Open and Shut

April 15, 2013

tell me the rules
tell me it straight
tell me your love
or tell me your hate

tell me your limits
tell me the score
show me the walls
and show me the door

put out the sign
open or closed
is there business between us
or is nothing proposed?

give me  the tempo
tell me the key
are we major or minor
or not in harmony

tell me explicitly
in phrases clear
nevermind if it’s not
what I might want to hear

if it’s going to be done
do stick in the blade
tis best done quickly
though I’m yet afraid

tis time to be swift
to be clear and bold
if it’s goodnews or ill
it is time it were told

I would rather you strike me
with one fatal blow
than expire in slow wondering
dying to know


The Personal Process

Sometimes the process of writing is a quest to find the words I need and desire to own. Poetry moves me part the way from a gut level hunch, to being able to articulate and then to choose to act.

But other times – and this poem is one of these- poetry is a process by which i expunge and expel the temptations of error that are lurking around beneath the surface. Here, the poetry exposes a seductive fallacy and by the time it has made its way out on to the page, it contains the antithesis of what I can own as real – the poetry writes it out of me. Here it is as a kind of anti-prayer.


The Personal Content

That explains the process…but as for the content of the poem – I have been encountering in observations and conversations examples of this human compulsion to limit openness and vulnerability. We often use the familiar tropes of ‘boundaries’ and ‘clarity’ in the name of ‘sorting things out’ in order to feel in control in the spaces where relationships take us into uncomfortable, ambiguous or yet-to-be-negotiated territory. The poem gives voice to the one who cannot bear the open space, and somewhat self-destructively, would rather reduce the relationship than continue with the ambiguity of possibility.

The Communal example

On a communal level, I have been hearing the same things in public conversations about our detention of asylum seekers. Public anxiety at the lack of clarity about asylum seekers past, their politics, and their place in our collective future prefers to see ‘them’ (and it’s always a them) incarcerated, limited, bounded, ostensibly they are in a holding pattern, a liminal space ‘awaiting processing’ – but this is not  so truthful: already our country has judged them too ‘dangerous’. Their excrutiating years waiting ‘processing’ bespeaks not openness or grace on Australia’s part, but the speedy, heavy decision, fixed and immoblie. As this kind of fast limit is self-destructive in personal relationships, its damage is multiplied in communal and national context. The hunger-striking asylum seekers expose our heartless fore-gone exclusions with their call to ‘end it quickly’. Their boundary call demonstrates that, rather than truly being in an open process, they understand our judgement has already fallen, and they dare us to own it.

The Personal Confession

Although, it is in reflection on many different interactions and situations that led to the poem, I must personally confess to this compulsion myself as well. The poem calls me on my own will to power – to control, even if through limitation.

God save us from seeking to control each other like this.

But most of all, God save us from the kind of religion that would take this shape as a template for knowing God.

The form of religion in which, clinging to judgement days, inerrant Bible translation, self-evident caricatures and roles, eternal commandments, we give God the ultimatum of giving us ultimatums, when we would rather God’s swift easy judgment, rather than the excrutiating patience of his long-suffering compassionate grace. It is the much harder work of faith which calls us to live in relationship with God, listening, sensing, attending, responding to God as Being, not simply acting within a set of formulas, maxims and stereotypes. The call to follow Jesus is not to imitate a fixed, pre-set pattern, but to actively live in the verbal present of ‘following’.

I do hope to die wondering still at the love of God, and in the meantime I hope to live in wondering open faith.

One comment

  1. ^ Love this, really good poem!

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