Disobedience

This was a response or midrash that I wrote as part of an exercise in live lectio / flash fiction during my church’s 10th anniversary retreat in 2011. I recommend clicking through to read the passage from the Bible to which I’m responding, but if you’re familiar of the story of the first Passover – that’s the one.

Disobedience

It was only an hour before the appointed time, when the Lord would send his angel of death – the angel with the flaming sword that would cut out the heart of each Egyptian family. Rachel snuck out while her father was bundling their few possessions, and her mother was cleaning the remains of the tiny leg of lamb they’d been given by their next door neighbor.

She moved quickly down the street, careful not to slosh the blood in the bowl she carried. At each Egyptian home she reached, Rachel dipped her rag into the bowl, and hastily dribbled blood on the doorframe.

She kept on running into the dark, painting hope on as many doors as she could reach, until the dawn broke, and Rachel heard the first wails of anguish from the homes further on down the street.

at the mount of autonomy

at the mount of autonomy, jennifer grinned
it was clear that this summit was where she belonged
she had put in her time in the valley of innocence
listening upward, she swore she heard song

with vitality born of insatiable thirst
she put flatness behind her and started to climb
and she needed no rest, for her power was vast
as her altitude rose she made excellent time

it was only when she’d attained high elevation
she noticed her path was not solely her own
and her fellow adventurers tossed aside garbage
the mountain was covered in waste that they’d thrown

and the trail was now crowded with putative grownups
whose seeds (sowed in folly) would bloom very soon
so jennifer wept, then walked on with new urgency
picking up trash and composing a tune

wickedness

the stigma had been stitched to him
since he was six and skinned his knees
ascending quick the crooked tree
to nest and see and sense

the neighbor kid
who flicker-lit from kindled wick
eked eden from a cherished book

he arched his neck to nick a look
until he slipped and skidded
sinking

then the sidewalk kissed him
and he cried out loud
and slowly drew a crowd

they always called him wicked and
as nicknames went this sucked
and stuck

as week and decade sunk and died
he staked out sin as his, like ink
soaked deep inside his skin, in sinew

wickedness defined his psyche
itched and tickled at his sides
until he dined on wine and liquor
wed himself to growing sicker

embraced his pain and bitterness
like weeds wound round his neck and breast
he knit himself a thick and sticky shroud of styx
and sewed his bones inside

sixteen septembers after
the kid from that old luckless scene
shows up and snickers at the trick
and all the broken moments since

and offers him a warm and wayward hand
beneath a dewy eye
and wide and wicked grin

release

i woke up early
in a home that wasn’t mine
felt the sunlight streaming in
through the window
making shadows on my face
like the bars of a cell

the light told me
i could be seen
so i got up
and left
and waited for night

later
crossing the bridge in the dark
i could see almost nothing
but it was clear
on the other side
the possible paths sprouted
like the branches of a grafted tree
bowed with a varied assortment of fruits

none of them ripe
all of them somewhat
sour

but i gave thanks
for at least i had a choice
and it beat being back in the cage
with my rotting intentions

in the valley of innocence

in the valley of innocence, jennifer faltered
quite suddenly she was uncomfortable there
and she didn’t remember her reasons for coming
she couldn’t recall how to breathe such clean air

and the problem was not that she didn’t feel welcome
(the valley would throw wide its arms to us all)
while the land opened to her, benign and inviting
to jennifer’s eyes the place just looked so…small

could she really remember a time when the tips
of the trees in that wood rose above line of sight?
and the ramparts protecting the bounds of the glen
…now that she could step over them, didn’t seem right

so a half-smiling jennifer left that green land
in her eye was a look like a cat with a toy
that she’d just realized she’d completely dismembered
it wasn’t a sorrow nor fully a joy

Enlightenment (a sonnet)

Enlightenment, I’m told, is like a bloom;
A lotus-flower opening full wide;
An end to all the passions that consume;
A cleansing of the filthiness inside.
For all these years I’ve waited for that birth.
The appetites that came, I pushed away.
I understood that such things have no worth –
Denied my longings every endless day.
At last in my old age, I know I’m near.
There’s naught within my breast but wish to see
Cessation even of that hope so dear:
Desire’s departure; mere serenity.
    And now my eyes are open! All I feel
    Is craving ninety lifetimes could not heal!

empty

in the middle
of the city
there’s a park
that no one goes to
even though
the chrome and concrete
press around
on every side

and the city
might oppress the soul
regardless
no one ever
places feet
within that park
to cut across
or rest or hide

and the park
contains a boulder
that is huge
and black and broken
and a tree grows
by the boulder
though it’s clear
that it’s long dead

and the roots
of that gray fossil
hide a hole
that’s small
but oh so deep
and you can listen
at that hole
or so my grandma said

and you can
hear the whispers
if you pass
along the edges
but my grandma
said that
only once
did someone go inside

it was 1957
when the young man
went
and listened
and returned alive
said grandma
it was just his soul
that died

The Tale of Big Bunny and Morty Mouse

Big Bunny sat on a tree stump and looked out over the forest floor. He was happy. All of the animals of the forest knew him. They knew he was big and tough. They knew that they should stay out of his way, or he’d chase them and kick them with his strong hind feet.

Sally Squirrel ran by, carrying a nut to her home.

“Hey, Sally!” called Big Bunny, “give me that nut.” Big Bunny wasn’t really that fond of nuts, but he very much liked being Big. Sally took one look at Big Bunny and ran off as fast as she could, carrying her nut. Her family was hungry!

“Hey!” shouted Big Bunny, “you come back here!” Big leapt off the tree stump and hopped after Sally as fast as he could. Sally ran fast, but Big Bunny was faster. He knocked Sally over, and he started to kick at her with his big hind feet. “Here, you big bully!” Sally said, and ran away.

