poems

THE BEJESUS

Church was a sluggish thing today,

a death march to the pews.

It’s ungrateful to say that, I know – ungrateful

to complain about this uncomplaining miracle,

this sanctuary of renewal hewn into this life.

But the week had done a number on us,

the way numbers are cooked in the 21st century.

 

Then, at communion, the minister fumbled

the wafer he was handing me, and it fell.

My solemnity came in handy, hiding my shock

and panic. Then came fascination. Then relief, really:

a bit of Jesus crashing to earth. Not even

crashing – cascading tenderly on the air, breezing

past all theological objection, landing without a fuss.

 

I crouched mildly over it,

there on dusty floor.

For once I could see it:

sturdy, unbleeding,

the unbent coin of a realm,

a 2,000-year circle completed again,

spinning at the center of existence.

 

The minister grabbed it up and gave it to me.

My grasp of the etiquette was fragile.

Maybe liturgical momentum would blast

all rug germs and doubts away. Then I saw

the world wasn’t going to stop for my

hygienic second thoughts, and marvelously

it was time to eat it and that’s what I did.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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A WORLD AWAY, RIGHT HERE

I walk awakening along

the green wet sun-risen slope,

alive to the flourish of birds

already at work. The solid trees

seem to be listening, so I listen.

Easter morn reveals itself courteously, sinks

in gently, a world away from the violence.

The whole religious contagion is done for,

the killing machine, every denial –

it is finished. Lethal opinions, powerless now.

The whole business of getting in

the last word: futile. In this corner,

I dare to ride a wave of laughter at last.

Yes, no violence anymore –

there’s been enough of that for one life.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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TAKING FLIGHT

Twice from the window seat – first outbound,

then on the way back – I happened to look up

from the magazine and out and down and there

was Memphis, the tidy crinkled circuitry

of a city six miles below, held in place by

the big river’s russet thread. Also down there,

buried off the big boulevard somewhere, was Elvis.

 

For years he filled a sky inside our heads,

a colossus bearing our sorrows, the research said.

His afterlife was going to be the future of faith –

a new Pentecost, a sluice to catch

the molten core of America.

The sociology was exciting.

I attended the conferences, took notes.

 

How nice to discuss and summarize

coherent big ideas and even get paid for it.

But the Elvis claim died as soon as written.

It was hollow theater, malpractice,

the usual giddy denial of the stink and weight

of what’s left over every day.

People’s griefs can’t be borne.

 

Up here in the sky now, his name is

a frail out-the-window incantation of nothing

in particular. What a thing, this retail machinery

of dreams, the empty talk pressing us

to get on board and make them true.

Presently approaching 550 mph, flight 7177

leaves behind that particular illusion anyway.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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AT THE LORRAINE

A motor hotel from the vintage decades,

the family vacation kind when gas was 34 cents –

the long glass windows, unfussy modernism,

ice machine at the stairwell, so trusting.

Stricken now in mid-thought, but standing its ground.

 

The same air that carried his speeches

can also carry a crack of thunder

and, closely behind that, a bullet.

It’s the same air, slack and vivid,

then and now.

 

“Ben, make sure you play ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’

in the meeting tonight. Play it pretty.”

His last words, remembered with telescopic precision.

“Precious Lord,” a sweet rebuke to forces gathering

across the street. Forces still steamrolling.

 

Shame had been a useful currency. Then fear replaced it:

the fear of him, across the many precincts and pews.

And vowing never to be caught in a position of weakness again,

fear stood up and took aim out the window. That was then.

Today the motel stands its ground, waiting us out.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle

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GOOD FRIDAY, CALVARY, 3 P.M.

It’s a full-time job, this acting as if nothing special

happened that afternoon. Cars push by, lawn sprinklers

wave back and forth, birds and jets ascend and bank,

global markets fizz, people rise and break, every day.

 

That afternoon, it was 8 a.m. over here in the new world,

the start of a work day. If news could move at

the speed of light (which it did), maybe the light bent

and a breeze stirred. Maybe groups of people looked up.

 

I visited over there once. Inside the famous church,

under the roof, among cramped and scary corridors,

was the hill itself, Calvary’s very stones,

and the empty tomb – all indoors now.

 

A sign in many languages explained how

the skull of Adam had been there resting

underneath it all, waiting underground all that time

to be filled with the blood of crucifixion.

 

At that, I turned away. I wasn’t having it,

some calm description of an unhindered trickle

of blood through substrate and terminating

inside the very skull of Adam.

 

No, I’ll take this 2000-years-later astonishment,

5000 miles away, here with everybody else, busy

with work: this harried moment, that inescapable day,

wind and clouds east and west holding it all together.

© copyright 2018 Ray Waddle