I process life as a human on planet earth through poetry. Love, loss, wonder, wounds, parenthood and more recently pandemics. Here are 9 poems I wrote during March and April, as we grappled with the biggest global disruption in living memory. You can also hear me read some of these poems on the Poetic Beings podcast.
After bushfires, a global virus
I look into my lions' irises
my children - making their earliest memories
within a globe that rocks unsteadily
gig economy, cancelled concerts
anxious crowds, hidden monsters
and sometimes I wonder how to teach them
God is love, the ground beneath them
sometimes I wonder how to teach me
God is love, the ground beneath me
The sun shines brightly here
while the world is humbled
we lose the control we never had
like the ferris wheel stops spinning
the car tyre is flat
the light globe blows
but the sun shines brightly here
the breeze still blows
the birds still sing
and the pen still writes
when some things are taken,
other things are left
and maybe nothing's ever birthed
without some kind of death
There are new griefs here
more subtle than the classic losses
we have tasted in the past
The wave of fave local cafes
ending their operation
knowing you can't sit at that table
drink that coffee
made by that barista, anymore.
Then there are the places trying to stay open
you think about how difficult this must be
your shoulders sag a little for their burden
You just had a stack of new books arrive
you will not be able to launch in person
and you wonder,
who wants to buy poetry books right now?
And you enter the tangled mental knots
of plans interrupted
likely losses passing before your eyes
business plans scrapped
And there are beautiful innovations
seeds of new creativity
little sprouts of hope
like 'going to church' this morning
on couch with sons snuggled close
And there will be new life
there will be wondrous, unexpected beauty
but don't miss the grief
it deserves to be felt
don't live out of the despair
but don't miss the grief
it deserves to be felt.
The centipedes don't know
Life continues normally for them
and the billions of other life forms on earth
that don't go to the cinema
or the pub or the library
It says something about us
that these places feel like
part of who we are
limbs we only notice when they're lost
These are the places we swap stories
watch them on screens
borrow them printed and bound
part of who we are
is in the telling
and the showing
and the sharing
And we will do this
in our homes
and on our phones
if our meeting places close
But maybe it's a good reminder
that what makes a human creature
is a little more than hunt and gather
a little more than food and shelter
a little more than 'the essentials'
And the more is in connection
so we must not lose connection.
The parks are closed
the swings hang still
dust gathers on the window sills
of restaurants with doors now shut
Centrelink brims with the latest cuts
And I lay in bed to pen this poem
safe and fed, here at home
and I don't know what words to write
one minute, everything feels alright
but sometimes a breath is all it takes
to feel the fear, to sense the weight
guilt that we don't suffer more
terror that we might suffer more
And being human is a fragile thing
and we rest our trust on paper wings
but they're razor thin
and maybe life on a knife edge is always life
and privilege is just another word for blind
going to bed earlier
spending less money
sitting on the deck
outside when it's sunny
writing more poems
calling more friends
thinking more about
who I'll be when this ends
reading more headlines
feeling more anxious
craving more wine
acting impulsive and restless
I get stuck in my mind
when there's nowhere to run
and I wonder
where I will be when it's done
In some ways I feel better,
in other ways worse
and maybe the mix
of the two just affirms
I'm still broken and beautiful
like I was before
I'm still held by grace
no less and no more
12/4/20 (Easter Sunday)
Death and resurrection;
In the time of crucifixion or coronavirus
this hasn’t changed
every ending, a rebirth
waiting to be reframed
check your tombs for rolled stones
and messiahs playing gardener
like when it all began
If the story teaches anything
maybe it’s that Christ often resides
in ordinary places unrecognised
and seeing requires more than just eyes
So check your tombs
and don’t be surprised
if new life walks out
of the burial sites
Exercise has returned to nature
We used to sleep in our homes
but did we live in them, like now?
we used to drive on our streets
but now we walk them, rediscover them
I have never seen so many people
walking their local pavement
It helps that these last few days
have been the glory of autumn
warm sunlight after cool mornings
I wonder about winter
maybe it is time to learn to hibernate?
If we could sleep 6 months
and wake on the other side, would we?
Is there enough life here
to be here,
But that is always the question
in our privilege or our poverty
we gaze towards unrealised horizons
replay waves of yesterday's waters
Here is so often the most difficult place to be.
