Breakdown

My sister and I were roadtripping

‘cross the west country in spring

our hire car was far from first choice

and broke down as darkness set in.

We were not far from an exit, and

left the car to find a phone

–this was before the blessed curse of mobiles.

A half-mile’s walk down a quiet highway

brought us to the sign, then the ramp–

only two miles to somewhere,

but the name was scratched out.

Em gave me a look–‘Something’s not right’

But I wasn’t going to stay in the car all night.

Besides, there were lights nearby,

and so we went to town–unknown.

There was music when we arrived,

and the sound of a crowd–a late evening parade?

‘Ah, newcomers!’ a man cried from our left.

He was dressed in pinstripes and a woven straw hat.

‘We’re celebrating our victory, you’ve come just in time!’

A parade it was, with floats and bands and wood-shod dancers

horses and candy and old classic cars,

and an ad for the fireworks

that were scheduled for later.

We were each given a lollipop

and creme soda–

no-one asked who we were.  We shrugged to each other,

‘We’ll phone when it’s done.’

‘What town is this?’ I asked our companion.

Tipping his hat, he said, ‘We’ve just changed our name:

Tenemus–“We have it”.’

‘What do you have?’ my sister inquired.

‘Why, we have it all,’ and he winked as he said it.

‘The answers, the luck, the time in the world…

we have it all!’

‘Interesting,’ she mumbled, and I asked howso.

‘That’s what we’re celebrating,’ he said with a grin,

‘the main ceremony is about to begin!

We’ve got the Box, the truth in, and everything,

to the civic center with it we go!

Ah, there it is now!’

The crowd began to turn to the left,

to follow the parade up the street–

the reason was the Box being carried aloft,

the finale of the procession

festooned in ribbons and appreciation.

The civic center was but yards away from where we’d come in,

and we two and the Hat Man went to a window.

We saw the bearers bring in the Box, place it on a table

near the front wall, gave thanks.

They were back out in a moment–

the crowd gave a cheer for the fireworks!

We were taken in tow to the barbeque

our faces lit with purple, red, green

splashed across the sky

the band played the right numbers

the drinks were ice cold

all was rejoicing

’til someone heard screaming.

The janitor had been back in the center:

‘There’s a huge mess!’

The cause for his panic he couldn’t explain,

the mayor would just have to go with him.

Some of us followed, curiosity whetted

and saw a strange sight on the civic center floor.

The Box had not moved, garlands in place

but on the floor ‘neath the table

was a Mess–of a stone.

A great statue with ears, face to the ground,

hands at its shoulders.

The people just stared.

Said my sister to the Hat Man,

‘From where did that fall down?’

‘Nowhere, I’ve not seen it before.’

His throat was tight, his voice low.

His hat looked silly atop the gloom of his face.

‘I don’t recall it myself,’ I affirmed.

The people inside said the same thing–

‘What is it, where’d it come from?’

An alderman said, ‘It doesn’t matter’

An alderwoman:’Just find a way to clean it up.’

The janitor and the mayor and a few other men

actors by nature knelt in the Mess.

‘Come,’ said the Hat Man, ‘back to the party’

where we explained what had happened to those who asked.

No-one was too bothered, we went on with the night

but when the mayor returned a rumor went round–

the Mess had disappeared

as soon as picked up.

‘Problem solved!’ the Hat Man jubilated

‘We have it all again!’ and more cotton candy was handed down.

When the crowd grew thin, he introduced his aunt

who offered both phone and a bedroom for the night.

We accepted, found ourselves guests in a

quaint B&B

with a hot shower and

pillows for forgetting.

Waffles and the Hat’s aunt greeted us in the morning

the former all it took to charm my sister.

A tow was on its way to our car,

so after ‘Goodbye!’ to our hostess

we began our trek out of town.

Walking down Bridge Street we saw a crowd

at that important place–the civic center

was abuzz anew in the bracing spring air.

We saw the Hat Man, no hat today–

I waved him over, looked inquisitive

and he said with a frowning shrug

or a shrugging frown:

‘The Mess was back today, but worse–

broken in pieces, hard to clean up!’

