Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

Here’s an Emily Dickinson poem that’s been widely studied by scholars. I’m still not sure what to make of it. I can, however, connect it to what I’ve experienced in my life. My personal comments follow.

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

And We roam in Sovereign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him –
The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through –-

And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –

c. 1863

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

This poem has kept me coming  back for well over a year. Here are a few thoughts about the poem, which reads more like a small story or long riddle than a philosophical or political point of view.

This poem is at least indirectly about Emily. It’s about her life as a prolific poet, a well-known figure in her setting, and lover of the outdoors. And the reality that she is a woman. My first comment, then, is that she’s contemplating her life as she has experienced it. A loaded gun standing there in the corner–waiting, as something she doesn’t fully own.

The action begins only after the owner appears, identifies himself and carries her away. Not as a person, but as a weapon that will benefit him. It strikes me as sad that the adventure is in the forests, valleys and mountains she loves to roam. We know this from other poems. Yet now her function isn’t to talk to the animals, the trees or the birds, but to do her owner’s bidding. Shoot to kill, on demand. Beginning with a Doe about which we know nothing more.

Emily comments on her new-found ‘half-life’ (my term, not hers). Her Master depends on her to do his bidding. Not some of the time, but spectacularly, all the time. She finds comfort in this new-found power to guard her Master’s head, as well as in the reputation and safety she now enjoys as the rifle/voice of the Master.

It’s a messy situation. We don’t know where Emily stands with all this. In the last stanza she struggles with an unresolved question about power. If her Master dies, what will happen to her? Perhaps she fears she’ll be picked up by someone else and used as his obedient, powerful speaker/killer. Surely she didn’t enjoy killing that Doe.

The poem reminds me of times when so-called Owners used me, beginning with my father. In these situations they used my voice or my words without my permission, to distort truth or amplify their own power. I often wished I could die or disappear.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 August 2018
Photo found at Nature Photography, jonrista.com

late afternoon sun + Emily

late afternoon sun
catches courting butterflies
dancing in mid-air

I was out for a walk and there they were. Not the two above, but doing the same dance. Circling each other as they drifted through the air.

Almost as wonderful as seeing them was finding this butterfly poem from Emily Dickinson!

Two Butterflies went out at Noon—
And waltzed above a Farm—
Then stepped straight through the Firmament
And rested on a Beam—

And then—together bore away
Upon a shining Sea—
Though never yet, in any Port—
Their coming mentioned—be—

If spoken by the distant Bird—
If met in Ether Sea
By Frigate, or by Merchantman—
No notice—was—to me—

Emily Dickinson, Poem #533
Poem found at poets.org, now in the public domain

I’d like to be a butterfly, wouldn’t you?

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 August 2018
Photo found at http://www.nhm.ac.uk

Politics on my Mind

I woke up today with politics on my mind. Actually, with Psalm 23, Isaiah 53, Psalm 1, and Martin Luther’s theology of the cross on my mind.

It started when I went to sleep last night with a problem on my mind.

  • How am I to live as a citizen of the USA in a world that feels increasingly hostile, thanks to things happening right here in the USA, not simply ‘over there.’

Yet my problem isn’t the USA. This isn’t about my country right or wrong. It’s not even about this or that political party right or wrong. It’s about me as a follower of Jesus.

So here’s where I am this morning.

Psalm 23 reminds me that my Creator is my shepherd—one of the lowly, despised, mocked ‘lowlife’ who remains focused and loyal to the flock no matter what. Through thick and thin. Trusting. What a foolish thing to do, right? We all know the enemy is lurking.

Martin Luther’s theology of the cross reminds me that the cross is not a beautiful piece of art or jewelry. It’s real. It’s bloody. It’s lonely. It’s brutal. And it happened to the best of persons. Only by way of crucifixion do we see the cost, determination, love and steely focus of this man Jesus of Nazareth. The embodiment of a despised, loyal yet betrayed shepherd. Not simply betrayed by Judas, but by every one of his hand-picked disciples.

Isaiah 53 reminds me that all of us despised him, turned on him, esteemed him not. Especially when the going got rough. And he opened not his mouth. What a coward, some would say.

Psalm 1 reminds me that I’m not necessarily one of the trees planted by rivers of water. I’m also tempted to join up with the wicked. This isn’t a sad psalm. It’s cautionary. It lets me know my path isn’t automatically the path of the righteous. Especially if I call myself a follower of Jesus. It challenges me to stay rooted near a living stream of water. Especially but not only in times of drought.

We’re in a drought. The USA as I experience it is a strange land becoming stranger by the minute. Not because of immigrants or white supremacists, but because of deeply rooted polarization that tears people, families and communities apart.

So here’s where that leaves me, with some degree of certainty.

