Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: poetry (Page 1 of 3)

If I Can Remember My Dreams

On vacation in the woods, I am trying to tune into my dreams. It’s working. I always ask my boys each morning if they had an dreams during the night, so I thought I should point that question at myself more seriously. I sleep very soundly and  rarely remember my dreams.  I lament the loss of spiritual spelunking that could be done in my unconscious storytelling.  Here are a few things that have been helping me remember my dreams:

  1. I hate to admit it, but a key to my success is not reaching for the phone first thing when I wake up. The blue light of the screen zaps my brain into another world (and usually I don’t want to be there).
  2. I’m also getting  a bit more sleep which is likely contributing. Going to bed is such a simple way to be healthy.  Don’t watch another episode of Call the Midwife or just hit replay when Hamilton is over for the fourth time (Two real life scenarios).
  3. Walking in the woods or having some other mind clearing bodily activity. Vacation is for vacating — a kind of making empty. Is my head so full of thoughts all the time that the dreams spill out instantly before they even have a chance to be recalled?
  4. Writing them down. I remember more details as I attempt to recreate and order the chaotic tide of images in which dreams come. For example, a dream on Monday night featured a steam powered garage door opener which was unremarkable in the moment (as I dreamed it), and only named as such in the written recitation.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the project. It’s in Common Meter because I recently learned that all of Emily Dickinson’s poetry can be sung to the tune of the original Pokemon theme song.  But don’t sing this one to that tune until I’m posthumously famous, k?

If I can remember my dreams

If I can remember my dreams
It seems the day is won,
Nothing more than to shape the scene
To feel the work is done.

The labor of the waking eye
To reach back into sleep,
To grope that inner world of mine
With fingers blind and deep.

There only touch and feel to tell
What lies behind the sun,
What rises under every swell
Of moon and mind begun

Together in their vivid ball,
Unseen but very known,
Each swirl a pirouette of all
My heart could want to show.

To reconstruct this darkened dance
Here on this side of night
Is stuff of vision and of trance.
I’m grateful for what sight

Remains when morning breaks the plane,
And conscious thoughts unfurl
Today with all my senses trained
To know the outer world.

 

You can listen to me read it here:

Poetry and images by Ben White

A Vast Inside-Us Sky: A Sonnet

I stayed up late a few nights ago working on a project which included taking some video footage of distant lightning. Only the faintest rumble was able to lurch across the miles to my ears. It had me wondering about the earliest observant humans who had time enough to wonder how lightning worked. Was there ever a thought with traction in ancient science that posited different sources for lightning and thunder? I didn’t look it up, but the thought seemed possible. They often correspond, but could the correlation be common coincidence and separation be the norm? It seemed conceivable. Stretching out my mind to those ancient sages wondering how things worked opened me up.

I need more space inside me these days. How about you? Doesn’t this pandemic demand more space? We are so constricted. I’m feeling so much external pressure. Maybe everything is not so determined. Maybe nothing is so certainly what it seems. May wonder bring you hope and breezy mornings where you can pray and stretch and feel. Here’s my sonnet for you today. It’s been a while!

A Vast Inside-Us Sky

The lightning and – one, two, three – the thunder.
The lightning and – wait for it – the crack!

When did ancient sages start to wonder
Whether that was sound’s shadow on light’s back?

The sound and the fury was one with the flash,
But somehow distance wrought time so immense
It severed fact from fact – light from crash –
Made space inside of oneness – undid dense,
Unquestioned wholeness, and left us more than
Seconds and miles from what passed in the sky.

Something happened in that opened door and
Mind that happens in every watching eye:

A vast inside-us sky between the bolt and peal
Stretched out wide forever from fact to fact and feel

 

You can listen to me read it here:

Poem and photograph by Ben White

A Friday Poem (and an endorsement for the Comfort Retreat)

Some context

I wrote this poem at the Comfort Retreat last year. We spent a good part of the day groping inthe spiritual dark for something to hold on to. We found it in each others hands and our own hearts. we found it in shared songs and stories. We found it in showing the tenderest parts of ourselves to the Light and expecting the healing that is promised there.