‘What did you do with it?’ Em asked.

‘It’s gone again, and

they say it’s okay, we’ve got the Box–

and though it’s true, it’s vanished, I’m just not sure.’

He then turned aside, and we turned to hurry

out of that town, as yet unknown.

We passed the limits in the daylight this time

and a sign face-flat on the ground

caught our eye–

Em took it by the edge and lifted it up

In big letters it read ‘Welcome to ASHDOD’

then ‘pop. 2,442’ and, ‘seeing is believing’.

She let it drop a moment later, as a voice said,

‘You didn’t know that’s where you are?’

We met the gaze of an old bearded man,

cane in one hand and eyes

somewhat dimmed by age

We replied with a nod– he looked back toward the town:

‘Neither do they.’  We didn’t wait, we ran,

didn’t breathe ’til we shook the hand of the driver

and he towed us away.

We passed the exit sign again–though this time we could read,

faint under the scratching, Ashdod, 2 miles,

and over it, Tenemus

but that couldn’t be seen in the dark.

Vignette on Young Cashiers

I just got home from the supermarket, where my total bill came to ₤27.82. I paid in cash, with a ₤20 note, a ₤10 note, a ₤1 coin, 2x50p coins, 4x20p coins, and a 2p coin, for ₤32.82 (to those reading, it should be obvious I was looking for a ₤5 note in change).  The till clerk was a very nice young lady, probably a uni student–I watched her count out the money I gave her, at the same time noticing that she entered the total into the computer as exact change, rather than as ₤32.82 (so the computer wasn’t going to tell her what change was owed).  When she went into her till to get my change, she took out 3x ₤1 coins (one of them probably the one I just gave her) and handed them to me.  I looked at the coins for a moment, then said, ‘Oh, sorry, I gave you ₤32.82.’ She said, ‘That’s right, you did.’  She took back the change, reopened her till, as I was saying, ‘So it should be ₤5 change.’  She said, ‘Do you want it in 1s or two 2 pound coins?’  I was a bit confused, but then figured she didn’t have any ₤5 notes.  So I said I didn’t care.  She then gave me 2x₤2 coins for ₤4 change total. Then I did see the corner of a ₤5 note in her till. I stood there for a moment, trying to decide if I wanted to go over the amount I’d given her again (I could have gone by denomination, as I did above), trying to persuade her that I was due ₤5 and that that was what I was after all along–why would I have given her single pounds for single pounds back?  Anyway, there was someone in the queue behind me, and as it was obvious she didn’t actually remember what she’d counted out (or hear what I said–having been in the cashiering business for a long time, I told the amount I was paying as I put it in her hand at the beginning), I figured that ₤1 wasn’t worth stressing her out, or seeming to make a stink.   So, Mr. Sainsbury, that extra ₤ is on me, because I didn’t want to look like a jerk!  Next time I’ll try an older clerk–as folk grouse all the time, these kids don’t know how to think in terms of making change!  (all that said, she was very pleasant and polite)

Darker Motown

‘Backstabber’ by the O’Jays…

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers (back stabbers)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers (back stabbers)

All you fellows who have someone
And you really care, yeah, yeah
Then it’s all of you fellows
Who better beware, yeah yeah
Somebody’s out to get your lady
A few of your buddies they sure look shady
Blades are long, clenched tight in their fist
Aimin’ straight at your back
And I don’t think they’ll miss

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers (back stabbers)
I keep gettin’ all these visits
From my friends, yeah, what they doin to me
They come to my house
Again and again and again and again, yeah
So are they there to see my woman
I don’t even be home but they just keep on comin’
What can I do to get on the right track
I wish they’d take some of these knives off my back

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
All the time they want to take your place
The back stabbers
(Back stabbers)
Low down, dirty

(What they do)
(They smile in your face)
Smiling faces
Smiling faces sometimes tell lies (back stabbers)
(They smile in your face)
I don’t need low down
Dirty bastards (back stabbers)

Before the Bench

In your life

you noiselessly turn the page

forget what you read

what you wrote and what you said

‘Time marches on,

and besides, I’ve done no wrong!’

