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Color Psalm

You are more colors than my eye can see!

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You are more colors than my eye can see!

I sing you, but I cannot sing you true—
I sing you dark and dull and drab and gray.
I dance you, but my steps are pale and slow:
I dance you olive green and navy blue.

Give me peacock feet and scarlet song!
You are everything swift and wild and strong—
Everything delightful, merry, and free—
Azure rain and blinding, golden sun.

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Oh, everything wise and awful—fill my tongue
Viridian and marigold and ocean,
So when I sing you, you are truly sung;
Then let my feet with laughter overflow,
And I will dance you amethyst and flame.

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The midnight heavens rejoice at all you say,
The sea-green waters answer back the same—
Oh, everything brilliant, marvelous, and bright—
Open my eyes so I may see you right!

You were color before color came.

© 2012 Deborah King

Trust Psalm

You must—You must not be my Enemy!
I will not have You for an enemy.

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You must—You must not be my Enemy!
I will not have You for an enemy.
Bitterness is no excuse for that.
Envy I called Longing; Pride—Desire;
Jealousy was Thirst; and Lust was Fire.
Sometimes the sky seemed short, and heaven flat.
I do not have a good excuse for that.

But You—You must not be my Enemy!
Though You, You mixed the bitter in my cup.
Though out of all proportion seems to me
The bitterness that now I vomit up:
I will not have You for an Enemy.

Befriend me! Let Your good be strong for me!
Let Truth, like manna, break Hunger’s weak defense.
Let Light, like water, turn all Envy dry.
Let Beauty Himself shame Craving into silence.

I do not want You for my Enemy,
My most constant Friend. Let everyone know:
Write Your friendship across the open sky!
Take my hand in Yours, and I will go
Where terrible, beautiful friendship makes me go.

© 2012 Deborah King

Our Inconsolable Secret

“We do not want merely to see beauty …. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—

“We do not want merely to see beauty …. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. … The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. … [G]lory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory’

Shepherds

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

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The Adoration of the Shepherds, by Giorgione

Shadowed they press down the sloping hill,
Groping their way in the still-thick dark,
Past black-mouthed caves heavy with night
To one where fire-light flickers still.

There was glory on the hillside, that they knew—
But the light has faded—can this be the place?
Go inside, one says, and cough a little—
They are only shepherds, and only a few.

Outside the wind sways the bowed brush low
Murmering deference—blessing—prayer.
It swirls the loose hay on the rough stone floor
And lifts the ruff of a placid cow.

Oh chill air, tingle with this child’s strong cry—
Oh stars, burn clearer in greeting Him
Whom the universe thrilled to, time ago
When first it sang its created song!

At dawn, the plowman will creak from his bed—
Stretching as always in the cold half-light.
And his wife will turn her hair up in a knot
And pin it wearily, so she can make bread.

And the innman, who counted his money and smiled
Last night will count it again today
And fasten the bag with a satisfied shake—
Only shepherds gaze at the newborn child.

Slowly the light of the new day grows
Warming the mouth of that place, where, tired,
The mother sits and rocks her son
And thinks a little, and knows what she knows.

And leaving, one shepherd lags from the rest
Inhuman voices still ring in his ears
His unseeing eyes bright from within—
From the daystar light that still burns in his chest.

© 2003 Deborah King

My New Heroes

So the title of this post probably made you think it was about something serious. Um, no.

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So the title of this post probably made you think it was about something serious. Um, no. I’m not in a serious mood right now. I’m in a “write about my secret guilty pleasure (henceforth no longer secret)” mood. Ahem.

I sometimes get asked the question: “So, how many years were you in college, exactly?” To which I respond glibly: “mumble mumble.” “I’m sorry, what was that?” “Er, I said ‘fourteen.'” “Fourteen?!!” Yes. You heard right. I am utterly insane. It was either school or the mental institution.

While I was doing my fourteen years of time, I was made to read all manner of books. I read books which discussed chiaroscuro and Caravaggio and Ionic columns. I read books designed to explain French conditionals and Greek declensions and Hebrew roots. I read books elucidating hamartiology and gnosticism and amillennialism. I read books about linguistics (with titles like ‘Ergativity’ and ‘The Syntax-Semantics Interface’) that made my eyes cross. I read scholarly articles coming out my ears. And then I wrote a book full of jargon that only about three people in the world can understand. And finally I got kind of tired of books that featured words like antipassive and antinomianism and antidisestablishmentarianism. (Okay, so I don’t know if I ever actually read any books with that word in it.)

