Conversations with Upstairs
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” – Meister Eckhart
Several of my favorite actors showed up
In the film I watched on the old movie channel tonight.
Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price.
Each and every one of them, you are no doubt aware,
As dead as doornails.
Turning off the set and then the lamp,
Checking to see that the doors were locked
And the porch light on,
I came away from that movie
With an undisputable
We’re not down here all that long,
As of right now, I am your project.
Today the world looms much too large
And I am entirely too small.
So here am I.
All of me.
Past, present and future.
Lift me up.
Lay me low.
Shake me out like a rug;
Pop me purely clean in bright morning sunshine.
Or crumple me into the corner like yesterday’s newspaper.
Float me along on a warm, clean breeze
Or sweep me under the bed
With bent paper clips and gum wrappers and small change.
Up to you.
Have at it.
I thought you might like to know that
I recently had a good Cobb salad .
The lettuce was fresh and crinkly
And all the other things were laid out in colorful, pleasing rows.
The corn was sweet, the bacon crisp,
The boiled egg a perfect marriage of yellow and white.
The dressing was tart. And a congregation
Of black olive slices nestled in all of it
Like so many children in pews.
Someone took great care when building this one.
And, after a morning of more downs than ups,
A wide, glistening offering being plopped down
In front of me was a blessing, indeed.
Make me worthy, occasionally,
Of a good Cobb salad.
Does time work
Where you are
Like it does here?
Does it being Tuesday mean tomorrow will, inevitably,
Or, I wonder,
Do things all happen at once?
Is my mother’s mother – gone these many years –
At this precise moment jolting along in a fast train bound for California,
Taking my Uncle Garth his bride during the Second World War?
And at the very same time is she being helped up into a buggy,
Three decades before,
By the teenager who will one day be my grandfather?
Is she, concurrently, lying quiet and unknowing in a diabetic coma in that little
Nursing home where you finished her up?
Simultaneously, is she standing barefoot on a summer morning,
A little girl blowing dandelion pedals into a tiny explosion,
While, all the while, being safe and sound,
Time, down here,
Has proven to be a great confusion
To far better minds than mine.
But I suspect you’ve got it all worked out nicely?
I watched, one early morning
On my predawn walk,
As a funeral home man rolled a gurney
Into my friend’s house.
I stood across the street in the darkness,
Cap in hand, as you conducted
That last bit of her business down here.
The dim glow of a streetlight spilled down on
The blanket that covered up
The good lady I had taught school with for years.
I taught her daughters,
And mumbled “peace be with you” to her in church
I had a long talk with you about her when we learned she had cancer.
And now she was just this awfully still thing
On a cold gurney on a dark morning.
And I had to wonder, as the van’s doors were slammed shut,
Why didn’t I sense my friend departing.
Why didn’t I feel her lifting up,
Strong and pure and determined,
Over our sleeping neighborhood.
Was, I wonder,
That particular sensation
Reserved just for you,
If Thomas Becket could cough up a blessing
For the three knights that were, at that very moment,
In the middle of slaughtering him,
And if Thomas More, centuries later,
Could manage to fish out a coin to tip his own executioner
Seconds before the ax fell,
Why can’t I –
Not nearly so brave or steady as either of those Thomases –
Pass up a warm donut in the workroom now and then?
Couldn’t you have built me a little better than that?
I’m never quite as lonely for my parents,
Both gone now for many years,
As on Christmas Eve,
When I light
Two candles for them
On the little table by our front window.
Every year I’ve watched from our yard,
Hidden by Mr. Dylan Thomas’ “close and holy darkness”
– through balmy rain and frosty air and, one year, a quirky snowstorm straight from Currier and Ives –
The pair of flickering tips of light
Dancing through the window.
I like to think
That my parents watch them too.
From wherever you’ve put them.
I like to think
That my girls, inside that house –
Three grown women who’ve watched me light the candles since they were kids, scrubbed pink, outfitted in pajamas, waiting for Santa –
In your good time,
Light one for me.
One bright star
winks at me through that odd tree that is the halfway point on my early morning walk.
You know that tree.
