Category Archives: Poetry

Midnight Reverie

2 a.m. on the Nawarat Bridge

The city sleeps as I cross

I wonder how many people I am

 

My heart shifts like the changing lights

Glinting on the river below

One winding river with a thousand gleams

 

The night wind breathes sorrow as I pass

The grief of the world presses in

A million sorrows from a million lives.

 

How many griefs can one heart carry?

How many days does one tear live?

How many people can one person be?

 

2 a.m. on the Nawarat Bridge

The city sleeps as I cross

I wonder how many people I am.

Shoes

This past semester I took one of my favorite classes ever, Intercultural Communication. Some of the themes we studied in the first part of the semester were communication, identity, and culture; later we delved into issues such as child soldiers, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and genocide. As a part of the class, we each came up with a creative project or reflection on what we had learned, since a lot of the material was heavy and dark. Since I love poetry, I took the chance to come up with my own spoken word poetry piece and performed it. I pulled from the theme of identity that we had studied in the first half and combined it with some of the issues of the second half, using the metaphor of shoes to describe how we can empathize with the oppressed. Below is the poem that I wrote and performed as spoken word. (photo credit above: pixabay.com)

 

You can tell a lot about a person by looking at their feet.

But you can never really know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

 

My father’s boots were tall and strong

Like him

Made to stride through the mud to spread straw for cows on cold winter mornings

Or through tall prairie grasses to hunt for the stray calf lost in the wheatgrass

On sunny spring mornings when the swallow swooped over dewy meadows

 

My mother’s shoes were tiny and timid

Like her

Black and trimmed with tucked-in edges that she wore for Sunday church

Her shoes fit in with all the other women’s shoes

When lined in a row when sitting on the backless benches

Except hers couldn’t touch the floor

 

My ancestor’s shoes were rough and rugged

Like them

They trod the hill paths of Germany

Slipping through the forests silently, stealthily

Stealing through the starlight to meet in caves

By underground rivers in the dead of night to be rebaptized–

Radicals and reformers.

Their shoes took them to the courts of Zurich, preaching and persuading

And some to their deaths

To burning at stake, drowning in the Lammat River

 

My ancestor’s shoes carried them onto boats

Fleeing on boats coming across wide, wild waters

Where they became a band of bewildered immigrants

In a nation and a tongue not their own

The words they spoke became heavy on their Swiss German tongues

And their fear of facing the fires again

Closed their mouths;

The firebrands and reformers became the silent in the land

Die Stille im Land.

 

Their shoes changed from strong mountain shoes

And religious rebel shoes

To quiet and capable shoes

Plowing the land and planting corn,

Until the East became too crowded

Then they pulled on their traveling shoes,

Their plain pioneer shoes

Boarded wagons and trains and boats

And staring into the setting sun, braved the dust, and

Gritting their teeth against the drought,

They lost their children to the prairies’ grip

Grimly facing the taunts of neighbors who called them “those Germans”

When to be German was to be a Nazi

While their accents never fit in

Just like their shoes.

 

What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Some people wear ballerinas and brogues, bast shoes and brogans

Others trod in trainers, Tsarouhis, tiger head shoes, and toe shoes

Pampooties, peeptoe shoes, peranakans, peshaawaris, platform shoes, pointininis

And still others wear silver shoes, slingbacks, slip on shoes, slippers,

Sneakers, snow shoes, spool heels, stiletto heels, sailing shoes.

Moccasins and winklepickers, Mojaris and wellingtons, Mules and wedges

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Some people wear moccasins that have seen the dust of trails

And the tears of those trails where millions died while weeping and walking

A convenient quiet massacre

 

Some little girls wear red leather tarkasin on their wedding day

Feet curling with fear  while they say yes to a man three times their age

Who steals their past and their present and their future

 

Some people do not wear any shoes as they run

Panting and gasping through the jungle at night

While flames tongue the sky and gunshots pierce the silence

 

Some children wear crude heavy army boots

Whose marching beats out

Power

And plunder

And pain

And march them to destroy the ones who love them most

And themselves

 

Some children do not wear any shoes at all,

Since the explosion of the land mine that stole their father’s lives

Took their own feet as well

 

Some people took off their shoes before they stepped into the shower

The shower that stole the breaths of their shaved and shorn and shattered bodies

And all that was left was—

Shoes

 

Some babies wore tiny soft shoes, wrapped onto tiny soft feet

When under an Eastern moon their skulls were bashed against the tree

The Killing Tree, they called it

By soldiers with hearts of rubber wearing shoes of rubber tires.

