memories
would have been surprisingly good,
if fairly ordinary:

reading in the morning,
and praying (of course –
who doesn’t pray?),
walking, going to work,
talking with the teachers’ union rep,
joining the union,
hurrying through the grocery store –

and that’s one thing
I would have liked
to do differently:

Why was I rushing?
Why was it more important
for me to go first
instead of letting the other
woman go ahead?
I smiled apologetically
at her later, but still.

If I had died today,
I might have been comforted
by the knowledge that I
helped my students:

I wrote a letter of recommendation
for one who wants to serve
with Teach for America, and later,
sat talking with several of them,
one after another,
in conferences about their research papers,
helping them develop their ideas

about how history affects geography,
and what it means
to understand,
in a complex way,
cause and effect,
short-term and long-term:
the evil that people do,
the redemption that sometimes comes.

Really. That’s what we
were talking about.

If I had died today,
it could have happened
at least three different ways
because after teaching

I start my drive home
the usual way,
and I am in the left-hand turn lane
sitting at a red-light
getting ready to merge
onto I-80 East
when I hear sirens.

I look in my rear-view mirror,
and I see seven or eight cop cars
with their red lights whirring and flashing
coming up over the hill behind me
and down my way

so I flip on my right blinker
telling those around me
that, hey, remember, we’re supposed
to get over to the side of the road,
when the cops are coming,
but they all seem to be
weirdly frozen,
and I can’t go anywhere from here,
my light is red,
I can’t enter the intersection –

really, I can’t get away,
I’m a sitting duck,
which is awkward
when you’re human
(or even when you’re a duck).

If I had died today …

That’s when the car
the cops are chasing
reaches my lane,
and when the driver can’t go forward,
because we’re in his way,
he decides to pull into
the lane of oncoming traffic
right next to me
in order to try to get on the freeway
and, to stop him, the cop in pursuit
slams into the back of his car.

Just slams him.

That car, dark with tinted windows,
does a 180 right next to me,
and suddenly stops,
just a few feet
from me,
but I’m not hit –
it’s a miracle.

If I had died today …

The cops jump out
with their guns pulled
and point them directly at the dark vehicle
angry and shouting,
“Get out of the car!
Get out of the car!”

as they come closer,
one cop in the lead,
his gun almost touching
the driver’s side window
and a German shepherd
is right behind him.

I’m watching this,
but I’m trying to get down in my own car,
trying to duck,
because I don’t want to be shot –
my God, I don’t want to be shot
by the cops or the driver in that car
who might come out
shooting, God knows, it happens –

If I had died today …

I can’t get very far down,
and I want the light to turn green,
and I think, maybe they’ve frozen
the lights, and I’m never going to be able
to get out of here

and that’s when another cop
starts running toward the scene
from the opposite direction,
and he is holding his gun out
and pointing it straight at me,
straight into my driver’s side window 

and I hold up my hands to my face, palms out,
and I begin frantically waving at him
to say, no, don’t shoot, I’m not the suspect! 

And I wonder:
didn’t the dispatcher tell you
what the suspect’s car looks like?
I’m in a white Toyota Corolla!
It doesn’t look a thing like that dark car right next to me! 

Meanwhile, the other cops start shouting,
“Crossfire! Crossfire!”
to warn the cop that if he shoots,
he’s in danger
of injuring them.

And I am thinking to myself
that I don’t want to be shot,
and I don’t want to see any cops
accidentally shoot each other,
and I don’t actually want the cops
to shoot the driver in the car, either,
I don’t want to see that –

and I’m a midwife and a teacher,
and my purpose is to save life,
not to take it, and I don’t want to die,
not today, not right now,
because there are so many things
I still want to do before I die,
Jesus have mercy

And the light turns green.

It turns green, and I think to myself,
I am under no obligation to stay here
and watch anyone get shot,
and I turn onto the freeway,
and I drive straight to the church
where I pray with the secretary
and call the police department
to tell them that I am a witness,
this is what I saw …

If I had died today,
that would have been it:
no more sunset skies,
no more birdwatching,
no more being –

I get that.

But I didn’t die today.
I lived.

Jane Beal
sanctuarypoet.net

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“I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of the heaven and earth …
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth  
and forevermore.”

~ from Psalm 121

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
between you and me.

Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse cloud:
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.

But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
and all but lost.

That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her —
Your head so much concerned with outer.
Mine with inner, weather.

Robert Frost
(posted in honor of my pomelo tree)

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