Category Archives: Awe and wonder

Along the Shining Sea and other poems, by Clarissa Jakobsons

 

 

 

 

Along the Shining Sea

Cumulus pockets of abandon hover

over waves. High tide churns seaweed tufts

close to my chair and feet. I sit on stones

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listen to the ocean breathe, watching a seal

drift past. Low flying, double-breasted

cormorants head toward the dilapidated

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pier where several posts remain.

My Canadian friends left this morning, packed

their van by 8 am, kids strapped to back seats

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with stuffed sharks and 120 plastic critters in a box.

Four-cormorants drift, open mouths anticipating

a free meal. I miss my new little friends,

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6-year-old Clare and 8-year-old Eliza.

Last night, free hugs and kisses filled old bodies

with warmth. Clare called me the pretty one,

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Grandma watched, thankful for her first embrace.

Live well, my lovelies. Catch the sails and check-out

the horseshoe crabs on shore. Sleep safe

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tucked in clouds. Listen to the waves at your feet.

You don’t have to touch bottom when you swim,

just kick,

kick, and kick.

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Listen to the Great Emptiness

Can you hear the tide turn its head at Sippewissett

Two ocean sunsets lost

forever chased by Hurricane Earl.

The geese are not crying.

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Falmouth shoppers scurry shopping carts

instead of the sea. I flee Buzzards Bay, Bourne.

Along Route 86 and 17, the Southern Tier Expressway

past Albany, Binghamton, Corning, New York.

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In a far field, cows and horses cast shade

and Angus nestle like crows.

Evening Primrose opens a window,

a promise. Water

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lilies tighten under darkening sky

cold rains dampen feet.

Curled hay, bundled and tied,

full streams ahead.

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Suddenly, Lake Erie appears

as an ocean cradling its own light.

My fingers loosen grip, a seashell falls—

Home.

Originally published in The Tower Magazine, UK

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Somewhere Between Heaven and the Heron 

The call of the running tide is clear,
a wild call that cannot be denied
—John Mansfield

There’s something to be said

about the wind waving in the ocean

rinsing shells that nag the traveler

upset by cell phones wailing,

sea gulls screeching, or men

shearing leaves at dawn.

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Quartz sand blows across his face,

the slight sting reminds of breath

where sea salt drips to nourish sand,

black-eyed Susans, sea oats,

and a few Palmetto palms.

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Somewhere between heaven

and the heron there is a song.

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Eternity Meets the World’s Beginning

He departs as swift as his arrival, our minutes a fond memory. A gift. Return tomorrow, egret, I’ll serve a fresh plate of beef Wellington next to the shells. We’ll speak of the past, herald desires to the sky and wink with a smile.

Like a poem, his plumage flows in wind, spiral tufts crowning head. Toes stretch into still-wings. I wrestle the urge to stroke his down, hunted years past almost to extinction for feathery hats. Today, we share this space, this air. This pure-white charmer preens like a tightrope walker balancing on a toothpick. Bright yellow-basket feet, one tucks suspended from sight. His head nestles into the soft pillow of his back, ever-present, watching every move.

I sneak Mother-May-I steps into hotel room for a Canon camera. He inches toward the door concentric eyes zoom onto a plate of empty shells cleansed of salt drying in never-fading brilliance. Quickly, I close the door and snap 100 snowy egret photos.

Within a wink the white moon perches on the rail overlooking beach gulf sand where eternity meets the world’s beginning.

I am.

The Gulf Between Us

His plumage wades through black seas:
tufted crown still wings, toothpick legs
glaze mordant red. His beak stabs my gut.

I turn off the news.

Creatures great and small
covered in the doom and sludge
of sleep. He swallows
tar balls thinking food.

—Clarissa Jakobsons, Aurora, Ohio, teaches art and writing courses at a local community college. Her art has been exhibited widely. Recently she enjoyed a Fine Arts Work Center artist residency and is working on a book of poems. Visiting Cape Cod during her college years instilled in Jakobsons a love for the ocean though without her quite knowing why it felt like home. When her daughters visited Lithuania of her childhood and sent photos of the Baltic dunes, she immediately understood the connection—the sea harbors a special place in her DNA; it is why she curls toes in the sand.

