Good Friday With the Methodists

I estimate forty of us—
spread like thin gravy
over the dim sanctuary.

"Ecce Homo" by Benjamin Lopez

“Ecce Homo” by Benjamin Lopez

My own Baptist flock
honors the noontime
crucifixion, so tonight
my son and I are free
to join these Methodists
who have hired four
Gregorian chanters from
the Catholics up the road.

My son was attentive
at first, but is now
rifling through items
in the pew rack:
offering envelopes
prayer request cards
“What Methodists Believe”.

The tiny choir is giving it
their all with Dubois’
Christ, We Do All Adore Thee
but are hobbled
by a soprano whose high G
doesn’t quite clear the bar.

The man across the aisle
is fighting to keep awake,
his head swinging
like a censer.

What a pitiful clot
we are, curdling
beneath the cross.
We chant our confession:
We love darkness rather than light
and I reckon
my own brambly heart
as exhibit-A.

For on this night of nights,
as sorrow and love
flow mingled down,
I’m still fuming
at the seminarian who,
just yesterday,
misspelled “Maundy”
on our church marquee
and whom I (rightly)
castigated just before
the foot-washing.

Yet now,
in the cover
of this half-light,
the memory
of his wounded face
pierces me.

The choir is lumbering
through the Palestrina
Kyrie while the man
across the aisle
softly snores.

© Julie Pennington-Russell

Lenten Confession: Theft

drug-store-aisle

Yesterday at the Drug Emporium
while scanning the shelves
for my favorite lotion I encountered
a blind woman and her companion who,

to my profound irritation, scooped
the last two bottles of St. Ives
Creamy Vanilla from the shelf
and dropped them into their basket.

Maybe it’s a sign
of my complete self-absorption
or possibly exhaustion
that when the companion made a quick dash

to the toothpaste aisle I considered pilfering
one of the bottles (just one)
from the blind woman’s basket,
then tiptoeing away, silent as the grave.

In the Receiving Line After Worship

Mophead HydrangeaIn the receiving line after worship an elderly man
wants to tell me about his hydrangeas.
They were gorgeous last summer, he says,
but not as splendid as in 1972 when the blue

ribbon at the state fair went to his wife who,
he reminds me, was Miss Butts County
back in the 1950s and whom he still misses
every day,

especially when he eats peach jam on his toast,
which is almost every morning, except Tuesdays
when the VFW guys get together down at the café.

The people behind him in line shift on their feet
and glance at their watches while he, oblivious
to their impatience, goes on to describe for me (in detail)

the attributes of her winning Lemon Zest Mophead,
which he swears was the size of a dinner plate, or maybe
a large salad plate. The hydrangea story is taking forever

and I feel my own agitation rising, until the moment I take
his hand in mine (a gesture of care but also, I regret now to say,
meant to hurry him along) and I feel his papery fingers

which are not at all like a hydrangea, but rather
like a maple leaf in November, all that lush, green vigor
stored deep within itself, just before it releases the limb

and is airborne at last, carried on a breath,
caught up in the glory of all created things,
its final fluttering an ovation of praise.

Red_maple_leaf

Bedrock Love

leopard-skin-tall

In my dreams we are Fred and Ginger.
We dip.
We twirl.
We glide cheek to cheek
in a pool of blue light,

you in that smart top hat,
me in chiffon and stilettos.
People gaze at us with longing.
How elegant! they exclaim.
How effortless!

In the real world of course
you and I are not Fred and Ginger
we are not even close.
On our best days we are
maybe Fred and Wilma

punching a time-clock down at
the quarry; padding around on
chubby square feet;
wearing the skin of some
prehistoric thing.

You grin and say Let’s go for
ribs at the drive-in.
And as we race off
in that car with
stone wheels

and no floorboard
I think What a lucky girl
I am, living this
Yabba Dabba Doo life
with you.

I Have Regrets

1971-06-25-life-ad-baby-oil-ali-macgrawThat first perm comes to mind,
followed by twenty years of scrunch and fuzz
and photographs I’d like
to bury in the backyard.