The original draft had the word “pinkening” in it. As in “turning pink” but I decided not to be so bold as Billy Shakespeare and invent another word. My first audiences, couldn’t get the context of the vision of a lake at dusk, unleashing its vapors as the temperature changed. I hope you can fit this poem into your context, and that you sign up for the Comfort Retreat on June 6, at circleofhope.net/shop. Our friends, Angie and Jordan, have ways to lead us through a morning together. We won’t be on zoom the whole time, of course. They will help us choose and create a space for time alone with return to the larger group online.

Learning What I Don’t Know
(At the Comfort Retreat)

This evening pond now pink with eyes aloft
Pours whispers up from dreams I had put down
Like days disappearing into soft, soft
Uncreased sheets of darkest blue from which sounds
Don’t come but in which presence whispers true.
Now rising endless up above the trees,
Unmaking what I see and hear and do,
And showing more than eyes and ears perceive —
A wafting more than anything. Unsaid,
Unheard and yet the truth of you and me;
Somewhere between the living and the dead,
Someone repeating sweet things on his knees
I look at more than could be rightly here,
I feel at what I love and hope and fear.

 

You can listen to me read it here

Forcing It – a Friday sonnet

My poet’s pen is a bit dried up of late. Not sure why.  This poem form last year gets at some of the feelings of trying to make something happen that isn’t happening. I like the suggested submission to the concrete shards on the urban beach most. Something about smoothed over brokenness seems to be needed right now, at least in me.

Forcing it

I threw a rotting catfish from the shore
Beneath Tacony and Palmyra Bridge
Because I didn’t want the fly and gore
Assault on my contriving hermitage —
Of rivershine views from my driftwood seat
With bright sun strobing off rippling peaks.

My pen is poised on journal page to mete
Out ev’ry chance sublimity I seek.

The rounded concrete shards, a pebble beach
Below me, listen for a word from God,
But they are better chosen for the speech –
My thoughts are gravely too, but broke for laud.

This poem cannot make the river wide,
And that flung fish will come back with the tide.

September 2019

 

 

Poem and image by Ben White

Holy Geese

Revisitation

Our breath prayer in Circle of Hope this week has been “Holy Sprit/Open our hearts.” It reminded me of this poem and reflection from a few years back.  I’ve now recorded it and added it to my soundcloud.

From 2016:

I don’t think I can tell people enough that in Celtic iconography the Holy Spirit is often represented as a wild goose. To the Celts of ancient Ireland and Scotland, Ah Geadh-Glas (Wild Goose) was a more apt description of their experience of the Holy Spirit. How caged and docile is your experience with the Holy Spirit, how unlike a dove?

I’m sure if I studied the mourning doves that come to the feeder in my back yard I could find the appropriate mystery and wildness in them too, but geese have just spoken to me more in my life.

I started my early rising prayer life at Eastern University with the Canada Geese on the pond there. I trained the ducks to eat out of my hand, but the geese would have nothing to do with me. Only the nesting mothers would allow me near them and they scared me with their violent hisses. I’ve come back to the morning geese this fall because, again, I live by a pond (though this one calls itself a lake).

The geese are there waiting for me when I rise and then I wait for them to leave the water, which they do every morning in the fall.  Watching and waiting for them to go is the most wondrous part of them. It’s the thing about them that makes them best in my opinion to tell the Holy Spirit’s story. The geese talk about leaving for a while and the interval of conversation is not always the same. At first I thought it must be the angle of the sun–they usually leave soon after the sun crests whatever treeline it rises over, but as I paid attention I could tell that it wasn’t nearly so exact.

The fun of it is I can tell when they are leaving but I’m never sure of the moment they will go. They flick their heads and grunt at each other, seemingly consulting one another about the every day revelation that it is time to fly to the best grass nearby. Scientists have studied this phenomenon and measured it. One study reported that this period of consultation lasted anywhere from nine to twenty-two minutes.