  • Following Trump, the Democrats, the Republicans, the Independents, the Green Party, the flag, the Constitution or any other national symbol or institution will not save us in the end. Nor will it move us forward.
  • Moving forward begins in our hearts. We need each other, battered and broken. Maybe all that means at first is learning to resolve problems in our increasingly isolated communities, families, and houses of worship.
  • And what are the problems? For me they have nothing to do with national or international politics, and everything to do with learning the hard way (by making mistakes and starting over) what it means to honor other human beings within our current circles of friends, strangers and acquaintances. Loving our neighbors doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s time for humility, not glory. Especially if we’re afraid for our reputations or even our lives. Like it or not, we’re already at risk of worse than social disapproval or being voted out of our favorite clubs.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 August 2018

Misformed and misinformed

Misformed and misinformed
She emerges from childhood
Before its wonders take root

Sheltered from life and herself
Dim vision narrows down
Lest warm rays of truth find her
Huddled in unsafe cellars
Waiting for life to begin
Before it ends

The poem is about me and it’s not only about me.

Yesterday I listened to No Place to Run, a radio rebroadcast of an investigative report into foster care in the USA. The report focused on two young women in Texas. Their stories were eerily similar. I’ve heard similar stories about foster care here in Pennsylvania.

Each young woman (one still a child) was placed in a foster care setting. Both ended up on the streets, abandoned by systems that failed them. And both were betrayed by a political machinery determined to avoid or ignore the need to fund competent, monitored, successful foster care.

I applaud foster care parents who put their hearts and their energy into caring for foster children. I also applaud lawyers, judges and politicians determined to make a difference now, not later, with systems that work for the benefit of foster children and young people.

At the end of the day, however, I wonder whether I’m ready for the full truth about this shadow world. Especially since I’m routinely horrified at the latest revelations, already dressed up for public consumption.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2018
Art found at http://www.revealnews.org

Report from nowhere

This week I feel like an alien in my own body skin and clothes
Who is this woman? Why is she here? Do I know her anymore?
And what’s she trying to tell me? Does it even matter just now?

On top of which we have a tropical depression bearing down.
Waves of heat and humidity that don’t wave or move at all
They just sit there undulating like serpents in a pit of pain

I want to be my own free agent yet there’s always something
Something else needs attention or adjustment or acceptance
Tears well up in my eyes even when I try to smile at myself

You say all is well that ends well and yet nothing seems to end
It just spools out like pink or purple thread that won’t be contained
Knotted and tangled in a heap waiting for me to do something

Though I don’t know what it is and couldn’t care more than I do
For this body You gave me all white with blue eyes and straight
Hair that just sits there looking at me begging me to love it

This morning I wake with a dream the first I’ve had that makes
Halfway sense in this upside down world of retirement that
Feels nothing like the resurrection I need just now in my soul

In the dream a young family takes my words and music and spins
Them into beautiful visions I recognize yet don’t recognize as
Mine in the soulful music and art now accompanying our conversation

All this and more before I wake up not wanting to bid them farewell
And find myself in an airport café wondering where on earth I’m going
And why I didn’t bring any luggage and don’t want to leave just yet

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 August 2018

Suffering

Dorothee Soelle, German poet and theologian, wrote the following poem during the Vietnam War era. The poem, titled “Travel Notes,” has seven parts. Below is the first part, followed by my comments.

Hospital in Haiphong

Doan is three years old
in his head a fragment
of that handy bomb
that leaves buildings undamaged
never puts a factory out of production
doesn’t even harm bridges

Doan is three years old
in that handy bomb
are millions of tiny fragments
just for doan
meant for his feet
designed for liver and lung

Doan is three years old
his mother is gone
the president of the united dead
sent her an invitation
to a high standard of living and a lasting peace
he sent a handy bomb

Doan can’t write yet
so I’m writing this letter
to the workers in st paul Minnesota
asking if they couldn’t make
a toy boat out of plastic
instead of bombs because
doan is only three years old

Dorothee Soelle, from Revolutionary Patience, pp 71-72
English translation published by Orbis Books 1977
First published in German by Wolfgang Fietkau Verlag, Berlin 1969 and 1974

I discovered Dorothee Soelle’s writing in the late 1970s when I was studying theology in graduate school. As one of only several well-known women theologians (also a poet), she made her mark by teaching, publishing, and practicing what she preached.

All poems in Revolutionary Patience  are about the Vietnam era. So is one of her best-known books, Suffering. It’s her cry against apathy toward sufferers, and against views of God that accept suffering as ordained by God. She discusses the nature of suffering, how to recognize it, and how to listen in person to people who suffer. The goal isn’t to fix them, but to support their empowerment as change agents.

The most crucial skill Soelle  describes is silence. Listening without an agenda. A skill anyone can use with a child or adult so traumatized that at first he or she has no words. Sometimes it takes a long time to find the words.

When I read Soelle’s writing today I think of myself and every child, teenager, woman or man marked by childhood trauma. I ask myself whether I’ve yet ‘arrived.’ Or am I stuck somewhere, still under the unseen yet keenly felt power wielded by perpetrators or by their stand-ins?