When the last word was written and my professors’ John Hancocks were safely on the dissertation paperwork, I packed my scholarly tomes in cardboard boxes galore and lugged the forty or fifty library books littering my living room back to the library. I moved halfway across the country and promptly got a library card.

I can’t be certain, but I think the first thing I checked out was “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” It was November, and I blew through the rest of the series by Christmas. A host of other fun books followed, none of whose authors even toyed with the idea of using the word ontological.

So now you know my guilty little secret. I am a children’s fiction addict.

Although I don’t limit myself to one genre, I especially like fantasy fiction. So I was very excited to run across an author that, in my opinion, is one of the cleverest, cleanest, and all-around most enjoyable to read that I’ve found in years. This guy makes me actually tempted to write him fan mail, which is saying something.

The author I’m talking about is Rick Riordan. (Some of you have heard me rave.) His first children’s series is called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and includes five books, each better than the last. The basic premise is that the Greek gods (you know, Ares, Zeus, Aphrodite) are still populating the world with demi-god hero children. The gods themselves turn out to be rather deadbeat parents, but their kids are full of vim and vigor, taking on monsters and quests with admirable pluck.

Having finished his first five, Riordan apparently thought the Roman gods deserved a fair shake. I’ve just completed The Lost Hero, the first in a new series of books that introduces fresh characters and brings in old ones as well, some the children of Greek gods, others children of Roman gods. Basic plot summary: Jason, Piper, and Leo team up to rescue the goddess Hera/Juno, who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious sleep-walking woman. The catch? They have only a few days to find her—oh, and simultaneously rescue Piper’s (human) father, who’s being held captive by giants.

What’s so great about  Riordan’s books? A lot of things. For one, his characters are just super likable. Second, the plots are tightly woven sequences of events that characterize good writing at its finest. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is left hanging. Every subplot moves the story along toward the resolution of the overarching question. On top of this, the books are educational. (Groan.)  No, no—wait! In a fun way. I promise. Riordan, a former history teacher, retells the Greek and Roman myths in a manner sometimes frankly hilarious. Take the following passage, in which Jason and his friends encounter the legendary King Midas.

“So,” Jason said. “All this gold—”
The king’s eyes lit up. “Are you here for gold, my boy? Please, take a brochure!”
Jason looked at the brochures on the coffee table. The title said GOLD: Invest for Eternity. “Um, you sell gold?”
“No, no,” the king said. “I make it. In uncertain times like these, gold is the wisest investment, don’t you think? Governments fall. The dead rise. Giants attack Olympus. But gold retains its value!”
Leo frowned. “I’ve seen that commercial.”

Of course, most of us have heard of Midas. But since reading The Lost Hero, I can now tell you the Aeolus and Boreas were gods of the winds, Medea was the wife of Jason until he dumped her for someone else, and that when I order a venti latte at Starbucks, a particularly astute barista might think of storm spirits instead. For someone who likes trivia as much as I do, it’s a particularly satisfying combination.

Right now, I’m waiting with anticipation for the second book in the series (Son of Neptune) to come out. I’ve already got my hold in at the local library.

Of Space Heaters and Rock n’ Roll

I live in an apartment in a big old Victorian house in the historic district of Grand Rapids, known as Heritage Hill.

I live in an apartment in a big old Victorian house in the historic district of Grand Rapids, known as Heritage Hill. My apartment is on the third floor, and has dormer windows, and sloping roofs, and wood floors (never mind that they’re flaking varnish, they’re wood, okay?), and a sink with two faucets, and built-in storage units under the eaves, and cute radiator-type heaters. It only lacks a claw-foot bathtub to be perfect in its quaintness. It’s an efficiency apartment, and I sleep in the walk-in closet, which means I wake up to the sight of all my clothes hanging in a neat, color-coordinated row at the foot of my bed.

I like my apartment for a lot of reasons, including the above-mentioned quaintness, and the fact that I get to take walks down streets filled with houses that look like they marched straight off the streets of “Meet Me in St. Louis,” and for the fact that it fit my budget, which pretty much every other apartment in Grand Rapids did not do. Apparently, however, it also fits the budget of assorted college students, down-and-outers, and wannabe teen rock stars.

Like I said, I like my apartment for a lot of reasons, but the teen rock stars are not one of them. Said wannabe teen rock stars like to start practicing a set of pulsing and rather unimaginative songs around 11 or 11:30 at night, just as I’m crawling into bed with the intention of getting some shuteye.  Instead, I lie awake, staring at my row of sweaters, my brain thrumming, and my imagination vivid with scenarios of timidly knocking on their door in my pajamas and begging a crowd of unruly teenagers to “Please keep it down?” (I’m not the confrontational type.)

