Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Short Poem and a Long Explanation

The Background

Back when I was in high school and college, I wrote a few poems. I thought of myself as the smart brainy type, not the creative artistic type.1  But I had a couple of friends who clearly WERE the creative artistic type, and they somehow gave me the idea that I might be able to write poetry. So I tried it. And I even enjoyed the results.

When I tried showing my poems to other people, though, I pretty universally got the question, "What does it mean?" This was one of my first encounters with the notion that other people do not, inexplicably, live inside my head and understand everything I think.2 I don't remember much about my poems anymore, except a few images - floating around as the invisible observer 3, something being trapped in elastic polymer foam (written while majoring in materials engineering!), the smell of snow. For the most part, they are full of youthful angst, and don't hold so much interest for me as they once did.

But then there's this poem.

This is the poem that I think of as "the" poem.  The one I can recite by heart. The poem that's so deeply personal, I've been too scared to actually show it to anyone. (I showed it to Ken once 4, although he probably doesn't remember.) I share it now because I get the impression that God wants me to.

And I will go ahead and tell you what it means, so you don't have to ask. :)

1 All those stereotypes that we had in high school - those were REAL, right?
2 This is true in other areas besides poetry, too. I've been reminded and surprised lately by the need to actually SAY things to people, as if they can't read my mind or something. You mean you don't automatically know that I'm grateful for that gift? You didn't realize that something you said impacted my life forever? Go figure.
3 You mean ALL teenagers feel invisible sometimes? No, I'm sure I must have been the only one.
4 I believe he asked me what it meant. Just to make my point. :)

The Short Poem

The journal in which I first wrote the poem. And, apparently, rhapsodized it immediately. Well, I was 21, what do you expect?

Me and God

Random fire dances wild
'neath the moon which seems so mild.
Dances with a grace from God
so all you can do is nod.

Forest beckons deep and silent
with the power of ocean's current.
Beneath the inexorable tide of life,
lies a love more intimate than man and wife.

The Lengthy Explanation

The first stanza is "me"; the second stanza is "God", hence "Me and God".

1. Random fire dances wild

"Random" is probably the one word in this poem that doesn't really mean much. It's there because I was writing a different poema, and the line "random fire dances wild" was going to be the next line of that previous poem. When the poem suddenly took this deeper twist, I separated it from the rest of the prior poem, but I couldn't take out the word "random" without changing the rhythm of the line. And I like the sound of the word.

I am the random fire, dancing wild. When I would ride in a car as a teenager, now and then I would do this thing where I would imagine little dancers - something between a pixie fairy and a human - dancing along on the road beside the car. It was, as my sister would call it, a "thing"; there was a male dancer dressed in black who would dance on roads and cars and other products of human technology; a woman-fairy dressed in green who was only allowed to land on grass or trees or other living plants, who was the most frequent fairy; more rarely, other colored fairies, perhaps with their own rules, or not, depending on my mood. The dancer would jump and whirl from one tree to the next, do cartwheels along straight stretches, flip and spin. I would imagine my pixie fairies dancing with a lightness and grace, an energy and abandon, that I longed for, but could never match in my lethargic, clumsy, overweight body.

I am the fire, dancing wild.

To say that is to say that who I want to be is actually part of who I am, who God made me to be. Dreaming of lightness and physical grace is not just wishful thinking; it has some basis in reality, despite the appearances which say otherwise.

2. 'neath a moon which seems so mild

The mild moon is my outer demeanor. I'm the "nice" girl. I'm the one who almost never cracks jokes at other people's expense, for fear of hurting their feelings. I'm the one who everyone thinks is quiet and shy, at least at first. I'm the one who never did illegal drugs, never drank, never got into trouble. On the outside, I seem to others like the moon - silent, still, white with perhaps a few gray patches if you look closely.

But 'neath that... beneath the mild exterior and the self-control... lies the raging fire, burning and flaring in the utter abandon of a passionate dance. Beneath the stillness and white of the moon lies the flickering quickness and color of the fire. This is what I'm like on the inside, passionate and colorful.

3. Dances with a grace from God

My name, "Anna", means "graceful one", "full of grace" or "youthful one". I think I have also heard it translated "favored one". It has not been uncommon in my life for people to tell me that I am somehow special in God's eyes. Most recently one woman told me that I was one of God's favorites. "I mean, we're all God's favorites," she added, "but you're his favorite". I have mixed feelings about being told this; on the one hand, I can't help but enjoy being told that I'm on some higher plane than most people. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder what that means for the poor saps other people who aren't. Could God really love one person less than another? Is it somehow ok for him to do so, because he loves everyone so greatly in the first place? I don't want to put God in a box and say that he has to love everyone the same, in order to fit my idea of love and justice (especially in the face of the Biblical description of John as "the disciple whom Jesus loved"). But I can't reconcile, either, the idea of a God who plays favorites.

