Bless You and Amen

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The view of the dome of Westminster Church Minneapolis from where my Mom and I always sat together

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Martin Luther

Grandeur

by T. A. Fry 

Beneath the vast white dome of Westminster,
While bathed in the blue light of Christ the King.
There awaits a hoard of regal treasure
For my beloved when the choir sings.
It’s not the crown jewels set within the Rose
or music’s grandeur from the massive organ.
Nor found in prayers the clergy propose
Should you attend on a Sunday morn’in.
I’ve magically endowed a gold home-fort
to dwell in the hearts of those I love.
For when you need a touch of comfort,
“Ere I’m silent in the loft above.
Shushhhh…. listen, to all this morning’s hymns.
They’re singing; “I love you. Bless you and amen.”

November 2015


I wrote recently about my muse, but I should distinguish between when the muse visits and a writing prompt.   One of the reasons I attend church at Westminster is that often I come away from the service with a writing prompt; something said during the service gives me an idea for a poem.  Sometimes it is a singular word that will set the creative process in motion, sometimes it is an entire line of poetry, and I’ll jot it down in the margin of my bulletin.

I’m not sure who said it first, but one of my favorite sayings about the experience of attending Westminster is “bring your brain to church.” For me that means being fully present and open to ideas.  When my muse visits, the ideas are fully formed and my fingers are propelled as if by an unseen force writing the poem for me.  Oh Darkest Night was written by my Muse.  Grandeur was written by me based on one line that formed in my head during a service, “Beneath the vast white dome of Westminster.” Then it was a matter of sitting down and figuring out the rest.

The Sunday I wrote Grandeur, in the fall before my Mother passed, Liz gave me a history lesson on the gorgeous windows called Christ the King and the Tiffany styled window called the Rose.   The Rose stylistically does not fit with the rest of the windows in the main sanctuary and I had asked Liz about it.  She gave me a 15 minute history lesson about Westminster. The original church was built several blocks north, and was largely destroyed in a fire. The patrons of this church were several of the families from the mill district and the retail barons that the wealth of the milling district in Minneapolis fostered.  One of those families, who founded Daytons department stores, which went on to become Target Corporation, were generous in their contributions to the design and construction of the current building in 1898.  The Rose window was a gift from one of the families. and was built by a company separate from the rest of the windows in the sanctuary.

The design of the church was radical at the time it was built, with its oval shaped sanctuary and the choir and organ situated in the front behind the pulpit.  It moved away from the traditional long narrow design of most churches and made a statement about inclusiveness. The Westminster of today is a far more liberal, progressive congregation than its past. Liz had a hand in moving Westminster on its journey of inclusion and equality and equity. Liz paved a path in the broader Presbyterian church to break down barriers of gender inequality, some overt, some subtle, some just bald headed stupid tradition, that prevented woman from certain roles in the church. Liz and many other women through their intelligent example and wise patience and brave voices have readied Westminster to eventually break through the glass ceiling for its first female lead pastor in the near future.

Grandeur came about on that Sunday afternoon.   I went home that November day and it did not take long to come up with a first draft and within a couple of days the final version took shape.  It was a gift to my Mother and in a way Liz, and I read it to them the following Sunday after the service.  It is a postcard of those many Sundays that I wanted to hold on to, that feeling of togetherness, knowing I would be able to tap into those memories, those feelings when my Mother and Liz would no longer be by my side in our spot in the back of the church where there was a cut out that accommodated Liz’s wheel chair.

Westminster is a sacred place for me.  I can feel my Mother’s presence some Sundays seated in the pew.   I can feel her wisdom and kindness and generous spirit encouraging me onward, to be my better self, knowing that love she had/has for me continues onward, unabated.

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Westminster Church in Minneapolis with the south facing Christ The King window and the west facing towards the street Rose window visible in this picture.
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Christ the King
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The Rose
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The view of the front of the  sanctuary from our regular spot.

 

 

 

Cre_M_ation

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Mary Fry (1932 – 2016)

Cre_M_ation

By T. A. Fry

What purpose fastidious praise? I will not drink with the Puritans,
whose thin words wilt from prinked lips.   The well intentioned herd
who mouth in sanitized churches and mortuaries; “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I’ll belch and stink my grief while screaming celestial praises
with only gratitude for her life. Look beyond the breasts of the skin
that we are borrowing to find her braided love cross death’s divide.

