Psyche

And even if dawn be not ours to embrace

The glow of the east not for this abject face

Whatever surpasses in this twilit place

I want them to know

And I hope that they say

That we were the ones who sang through the fight

Who danced for the moon

And drank the stars’ light

We were never the type to drown in the plight

We were the children who lassoed the night.

 

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spark of hope

hope

every now and then and you’ll find yourself in the dark

whether it’s a flicker or a long-term night

and you’ll wonder

how moments ago you tended the sea’s beacon

and today you’re fumbling for a switch

and you’ll think

that you ought to try to keep lighting the sea

even when your fuel is gone

and you’ll hide it and pretend

that it’s all okay

because if it weren’t for you

the sea would sink into inky black

but harsh and true

you’re not the only one with kerosene

or a spark

and someone else can ignite the way

and it’s a hard lesson sometimes

that to best help you need to accept it too

and worse yet

that light won’t always come

from the source you expected

by the hands you expected

at the time you expected

but darling it’s still light

despite the size

despite the carrier

despite the timing

and if you ignore the candle to wait for the lamp

it may not come

for some things start small

but the faintest flicker is enough

to glimpse the foot of the stairs

leading up to the beacon

and you’ll find your way

through the smallest of sparks

if you take the time to notice

and when you reach the top

because i know you will

and light the sea once more

and remember the tiny candle at the bottom

of the long staircase

the ships many miles away

you’ve been trying your life to reach

will no longer seem

quite so far off

 

inspired by a trip to Split Rock Lighthouse, MN.

The Golden Way: A poem

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

The Golden Way

 

 

Come and walk with me, I said

I’ll show you a new road

A path of clear and glittering thread

To take you where you’ll go

The Golden Way it’s called, and I’m sure you’ll love it too

On it you can walk your life

So come and join the

Queue

 

This path is one the many take

And its ways are proven true

With safety, caution signs and maps

There is no better view

These airbags are for breathing

This seatbelt for the dance

So come and join us straightaway

Without a backward

Glance

 

On the Golden Way you never ask

You just walk and don’t look down

We mapped it out before your time

No need to look around

The road this way is smooth and bright

Wide and straight on through

No need to watch the steps you take

Just the ones ahead of

You

 

No more winding trails of wood

Too dark and grim to bear

You can’t see past the thick of trees

What if you never get there?

Or trip while stepping on a rock

Or fall and scrape your knee

Too many risks that you could take

What’s life without

Guarantees?

 

That’s why the Golden Way is here

To save you from that stress

If you walk the path that many take

It’s bound to be the best

So enjoy the road of silver and place your feet on gold

And never think again about the former dreams you’ve

Sold

 

There’s just one risk upon this path,

I’ll tell you it in full

That leaving it will bring all hell

And wreck your very soul

I’ve seen people who have left

They’ve gone and scraped their knees

They say the woods are prettier

But they’re blinded by them, please

For who would want to venture out

And make their own new path?

If they’re smart they’ll stay right where they are

And never again

Ask

 

This path is one the many take

And its ways are proven true

That if you whittle yourself down enough

There’s nothing left of you

Who wants to stand out from the crowd

A target for our knives

Or follow dreams you once possessed

Away from prying

Eyes

 

Yes, the Golden Way is cold

The metal makes it frigid

But in time your feet will numb

And you’ll be glad that it existed

For cold feet cannot bear

The twists and turns of life

The forest is our greatest fear

With all its unknown strife

So walk this path a while, and soon enough you’ll stay

It becomes your only option when you know no other

Way

 

R. Poynter

December 2016

Winter’s Hands

Mending the frost by building a fire

Hauling another storm’s snow

Wrapping the littles in bundles of coat

Keeping the bite from their toes

 

Hauling up boxes, unraveling lights

Wrestling a tree into place

Baking and buying the gift that’s just right

Extending new patience and grace

 

Ringing bells and giving well

Offering a shopper a hand

Tying a blanket for the kid who has none

And holding a door when you can

 

Stopping and pulling and making a call

For the stranger who’s gone off the road

Small town life, you give and you take

We’re all for sharing the load

 

Summers we drive and autumns we thrive

In colors and smells and in sounds

Springtime we bask and soak in the light

And dance in the new warmth we’ve found

 

But winter we give, and winter we show

The love that we often forget

It’s not the dark and it’s not the cold

But what we do in the face of it

Remembering Paris, A Year Later

3 a.m., November 14, 2015. A suburb of Paris.

