Mushrooms

Mushrooms, by Sylvia Plath, is my poem of the month. Do you want to know what it’s about? One person says it’s about mushrooms. The beauty of poetry is its surplus of meaning. Poems mean a lot – a lot more than the sum of their words and usually a lot more than the poet intends.

Context matters. Friend Helen Scarisbrick, who always wants to explore chaos and complexity, introduced this poem as part of opening worship for a leadership day in the Diocese of Chester alongside the parable of the mustard seed.

Jesus said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we sue to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.

Instantly the poem becomes much more than about mushrooms. It was then a poem about everything that ever lives – for me, anyway, who carries at the back of my mind these words from Dee Hock, (founder of Visa), railing against failed command and control methods and thinking his way to a better understanding of life from the earth beneath his feet. In Birth of the Chaordic Age he wrote the words which forever challenge my understanding of organisation and leadership:

Soil is building as thousands of gophers, mice and moles work assiduously carrying grass underground and dirt to the surface. Beneath us, billions of worms, ants, beetles and other creatures till the soil around the clock. Trillions of microscopic creatures live, excrete, die beneath my feet, fulfilling their destiny and mine as well, just as surely as fulfil theirs.

In that context it becomes a poem about the power of perseverance, the power in weakness, the place of the seed. It becomes a reminder of the organisms that are part of our organisation which we ignore or oversimplify to our peril, and a reminder that there is “room” in “mushroom” to think again about life, organisation and leadership. It becomes a reminder of what and who we don’t notice, a voice for the voiceless. That makes it my Poem of the Month.

Mushrooms

Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

PS. Mushrooms is from Sylvia Plath’s first collection of poems, The Colossus and Other Poems (1960).

Man of the Match

First half:

Shaking off the tiredness of the day
ushered black skin dayglo into concessionary parking
(it’s not Premier League you understand)
we trudge to Eastlands
side by side strangers
whose separate feelings
we don’t understand
but whose goal we share.
Parking charges upwards
through five poundland to eight poundland.
The crowd thickens, the heartbeat quickens
by pubs and scarf sellers geared and guarded
for their once in a while chance of trade and profit.
Tickets are for sale.
Queues pour from tiny windows like snakes
slowly slithering. We could complain.
It was an hour. But we’re not united.
We are City and what is a missing half?

Second Half:

A boy in the crowd waits to be found
amongst wannabes dreaming catapults
from limelight to spotlight.
Many moons from Titograd
to the moment of his life
a debut, two goals and a loud speaker
hailing the name Stevan Jovetic,
Number 35. Man of the Match
found and fanned to high heaven,
feelings united, everything forgotten.
Five nil.

Kevin Bennett wrote Psalm 35

On August 17th last year a man was kicked to death in by three teenagers on a dare. The man was Kevin Bennett, 53 year old who slept rough at the back of Iceland in Walton, Liverpool. He suffered a fractured eye socket, collapsed lung and a broken ribcage. His attackers were convicted of his murder yesterday.

This blurry photo seems to be the best of him.

According to Tommy Allman and others abuse of rough sleepers is common. As former rough sleeper Allman described what happened to him and others he knows through his work with the Basement, a Liverpool homelessness charity. He describes how rough sleepers get stamped on, crushed, urinated on and even set fire to. To add to that list, we now have someone who has been kicked to death as dare. In a TV interview Allman highlighted the importance of education and increasing awareness of the back stories causing people to become homeless. Homelessness does not happen in isolation and can be caused by financial difficulties, health issues, relationship breakdown or addictions.

Shelter Scotland has found that one in four of is just one paycheck away from homelessness, and that 5300 children were homeless last Christmas. Not all homeless people are rough sleepers, but rough sleepers is the public face of homelessness, and that public face is often not seen in human and humane terms. For many, they are just “bums” to be kicked, sometimes to death.

This was the story that held my attention as I read the ancient wisdom we call Psalm 35. The Psalm could have been written by murdered Kevin Bennett. Or it could have been written by one of the many people whose “back story” and heart of love is ignored and trampled on. The psalmist prays: “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those that fight against me”. It could be Kevin Bennett praying “let those who seek after my life be shamed and disgraced; let those who plot my ruin fall back and be put to confusion … They reward me evil for good.

