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I do not often wake in the night, but that was not always so.  Many years ago I assigned myself certain rules for nocturnal wakefulness.  I am not allowed to worry, especially about the wakefulness itself.  My goal is to rest, even when sleep is impossible.  I permit no negative thoughts, because problems seem worse, if not impossible to solve, in the dark.  Silently, of course, I sing hymns, quote scripture, or pray—unafraid of falling asleep on Someone Who will be annoyed with me.  Because I have been told to “pray without ceasing,” I must be able to pray in my sleep.  But if I’m too tired to concentrate on anything uplifting, I fall headlong in God’s wide arms.  This is possible only because I have envisioned them.  God’s arms are as soft as velvet and go on forever.  Everything I see with closed eyes is a charcoal color, except for the hopeful twinkling of stars.  How can I do anything but enjoy them?  I never get up unless I am ill or a family member needs me.  Waking in the night, when nothing is wrong, is annoying at most and a time for spiritual renewal at its undisturbed best.

 

first published in Passager

—for Tony Stewart

 

Almost weekly I am goggled,

when fans—well, I presume they are

fans—look for you in a poem, Tony.

 

Two time champion with a two-day beard,

a crooked grin, you the climber of fences,

despite your self-proclaimed “fatness.”  We—

 

the fans—pull on orange shirts, (and I have

orange slides).  We cheer you on.  But there’ll be

no 500 for you this year, Chili Bowl flipper.  Just

 

steer the 20 clear of Matt Kenseth.  You’ll be okay,

Smoke.  Hope Zippy’s working hard.  And you

re-modeled something really big for the Coca-Cola,

 

you “Papa to Mojo.”  I heard Katie wishes Mojo

had a Mama, so the women could spar.  I hope

you get a peaceful woman for your pit box,

 

one whose red lips will feel your prickly kiss—

with or without a victory lap—one who’ll give

herself for your body, her sweet comfort for your soul.

 

Thanks to Ryan Smithson, author of “Power Rankings,” a weekly opinion column at NASCAR.com for his comment that served as inspiration for my title.

My husband and I have begun a huge remodeling project in our kitchen.  When it is finsihed, it will be lovely–painted walls, new floor, new counter top.  But between now and the finished room are many hours of just plain work.  So if you leave a comment and I don't repsond right away, (or if I don't leave a comment on your blog), it's not because I don't like conversing with you.  It's because I'm peeling, scraping, steaming or jerking twenty-five-year-old wall paper off the wall!  I'll be around but not all the time.

Jesus is Gentle

Jesus, the Blessed One, is gentle. Even though he speaks with great fervor and biting criticism against all forms of hypocrisy and is not afraid to attack deception, vanity, manipulation and oppression, his heart is a gentle heart. He won't break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick (see Matthew 12:20). He responds to people's suffering, heals their wounds, and offers courage to the fainthearted.

Jesus came to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and freedom to prisoners (see Luke 4:18-19) in all he says, and thus he reveals God's immense compassion. As his followers, we are called to that same gentleness.

By 1:05 we had eaten lunch, and the Pre-Race Show was over.  Time to curl up for a cozy afternoon watching 500 miles of top-notch Cup racing—not much else to do Sunday afternoon.  We hoped to see Stewart take the win and cut Johnson’s lead in the point standings.  I was feeling congested—sinus troubles, I guess—so I had taken a  decongestant to relieve my headache, antihistamine for my itching nose.  After a country star destroyed the national anthem, and a man in the infield applied suntan lotion to the bronze hips of a woman in a halter top, the drivers kissed their wives and climbed into their cars.  Spotters and officials took their places, and the customary “Gentlemen, start your engines” faded into a general roar—a combination of cheers, whistles, and revving engines.

Following a few laps to warm the tires, the pace car slipped down pit road.  As the green flag waved, all 43 cars made a clean start.  An in-car camera showed Harvick at 185 on the straight stretches, slower of course in the turns, speeding around the mile-and-a-half oval track, tornado-like—car and driver vibrating together.  Enveloped in the warmth of my afghan like a driver in his cockpit and lulled by the constant motion and hum of the engines, I leaned my head against my husband’s shoulder to relax.  Benny Parsons reminded his television audience, once again, that the RACE FOR THE CHASE was on..

On lap 80 a blown tire caused a huge wreck and sent six cars to the garage.  Junior was pissed but held his tongue.  Ten laps  later and there’s oil on the track.  Another caution.  More commercials.   A close-up view of the cut-away car, when they go green.

—————–

            “What’s all that water, anyway?”

            “They’re stoppin’ the cars.”

            “Gimme some more chicken, Daddy,” says a boy sitting nearby, jerking out the cooler jammed under his seat in the Pontiac Section at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, only to find he’d already eaten everything but the bones.  He settles for a ham biscuit.

            “Can’t you see what’s goin’ on, Bill?” I yell.

            “They’re not strong enough.  I wish I brought the good ones.”  Bill lets his binoculars dangle around his neck.

Someone shouts that a water main has broken.  Although the sky is mostly overcast, a glare—as well as the distance—prevents us from seeing what the problem is. After coming to a stop, drivers climb from their cars onto the track.  Kurt Busch, last year’s champion, tussles with Gordon.  No one can see their facial expressions—only their shadows, boxing.

