Thursday, December 22, 2011

Heart's rooms



“My heart holds rooms”
My heart holds rooms I’ve never entered
doors concealed, secret entrances
 sudden corners turning to knobs without keys —
O, some chambers I know familiar
favourite window seats, corner desks, comfort stations
boudoirs of great pleasure
and sacred crypts, twilight zones, forbidding cells
dread dungeons deep under dreams—
but I’ve also danced and flown through octagonal halls, their slanting light
and played the cantor down glass staircases­—

but those other places, the guessed at
the undiscovered, the unexplored
the mysteries of the curious heart—
are they the promised portals
to the mansions of His Father’s House?

(c) John Robert Lee 2011
  Photo "Personal" (c) John Robert Lee

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Passion and Resurrection Canticles - celebrating Easter 2011 - for Charles Cadet

I.
Prologue: The Alabaster Flask

Over the bowed Head, the anointing oil of nard
pours from Mary’s broken alabaster flask—
certainly, she filled that room with the fragrant adoration of her Lord;
certainly, even then, some grudged Him that embalming, with their indignant jealousy—
you heard it in the thief’s voice, sneering at the poor;

and the Master, raising His burial, raising her memorial, raises their approaching loss,
beyond the maddening fragrance of the pure
ointment. But the bedeviled thief rose in envy, and over Christ, his bottled hatred broke.


Caiaphas


“Who is this, this peasant prophet, wailing shoah on the city?
What is this riot of rags and branches down the thoroughfare?
And why this bacchanal of blasphemy resurrecting from Bethany?
Which Balak sends this Balaam’s foal to mock Messiah?

Where next this din of thieves, this unwashed brood of publicans?
Will they impale the merchants and the bankers and the priests on their hosannas
when they’ve stormed the precincts of the porch?
While their ambitious carpenter withers, as usual, in some forgotten Arimathean sepulchre?”


Berith


Bitter herbs, bread unleavened, wine, and lamb slain between the two evenings—
do the twelve comprehend they are settling the last rites of Exodus, sipping the watered dregs of that final Pascha?
And beyond fiction, in the Servant’s holy hands, the betraying heel. And the flat-footed denials. And the splayed doubts. And other such leavenings.

Out of the common dish comes the separating sop to deepen their perplexity.

So there, above some obscure alley in His City, all our wretched story— Eden, Sinai, Golgotha—
is passed over, for His Bread, His Wine, His bitter Tree.

 Later still, such talk under the brooding night! Then prayer, a hymn,
and over the Kidron, into Gethsemane.


Gethsemane



 
What commenced in the other garden begins to end here,
in the shadow of an olive mill by a black brook.

“Behold, We have become like one of them, to bear
their sorrows and their griefs.” Let the wheel break
this Fruit on every tooth and tread. Bruise
the Seed under the trampling heel of the Bull
of Bashan. Pour the sweating barrel
of this agony into the cupping palms of God.


Ecce Homo 


 
“O Galilean, robed in purple, crowned with thorns,
is this Your estate? Is this Your kingship,
reduced to the scourge of their envy and spit? God born
of man, behold Your truth: silver kisses treacherous palms, shape-shifters
rend their costumes at cock-crow, the Pavement is soiled
by the desolation of Your bloody Purity. Look Carpenter,
is Caesar not adored, is Barabbas not preferred?
See, Holy Fool, You and Your Jews, I wash my hands of You!”


Friday


They leave Him nothing but irreducible nakedness—
no fig-leaf girdle, no swaddling cloth, no seamless tunic;
they impale the battered Scarecrow on the Skull’s brow; their final curses
perforate the darkening skin of the sun; His distending knuckles
claw the veil of the God-forsaken air; yet, even now,
He thirsts only for the sour wine at the end of the hyssop branch; stricken
between earth and heaven, His heart opens to a new covenant,
and pours its blood and water on the Father’s reconciling Hands.


Pieta of Joseph of Arimathea


“He was all scattered, empty-limbed, exhausted, gone,
when I gathered Him off the stake. O my Son,
my Son! I was more Your son than You were mine,
Your tentative disciple, peeping out the Council’s shutters for Your Kingdom.
O my wounded King! Holy, Holy, Holy Child! O my dear,bruised Prince!

