I Stalk Words

I stalk words
Like the tiger slow-stalks,
Hungry-prowls, the green-glow jungle—

I stalk words
Like the tiger slow-stalks,
Hungry-prowls, the green-glow jungle—
Sun shafts shimmer on stripe-stripe skin—
He slinks through the swish-tall grass.
I hunt wary words, tense-jawed, lithe-shouldered—
Creep. Crawl. Crouch.
And spring.

I catch words
Like the criss-cross leaves
Catch the tumble-fall rain;
Splitter-splatter drops drip-drip-slip
In the curve of a fresh green whorl—
I trap wet words in the valleys of my palms,
Lift my hands to my lips;
I sip.
And swallow.

I mine words
From the rough dark rock—
My pick sweet-sticks,
Smooth-finds, the half-hid crack.
Fingers hard-gripped and one-wrong-stroke missed—
I find, keen-eyed, the silver-thin vein,
And follow.

© 2015 Deborah King

Brown Girl Dreaming: A Review

On my way home from a wedding this weekend, I finished reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, one of the most unusual children’s books I’ve ever read.

On my way home from a wedding this weekend, I finished reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, one of the most unusual children’s books I’ve ever read. I’m adding it to my list of books that have opened my eyes a little more to the realities of segregation and prejudice in the south, extending into Jacqueline’s childhood in the 60s and 70s. (Others I’ve enjoyed on this topic, although I would not recommend them for younger children, are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.) She shares her experiences with grace, telling of sitting in the back of the bus, not being allowed in the drugstore, and having to leave town late at night in order to avoid questioning.

The book is unusual because it is written in free verse, and what it lacks in dynamic plot it makes up for in lyrical language. The poetry is written in a way that children can easily understand and appreciate. It is a thoughtful, slow-moving piece, chronicling Jacqueline’s childhood in Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina, and New York City, from her birth until her early elementary years. It deals gently and tastefully with tough subjects including divorce, death, prejudice, going to jail, and Jacqueline’s brother’s lead-poisoning. My favorite themes were Jacqueline’s relationship with her grandfather, Gunnar, her torn feelings as she moves from state to state, never quite knowing where home is, and her emerging identity as a writer.

I recommend this book both to introduce young readers to the beauties of poetry and to grow empathy for any who may be marginalized in society.

Ripe

I have found the perfect apple.

I have found the perfect apple.

It hangs here, smooth and firm against my palm.
It has a lovely curve, pink streaks and a green collar circling the stem.
It is the perfect apple.

Here it grew five months,
This branch its home,
Its cells doing what cells do:
Their secret, private work.

Now, it rests in my hand,
Perfect,
And I can take it,
Break its connection,
Sever its strength.

It will go home in my basket.
It will feed my longing, delight my desire.

If I left it, would it hang,
Its beauty unblemished, unscarred
By knife, teeth, or time?

It would fall,
Its cupped stem’s lip unkissing the mother branch,
Shoving away toward the insistent earth—

Birds would eat it,
Or worms, or deer,
And then, the earth itself—
The earth, who eats all things at last.

Look. I will put the apple in my basket.
I will take it home.

No, I will eat it now, this moment.
It is ready now.

If I could choose, I too would go this way.
All of me—ripe, strong, sweet, ready—
Delightedly doing
What I was made to do.

© 2014 Deborah King

Glorifying God by Being Myself

If you’re like me, you’ve probably struggled at some point (or still struggle) with what it means to be the person you are, with reconciling yourself to unwanted character traits, and with discerning which bits are good and beautiful and to be celebrated and which bits were better suppressed.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably struggled at some point (or still struggle) with what it means to be the person you are, with reconciling yourself to unwanted character traits, and with discerning which bits are good and beautiful and to be celebrated and which bits were better suppressed. I’m encouraged in this by remembering that God is a God who delighted to create a diversity in everything he made–from the insects to the stars–and that I can glorify Him most by living my life beautifully back to Him as the person He made me to be. That doesn’t mean I can justify my sin by saying “That’s just who I am.” It does relieve me from the pressure of trying to fit a mold I was never created to fit. It frees me to spend my time enjoying doing things not many others are doing and enjoying (like reading and writing poetry–ha!) and pursue whatever godly passions I have. It also frees me to embrace people who are very different from myself, thanking God for their very different sort of beauty.

