Teach me to Pray: Reflections on the Lord’s Prayer

This is a series of poems I wrote this spring reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of my everyday life in Korea. It was a powerful spiritual exercise for me. To consciously pray through the details of the world around me and to see the glory of God again and again. (I posted the first one, Our Father in Heaven, here).

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME

eunni, oppa, dongsaeng, seonsaengnim, halmoni

No one needs a name tag here. We walk the streets as family,
connected in a way that makes me want to stoop down
and pick up the wallet you dropped and hand it back to you.

You have a name.
I’ve heard it through the television, through the telephone, through
the formal introductions never separate from your relationship to me.

I wouldn’t say it out loud.

Never born, never going to die.
This is the eternal song of the One whose name doesn’t change.
He calls us (all) Friend
His name is everything we need:

I am

YOUR KINGDOM COME

On the corner, four-foot popsicles cover the old convenience shop windows.
Discount ice cream signs are installed quickly,
the store is cleared out, swept out, shelves replaced by freezers.

We can’t walk by without going in.

This is the world in it’s place
with variety and color and every flavor of ice cream.
I’ll have chocolate and vanilla. Would you like sweet potato? Green tea mochi?

We lean over freezers, trying to decide which ice cream bar we should buy.
All is right.

YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN

On the playground near the fire station, three girls
play kindly together.
“Gongjunim, bbali wa!” (princess, come quick!)
These girls are not petty.
Not careful in their dresses and tights and buckled shoes.
They run through the sand, turn on the water fountain,
spray the front of their clothes.
Their hands are filthy, but they are not concerned
with cleanliness or perfection.
They are not interested in a show.

They play and play and play

until their mothers come with scolding faces and bicycles
with extra seats on the back,
ending their playdate in the castle,
ending their time in the sand.

Bamboo is propped up to the right of the playground,
standing tall with the help of wooden braces.
The drain by the fountain swirls with water ready to escape.

Across the way firefighters train for their next rescue.
They start the motor of the safety raft in the
parking lot behind the station.
They lift the tallest ladder and start to climb.

GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD

My husband taught me to divide freshly cooked rice into four sections
before scooping it into bowls.
To mindfully make the sign of the cross
in gratitude and remembrance.

My mother always did this, he tells me.

I imagine her hands today,
decades of nourishment raking through murky rice-water,
rinsing ssal until the liquid runs clear.

There were times her family went without,
when the rice was low but she found a way to
fill the bellies of her children anyway.
She combined the rice with barley or another
stretching grain, and suddenly there was enough.

There is always just enough.

It is foreign to my framework of abundance,
but I prayerfully copy the motion:
give us this day our daily bread.

FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS

At the subway elevator, elderly men and women shuffle
past my double stroller
to make their way inside.
Occasionally they look back sympathetically
at my arms holding a baby and pushing two big kids
at the same time.
It must be hard, they say to each other as the doors close
swiftly, like a window screen sliding into place,
keeping all the bugs and bees and birds
out of the house.

DON’T LEAD US INTO TEMPTATION

(I submitted this poem recently and I’m waiting to hear back…can’t post it here yet, but I want to hold a place for it in the series)

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

Gray clouds smear across the stormy sky like dark fingerprints
smudged on a dull piece of paper.
Outside the window it’s raining pollution.

Umbrellas bob with footsteps, disks rounded down over morning-heads walking to work.

There is so much work to do.

We step out into the gloom and dark,
underneath a makeshift shelter.

A thin piece of nylon covers our heads.

FOR YOURS IS THE KINGDOM

My daughter asks at the dinner table
what it means to have authority.

In the back room the kids retell famous stories:
“I am Goliath! Who is going to kill me?”

This is our place in the world, as darkness slayers, as healers,
recognizing evil and committing to its defeat.

As sons and daughters of the King,
there is never any doubt in tiny minds that we are

inhabitants of another Kingdom.

AND THE POWER

Speak the truth in love and you will find
love is the only way to speak.
Maybe you want to hear yourself say something profound, but there is no
profundity in spring.
We’ve seen it before. Last year and the year before.
We know the pace of women running umbrella-less in the rain.
We stand with mouths open like trap doors, thinking universal words of pleasure:
Beautiful! Magnificent! Lovely!
It is exactly what we need.
In all the beauty of its repetition
we bow down.

AND THE GLORY FOREVER

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. Isaiah 40:5

When the time comes, each delicate cherry blossom is set in motion.
Soft hues of pink and sharp white petals stand out against an ice blue sky.

They congregate, and when the slightest wind blows, they fall.

This is also how we are: beautiful and fragile, vulnerable to the wind and rain.

This is how we interact, how we move as a unit
or get swept away.

This is our hearts collected. Grouped together.

Popping into the open air,
no longer able to stay tucked away in seclusion,
we behold the unstoppable glory of God.