O Father, receive Him in our poor linen, swathing His torn
flesh. May these paltry spices herald His approach
to Heaven’s Throne. O LORD, give this Your Servant rest in Your eternal Rock.”

II.

Risen Man

i.
“Have you ever shaken hands with a man who was dead?
Have you ever looked into the laughing eyes of a man who beat death?
Have you ever sat next to such a one and shared his salt bread?
Friend, do you know the incomparable odiferousness of the breath
of a resurrected man? Friend, have you been led in Zion’s psalms
by a voice that scattered the doomed wealth

of Satan’s domains?  Stranger, I have known the encompassing arms
of such entombing and embalming Grace.”

ii.
O Lord Christ, that we might,
with hearts' mouths hushed, see You
take the backyard-oven bread
You share with us, see Your hands

raise that plump loaf up into
this day's lavender end,
know with burning, blessed
sight, it's our Master bends

and breaks those dry-crust ends
of breasts of Paix-Bouche bread.



"In  Caravaggio's ikon"


In Caravaggio’s ikon of Thomas seeing Christ
all eyes are locked to the doubter’s firm finger
poking around the torn flesh, under

the strong hand of the Carpenter. Thomas,
Apostle to our secular, mocking, murderous
new age, meeting his worst-case scenario

with the firm grit of flesh under his thumb
that index of incarnation— incarnation, Immanuel
God is with us — under the impossible rubble

as we claw at the unimaginable earthfall, Immanuel—
over the body of someone’s son fallen in crossfire
in shrieking shadowlands of betrayal

through terminal disorientation of disease, Immanuel.
Because that wound is real, the death was certain
here, beyond reason, beyond the apocalypse

of  private disasters, is something else
is Life beyond life, beyond heartbreak
beyond assassination, beyond the tremblor

at 3 in the afternoon, beyond the amnesiac cancer of the mind.
Here, under our finger, is faith, here is hope,
and He asks us, against the brutal heel on the locked door

the harsh fist of imploding earth
the shroud covered bier—
“Love one another.”




Illustrations:

  1. Georges Rouault. Head of Christ, c.1937.
  2. Hieronymus Bosch. Passion of Christ, c.1513.
  3. Andrea del Sarto. Detail, The Last Supper, 1527.
  4. William Brassey Hole. Gethsemane.
  5. Caravaggio. Christ at column, 1607.
  6. Guido Rocha. The tortured Christ (sculpture), 1975.
  7. Michaelangelo. PiƩta, 1498-1499.
  8. Caravaggio. Supper at Emmaus, 1606.
9.  Caravaggio.The Incredulity of St. Thomas, 1602.
    10. John Robert Lee. Crown. (photo of carving by J.Thelemaque), 2006.




All poems © John Robert Lee, 2011
These poems form part of the collections “Canticles” Easter, 2007, “elemental”, 2008, and new work.


Friday, April 8, 2011

ImageWord - poems inspired by photographs and art

Over the years I have written poems inspired by photographs and art. I have posted some of these here in earlier posts. I thought I would gather a few and post them as one ImageWord experience. Have a look.


The Prodigal by Rembrandt, 1662

Return of the prodigal

After the reggae hard-beat, the Haitian guitars and the delicate mazouk,
the unattainable sloe-eyed dancers, sips from forbidden chalices,
and the inevitable descent to the wood-and-zinc
shack—you came to count your losses,
exhume, with some embarrassment, his unread letters,
raise, to your startled heart, his shameless wishes—

then, giving up your feet and hands to love’s caressing fetters,
you arrived again in the familiar yard, to the evening’s last trumpet.