Last night, however, I accidentally discovered what I think may be the solution. Remember those nostalgic radiator-type heaters I mentioned? Turns out they and I don’t have the same ideas about how often they should put in some heating time. (I don’t control the thermostat in my apartment.) I, preferring to be warmer than not, have resorted to a small space heater that does a reasonable job at taking the chill out of the air, considering my apartment is all of 300-some feet square.  Unfortunately, the wiring in my apartment is also a bit temperamental. By trial and error, I’ve discovered that two of the outlets can’t handle the space heater for long without tripping the circuit breaker. One of them makes the overhead light in my closet go out, which is strange, because it’s one of the furthest outlets from the closet.

Whenever this circuit-breaker tripping happens, I always feel a little guilty, thinking my neighbors might suddenly be reading their remedial English textbooks or watering their marijuana plants in the dark because of me. So I avoid those outlets now. Up until last night, though, the outlet in my closet (strangely unconnected to the overhead light) never seemed to have a problem, merrily letting the space heater run all night without circuit-breaking even of any kind (to plagiarize Oscar Wilde: “I have no brother, I never had a brother, and I don’t intend to have a brother, not even of any kind.” I digress.). I assumed that I had sole dominion over the wiring for this outlet.

I found out different last night. The space heater was running like normal, valiantly puffing hot air out into the main room. I was concentrating on my laptop, licking a spoonful of cream cheese frosting, and playing with my hair. I didn’t really notice when the boom-boom-boom started up downstairs. Didn’t notice, that is, until two things suddenly shut off simultaneously. The rock ‘n roll beat. And my space heater.

Yep. I think I’ve found the solution to my teen rock star problem.  Never mind that my apartment’s a bit chilly. At least I’ve got some peace and quiet.

Longing

I’m currently re-reading a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I’ve had for years.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m currently re-reading a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I’ve had for years (Selected Poems). I love Millay’s style, even when I disagree with her philosophy on life. In my mind, she’s up there next to Frost in her ability to capture something of what C.S. Lewis described this way:

“the inconsolable secret in each one of you–the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter … But all this is a cheat … The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.” (The Weight of Glory)

Millay was not a Christian. But her work frequently expresses the longing Lewis described–a wordless aching for something we’ve never even seen; an aching ultimately filled only by seeing the perfections of Christ and becoming in reality what we (Christians) are currently positionally. As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Here’s a couple of my favorites from Millay:

Assault

I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!

Wild Swans

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Kaneshie Market

My white face drifting through this sea Of black and friendly faces—shouting “Obruni!” faces

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A market scene in Accra, Ghana.

My white face drifting through this sea
Of black and friendly faces—shouting “Obruni!” faces
(They’re shouting at me, the hot crowd;
They know I’m rich, wealthy enough to buy
From all)—is not as strange as my Western clothes
And my Western ways that would pay the first price

They ask—if I didn’t know better—didn’t know the price
Is twice or four times any of these bartering sea-
City natives would pay. In their brilliant kabas (traditional clothes),
Bare or sandaled feet, they call with open faces,
“Madame, papaya here—oranges—Come and buy!”
“5000 cedis only!” call the brash crowd.

Piles of shrimp—tiny glistening amber-colored shrimp—crowd
The long concrete blocks—their price
More than the copper-burnt newspaper-wrapped fish I sometimes buy
Only for the dog. But these don’t know; it is better that they not see
They revolve in a world of smells that make me squirm—their faces
Happy in not knowing air conditioning or sanitation. My clothes—

American-bought clothes—stick to me in the black-asphalt heat. Their clothes
Are light and easy. And the piles of fine fufu flour crowd
The coarse banku below black beaming faces
And butterfly hands pulling me in. “We give you good price,
Oburuni!” they say, offering twist-tied see-
Through bags. “No—no, thank you, I don’t buy

Today,” I say, in their way, pull away, quickly pass by
The tables of chicken feet laid out red and gawkish; gaudy clothes—
Purple tunics and bolts covered with orange cowries; giant sea-
Shells and wooden elephants for the tourist crowd;
Hawkers waving toilet paper—“Three for this price!”;
“Malt crackers!” “Apples!” cry the slick bobbing faces.

A woman’s calabash rides high above the faces
Balanced by one ebony arm. I stop her to buy
Boiled peanuts neatly stacked. We don’t haggle over price.
She tips some into a newspaper cone, then, her clothes
Swish away and mingle with the crowd.
And all that’s left is a black, heaving sea.

And suddenly I see the individuality of these faces
Sharpening into focus from the blurred crowd. I eat peanuts, one by
One. These clothes, they weigh me down. That kaba, what is its price?

© 2000 Deborah King