“. . . the wood which broke beneath the weight of love . . .” (Melissa Range)


“In Dallas, he’d be a lawbreaker.” (Photo: Dallas Observer, Friday, January 29, 2016)

Today is “Holy Saturday” on some church calendars, that is, the second of the three days of the Crucifixion. At sundown, it becomes the “Vigil of Easter.”

The first time I experienced the liturgy for the Vigil of Easter was April 6, 1968 – 49 years ago. I was the neophyte Episcopalian organist for a small church in Ontario, California, a Baptist preacher’s kid, less than a year out of college with a degree in organ performance. That small church was, and still is, the center of “high church” liturgical practice in the Inland Empire of Southern California.

I have difficulty explaining what happened to me on April 6, 1968. For weeks I had been preparing the organ music and the choral music. I thought there was more of it than could possibly fit into one service.

The solemnity and devotion of the Good Friday service the evening before had, at its beginning, offended my Baptist Knees. I was amazed at what I saw as the preposterous and idolatrous veneration of the cross.

And then I got it.

I had a modicum of understanding of the deep conviction of these people and the beauty of its expression. Zealous and almost distantly formal at the same time. I said later that service gave me permission finally to accept Christianity in a way my Baptist heritage had never been able to do.

Easter happened at midnight the next night. Such a celebration! Somber and a bit perplexing for an hour or so of serious passages read from the Hebrew Scriptures with subdued musical responses. But Easter arrived at midnight with the singing of the 1549 “Gloria” by John Merbecke (which I can still sing from memory). The tower bell ringing just outside the choir loft, lights, oodles of flowers carried into the church from the sacristy, joy unbounded. A huge party with sherry after the service at about 1 AM. My kind of place! (Never mind that I had to play hymns for the simple Easter Day service 8 hours later.)

I understood because I had symbolically experienced the devastation of the Crucifixion and the unbounded joy of the Resurrection. I was never sure I believed it had actually happened or that that is the way life really is. But the possibility. Oh, the possibility.

Sue Mansfield, a member of the parish who read the first lesson – Genesis 1 – every year at the Easter Vigil, set my mind to rest. She asked if I believed the church believed. Yes. Then that’s all that’s necessary, isn’t it?

Over the decades, that has become less all that is necessary. I have virtually left off believing any of the Biblical accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I am hard pressed to say I believe in God (my mental jury is still out).

I have no trouble believing the story of the Crucifixion. All that is necessary for that is to read the news from Syria. Or read about the vicious and virulent anti-Islam forces in this country. Or read about the savage racism of whites toward people of color in this country. Or hear in the news that the federal government has signed a contract with a private prison company to open detention centers to house thousands of persons on their way to deportation. Or hear in the news that Arkansas will execute 8 men in ten days. Or see a high-rise of million-dollar condos built in Dallas that reflects so much sun it ruins the carefully planned artistry of a public oasis of calm and beauty in the center of the city. Or talk with a homeless woman asking for a bit of change as I come out of the super market directly next door to my apartment building. Or hear that our President is contemplating an unprovoked act of war against North Korea.


Eight men scheduled to be executed in Arkansas in 10 days beginning Monday. (Photo: NBC News, Apr 6 2017)

Believing in, seeing proof of, the Crucifixion is a trivial pursuit.

The Resurrection is much more difficult to find. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is well-hidden.

I can believe in a Jesus of Nazareth whose

. . . sorrow became his action,
his grief his victory—
until his tears became a rupture

in nature, all creation
discipled to his suffering
on the gilded gallows-tree

but I have all but given up looking for the Resurrection. My unbelief is not, of course, based on my accepting “proof.” I am not simply a Doubting Thomas wanting to see it for myself. My agnosticism is not based on a lack of physical proof (ask me, and I will talk about it, but not here).

However, a preponderance of evidence proclaims the Crucifixion so loudly that it is difficult for me (and, I think, many others) to wade through it to a Resurrection. Perhaps those who believe could demonstrate (or at least point out) to us more convincingly that it is true.

“All Creation Wept,” by Melissa Range

And not just those disciples
whom he loved, and not just
his mother; for all creation

was his mother, if he shared
his cells with worms and ferns
and whales, silt and spiderweb,

with the very walls of his crypt.
Of all creation, only he slept,
the rest awake and rapt with grief

when love’s captain leapt
onto the cross, into an abyss
the weather hadn’t dreamt.

Hero mine the beloved,
cried snowflakes, cried the moons
of unknown planets, cried the thorns

in his garland, the nails bashed
through his bones, the spikes of dry grass
on the hillside, dotted with water

and with blood—real tears,
and not a trick of rain-light
blinked and blurred onto a tree

so that the tree seems wound
in gold. It was not wound
in gold or rain but in a rapture

of salt, the wood splintering
as he splintered when he wept
over Lazarus, over Jerusalem,

until his sorrow became his action,
his grief his victory—
until his tears became a rupture

in nature, all creation
discipled to his suffering
on the gilded gallows-tree,

the wood which broke beneath the weight
of love, though it had no ears to hear
him cry out, and no eyes to see.

