All Saints in Las Vegas

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A few miles away from the main strip,

the casinos and the hotel lobbies,

the grandeur of Caesar’s palace

and the heights of the pyramids,

I found a little sanctuary,

a place to lay my head in Las Vegas.

I remember the cabby who drove us to that place on a Sunday morning

talking about his knee surgery

and how he had to drive his cab for years

to pay off his medical bills.

The reality of his broken life

outweighed the excesses of sin city

and helped to sober us

as we arrived at the All Saints

Russian Orthodox Church

on Mojave Road.

After we tipped the cabby

we wished him luck and entered.

There were no croupiers inside,

no bars beside a pool,

no David Copperfield illusions

but more, so much more!

We received a heartfelt greeting from two strangers

who were beaming with grace

and stood beside us for the duration of the service

caring for us with such tenderness

that it made my wife cry

and my kids smile

everytime they looked up at me.

The choir leader

a beautiful young woman,

a nightingale

led a motley crew of migratory birds

who chanted under her gentle instruction

as one.

We were struck by the two black altar boys

wearing what seemed like white neon light gowns

holding candles innocently enough

to warm even the devil’s hands

and the solemnity of the priest

who prayed in earnest

for the life of the world.

It was a personalised unity,

a floral arrangement,

an icon of the kingdom of God.

When the service was finished

we went to the hall next door

and ate Ethiopian food

and met only happy people full of light

and we wanted to bake in their sun.

Two angels drove us back to our hotel

and walked us under their wings

through the Tower of Babel

back to our hotel room.

As we waited at the elevator,

I noticed an old African American shoe shiner sitting on a stool

who appeared to be sorrowful and joyful

all at once.

He bowed and smiled at everyone

who passed him by

and he spoke

the only language I could understand

in that place,

truth,

and when he looked over at all the gambling

his red eyes left their sockets

and bounced around

until they rested on a poker table

but no one saw them

amid the kings and queens.

The hotel was called New York New York

and I wondered about the repeating title

and whether it represented

a deep insecurity of the human soul

or a compulsive obsession

with fear, loneliness and abandonment.

John Donne once wrote

that a thing of beauty is a joy forever

and whenever I remember that modest

church on Mojave Road

the baby that is not in my womb

leaps for joy

and I ask him

what he would have said

and done in this wilderness

where almost all people who visit

lose their heads.

He always gives me a similar reply.

He chews a sun dried locust

sits on a cliff top overlooking the Grand Canyon

and with the single intention

of filling the giant cavity with his tears

he begins to cry.

The Innkeeper

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The greatest tragedy is that everyday

and at every hour

the Lord knocks on our door

and we do not let Him in.

Who does not own a packed inn in Bethlehem?

Who is emptying his heart

so that the Lord might find a place

to lay His head?

Who journeys across the wilderness

to lay a precious gift

at His feet?

Very few of us I’m afraid.

Instead we jump out of bed

the day after Christmas

step on half a dozen new toys

that the kids have already discarded

grab the car keys on the kitchen table

and drive to the mall.

We queue up for an hour to buy more things,

lots and lots of more things

at discounted Boxing Day prices

because with Christmas now behind us

and Joseph Mary and Jesus bound for Egypt

out of sight and out of mind

the innkeeper

is suddenly aware

there is more storage space available

a new but old void to be filled

even if it is

in an uninhabitable stable.

The truth about aliens

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The truth pours out of us in all manner of ways.

All these Hollywood blockbusters about aliens

subconsciously cry out to us the single most relevant truth of our time,

our alienation from God.

When Tom Cruise delivers a superhuman blow

to the most frightful looking alien

I wonder if the strength in his relatively small arm

is not borrowed from David

a simple shepherd boy

and if the ugliness of the alien

fatally wounded and bleeding to death on the ground

is not stolen from Goliath

who is after all

your ego

and mine.

The time keeper

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Tesla said motion through space

creates the illusion of time.

My friend Anthony says

there is no present,

only a past and a future.

I say time is now,

this single moment

a wheel turning.

The poet dipping a quill

into an inkwell

in my daydream

sees things differently.

For him time is an impossible dance,

an intimate cheek to cheek tango with God

and simultaneously

a waltz with His infinite distance.

Anything else, he writes

is like pulling Big Ben’s hands away from his face,

or leaving dead batteries in a dusty old grandfather clock.

Could he mean that to be outside of time

one has to be in time?

He didn’t really explain what it is

Instead he asked me “What is a cat?”

as he packed up his quill and inkwell

and set them down on his magic carpet.

My cat crawled over to me for my affection

and as my fingers dug deep into her grey coat for an answer

I realized I did not have the faintest idea

what a cat is

or what time is

or anything for that matter.

As the poet flew away

only wonder remained.

And if I remember well wonder is all I had

when I started out in life

when I was a child,

wonder about beauty.

I think it is right to give Keats the last word:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”

that is all Ye know on earth,

and all ye need to know.

Going through hell

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If you are going through hell dear reader

do exactly that

go through it

I mean come out of it

with your clothes smelling of smoke.

If you are unable to love the flames

that are burning your clothes

on the tram as you travel to work

or on the patio as you study the night sky

then I am sorry to tell you this

but you are still in hell

avoiding the word WHY you wrote with a bit of charcoal

on its walls.

Love’s great test begins

in the cocoon of hell.

I can only say this

because I have spent long nights there

many times.

I know that the buzzing of insects seep through the walls

l’ve been rattled by their banging

on that cage.