Shot Through with Holiness

HolinessKCPost-MAKAs I headed for retreat in Arizona’s Verde Valley, words of Eastern Mennonite Seminary colleague Linda Alley, insights honed as spiritual director, still rang: “I imagine it as a pilgrimage—the journey itself will teach you and not necessarily the destination. And . . . as every pilgrim comes back changed and brings gifts . . . , you will also. . . . I wish for you many holy moments.”

What happened? Three factors stand out:

First, during retreat, around when the Washington Post (Paul Schwartzman, March 6, 2016) said psychologists and massage therapists report client panic over apocalyptic election scenarios, a loved one called to process such anxiety. What, we pondered, is our hope if this really happens?

Montezuma Well provided one complex response. A spring has long fed this near-lake. Its waters probably originally fell on the Mogollon Ridge far above and miles away 10,000 years ago. Eventually the Well drew people, their cliff houses dating back a thousand years still visible in the rim. The water exits into a channel built perhaps by the Hohokam, who irrigated 60 acres of crops. The National Forest Service says that “For many cultures, Montezuma Well is . . . sacred. . . . a place of power, not to be visited lightly. . . .”

Almost forever, as known human history goes, that spring has fed that well. Now there I was, drawing hope from being alive in this moment, grateful to learn from prior journeyers. Complicating hope was that the cliff houses are empty. The Europeans who eventually arrived didn’t totally destroy the beauty and bounty, but local mesquite trees adapted to almost no rain are threatened as humans lower the water table.

Any hope for our own future will need to thread through the possibility that our culture is already shaping the ruins future civilizations will visit.

From Arizona I traveled into a second factor, politics juxtaposed with the convention of the National Council for Behavioral Health, Joan’s employer. I attended awards evening just as primary election results arrived. Often winning: being biggest, baddest, boldest; urging torture, war crimes, racism, xenophobia.

Although Christian language wasn’t explicit, awards in contrast celebrated serving, in effect, “the least of these,” those facing mental and behavioral challenges.

The climactic award went to a sheriff who talked down from suicide persons preparing to leap from the bridge he monitored. Though that was heroic enough, a standing ovation supported his naming his own depression and his walk with a suicide-tempted son.

Then in a few final Verde Valley hours, I showed Joan my places of pilgrimage. At Sycamore Community Park, she reacted as I had. Through a sometimes worn and dusty town (near tourist-ridden Sedona but entirely different) runs Beaver Creek, lined by ordinary houses, running under an ordinary bridge. Yet it carries the outflow of Montezuma Well. So in its ordinariness Beaver Creek bears millennia of hopes dashed and raised, cultures vanishing and rising.

Sycamore Creek Park
Beaver Creek, Arizona

“But it’s like the Branch,” Joan said.

Branch Creek, Pennsylvania
Branch Creek, Pennsylvania

Precisely. Creeks transposed and viewed from certain angles, only details would have told us which was which. Two-fold holiness: first, this site offered our souls a path into the holy. Second, it reminded that in our own ordinary lives there is, a quick walk from home, holiness as well.

The world does seem to teeter near apocalypse. We don’t know how much will die before resurrection. But I’m grateful for what Linda helped me see along the way.

Michael A. King is dean at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and a vice-president at Eastern Mennonite University; columnist, “Unseen Hands,” for Mennonite World Review which first published this post blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC.

 

PawPaw, Rockets Whoosh

Apollo11KCPost-MAK“PawPaw,” he excitedly reported, “rockets go up in the air, whoosh!”

The image took me back, instantly, to when I was 14 and for six months lived for almost nothing but waiting for Apollo 11 to take off and turn the type of whooshing-rockets science fiction I loved into reality. If Apollo 11 managed to make it to the moon, who knew, maybe someday we’d arrive on Mars and learn that the haunting stories Ray Bradbury told in The Martian Chronicles were more history than fiction.