The one whose whole crown is winter, skeletal branches
curving around one clump of mistletoe. Painting a spindly,
dark silhouette against the early morning sky
that Mr. Poe might have made use of.
One vibrant star among the poorer showing of a few others.
Is it the same star that used to look down at me through the open window beside my bed when I was a boy?
The attic fan rumbling,
the scent of honeysuckle drifting in from the yard,
a baseball game on the transistor radio by my head.
Since it seems likely –
at least by earthbound standards –
that everyone needs
a comfort zone,
a staging area,
a command post,
I wonder, as that one star follows me along my way,
Is that where you are?
Make me thankful for
Significantly more grace than I deserve.
That if a true reckoning was being applied
I’d be on the receiving end of
That if a true reckoning was at work here,
You’d have rightly long since passed me over and passed me by.
Erase any shadow of a doubt that,
Had it been me tending those long-ago sheep,
Samuel would have most certainly left me on the hillside,
And made do with one of that big litter of brothers.
I studied a historical timeline today. A handsome one, with all the important people and events in their places on a wide plain representing several millennia.
There was Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Moses. The Titantic. The various wars (too many of those, don’t you think? Whatever were you thinking there?)
The American presidents marched along like a parade, and European Kings and Queens.
Tucked away neatly between Little Big Horn and the Boxer Rebellion was the birth of Helen Keller.
It was fasinating, really, to see all those scenes and characters in this long drama spread out like that, like butterflies pinned on a board.
All of which drove home a rather humbling lesson:
On a line like that one – running from whereever you chose to begin it (Big Bang, Eden, whatever; any place is fine by me as long as the trip got started) to wherever you choose to drop the final curtain – my life will be an awfully, awfully tiny speck.
Let me, at the end, have packed my speck full.
Let my little speck have counted for something.
I asked one of my writing students
Why she always writes about vampires.
She looked up, smiled, and said the liked the fact that they are
I smiled back at her, thinking
So am I.
Thanks to you, of course.
A man once told me,
When gazing at my shelves overstuffed with books,
That he found no time for reading.
Saw no sense in it.
His time, he reasoned, could be better spent at better things, like
Golfing or sleeping.
I could fashion a similar argument about … this.
About all this incessant mumbling in your direction.
I could most certainly –
If I gave this up, cold turkey –
Find other things to do.
Except for one thing.
Except for the absolute, fine knowledge that
You could, too.
Tilt me toward you.
Tip me up like a bucket to catch rain.
Stretch me out like ivy chasing sunshine.
And when you’ve got me positioned,
Make me pay attention.
Free will was Your idea, after all.
So elections must be in Your grand plan.
At the end of this particularly boisterous one there is finally a single reality.
All the bluster, predictions and analysis is done.
Yesterday had to come,
one way or another,
when it seemed it never would.
And this early morning had to come.
When the very process we’ve long hailed
and pledged our allegiance to has
rendered its absolute verdict.
we need you, please.
To heal, soothe, and remind us,
Every single one of us in whatever tent we’ve pitched,
of what we stand for. Of what we are.
And what we can be.
Keep me from wondering
What heaven will be like.
Keep me from hoping there will be
Books to read and baseball games to listen to.
And long afternoon naps in a hammock.
Keep me from hoping, even,
That Karen will eventually show up on the doorstep
Of our little bungalow.
Where we’ll eat second helpings of fattening foods that won’t fatten in the least,
And sit in overstuffed chairs and watch, on some sort of television set,
Our daughters and grandchildren live out their time down here.
Let it be entirely enough that you will
Let me be satisfied that there will be
Help me to be a blessing this day
For the people who need me,
And not too much
Of a nuisance
For those who don’t.
On a day like today
You don’t need to overdo.
On a glum, unpromising train wreck of a day like this one
There’s no need to pile on the blessings
Or to keep the faith fire burning or the well of hope topped off.
No need at all, today, for anything special in the way of a sunrise or sunset.
No miracles. No levitations.
We can even dispense with the warm, dry solace of
All the chick-nestled-under-loving-wings business
On a royal cock-up of a day like this.
All you really need to see to, today,
In regards to me,
Is keeping me