But here is where we are,
walking our streets
drenched in Autumn light
as ordinary and extraordinary
When my grandkids ask me
about living through the coronavirus
I hope I can tell them
I trod gently on sacred ground
and didn’t squander all my thoughts on the survival of my comfort
The preservation of privilege
turns our gaze from the sacred amongst the suffering
Christ, the ground of being
is always positioned with the suffering
That is why sacred ground abounds
the woman whose home reeks
with bulldog masculinity
the bruised child facing bullies
haunting homes and not just schoolyards
the elderly who miss the glint in grandkids eyes
(not captured on screens)
single ones whose skin will
only know its own touch for months
not to mention the frontline workers
or the very ones who suffer the virus
I have been known to trample
over sacred ground
in my anxious rush to feed my ego
but I hope that when my grandkids
ask me about the days the world changed
I will be able to say
I changed with it
I trod more gently
I loved tenderly and fiercely
among all the sacred in midst the suffering
Lately I’ve been splashing around in the waters of contemplative prayer. Like a kid. I’m no expert. I don’t understand how it all works, but I’ve found some water I want to jump around in. Ironically, it’s the kind of water that makes me want to stop jumping around. To sit, to be still, to feel every sensation, the cool liquid my toes can drink from, the sun settling softly on my tightly wound mind.
The last few mornings I’ve started each day with centering prayer. I sit in my armchair in my office, focus on my breath and use the word ‘spirit’ as a focusing point. Breathe it in, breathe it out. There is spirit here. Magic here. Wonder here. Christ here. The sitting perfectly still part feels kind of like planking. Or holding some other kind of stretch. Like when you can feel the muscle stretching, straining in physical exercise. I can feel my mind stretching, straining. Wanting to snap back to familiar fidgeting, distractedness, permanent state of rush. But instead I choose to sit through the stretch and let it grow me.
For each of the last few nights I have closed my day with the Examen prayer. I sit straight against the back of the bed (if I lay down, I’ll be asleep in seconds), and I run through my day in mind. I see myself: so rushed, so distracted, so anxious. I see brief moments where I was present. Kind. Available to my children, my wife, myself. I see the seemingly wasted moments and the deeply wonderous ones. And as I hover over my day in my memory, I speak to God. How could I have done this differently? Where were you breaking through amidst the ordinary? It feels like I am sifting through my inner world. It feels like a muddy bundle of sticks and leaves and treasure that I am holding in my hands. Some of it is very ugly. Some of it is very beautiful. God promises me, we are sifting through it together. This bundle of muddy nature that I am; we are making something out of it.
I feel like I have been fascinated with the contemplative for a long time. At least at a theoretical, cerebral level. I like the idea of it. But right now it feels like I am beginning a practice. Like a child learning to ride a bike. It is a fumbling and beautiful and clumsy thing. But I can feel the brief moments of what it could be like, to ride this bike down a glorious hill, to feel the wind, the spirit, hammering me with glee. So I will keep splashing in these waters. I will keep trying to ride this bike. I will keep sifting through this muddy mess with God.
'Your Kingdom come, your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven' - Matthew 6:10
What if you enter heaven and it looks a lot like earth?
What if you enter heaven and it doesn’t look much like your church?
I mean if you arrive in heaven, and find your bare feet walk on dirt
Instead of floating in the clouds of your spiritual rebirth
Would you suddenly think that the planet has some worth
And apply some more effort to attempting climate change reverse?
Or what if you enter heaven and see all the minorities you’ve avoided?
Would you be disappointed
If you’re processed
by the refugees we processed offshore?
What would you say if they waited at the door,
Holding signs that said: ‘Welcome. Welcome one and all.’
What if all those mental health statistics who succumbed to suicide
Are there to wash your feet the moment you arrive?
What if you’re cooked a meal by a familiar homeless person
What if a drug addict is there preaching heaven’s first sermon?
And what if that preaching drug addict also happens to be a woman
Would you race to pull out Bible verses that say why she shouldn’t?
What if you find yourself at a table with muslims or gay people
Or whoever it is your brain has learnt to classify as unequal?
What if that thing Jesus said about the first being last
Means rich, straight, white dudes like me get a taste of lower class
While every one we have exploited, is poured the first glass?
I’m not just trying to be provocative
— but have you ever really wondered if
Heaven’s ready for you, but you’re not ready for it?
And maybe it doesn’t look at all like the picture I’ve described
But it’s probably worth asking these questions before you arrive
To avoid an awkward moment
if this is what Jesus has in mind.
The earliest memory I have is watching the 1992 animated film of Aladdin at the cinema. At the time I was the smallest member of my parents not so small entourage of Small kids. The scene where Aladdin is riding the magic carpet as the Cave of Wonders collapses into lava around him etched itself onto my brain at a time when creating long-term memories wasn’t really its strongpoint. Obviously it was a dope scene, so it does make some sense.
