Friday, March 16, 2012

Poem: Hymn


I haven't attended church since sometime in the 1990s. Sometimes I miss the singing. I grew up singing alto in the choir, as my mom was the choir director and pianist. I've been reading Walt Whitman poems, and poems by many of you, and Billy Collins, Denise Levertov, Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson. It's time for praise. Poetry is praise, I think, or can be, even when it rages. There is something about the slowing of its condensation that makes my heart rise up and sweeten (like sap into syrup, maybe), both reading it and writing it. So I call this one "Hymn," remembering praise songs. The poem ends with a word that symbolizes many different meanings, probably at least billions. My three-word glossary is just a start. The picture above is from a bathroom stall at the Cass Café on Cass Avenue in Detroit, taken in 2006 when our Lesley was attending the College for Creative Studies. I wonder if you have ever taken a picture inside a bathroom stall?


Praise the sky to the tree
And praise the tree to the ground
Praise the word on a leaf
And paraphrase some praise in song

Ride the curve of a question
streaming down the wing of a swan
Uncurl your tongue with a holler
Or fly on praise without sound

Exhale the body to praise the air
Burn brittle sticks of hate
Clean the room with incense
Sniff the glue of “Celebrate”

Blossom a path to the plum
And flower-fountain the moon
Waterfall your hair on rocks
Then tease it out like the sun

Shout in yellow and laugh out red
Amen the sinners, admonish the dead
Swing on the tire to praise the clock
Then hug the hammock and sleep full stop

Heat up your heart
And mercy your mind
Climb on the couch, bounce
your jiggles divine

Puff milkweed pouts and explode the pod
Shake your bones till they’re humble
Fill that space with God!

March 2012

God = Love.Light.Life

Poetry should be heard.


erin said...

if ever we needed a definition for our purpose it would be to praise. i look to your margin where Gurdjieff says, "Where our attention is, God is." this is the same thing. your poem is a wonderful celebration. can we make such a thing a practice? i hope so.

a personal note, (and it is all personal) god is much too large to put in any church in any capacity except for the embodiment in all small and ordinary things and so we can praise and sing wherever we happen to be.

sing on sister:)


Ruth said...

erin, I am happy to see you back. I praise my happiness!

I think if we take every physical thing away, that is God. I think if we put every physical thing back, that is God also. I am not a pantheist per se, but I think all is Life and Life is God, and words are just toys for playing at definitions, because we can, and it's fun! . . . until it stops being fun, and that I don't want God ever to be (and I don't think God ever is that).

The Solitary Walker said...

Wow, this is some paean, Ruth! There's something of Auden and Baptist church choirs and street rap in here! "Ancient and Modern', as the hymn book goes. And I love your exuberant use of alliteration, assonance — and that wild rhyme-scheme! Fantastic. Let's praise!

Re. the 'bathroom stalls', I really wouldn't know first-hand, of course, but I have it on the best of authority (i.e. Carmen's) that womens' toilet wall graffiti in England is far ruder than that — though sadly, or perhaps thankfully, I have no photo to prove it.

ds said...

Ahhh...this is what I meant by the "sap running." Yes, an exuberant poem--a hymn to life, the small and the big,and what is that if not spiritual in the true sense (which is not "religious"). And I can't explain but must dash to work--uplifted by this & having needed it. Thank you.

Valerie Kamikubo said...

I love this poem!

James Owens said...

i love your grouping of ideas: praise, slowing, and condensation ... these things are attention to the small details of the world, which is attention directed toward god, which is prayer (as simone weil says)

Kathleen said...

Oh, joy! Now I shall go back outside and sing praises to the early spring! Thank you.

The Broad said...

You are good, you really are. But I tell you something, this poem really came alive when I read it aloud!

Maureen said...

Wonderful poem, Ruth. It's full of joy and action that brings joy. And isn't it in the doing that we find ways to "fill that space with God".

I especially like the stanza "Blossom a path to the plum... sun".

George said...

Praise be, my friend! You have ridden "the curve of a question streaming down the wing of a swan," uncurling "your tongue with a holler" in the process. I find myself in agreement with Robert. Your hymn contains a number of different voices—the mystic, the recovering Baptist, and the street rapper. Every voice, however, is a song of gratitude, so let the praising continue. I'm reminded of the Meister Eckhart's quote: "If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you, it will be enough."

Ann said...

HiRuth, sorry I haven't been in contact.

Hymn and most songs do not leave you . they will resurface at times you need them.

Shari Sunday said...

Ha Ha I loved the picture. I was shocked when I realized what it was. Beautiful thoughts. So true.

Anonymous said...

This poem is ever so timely, as some of us are going through the Lenten period before Easter. While I've enjoyed the whole poem and am impressed once again by your poetic poise, I particularly appreciate the second stanza. Why? "Ride the curve of a question" not only depicts the contour of the graceful swan, it also describes some necessary stops in the long journey of faith. As much as art and poetry can exalt, we can praise with our rationale and intellect, a magnificent faculty endowed by our Creator/God. A hearty thank-you for the thought, Ruth.

GailO said...

But I HAVE taken pictures inside a toilet stall:) It was papered with old library cards...