The wild goose then is a perfect symbol for the Holy Spirit because they are common enough (At least in Ireland and Scotland and Haddon Township, NJ where I live ), but they are also unpredictable and elusive. They can even bite you. Following the Holy Spirit can feel like an actual wild goose chase, yes, but if we give up trying to catch Her and instead be contented in watching and listening when She happens to be there in the morning (and who knows for how long?), we will love Her and She will shape us. And in many, many mornings She will still be wild but we may just be tamed.

Here’s a poem I wrote for Her.

Ah Geadh-Glas

O Holy Sprit, Ah Geadh-Glas,
I am familiar with your leavings,
Though uncertain of your path.

I could tire of the finding–
Leave your joy here in the grass,
But I’ll marvel at your going,
Water-walking noisy splash!

And I’ll wonder at your flying.
Flocked with kin above me, pass!
Make me happy, wild and singing,
O Holy Spirit, Ah Geadh-Glas!

 

You can listen to me read it here

Poem and image by Ben White

Turning to Before and Behind — A Friday Sonnet

Proper Labyrinth Care

On my parents’ property in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, we built a labyrinth with demarcating stones in a clearing by the gravel road that encircles the lake called Hallowood above which the house sits. I use the possessive personal generously to include myself, for I only helped a little. It was definitely a group project, even if my mom and dad were the main contributors of sweat. There is no sweat contribution needed now, but the project is ongoing. The labyrinth needs to be walked. The labyrinth needs to be prayed. The labyrinth needs to be physically tended by grass-treading feet, stone-replacing hands and stick-removing eyes. The labyrinth will be swallowed by the woods if it is not walked, prayed and tended — all of which are simply done by doing.

The added attention the walking requires in early Spring amplified my prayer as I walked it yesterday. The moss had covered a rock or two. Something had displaced or shifted several of the line stones from their guidance. It was most likely the grandchildren of the labyrinth who walked the way with me, trouncing over the lines as if it didn’t matter (It doesn’t, really; it’s the walking that matters). But it seemed that Winter might have been the culprit somehow, or maybe even emerging Spring. I crouched to uncover hidden stones, and nudged as many drifting ones back into place as I could, placing my feet between their glistening faces on the carpet of moss that was sponging up the Spring snow shower in which I walked. I crouched less often to remove the many sticks that had fallen along the path. I only stooped for the most obnoxious trespassers because there were many and my plodding progress was required for this meditation.

There was power in the walking and the making. Maintaining the physical space added a concreteness to my prayer. This is the main feature of walking a labyrinth in the first place, but it was even better to make the way for future me and future loved ones to walk it, especially for the grandchildren of the labyrinth (my children) who mostly miss what I am doing when I take this journey to the center. One day, I pray they know the power that can be met person-to-person using this walking tool along with many others. Until that day, and for that future — and toward it — in me and them, — I’ll walk it every time I’m here.

I wrote a poem from this moment. I took the photo above in anticipation of what might be said in this sonnet.

Turning Before and Behind

for Ernest Hilbert, a Philly/South Jersey boy like me

Walking the labyrinth and tending the stones,
Tossing the sticks to the side in a crouch.
A bend here, careful mossy step there,
Turning corners with my real flesh and bones —
Making way for making ways to vouch
Safe for Thee my heart. For I’ve none to spare.
Wending in, then unwinding out around —
Deeper, further; wider, nearer; then and now,
Watching step and stone, caring not to miss
A moment or a misplaced line I’ve found,
And knowing as I do it’s walking how
We make the way upon our Way. It’s this:
This wending and tending. Winding to find
In the turning You’re before and behind.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

It’s Good Friday. I wrote us a poem that’s also a prayer. Hope on a death day. Jesus was the first one, but now they are all that for those who are in Christ. One of Circle of Hope’s blogs celebrates death days of those who have gone before — Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body  . Today, April 10th, we remember Howard Thurman. Join me in this prayer, you can hear me read it below.

