Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Race Day

                Race days are a strange mixture of tranquility and tension, something akin to resolute poise of a bow pulled taught. In the same way, we use no energy other than what is necessary for readying ourselves and no more than is needed to pull the string into ready position. Any bystander unaccustomed to the ways of a long distance runner might see the whole scene as rather solemn – all of us sulking around, hardly speaking. In reality, we are brimming with excitement, but an unspoken understanding between fellow runners is that we have to keep it controlled so as not to release our pent up energy too soon.

                Every runner has their own ritual the day of a race. If any part of it is broken or disrupted the whole venture seems somehow out of tune, a kind of drifting unbalanced feeling. This dynamic is the core of why we do not speak, we do not want to disrupt or push another off course, as it were. Our methods are cold and calculated, but not devoid of emotion. On the contrary, we all feel the same tension everyone else feels in the unity that we have spent all season building. Each runner on a team is like a single filament in the string on the bow. I think C.S. Lewis said it best as, “the highest cannot stand without the lowest.” This holds true in cross country as well. The way our meets are scored depends primarily on the first five runners whose score is simply their place at the finish line. Teams are scored on a golf scale making 15 a perfect score. In a case where there is a tie the 6th and 7th runners are taken into account, but that is not before they displace what could be another teams 5th runner. The whole point is that one man wins the race and while that solidifies his superiority he alone cannot win for his team, all seven runners must participate.

                When we line up all the teams are shaking hands and wishing each other the best of luck. We dawn our racing regalia, minimalist is an understatement, and then we poise ourselves on the line. The whole line goes quiet as everyone stares out across the expanse in front of us. The gun fires and we bolt out of the still with the sound.  The very men we shook hands with minutes ago are now throwing elbows as we muscle out their legs from our next step. It’s a weaponless war, save for spikes and pride, but out there those are always lying face down in the mud and grass. Each has their reasons that spur them on – some race for the clock, some for themselves, some for the team, and others for God knows what – it’s a 5 mile race in college, plenty of time to figure it out.

                Most find themselves having an internal battle amidst the greater war raging around them. There is a constant struggle between pushing that ever thinning limit and breaking the edge from which you cannot safely return. It is a battle between desire and finding the bounds, at which your body can stretch, then saying, “fuck it!” and crossing the line anyway. On a good day the body maintains its integrity, on the bad it slips into a sort of inequality where every motion costs more than it should, which leads to a feeling of injustice. After all, we put in the hours, the days, and the months of training for the filament to break now? When the finish nears it’s a pain-filled revelation. We all try to sprint, but it feels about as useful as pulling yourself through water with rope. And when we cross we revel in the end, in the finality, and simultaneously crumple in defeat – to ourselves, not to them. 

                The conclusion feels a lot like the start. We’re all shaking hands and wishing well no matter what team we are speaking with. We each congratulate one another, asking how the race went for each individual, surmising and appraising the results as a whole. When then results are finally announced we take our proud off like a shoe and carry it with us because it was only a means to an end from the start. We did well, but we always aim to do better.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Poetry Portfolio from Last Spring


Ocean – Sunrise

Frail clouds heap, swift and listless, as they
dust over the dimming rung of heaven.
Twilight flickers at the distant sill,
mute and still, dissonance, creased like
salty breath and little secrets and forms like
stray bruises on matte canvas, blush
'till light trills the waters' scruff
in deep, even sighs.


Water rises, hollow sheets of gold,
hued with sand and shell pieces.


They make no effort to resist
the drift or the steady undertow.
Instead, given freely up,
they sink back to bottom,
to their sense of meaning,
and take pleasure in the loss.


I refuse, because I am not
without fear, raging terror
of that which cannot be contained.
Caught on that edge, I admire
the salty taste of
your unrelenting beauty.




Permanent

Dreams sift through tight-locked finger tips
They weren't alive, not yet, anyway
Blank the canvas, graphite always leaves shadows
Unintelligible, once legible, accident
Trade the pencil for a pen, begin.



I Open Up

The way a House Finch spreads
to reveal his breast,
true red
amidst sturdy browns.


The way a book likes
to split itself in two
uneven halves
between ready hands.


The way lips part
to breathe in air
and speak
about it later.


I open up for you
because I want to know
how it feels to be vulnerable
to someone other than myself.




Cement Life

Life turns his solid head
and speaks a riddle to my chest:
"Tear your heart, make a vacancy
straight both sides, rain for me
kill a clown, take his smile
behind the woodshed
and chop its weary
curls off like a
worm twirls
on the
cement."


Are they lies
or do I just not understand
the difference between truth and reality.
Carpe Diem? Right. I'll drown tomorrow anyway.
Forever isn't long enough these days
I want time to slow so much it stays
in my hand... the way God sees it.
A toy, a wisp, or a worm maybe.



