Category Archives: poems

we hail what heals

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Photo: Donald G Jordan, Guggenheim, June 2017
Quote: Gwendolyn Brooks, from “In Montgomery”
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I don’t know how to tell you

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I don’t know how to tell you
why I’m so concerned about what is happening.
We are are both believers,
but I’m not sure if we thought we are
believing in the same thing.
We are both committed,
but I’m learning that perhaps we are not
committed to the same thing.

I don’t know how to tell you
that my friends are not celebrating.
We are both present day to day with the same news,
but many of my friends are being cursed, abused, or billed.
And many of my other friends,
those friends who look like we do,
are being celebrated, elevated, and paid.

I am trying my best to go back to what I thought we both believed.
I am trying to go back to questions about
the least of these
the stranger among us
the poor in our midsts
the meek
the humble
the generous
the innocent
the poor.

But it seems that while I thought these were the things
that aligned us on the same team,
you were saying,
sometimes threatening,
that these things don’t matter if the rich among us aren’t
privileged
reimbursed
taxed less
paid more
honored even when the poor are at their feet.

I don’t know how to tell you,
but I think we believed in
very different things this whole time.
I thought we agreed
Jesus was standing up for the least of these.

I don’t know how to tell you that perhaps
you call it politics, but I call it obedience;
you say it’s not logical, but I say we weren’t promised logic.

I don’t know how to tell you,
but I think we’ve forgotten—
you and me both—
that we are not the least of these.

They are. 

The “other” is the least of these. 

The other that everyone has become so afraid of.

I think our forgetfulness is costing all of our lives.

I think our forgetfulness is costing all of our souls.

But I don’t know how to tell you this.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

to be there with children

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I cannot imagine what it must be like to be there with children.
Or even a single child.
When I fly I’m aware of everything I’m touching
everything my bag is touching
I’m aware of the food that costs four times what it’s worth.
I’m unsure of timeframes and unsure of connections and unsure of pickups.
But I’ve always been allowed in.
And I’ve always been allowed on.
They went through my bag one time,
me standing there embarrassed because my clothes were
thrown in and wadded-up and others were watching before we boarded the plane.
But I boarded the plane.
And I made it home to my home,
safe, neighbors I know, a language I know, a church I know.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be there now with children.
Or even a single child.
After running literally to save your child from
bombs
explosives
machetes
murder
sex-trafficking.
After running for God knows how long
(And believe me in this, God does know how long).
You follow the rules.
You do the paperwork.
You take the tests.
You pass the screenings.
You file everything you can with everyone they tell you to file it with
and then you wait
in a tent, or a classroom, or in hiding,
more than 24 months
104 weeks
730 days
17,545 hours
1,051,900 minutes
with children.
or even a single child
hoping that you’ve done everything you can to save their lives
or your only child’s life.

When my delays are over 45 minutes,
my insides begin erupting.

And then you hit our shores,
passing our lady of liberty promising you welcome as you’ve been
running,
literally,
for your children’s life
or even for your only child’s life.

But then we tell you,
Christian mother
Christian father
Muslim mother
Muslim father
Human mother
Human father
that we don’t understand you
or your children,
or even your only child,
because you aren’t from here.
So in our loud and uninformed anger
we feel better trapping you
and your children,
or even your only child,
in customs in our airport for an indefinite amount of time,
or in your tent, in your classroom, or in hiding,
until the death you’ve been running from
takes your life and the life of your children,
or even the life of your only child.

Pray for us.

Pray that God would shout at us
as we look around our comfortable rooms
at our children,
or even our only child,
and remind us that children, or a single child,
another human in the image of God,
or as Christ has said,
remind us that it is Jesus Christ himself
who remains trapped in the airport tonight,
or in the tent, or in a classroom, or in hiding.
That we have sentenced Christ to death again
from the comfort of our living rooms,
and under the auspices of protecting our own children,
or even our only child.

Pray for us.
We can’t imagine what it must be like
to be there with children,
or even our only child.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

“When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt:  I am the Lord your God.”
For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the alien, the [a]orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor walk after other gods to your own ruin, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
You shall divide it by lot for an inheritance among yourselves and among the aliens who stay in your midst, who bring forth sons in your midst. And they shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in…
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in…

 

silence encourages the tormentor

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“Are you German?” he asked as three friends stood beside him; two stood to his left, one to his right.

“No. Of course I’m not,” I answered, realizing as the words came out of my mouth that being a white American to me meant I was only American; I was not German or English or Jewish or Irish or Scottish or Russian or French or Norwegian.

“No. I’m not,” I answered, realizing how blond-haired and blue-eyed I was when the question was asked, and realizing that I felt guilty because the color of my skin and the hue of my eyes and hair about five seconds after the question was thrown into the hallway as we sat waiting on others, now at the end of the Holocaust museum in Israel.

A profe soon rushed him and his buddies out of the museum hallway and through the exit doors moments afterward, I say now with a more red and more sweaty countenance waiting on the roughly eight dudes behind me in my group who were making their way through the horrifyingly real and terrifyingly factual Holocaust museum in Jerusalem over ten years ago. I rub my hands through my blonde, nappy hair.

We left the space soon after.
We ate dinner in New Jerusalem.
I sent a girl two tables over dessert for her birthday through our server who afterward informed me she was engaged “but appreciated the knafeh.”