Be that as it may, I know that I am graced by God.

Everyone receives their own individual graces, but I can see in my life that God has given me numerous privileges which he has by no means given to everyone. Almost every family I know, even the basically loving, happy ones, has had some sort of serious issue, whether it's physical abuse, control issues, an emotional immature parent, physical disability, or something else. Not only did I not have to deal with any of that b, but I did not even have to struggle my way to God from a homelife that was secular or didn't take God seriously. Instead I was raised by Catholic Charismatics, for whom it was a bread-and-butter, basic fact of life that God wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us. I was encouraged to pray on my own in addition to our multiple family devotions; in our Christian community, there were many stories about what God was doing in people's lives, which helped me to see what He was doing in my own. As an adult I have come to see just how rare that kind of childhood is.

"Dances with a grace from God" expresses all this; that everything graceful and good about my life comes from God, and He is the one in whom I "live and move and have my being" (Acts 17:28).

4. so all you can do is nod

Have you ever found yourself so overwhelmed by something - a lovely sunset, a special insight, something else - that you were left speechless? When I think of all that God has made me, when I think of myself as the fire dancing wild with a grace from God, that's much like how I feel. Words cannot capture the beauty there. All I can do is nod in wordlessaffirmation.

5. Forest beckons deep and silent

For me, God is green. I see him in the forest, in the trees and the grass and the bushes. Once when I was in high school, I rode a few blocks with a friend of mine, who made some comment about someone walking on the sidewalk. I was like... "there was a person there?" This appeared to shock her a bit, and led to the revelation that, when driving down a street (generally speaking), she will notice the people, and I will notice the trees. Certain guys apparently will notice the make and model of every car they pass. While I have come to a greater appreciation of the personal, and not just abstract, importance of people over trees, it is still true that I really like trees.

So the forest is God, beckoning in his deep and silent way.

I'll grant, I am a lot less inclined to think of God as "silent", than I was when I wrote this poem nearly ten years ago. I've gotten a lot better at hearing him in the last two to four years. But even now, there is still that "cloud of unknowing", as the anonymous author put it. I can know a lot about God, and I can know him as a person, in a deep way, yet I don't get to feel his presence however I want, don't get to see him face to face. Yet despite the silence, God is beckoning, always inviting me closer to Him, always wanting me in a deeper relationship with Him.

6. with the power of ocean's current

The undertow of an ocean is dangerous, able to pull even strong, experienced swimmers out too far, where they cannot swim back. This is the power of God, his incredible strength. Only instead of being dangerous, as the current is, He pulls us exactly where we ought to go, where we need to go. To Him.

7. Beneath the inexorable tide of life

Think for a moment of those Darwinian images of the fish growing into a land animal that grows into a monkey and then a human being. Now picture something like that, only on a global scale, with a lot more detail. The amoeba bifurcates and multiplies, lakes teem with microscopic life; life spreads onto land, and over the course of the millennia, we have oceans filled with fish, more species of beetles than there are human beings on the planet; moles and worms and elks and yaks and kangaroos and lions and fir trees and mosquitos and spiders and oaks and whales and mulberries and dolphins and silkworms and rhubarb. The planet swarms with life, and it is beyond our power to stop it.d This is "the inexorable tide of life", and it is out of God that all this teeming, fecund life springs.

8. lies a love more intimate than man and wife.

God is Love. His love is not a dispassionate thing, not an abstract sort of love, nor a friendly well-wishing. No. Take the love of Romeo and Juliet, of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, of Bella and Edward, Scarlett and Rhett, Salim and Anarkali. Stack them on top of each other and multiply them a hundredfold and what you get pales compared to the kind of passion God has for you. If you have ever been moved by your grandparents' love for each other, or wished you had a marriage as sweet and enduring as that old couple down the street, then be happy, because God offers you a love even more intimate and more lasting than theirs. This is the love that I know, in part. The love that I have felt, at times, and know to be always there, whether I feel it or not.

So that's my poem. Hope you liked it.

a The earlier poem is called "Pictures". You can see the last two lines of it in the photo.
b The one serious exception to my happy childhood was my mother's death when I was 13.
I think my husband might be shocked to hear me describe myself as ever being "wordless". Whenever I've spent a while writing a blog post or email or comment, he starts referring to "that book you're writing". The other day he told me "you know you could have written a book by now?". Just wait until I really DO write a book someday, sweetie, haha. :) Also, yes I realize the irony in using a very wordy post to talk about wordlessness, but that was the sentiment of that line in the poem.

d Despite what sometimes seems like our fervent determination to try.


  1. Like it? Love your poetry, and your beautiful writing. DO MORE!