For the One Who is Brave

This is a poem I wrote for my wedding, and hid in plain sight. When an unsuspecting guest picked it up, she was instructed to stop everything to read it, which she did. My husband had not read the poem yet, and it was a joy to watch his face as he took it in for the first time.

I wrote this for my wedding, but it applies to this moment of turmoil and uncertainty, and I hope you enjoy it and take courage.

For the One Who is Brave
(a comprehensive exposition of what bravery is)

The first time you are brave,
you probably won’t know it
until it is too late
and your only choice is to keep being brave
or lose—maybe everything.
Later you will learn to know in advance,
so you can opt out early
and not be confronted with the concept of brave to begin with,
Because you will also learn in exactly which ways it is hard
to be brave.
You will know it is lonely, solitary, and scary,
It is lights and eyes pointed at you,
It is interrupting a wedding.
You will know the difference between brave
and the comfort of your bed, a dark room,
and an “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
But what’s important, once you have learned the difference—
when being brave is love taking a risk,
not lightning taking the shortest route to the ground—
is to do it anyway,
to say yes to living,
yes to trusting your gut,
yes to distrusting your depression,
yes to going on a first date,
when you thought first dates were done.
It is naked, standing three feet apart,
and holding off on the impulse to dim the lights,
or move together to touch, instead of
look—holding each other’s gaze,
for seconds then minutes.
It is sharing the parts of you that you’d rather
weren’t there, that you wished were better,
but aren’t yet.
It is “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.”
Sometimes, even, it’s fighting monsters,
casual and grandiose.
But it is mostly glamorless,
mostly the hard stuff,
mostly the what’s next stuff,
but we still write songs about it,
and read poems under the glare of stage lights,
and perform plays,
and go to movies about all of this
ordinary bravery.
And this is no different,
Except that this is for us,
for future yeses,
for we do,
we will,
we can,
we must,


I Like Your Body

I like your body;
it’s a good body
you said as if in defiance of
years of bad theology too apt to cling
to my skin, acting as filter through which
I made too many decisions,
telling girls too young to know
how to put on a bra or wear a tampon
that they are never subjects, only objects,
so stay atop the tree, and never let yourself become low-hanging fruit.

These conversations turned the air stale
until the implication had insinuated itself into every hallway
and after-church donut:

If you have a body, maybe God doesn’t want you.
Don’t like your body;
it’s a bad body.

And knowing what a lie it is
doesn’t matter as much
as hearing the truth,
the liberating syllables,
of seeing creation
and saying, it is good.

They Wished

They wished to say I was an intellectual,
equipped with always a book and an idea,
and so many uncomprehended words.

They wished to say I was an evangelist,
a prayer or a verse uttered often
in places they said God doesn’t belong.

They wished to say I was poor,
unable to find a job, homeless,
in an unscalable wall of debt.

They wished to say I was dumb and easy,
investing in my wardrobe and loving fashion,
accepting and accentuating my curves.

They wished to say I was an artist,
pages of doodles and imaginings in stacks
and paint stained hands.

They wished to say I was a girl,
smaller and weaker,
with my long hair and dresses.

They wished to say I was a writer,
filling pages of one notebook after another,
forgetting my purpose, getting lost in a new couplet.

They wished to say I was a prude,
as I championed the memory-old code,
not letting their lips touch mine.

They wished to say I was secure,
unaware of my bank account,
seeing only skin and height and composure.

They wished to say I was a pagan,
loving and accepting science,
and dancing naked in the moonlight.

They wished to say I was an academic,
with my teaching tone and studies to prove,
and always dreaming of the Ph.D after my name.

They wished to say I couldn’t.
They wished to say I should.
They wished to be the experts.
They wished I would be just one thing or nothing at all.

They wished.

But why did you love him?

I don’t know. I just did. When you see people up close, all the lines and details and flaws, they become a dance or a song or whatever the most beautiful thing in the universe is. And you never want to look away; you can’t, in case you miss something of immeasurable importance. You can’t really say it was my fault—loving him—but I’d still take all the blame. It’s like that time I saw the Northern Lights —I just stared at the sky for hours in the cold, even though my neck started to hurt. There wasn’t a why. I had to because he was too beautiful. Even at his worst, I only wanted to forgive him as soon as I could.