I have listened closely to them.

Once when I was completely quiet

I made out that they buzzed the word

Barrabas or Barrabuzz!

But you see unless you accept whatever they throw your way

they will forever buzz in your garden

and cast a shadow

over any dandelion

you ever stop to rest on.

This reality is what we are here to learn.

This is the image of the cross

drawn by the great Artist

on our hearts.

Shout back at those insect persecutors

I ACCEPT!

Maybe repeat it a few times

if not right now

after you have finished crying.

Then when you hear the cocoon cracking

say it again with courage, with love and

with all your being

I ACCEPT!

The Lord wants your whole being to leave that place.

Such a cry will bring down the walls of hell

and all your pain and anguish

will be beautiful carvings

kaleidoscopic patterns

on your light wings.

Your reason will take its head out of the chimney

come down off the roof of your soul

and enter your heart

and sit on its throne

its destiny.

And there you will find Love

holding joy and sorrow together

inseperably bound

like a proton and a neutron embracing in a nucleus

before the joyful procession of an electron

like the Father and the Son united in their will

circled by the dancing Holy Spirit.

For hell dear reader

for all its demons and darts

for all its buzzing Beelzebubs

is inseparably bound

to the kingdom of heaven.

Praying with St Ephraim

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Every morning and night

St Ephraim reminds me that I am involved in a love triangle

with Sloth and Despair.

I never knew these two scoundrel members

of my soul were so intertwined,

married,

one flesh.

One tells me to rest some more in the morning

and hits the snooze button on my alarm clock

the other cries like a baby when I revolt and refuse to listen.

But when I am unable to resist the overtures

of one fluffing up my soft pillow

the other pulls its head out from under the covers

like a sad puppy

and I pick it up and pet it necessarily

then drag both these familiar bedfellows

along with me to a gallery of small and big icons in my dining room

where we link our arms like we are about to dance the zorba

and the four of us

St Ephraim, Sloth, Despair and I

bow our heads before the Lord in prayer

and wait for Him

to lead us in dance.

By the grace of God

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By the grace of God

I sat in a park today and ate Singapore noodles

while eight elderly Italians

standing around like emperor penguins

talked about the progress

of their vegetable gardens.

As they tried to read the signs in the sky that would tell them

whether the summer was going to arrive at all this year

a fly in need of companionship sat on my forearm

until it realized the threat I posed to its life.

The wind suddenly began to blow a more robust tune,

the trees began to sway with romantic fervor

and a boy ran from his mother down a pathway that led to a playground

while a tattooed man walked up the other way

and our eyes met twice for brief moments.

A girl in tights challenging her body

and a little brown dog’s tenacity

rested from her run on the grass in the shade

and I a thief kept looking around for more beautiful images

to pour into this poem.

Before too long my time was up

so I walked back to my car with the arthritic pain in my left knee

biting hard.

As I drove back to work

thinking about knee surgery, petrol prices

and an alternative route from Coburg to Hadfield

all the traffic lights were green;

I was in pole position the whole way

but I did not stop for a single moment

to notice that I was returned safely and swiftly to my destination

by the grace of God.

The Adultress

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I am an adultress,

a whore in a busy street

filling my oven with loaves of sweet bread

while my Bridegroom

hammers the grain all day long

with a flail

on the threshing floor.

When he gets home full of energy from His long working day

He says I remind him of a rose

and I am set at naught before him

but he picks me up

and wears me like a crown.

My thorns prick his forehead

and His blood fills my cup.

He’ll never leave me He says

when I kiss Him on the cheek at midnight

pointing Him out to soldiers and temple guards.

On one occasion he went missing for three days

but He insists He was hiding under the bed

and that He heard everything.

I want to buy him something nice to wear,

a long coat for the winter.

But he tells me He doesn’t need anything

and that He delights mostly in my tears

because we can only have a real conversation

as a married couple

when I’m drowning in them.

The Tao

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A man carries his wife over the threshold

and in most instances

she carries him

for the rest of the journey.

Is it any wonder then

that men do not know

the way of the Tao?

Their wives hide them from it

and prevent their feet

from touching the ground.

I thank God

He left a sword on the path

and regularly allows our wives

who can not see it

over our big fat beer bellies

our flat screen televisions

and alpha male sized heads

to trip over it.

Born to be Alive

img_1363He took a drag from his cigarette

hoping it might contain the Truth in it

praying it would fill him up

the way smoke filled the room.

He drank his Contreau on ice in a split second

and passed his glass to the barman

the way a sprinter passes a baton

in a relay race.

And then he tried to hide in his jacket

from all the women who entered the nightclub

because he knew he’d have to make love to them

if they sat beside him.

So he pulled his pocket size Gideons Bible out

and read some psalms

as I made my way over to him

to play the part of a long lost friend.

I sat beside him for a minute

then sat inside his parked car

and asked in a loud voice so he would hear

me over the music

pumping through the speakers

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

He climbed off the bar stool

fell to his knees

held out his arms

as if to suggest he was going to catch the disco ball

spinning relentlessly

from the ceiling above the dance floor

and over the top of Patrick Hernandez

singing “Born to be alive”

like a voice in the wilderness

he cried out:

“I WANT TO MEET MY MAKER!”

As the security guards

escorted us both to the exit

passed the bar and the cloak room

Madonna’s Express Yourself played on in the background

and I wondered what the moral of the story was

and what my long lost friend did wrong.