1993

We were sixteen, speeding
down a narrow country lane
I told you to watch for police
to which you asked:
“where could a cop hide
on a road like this?”

I said the first thing
that came to mind:
–“my pocket!”–
and from that moment
the cop in my pocket
became our inside joke

I’m laughing about it now
on this starless night
wondering where you are
and whether you remember
the road, ever winding
vanishing in the rear-view

1985

Sure, I cried
that day in 1985
when my parents sold
our yellow station wagon
I used to lie in the back
returning from grandma Mary’s
watching streetlights coalesce
into a single beam of light–
warp speed, transporting me
through nebulae and black holes
to distant, hidden planets
I no longer know how to find

driving to school

a pale beauty has risen
this winter morning
the white-yellow sun
blanketed by blue clouds

along the road, the river
has captured the scene
in wide brush strokes
immense with stillness

our car rushes, ever forward
as you complete equations
and I compose poems
together in the silence

Reflecting on Silence

There are long stretches in Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence that are so, well, silent, I couldn’t help but notice a faint, persistent clacking noise coming from behind the theater wall next to me, to my endless irritation. I’m not sure what the sound was, maybe the movie next door, or perhaps the HVAC unit or something. There is a similar maddening sound that emanates from the walls of my house in the early morning when I get up for a few minutes of prayer, trying to find some holy peace and quiet to no avail.

What drives me craziest about trivial noises and distractions in moments like this is that God does not seem to want to comply in producing the divine, reverent atmosphere I think he should, given the spiritual significance of what is taking place. It is akin to that feeling you get when you attend a funeral and realize everything outside keeps tumbling along and buzzing as if nothing’s happened.

Throughout much of Silence, Father Rodriguez seems to share a similar indignation, granted on a more intense and dramatic scale. In the movie, and the book especially, he finds it hard to come to terms with the sheer indifference of the world in the face of spiritually significant events, especially suffering. Christians are crucified in the sea, and the waves just rumble along unassumingly. A peasant is beheaded in the stale afternoon heat without so much as a flicker of shade or gust of wind. There is no rending of the heavens which Rodriguez has imagined would accompany the death of a martyr. Only blithe ordinariness, the absence of the divine, the worst kind of silence.

(spoiler alert)

The epiphany I experienced the end of the book/movie—which is tough to put into words because it is the culmination of the story (at least for me)—is that there is no divine absence where there is compassionate human presence. Perhaps we flatter ourselves when we assume that the voice calling out in our head for justice is our own; perhaps that it is the voice of God, the shattering of the silence. To paraphrase Rodriguez, even when God seems silent our lives may speak of him. Indeed, our lives—our actions, our thoughts—bear witness.

I often turn to nature in times of spiritual searching, or even just spiritual wandering. I see divine significance in the grandeur of things like waves and clouds and stars. I’ve also felt incredibly lonely sometimes gazing at these things, at how far away God seems from this beautiful wreck of a creation he left behind (if the stars are millions of light years away, how much further their creator?). And yet, sometimes maybe looking and listening for God somewhere out there is looking and listening in the wrong direction.

take my hands

take my words
untie them like balloons
pinch the narrow ends
let the hot, wet air
come wooshing out
until the blubbering
and screeching subside

take my hands
unfurl them like sails
raise them, billowed
by fierce compassion
fill them with white light
borne across the dark sea
press them into service

when beauty dies

every so many years, it seems
as though beauty must die
like November leaves
pierced by the cold
pummeled by the wind
abandoned to moldering mud

while the colors bleed away
our first instinct is rescue
as if we could gather them up
in our careful arms
and paste them, gently
back upon their branches

let them go, my friend
scatter them to the earth
where they may become soil–
we must grieve in burial
endure the empty sting
and wait, patiently, for spring