Yet sit, shut, and reflect–

down, up, and upon:

you’ve done an ‘unrecht’,

perhaps more than one–

and shall you not be summoned?

woe unto you who would not be taught

who put pride and pet doctrine First

For sitting in judgment you shall be judged

For acting accuser you shall be accused

Did you not see that the διάβολος

holds this in common with you?

You broke a trust

for you were bound by the law of harmony.

You made yourself arbiter of

nonnegotiables

in matters you did not understand–puffed up!

Your passion was sufficient cause,

it justified unauthorized assault.

Bad enough that you Deny the Power Thereof

while you wear your religion as a mantle

Bad enough that God no longer speaks–

but even with the record of when He did

you’re the final word;

like a deist cuts miracles

you cut the inconvenient;

your tradition is red, while the passage is blue.

Blue is wrong, with no questions asked.

Yet all the time you proclaim yourself

Guardian of the Canon!

Such irony signals delusion while

Your Bible’s binding seems thin…

You contradict the Spirit, and shall you not be summoned?

In your fired-up confusion you rose up

senseless arguments, baseless complaints

and false testimony fell black and rank

from the mouth and onto the page

closed ears and closed minds and cold arrogance

wove a string of injustices

an insensibility, dulness to grace and reasoning.

You were called–to sling mud,

sow discord, doubt, and deafness,

to instigate revolution against Revival

because you found the instruction ‘New’.

Sheep stone the sheepdog, and shall you not be summoned?

First crime in the heart

second in the mouth

to draw others after you

to taint their hearing

Now people are confused

You’ve set rot in the root of

proper regard.

You weren’t content to be naughty yourselves

you dammed up the river for everyone else.

You’ve quenched the Spirit for all, and shall you not be summoned?

Poison was in the rebuttal

Envy brought to light by the thought

of what you’d been missing

spurned on by conviction of self-importance

‘Who has the right, as sheep in the pew,

to direct the preacher in his call?

Yours truly, yours truly!  Tradition!

Yours truly, yours truly! Tradition!’

Can you not feel the weight of

the chains on your mind?

You slow your own renewal, and shall you not be summoned?

You’ve taken up new residence

and sent for your paperwork

as if nothing’s happened!

Do you not know the gavel has fallen

the verdict declared?

Old Testament and New

you’ve disdained–commandments broken

and the Body wounded

and you’ve no remorse!

Shall the church not be warned

that your Thought is Pharisaical

and your spirit vindictive?

All this because you were a know-it-all

and put unthinking rote

rock-aged folly before

growth, understanding, upbuilding,

indeed even love;

a tiny seed of unteachable pride

takes root– turn round once, twice,

and it is a sweeping weed,

its fruit anger, clamor, slander and malice.

No room for openness, compassion, no room even to listen–

‘Cast out the heretic, though we can’t explain why!’

God sees the abuse of His faithful ones;

does He not call to repentance the abusers?

You’ve assaulted your brother, and shall you not be summoned?

It’s unfathomable you’ve not disgusted yourself–

but faith that is cold, neither in the heart

nor seeking the Spirit,

cannot easily feel conviction,

and contentment with self’s Now

breeds complacency, sloth, arrogance,

and, horribile dictu!, indifference even to the pain of family.

Do you flail about in your indignation

then walk away from the wreckage

expecting no consequences?

But perhaps Romans’ fourteenth chapter has been excised

from your version.

One who does not reflect is due no honor.

Each of us will give an account, and shall you not be summoned?

Be Above Reproach

While walking ‘long the riverbank

the sun on the stream and

shadow in the glade

I saw a man across the water,

he’d come from out of the wood,

and stood ready to speak to me.

I knew him by his face

no mistaking the glow

though three thousand years since

first it was bestowed.

Without a thought I bowed my head

to this giver of the Law

And asked him what he would say

what I ought to know.

His sermo was brief, to the point,

as the commandments themselves-

‘Be above reproach,’ said he, ‘and

do not fear man.’

I would have asked him to explain,

but he’d said his piece, now turned away

and all was quiet at the bank.

