Poem about JO,
who passed away
The Redwoods is a retirement community located in Mill Valley, California USA and the result of efforts for the elderly by the local United Church of Christ (Community Church). For more than 6 years I've visited the elderly in their Health Care Unit, and I've been fulfilled numerous times in my volunteer work. This poem is really about a particular resident in her later years, about JO, who spoke with difficulty. Because her hearing was good, she let me do almost all the talking. Many times I read her the Psalms. I visited her from the time before this poem was drafted in 2004. She died before the poem was "completed" in 2008.
by Peter Menkin
A vision of creation.
And a moment of God's
need to have man. His ways
appeared to me when an old
woman ate soup.
She eats slowly this one time
and her arm brought the spoon
to her mouth with meek vigor.
So I saw that we pass away,
for she was many years old
and her arm proved she was
a creature of God. Dust to dust.
There is the breath of life,
that is in us like this woman.
An inner dwelling, spirit of the Lord.
Artist's note and comment on the poem "Presence of Christ" as it appeared on the Academy of American Poets writers workshop ( www.poets.org ):
During the comments and suggestions made 2008 on the poem, this statement on the use of "Dust to dust" was made by me, Peter Menkin to another poet called "Gould."
Many thanks for your remarks on my newly posted and recently revised poem, originally drafted 2004. I am concerned with the issue of what is cliche, and something like the statement "Dust to dust," appears so familiar to us, its use Biblical and religious as so many know. But I believe that much of the Bible, both Old and New Testament is familiar and sometimes a cliche or considered tired.
In one manner, we seek a new way to communicate the religious and spiritual sensibilities and understandings of faith, especially when one is in the "business" of writing poetry that is considered "faith poetry."
I think what speaks to one in the Bible, or in the religious and spiritual language of ones tradition and history as it is practiced, is fair and reasonable game for poetry, regardless of how familiar it may be to readers, or in its contemporary reading cliche like in its evocative imagery. I say this, with the understanding that in the religious life as it is reflected, and especially in the Biblical reflection of spiritual reality as it speaks to us as the word of God, that each of us needs to find our way. Selections and parts of the Biblical words do engage us as individual people and groups, denominations, more than others. I find this so. And so I reflect in my poetry this sensibility and searching for relationship with God as a living experience, in the Christ.
Recently, I've been watching YouTube talks by a Camaldoli, Benedictine Monk who is deceased, a holy man who spent his life in India, and a fulfilled man who reflects the way the Bible spoke to him. His name is Bede Griffiths, and perhaps you have heard of him. It is apparent in his talks caught and posted now on YouTube that he is a genuine man of God. In my poetry, I look to this genuine sense of what has meaning in the poem. Hopefully, in time, or even taken in my intended way, even a cliche like "Dust to dust" will be illuminated in a similar way of the genuine. This is a truth, I believe, or definition of one in the poetic way.
Here is a link to one of the Bede Griffiths' talks, that last about 11 minutes each. Father Bede is a Christian, one must keep that in mind. He is also a Catholic Priest. So he speaks from that perspective.
With thanks for raising the issue concerning "Dust to dust."
id="xspf_player" align="middle" height="170" width="400">
bgcolor="#e6e6e6" name="xspf_player" allowscriptaccess="sameDomain"
align="middle" height="170" width="400"/>
Notes on the photograph: The photo accompanying this poem is again by my 78 year old neighbor Rick White, who has 9 children and 20 grandchildren. Rick took the photograph on the grounds of the apartment house we both live in, and so we are neighbors. Rick is a professional photographer who in his working life took many travel photographs, and when he lived in Chicago was an advertising agency art director. He lives in Marin County, North of San Francisco USA. He calls the photograph, "Ladies in the Shade." It was taken August, 2008 (Summer).