Excerpted from Scriptorium: Poems by Melissa Range (Beacon Press, 2016).

Melissa Range was born and raised in East Tennessee. She received an MFA from Old Dominion University, and an MTS from Emory University. She was selected in 2006, for the National Poetry Series by Tracy K. Smith, and Horse and Rider (Texas Tech University Press, 2010). She has received awards and fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rona Jaffe Foundation, among others. She currently teaches at Lawrence University and lives in Wisconsin.

“. . . I do all things required of me to make me a citizen. . .” (David Ignatow)

This afternoon I remembered to call the Municipal Court at the Highland Park, TX, City Hall.

That, in itself, is not remarkable. Even my purpose is not remarkable. A very kind and courteous member of the Highland Park Police Department gave me a ticket a few weeks ago because he saw that the inspection sticker on my car was expired. He didn’t give me another ticket for my inability to show him my current proof of insurance (I had last year’s, and the current one was at home in a file). A record of a car’s insurance is online for police to look up.

Since that day I have had “11” in my mind in connection with the whole sorry and ridiculous affair. I do have, if not a memory, at least the ability to hold an impression in my mind. I’m grateful that the officer said “11” because I am much more likely to remember something I hear than something I read. Calling the Municipal Court was important because the 11th of the month, I supposed, is the date by which I have to take care of the ticket, and it is fast approaching. I couldn’t check it on my own; at some point I brought the ticket into my apartment because I could not read it without my reading glasses, and I needed to check the date.

However, the ticket must be in the same file as my proof of insurance. That is, in a place I cannot remember. I remembered a few days ago to call the agent and have them fax me a new copy of the proof of insurance. At least I will have that when I go to the motor vehicle department to get a new inspection sticker. After, of course, I take the car to have it inspected.

I must insert here a note about receiving the ticket. I was on Mockingbird Lane between Inwood and Hillcrest on my way to SMU at 8:45am. That street is surely the most crime-ridden area in all of the Dallas “metroplex.” In that couple of miles I have on occasion counted as many as four police officers parked at intersections waiting for the next criminal to approach. That the street is in a state of decline that would foster criminal activity is easy enough to discern.


Crime-ridden neighborhood

On March 29, 2015, I blogged here about my dislike of driving, a dislike that begins with the philosophical/theological understanding that

I was not intended by my maker to drive. It’s as simple as that. I don’t like it, I am frustrated by it, I don’t want to do it, I resent living in a society where such an unnatural, dangerous, and self-serving activity is not only the “norm,” but perceived to be “necessary.” This is not septuagenarian thinking. I’ve had this opinion of driving for decades. It is, however, a septuagenarian way of talking/writing. I’ve finally arrived at the place where I don’t care what anyone thinks of my thinking.

Not too long ago I had an appointment with my doctor. I drove the two miles or so to his office. When I arrived, I went almost immediately to the examination room, an unusual occurrence. The nurse immediately took my vital signs. Blood pressure: 170 over 120. She freaked. I told her to take it again in 15 minutes. She did. 120 over 80. Driving is “an unnatural, dangerous, and self-serving activity.”

My thesis in this writing really has nothing to do with driving except as it is the most obvious example in support of my thesis: About 90% of what we require each other to do in order to “make [us] citizen[s] of sterling worth” is nonsense. I want to write something much stronger than that, but I’m going to have to work up to that.

I am not a misanthrope. I am not an anarchist. I am not a sociopath.

I could be a hermit (if I had any courage). I could be a radical (if I had a cause). I could be philosopher who understands the meaning of life (if I had any brains).

Anyone who took a good English literature class in high school or college knows William Wordsworth’s poem, “The World Is Too Much With Us.” It is, I suppose, the great first salvo in the struggle of the Romantics to find a way to live in “nature.”

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! . . .

I am not smart or brave or thoughtful enough to join a movement designed to move us closer to living naturally. I am mainly simply frightened by much of what I am (we are) required to do to live together in society.

Today I stumbled across a poem by one of my favorite poets, David Ignatow. It was the impetus for this writing. This writing has no obvious goal. It has no thesis. It is a work in progress, the opening salvo in what may be (if I don’t chicken out) a bit of writing in which I try to explain to myself what I mean by all of this.

Sorry to leave it hanging. But that’s the way writing is. We write to know what we think. And I still don’t know what I’m thinking.

“I Close My Eyes,” by David Ignatow
I close my eyes like a good little boy at night in bed,
as I was told to do by my mother when she lived,
and before bed I brush my teeth and slip on my pajamas,
as I was told, and look forward to tomorrow.

I do all things required of me to make me a citizen of sterling worth.
I keep a job and come home each evening for dinner. I arrive at the
same time on the same train to give my family a sense of order.

I obey traffic signals. I am cordial to strangers, I answer my
mail promptly. I keep a balanced checking account. Why can’t I
live forever?

From Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934-1994.



“. . . things keep growing where we put them . . .” (Kay Ryan)

IMG_6336 - CopyA couple of days ago I needed a cup from a kitchen cabinet I seldom open. My company-for-dinner dishes are there, a complete set of tableware my late partner and I bought so we could appear to be grownups rather than graduate students when guests came to dinner. These days I seldom need to appear grown up at dinnertime, so I don’t open that cabinet except when I want a specific item.

That cabinet is also home to a few keepsakes, sentimentally valuable reminders of loved ones who are gone, including a commemorative plate from my paternal grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration, May 31, 1963. It is not high-quality china but no doubt was expensive in those days because my uncle, whose signature “with love” is on the back, had it inscribed for the day. It wasn’t one of those made-to-order items from the internet (t-shirt or coffee mug, or . . .). I remember that celebration well – three weeks before my high school graduation.

IMG_6459-002On my desk is a copy of The Best of It: New and Selected Poems by Kay Ryan inscribed by the poet to me. It is the collection for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. She signed my copy after she did a reading of her work at SMU last year. I had ordered it on the internet just in time to receive it before Ryan’s reading.

As I took the commemorative plate from the cabinet, Kay Ryan’s poem “A Certain Kind of Eden” was in my mind. I had just read it because Google reminded me it’s National Poetry Month, and her book was the handiest volume of poetry on my desk. That was the poem to which I randomly opened the book.

It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.

I don’t recall holding my grandparents’ plate since I put it in the cabinet thirteen years ago. However, I have used another of the keepsakes in the cabinet, odd little rectangular salt and pepper shakers at least as old as I am, an inheritance from my mother that commemorates my birthplace, Wyoming. I used the little souvenirs the last time I had company for dinner and wanted to appear to be a grownup. The Morton sea salt container and the McCormick black pepper box I usually use are definitely graduate student style table settings.

You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re give
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.

When I first read “A Certain Kind of Eden,” I assumed it is about a lifetime of decision making. I’ve made decisions in which I have “overprized intention,” thought I was in control. I think of my life since I left my parents’ home after high school graduation in four chapters: Southern California for university and a few years beyond; Iowa for graduate school; Massachusetts for a career as an organist and then 17 years as a college professor; Dallas for graduate school (in a new field) and for love, 23 years and counting.

IMG_6463Anyone reading that litany might assume I’ve made some momentous decisions, that I “chose the bean and chose the soil” in Ryan’s poetic terminology. I have a 54-year-old plate and 70-year-old salt and pepper shakers that indicate a different reality. And I have more. My grandmother’s father was born in 1860 and died in 1937 (he died in an automobile accident on the way to my parents’ wedding). Great-grandfather was over six feet tall and office chairs did not fit him. He shortened the back legs of his favorite chair so he could lean back and be comfortable. I have that chair. It is at least 80 years old, but I would guess much older.

Three ordinary objects. Three family memories. For me, a plethora of decisions to move or to stay, to work or educate myself to change work, to be in a relationship or be alone. With each decision, I have carried with me those three ordinary objects.

I have made each of those decisions in the belief I was acting autonomously, doing what was best for me, following my dreams and desires, abandoning one place for another. But – it’s almost too obvious to need writing – wherever I have gone, whatever decisions I have made, I have with me decisions my great-grandfather (whom I never met), my grandmother, and my mother made before me. I “can’t go back and pull the roots . . . and replant.” I am bound, too, by all the decisions I have previously made.

kay ryanKay Ryan’s “one vine that tendrils out alone,” perhaps the shape of my own life, grows by “its own impulse.” I do not, ultimately, control it. My greatest hope, but finally my greatest sadness.

“A Certain Kind of Eden,” by Kay Ryan
It seems like you could, but
you can’t go back and pull
the roots and runners and replant.
It’s all too deep for that.
You’ve overprized intention,
have mistaken any bent you’re given
for control. You thought you chose
the bean and chose the soil.
You even thought you abandoned
one or two gardens. But those things
keep growing where we put them—
if we put them at all.
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.

Kay Ryan, “A Certain Kind of Eden” from Flamingo Watching. Copyright © 1994 by Kay Ryan.


trumpWashington, The National
By Nellie Bly, April 1, 2017

After tweeting that he did not know how complicated the job would be, President Donald Trump submitted a letter of resignation to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson immediately called Vladimir Putin to apologize and assured him that there would be no change of policy under Vice President Mike Pence..

It was not immediately clear who was stepping in to be acting President until Vice President Pence can be sworn in as President. Tillerson announced to FOX News, “I am in charge here,” but it was not certain that he has the Constitutional authority.

Trump was seen boarding a helicopter on the White House lawn at about 2AM April 1 with his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. A second helicopter landed, and Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway boarded it together.

Rep. Paul Ryan was seen going into the fitness center in the House Office building at about 2AM and could not be reached for comment on his probable election as Vice President.