A piercing sound jolts me awake. It’s dark, and too early for an alarm. What is that sound? Groping around in the dark with 3 a.m. cognitive capacity, I finally find Stephen’s wailing phone. “What the…”

A device locator alarm has been activated. Turning it off, I find our phones flooded with notifications of every kind: voicemails, messages, emails. All of them ask if we are okay, if we are alive. This is unexpected. If we are okay? A knot begins to form in my stomach. I open the BBC news homepage, and there the horrible truth of what had happened comes hurtling at me. The darkness is overwhelming. “Can you turn on the light?”

A light comes on, and my eyes ache. I explain to Stephen that a terrorist attack had happened in Paris, the very city we were visiting. I send a hasty reassurance to everyone who had messaged me, mind whirring and heart pounding as I try and fail to make sense of it all. An attack? How could this happen? How did it happen? How bad was it? I read and re-read the early reports but they have little details. A message comes in from my brother, saying that he had used my Google account to set off my phone’s alarm. I set the phone down again.

My heart continues to sprint and the knot in my stomach tightens. I hear a faint sound downstairs and jump violently. The shadows of the tree branches outside give me goosebumps. We should turn the light off again to try to sleep, but I don’t want to. Maybe we’ll just sleep with it on.

4 a.m.

“Are you still awake?”

Sleeping is futile. How can one calm the mind enough to rest at such a time?

I keep thinking of the dissonance between the news we received and how ordinary life had been that day. How could a day so normal bring about a night so tragic? I had sat outside a sunny café in the very neighborhoods where the tragedy would later happen, drinking coffee without a care in the world. The Christmas market had been so bright, so lighthearted. I had bought a fuzzy scarf. I watched a young bride and groom get pictures by a fountain. The Eiffel tower sparkled in joy. How was it possible for all of that to happen so freely and then be shattered so suddenly only a few hours later? It doesn’t make sense, I can’t make it make sense.

I turn over, unable to wrestle with the complicated, repulsive feelings welling up inside of me. The light comes on. We read Narnia until the early hours of dawn. I fall asleep breathing thanks that we had been tired and took the early train back home.

12 p.m.

Heartbroken faces, dismayed thoughts, comforting gestures.

Our host family shares the sadness with us. The house fills as friends and family members come from Paris to stay in this safe, quiet suburb. A radio offers a constant stream of updates. At least 100 people have been killed, maybe more. The borders are closed, and we are not to go into the city. Our host makes brunch.

Upstairs, I watch the neighbors from our room’s window. An older gentleman works at taking a French flag out of a bag. A neighbor bikes by. They chat a little, and then together raise the flag by the side of the house.

4 p.m.

We get a message from the next host we are planning to stay with in Versailles. He writes that we are welcome at any time we need to come, and that he won’t let such acts of hate ruin his family’s love and hospitality. Later we will learn that one of his coworkers survived the Bataclan, despite being shot in the forearm.

Monday, November 16

We go back into the Paris city center. In the spirit of our future host, we won’t let the hateful actions of a few ruin our few days here with fear.

Guards are everywhere, and the sky is gray. We watch a group of police question a man sitting in a park. Slowly we meander to the Eiffel Tower. It is closed, but we stroll around the park area and have a picnic of bread, cheese, and cold clementines. It’s too quiet for such a world-famous landmark as this, but we eat our lunch in gratitude for the simple fact that we are able to do so.

We are finishing our snacks when a strange sight catches our eye. Across the green two men in suits and ties stand around a strange contraption. Part of it is certainly a bike. The other part looks like a trailer hitch connected to a beat-up grand piano and bench. What?

I watch as one of the men gets on the bike and starts pedaling. The piano and bench follow. We start laughing. “Let’s get a picture!” We get up and follow to document this bizarre sight. As we walk, the cyclist slows to a stop and the other man takes a seat on the bench. They begin to take off again. We follow, and the pianist commences the steady, thoughtful chords of John Lennon’s Imagine.

We’re no longer laughing. As the music begins to fill the park, people look up from their conversations and lunches. Smiles, but not of amusement, begin to grow on downcast faces. I don’t know whether to smile or cry. They continue to travel and play under the gray skies. Imagine all the people living life in peace…

The song ends, and we stand in reverence at their…hope? resilience? love? It doesn’t matter the term. Whatever it was it was moving, powerful. They had the healing gift of music and were sharing it in the city where it was most needed.