Today, over 26 years later I sat in a cinema by myself and watched the live action version of Aladdin. It was the first time I’ve ever been to the movies alone. It was also the first time I’ve been to a movie at 10am. And it was pretty freaking awesome.
On this same day, after reliving my childhood at the cinema, I rode a skateboard to a meeting. As I pushed one foot on the cement and felt the other at home on the grip-tape, a part of me felt a small twinge of embarrassment. Adults don’t ride skateboards to meetings! It's not very ‘professional’! But another voice inside my head chimed into the conversation. It was the voice of my ten year old self. He told me this was everything he could have ever hoped to grow up and be. The ten year old version of me would be proud of me (let's face it, neither of us can skate, but we're having fun anyway). Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I tried to win his approval a little more often, rather than avoiding the perceived disapproval of those who don’t ride skateboards to meetings?
If catching a remake of your fave childhood flick before lunchtime, and then skating to a meeting to talk about creative content you are being paid to produce is not living the dream…then I really don’t know what is.
But, it does seem pretty dang decadent, doesn’t it? It seems like there’s something wrong with this. As awesome as it was to go to a 10am movie on a Tuesday morning by myself…the journey there was paved with guilt and self-ridicule. Dude. It’s a workday. You’ve got responsibilities. You’re not supposed to do things like this.
So, what was I doing?
First, I was following my own advice. I regularly run sessions teaching people how to unlock their inner creativity and how to overcome their inner critic. One of the thoughts I offer is to consider the advice of Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way — develop a daily practice of getting thoughts out of your brain and onto a page, and develop a weekly practice of taking your inner artist out for a date. She calls this part 'filling the well'. I tell people this stuff all the time. But, do I really believe it for myself? If I’m honest, whilst I ‘believe’ it at a head level, acting it out in my own life is still really difficult! Like most of us I’m pretty programmed to buy into the hype about work, productivity and self-worth being one messy bundle of ‘never switch off’ work-aholic tendencies. Benj and I have been speaking a lot about this on Season 2 of the Inhabit podcast, and it’s been a constant, personal reminder to make a conscious effort to move in the opposite direction in weekly and daily ways.
Second, I was following my wife’s advice. She did the same thing last week. Different movie, but same scenario of first ever time going to the movies solo. Same journey through a sense of guilt into one of liberation. Same sense of childlike wonder as she gave herself permission to be comfortable on a date with herself. I encouraged her to do this, so she kindly insisted I do the same. We used to go to the movies all the time together. I even worked in a movie cinema when we started dating. Since having kids, it's probably been about once a year. Whilst it may be trickier to do this together at the moment, we had the realisation that we can create space for each other to still experience this shared love of ours in a way that matches the season of life we're in right now.
Third, I believe that my ‘professional’ success as someone who writes, speaks, thinks and makes stuff is absolutely tied to choices like skating to meetings and sitting in a cinema during ‘work hours’. Creativity comes from having open eyes, being aware of breath in lungs, moving through the world with a sense of wonder. Connecting with your inner kid and remembering that in a world full of things to be cynical about (like reboots of movies from your childhood that are bound to make plenty of money from nostalgic suckers like you)…there’s also a time to leave the inner cynic grumbling somewhere else and be grateful for joy where ever you find it. Here’s the proof in the pudding. I’m a writer. Words are the thing I do for work. And my ‘date and skate’ is responsible for these words right here. The experience sparked my creativity and nudged me out of any potential procrastination and into a creative space. Living a creative life is not about trying to churn things out like a machine. It's about opening your eyes and ears to the world around you and then joining in the conversation.
On a final note, I recognise there is a very generous helping of privilege/luck involved in my circumstances so I don’t want to come across all braggadocio about my trendy, creative life. I get to do some cool stuff for work, partly because I’ve put in hard work and sacrificed things and made some kinda-nuts decisions to live out of creative faith rather than following my fear where it tries to lead me…but at the end of the day I also am aware there are a million things beyond my control that I can only be grateful for. I'm not entitled to them. And so if this is difficult to read because you're currently feeling stuck in a job or circumstances that you strongly dislike and the idea of taking yourself to the movies at 10am on a Tuesday morning seems way too good to be true...then you may have to get creative with how you apply some of the principles here. But I reckon there's at least one question worth asking, where ever you find yourself right now:
What could you do tomorrow that would make your childhood self proud?
How about you do that?
I double-dog dare you.
This is a poem about hair.