Thanks to songwriter Audrey Assad for pointing me to this poem by one of my favorite authors, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who beautifully expresses this idea.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Here’s the song “For Love of You” where Audrey talks about how this poem impacted her in a spoken intro:

Canoe Song

Here on this water I collide with You.
I am clumsy and small.

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I

Here on this water I collide with You.
I am clumsy and small.

I blink
And the world turns upside down:
Your deep water grips the prow of my boat.
Your wide sky pries my heart large.
Your thick clouds twist under like a rope.

You are here and something is happening.

The cellos are tuning, and
I am a child crept into the orchestra pit.
The trumpets are mighty!
The tympani rumbles its part!
Soon, the world will begin.

I am a child at the adult table.
They are speaking riddles and mysteries;
Words fly high around my ears,
Wisdom willy-nilly flashing here and there like lightening.

I have come upon You at work.
I am a spectator.
I hope I will not be asked to leave.

II

Now I hear You.
Down You come to me, down, down, wet drops down.
You are sending me Your song.

All my senses are flashing
Bright thoughts from You to me to You again!
You are making the air dance!
You have welcomed me in.
You have told me my secret name.
We are laughing together, You and I.
You are making me as tall as the sky!

I am not a child now, I am a friend!
I am a lover well-beloved!
I am a strong tree, well-tended, deeply loved.
My roots push deep, push deep, deep down.
I am crazy rich!
I am more beautiful than anyone!
I wear a crown, and my shoulders arch back.

I push deep, paint the water on the left, on the right.
I push deep, deep. Left-left. Right-right.
We are painting the water together.
I am steady and strong.

III

There are ducks on the water, ducks and geese.
Every feather fine, wings wide, necks arched.
There’s a white swan on the water, proud and royal.

We are two crowned beings, you and I, white swan.
Bend your proud neck down to see
How well-beloved my Well-beloved has made me.
Flash wide your white wings—once.

I dip deep, push deep, smooth sail by.

I am on my way, white swan.
I am on my way to where
God is wringing out the clouds.

There is no laughter like the laughter of God,
When you are caught deep, deep in His delight.
I am terrified by the beauty of God!
I am lured by His oboe melody,
Luring the wind through the trees,
Alluring my heart.
His love song is so inexorably sweet.

He is making the air dance!
He is making the water sing for me!

©2013 Deborah King

Legacy

They are familiar to me as your hands—
These dog-eared book backs stacked in rickrack lines—

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They are familiar to me as your hands—
These dog-eared book backs stacked in rickrack lines—
Close-clutched around their edges as we begged
Another chapter read—sometimes you would.
Spring Saturdays your hands would rummage yard-
Sale tables seeking treasure buried between
Half-mildewed covers, or, sometimes you drove
Us to the air-condition aisles where
The books were piled shelves above my head.
Those flash cards (stubborn things!) grew dog-eared too;
You flipped them through so many times I knew
Each crinkle, crease, or stain—though not the answer.
Funny how the words of Aslan stuck
When twelve times two would not. Hot summer days
Your hands taught tomato vines to grow up stakes
And peas on chicken wire trellises—
I pulled up weeds and wished that I could curl
Up in a chair and read. Late autumn nights
Your finger pointed out the Pleiades
Or traced the craters of the moon. I soon
Discovered there were books for these things too—
For winter snowflakes captured on cold slides,
For bluebells springing by the creek in June,
For all the rhythms of my happy heart.
These friends—they stand like cedars in my mind:
Tall worlds of thought and wonder. You—who sowed
The seasons of my childhood—know how
Deep down they push their roots into me now.

© 2000 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

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