Photo by (c) Leo Spa St. Helene (1927 - 1988), St. Lucian photographer

Photosnap

In the photograph she stands well braced
in the doorway of the shack: her back is placed

upright firm against one frame, the left arm reaches across the open door
to hold the other frame. Standing as she does, her feet are wedged on the floor’s

corner in front of her. That left arm, those locked feet, that braced back,
block the entrance. He is more relaxed: facing her, no lack

of confidence, standing outside the shop, left elbow on the window sill,
right leg nearer us, rod-firm, left leg angled at the knee toward her; the sharp felt-hat fills

his profile with shadow, so we don’t have a face; a fruit in his hands. So,
Mam, why so firmly angled? Your posture is saying no

entry, but aren’t you (unsmiling, holding tight on the door jambs,
anchoring the open door at your back, securing the white painted borders,) praying
hard against those well-suited charms—

and the sign painted above your head on the shack concurs—

“GOD PROMISE TO HELP”?



Photo (c) Alley Shmael

Sphinxe

Don’t be distracted by the parted thighs
the elbow folding in a model’s pose
the casual chemise and slipping skirt—

do you dare to enter the navel of her world
the enigmatic neither come nor go of her watching
your every moving thought

to know her tracks and valleys and gardens
and coal-pits, her songs and secret places
her white yam and salt fish

and all the rest of her life in Babonneau hamlets
that this alluring sphinxe
now guards?                                              


The incredulity of St. Thomas. Caravaggio, 1602

In Caravaggio's ikon

In Caravaggio’s ikon of Thomas seeing Christ
all eyes are locked to the doubter’s firm finger
poking around the torn flesh, under

the strong hand of the Carpenter. Thomas,
Apostle to our secular, mocking, murderous
new age, meeting his worst-case scenario

with the firm grit of flesh under his thumb
that index of incarnation— incarnation, Immanuel
God is with us — under the impossible rubble

as we claw at the unimaginable earthfall, Immanuel—
over the body of someone’s son fallen in crossfire
in shrieking shadowlands of betrayal

through terminal disorientation of disease, Immanuel.
Because that wound is real, the death was certain
here, beyond reason, beyond the apocalypse

of private disasters, is something else
is Life beyond life, beyond heartbreak
beyond assassination, beyond the tremblor

at 3 in the afternoon, beyond the amnesiac cancer of the mind.
Here, under our finger, is faith, here is hope,
and He asks us, against the brutal heel on the locked door

the harsh fist of imploding earth
the shroud covered bier—
“Love one another.”

All poems (c) John Robert Lee

Monday, April 4, 2011

Photosnap


Photosnap

 In the photograph she stands well braced
in the doorway of the shack: her back is placed

upright firm against one frame, the left arm reaches across the open door
to hold the other frame. Standing as she does, her feet are wedged on the floor’s

corner in front of her. That left arm, those locked feet, that braced back,
block the entrance. He is more relaxed: facing her, no lack

of confidence, standing outside the shop, left elbow on the window sill,
right leg nearer us, rod-firm, left leg angled at the knee toward her; the sharp felt-hat fills

his profile with shadow, so we don’t have a face; a fruit in his hands. So,
Mam, why so firmly angled? Your posture is saying no

entry, but aren’t you (unsmiling, holding tight on the door jambs,
anchoring the open door at your back, securing the white painted borders,) praying
hard against those well-suited charms—

and the sign painted above your head on the shack concurs—

“GOD PROMISE TO HELP”?


(c) John Robert Lee

(c) Photograph by Leo ‘Spar’ St. Helene (1927-1988), St. Lucia.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Maman


Did you find him, maman, the old man,
Or was it the grandchild left in your care for the day,
Or, in the catastrophe behind you,
The daughter who was setting your supper,
Or perhaps your friend, having a Dominican ponche with you?
Your long arms, maman, are bathed in the white dust of disastrous city-fall,
Your fingers are exhausted from their frantic and futile search for bones,
For hair, for a belt or a bodice,
For a baby, a baby who was impossibly there,
Gurgling at her spoon
Teasing your heart,
And you singing a lullaby, “Haiti Cherie”
Haiti beloved, beloved child,
Gone child, gone with the walls, the debris, the tranblanterre and the lavalas,
Gone from your arms, from your keening, scrabbling fingers
Despairing under block, under board, under broken back
And the child disparu, taken —
Or was it your friend from Cap Haitien,
Or the daughter who shared your name,
Or the old man — companion of your days,
Comrade of sleepless hours, keeper of your young heart
Comforter of those fallen breasts
Fallen under your torn chemise
Fallen with the roofs and the windows and the President’s house
Fallen with the broken routes of Port-au-Prince
Fallen and forlorn, Haiti Cherie?