Destroy them by their roots, they said.

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What kind of shoes do you wear?

What kind of shoes did your father wear?

What kind of shoes did your grandmother wear?

I want to know.

 

Can I wear your shoes?

 

I cannot wear your shoes

They were not made for me.

 

But I can wear my mother and my father’s shoes

I can wear my ancestors’ shoes

And when I wear their shoes, I can know a little bit

A little bit

Of what it means to be invisible on the margin, the edge

To be born inconveniently.

To dread the knock on the door in the middle of the night

To lie haggard and hungry on a boat adrift

To live in a land where tongues cannot curl around strange sounds

And the name carried is synonymous with enemy.

To have fathers turn upon daughters and sons turn upon mothers

To bury children under a scorching sky

In a strange land

 

Perhaps I can know,

A little bit

When I wear their shoes

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All the Words

All the words, they are a part of the story

They are the voices, the power, the offspring

Of this breaking, this piling,

This river of aching—

All the words

 

All the words, they are power in torrents

While I hunt like a bruin in a cascade tidal

They spiral in the air, but glistening slip

Through fingers there—

All the words

 

All the words, they speak life to me

That this child of rivers can face the shaken days

That I am known and filled in all the empty spaces

In all the aching places—

All the words

My Love Affair with Airports*

You and I, it’s

Complicated.

 

There’s nothing like the way I feel when I hear your voice

The way it makes my stomach quiver,

The way I love how you wrap your arms around me,

And the way I feel lost in you.

We’ve loved each other for a long time;

But…. it’s complicated.

 

I remember the first day I met you

Me, a farm girl from Kansas on her first flight, giddy, naïve, excited

When I jumped past the “authorized personnel only” sign to rescue my bag

From where it was headed into the unknown

And they shouted at me.

That’s when we first met, you and I.

Me, the farm girl with starry eyes who fell hard for you,

You–so much older than me, the one who had seen every kind of person in the world

Who had traveled to the four corners of the earth

I fell for you then, and I’ve loved you since

 

I fell in love with the way you whispered poetry in my ear

Of places you wanted to take me

Things you wanted to show me

Languages you wanted me to hear

People you wanted me to meet

And I’ve been in love ever since.

But…. it’s complicated.

 

I love the way you’re always alive and moving.

The way your heart beats late at night

When I put my ear on your chest

And listen to the sound of your dreams throbbing

The way Boeing 747’s do going down the runway.

I love the way you inspire me to dream,

To wander, to explore

To go where no one else has gone before.

I love the way I see every color in you;

And how every language under the sun

Rolls alive and rich on your tongue;

And when I hear you say the words

โปรดทราบ เครื่องของสายการบิน Air Asia เที่ยวบินที่ FD 3113

พร้อมแล้วที่จะออกเดินทางไปเชียงใหม่

ขอเรียนเชินผู่ด้วยสารทุกท่านขึ้นเครื่องได้ ณ ทางออกหมายเลกสอง

ขอบคุณค่ะ **

I thrill. No one speaks to my heart like you do.

And yet… it’s so complicated.

 

I love you, but every time I see you,

You rip me away from others I love,

Tearing like the tabs tearing from boarding passes at the gate.

You make me feel at home,

Yet you take me away from home and then tease me with memories of home in the eyes of the little blonde boy sitting in front of me at Gate 29

You bring me to places that stamp themselves onto my heart

Then you block them off from me

Like visas denied at the last minute.

You send me friends that become a part of me

Then break them away while my heart crumbles

Like the hard cookies on the flight to Shanghai.

You broaden my horizons and leave me in awe

And then collapse them  like my luggage does after I’ve unpacked everything from it

You teach me things I never knew

Then change it all up, so I’m confused and can’t find my way

As if I were lost in Suvarnabhumi all over again.

And everywhere I go with you, you always, always make me pay

In tears

That are wrenched from a heart that wonders

Why I let someone do this to me

Can you see why I love you

And why I hate you?