My favorite part of church always was the music fact, if I do return to attending church the church will be chosen on the basis of its music I am afraid.

Such a beautiful poem of praise! I will be shouting in yellow and laughing in red from now on.

hedgewitch said...

Not something we do enough, and when we do it's usually not spontaneous, but demanded, or to ingratiate or in some other way tarnished--nice to see praise as something that can make nouns into verbs and jiggle so divinely. I have nothing but praise for your exuberance here, dear Ruth.

Barb said...

Yow - what a beat! The imagery makes me sing praise.

Barb said...

PS You photographed the graffiti on a bathroom stall? You must be a poet!

Ruth said...

Robert, your ear is fantastic! Auden, yes! "Funeral Blues" at the very least is here (maybe oddly enough). Thank you!

ds, I see about the "sap running." :-) It's been so long since I thought of spirituality as being inside religion, I've almost forgotten what it's like. (But I know it's found there still, though not always.)

Ruth said...

Thanks, Valerie!

James, thank you. And I must read Simone Weil, which I have never done, except for a few quotations since your comment. I will ask you for a recommendation to start.

Ruth said...

Kathleen, and I will try to praise and not complain about jumping straight into summer.

The Broad, thank you for that, very much!

Maureen, yes, action. I must remind myself of this. I can get too cerebral.

Ruth said...

Thank you, George. It is a privilege to witness every thing and being that praises, and know it is praise, even if I don't understand it, or no longer relate to it. It is a gift of grace to feel praise every day. I think that Eckhart's quote should be up on my wall.

Ann, it is lovely to see you. You are right: hymns have been coming to my voice as lullabies to my new grandson.

Ruth said...

Shari, you never know when you will need your camera; I always have it with me. :-)

Arti, thank you for your wonderful comment, which is so attentive and insightful.

GailO (name change!), I find nothing amiss in attending a church because of the music. It makes complete sense to me. I will be looking for your yellow shouts and red laughter...!

Ruth said...

Hedge, thank you for joining the praise train!

Barb, praise the beat, and praise graffiti!

Anonymous said...

You've had so many fresh starts, in my opinion, of late, and this is another one, another fresh excursion, ar riper in exhalation than much of what I've read before (I suppose that fits stall-exclamatories, both exultation and excretion). Dickinson high on Whitman, I suppose that's the edge, both taking a hit off Blake's beer-bong when he wrote "everything that lives is holy." This is kind of a may-day dance, indecently loud and righteously endowed. Loved it. Bathroom stalls don't quite read the same over on the dudes' side. An exhilarating foray, Ruth. - Brendan

Ruth said...

Brendan, thank you for the linguistic dance of your comment. I suppose I should pay attention to the dual arrival of a grandchild and my physical maladies, which seem to have pressed open these new ecstatic breaths. And maybe the "stall" is symbolic, of the kind of pause that the physical challenges brought about.

Peter Olson said...

I who basically visit churches only for their beauty and to listen to music… appreciated a lot this poem, especially with the help of the glossary at the end… and of course the “hug the hammock” part!

(The toilet wall texts that I can read looks surprisingly decent, probably not from where "gentlemen" go?) :-)

Ginnie said...

You and I are in the same boat, so to speak, Sister. I wonder how different it would have been "back then" if our hymns had sounded like this...and to what tune would they have been sung! A Hymn of Praise. They don't come any better than this.

Ruth said...

Peter, well your graffiti on the outside of buildings in Paris is beautiful art. I don't need you to show us anything inside the stalls. :-)

Boots, our lives are praise, I think. That is what I feel, about you and Astrid.

Shaista said...

Yes I have taken a picture inside a bathroom stall - in a cafe in London :) And I am in love with your hymn - send it to schools and hospitals, get someone to paint lines from it in among the graffiti artists across the global walls.... maybe I will be that someone.

Stratoz said...

Ruth, what is different in how you wrote this poem? I am no expert on your poetry, but there seems to be much different rhythm? tone? sometimes my blessings for a day are a long list, the other night it was a single item and my time with God was complete.

Jeanie said...

I, too, avoid the church service, but the hymn is always in my heart. You have captured it with grace!

Montag said...

Wonderful... especially milk weed pods, which is an intense image and a metaphor (maybe) for the mouth blowing upon it.

And poetry should be heard, but there is a wide range of acceptability - for me at least - in how it is spoke. I remember Robert Frost doing "The Death of the Hired Man", and I recall it sounding so different from the poetry I had heard read before: it was more like a song with a strange cadence that was very alien from my experience.
There were emphases in odd places and so on, but I still loved it. It was like a strange lyric song rather than "words being read"

I just left my parents place this AM and my mother was reading an obit, which said that the deceased had a "poetic golf swing". She immediately interpreted that as meaning "a rotten golf swing" and I took issue with her.

As she read further, it turns out that he indeed played a golf game that was not the best.....

What nonsense people may write!

Margaret said...

I don't think I can add anything new here... This is wonderful. And now I have a mission" to someday take a photo of bathroom "art" and write a poem. Inspiration is truly everywhere, isn't it! :)