Skylights

There was something in the proximity of night
to make the sky bruise my eyes. Little lights darting
just out of reach. You can see better in the dark
when you look just off center of the mark. To all
the little marks out there, ghosts of distant places
caught in spaces between heaven and my oily eyes,
am I to them as they are to me – a matte speck or
an out of tune light?


I look to the sky to be undone
by the facts: I am small.


There’s a broken mirror in my head – a surreptitious way
of faking my inner reflection. It’s not lying
if it doesn’t know what’s false,
if it doesn’t know what truth is…
Either way, you see things in a broken mirror
that are just aside and aloof
of what was meant.




Futility

The sun rise faces west -
A giant flash-bulb who never ceases
forces me to turn with his direction.
I cannot face my future as he does;
I cannot strand my eyes on nothing.
Nothing the way darkness is nothing,
the way it feels opaque and inclusive.
How do you answer silence?
A boy dives into placid water
ripples burn to the edge in tiny gasps;
 these are the sound I make at night.
desperate noise filled to my eyes
with a need to know futility
had its rightful place.




Leaf

A leaf breaks from the bough
falling at its time, and I
can't even guess how long,
exactly, I’ve been aware.

Guilt follows, jealously
apprehending fiction -
that I’m apathetic
or just lack attentiveness
enough to form truth, accuracies,
maybe even belief.


I trust this leaf
more than myself
and I am unaware
why.




Impasse

The exit sign cast a dim shadow -
purpose of failure, illuminated
metal fingers slip, the tumblers
red steel bound with collapse and
the impasse - no way back.




Ocean – Shore

We opened an expanse before
you, took no notice –


the way we rise and fall, toppling
in white, in wind and without shame
curl into the latter. Ourselves
undone by heavy heads


as you strike us, mid-fall
and openhandedly blame
us for your body's weakness'
against the tides, against the weight,


against your folly.

Would you hold your own
undoing, with so little
acknowledgment?




The Wife of the Whore

A life turns gray without warning
the beloved holds another in circumspect tenderness
gives her X amount of words, and palms
the edge of her skin without reverence
as the slick between them tears their sickly souls.


It's a cold half-truth; that she opened her legs
and must've promised you all, all the way
I gave it to you. But I gave it to you
she sold it to you, for the price of love
and fifty-dollar bill you took from my purse.




Day Beast

The day beast spread itself heavy in the air
to graze on the slow heartbeat of night
with splintered orange teeth. The day beast who


Opens and closes all things on earth,
flays the edge of dark, and rubs us dry
between careless fingers.


Nothing natural happens without him,
nothing that wasn’t already exiled from heaven
like a used moment.


We are painfully naked surfaces who,
under no alternative, survive the puzzle
of our fading brilliance.


Scarred

My feet dangle over tiny waves
their crests, like scars, become my reflection.
They lick the side of the wall
asking to become, begging me to come
but I won't touch the chilled waters
I will not preceed my fault with failure.
Here in a breeze I cannot name, I resist.


He stares back at me through dark features
broken by the need to breathe a minute longer
to breathe a little deeper,


Greedy bastard.

In a moment of resilience, I stand up
grab the wall for balance and kick his face in.
Murky water jumps on my leg and crawls back down.
He reaches for something more than just my guard.
I step away and leave his desire to be born
into nothing. Born into the scars
that steal my focus.




Velcro

To the Couple Across the Room,

In regards to your willful act of premarital inter-digitation,
I have to ask, are your fingers still getting proper circulation?
Word on the street tells me you were locked out of the DMC,
so I can understand why you chose the BTS to play footsy
instead of being one of those low-love awkward lounge types.


Instead, I offer to you that what the rest of us see is disconcerting.
Hardly grotesque, but something feeling more akin to salt and pepper
except, taped together. Not a bad thing, just rather annoying
because in some cases, where one is needed the other is not,
and in other cases both are needed but in differing amounts.


I imagine in lieu of your multiple lakeside excursions
you've come to view the "us" as somewhat important,
so please do not misinterpret my tone as scorning infatuation.
I only mean to extricate the myth you all are forming,
namely, that when you part it sounds a lot like Velcro.


Sincerely,
Us




Skeleton Key

Your scent fell through the tangled framework.
Like a fool, I began
to follow your sharp pieces
with a skeleton key to old cages
I don't live in anymore. I escaped
to the mutable distance,
to excuses and indecision,
and preconceived imaginations
where you and I are words and meaning
and words win because sometimes, you cared
less than me. Which is further from the truth?



