Pange Lingua

Group portrait of children at their First Comm...

Group portrait of children at their First Communion, Holyrood School, Swindon, 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you know the words, sing along while you listen to the poem.

On Taking First Communion in the Hospital After He Was Struck by a Car

(March 5)

When he heard the angels sing, they sounded more
Like sirens. Strapped to a board, riding through
The red-lighted city, he called out for
His mother to make them stop. He’d lost a shoe.
His stomach hurt, and their song, he knew, was death.

He couldn’t see her, but he heard her speak
To men up front then say to him, It’s best
To let them be. It’s not that far. Just keep
Holding my hand.
He asked her was he dying.
Of course you’re not. God’s not done with you.

When they arrived, they made her let go her hold.
I can’t come, she said, I have to do what I’m told,
And left him by himself in a room, lying
On a table, afraid to think what God might do.

(March 19)

White walls and sheets, white pillow. Pale white light
From fluorescent tubes. Even his gown is white.
The priest wears a black cassock and white surplice,

Takes out a gold case he lays on the white surface
Of the bedside table, and holds up a wafer
Whiter than the prayer book his father placed there.

What did they say he was to say? My Lord,
I am not worthy
. But only say the word
And my soul will be as white as this room I’m in
.

The body tastes sweet, but not as sweet as the wine
That follows. And when he hears his mother’s voice
It seems an angel speaks and says the choice

To take communion is an early sign
He surely has a place in God’s design.

(April 20)

Days pass, then a month. It seems forever.
Then a nun arranges them two by two.
They march across the street together.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.

Then a nun arranges them two by two
To go inside the confessional box.
They wait their turn in a wooden pew.
They listen while the sister talks.

To go inside the confessional box,
She says, they’ll need to remember their sins.
They listen while the sister talks.
She tells them how confession begins.

She says they’ll need to remember their sins
To ask the priest to be forgiven.
She tells them how confession begins
With an act of genuine contrition.

To ask the priest to be forgiven
They march across the street together.
With an act of genuine contrition
Days pass, then a month, it seems forever.

(May 19)

Once in the church they stand against the wall
As sister shows them how their hands must point
To heaven and their eyes always look down
As if they were little lambs. Then she calls
Them to the altar railing. When they join
Her there, she makes them kneel. Don’t look around.

First wait, then cross your arms over your chest.
Look up, put out your tongue, and close your eyes.
Remember, remember this. Whatever you do,
Never open your mouth and never chew.
Just bow your head. You’ve the living God inside.
Let the host dissolve and know that for the rest
Of your life God will always be a part
Of you, both in your mind and in your heart.

(May 24)

On Sunday children gather at the school
And walk across the street, like little lambs.

They enter the church where sunlight filters through
The blues and reds of sainted glass. Their hands
Pointing to heaven, they walk down the aisle.

Sister said no first communion a second time,
And so from a place apart he watches while
Each takes the bread and sees none gets the wine.

In the vestibule he stands off to one side.
His father shakes their hands. The nuns delight
In patting heads of carefully combed hair
And call each a vessel where God abides.

He suffocates in all the filtered light
But once outside dissolves in the sun’s white glare.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

The music is from the Medieval Latin hymn Pange, Lingua, Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium, which means “Tell, tongue, the mystery of the glorious body.”

The Only Constant Is Change

Even the rate of change changes.

The following poem was originally published in Birmingham Poetry Review, No. 31, Summer/Fall 2005.

(Try playing the video and audio tracks together; just wait for the music to start before starting the audio.)

From the Choir Loft

Singing is twice praying.

On alternating days we sang the Mass
At seven, boys, then girls, then boys again.
Sometimes the only ones who’d show
To sing were me and Hal the organist,
And I could barely hum a note. Refrains
Eluded me, so Hal would sing it solo.

Now Hal had music in his hands and feet;
The organ‘s pipes were a part of him.
But when he tried for music from his throat,
Well, Father said it sounded kind of sweet
If sweet meant scratchy, hoarse, and thin
And not unlike the bleating of a goat.

Mosaic vault showing the Lamb of God, the Patr...

From Kyrie to Agnus Dei, Hal
Sang all the parts, sang treble, alto, bass
And never worried what the music said.
The words were all that mattered. Still somehow
He’d hit the final note then turn his face
And wink at me and proudly raise his head.

