I’ve been asked to lead the OSU Memorial Service tonight, and to come up with some opening remarks. While I was at Kenyon, I got in the habit of writing poems to serve as invocations and benedictions. Here’s what I’ve written for tonight:
There can be loneliness in grief.
People pass us on the street
never knowing how closely we
hold to all our memories.
The past means more to us then them;
the past is where our loved ones lived.
We remember how hair smelled
on a child’s head after a bath,
or how a whole small body shook
with laughter, and we shook too,
our bodies moving with their joy.
Now the rooms in which they lived
are transformed by emptiness,
the children who decorated
the walls, who filled the empty air
with their sounds, their smells, are gone.
They outgrew their child selves, and we
follow them on pilgrimage,
to the places they went without us,
and seek sympathy from faces
that were familiar to them,
though not to us. If each person
is made by the people they know,
then remembrance must include
the world they knew without us.
Their lives gave us to each other.
Let our memories be released
and, set free, release our loneliness.
Winter white on the moving water,
reflected not only from the snow,
but the trees, the day, the surrounding weeks –
the world is bleached.
My grandmother made everything clean.
She ate wall paper paste when a refugee
with two small children in tow,
and everywhere was trampled snow.
Later her hands always smelled of bleach,
her skin was tight, it shone,
looked breathed on and polished,
incomplete in dampened light –
not scarred, but something far beyond
my knowledge was reflected in her skin.
And now the cold lake, moving winter
that knows everything it knows,
water that goes and goes
within its own flat glaze,
the colors almost fade,
the tints lay rigid and subdued –
yet the world is too much,
I was at a meeting today and we were asked to reflect on the end of Genesis, when Joseph asks that his descendents return his bones to the Holy Land: “When God comes to you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” Here’s the poem I sketched out as my reflection:
I think I left some bones in Wisconsin.
A bonfire’s yellow sparks in still air –
a morning when I walked across a dewy meadow –
long weeds silting the water that our oars pulled through.
I pull these bones into the present and accept the past
as a memento mori, memory as the substance of mortality.
So much of this past adheres to the otherworldly symmetry
of holy places – Holy Hill, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
We named them and defined their sacredness by our uses,
even if the use was only to step into green light,
auburn shadows, not to pray but to spend a moment
standing in the atmosphere of polished wood.
I remember sun and dust across a whorled floor,
hard boards pressed against my back,
the day still beside the windows
and domesticity enchanted, the sacred here,
sleeping with my child in the next room.
I remember my wife in that moment.
Which bones are most worthy of processions through the wilderness?
Where is religion, really, in a traveling person?
Is it in memory’s corpse, in the timeless chapel,
the house in summer? When God comes,
we carry bones. Not through silken meadows.
Not over remembered hills. But everywhere.
All at once.