Memory

Sand sculpted frames in a shell
of flesh and tiny quiet strings,
all speaking what their told.
Stray messages creep in
with misdirection, unscripted
like lighting wells in the sky
all flash and no friction
on their own
smelting purple strips
with white ropes
to dangle from.

We are displaced
because life leaves lines
creases in the skin and mind
wrinkles that cannot be undone
without breaking.




You Can’t Steal What You Already Own

Your hair rubbed like
Sand between blue hands as
You questioned my quiet shoulder about God,
About grades, about reason, and
About the difference.


I held you closely,
Closer.
Trying to steal uncertainty
By making myself something
Other than what I am.


But we didn't
I became nothing more
And you gave nothing less
Than our own empty
Convictions.




The Hollow

You say Hello.
Your words are hollow.
I lose my center like the spindle of light in your eyes.


You pass by.
Your density presses.
We start a war; more, we don’t acknowledge.


Strain a swallow.
I no longer follow
your logic, or whatever it is you use to decide.


You stare me
down like all the boys
you know give up, I won’t go so easily though.


I say Hello.
My words are shadows.
Silhouettes on substance
 used to be.


 

Creation Revisited

There was nothing that was something
for the perfect dark to be reference to
till the Endless found three points
made a nothing into something
a space for emptiness to collude.


Speak in presence, speak light
break nature between itself
two parallel scars torn roughly by infinity
as absence draws in purpose, night
like cold pulls into flesh, numb.


The Endless breathed the day
he breathed. All blessings, and a curse
the say we broke our center hold for greed.
Ate our fill, empty souls. It's simple
we are undone by desire
for more than
perfection.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day Beast

The day beast spread itself heavy in the air
to graze on the slow heartbeat of night
with splintered orange teeth. The day beast who

Opens and closes all things on earth,
flays the edge of dark, and rubs us dry
between careless fingers. 

Nothing natural happens without him,
nothing that wasn’t already exiled from heaven
like a used moment. 

We are painfully naked surfaces who,
under no alternative, survive the puzzle
of our fading brilliance. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Futility


The sun rise faces west -
A giant flash-bulb that never ceases
forces me to turn with his direction.
I cannot face my future as he does;
I cannot strand my eyes on nothing.
Nothing the way darkness is nothing,
the way it feels opaque and intrusive.
How do you answer silence?
A boy dives into placid water
ripples burn to the edge in tiny gasps;
these are the sound I make at night.
desperate noise filled to the eyes
with a need to know futility
had its rightful place.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Into the Ocean's Arms

Take a breath. Close the door behind you.

One Second. Your eyes adjust to the half-blind empty space. Your heart beats faster, beats louder, cradled in upside down descent.

Ten Seconds. Watch the sky fallout underneath you. The nothing is consuming you in darkness, silently stroking, pulling on your chest. The blue distance is all that you have left.

Thirty Seconds. She echoes all around you, audible pangs nearly imperceptible, implacable in origin, but she’s getting closer. The waves below you cease their muted kneading at the sky. You are alone. This is an irrevocable truth.

One Minute. It’s getting colder and your body shivers with no reply. The weight of the world is sharing its burden with you as your listless lungs light your chest like kindling. Your fingertips begin to tingle the way half-awake dream make you feel in control.

One Minute, Thirty Seconds. A burning snake creeps up your throat, wriggling for freedom, and you are tempted to indulge him. Air seeps out of your nose in pea-sized bubbles spinning dizzily down to the light. You give in, and release your cares into the ocean’s arms.

Two Minutes. The darkness stops its stroking, or is it just the numbness of your body knowing what’s been done. Quivers rock your stomach – fear from the core of you as everything screams “take a breath!” but water is heavier than air. You convulse in one smooth unified shiver, it’s no longer your choice. The vice grips squeezing your head suddenly stop as you suck in thick, salty water, and everything is serene. There is no pain, no throbbing, no screaming, no sound, no weight, no pressure – Just you. It’s just you.

Three minutes.


This was the result of a prompt for my Creative Writing: Fiction course. Mostly we've focused on the flash fiction and sudden fiction genres (yes there is a difference). We were instructed to pick a subject from which we could capture a definite frame of time. For instance, the time it takes to eat an apple, there is a beginning and an end, therefore it can be framed in terms of time. Why did i choose drowning as my subject? How very studious of you to ask, so I will tell you. Little known fact about Joseph number #1: I am deathly afraid of the ocean - and I love it. I have been since I almost drowned when I was 6 or 7. That's another story though, and perhaps a sudden non-fiction piece.