Hal quit the church when Kyrie became
The simple English Lord and anyone
Who wanted stood and strummed communal chords
For masses where the singing was the same
As elevator sap, and Hal seemed stunned
To learn that music is in deed the words.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2005, 2013.

Experiences in Sound

A photo of the inside of Pisa's Duomo

A photo of the inside of Pisa’s Duomo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Experience in Sound 3

Play both tracks together.

The Miracle (from A Matter of Mind)

The Miracle

It’s as if the statue moved — just a hair
But moved. With my own eyes I saw it turn,
The gold glitter of the crown dance then spurn
All sense to leave its place in the sun. The air
Was charged with stained light and I knelt down there,
Half in fear — yes — but I felt my soul yearn
To touch a marble hem and thereby learn
A secret of God that would be mine alone to share.
There should be, I thought, music, but there was none.
Only the wind through the choir loft — and my breath.
All was as it had been, and I, the only one
To see it, stood alone as at my own death.
With dread I stepped forth, and yet I did so believing
That no loving god could ever be so deceiving.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

A Poem for Spring

Morris dancing in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Ma...

Morris dancing in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May Day morning 2007. Team is Bells of the North. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This poem is the opening poem from my book A Matter of Mind (Foothills Publishing, 2004.) It has just recently been set to music by Chris  Harford who has included it on his new album. I am of course pleased, although there are some unsettled issues about permissions that need to be resolved. I’ve told him that once the issues are worked out, I’ll add a link so you can find it easily and download his music.

Morris Dancing

The morning and the evening glimmer.
Heaven turns and the earth’s heart swells.
Dancers in their ribbons shimmer.
Peepers sound like Morris bells.

These people have their drums and horns.
They have their songs and watchers’ eyes.
Callers tell them of their forms.
And with their simple faith in earth and sky

The dancers’ feet repeat the sounds
Of new life stirrings underground
And with their steps and songs awaken
Ancient legends the world’s forsaken.

They dance for Demeter‘s cyclic plight,
And the earth responds with green delight.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

Zipporah

Zipporah (left) from Botticelli's Trial of Moses.

Zipporah (left) from Botticelli’s Trial of Moses. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The following poem is from A Matter of Mind (Foot Hills Publishing, 2004).

Zipporah

(I)
Egyptian, why’d you come if all you want’s
To sit and stare at cracks that climb the walls?
My breast that longs to feel your hand caress
It lies here bare while you ignore my needs.
You might as well not stay as make me feel
I have no husband. Tell me what I’ve done
To make you turn your face away from me.
Please help me understand, Moses, why you
Have shut me so completely from you life.

I wish I knew your dreams. Each night I lie
Beside you while you toss and cry out names —
Egyptian names I’ve never heard you say
But names demanding terror even here.
I want to see the things you see, but how?
Aren’t I your wife? And didn’t Father take
You in, make you a son, and give you all
He has? Then why do you reject us now
With silence, Moses? Tell me what I’ve done.

(II)
Zipporah, near Mt. Horeb, where I take
The sheep to feed, I found a bush still green
And unconsumed by desert sun. The sheep
Won’t touch it. And as I wondered at it, I
Removed my sandals. I felt as if I stood
On holy ground. Then to this place a man
Who’d fled from Egypt came and asked
If I could give him water, and I did.
And while he drank, he told a brutal tale

Of evil winding in Egyptian sands,
Of Hebrew bodies covered with raw sores,
Of babies starved because their mothers, not
Allowed near wells, go dry. And as he talked
I raised my hands to look at them. Look here.
This skin, Zipporah, it’s their skin. Their sores
Have covered both my palms. I dropped my staff.
I stared at him. I stammered. Then I asked
Could no one help, and all he said was, “You.”

(III)
No, Moses, don’t think that. Come here and lie
Beside me. There is nothing you can do.
You left them long ago. Lie here with me.
We are your kin, and you’ve become like us.
This desert land, Egyptian, is your home.
Let Pharaoh answer for his sins. Don’t take
Them on yourself. The people there don’t want
Your help. They ran you off. They’re Pharaoh’s slaves.
You have your life. Leave justice up to God.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

Pain Shadow (on exhibit)

Congratulations to Robyn Lee on the acceptance of her fine work for exhibit by PainExhibit.org. Go see her post entitled Pain Shadow (on exhibit) on her Through the Healing Lens blog, But don’t just stop with the one post. Take the time to read her story and then wander through the images and words. It’s time well spent.