“Smack ’im.  Smack ’im good,” comes from my left, but no one smacks anyone.

            “Sure a lot of water.”

            Each fan has, in theory, his or her own space—little as it may be—at the race track, yet clustered together, we move as a unit, craning our necks in search of meaning, while the shrill scent of motor oil coats the dusty grandstand.  In front of me, a man clambers onto his seat to get a better look.. That means we can’t see at all.  His foot inadvertently swipes an open beer can, which I upright to prevent its entire contents from dumping onto my feet.

            “What’re they doing?’

            “Shuttin’ it off.”

“Closing the bathrooms!”

My bladder—unaware of the rumor’s lack of validity—suddenly fills to its capacity. 120,000 fans scream simultaneously, while the track announcer remains silent. It’s noisier with the engines off than it was while the cars were racing.  The former, deafening but mesmerizing,  is replaced by a boisterous and constant pandemonium, punctuated with sudden overpowering shrieks at irregular intervals. A pit-road reporter  fumbles a microphone, recovers.  We see him and know what the drivers will say in their interviews, because that’s as predictable as who’ll name the most sponsors.  A few fans, wearing headsets, relay news from the radio broadcast:  “They” are trying to find the problem, so “they” can “go racing.”  Folks at home know more than we do.

“What time is it, anyhow?”

The water appears to be slowing.  Although a few people migrate toward the concession stands, most remain to watch as track workers hoist blowers from the beds of pick-up trucks to dry the track.  Others sweep the water toward a grassy area using over-sized push brooms.   Drivers mull about, take off their helmets.   Mark Martin eats.

            ———-

The water was cleared.  And a general cheer rose from the television speaker, as the crowd came to its feet, anticipating the restart.   My arm, asleep beneath my husband’s back, refused to wake up.  Drivers walked toward their cars.  Crew chiefs climbed to the tops of the boxes.  Then engines droned; exhaust billowed.  No one heard the kids yell into the pungent air.  A cameraman zoomed his lens into the crowd to check out a woman’s breasts.   I heard the announcer’s laughter as I shifted to a more comfortable position and reached for a pillow.  My headache was gone.

When Michael Waltrip hit the wall in turn three, only twelve cars remained on the lead lap.  The flag man threw the yellow, and the instant replay simulated the crash from every angle.  I tagged along for the ride. Spinning, around and around—whirling like a dervish on the wide-screen tv.

I knew the race would end with a green-white-checker.

In October I sought that perfect image

to make truth sing, my readers weep.

Am I asking too much of the rain?

A few drops had fallen, as we entered Kansas,

where in Phillipsburg,

we drove past the “Yesterday Shop”

and the houses that looked like yesterday.

And when crossing the Republican River,

we noticed it was dried up.  A sign of prophecy, yes?

 

Art or history?  At this juncture,

I concocted a fathomable symbolism,

based on my true belief, concerning what light

even our darkest corner may yet hold:

Fire and water, maybe?

A spark can thrive in a downpour, you know,

a burning bush in a waterfall.

 

first published in Right Hand Pointing

Q: Describe how you link spirituality to God–why is God so crucial to your life?

A: The most delicious piece of knowledge for me is that [pauses] I am a child of God. That is so mind-boggling, that this "it" created everything, and I am a child of "it." It means I am connected to every thing and every body.

That's all delicious and wonderful–until I'm forced to realize that the bigot, the brute, the batterer is also a child of "it" [laughs]. Now, he may not know it, but I'm obliged to know that he is. I have to. That is my contract.

What fascinates me is the varying ways we approach God. And shape God and paint God, make a statue of God. It amazes me. Once I went to Texas to a conference called "Facing Evil." At one point, some fellow from Texas got up and said, "I really have seen evil, I have felt its force. I went to Germany and I went into the concentration camps."

I stood and said, "Do you mean to tell me that we've come from all over the world and we're going to talk nonsense? You had to go to Germany, you here in Texas who refused Mexican-Americans a chance to vote, you who don't want them to even live next to you, you who have your own history of slavery–you had to go to Germany? I don't wanna hear it."

It seems to me that if we accept–if I accept, anyway–the fact of evil, I accept the fact of good. We're all doing what Anne Sexton calls "that awful rowing toward God." That excites me. It gives me incredible delight to be alive, and prepares me with as little fear as possible for death. It remains that I live a very nice life, most of the time.

from a 1995 interview with Maya Angelou, published in Mother Jones

“But to love another as a person we must begin by granting him his own autonomy and identity as a person.  We have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us.  We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him.  And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love which ‘transforms’ us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own.  Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible.  But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation ‘into the other’ while remaining ourselves, we are not yet capable of a fully human existence. “

 

From Disputed Questions by Thomas Merton

(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, New York, 1960) Page 104.

I’m standing wide-eyed and waiting—

hiding, dauntlessly—behind the mask, I guess:

 

A woman looking for action,

the only truth considered.  I seek to inspire.

So how was I to know—peeking out—

that the facts were not only the facts,

but the only conclusion present?

 

Fire in the belly like the truth of the ancients:

Burn, sister, burn.  For all will sometime sing.

 

first published in Domicile

My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man:

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The child is father of the man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.

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