This morning I had the pleasure of reading some of my poems at the Joseph Priestley Memorial Chapel in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. The first Sunday of each month the local Unitarian Universalist church holds a service of music and the spoken word, and I was honored to be asked to participate, as well as to read a response poem for the morning sermon afterward.
I’ve only been able to attend one of the services there before, when they honored William Stafford, and I was too ill that morning to stay and chat. The poems were well received, as they are a generous, kind and friendly group. I was impressed by another local voice who graced us with readings from our new U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway, and I found myself enchanted by the guest musician’s skill with the Appalachian Dulcimer.
Though I had a couple of days to write the response poem (thank you, Ann for asking me!), most of it came together on paper, well on screen, last night. The title may be a bit cliche, but I was happy with how it came together. I’m generally not great at writing on a topic with a deadline, so for me, it was a growth experience, and I’m proud at least that I stretched a bit beyond my comfort zone, and found myself happy with the results. I admit that the picture I had in mind was not of a rope bridge, but Micah and I decided that we just loved the sound of “rickety rope bridge,” so it stays. Hey, I’m a poet, you shouldn’t be looking to me for historical accuracy.
Heaven on Earth
“I love you. I love everything.
Except heaven. I hate heaven.”
-Chris, Age 4
Why would a child hate heaven?
I wonder. Wouldn’t it be cool
to talk to angels face to face,
to hold the hand of those who
stood guard over us while we
crossed that rickety rope bridge,
who watched over us while we slept,
who flashed their lightning swords
right in the face of those under-bed
monsters? What could be better
than to dangle your toes off the edge
of a cloud, play a golden harp or flute,
music like no one on earth
has ever heard. What could be
better than to sing forever,
halleluiah, and hosanna to the King?
I was ten years old when Tiger died,
my first real loss. “Are you alright?”
my father asked, from the bottom
of the stairs. He must have heard
me crying. “I’m okay.” He could have
brushed it away. He could have
said that Tiger went to Kitty
Heaven, and I would see him again.
some day. But what he did say
did more for me than any story
of litter boxes made of gold,
or the cat lying down with the mouse.
“We all miss him, David. We’re all sad.
Come down for dinner. Your mother
baked a chocolate cake.” I don’t know
what I thought of heaven when I was four.
Had I lost someone then, I think
I would have hated it too. Of this, at least
I am sure, make no mistake, I’d have been
deeply worried, streets of gold and angelic choirs
aside, that in Heaven I might never taste again,
anything as truly good as mother’s chocolate cake.
- Natasha Trethewey Named Poet Laureate – News Releases (Library of Congress) (dadpoet.wordpress.com)
- Natasha Trethewey, Emory University Writing Professor, Named 19th U.S. Poet Laureate (huffingtonpost.com)
- New U.S. Poet Laureate: A Southerner To The Core (npr.org)
- Woman Accused of Hitting Man with Soiled Cat Litter (stlouis.cbslocal.com)