And all those summers
at the beach, my pink,
immortal skin glazed
with baby oil. That was
a mistake for sure.

Also I should have listened
to my father when he said
beware of credit cards
and check the engine oil
now and then.

There are of course darker offenses:
affirmations undeclared
encouragements withheld
anger unleashed.

Yes, I have regrets.

But not among them
is that brilliant afternoon by the bay
when the preacher said Do you,
and we said Of course, though

we could not have known then
all that our vows
would supply and demand.
Even so, years later

as I consider this life we have made,
my prevailing regret
is that this blasted thesaurus
doesn’t contain a word

coming anywhere close
to the relief I feel
in knowing you and I
belong to each other.

I Am From Unhurried Talkers

Julie and her brother, 1964.I am from unhurried talkers and folktale weavers, from Sunday school-goers and jailhouse dwellers. I’m from Southern indirectness and civil religion, from Bless your heart and God’s on our side.

I am from wooden clothespins
and sheets smelling of sunshine.
I am from coal dust, home brew
and the company store.
From “be a sweet little girl”
and “that’s not ladylike.”

I am from Big Penn, Bahbra-Ann
and darling Brother.
From Grandpas that burned in the mine
and Grandma-That-Goes-To-Work.

I’m from the Air Force vagabond life,
the seven-schools-in-ten-years life.
From commissary groceries
and “Oh, say can you see” before the movie begins.

I’m from Little Golden Books and Green Eggs and Ham,
from the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Trixie Belden by flashlight.

I’m from giving my life to Jesus during Mission Impossible.
I am from Mom’s sweet piety and Dad’s pack of smokes,
from John Three Sixteen and nickel slots at Tahoe.
I’m from hold-em-under baptisms and grape juice thimbles,
from lowbrow hymns and Evangelism Explosion.

I am from anxious and butterflies and nail-bitten hands.
From straight-A’s and can’t do pull-ups,
from “mentally gifted” and chubby thighs.

I’m from Goo Goos and Yoo Hoos and ice-cream-headaches.
From Vitameatavegamin and the Three Hour Tour.
From hot rollers and halter tops and green shag carpet.

And oh mama, I am from vinyl. From 33’s and 45’s
and a dime on the needle so it doesn’t skip. From Abby Road
and American Pie, from Doobies and Eagles and Carlos Santana.

I’m from the warm-bath ocean and the not-even-in-a-wetsuit ocean.
From Redneck Riviera and Giant Sequoias,
from orange blossoms and oleanders and Steinbeck’s vineyards.
From Louisiana lush and San Joaquin baked.

I am from open arms and waiting laps, from sugar baby,
sweetie pie and Love you before hanging up.

I’m from Give all of yourself you can to all of the Christ you know.
From Grace abounds 
and from God’s got your back.
From Death, where is your victory?
and The greatest of these is Love.

I am from all of this and acres more.
But today, as leaves come down and memories rise up
and the bulldog sighs under the table . . .
what I’m mostly from is Gratitude.

This is part of the SheLoves synchroblog “I Am From”.  
Jump in with your own story!

You Wore Hotpants

il_570xN.156101663Hip-huggers as I recall
with a peace sign
belt buckle riding low.
So altogether different
from the other sixth grade teachers
in their cardigans and tweed.

You were radiant in paisley,
colossal hoops swinging
from your earlobes,
calves planted like tanned
warriors in white vinyl boots.

Even your name signaled
change in the air.

Call me Ms. Petker
you announced to the class.
Mizzz Petker.
Not Mrs, not Miss.

Dear, splendid Ms. Petker:
for all I know the principal,
cowed by your greatness,
showed you the door come June.

For all I know Mister Petker
was a dictatorial oaf in his boxers
demanding another beer.

No matter.

You were a herald,
a seer, a torchbearer.
You taught us the active voice,
the topography of California
and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I waited my turn,
polite like I’d been taught,
then raised my hand.

You held my trembling fingers
and curled them
in the shape of a fist.

Sock it to me, Ms. Petker.
Sock it to me.
Sock it to me forever.

© Julie Pennington-Russell