Holy and worthy, beyond any doubt
Holy and worthy, our voices ring out
Of a distant sweet voice too oft unaware
Which dries out each tear and soothes every care:
If I am holy, so are you
If I am worthy, then you are too
Author Archives: James
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down
And yet — if we do
Won’t we be carried by the wind
To every corner of the world?
Won’t we descend on fertile soil
And cause new life to awaken?
So what if we fall?
Let us be brought down
That we may drop
The unnatural yoke of gravity
And be transformed, transported
Weightless, wafting through the air
Alive, aglow, and not a care
This poem is Part 3 of The Unholy Triptych
Where arrows pierced your skin, your legs, your side
I felt the pain
I promised myself never to forget
Because I was there and I was you
Pierced by a million gazes like arrows
My weakness exposed
Some averted their eye — they understood
Others stood and defied me
Their meek and mild words
Inflicting a million wounds
Sticks and stones to my flesh
And when the body could no longer bear
The pain, it released its grip
My spirit rose and burned
With crimson flame
Then orange, yellow, white
They looked away and shielded their eyes
But for what? Why now?
We all burned in effigy
The crust was pulverized
And those who dared to look
Were able to see
In the place of judgment
There was life
This poem is Part 2 of the The Unholy Triptych
When snow had fallen and melted
And the stars had been felled like trees
I embraced the darkness
Of your eyes
As an old friend
Plunging, I swallowed up the deep ravine
And caused the decaying leaves
To upwards spiral
And turn green midflight
This was my demise, and my redemption
I felt ground give way and peel away
From the soles of my shoes
And I walked on water
This poem is Part 1 of The Unholy Triptych
I’ve known your face a million ways
I’ve watched it all these years
I’ve seen reflected in your gaze
Your longings, hopes, and fears
Cover to cover, I’ve read its every page
Your smile, my friend of olden days
My mentors were your tears
Your gentle touch, your warm embrace,
Have brought you and me here
Act by act, as characters on stage
Now trees shed leaves, the days are gray
Some things may leave while others stay
Earth to earth, dust to dust
We shall sink into Earth’s crust
Breath by breath, together we engage
Each one more humble, each one a sage
A spark is born amidst the dark
A tingle, crackle, burst of light
So vivid, potent, solid, bright
A promise given, hope revealed
From little more than crumbling bark
A warm, inviting, gentle flame
Which longs to grow, to earn a name
Not knowing that its fate is sealed
So swiftly stilled
Its ashes spilled
He saw her sitting on the parapet, legs dangling lifelessly in the moist spring air, inadvertently waving to passers-by 20 floors below. He’d seen her before—she lived in 2D, the apartment below the one he was renting. She had beautiful eyes, he knew. Beautiful, sad eyes, which were now fixed on a point in the not-too-distant future when at last she would fly.
So we’re here for the same reason, he thought.
He walked up to her. He wasn’t sure if she had noticed. Her eyes—those beautiful, sad eyes—continued staring absently into the open skies.
“Hey! I’ve seen you before. I live one floor above you,” he said.
After a moment’s hesitation, he added, “Do you want to talk?”
For the first time now she made eye contact with him, yet her lips remained motionless and her face unreadable.
“I think we might be here for the same reason,” he said in a slightly shyer tone, his head dropping low as he did.
She turned towards him, hesitantly, with a thoughtful, measuring look.
“You’re here to end the pain?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s one way of putting it,” he agreed.
“How would you put it?” she wondered.
“I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. I never thought about it much.”
“Didn’t you leave a note for, you know, family and friends?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “No family. And as for friends, I doubt if I even have any. Real friends, you know?”
She nodded in slow motion.
“Yes, I can understand that,” she said at last. Her manner suggested there was more to follow.
“My friends all live so far away. And I have a love-hate relationship with my family. But I thought it’d be good to leave them a note, just so they can get some closure.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you.”
A hint of a smile spread across her face. Her features now appeared softer, more vulnerable. He felt something inside him give way.
She sensed it, too, and quickly put up her defenses.
“You know you’re not going to change my mind,” she said as her face turned back to face the void.
“I don’t intend to,” he assured her. “I’m pretty determined myself, you know. I’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“Yes, so have I.”
They both sat quietly. He spoke first.
“Do you mind if I tell you a bit about my life?” Pause. “I mean, I don’t suppose it matters much now anyway. Still, I feel it’d be good to have someone to talk to—even if it’s just for a few moments.”
“I suppose so.” Her face betrayed a hidden warmth. “Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning.”
That evening, he told her of his childhood, growing up, moving to the big city, college, and work. By the time he was finished, she knew more about him than anyone ever had.