(c) John Robert Lee
(c) Photograph: Daniel Morel/Photomorel of Haiti.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Basket of prayers"

Basket of prayers
A hymn of offering to God
My heart, O God, my heart
Enters now the Holy Place,
Where You wait with open arms
To meet me face to face.

My heart, O Lord, my eager heart
Bows low before Your Throne,
And trembles Lord to hear You start
To speak to me alone.

My heart, O God, my grateful heart
I offer now to You
A basket of my prayers;
To You beloved Lord,
A basket full of tears
That You alone have wiped away;
A basket full of fears
That You alone have cast afar;
A basket full of hurts
That You alone have healed;
A basket full of hope
That You alone have blessed me with;
A basket full of joy
That Calvary earned for me;
A basket full of prayers,
A basket full of prayers,
A basket, Lord, that’s full of praise,
A basket Lord, that’s full of praise,
My heart, O Lord, I give to You,
A basket full of praise.

(c) John Robert Lee 2011
(c) Haitian child. Getty
(c) Basket. J.R. Lee

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Kingdom Poets (a blog by D.S. Martin)" of Canada

I've just come across a great blog that features Christian writers. It's called "Kingdom Poets" and is produced by poet D.S. Martin of Ontario, Canada. His blog is a veritable anthology of great Christian writing, from the past and into our contemporary literature. Indeed a work of love and dedication. Martin writes short notes to accompany each blog entry alongside an excerpt from the writers' work. This provides a useful introduction, especially to writers we have not heard of. He is the author of several collections including Poiema, a winner of the 2009 Canadian Christian Writing Awards. He also contributes articles on poetry to several well-known magazines, like Books and Culture.
With his permission, I share his note on Robert Cording, contemporary writer, and one of Cording's poems.


"Robert Cording is an award-winning, contemporary poet living in Connecticut, and teaching English and creative writing at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. He has five poetry books to his credit, the most recent being Common Life (CavanKerry Press). He tends to write from a faith point-of-view but often in a way that doesn’t primarily focus on the spiritual.

When I asked Robert Cording about the relationship between his role as a poet, and that of a Christian, he referred me to something he had said when his book Against Consolation received the Arlen Myer Prize. He'd said: "My task of late has been to evoke what I would call the primordial intuitions of Christianity. What are they?—that we live in a world we did not create; that God’s immanent presence is capable of breaking in on us at every moment; that most of the time we cannot 'taste and see' that presence because we live in a world of self-reflecting mirrors; that only by attention alone...can we live in the world but outside of our existing conceptions of it."

The following poem does this: causing us to look at ourselves but then to look well beyond ourselves.

Angels

They’re everywhere, baby-cheeked cherubs flying
On boutique signs, on cards and magazine covers,
In the serene sky of coffee table books.

They surround us like a halo that is no more
Than a suggestion, a dim waking to something
At the edge of our gaze when we look up.

Trees sway, a bird sings, propelling us to worship
Some source of warmth that will fill in the blank
Spaces of our hearts. Our angels never flash swords,

Flap their six monstrous wings like the sound of chariots,
Mete out judgement, or announce unexpectedly
A precocious child. They tell us to forgive ourselves

And love who we are; they focus us on abundance
So we may have enough for car and house payments,
The kids’ tuition bills. They whisper— there’s a god

Inside of you—and we believe. How good we feel
About ourselves, how unencumbered and free,
As if some transformation had surely taken place.

And so our days unravel in summer pastels,
The sun a mild version of itself, its trellised light
Nearly graspable, dappling the patio bricks and a table

Where a book is opened by the wind, a sign
Without meaning but beautiful, serving almost
No purpose at all except to create a kind of mild
Annunciatory sense that, yes, everything is about us."

(Posted with the poet's permission)

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca