Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Easter Sunday, a poem might also be....

This is a story about a poem.

For the past few years, I have taught 7th grade CCD (religious education) in my church. I began teaching it for the reason I think many intellectual smorgasbordists* would: I wanted to get to know my own faith and beliefs better. Part of that is self-interest, being at the time in my life when one tends to do a lot of recursive examination; part is practical, as my kids are approaching the ages when their questioning (well, more their insistence upon answers) will begin to strip my ability to answer unless I maintain myself better than I'd been.

With a very few exceptions, I've found my students' questions to be relentless, unembarrassedly personal, and ruthlessly fair and honest. One of the more common questions I get from the kids is whether or not I believe the particular miracle we just discussed actually happened (surrounded by 3 minutes of what they would do if confronted by such unbelieveability). The subject of miracles is a tough one to broach with a 12/13-year old - their world is complicated and indefinable enough without the burden of believing in an otherworldly power. But -- unlike the persona I adopt in my poems -- I always tell them the truth. Which starts with my grandmother.

What faith have comes, ultimately, from my grandmother. In the whole of my life, hers was the strongest faith I have ever encountered. Not the loudest, not the most obvious, but the strongest. I was well into my 20s before I started to learn about the hardships Nana had faced in her life, hardships which might have caused another person to adjust their disposition toward the cynical. But Nana's was definitely an Easter faith; she believed that no one would ever be burdened with more than they could handle, and that renewal and restoration was waiting for you if you could manage your burden just a little longer.

Which is why Nana continues to show up in my poems, and why I feel pretty strongly about those poems. I'm not objective about them and I don't pretend to be. But there was one particular disappointing episode in her life that I've always felt was perfect for a recollective poem, one that ought to be presented in sepia tones, it's so much a peek at the past. I've been writing and rewriting it for years, never quite sure what to do next with it, or whether to call it done. But I've thought for a while I had handled it well enough to let my peers have a look.

A short while ago, I learned of John Newmark's online journal Generations of Poetry, a new (this year) literary effort in support of the geneablogging (online genealogy) community. It seemed a logical place for this poem I've wanted so much to take out of the folio and expose to the light. It takes place (mostly) in 1937, and it has a lot to do with the records we keep about our families. I won't tell you more; you can read it for yourself.

Today. Easter Sunday.

Now I don't know if that means anything. It's presumptuous to think that the cascade of coincidences that led to the appearance of Grand Canyon, 1937 on Easter is anything more than just that. And don't mistake me for anything other than a (slightly sentimental) realist. I know enough about statistics to know that if you flip a coin 50 times every day, one day you'll get TAILS 50 flips in a row. I know enough about people and their faith to know that a divine hand is frequently and perhaps foolishly seen in things those people are desperate to make sense of.


I will have a new group of 7th graders in September. And sometime before Halloween they will ask me if I believe in miracles. As I do every year, I'll tell them I don't know. Then maybe I'll tell them this story and ask what they believe.

If you are celebrating it today, I wish you a joyful Easter.

* relentlessly curious on a surprisingly far-flung set of areas of interest.

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