It’s just…. complicated

 

But you’ve seen me at my lowest, my worst,

When I’ve been awake for 24 hours,

And smell like a pair of socks that were packed dirty

And left through two missed flights

While their owner slept on the hard floor.

You’ve taken me with all my baggage and dug around in it

Found all my dirty secrets, and let me into your heart anyway.

You’ve wrapped your arms around me while I sat crying

On the row of seats waiting for AA 2828 to leave Wichita

You’ve seen me alone and lonely in the masses

Yet, I feel at home when I am with you.

 

You enraptured me in Doha, where you were so quiet I too became silent

In Shanghai you taught me the beauty of doing nothing

You forced me to drink all the water in my bottle in Seoul in 25 seconds

I spent the night with you in Chicago while the snow fell and cold seeped into my bones

In Guangzhou we fought over the price of chocolate-covered blueberries

And in Bangkok I watched you, dazzled at the hundreds of different faces of you

I’ve drunk coffee with you in Tokyo, in Dallas, in Wichita

And held hands with you in Ho Chin Minh City.

In Chiang Mai you brought hundreds of people into my life—and then took them away again.

I lost my heart to you in Kunming and in Phnom Penh and in Calcutta

And when I bussed back from Laos

Every bone in my body ached from missing you.

 

And yeah, you’ve messed up.

You’ve kept me waiting and waiting without an answer

You’ve gone back on promises, let other things come first

You turned a cold shoulder to me that night in Chicago

When I was freezing and no matter how many blankets I wrapped around myself, my heart was so cold.

I lost my trust in you when you made me pay an arm and a leg

For those dumplings in China when I was starving

And I will never forget the regret that filled my heart

In O’Hara when you took that $4 chocolate chip cookie from me

While I was distracted by you….

It still haunts me

You’re just…. complicated

 

And yet, I keep on coming back to you

Over and over again.

Even when you take people from me, people I love

I love you even when I have to pay thousands of dollars just to see you

And you keep breaking my heart over and over.

I love getting lost in your embrace,

Tasting all you have to offer

Watching the grace of your movements and the vibrancy of your color

 

I love us.

Even though…

We’re complicated.

 

*This is Slam Poetry (recycled homework again) something I did for my Advanced Oral Communications class. To listen to the performance, check out this link: my love affair with airports

**This is Thai writing meaning  this: Attention please. Air Asia Flight FD 3113 to Chiang Mai is now boarding at Gate # 2. Thank you.

 

Margins

Written upon finding my phone in a backpack pocket, smeared with chocolate that was forgotten in a deep dark corner; thereupon reflecting on my life, the lack of margin therein and the “if only’s” of life. 

And were the hours in a day

Twenty-five, not twenty-four

And in the folds of my wallet

Hidden only a dollar more

Were the workings of this intellect

Only a faster, sharper power

Then oh world! then would I rise!

Rise to soar, to conquer, to — !

 

But no, no, this life has limits

And lips that so many times

Say yes; while the hidden “no”

Breaks the dollar to be less than dimes.

The hour fails; the sharpest brain changes not

Without the training of the mind;

And the innocent phone still lies forgotten

                           Among the fruits of spaghetti brain,

                                                                          covered in chocolate.

A Year Later: My Baanies Part 2

Just recently I have been reminded of the importance of community. I am by nature not someone who gravitates toward community, but I have learned and am learning how important it is to surround yourself with trustworthy people. These ladies, the Baanies, have taught me so much. Where I fail, they make up for it. My weaknesses are their strengths, my strengths are their weaknesses. Alone we could never do what we do now. They have taught me about friendship, about sharing, about beauty, about strength, about trust. Close to a year ago I blogged a poem about my “baanies.” Click here to read it. Now it’s close to a year later and with several of them leaving, I find myself a bit nostalgic. I don’t post these poems because I think they are masterpieces in the realm of poetry– they’re not. But even if the rhythm and rhyming is stilted and simple, it embodies some of what these ladies bring to life here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

 

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs

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Judi on the left.

Judi went home, she said, “just because”

But we all really know why

There’s a guy named Mike she thinks she likes

Even though she’s back in Chiang Mai;

This Mike, we think, may be ok

But we’re keeping our eyes trained tight:

He’d better be good, and do as he should

Or we will all put him to flight.

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Kim and a Thai friend making cookies

Kim is well and busy as ever

And next week she is saying goodbye

To the tropics of Thailand for the snows of the North

For the handshake instead of the wai;

We’ll miss her heaps and all of her songs

And her passion and kindness as well,

But she’ll shine her light wherever she is

That we can surely foretell.

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Crystal on the left.

Crystal keeps life in this house refreshing

When naps in the bathroom she takes,

She likes to push others into the pool

And finds in her bike long skinny snakes;

She’s got a heart that is made of gold

(So her students would gladly say)

Coffee makes her happy (and of course us too)

She is just fun to be with all day.

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When snakes are around

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Ask Crystal if she enjoys chicken now… :/

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks,

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs.

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Melissa on the left

Melissa is as sweet and understanding as ever

And just in the weeks that passed

She bravely called a man to come kill our rats

(Even though her heart beat fast)

Her Thai is better than ever before

But she is going home in May

This makes us wonder who will clean the kitchen

And makes us sadder than we can say.

Waterfall trip_190302_0046
Nancy: second to right

Nancy has learned how to speak Thai

And she’s really good at latte art

We all like to listen when she laughs

And hers is a kind, sensitive heart

She drives a funny, yellow Fino

A lot like a bumblebee, I’d say

She zips around corners and weaves through traffic

While we hold on tight and— pray.

 

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A Lawa friend’s wedding

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs.

Waterfall trip_190302_0055
Brit on the left

Brit will be an aunt before too long

We’re all happy for her sake

She doesn’t lose her phone as much anymore

And you should see the fires she makes

She’s smart and selfless and loves little kids

And really, she’s almost Thai,

And when we think of her leaving for home

The only thing we want to do — is cry.

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Lori in her happy place

Lori’s still here and her hair is even grayer

And she’s slipped down her stairs a few times

She’s got itchy feet and she dreams of the mountains

And she still makes weird little rhymes

She’ll still be in school for another two years

And then watch out, she’ll be free

To travel away, to teach or to train,

Or be whatever God calls her to be.

ขึ้นบ้านใหม่ศักดิ์อร_180401_0006
With Thai friends from church

Oh, we live in house that leaks when it rains

And spiders have tea in the cracks

But we are the Baanies so we don’t mind

Cause we’ve got each other’s backs

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giant waterfights
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And of course, we couldn’t forget Diego

I Dream of Spring

I dream of spring with shafts of light

Shot through clouds with hope-giving sight;

I walk the freeze of January’s night,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with pale, pink flowers

Lilacs awakened in their scented bowers;

I listen to the shrieking of winter’s powers,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with greening fields

Red suns dying over promised yields;

I trudge through passions that January wields,

But I dream of spring….

 

I dream of spring with blades of grass,

Meadow-sweet winds that through it pass;

I embrace the pain of winter’s blast,

But I dream of spring….

-January 2013

 

I must give an explanation for this poem, since right now I am in no place where I wish the winter were over. Here, our winter consists of cool nights and sunny days, and even though the houses do get chilly because of tile floors and no heat when it hits the 50s, I hate to see every bit of winter leave as February rolls around. 

I came across this poem tonight in some of the ones I had filed away and it brought back so many memories, that I felt like I had to print it, and I realized that many of my readers might be able to resonate. 

The background behind this poem is what makes it such a special one for me. In the spring of 2012, just after a difficult, weary winter in which I was teaching school, I needed to go to school to print off some things one Saturday evening in May, just before the term ended. The sun was setting in the west over a greening wheat field. Spring was glorious that year and the rains we had gotten greened and grew the wheat fields more than normal. I remember standing there, worshiping, watching the sunset over the wheat, and feeling the stress and tension of the past year slipping from my shoulders. My throat still gets a lump when I think of the way that God healed me and grew me that summer, even though it was a painful one in some ways. 

The next winter of 2013 found me again teaching school. It was another challenging year and my mind and heart often went back to that moment I so clearly remember of standing out behind the school, looking over Paul Nisly’s wheat field, watching the sunset and the green and the glory all together. I longed to go back to that point, not just because of the spring, but because of the feeling of having passed one of the most challenging years of my life. January and February 2013 weren’t easy months either, and spring came late that year. I wrote this poem in January of 2013 and even though it is a simple one, for me it always brings back those colors and feelings vividly. 

That is why I am posting about longing for spring from a tropical country. 🙂