The sweet tooth

St Gregory of Nyssa

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He unfolds a napkin over his lap

in anticipation of some fine dining

signals the garçon for a menu

and opens the Holy Book

smelling each page,

breathing in its curious aromas.

I imagine an angel playing a Parisian tune on an accordion

as he bites into some profiteroles

he found beside an infant Moses

among the reeds.

He turns a page

and the Holy Spirit uncovers a new dish,

honey glazed tarts stacked on top of each other

barring the way of Pharaoh’s soldiers

while Moses walks between walls

of chocolate sauce.

I imagine him standing on a balcony in Cappadocia

stretching out his arms

for one more dose of daily bread

and after swallowing the last bite of some manna spread with jam

walking up the Holy mountain

and vanishing in its lofty heights

following the light

until he is absorbed

into the wondrous nothingness

of the dazzling darkness.

 

 

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Lighted windows

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When i was younger I used to travel home on the train at night

and whenever i’d look out the window

at the lighted windows of houses and apartments

I’d feel like I was rising above the surface of the water for air.

I was drawn to the mystery of that soft light,

it was familiar to me,

i think I recognised it from my childhood.

I could smell what was lurking behind the drawn curtains,

a mother ironing a patch onto her son’s jeans,

two friends sharing a bottle of beer,

children jumping on couches,

an old widower talking to himself.

But these images were not what warmed my heart.

It was the light itself.

The way it softly lit up the perimeter of the window case

and did not flinch in the face of the terrible darkness.

It shone defiantly but without exertion

and continues to shine

like a city on a hill

and I have spent my life

sailing on a flimsy raft across troubled waters

to reach it.

The same wind

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A piano is playing ever so faintly.

A nail bitten finger is gently pressing on one key.

Its tune is an arrow of soft fading light I see with my mind’s eye

and it is pricking my heart.

I look over my shoulder and notice when the wind blows

Jesus’ nakedness is laid bare for all to see.

The same wind is blowing over me

and in defiance I am hopelessly holding together

a shredded piece of a fabric

a torn veil.

Swallowing the sun

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I am forever trying to swallow the sun.

My neck wilts under the burden of a soft warm summer breeze.

I am haunted by the smell of parsley, of rosemary

and strangely by the memory of a bike i left out in the rain as a boy.

I am compelled by strangers who pass me in the street

and can not let a green field go

without obsessing over cutting my teeth

on its every blade of grass.

I reach out to pet the moon when it comes purring

and wonder if I will ever land in my wife’s arms as I am forever falling in them.

 

 

 

Behemoth and Leviathan

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I am burning the last of the logs
I cut down from the tree of knowledge of good and evil
and am warming my hands
while the two ferocious beasts cry out to me as they burn in the flames
and draw my attention away
from the one who is silent
who is sitting here beside me
nailed to the tree of life.
I turn to him once in a while and he answers nothing but holds open a door.

Grace

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It is a time when all things mute find their voice,

all  things obscure become clear,

when silence is permitted a word

and sight is gifted to a blind man.

A time for the littlest of things,

for a fly to be still in the yellowness of a lemon

on its way to an open window;

for green peas and corn kernels at the dinner table

to magnify the Lord.

It is a time to study the quiet ways of clouds,

to stand beneath them

and be transfigured by their subtlety.

A time to give pain a pillow so that it may rest its head

and to stroke its knotted hair with your empty hands.

A time to sit on the porch,

to keep the company

of mosquitos filled with righteous vengeance

and to pull off your sock

so they can feast

on the heel of Achilles.

The Apron

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Some twenty years ago

an old woman in a northern Greek province,

a stranger to me,

blessed me as I walked by her window.

“May the Mother of God watch over you”

she said, and her warm voice

and its wounded tone

completely filled me.

As I walked away from her window

I felt her carrying me on her back

and I heard her whisper to an angel

“Give me strength.”

When the road began to dip

we approached the bus stop

and I felt myself walking on air.