Friend Rob yesterday observed “we don’t know what people think”, and it is likely that there weren’t many people who bothered what Kevin thought. Certainly the psalmist’s abusers had no idea what the psalmist thought. They couldn’t see a heart that loved them. The hands they trod on weren’t apparently praying hands. Little did they realise that “when they were sick he put on sackcloth, fasted for them and prayed”. The psalmist writes out his agony when his prayer for them seem to be unanswered:

When my prayer returned empty to my bosom,
it was as though I grieved for my friend or brother;
I behaved as one who mourns for his mother,
bowed down and brought very low.”

In spite of that, the mocking continued. “When I stumbled, they gathered in delight; they gathered together against me; as if they were strangers I did not know, they tore at me without ceasing.”

They carried on kicking him in.
As a dare
to look big
they blindly crushed scum,
unable to see the man.
Forgive them, they don’t know what they do.

As for me,
I would not have seen.
It would have been a vague impression,
from the very edge of averted, defensive gaze,
of a blur with no depth of feeling.

I did not know him.

Playing chess with God

chess

14th century poet Hafiz suggests two ways of playing God at chess.

What is the difference
Between your Existence
And that of a Saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God
And that the beloved
Has just made such a fantastic move
That the saint is now continually
Tripping over joy
And bursting out in laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.

Photo from Gabork

a little pure joy

Thanks to Simon Marsh for posting Sparkling WatersAs he says, “a little pure joy for the eyes and ears.” My own reflection, my play on the water, is filtered through questions of those who feel in the doldrums and those who can’t be still.

Stunningly beautiful,
fairly typical
reflecting water
reflecting life
never calm
playground
for light
sparkling, bubbling,
becoming.
Never still.
Only becalmed to the senseless, the dead.

Holding hands and climbing

Exploring the habits of the heart crucial for sustaining a democracy Parker J Palmer, in Healing the Heart of Democracyhighlights this poem by Hafez, a 13th century Persian poet . The poem is called Out of a Great Need

Out
of a great need
we are holding hands
and climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
Listen,
the terrain around here
is
far too
dangerous
for
that.

Turning stones

Stone Tower III

How far skims the stone on the water?
big bounces, many bounces,
final skip
each stone weighed with outstretched arm
for howls of laughter
for cries of pain.
How deep gashes the body with violent pelt?
Turning stones on the one hand
to the other
(weaker)
turns random stones
from arsenal to cairn no stone unturned

Richard Beck posts a quote from a recent interview given by Sr Joan Chittister for the Jackson Free Press. The question was:

“So, as a woman of faith, as a monastic, how do you see your role and the role of other people of faith in the world?”

Sister Joan’s reply:

It’s a simple one: To see injustice and say so, to find the truth and proclaim it, to allow no stone to be unturned when it is a stone that will be cast at anyone else. It’s just that simple. There is nothing institutional, organizational, political about it. It says: “Where I am, you may not harm these people. You may not deride them; you may not reject them; you may not sneer at them, and you certainly cannot blame them for their own existence.”

Shard Villa (1872-1874) - stone megaphone detail

Photos by Keith Bloomfield and Don Shall

Social capital & a man in a hat

Parker J Palmer (worth following) shared this link from the public square of Sadabell in Spain. Turn the sound up, watch, enjoy.

It made me think ……

Public gathering, public square, ode to joy and delight
brings life to creases in old faces
Hands wring pleasure.
Young hands wielding innocent batons
conduct the mood of the moment
Public gathering background noise
Baby face smiles first music to the ear
Girl scales lamppost entranced
public square
ode to joy. Heaven.

Harrowing

Harrowing experience !
There are some words you just want to roll around in your mind isn’t there? “Harrowing” did its work on me when I saw this poem by Parker Palmer, which he describes as “taking form” within him.

Harrowing

The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
last year’s growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life this way
turned over a whole history
looking for the roots of what went wrong
until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.

Enough. The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons –
The farmer plows to plant a gleaning season.

This poem from Let your life speak by Parker J Palmer.

The photo is from Biltho’s photostream