She listened patiently, compassionately. She never interrupted him. She never flinched or recoiled. She just sat and was present.
At last, the late hour of the night was starting to have its effect on him. He checked his watch and looked at her remorsefully.
“I’ve been talking about myself all this time. I’m so sorry. That’s rather selfish of me, I assume.”
“It’s OK,” she said. “I don’t mind. I actually quite enjoyed it. Perhaps I could tell you my story, too,” she suggested. “But it’s much too late now. Maybe we can just put it off until tomorrow.”
“I’d like that,” he said.
“Tomorrow night, same time, same place?” she asked.
He smiled in agreement.
The next evening, he found her on the rooftop again. She was leaning against the parapet, wrapped in a fleece blanket, the evening breeze lifting strands of her hair like a curious child.
“I made myself comfortable,” she announced simply when she noticed him. “The other night was a bit chilly.”
“I’ve been thinking all day about what I should tell you—where to start and how to convey it all in a way that makes sense. You did such an outstanding job last night. I feel like my story is going to sound much more chaotic and the events of my life a lot more opaque, I’m afraid.”
“I’m not here to tell you how to tell your story,” he reassured her. “I’m here to listen—just like you did yesterday.”
She measured him cautiously with her eyes, pursing her lips momentarily.
“Very well, then. I’m going to give you a series of scenes from my life, if you don’t mind. They might seem disconnected at first, but I promise you there’s a thread that holds them together. I mean, there’s got to be one, doesn’t it?”
He tuned his ear to her voice and listened, occasionally interjecting, sometimes stirring, but mostly just nodding slowly, thoughtfully. His face changed with each scene. Its initial curiosity gave way to sadness, then concern, frustration, and shock. This soon melted and he bounced back to curiosity, then understanding, and—finally—amazement.
“This might sound strange, but I think I want to say that I am very proud of you,” he managed to get out at last.
She tilted her head slightly. Her face was as inscrutable as it had been the day before.
“Perhaps you misunderstood my story?” she suggested after a while.
“On the contrary,” he argued, “I think I understood it better than if you had told it the same way I told mine.”
“I’m not sure about that,” she said in a quieter tone. She seemed—what?—a little perplexed? Or was it just his imagination?
“Why don’t we give it another try tomorrow,” he proposed. “I’ll tell you what I’ve heard and you can tell me if I got it right. What do you think?”
She nodded, got up, and walked off, eyeing him curiously. He couldn’t help but smile again. “That’s the second time I’ve smiled today,” he observed. He left equally baffled.
The next evening, he brought a thermos with tea. “To keep us warm and hydrated,” he explained.
She motioned him to sit down. “What did you mean yesterday?” she asked without any preamble. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day.”
“That makes it two days in a row,” he quipped.
That night he told her how he understood her story. The next night, she explained to him how she made sense of his narrative. He’d brought tea, she’d brought some cookies. They shared the blanket. When the conversation ended, they both stared over the parapet at the endless rows of high-rises that spread out before them.
“Well, I guess that’s it,” he said when they had sat down without a word for some ten minutes. “It’s been good talking to you.”
Her eyes were watery. They sat together in silence for another ten minutes. Then, at last, she spoke.
“I don’t know what to say,” she attempted, hesitantly. “When I came here the first night, I was convinced there was nothing but pain in this life. Pain I could not imagine living with for the rest of my life.”
“The pain is still there, but somehow… It doesn’t weigh me down so much. It doesn’t feel so overwhelming. I’m not sure what it means.”
He looked her in the eye.
“Perhaps we don’t need to decide right now. Tomorrow?”
She nodded as she watched him leave.
A tree in a forest
A tree in a forest, a fish in the sea
A pea in a pod, a hive-dwelling bee
Surrounded by others, each one just like me,
Searching and yearning for someplace to be
We stand, and we swim, and we sit, and we fly
Never quite still—goodness knows why
Unable to stop, reluctant to cry
Hoping that somehow the living won’t die
Like trees in a forest, like bees in a hive
Each one so hopeful, yet barely alive
Like peas in a pod, like sea-dwelling fish
Keen to be granted our one dying wish
For once to feel loved, for once to feel healed
For once to let go and lower our shield
For once to be cherished, for once to be held
Just once to see God before we are felled
A quiet morning
A quiet morning when all is dark
Implements scattered across the desk
Like random thoughts that cross my mind
Without a purpose, unrefined
Echoing briefly, then—exeunt
To be replaced by what comes next
A futile medley, it would seem,
Akin to slideshows that I dream
Outside the window, the world is still
Inside my head, against my will
Synapses madly push and prod
I cannot seem to rein them in