Big took the nut and tossed it into a stream. He didn’t really want it. He just liked being Big. Big Bunny hopped off down the woodland trail, humming a tune.

A little later, Big came upon Morty Mouse, nestled up in a cozy little nest he’d made and taking a nap. Big cuffed Morty in the side of the head. “Wake up, you!” said Big Bunny. “That’s a nice little nest you’ve got there. I’d like to have it for myself.”

“My little nest isn’t big enough for you, Big Bunny!” squeaked Morty Mouse. “I don’t care,” said Big Bunny. “I want it anyway.” “No!” said Morty. Big Bunny kicked Morty with his big hind foot, knocking him out of the nest. Morty went running off.

Big Bunny decided that Morty Mouse needed to be tought a lesson. And there was no point in staying here. He couldn’t fit in Morty’s little nest, anyway. So Big went hopping off after Morty at top speed.

Morty was a fast little mouse. He led Big Bunny on a wild chase! He led Big Bunny over hill and over Dale and over Chip. (“Hey! Watch it!” shouted Chip.) Morty led Big Bunny to a different part of the forest, where the trees were bigger.

Morty Mouse led Big Bunny right to the home of Wilma Wolf. Wilma heard the noise of the animals running quickly toward her home, and came outside to see what was the matter. Morty saw Wilma, and ran straight between her feet. Big Bunny was so excited by the chase that he didn’t see Wilma at first. When he did, he was too big to run between her feet like Morty did. Big Bunny ran “smack!” into Wilma Wolf.

“My, my!” said Wilma. “What a plump, juicy, Big Bunny we have here!” With that, Wilma Wolf ate Big Bunny right up.

Morty Mouse laughed and laughed.

Without Sam

– 1 –

By the time Robbie looked up from his phone, it was already too late. Sam had never been an excitable or impetuous dog, but the dash of the insane squirrel, straight across the sidewalk in front of them and then hell-bent for the other side of the street, was too much even for Sam’s laid-back personality. The things that happened next seemed to occur all at once. Robbie was jerked off his feet toward the street. His phone flew out of his hand and smashed against the sidewalk. And the speeding bus turned his best friend into a lifeless, contorted sack of broken bones.

– 2 –

“Robbie!” The voice of his boss was an unwelcome intrusion into the solitude of his work. “Robbie, what time did you get to your desk this morning?”

Robbie took off his headset and blinked at his supervisor. “Uh. I’m not sure.”

“Well, Robbie, I am sure. We keep track of these things in a call center. This was the third time this week that you’ve been late, and today it was over 45 minutes! We can’t staff a tech support center if we can’t plan for coverage. You know that.”

“Oh. Uh. Sorry, Mark. I’m used to my dog waking me up to walk him, but he died…”

“Look, Robbie, I’m sorry, but I don’t want excuses. Attendance and punctuality are absolute job requirements. You know that. If this keeps up, we’ll have to let you go.”

“Oh. OK, Mark. I’m sorry. I’ll be on time.”

“You’d better.”

– 3 –

“Robbie,” said Patricia, after finishing her slice of cheap delivery pizza, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s going to work out between us.”

Robbie looked up. “What? Why?”

“You used to do stuff, Robbie! Go for walks in the city. Go for hikes in the woods.”

“Well, I used to go with Sam….”

“But now all you do is sit around here and eat pizza. Do you ever go anywhere these days except here and work?”

“Um, well, about work….”

“Have you even noticed how much weight you’ve gained in the past few weeks? I’m not shallow, Robbie – it’s about being a healthy person.”

Robbie looked at her sadly.

“I’m gonna go, Robbie. I’m sorry.”

Robbie’s apartment door closed behind her.

– 4 –

“ROBBIE!!” BAMBAMBAM

The sound of his landlord shouting and pounding on the door jerked Robbie awake. He stumbled over an empty pizza box as he rose from his sofa and opened his door.

“Robbie, what the hell is wrong with you? I sent you a letter three weeks ago informing you that if you didn’t make some arrangements to start paying your back rent, I was gonna have no choice but to evict you. And what do I hear from you? Nothing!

“Oh, uh, sorry, Mal. I used to get the mail every day with my dog, Sam. Since he died I sometimes forget to check it.”

“For three weeks?? You know what, I don’t care any more. You had your chance. This” – he handed Robbie a yellow envelope – “is legal. Get yourself and your shit out of here by Monday morning, or you’ll be removed by the cops. This is the end, Robbie.”

Robbie took the envelope, and Malcolm turned and walked away.

– 5 –

Robbie looked up from his breakfast at the shelter. He’d been hoping to stay unnoticed in the corner of the cafeteria a bit longer, nursing his warm coffee before they turned him out on the street for another day. But the attractive young woman with the clipboard, being guided around by the shelter director, was an unusual sight. As it turned out, they were headed his way.

“What about this guy?” asked the woman with the clipboard. He looks young. Do you think he’d be a good candidate?”

Now that they were near, Robbie could read the large words on the back of her clipboard. “Wags of Hope: Dogs for the Homeless”.

“Oh, Robbie?” responded the shelter director, “No. I really don’t think Robbie could take care of a dog. I hope you’ll forgive the expression, but the poor guy really just doesn’t have his shit together.”

 

The following is a very short prequel to this story, which I wrote as a response to the photo above.

 

Sam

“I’m a good boy,” thought Sam.

Sam was a humble dog. But the fact that he was a good boy was just the truth. His human, Robbie, told him so almost every day. How could he doubt it?

Despite his humility, Sam had a very deep sense that Robbie needed him. Really, really needed him. And Sam loved Robbie more than anything in the world.

“I’ll always be a good boy,” thought Sam. “So I’ll always be here for Robbie.”