She did not pawn her time on earth!  She owned the sacrifice
of the Tortoise tending its leafy gardens, the devotion
of the Sequoia sipping the clouds communion chalice.

Let me smell the rot of her death. Do not perfume and primp this carcass
with altruistic incense which scrubs dead air and gives no satisfaction.
True celebrants orient to suit their phrase through cajoles fraught with
Heaven’s dare and inhale the halitosis of her death’s joyful laugh.

Convene your priestly council if you must for the sake of propriety.
But offer me the seared flesh of the sweated beast who dances her jubilas. Bring me a goblet of its blood wine for her toasts.

I’ll stand with the pure diviners of harmony and sing.
Mourner’s who arise with passion fire to fuel her cremation.  
Are we sick to produce so hot a flame? No….  It’s just our love of her.

Her trunk was empty, unpacked, devoured of its essence
by the completeness of her life. In our love inferno 
her rind burned quickly, with little sputtering.


Today is the third anniversary of my Mother’s death.  She was 83 when she passed.  She experienced the kind of gentle and sudden death that I think we all dream of having. She and I had gone to church in the morning, she came home and gardened in the afternoon.  My sister was visiting from California and had brought a life-long friend that lives in my Mom’s neighborhood and the three of them were visiting before going out for a bite to eat.  They were getting ready to go and my Mom said, “wait, I have one more thing to tell you.” and then she started the next sentence, slurred a couple of words, slowly slid off her chair to the floor and died.

Grieving the death of the those closest to us is an ongoing and unfinished process.  It washes over in phases.  I woke up and wrote this poem five days after she died, on the day she was cremated. I have written other poems in that style, but none since her death.  This poem expresses an unexpected anger, sadness as well as joy, that arose from the repetition in the days following, having called all the family and her friends, and hearing over and over, “I’m sorry for your loss.”   At the time all I felt was gratitude for having been so fortunate to have been her son.  I still feel the same.

Thank you Mom for living an amazing life.  We miss you.

I Miss Your Voice, Your Elegance

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Quietus

By T. A. Fry

The sun rises with no less dazzling sway,
And yet, gardens sulk in muted eloquence.
Nature’s splendor is colder ever since
Quietus bore your gentle hand away.
It’s your silence which weighs upon my days.
Unexpected things will make me wince.
For I miss your voice, your elegance
All which hold me still amidst the fray.

You draped and shaped us with loving shears.
Thin striplings pruned and fed to reach the sun
You protected us from winter’s coldest years
To bloom again despite what’s done is done.
In mourning,  I’ll manage through these low tears
Ever blessed to be your beloved son.


 

Happy Memorial Day!

The Bond In Stillness

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A beautiful loaf of challah served as yesterday’s communion bread.

Easter

By T. A. Fry

One cold Easter, the lilies glass-house grown,
We met as friends to share the Eucharist.
Not a one of us needing to atone
For witnessing the other’s interests.
And oh what witness it has been!  Our care
For the others, a fondness borne of less,
The brazenness that shines of goodness shared,
Then acceptance of each other’s humanness.
These friendships minister to our need,
Of want of connection across divides,
Of age, of gender and of even creed.
Each of us in turn, the other’s guide.
For what mattered most as we broke the bread.
Was the bond in stillness, not what was said.


 

My own writing serves sometimes as a painting or postcard for a memory, that allows me to viscerally reconnect with events in the past, whether good or bad.  Yesterday was one of those perfectly normal Saturdays, that needed to be preserved. It began with a quiet morning of writing outside and throwing the ball for the dog, despite it being in the 40’s and crisp. Then fellowship and communion with longtime friends, spiritually tending to each other’s gardens at noon.  And from there came a detour to my favorite book store in Minneapolis, Birch Bark Books, in honor of independent book sellers day. Birch Bark Books is owned by the incredibly gifted novelist Louise Erdrich, so of course we had to buy some books. We then went to a gallery next door where Prudence Johnson, whom I have had a crush on since around 1985, was singing covers of Buffy St. Marie tunes. Then after a quick dinner of salmon and corn on the cob, we were off to a night of viewing short films from the Banff film festival,  rounding off the day with a night cap of wild dancing at a friends annual gumbo house party until nearly 1 am, the music DJ’d by my best friend from high school. It could not have been a more satisfying day, right down to my sister being re-united with her beloved lost dog in the morning, who had been separated from her for one terrible night the evening before.