Tumbled Open Good Friday Prayer

Graves tumbled open the day that you died,
And darkness fell down where noon used to shine.
The temple shook and all were welcome inside.
Erased, cracked or broken you made every line,
Between death and life, between dark and light;
Between in-and-out, between right and might.

You reversed our reversals; gave us much more  —
So much more than we hoped for. What had you done?
How could we see that your death was a door?
And how can we follow where your victory’s won?
We could die even now, here as we breathe,
And then again, out beyond our own breath’s reprieve.

We will see what it’s like to live on forever,
We will know what we look like with you in our eyes;
We too will tumble and darkness will never
Bring sorrow and sadness, loud angry cries,
But not without now, not some not-here place,
No escape yet from sorrow, no exit but grace.

 

Poetry and images by Ben White

 

Swallows Show — A Saturday Sonnet

Looking out the window

Dear friends, since the Covid 19 quarantine began, I have spent a lot of time sitting at a little desk I put in my bedroom (now office). My lovely little room has windows which face the lake on which I live.  Newton Lake in spring and summer  is home to a colony of tree swallows which dart across the water in the morning and evening in dizzying patterns.  They make me feel big inside. They “make the water wide” I say in the poem below. Newton Lake is really rather small, and I feel small sometimes too — constricted on the inside; longing for wider spaces, deeper breaths. I find myself wanting more of something specific and external, and everything that is intrinsically me  all at the same time. Creating space inside ourselves for such colliding thoughts to hold their own flight patterns is crucial to the spiritual life. I hope this poem helps you feel that even slightly as much as the swallows help me to feel it.

Swallows Show

The swallows have returned to Newton Lake
To make the water wide from bank to bank
And give a show of living for your sake–
An iridescent praise, a flight of thanks,
A sweeping burst of joy made for your eyes,
For narrow squinting eyes. Now ask how do
They fly to make all those inches realize
Their depth, and the air its true thickness through
The circling swim of a dance just above
The shimmering below. Making wide, too,
Somewhere in you. Some inside dreaming of
A flight like these — so close, so quick, so you,
So far, so flung, so open with your doors,
There’s breath to breathe and sky to fly — there’s more.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

 

Alas – A Sonnet for the party we will have

Rainy Day Longing

I sat down this morning and looked out my bedroom window to the rainy water of Newton Creek and wished with all the melancholy of the gray day to be rid of this virus. “Alas” was the word for the feeling. Almost all sigh with a hint of french pity in it’s roots. The perfect word wanted more than just disappearance, the fantasy wandered to the sea and a beach party it seems. It felt good to imagine the future. In the wake of the reverie about God knows how many tomorrows from now, I had a longing feeling that landed again on “Alas.” However, giving my heart to words made me feel less alone.

Alas

Could the spring rain but wash this all away
And make a summer feast so full of love
It spills its season’s banks right into May!
And to pandemic’s fear, a jaunty shove,
Or surge of tide to float this out to sea.
Can falling rain replace the falling sky?
And dancing limbs crowd in again so free —
A swirling wash of salty sway and cry
Made loud and bright — bass, treble up to thump,
Feet, knees and necks, lips , breath and lifted hands,
All these abreast in rhythmic wave and bump.
I’d give up lots to get down with that band,
But May will not be long enough to say, “At last!”
So with mournful sigh (with those who mourn) I say, “Alas!”

 

March 28. 2020 — Image and Poem by Ben White

 

You can listen to me read it here

Poolside – a love poem to many moments and a prayer

Poolside

Heat baking up
Through terry cloth towel —
Drying me up as the sun dried me down.
And red-yellow dancers
Amorphously moved
Between the backs of my eyelids and eyes.
Seal slick hair,
Tufting up in the air
As I turned back from fish into boy.
Sometimes so hot
If I lay there too long
I’d roll right back into the pool.
It must be just right
This transforming heat —
A boy body needs fine attention.
And nothing is new
With memories so old —
I still need that warm transformation.

 

You can listen to me read it here

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