It may sound superficial but there’s more to the story
These strands of thread are tied to the thoughts we
think as we try categorise each other
And the maker of all knows all by number
But, this poem was born for my firstborn bubba
When he entered the world he had glorious thick, dark hair
Like his mother
And she said,
Let’s not cut it until at least two years old
Let it be wild,
like the heart of our child
And so it grew,
and it said something about being free.
But the boxes come early and things must fit,
We must see the world through the lenses we get
So as my boy made his way through the world looking free
People began to say, ‘Wow, isn’t she
a beautiful little girl that you have?’
And I, fresh Dad
traipsed through mental mazes
As I heard their comments, saw their gazes
This is son, not daughter; boy, not girl
Why are we so quick to divide up the world
Based on arbitrary factors like the length of the curls?
And I felt some discomfort over the confusion
And some more discomfort over my internal responses
If I care so much when he is mistaken
Am I feeding into this system of simplistic division?
And so I decided
I want to be wild, I want to be free
And rather than boy just bearing the image of me
It is I who would would like to become more like he
And so out grew the locks, up went the bun
Wild and wavy, like father, like son
A small act of saying to the children I parent
That our external differences may be most apparent
But the length of our hair, the colour of skin
the clothes that we wear or our favourite things
These do not change the deep stuff we carry within
(we are all fragile bundles of the same stuff within)
We are complex for sure, but we’re also quite simple
This is part of the paradox of the humanity riddle
And so, this is a poem about hair.
But it’s also about being wild and free
Whether you rock dreadlocks, a bun, a mullet or fade
Blonde, brunette, ranga, hot-pink or grey
May your hair just be one of the ways that you say
The way that I am is more than ok.
Whether you are he, she, or don’t fit either so cleanly
May you know who you are, and learn to love yourself freely.
This Spoken Word piece was written for Baptist Youth Ministries Youth Pastor's & Emerging Leaders Conference, 2019.
So we come as we come
from many places we come
some of us feeling undone
but each of us together,
we are being
You cannot expect the instrument you are trying to play
to sound the same as it did on the day it was made
unless you are willing to take it out of the case
and be retuned and renewed by the tools of the trade
Are you neglecting it by leaving it hidden from site
or do you abuse it by using it day after day and night after night
without ever pausing to let things rest and be made right?
If your leadership is an instrument
what kind of song are you playing?
What kind of sound do you leave
in the ears of those listening?
Who are you teaching how to play this song?
Who are you learning how to play it from?
Leadership can be:
But easy to forget the words of the rabbi:
‘In this world, leaders lord it over the people
but not so with you'
Ironically the Lord of all
doesn’t lord it at all
He inverses it
flips it and reverses it
You want to be a great leader?
Then learn to be a great servant
Techniques, life hacks, programs, podcasts
I love ‘em,
I use ‘em
but you learn pretty quickly,
you can’t outsource or fast track
the fruit of just being with the one
‘be with me’
here let me shift it
to take note of and implement
Let these words just be a song from instrument
A song for fellow pilgrims
let us be orchestral
whether you are from Wagga Wagga
Toowoomba, Narara or Thornleigh
whether you reach hundreds of young people or just 2 or 3
We play the same song
We follow the same conductor
We are filled with the same power
that conquered the grave
Sometimes is hard to believe
Every day new mercies come
Breath, a reminder of spirit in lungs
Taste the grace on your tongue
with every mouthful of oxygen
every beat of the drum
every movement, the strum
of your heart being strung
together into one
with the cosmic son
Do not miss the reminders of the miracle of resurrection
Occurring even in your cells right now, the progression
of new life bursting forth from yesterday’s graveyards
Yes, today’s hard
But you are a vessel
waiting to bloom with power in weakness
when you are feeling defeated you are closer to Jesus
than in your moments of strength where you feel you don’t need him
A whole lot liberating.
You don’t need to be amazing.
You can let go, let grace in.
Power begins in powerlessness,
in the moment you acknowledge
you are not at the centre
you are not holding things together
you are animated by forces beyond your control
are you pushing against them or embracing the role
of an instrument
a branch in the vine
meeting place of the dust and divine
May you and I be water turned into wine
May we lead like water turned into wine
May we serve like water turned into wine
During Noah’s first year of life, he had very intense gastro-oesophageal reflux. I wrote a number of posts during that time reflecting on what I was learning through that difficult and seemingly endless season (see some here). There were times during that year Sam and I struggled to stay sane. Coming to terms with a baby that spends a disproportionate amount of its days and nights screaming inconsolably is hard.
Yes, it passes.