It is so easy to take for granted the pleasure of normalcy in middle age.  Those days when no one is ill, there is no crisis at work, no child, even grown children, are temporarily undone by the stresses of the world.  A day in which the companionship of your partner is complete, from waking up together, to helping each other with chores, to making meals and dining together, to playing, really playing with each other in the simplest of ways, like dancing. I realize that unfortunately the pleasure of normalcy is that it isn’t always normal, so yesterday, I treasured every second.  And then set one piece of it in a sonnet postcard, for me to look back on and remember the goodness of yesterday.

I hope if you are reading this, you have the most wonderful of normal Sundays.

Love Me As I Am

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T. A. Fry – Day dreaming with a twinkle in my eye.

 

love is more thicker than forget

by e. e. cummings

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

 


It’s Valentine’s Day, a day hopeless romantics unite to eat prix fix expensive dinners with cheap champagne with someone who makes them smile. I hope you’re one of ’em.  Dating in your mid 50’s requires a bit of a thick skin and a sense of humor. If you are one of my fellow 50 something daters, love is in the air if not chalk candy hearts in your dish.  If you haven’t heard, the company that makes those went bankrupt.  This is not a cosmic karmic sign that love is dead.  In fact it is a love success story as a new round of investors has bought the company and plan to have inventory in place for next year so your chalky lite-pink BE MINE candy can wind up in your squeezes tummy.

I do find it just a tiny bit odd, that all of us who are mid 50’s, at this incredible junction in our lives, for most of us helping our elderly parents or parent, watching our 20 something children launch their adult lives and/or ushering in grand children, while still dealing with late stage careers and trying to navigate the last stretch without getting side swiped or down sized, while reeling from watching friends be stricken by cancer, despite dealing with all that stuff on our plates, (not to mention male and female menopause), we then set this preposterously high bench mark to simply go out on a date. You would think with all those stressors we would make it easier to eat Tai food over a glass of wine with a member of the opposite sex who responds in much more human sounding responses than our pets or dead silence in our downsized apartments.  I do laugh at the bios people post on online dating apps and the criteria they have for agreeing to see someone for the first time.  When did we get that choosy?  Answering 438 questions on-line to filter out dates?  Yikes.  It didn’t work that way in high school or college.

Sadly, many of us in our mid 50’s suffer from PTSD – Post traumatic stress divorce syndrome. Or even worse yet, the traumatic loss of a spouse because of death. In both cases we are coping and adapting to the loss of a partner.  If it is because of divorce, we have come through the grindstone of a once successful marriage that deteriorated into something that was no longer successful and have enough bruises and scars accumulated that we’re still recuperating and wondering if we have what it takes to take a run at one last great love affair, preferably one that take us all the way to end of our lives. It can be even harder emotionally to move on for those still dealing with the processing of grief. Dating is daunting, but the alternative of not dating is daunting as well. How do you find that person that can meet you at your level for companionship? On-line multiple choice quizzes? I don’t think so. Probably have to roll up our courage, take a shower and get out there on a date and find out.

Fortunately, I have good role models in my life that you can find love at every stage.  My 87-year-old father is dating an older women for the first time and the two of them bring happiness and fun into each others lives on a daily basis while steadfastly maintaining their independence.  My friend Liz, who is 91 and in an assisted living facility, just moved again so that she could be only a couple of doors down the hall from her friend Jerry. Both are confined to wheel chairs these days, but eat 3 meals a day together and always have something interesting to talk about and a kind word for the other.  For both of these couples there is no screen time intervening, they are 100 percent present in each other’s company and have the most optimistic of spirits.

I wrote Generous Eye – the sonnet below, on a Sunday afternoon, after having gone to church with my Mom, we were sitting next to Liz, her wheel chair parked right next to our pew.  The pastor’s sermon made reference to generous eyes and I wrote it down in my bulletin as a writing prompt and this sonnet eventually emerged. At the time I was dating a french speaking woman and the only thing holding our relationship together was passion and it was obvious that wasn’t enough to sustain a relationship going forward. My writing, I think like most writers, is not autobiographical, it is an attempt to create a reality I hope one day might exist.

Romance is this odd magical trance, where it can’t begin generally without some attraction but as the relationship matures into something lasting, it needs to soften and be flexible, just like our bodies as we age, into a greater focus on companionship, while wanting a partner whose ear is still tuned to hear the ancient lutes and lyres playing the song that stirs our bones and keeps us going. I am envious of those couples, like in the song below referencing Johnny and June Cash, whose love lasted through the best and worst of their lives. We all aren’t so fortunate.  But we should all keep trying, your Liz or Jerry might still be out there waiting for you.  Happy Valentines Day!