“Did you know, Kadyn,” I asked, “that a long long time ago rockets took off and landed on the moon?”

His eyes widened. “They went up, whoosh, to the MOON?”

“Yes, can you believe it? You know what? There are videos of it. Do you want to see one? We could Google it.”

“Yes, yes! Mom, Mom, PawPaw and I are going to watch videos of rockets going to the moon.”

So we Googled Apollo 11 blast-off videos. Of course there they were, link after link. We clicked. YouTube came up. A rocket was sitting there on the screen in the blue day, wisps of smoke puffing out every now and then.

Kadyn was transfixed. “Is it going to go up?”

He had just been singing a nursery song the day before that included “5-4-3-2-1 blastoff.”

“Yes,” I reported, “see those numbers on the screen? They’re counting down to blastoff, and when you hear them get to 5-4-3-2-1, up it will go.”

5-4-3-2-1 goes the count. A great cloud of fire, burning yellow and white and orange and who knows how many colors, surges around the rocket. For a while it just sits there, fire raging and raging.

Apollo11LiftoffCloseUp

Then slowly slowly, startlingly slowly given the fury of the flames, story upon story of that Saturn V rocket crawl up past the holding arms.

Apollo11ClearingTowerCropped

We watch  until the rocket is too far up to see except for the faint contrail.

Then the YouTube screen switches. We’re circling the moon. “Is that the moon, PawPaw? Did the rocket go all the way to the moon?”

We watch and watch. We see the moon lander detach from the moon orbiter. We see Neal Armstrong’s eyes, startlingly steady as they gaze at his flight instruments. We watch the moon’s surface grow closer and closer as Mission Control, down on Earth, monitors the countdown. We watch as the camera steadies. The Eagle has landed.

I found it hard not to shed tears, which I didn’t want to do, given that it would trigger “PawPaw, why are you crying?” and what in the world would I say to that?

I’m still not fully sure why the urge. Maybe because just like that I felt 14 again, before all that was to come, wonders and terrors, had befallen me and the planet. Maybe because it still stuns me that when I was a boy science fiction always primed us to expect more and then yet more. In 1969 we could only imagine what unbelievable things would be happening by 2016. Maybe not spaceships to the stars yet, but surely a colony on the moon? Some people on Mars at least long enough to lay a copy of The Martian Chronicles on the red sand like Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left earth equipment on the moon as Michael Collins waited above for them?

But no. When Kadyn and I watched the Eagle pop back up from the moon to return to Collins, it felt almost more like science fiction than when it first happened. So did it as the cameras panned over people of all races and nations and colors, all over the planet, gazing spellbound at TV screens. How did we do that? How did we manage to be unable now to do it again?

So maybe the tears were about the fading of some dreams. But maybe also about a few more things.

For one, even as Apollo 11 blasted off, people understandably wondered if this was the right way to spend the countless dollars and energies it had taken in a world so awash with deprivation and misery for so many. Barely more than months before, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. had been killed. Race riots blazed across U.S. cities and napalm burned the flesh off those we considered our enemies in Vietnam.

Maybe the tears were partly awe that, so many decades later, the world could still produce grandchildren.

Above all, I suspect they were caused by the gift of being able to witness the fresh wonder of a child gazing at images that thrilled his budding mind and spirit. As so much unravels today, his face fixed spellbound on the screen made me pray that, though I’ll be long gone, half a century from now he’ll be in my role. He too, I dream, will share with a grandchild what happened, oh so amazingly, back when he was a boy and the world was in such trouble yet look, yes, here we still are—and can you believe it, this really did happen. Let’s watch!

Michael A. King is dean at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and a vice-president at Eastern Mennonite University; Mennonite World Review “Unseen Hands” columnist; blogger and editor, Kingsview & Co; and publisher, Cascadia Publishing House LLC.