I held on to her to keep my feet grounded

and I can still hear her apron

flapping in the wind

like a black sail on a tall ship

carrying Theseus home.

New Year’s Eve

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A time of reflection.

Staring in the pond of the year that has almost passed

I see leaves falling from their glory in the autumn

naked trees shivering in the winter

flowers blooming on their branches in the spring

and the silhouette of my silent companion

my shadow

cooling in the summer sun.

Later tonight at the 11th hour,

my shadow will be trampled underfoot by family and friends on the porch

hoping for a happy new year

and will wonder where I will lead him

in the year that is approaching.

He too wishes for happiness

but is mindful of the slings and arrows

of life that will again strike us down.

I will keep reminding him

of the love of God’s impenetrable will

and take him to a silent corner to pray

and the moment we say ‘Amen’

a chrysanthemum of light will explode overhead

and its beauty will be so inspiring

that we will resolve to continue

to strike our swords in the darkness

for another year

or for as long as we have breath

in our lungs.

Constantinople

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Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.

G.K. Chesterton

This summer I am going to sleep a night

on the wooden frame of a painting

I received from a girl

who was scared of the wind.

I will sleep lightly though

lest I turn over in my sleep

and slide down into the depths

of the orange Bosporus.

But if I did slide down to its bottom

what a wonderful twist of fate it would be

if after I lost all hope of salvation

i became entangled in the nets of Sardinian fishermen

praying for the intercession of St Nicholas

as they pulled me up out of the water

in the nick of time.

Can you imagine my relief

as they docked at the pier

and as I stepped out in my wet clothes

to walk the streets of the Great City.

I would pause at a lighted window on my way to vespers

and listen in and hear a baker

offer an old and tired stone mason

his exegesis on the apocalypse of St John

while he retrieved loaves of bread

from a wood fire oven.

On such a night

our eyes,

yours and mine would meet for the first time

beside a candle stand in Agia Sophia

and as we shared a flask of red wine at a tavern

we would fall in love and decide on impulse

to sell everything we owned

and join a band of Arab merchants

to travel with them beyond the frame of the painting

to Venice, to Alexandria, to Rome.

We would sit hunched over on our camels

as we climbed up onto the wooden frame,

weighed down,

me by my clothes still damp from the salt water

you by the gravity of your bold decision to join me.

And as the orange of the sky faded under grey brush strokes

you would nostalgically look over your shoulder

at Constantinople basking in the moonlight

and I captivated by the Silk Road laid out ahead

would marvel at its endless roll of shining white fabric

glowing like jasmine in the dark.

The ubiquity of trauma

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My friend Ponos has been at war with the earth

ever since Peloponnesos 

opened its uncompromising mouth 

in an earthquake

and swallowed two children

that were clinging to him for their lives.

Although they were taken

from his Herculean hands

he refused to let them go

and so now he lives 

in the ubiquity of trauma.

Is it any wonder then

that he has spent his life

building bridges

and that he must always take what is his

by force.

The earth opens up 

whenever he hugs his children

and they find it hard to break free

from his embrace.

When he dances rebetika

he tempts fate 

by stomping his black boots

on tectonic plates

and when he kneels

for the painful chorus

he jars his knee between the cracks

reaches into the earths core

for something more than his unanswered prayer

and all I give him

is a glass full of rocks

and ouzo. 

One night in the early hours of the morning

he hung with Christ on the cross

and cried out to the Father 

to spare the lives of two innocent children

and then walked away

in darkness 

aided only by the faint light

of a half moon

hiding behind clouds. 

Invisible hands reached out to him

as he buckled himself in,

as he drove home up High Street

and as he combed his fingers

through his wife’s hair in bed

because he could not sleep.

He could not see the invisible hands,

-at least it appeared that way to him-

because he was preoccupied with his own hands,

but it is through the invisible holes in those bleeding hands

that he was looking at his own.

And it is through these bleeding hands

that he, you and I

must see

the ubiquity of love.