 


 

Generous Eye

by T.A. Fry

As salient desires spark like steel on flint,
with generous eye and gentle ear you scold
my broken ways, without the faintest hint
your loyalty sways, nor spite has taken hold.
What’s after passion?  Mon amour, je t’aime!
Will lust be lost amidst our dwindling fuel,
as ancient bonfires cool?  I’ll not condemn
this reckless plight where human hungers rule,.
For sexual desire knows no bounds of youth.
All hear its song from deep within their flesh.
It sings; “Caress me dear….with the naked truth.
Heal from gentle touch as two hearts enmesh.
Savor carnal knowledge, as a worthy goal,
And love me as I am; body, mind and soul.”

May This Season Make You Blessed

 

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My Inner Boy, 1967

 

Merry Christmas

By T. A. Fry

May this season make you blessed,
Every day with tenderness;
Renew our dampened spirits in its sway.
Rejoice in twinkling candlelight,
Young and old all spry this night,
Cheerful with renewal New Year’s Day.
Hark our dear one’s joy
Rally our inner girl and boy,
Inside our hearts’ a tiny silver sleigh.
Santa’s not gifts beneath a tree,
The true gifts are family,
May each flourish in both industry and play.  
And so I’ve devised a simple plan
Spelled it out in anagram,

Merry Christmas one and all this holiday.


 

Is it naive to want to want the world to be a better place this time of year? Then let’s be naive together in wishing each other the sentiments:  “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.” The words nativity and naivety are french and come from the same Latin root that means just born. Every year, we need to birth anew our understanding of peace. Peace that is an outpouring of compassion, the capacity to empathize with even those we disagree. Peace arises from the certainty that there can never be peace for me, until there is justice for everyone else. Justice is not a means to retribution.  Justice has to be a road to peace, for Justice = Just Us.

May this world find real solutions to the most intractable of conflicts in 2019 and forge a brighter future for us all.

Peace on Earth,

 .          .  Goodwill to All.

 

 

Promiscious Noblesse of a Pharaoh

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A little hitch hiker that survived an hour long ride somehow.
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Tree frog tracks on the window pane.

Promiscuous Noblesse

by T. A. Fry

Longevity has its place. Though frog choirs
sing this night with same voice as tomorrow.
Their sultry hymns sire, future lost empires;
With promiscuous noblesse of a Pharaoh.
Life cleaves brevity from our hands.
Yet communes with creation’s permanence.
Oh, what wonder beyond all reason stands
Before ordinary joy’s eminence!
Wait.  May I speak to my fair Eurydice?
For I feel her presence, too soon bygone.
Her kind speak only through memories
having passed along the dawn’s baton.
I shall follow soon enough through that door.
If breath’s my master, let me be it’s whore.


I enjoy coincidences, or rather the uncoordinated repetition of something that slowly brings that thing from subconsciousness into sharp focus.  A couple of weeks ago I had a frog week. I woke up at a remote hotel an hour east of Tampa, Florida and paused for a moment before getting on the elevator before the sun had risen. On the glass on the third floor several large tree frogs had left interesting tracks making their way through the morning dew to where ever it was they planned to spend the day out of the sun.

A couple of hours later I was checking in my rental car at the airport. While grabbing my stuff out of the back seat, a tree frog emerged from a hiding place somewhere on the back of the car and hopped up to greet me with an expression that said; “oh my god, that was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me!  Did you see how fast we were going?” The National Rental Car attendant and I looked the little guy up and down and surmised that left to his own devices his chances of making it safely out of the concrete jungle filled with cars was not very good. So I caught the frog, took him over to the grass and trees just outside of the rental car return and wished him good luck.

I shared the pictures and the story about the tree frog having survived an hour long car ride with a friend several days later and on her way to work that afternoon she looks down and discovers in the parking lot of her local drug store a tree frog, a plastic tree frog, that looks exactly like the one I had set free that week. The world is a strange and mysterious place.  Maybe it followed me home from Florida.

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I wrote this sonnet several years ago, shortly after my Mother died, an attempt to play with ideas around immortality and mortality, in the sense that frogs singing to us today are no different than the chorus sung 10,000 years ago or 100,000 years ago. Time and experience in many ways are not linear, rather more circular, our common experiences rolling on and on, in the circles we make with other people and the universe around us.