רוּחָמָה,
Joseph

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Burning Sea

Sitting on the plane I looked out the window just after takeoff. A sepia sea grew wider underneath me changing as quickly as we flew. It felt like I was upside down underwater looking up at the surface but it was dark, opaque and thin. At first I thought it might be the moon but it had too much color; then I thought it might be the lights on the plane but then I realized we were too far to reflect them; finally I realized the lights from Atlanta just below me were casting their orange ambience on the clouds. Staring down felt like an eerie dream of a burning sea, vast and empty, limited only by the distance I could see. Suddenly I wondered if this is how God sees us when he stares down from heaven - a burning sea. What does hell look like?

 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 (NIV)
Paul records an immeasurable amount of people before the throne of God and again in Revelation 19 with a more specific reference to those dressed in white, implying their righteousness through salvation. If those who are before the throne are so great that they cannot be measured then taking into account Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14 –
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
How many more people are in hell than heaven? Why haven’t I realized this before? Why hasn’t that saddened me more?

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
Imagining such an incredible amount of people in torment made me want to cry just then, for the first time I felt true sadness for them. How does God feel? He loves us all so much and yet so few get to stay with him. Maybe that’s why his love for the saints is so incomprehensible. I thought of how I react when I lose something I love – it makes everything I do have that much more precious. How precious are we to him? The ones that make it home. Who am I to be so lucky? Two days later, I’m still not sure what this epiphany will change, but perhaps it’s grounded me more in the urgency with which we ought to share our faith. 

רוּחָמָה,
Joseph

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Manifesto- Part 1: For the Love of God

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16 (NKJV) Most people who have ever stepped foot in a church know this verse. It ranks right up there with Genesis 1:1 in popularity. But how many of us really understand it? God sent His only son to die that we might live. The concept is simple enough that any person can grasp it. There is some kind of indelible beauty inherent in the sacrifice of one person’s life for another. We see it in movies all the time, when a character dies for the protagonist and if done well it can be a truly heart-wrenching moment. Why then do we (I) feel so calm and unaffected when we read that verse?

Answer: we just took the most climatic moment in human history and presented it without any backstory. And Bruce Willis is a ghost – so what, right? We kind of ruin it by just quoting that verse. In fact, at the very least I wish we would continue on to verse seventeen, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” It’s an interesting verse, one that evokes a healthy appetite to know more and get that backstory, but we flaccidly present God’s love with our retelling of the Gospel.

The Old Testament is story after story of God displaying His justice, mercy, provision, patience, jealousy, power, and love. We have our redeeming moments but as a whole we fail miserably as men born into sin. We are born separated from God, an ally to His enemy. (Rom 3:23) Despite that standing He loves us. A few months ago I had this moment of clarity in a time where I found myself battling internally with anger. I don’t know that I had ever felt truly felt hate more than I did in that moment, but God graciously gave me insight, allowing me to understand how miniscule my indignation was compared to how he feels towards sin. I can’t imagine.

Sin tore everything beautiful He had made into shadows of their former selves. Sin stole from Him all the glory and honor that is rightfully His and us, the crown of creation. We willingly gave ourselves over to sin and all the consequences that come with it. God chose Israel as His people, the ones who would usher in the provision of a permanent atonement for our sins but time and time again they strayed – a bride undignified in her ways. The book of Hosea paints them as the harlot who leaves her husband for the idols of the world. Every time we sin we cheat on God. We steal His glory. Just before the story of the Flood I read, “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” (Gen 6:6) because every intent of man’s heart was evil. We broke God’s heart. Sobering? I hope so.

I understand that we can’t hold ourselves accountable for their mistakes. But the fact that God was brought to the point where He sincerely regretted creating man really struck me. My devotions in the weeks before revolved around hope, forgiveness, and love. My next thought was, “God let His perfect son die for me? A sinner He (at one time) was sorry He created and a slave to His enemy.” God hates Sin and then let His son die for a sinner. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) He wanted us back that badly. You and I were worth His perfect son’s life. If you ever feel separated from God because of a mistake remember this – that chasm closed with the choice Jesus made on that cross to surrender his life to death in our place. “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:17-19)

I can’t pretend this explains the love of God in a way that does it justice. His love is beyond comprehension. I don’t need to quote the bible to prove that. My point in this post is a Manifesto of sorts, that you might understand my position. I am a child of God, bought with a price for the sake of His glory and honor, that His fame may be known through the earth. I am a slave to Christ and the love He demonstrated on the cross. He is literally the crux of my life therefore all that follows is a result of His love towards me. 


רוּחָמָה,
Joseph

P.S.- Part 2 will probably come in another week or so. Also, the Hebrew tagline has multiple meanings but it comes from Hosea. The transliteration is Ruhamah, which can be rendered "love and mercy" OR "one who was spared (because of love)". I prefer the latter.