Friday, December 12, 2014

The Angel Gabriel in Miami

Last night at a gallery show (see this post for details about the show), a colleague friend asked me about the writing that I was doing.  I told her about the short story I wrote and the poem I was working on.  I said, "The angel Gabriel goes to Miami . . ."

Her eyes lit up, and we had a great conversation about where we expect to find God and where the Bible tells us we'll find God.  She has a more traditional approach to the idea of sin than I do, and we talked about Miami as a place of sin.

My poem has Gabriel skeptical about finding a virgin in Miami.  I had been thinking about Mary as the mother of Jesus, and how God finds a mother in the most unlikely place:  not the power centers of the time, but a rural outpost of the empire.  What would be an unlikely place to find a means of grace in our modern culture?  A strip club?  A group of drug runners?

But maybe those are too traditional.  Maybe the angel Gabriel would find Mary in a real estate developer's office.  Maybe at the school board.  I'll keep playing with this idea.

When it's been awhile since I've written a poem, or when I feel like I have no ideas, I return to the stories of the Bible or mythology or literature.  I update them or take the characters and insert them elsewhere.

Here's an example, which was published in Chiron Review. Those of you who have been following my poems will see a familiar theme--the answer to that old Sunday School question of how the world would react if Jesus returned again and what would Jesus do and how would we recognize him?

Here's the poem:

New Kid

If Jesus came to your high school,
he'd be that boy with the untuned guitar,
which most days was missing a string.
Could he not afford a packet of guitar strings?
Did he not know how to tune the thing?
Hadn't he heard of an electronic tuner?
Jesus would smile that half smile and keep playing,
but offer no answers.

If Jesus came to your high school,
he'd hang out with the strange and demented.
He'd sneak smokes with the drug addled.
He'd join Chorus, where the otherworldly
quality of his voice wouldn’t quite blend.
He'd play flute in Band.
He'd spend his lunch hour in the library, reading and reshelving.

You would hear his songs echoing
in your head, down the hallways, across the years.
They'd shimmer at you and just when you thought you grasped
their meaning, your analytical processes would collapse.
Instead, you write strange poems
to delight your children who draw mystical
pictures to illustrate your poems inspired
by Jesus, who sang the songs of angels,
that year he came to your high school.

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