The poem above also reminds me of migrant children caught in the web of our recent national and international humanitarian disaster. They and their families are already marked for more suffering. Not because God wanted it that way, and not because they deserved it.

I wonder how much we’ve learned from the Vietnam era. Do we know how to deal with suffering that’s taken place on our own soil since the beginning of our nation? Especially suffering hidden beneath piles of bureaucratic red tape, political expediency, finger-pointing, inattention, and rewritten history.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 April 2018
Photo of Vietnam Refugees at Guam found at afsa.org

humid air invades

humid air invades
saturated lungs complain
a cardinal sings

suckers spring from trees
guzzling precious ground water
squirrels play hide and seek

cacophony reigns
beneath sun-drenched sky of blue
my cat waits at home

The agony and glory of this morning’s super-heated weather. Yes, we went for a walk and sweat a lot. The heat was as close to unbearable as I’ve felt all summer. I didn’t step out as lively or snappy as usual. All the same, I did it and it’s done for today!

Yesterday’s highlight was a trip to see Lucy Pacemaker’s doctor, my electro-physiologist. I got a friendly pass until my next checkup. They always take readings from my pacemaker, which relentlessly records every beat and every non-beat, for the record. Including what time and how long irregularities last. Ugh.

As usual, I’m open about more medication. Nonetheless, I’m not a fan of prescription drugs, and have had good success so far with other approaches. However, I’m now at that stage where ruling in one thing could mean ruling out something else.

I also know I must take full responsibility for my decisions. Nothing new there. Nonetheless, the possibility of this or that happening if I do or don’t take this or that pill is becoming more complicated than before.

So I’m back to reviewing and updating my top values for this period of my life. Which, of course, is no guarantee that nothing bad will happen. Hopefully it will clarify what I value most right now, so I can make informed decisions about my medical care.

Hoping your midweek is just the way you’d like it. Or at least a close second!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 August 2018
Photo found at pinterest.com

Alive and kicking

Heat blasts my cold skin
Cicadas blast my eardrums
Hot sun beams relentlessly
Plays hide and seek beneath
Green trees gasping for air

Climbing the baby hill
My heart speaks to me
Sensations from the past
Flood memory banks
All is well that ends well

Park maintenance crew
Arrives pulling a trailer
Full of noise makers
They greet me politely
I nod and return the favor

Just yesterday I froze in church
From the crown of my head
To the soles of my feet
Air conditioning for the young
Of which I am not one

Warmed by my husband’s body
Cheered by a hot sermon
More than satisfied with a crumb
Dipped in grape juice
I return to my seat

Grateful I’m still alive and kicking
This hot summer day in August
Out and about to survey
The landscape and forms of life
In my corner of the world

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 August 2018
Photo found at flickr.com

Thank you, Louis Armstrong….

Louis Armstrong’s birthday is today (born on 1 Aug 1901), so this is in celebration of his life. It’s also going out with hope that we’ll learn to look each other in the eye as neighbors. The kind whose “How do you do” is a way of saying “I love you.” Elouise

Telling the Truth

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong, for recording this amazing song, first released as a single 60 years ago today. Your smooth and grainy, gravelly voice is an inspiration. The seniors among us remember what it was like in the USA in 1967.

  • Viet Nam war drags on with no end in sight
  • About 2500 mothers of drafted soldiers storm the Pentagon, demand a meeting with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
  • LBJ doubles down–determined not to ‘lose’ this war
  • Edward W. Brooke, Attorney General of Massachusetts, seated in the US Senate as the first elected Negro Senator in 85 years
  • Muhammed Ali refuses to be drafted into the Viet Nam war, is stripped of his world heavyweight boxing championship
  • Anti-war protests break out across the United States
  • Blood poured on draft records by a Roman Catholic priest and two companions
  • California Governor Ronald Reagan suggests that LBJ ‘leak’ the possibility of nuclear weapons…

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The air of early August

Sights and sounds of life
Fill this morning’s dense humid air
Gray and white clouds sail across blue sky

Gentle breezes persist
Carrying the voices of children
On a mission in the park
Earnestly they discuss strategies
For climbing the maple tree
Towering above them

A woman heavy with child
Drops off a friend heavy with back pack
And her young toddler eager
To climb steps on the playground gym
Preparing for those Mt. Everest trees
Waiting on the perimeter

All of us serenaded
By a chorus of birds and cicadas
Rising and falling in concert
On the air of early August

Just a few observations from my morning walk. Plus a downloaded photo of a butterfly bush plus butterfly. I walk by butterfly bushes nearly every day. Lots of lovely blossoms, but not many butterflies yet.

Being a sometimes teary sort, I’ll admit to getting the sniffles when I saw children playing in the park. A reminder of how quickly life comes and goes, taking us with it.

I don’t know if there’s a secret to living with joy and gratitude. I am, however, certain butterflies and children can show me the way when I’m willing to have a childlike heart. Which is all I’m asked to have in the presence of the One who knows me best.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 August 2018
Photo found at almanac.com

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