As they roll away they begin another song. I watch them as they leave the park, moving peacefully onward to share Let It Be with the next block.

Oxford: A Love Story

For our First Anniversary

My time in the British Isles was drawing to a close. At the dawn of my summer adventure two years ago, when I stepped onto the streets of Dublin full of hope and curiosity, it felt as if I was on the brink of an endless summer. The possibilities knew no limits, and my time there seemed as far-reaching as the Atlantic horizon. But the days passed as they always do, and I found myself strolling the stately streets of Oxford come mid-August, watching the sun set on my last two nights in the UK.

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Oxford was a place I had long wanted to visit. It was the home of some of the greatest writers and most beautiful colleges, and thus a fitting location to spend a few relaxed days between leaving Scotland and travelling to France. It was a time to slow down and process what life in Stirling had meant to me and how it had changed me. And for me, the backdrop of history, bookshops, and lush green meadows seemed the perfect place to unwind and do just those things.

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But while I was in that classic city and wandered the winding streets and manicured courtyards, I found I no longer felt completely alone to think about my travels like I had before. In fact, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about someone across the ocean whom I had not seen in nearly three months, yet someone who was one of the most important parts of that entire summer. This person would be Stephen, my amazing friend who is now my husband of almost a year.

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For me, our story had its beginnings in the spring of 2014. Though we had known each other for almost two years, we were little more than distant friends until registration for the Eau Claire Marathon opened that year. A number of our friends signed up for the half marathon, Stephen and I included, and we began to meet at my house on Oxford Avenue a few times a week to run together. Over the months of training we grew from being distant friends to close friends. I was struck by our conversations and how Stephen cared so much for everyone in our group. When I had laryngitis the day of the race, he stuck by me to make sure I was alright. It was then that I began to see the how much he truly cared about me, and in turn came to realize how I cared about him too. It was an exciting time, though for me it was tinged with the knowledge that I would soon be leaving for Scotland. With our growing friendship at such a fragile stage I didn’t know whether it would survive three months of being apart or look remotely the same when I returned. I was becoming more disappointed at the thought of having to leave at such a time when Stephen asked if he could write to me while I was abroad, and all of those worries disappeared.

IMG_9901o

His first letter came the night before I departed on a weekend trip to the Highlands. It was the most beautiful piece of writing I had seen. I read the letter countless times and hiked with it in my backpack all over Glencoe. I memorized some of the passages. There didn’t seem to be any way I could create something half so good, but I crafted my return letter on the bus ride back, polished it up in my favorite coffee shop in Stirling, and sent it off with the hope that he would like it. My letter arrived in Eau Claire about a week later, and thus began the days of our correspondence.

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It was a beautiful time, a tender time. It was the days of waiting every day for a letter, walking along the loch thinking of what to write, and hoping desperately that each envelope that I had sent would make its way safely to Wisconsin. It was a time of learning and growing. I’ve been asked if it’s difficult to start a relationship long-distance like that. For us, the beginning our story was fitting for who we are. Things moved forward slowly over those first three months, giving each of us plenty of time to think and pray. Our writing letters allowed us to express who we were more deeply and more thoughtfully than typical first-date small talk, and through writing we formed a real substance to our relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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But despite the wonderful way our relationship was beginning, my mind kept returning to all of the unknowns. It’s a vulnerable thing to allow yourself to fall in love. There aren’t any guarantees. There’s no roadmap or guidebook. You can try to make it as safe as possible, but when you choose to become close to someone you always run the risk of being hurt.  I thought of these things as I entered Christ Church Cathedral for evensong. A small group of us were escorted inside and given hymnals, and I held mine tightly and looked up at the stained glass windows many feet above us. I was fully aware that in just a few weeks’ time I would be back in America again. I knew that part of me wanted to take courage and let this friendship grow, but another part of me wanted some sort of supernatural, lightning-strike moment of assurance that this was the right thing to do before I advanced any further.

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Of course, there was no such moment. But while I was in that service in Oxford, something changed. A passage that we had each sent to each other that summer made another appearance: My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord (Is. 55:8). And the third time it finally sunk in. All of the things I was perceiving as unknown or daunting weren’t so for God. Everything I felt was too much for me to figure out wasn’t for Him. I didn’t have to see the whole future before taking the first step. I was free. I felt a quiet peace and trust that was more powerful than any lightning strike could have been, and the assurance that despite any problems that I perceived, loving my best friend was, and would always be, worth it.