Jason at Sunrise Service

Sunrise

Sunrise (Photo credit: Diganta Talukdar)

The following poem was originally published in Pivot in the summer of 2002 and later included in A Matter of Mind (Foothills Publishing, 2004).

Jason at Sunrise Service

It’s cold, and the wind blowing across this hill
Makes it colder. I’m not used to wearing
Winter coats at Easter, nor to sharing
Sunrise hymns with strangers. But kids will
Pull you out of bed at awful hours and fill
Your life with endless nights. They don’t care
That their lives intrude on yours with that glaring
Arrogance of youth that can’t stay still.

At eleven PM Jason cut his hand.
At midnight, in a dim and sterile room,
A young intern sewed it shut. He stands
Here now to celebrate an empty tomb.

The spreading rose of day dissolves the night.
I watch him join hands with others to sing
Hallelujah toward the rising sun.
And as I walk a little further from
Their voices rising in the morning wind,
I feel the cold rise up around my heart.

His world’s a morning filling up with light
And sun-glazed faces like a ring
Of sacrificial fire. Their antiphon
Goes with me down the hill. He’s just begun.
The road is like a ribbon with no end,
And I’m too old to remember where it starts.

They’ll sing and share the bread. I’ll set the fan
Inside the car on high. I’ll sleep at noon.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2013.

 

January 28, 1986

Space shuttle Challenger

Space shuttle Challenger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

27 years ago today.

 

Challenger: An Elegy

The world stopped when the Challenger exploded.”
A visitor’s note at the Challenger Web site

(I)
Nothing works. Neither day nor night.
All the stars disappear. Birds in mid flight
Fold their wings and fall, refusing to fly.

The sun sinks slowly then freezes in the sky.
The winds stand still. Fish die in the ocean.
The pendulum’s swing remains the only motion.

(II)
That night I saw Orion rising overhead and knew
That things exist beyond the meaning of the words we use.
Some things are only light, or sound, or pressure on the skin.
Some things inhabit space before the space where words begin.

Now all the words in all the books cannot inhabit space
Reserved for things that vanish from our lives without a trace.
The names we give we give to things we know can be recalled.
And words won’t salvage anything when you see the heavens fall.

Once Jupiter held up the stars for a longer night of love.
Jehovah stayed the sun with force for slaughter from above.
But never once has someone made a minute fail to pass
Or just by willing made the trilling air of bird song last
Beyond its final note dissolved inside an evening wind.
Yet still the sky at night gives hope you’ll hear it once again.

(III)
goddess boat — serpent
at the feet of Orion,
trailing the heavens

bodies without down-
link fall from the sky, and you,
leaping like a hare,
lift the hunter killed
by his love past my window.

gods and goddesses
tease the human isolate
with monstrous burning
while we raise new myths
from the scattered debris
of human yearning.

Originally published in A Matter of Mind, Foothills Publishing, 2004.
© copyright 2004, 2009-2013 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.

All rights reserved.

 

Orion V

Orion V (Photo credit: Eduardo Mariño)

 

Perseid Remembered

A multicolored, long Perseid meteor striking t...

This past weekend we passed through the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, which happens each year near the middle of August. This year is a particularly good year for viewing because of the current phase of the moon. If you missed the show this weekend, you can still look tonight.

This poem was originally published in A Matter of Mind (Foothills Publishing, 2004).

Perseid Remembered

The crow circled once
and fell into the black trees,
invisible bird.

This was on Copper Mountain
where I’d seen the fat groundhog raise its head.

For those who’ll give up the desire to know,
the world is filled with surprise,
like the snake cutting
silently through the water
looking like a stick
or beavers sliding
from the bank where the raccoon
stands splashing its food.

Or that night we sat on a park table watching
unobstructed stars too many to count,
too many to comprehend. We were like children
in front of a store window at Christmas, dazzled
by the dancing lights.
One by one the stars broke free and ran through the sky
along firey trails.
The summer grass moved
and a mysterious form waddled our way —
a white streak on black that seemed to mirror the sky.
And for an instant, before fear rushed us
out of its way and pushed us
back inside our tent,

that wandering skunk
beneath the falling heavens
was a wondrous sight.

© Joseph Saling and The New Word Mechanic, 2004, 2012.