AMEN

There is no goodbye
may it be so
there is no ending to this conversation.
Your eyes will never close.
selah

Our Father in Heaven

This spring I wrote a series of poems based on the Lord’s Prayer through the lens of our Korean neighborhood. It was a really fun challenge. Here is the first one:

Our Father in Heaven

Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!           Psalm 116:2 (NLT)

Look for colored masking tape that sticks semi-permanently
to papers with tabs full of phone numbers blowing below the details of
the place for rent.

“one room”
“very clean”
“roommate needed”

Even the tape that held papers since removed leaves confetti residue
stuck forever like a chewing gum installation on temporary construction walls,
telephone poles, and abandoned shop windows near the road.

Most of the papers politely call for attention, but sometimes the images shout:
this is exactly what you need.

If you already have a home, there is something for you, too:

“piano teacher”
“guitar for sale”
“new department store”

like answers to prayer they wait, confident you’ll read them.

Meanwhile the same street is wrapped in forsythia. New blooms
arrive as cheerful greetings. They are not shy in reaching,
not careful in bending,
in every direction they shout:

“yellow!” and “hello!”

There is no way to walk by without sensing the pleasure in a
string of tiny glowing flowers
as they cling close to haphazard sticks.

Their petals mirror the flapping phone numbers,
providing the specific details of that one thing you need.

————————
Find the rest of the poems here.

Summer Magazine

Occasionally my mom tucks
old magazines into the
oversize packages she
mails to Korea.
Between the rattly pantry items
and bulky toys for the kids
a Martha Stewart Living will appear.

The glossy floral cover promises “sheet cakes that wow”,
“mini room makeovers”, and “melt-in-your-mouth meringues”.

While flipping through the pages I’m fanned with a breeze of
nostalgic summers in America.
Filed between a feature on roses and animal-shaped cakes is an
article explaining how to decorate your home like a popsicle.

I am not particularly interested in the décor of page 120,
in the orange accented bed or the coordinating shower curtain stacked with teal, hot pink, and orange,
but sitting on my living room floor, listening to afternoon
traffic and summer birds,
I feel the predictability of a cooling
fan as it pivots and homesickness as it blows heavy on my face.
I want to turn two-dimensional and slip
into the scene like a paper doll.

A wind of desire, of jealousy, of longing
grabs my attention
and I turn the page quickly as if it were that easy to skip over the difficult parts
of a life simply by closing a magazine

May Books

Observations by Marianne Moore

Moore’s poems are intelligent with a spark of wit. I like how she quotes found phrases throughout her writing. The introduction explains that she constantly adjusted and reworked her poems. In her mind they were never finished. I relate to that so much as I reflect on my own writing. It’s hard not to keep changing things.

Linking Arms, Linking Lives:How Urban-Suburban Partnerships Can Transform Communities by Ronald J. Sider, John M. Perkins, Wayne L. Gordon, and F. Albert Tizon

This is one of the books Jase threw out of the spinning bookshelf at the library when I wasn’t looking. I turned the corner, saw it on the ground, and I had to get it.  It’s funny how our dreams follow us. How our passions rarely leave us alone. How my God-dreams of living in urban America stick around even when I currently live on the other side of the world. It was encouraging to read stories of people who are successfully working together to transform communities. The church desperately needs encouragement and practical tools for partnering across racial/socio-economic lines. This book is a helpful beginning for those who are serious about building bridges and serving each other.

That’s all I had time to read in May. Looking forward to all my June books.

Happy reading!

Potato Starch

This is a poem I wrote quickly while chopping real potatoes in my real kitchen and musing about what lies beneath the surface,  under the skin of a potato and under my own.

Potato starch

Creamy film coats the outside of a peeled potato.
Turns it brown if you leave it on the counter.
Stays behind if you wait too long to wash the used knife.

It leaves a chalk map on the blade. 
Creates faint white lines on the resting cutting board.
Turns to chalk if left to dry.

Scribbles of starch mimic the layers of earth that once buried the growing, golden thing.

It hides beneath thick skin until exposed, coating my fingertips as I slide the pieces from the knife into the frying pan.

Each one pops in oil as the outside heats up. And as the cubes flip and crisp,
the starch sticks.

Milk Tea as a Metaphor

Summer heat blows in like a sadness.
I feel it against my skin.
I turn my head to resist it like the first gust of
hot air that escapes from an oven.

It helps to remember that this feeling comes every year.
It’s inevitable: I will feel sad in June.

I feel tiny and insignificant, flying around like a bug
caught in the path of a giant windshield on summer vacation.
I am in danger of being squashed by the heaviness.

It’s been 5 years since we moved to Korea, and it seems to be
getting harder. I look at my kids who barely speak the language,
watch their huge eyes as I try myself to communicate with some
small intelligence.

I am ignorant and unaware.

This is the humbling thing: I live a beautiful life
in the middle of difficult circumstances.