I’ve gotten so old.

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Elie Wiesel died today.

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If I was reasonably intelligent and generally wise and not from West Tennessee, it would not have required the “Oprah Book Club” stamp several years ago on his book Night for me to have ever heard his name walking through Target looking for Coke Zero and classy toilet-bowl cleaner.

But I’m not reasonably intelligent and generally wise, and I am from West Tennessee, so here I was.

And here I am.

A white American male who has been told both it’s all my fault and also I must protect what I’ve “earned” at all costs. I’m left confused.

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I walked through the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis a few years ago with friends and coworkers from one of my employers and an organization that values my deepest insecurities and deepest hopes.

I wept.

We wept.

We debriefed later that evening, and I could only wonder, “Would I have been that one random white dude standing in a sea of black men and women demanding justice, respect, and equality.” I told our folks at dinner, black and brown and white and pale, “I hope I would be one who stood up against those plowed by horses, intimidated by canes, and hung by ropes in the days of my parents (not my grandparents).

I later learned, driving through Alabama to visit friends, these hangings were in my own day. They were not carefully removed to parents or grandparents; It was the right now.

But I could only hope that I would have been one of those few white folks in the crowd demanding justice, respect, and equality for the “other” in those days.

Those days which are these days.

Elie Wiesel died today.

And I am hoping in my less trustworthy but more important parts that I will lean into Wiesel’s character and spirit and honor.

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It may take me down, but I must stand up for those who are pushed under. I do have blonde hair and blue eyes. I benefitted from both slavery. But I need to answer “no” to the teenagers in the final hallway at the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. And I need to answer “no” to my coworker. And I need to answer “no” to the person who checks me in to vote a few months from now where I’m held at ethical gunpoint and asked if I stand for nothing or if I’ll fall for anything.

Rest in peace, after such incredible chaos, brother Wiesel.

I cannot be neutral.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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Easter Monday

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Easter Sunday feels both impossible and a little too easy.

To claim impossible things hours upon hours across the globe as the meridian moves in single-hour increments.

Bombs. Easter egg hunts. Incense.

We celebrate ridiculous hope one time zone after another;
That’s what we do on Easter Sunday.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our jobs
where we are in trouble for questioning the reasoning,
and caught between our ideas of Easter Sunday and bottom-line Friday.
And we make our choices.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our churches
where we are in trouble for questioning the lessons and the allegiances,
and caught between character and piety and donor-approval.
And we make our choices.

And then comes the Monday after Easter.
Easter Monday.
We return to our neighborhoods
where we are pushed to hate and discriminate for the sake of something…
and caught between partisan and party and allegiance.
And we make our choices.

Easter Sunday is as holy
and easy
and gutless as
Christmas Sunday.

Unless we decide that somehow
ultimately
Easter changes everything.
And the Monday after Easter
is going to make us different
in all the ways
we hoped to secretly stay buried in
the tidiness
of our own racist and pious histories.

But Easter Monday means we crash into our
jobs
and our
churches
and our
neighborhoods
uncomfortably different than we left them.

And once we notice where we are,
we ask ourselves,
What about Easter Tuesday…

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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a faint sound of something

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I could hear it
our shoes making a shoddy moon
on the fifteenth floor looking out over the city.

I can always hear the other
the sound of killing
shooting, the ringing of it
the sound of racism
silence, the subtlety of it
the sound of oppression
cash registers, the shininess of it
the sound of isolation
weeping, the breath-stealing nature of it

I can always hear the paranoia in the shadows of the other
I can always hear the anger in the panicky crisis
I can always hear the hopelessness in the news banner
flashing across the bottom of the screen

but there
moon-shaped shoes filled with
women and men now family and friend
the best and true of both
standing up and holding hands in prayer
as if holding hands kept us from blowing down
or blowing apart
or blowing away

thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven

thy kingdom come
to the ringing
to the subtlety
to the shininess
to the breath-stealing

and make things whole
we asked.

And it was in that moment
over and above and beyond and inside and all around
I could hear the faint sound of something
a symphony of some kind
a little more melodious
a little more beautiful
a little more free

I could hear a faint sound of something
–a symphony of some kind–
and it sounded like hope.

djordan
Rosemary Beach

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moving forward. always.

It’s all a mess, of course.
We run into it knowing that we have a plan
We run into it knowing that we have the knowledge
to fix it
to solve it
to make it better
We burn to fix it, to solve it, to make it better
So the fact the we have the change to
put the plan into action
and use our knowledge to make it better
must mean that all will be well
because
we are ready
to make it well.

But then,
we wake up to the news of
all gone wrong.
all unexpected.
all that is against all we’d hoped for
worked for
longed for
waited for
prayed for.

It’s in that moment
of course,
that we realize it’s all a mess
and we begin to wonder if plans and knowledge
and we begin to wonder if the burn to solve it, to fix it
are an existential mocking of sorts.

And yet
even waking up to the news of
loss
death
murder
backward
pointlessness

we can’t help but rub our eyes and
do our best to face forward
and look upward
and work to put our plans and knowledge
back to work
knowing that we may not actually ever get what we hope for
but knowing even more that
we are not willing to hope for less.
Even in the mess.
So we move
forward.

always.

and so we are bold to pray.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

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