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And so I walked out into the golden meadow of Christ Church Cathedral and found a quiet perch beside a brook. My smile was too much to contain, my heart overjoyed. And I took out my little notebook and jotted down how I hoped that Stephen would be able to visit this wonderful place some time, and how I hoped I could be there with him whenever he did.

A year later, nearly to the day, Stephen and I arrived at the Oxford train station. The city looked exactly the same, felt the same. For all I knew it could have been only two days that I was away. Except that this time, the man that I had fallen in love with in Oxford and had decided to love was with me, and we couldn’t have picked a better place to begin our marriage.

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Death of an Oak

The following is a short story I wrote  in 2014 for one of my classes in Scotland. Partial credit is to be given to the tree across the street from our old house on Oxford Avenue.

 

Robert stood at the edge of the weathered porch and squinted at the large oak tree in the barren field. One wrinkled hand was clutched around a mug of black coffee, the other raised to block the noon sun from his eyes. Iowa wasn’t meant for trees. Corn, soybeans, and wind turbines, maybe, but not trees. They protruded awkwardly from the clean landscape like clumps of hair that stuck out oddly in the morning. They blocked the wide sky and took gashes out of the horizon. A sorry sight indeed.

‘You sure you want it gone? It’s been there over a hundred years.’

‘A hundred years of trouble. I want it gone.’

Matthew stood on the ground, a respectable distance away from Robert’s perch. The neighbor kid was clad in his usual grass-stained jeans and cutoff shirt that exposed his deeply tanned shoulders. He looked out at the tree, fidgeting uncomfortably with the brim of his Hawkeyes hat.

‘Jake and I have the equipment with us, so we can go ahead and do it if you really want to.’ He paused before adding offhandedly, ‘You took your corn in early.’

‘Course I did. It was dead without the rain.’ Robert sniffed. ‘Drought can’t take the tree, of course. Just the corn.’ He took a swig of coffee and wrinkled his nose. Too strong.

‘Nah, the tree’s as green as ever. You know, I don’t usually cut down living trees.’

‘You’ll be cutting down this one. I refuse to plow, plant, and harvest around it any more. I’m sick of seeing it every time I look outside. Who plants a tree in the middle of a goddamned field anyway?’

‘You don’t think it’s kinda nice?’ Matthew asked, ‘Everyone else does.’ He took an automatic glance over his shoulder at the field’s centerpiece. The oak was tall and strong, great lithe arms stretched over the dirt like a protective older sibling. Its leaves rattled as the boughs swayed in the dry breeze.

Robert grunted. ‘It sucks up all the water in the field. Kills the crops.’

Matthew put his hands on the hips of his Levis and chuckled. ‘Aw, Robert, you know it don’t work like that.’

‘What does it matter?’

‘It’s healthy.’

‘It bothers me.’

‘Luke and Josh will miss it, won’t they?’ Matthew grinned an irritating smirk.

Robert slammed his mug on the porch railing. Rejected coffee sloshed onto the whitewashed plank in a black wave. ‘Look, I’ve made up my mind. I want that blasted tree gone! And if you won’t help me, I’ll find someone who will!’

A disappointed shadow crossed Matthew’s face. He looked to where Jake sat in the Vermeer. His buddy nodded and started up the tractor’s engine.

‘We’ll get it done, sir,’ Matthew said, tipping his cap cordially.

Robert nodded and watched Matthew’s sunburned neck retreat as he loped back to the maroon Chevy. The engine kicked over twice before rumbling to life, and the ornery pickup lead the funeral march to the field. The two drove into the sea of brown, stirring up an entourage of dust. They parked their vehicles just outside of the oak’s generous shade.

Robert coughed violently. Traces of winter’s pneumonia tightened his chest. He watched the two men as they jumped to the ground and began to unload the bed of the truck. Glints of metal shone in the sun. The tree stood still, the laughing of the leaves quieted. The boys circled the tree, sizing up their opponent. Traces of their conversation drifted to the porch.

Behind Robert, the house was silent. Brenda had left with Luke and Josh only an hour ago, and the silence in their wake crashed upon him. There was actually enough space to think once more. He had made the mistake earlier of telling Brenda his plans for the afternoon. She flipped French toast as she listened to his plans for the oak, and he watched her expression go from surprise to anger before settling somewhere between disgust and disappointment. Assuming Luke was contentedly reading his book at the table, Robert went on with his long list of grievances the tree had given him, until finally he could take no more of his daughter’s frustration.