We walk to the big box store
four subway stops from home.
We pass the milk tea stand on our way to the bookstore.
An oasis.

Nearby a lady cradles her older daughter. She looks like she’s cradling arms and legs as she
swings her around and smiles.

When she sets her down,
her white T-shirt shouts across the aisle as
bold black letters bleed in all capital letters:
DON’T FEEL SMALL.

In an instant I don’t. I stand up straighter as I push my boys
toward the sticker books.

The choices we make when we feel a sudden sadness
find us stripped down and thirsty,
and if we’re lucky, sipping milk tea on the way home.

River Garden

This poem was first published by Upwrite Magazine.

In the early evening, a Korean grandmother
works alone in her garden by the river.
She sits low to the earth, hunched over like a bright purple cushion,
planting vegetables and picking weeds.

One side of the garden is outlined in garbage:
bottles, plastic bags, empty food containers
dumped in a line and partially buried.
The other side is lined with bundles of sticks roughly tied together.

I watch her from the river trail as she works in a tiny section of the dirt.
She never moves farther than her arms can reach.

Next to her walker, in the shade of the cherry blossoms,
she silently manipulates what she can,
ignoring every bicycle as it passes.

I’m overwhelmed by the amount of work
and her lack of mobility. Her efforts seem impossible
until I notice the canola flowers rising in a patch of triumph.

They blow quietly in the evening air like yellow canaries behind her back,
still parallel to the ground at the other end of the early spring garden.

There is no praise, no congratulations, no one to keep her company.

Just the sunset arriving shortly,
bouncing through the yellow flowers,
reflecting off the line of trash,

and the woman in her garden,
dutifully tending to the next thing.

current favorites

When Ev can’t stop crying and blames me with the most insulting name he can come up with: “you’re a tear-maker!”

When True makes cards for Evan and they read “I ♥ U NAVE”

When Jase crosses his baby ankles in the stroller or stands on his tippy toes as we push him on Evan’s scooter.

When my husband does all the dishes and vacuums and somehow restores order in a matter of minutes to what I deem an impossible disaster. We’d be (literally) lost without him.

(Thanks Babe)

April Books

I’m behind on everything, but I’m still here, reading the days (nights) away.

Here’s what I read in April:

Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser
I love how Ted Kooser writes about the world. Every time I read one of his poems I remember why he is one of my favorite poets. He makes the best observations and the way he writes the reader into ordinary life with ordinary people in ordinary places is deeply moving. His words are authentic and true which makes them like an invitation to join him in capturing the moments that make up our lives…instead of feeling inferior or overwhelmed by his talent. He writes poems for all of us. That’s what I want to do.

Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity and Writing by L.L. Barkat
I really like the way Barkat integrates essays from her life with insight into the writing life. It was enjoyable to read her thoughts on writing through the lens of everyday life.

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice by F. Daniel Rzicznek (Editor), Gary L. McDowell (Editor)
I didn’t know much about prose poetry until I read this book, and it is still a mystery. There is no set definition and there are many kinds of prose poems. (A lot of them are honestly a little weird and I can’t follow them at all). They usually involve some kind of surprise element or a mixing of strange topics. I enjoyed reading the essays about the form and learning why particular authors choose to write it over other forms of poetry.

The Martyred by Richard E. Kim

I absolutely loved Kim’s novel Lost Names (one of my very favorite books), so I was excited to read this one. It’s set during the Korean War and follows one soldier’s mission to discover what really happened to 12 pastors who were murdered and 2 who were released by the communists. Truth and propaganda and religion are strong themes throughout the book. It’s deep and thought-provoking and maddening and mysterious.

Requiem: Poems of the Terezin Ghetto by Paul B. Janeczko

Oh man, you guys. This one is intense. The poems provide an inside look into the lives of prisoners of the Terezin Ghetto. It was heartbreaking and real and incredibly moving.

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider

I have been following Tsh’s blog for a while, so I was curious to read about her trip around the world with her family. I appreciate her thoughtful and honest assessment of her experience. It made me sad that her time in Asia was so difficult. Obviously Asia is an extremely special place to me, particularly China. Her chapters on Asia ended with her having a massive headache in a hotel room, which made me sad. It reminded me how unique our experiences are. What I love and adore and think of with great fondness is the very part of life in China she couldn’t stand. Needless to say, the book really made me think. I definitely enjoyed it overall. I would love to pack up my fam and travel the world. Top 5 places I want to visit: Japan, Morocco, Laos, Spain, and New Zealand. (What’s your list?? Mine changes almost every day).

The Magic of Motherhood: The Good Stuff, the Hard Stuff, and Everything In Between by Ashlee Gadd

This is the perfect gift for new moms everywhere. Such a sweet collection of honest accounts and encouraging stories from women who take their roles as mothers and writers seriously. I donated a copy to our English library here in hopes that an English-speaking mama in the trenches will find it and feel encouraged on her journey.

Happy Reading!