Magenta Drag Show Summer

I think you robbed me of your summertime self,
where we could—instead of huddling
in the cold, your gloveless hands
inside my coat, curiously poking fingers
through the holes in my dress—
feel the rejuvenating heat and
bless the sailboats
or rest on hilltops watching water turn
from its textured blue-gray
into flaming magenta to match the sky,
putting on a spectacular kind of drag show.

For me, sunshine felt like
a trick, instead of a promise,
so that I even resented the cherry blossoms.
I never got to sit with you when the earth was warm,
and the air had cooled into after-sunset molecular legato.
My hair was never put into braids, off my neck,
and we never got to touch
until we were both covered in the kind
of sticky sweat that only summer bodies know,
and only cold showers can properly remedy.

I find myself trying to be both of us,
the practical romantic,
with plans and fears and deep loves
in tension with each other,
in compliment to one another—
instead of offering just me
ceaselessly to all of you—
and I keep my heart alive,
that palpitating, romanticizing idealist thing,
with my memory’s best guess of you.

When I speak to you again,
I discover how bad I am at being you.

Laughter Gives You Courage

Laughter gives you courage. With belly shakes,
and chest reverberating with mirth,
you are storing up momentum
to face the too-quiet moments of uncertainty,
when dread comes knocking in the 3am dark,
and heavy eyelids refuse to block out fear.
Laughter patterns patches of skin,
spreads itself through muscle, tendon, and bone,
until you are warm, despite the weather.

Koala Bears Can’t Say I Love You

Finding yourself in some distant world
someday, in a place you’ve never been,
where the skyline and people seem alien,
despite being so archetypically familiar,
you cannot help but notice
the perfectly spaced trees and benches,
along a rounded, gravel path,
the black lab lunging at the ducks,
being fed by perfectly cute children,
who are somehow frozen in their moment of elation.
There you are, in a world so new,
the light hitting everything just so.
For a moment you think this must be
one of your imagined adventures,
a dream seeming too real.
After all, koala bears can’t say, I love you,
and you never face your fears so calmly,
and you never create new universes
just by speaking the words that come tumbling
from the recesses of somewhere more than matter.
That is but legend, metaphor, myth.
But then you look up at that face,
more familiar than ever in this new space,
and at the moment of this big bang,
you wonder with your fiercest hope
whether some of the resulting planets
will someday be able to support life.

For Alphonse Gustav

Because there is evil in the world,
dear one, and brothers slay brothers,
and men are cowardly, even in their words,
hiding behind rhetoric and platitudes,
and even less valiant in their actions;
let me rest in your arms tonight
and listen to the gentle rhythm
of your life, defying this creeping despair.

Because fear and apprehension are wasted time,
a disservice to uncertainty, to humanity, to God,
a surrender to the tragedy,
a capitulation to the darkness;
let me stay by your side for whatever
minutes or hours or days or weeks
or months or years remain to us.
Oh darling, let me come Home.

Because there is beauty in the world,
casting the light of redemption—
when good is allowed to grow,
when heads and hearts forget
their fancied or fabled fear—
even on the darkness of death;
let me rest in your arms tonight,
becoming one within and without.

Because there is Love in the world,
whispering sight and sound and health,
overwhelming the grave, defeating defeat,
living every day as a gratitude,
a grace, a gift, a greatness;
let me sing, too, the susurrant hope
of the Creator and the created.
Oh darling, let me come Home.

As You Wish

Yes, sometimes, I have to fall out of love,
and this falling is less than thrilling,
more a slow tumble down a steep decline,
as I cry out the words that have meaning
only to two other ears,
hoping he will throw himself down after me.

Then, dizzy, and scraped, and bruised a little,
I brush myself off and grin.
With a smirk and a tell-tale twinkle I say,
That was fun; let’s go again.”