Advent

After two weeks of thinking about it, I still don’t know how to introduce this poem, so I offer it without preamble, hoping that it will independently communicate the yearning that this season tends to stir up in my heart as I consider all the things that are not yet as I wish they were in the world…

Advent

It’s that time again—
another season of watching and waiting
above and beyond the myriad anticipations
already engaged in from day to day:
the anxious speculation
            about how much month will be left
            at the end of the money
the agony of wondering
            whether vulnerable children
            will make it home safe and whole
the fervent hoping that the roof won’t leak
            until the rainy day fund has been replenished
…that the car won’t break down
            on the far side of town
…that a carelessly launched bullet won’t find its way
            through a shattered window
            or a flimsy wall
…and that a lack of insurance won’t prove to be
            the difference between living and dying. 

To all these, something more is added.

These weeks of shared suspense
spur us to look past survival to Shalom—
to the longed-for reality
in which there is no want
            no violent taking of life or things
            no snuffing out of hope
            crushing of dreams
            or fanning of the flames of hatred
but where the One who once found no room
            at the inn
prepares a lavish welcome
            for those weary wanderers
            who have waited long enough.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers

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Thanksgiving

I realize that Thanksgiving was last week (at least, it was in the US of A), but I didn’t post anything then because I didn’t think I had a “Thanksgiving poem.” And in the more traditional senses of the holiday, I in fact do not have a Thanksgiving poem. After this sentence, there will be no references to turkeys, fall foliage or pumpkin pies in this post.

I have to go back a ways to explain the gratitude tied into the two poems shared below (one written in 2005 shortly before the event described in the second took place, and one scribbled just recently in hindsight). When I first moved to Jackson, I and several other interns were each assigned to a sort of host family–we didn’t live with our families (then, anyway), but they took us under their wings, spent time with us, answered questions, etc. I had the privilege of being assigned to a remarkable woman named Gloria Lotts and her son, Kortney.

For the last six months of her life, Gloria and I did share a home, and I was both inspired and shamed by her strength and generosity (consider, for instance, that I stayed home from work with a cold one day, and she–in a wheelchair and losing her battle with cancer–brought a bowl of chicken soup to my room at lunchtime). More than anything else, I remember Gloria’s apparently infinite capacity to love and nurture young people–not only her own son and generations of children at her church, but also the teens and preteens in our neighborhood who seemed bound and determined to walk down destructive paths. So while I am certainly thankful that the drug traffic ceased (reading the poems should make this statement make sense…), I am more grateful for the lessons Gloria taught me about patience, courage, compassion and hope. Rest in peace, dear friend!

Traffic

Another car pulls to a stop
In front of the house
Across from mine
Its horn sounds one short honk—
Decently and in order—
And driver and dealer
Conduct their transaction
With fluid motions
And infuriating calm

With each exchange
My heart retreats a step
Fear and anger vying for control
Of the territory ceded by hope
I wish I knew
Whom to blame
Or how to change
This reality on the street—
My street—
Before it claims another child
Too young grown old
Too soon ensnared
By the promise of escape
Only to be faced
With the threat of confinement
Of body, mind and soul

© 2005
Alexis Spencer-Byers

Clean-Up

(for Gloria)

For months, you sat on our front porch,
praying for the drug dealers
across the street
to find a more honorable way to exercise
their entrepreneurial inclinations.

Impressed not only by your persistence
but also by your tender-hearted bravery,
I observed as you greeted these young men
day after day
and told them of the fervent aspirations
you held for them.

When you died,
great gaping holes opened up
in a multitude of hearts, homes and institutions
and the world was changed for the worse—
except for this one thing:
In the wake of your departure
the illicit traffic on our block
ground to a halt,
and as I rested in the blessed quiet
that followed
I could only surmise
that you had seized an early opportunity
of whispering your loving petitions
directly into
the listening ear of God.

© 2011
Alexis Spencer-Byers