‘The smell’s getting to me,’ he murmured, nodding at the griddle before shuffling out to the porch and the almost barren sanctuary.

The screen door had slammed and Luke came bounding out. His round, deep eyes stared at him. ‘Why are you chopping down the tree?’ His simplicity was enviable.

‘Because.’

‘Because why?’

‘Because I want it gone.’

‘Why?’

Robert squinted and clenched his jaw. ‘Because it won’t die.’

‘Oh.’ Satisfied, Luke had skipped back to where he had come from.

But now they were gone, and Robert was glad to be alone. He had nothing to distract him from watching the boys prepare the chainsaw. They turned it on. His pulse quickened. The whirring scream cut through the air. Closer, closer they got. The saw wailed and then dropped in pitch at as its teeth sank into flesh. A plume of sparrows erupted from the tree, screeching as they flew into the September sky. Yes.

Matthew and Jake began to fell the tree, and Robert stared. Why hadn’t he thought to do this earlier? Cutting it down the oak would make everything easier. Much easier.

He thought of Matthew’s resistance and snorted. The way Matthew was talking to him, like he would miss the thing, was ridiculous. Who had feelings for a tree? He didn’t. Sure, it charmed him in his younger days, but those days were long gone. He remembered, like from another lifetime, sprinting out to the oak and climbing the rope that dangled from the best limb. If he got enough momentum he could swing and launch himself out, flying through the dusty air and trying for a perfect landing. He could still see the pursed lips of his mother at the fresh masterpiece of stains that bloomed on his shirt. He would look up at her sheepishly, the tree visible in the distance over her left shoulder. She was gone now. The tree was still there.

He remembered the time that Brenda thought she had discovered a fairy kingdom living in the oak’s branches. The floating yellow lights that blinked in the late June evenings had dazzled them all. But it was her wonder that he had loved, not the tree. It was the wonder that had dissipated, but the tree he had to stare in the face each and every day. He couldn’t escape it. How did it keep living? What was its secret? He shook his head. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t care. He hated it.

A shout came from the field. Matthew and Jake rebounded from the oak like polarized magnets. There was a sway and then a crack. The top of the oak teetered, and then it fell to the earth with a crash that shook the porch. A giant hole of blank sky was left in its place. Victory.

‘All done!’ Matthew bellowed.

Robert nodded and attempted a smile that they couldn’t see. The tree lay sprawled across the field, its once glorious body dead and humiliated in the dirt. Robert picked up the sticky coffee mug from the railing, then turned and took heavy steps back into the dead house. It was finished.

 

 

The sun had sunk deep below the horizon, the heat of the day faded into cool twilight, and Matthew was still working on the tree. He and Jake had removed the branches one by one and chopped up the trunk. Each load they brought away to the farm to use for lumber and firewood. At least they could get some use out of it.

Matthew lifted his hat and wiped a layer of sweat from his brow. Jake had gone home an hour ago to milk the cows, but he didn’t mind staying on. The wide sky was streaked with crimson over the darkening field; Robert’s house had been dark for a while. It was kind of peaceful out there, he supposed, and he wasn’t in a rush to go home. No, it was more than that; he felt he couldn’t leave the tree, that it was somehow wrong. Soon though, he knew the light would fade and that it was little use to continue laboring in the dark.

Matthew stooped down to pick up another pile of debris and heave it into the back of the Chevy. There was a lot more to do, too much for one day. His stomach gave an impatient rumble. They’d finish the rest the next day.

Matthew brushed the dirt from his callused hands and made to go back to the truck. No. One more load. He stooped to grab another bundle of branches, and when he did something in the dirt caught his eye. He’d been moving wood and leaves all day, so why did he notice this? He crouched down and cleared away the old oak residue. There, sprouting innocently from the dirt, was a small oak seedling, fragile and green among all the rubble.

Matthew glanced up at the dark house and looked down at the baby tree. He smiled. Then laughed. And, taking a big stick, he sunk it into the earth to mark the seedling. Then he stood, adjusted his Hawkeyes hat, and climbed into the cab of the Chevy. The old truck rumbled to life and he drove off in a trail of dust that clouded the wide Iowa field and settled onto the place where the oak might have died.