I walked a little further along, and emerged anew

someone from the trees–

I knew him by his crown and by his voice,

for he approached the bank in song.

‘O King,’ said I, nigh breathless,

‘you have been one after His own heart–

what would you say to me?’

‘Be above reproach,’ he said, ‘and

be no party to rebellion.’

He too spoke short, and his errand done, departed, in psalm.

Deciding then to wait, I sat down in the grass,

to mull and to see whether another would come.

It wasn’t a long time, perhaps only moments,

when another left the shade,

one whose countenance bade me stand.

By his clothes and by his feet I knew

the one who’d raced a king’s car to Jezreel.

I could speak not a word to him, could only

listen to his warning.

‘Be above reproach,’ again, ‘and

do not abide idolatry.’

I replied with so slight a nod

and thought he looked tired.

But he was gone, and one followed him soon after.

By his eyes, red and worn from tear-filled years of service,

I knew him.

I would have reached out to him

were we not separated by the stream.

‘I will take your advice,’ I said, ‘you who have

spoken sorrowful things’.

‘Be above reproach,’ he answered, ‘and

do not suppress Truth.’

In his sadness yet there was peace as he heard

the sound of the water,

and as the glint of the sun on its current

flitted over his face.  And then he departed.

My heart was heavy with the weight of their words,

and yet I could not leave the river-bank.

There was more to hear.

I was not wrong, nor long in waiting,

for then came a seer of visions,

one whom I knew by his chain of gold.

I was a partaker in the wonder of his dreams

as I stood across the river meeting his gaze.

‘Can you lighten my load with your words, sir?’

With almost a smile he answered,

‘Be above reproach, and

do not omit to pray.’

This would do, after all.

He now waited until another came to the bank,

exchanged with him a greeting

and took his leave.

This newcomer I knew by his keen glance,

tax-collecting ambition turned to recording of instruction.

‘You once despised,’ I addressed him,

‘who wrote more than all the teachings of Christ,

what would you tell me?’

‘Be above reproach,’ said he, ‘and

do not doubt the Word.’

I recalled then the Fulfillments noted by his pen,

and knew his own assurance.

After he left, I thought then to think,

and began to move again down the riverside.

I was left to myself for some time,

when from the wood came one whom I knew

by the impetuous curve of his brow,

one who had known once a thrice-dark night of the soul.

‘You who are sober-minded,’ I said, ‘and

ready to suffer, what must I know?’

The man stout of heart replied right away,

‘Be above reproach, and

do not brook false doctrine.’

The urgency in his voice made my eyes widen,

but there was no time for questions,

for he seemed summoned away.

The sun glanced off the water, though more faintly

as evening fell, yet even now

golden patches refracted, then rippled along the tree-trunks

opposite.  The words were good.

I felt I was nearing the end

in this series of interviews,

when another came to the river-bank.

Him I knew also by his eyes, once struck blind

then renewed with his soul.

‘O you who were called to journey,

to plant, three times, four times,

what more should I know?’

The many-times past-imprisoned answered,

‘Be above reproach, and

do not spurn your conscience.’

This I stored up with the others, to ponder,

lest I forget–and after a nod the apostle left.

Twilight was casting long shadows,

and Time at the river-bank would soon wind down.

There was only one more to come,

but who would he be?

There was something moving in the trees;

from across the water I caught sight of a yellow glow.

A little fire was coming through the wood.

When the last man emerged, I recognized

a lamp in his hand, a light of hope in his face.

It was fitting that he should come last,

the one whose carried-along quill

penned the seven letters and

whose mind saw the breaking of the seal.

‘You who have been shown the end of days,’ I said,

‘what have you come to say?’

In silence, he came to the very edge of the water.

It was as he stretched out his arm,

that the stream showed itself narrower than I’d realized.

In his hand was the lamp.

Without thought

I stepped to the edge, on my side,

and put out my hand to receive it.

When once I had it, I looked to him for explanation.

‘What have you come to say?’ I asked.

‘Be above reproach,’ he said, ‘and

keep the Faith.’