Yes, these babies are generally still healthy.
They won’t remember it.
You’ll move on from it.
These are some of the things people remind you.
And they are true.
But to be honest, they just aren’t helpful things to hear when you are in the thick of it. Really, you just want someone who understands.
You just don’t want to feel alone in it.
That’s not just true of reflux — it’s part of what it means to be human.
As we prepared to meet our second baby, our experiences with Noah were obviously present in our minds. Will our experience be more ‘normal’ this time? Will we have one of those babies that sleeps? I am ever the optimist — but in this case the odds were stacked against Leo (as my father, myself and both of my brothers all had bad reflux when we were bubs).
Three weeks into Leo’s life and it seems fairly apparent that his journey may be similar. His early days have begun to move in a direction we are familiar with. Short patches of being settled (10-15 minutes), followed by long bouts of crying and screaming, settled by a feed, then repeat the process. When precious sleep arrives, it is often interrupted early by stomach acid coming up little throat.
I have been reminding myself that similaries do not mean same. Whether reflux this time round lasts 1 month, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months does not change the fact that Leo is not Noah. Whether or not we use the same coping strategies, or find different ones, Leo is not Noah. Leo’s first week, first month, first year of life is his own. And whilst we may find ourselves walking through similar territory we have trudged through before, we will remind ourselves that we have not been here before. This is new. This is difficult. This is beautiful. This may be familiar, but this is fresh. When I find myself wondering ‘how will we survive that again?’, I tell myself that is not what is happening here. This may stretch and test us, but this is a new path, we walk together as four of us. And it will have its own highs and lows to navigate.
Like this profound moment last night,
this memory I am drilling into my brain,
this lesson I do not want to miss.
Leo was in one of his worst bouts of reflux screaming yet. Sam was preparing some dinner and I was just holding the little guy and rocking in the rocking chair while he screamed. After 20 minutes or so of his cries, Noah came over to me, and climbed up to sit on my right leg, while Leo rested on my left shoulder. For a good couple minutes Leo continued to cry, Noah snuggled in, and he gently touched Leo a couple of times, while he watched him struggle.
In many ways, it was ordinary. It was something I could have missed. A blur between loads of washing, changing nappies, keeping little and big humans fed and watered.
But here is why I noticed it.
So far during Leo’s short life my impulse has been to want to shield Noah from Leo’s cries. Obviously this is somewhat unavoidable - but where ever possible I have tried to take Leo outside to walk up and down the driveway when he is in discomfort, or I have encouraged Noah that he can play in his room if he feels uncomfortable when Leo is crying. I know how my insides can feel after a long session of baby screams, so I can’t imagine what they feel like for a two year old who has only ever lived with two adults so far and did not have any choice in sharing life and blood and bedroom with this new housemate.
But, last night on the rocking chair I had given up trying to ‘resolve’ the crying. I just held my roaring lion and gently rocked back and forth, trying to be present with him in his pain. And Noah, chose to engage by moving closer to suffering. He climbed up to share lap with screaming brother. Without a word he gently touched Leo’s shoulder, and back and forth we rocked, we three. Authentic. Messy. Wonderful.
And moments like this speak truth deeper than themselves don’t they?
A Dad, a rocking chair, a toddler and a crying baby.
But more than that, a window into what happens when we stop trying to fix each other’s pain. When we sit together, rock together, presence ourselves exactly where we are. Awake and aware.
And even here, we will find beauty.
Even here, we will find grace.
named after lion
May your roar be unleashed;
you were not made to be silent
May your roar be unleashed,
but may your claws stay in hiding
Well, it's officially a few days into 2018.
I'm not big on New Year's resolutions - given their tendency to lean towards super unrealistic, guilt-laden goals rather than the steady forming of small habits that can lead to lasting change,
BUT having said that,
I do love beginnings. (I'm a 7 on the enneagram* - basically meaning I get PUMPED about starting things...even if I struggle a little more at the finishing end).
It can be daunting thinking about how you 'begin a year', but it's a lot easier to think about how you begin the simple gift that is the day before you.
So, here are my personal 'secret ingredients' for starting the day well. I don't always get to do each of these, but I definitely notice the difference on the days I do.
So, there’s this envelope with a document inside asking me to ‘have my say’.
In an apparent attempt to allow space for everyone’s voices these envelopes have been delivered all around Australia, asking for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.
And I will tick one of those boxes and I will post it back because I understand that for many people this is a very significant and important question, and it really matters that people thoughtfully engage with the lives that are impacted by the answer to this question.
But, if I’m truly going to have my say, it’s this.