Category Archives: Poetry

Perfect Timing

Shooting from inside a moving car by Jenny Mealing via Flickr (CC by 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/9Yvaev

Ever last minute,
family weighs
2 suitcases exactly 50 pounds each
against 3 hours early to the airport.
Off like a herd of turtles
into Mombasa Road traffic
I drive
to squeeze
in the last moments together,
goodbye,
I love you.
See you on the other continent.

My passenger seat is empty
a tentative text that I’m in the area
since I know he works downtown.
A long shot.
As I pull away
he calls just leaving work
quick pick up line.
Discover we’re going the same direction
ready for home
delighted to have company.

Squeeze in a few moments together
before his bus stop
see you later
and we finish the journey alone
to rest at last.


Animals in the era of the Gutenberg Bible

Inspired by old Bibles: printed with ink and sometimes gold foil on linen or vellum paper, bound in leather, and sometimes nibbled on the shelves

Gutenberg_Bible,_New_York_Public_Library,_USA._Pic_03

Gutenberg Bible 02 by JMWK via Flickr (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/6mPsxs

The mice know
taste and see that the Lord is good.
The bookworms
find refuge, God is their hiding place.
The sheep
has written the law on its heart.
The cow
lets the word pierce between bone and marrow
Saying,
“Let my body be a living sacrifice
consuming and being consumed by
the Word.”
And the word is holely,
not solely locked behind glass
in a library but grass.
Yes pieces of it were in the
‘adamah
once the worms that ate it decayed
and they fed the green pastures
where the shepherd let his sheep lay down.
And the sheep laid down its life
and was bound with cords
on the altar
to free the people
from ignorance.
The word was living and active,
the word became flesh
and it was created from gold dust
it was earthy
and uncontainable
as precious as delicious.


What You Never Knew about Proverbs 31

113

“What two things is a young man concerned about when he graduates?”

Proverbs 31 isn’t primarily for women. If anything it instructs young adults in how to lead a successful life! I rediscovered Proverbs 31 and it blew my mind. This chapter of the Bible is an insanely clever poem encouraging us to seek God’s kingdom first. It weaves into the salvation story & Jesus’ heritage. Watch my full sermon on YouTube here (props, Kenyan accent, family tales and all)!


Dear Nairobi

1024px-Nairobi_UhuruPark_Panorama_2010

Arthurbuliva at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Nairobi,
Siku hizi you’re growing on me.

I grew up next door in Mwanza, Tanzania
so we’d always been family friends
waving at the dentist, guest house, summer camp.
But I thought you were a Western wanna-be.
When you met me at the airport when I was 16,
You said, “Jambo! Karibu!” and I corrected you with, “Sijambo.”

I didn’t want to like you
couldn’t betray Mwanza by forgetting farewells.
The “Mzungu!” unspoken on the streets still chanted in my head
my closet still clothed me in ankle length skirts on Sundays
and Sukuma was a tribe or a verb, not a vegetable.

But this small world gave us a second chance.
This time I listened to your story, learned to name your plants and people.
I trained my reflexes to respond to your roads
and my mouth to greet with the slang Sasa? instead of Shikamoo.
I styled up with polished work shoes and MPESA.

Yet maybe I was not so much settling
as discovering a soul mate
who dances to Swahili songs in church but speaks English
who eats passion fruit, yogurt, kimbap, chapatis, and burritos
who listens to the BBC and Christian hip-hop on the radio.
We’ve got a lot in common.

I can run with you all year ‘round.
We both enjoy poetry slams.
You accept me as a Pentecostal and a professional woman.
We buy books at coffee shops and haggle at used clothes markets together.
You can relate to
my British education, Indian classmates, and missionary worship nights.
I guess we’ve had a similar identity crisis!
My family knows you
and my old friends are always coming from out of town to visit you.

I know you have your secrets and regrets
but we’ve grown in the same direction.
Siku hizi you’ve grown on me.
Maybe one day we’ll make a home together.


Stained Glass (spoken word video)

To all us glass objects… what if our brokenness makes the light beautiful? An inspirational poem about grace. (Click here to watch video)https://youtu.be/19tsHh2IGHI

 


Matilda: The Truest Fiction (Spoken Word + Video)

Matilda cover4Watch the video on YouTube or read the poem below.
*trigger warning: child abuse*

What if I told you
That Roald Dahl didn’t write Matilda –
Matilda did.

She could read nearly as soon as she could talk,
So no one was surprised when she grew up to become an author.

Believe with me for a moment that
she tried several times to write an autobiography
but it was too painful to share.

So instead she created Roald Dahl,
wrote his autobiographies “Boy” and “Going Solo”
which of course were realistic fiction.

Next she tried to reach out to her younger self,
With stories of villains vanquished by children.
Stories with lots of funny bits, like children’s books ought to have.

But when a boy came over for tea
from what she would later call Crunchem Hall Primary School,
She realized children needed to hear her story.
She decided to write fictionalized reality.

The headteacher who tested students on their times tables
And insisted on perfect cleanliness
would be called Miss Trunchbull.

Yes, people would be caricatures with labels for names
like Miss Honey the teacher and Mr. Wormwood the car salesman crook.
The kid readers would never wonder who was bad or good
Because Miss Trunchbull would never put on charity fairs or give scholarships
and the parents would be nasty and dumb.

The horror of the headteacher’s office
Would not be rumors of what he did to little boys there
It would be something concrete,
a cement cupboard lined with objects that pricked you.

And since teachers couldn’t stop the menace,
Matilda’s burning anger would become a magic power
She would save the kids and send Miss Trunchbull away for good.

Of course, in real life there was no magic.

Just because Matilda could read books on the top shelf
Didn’t mean she could reach them.
Even as the cleverest student in the class
Her brainpower produced no miracles or even cunning plots
Only test scores that made Crunchem Hall look good
And a tendency to distrust her feelings.
And no matter how her eyes burned with anger
She couldn’t lift a finger,
much less levitate a piece of chalk to write threats from a ghost.

But write…
maybe she could write
words powerful enough to right wrongs.

Miss Trunchbull got away with outrageous evil
Precisely because parents found it unbelievable
Truth is stranger than fiction, Matilda learned,
So call it a story if you want people to listen
Peddle lighthearted darkness.

Yes, she could write a comedy
where everything was obvious
and the vulnerable were protected by mysterious forces beyond their control
she could write it for the children
perhaps not an autobiography, strictly speaking,
but it’s what she would have wanted to hear.

She hoped
that some precocious child who escaped to the library
would find her book on the shelf
would laugh at Matilda’s pranks
would know that justice wins in the end.

What if Matilda could save some kids yet?
Invite them to believe something so strange it might be true
That life is a comedy
That children’s books always have a happy ending.

… or in that case, what if Matilda wouldn’t have to save them?
Characters are not responsible for meting out poetic justice.
The author of the children’s stories would give them happy endings.
Mysterious forces protect the vulnerable
And I hear God’s in the business of saving.

What if I told you
the story isn’t over yet
but I know it will end well.
Believe with me for a moment.

What if I told you
The truest fiction I know how
Would you believe me?


Shalom 02: The Homecoming

Peace is “salama” in Swahili, much like the Hebrew shalom. The Homecoming is a poem about finding wholeness (view pdf).

Photo credit Steve Rasmussen

Photo credit Steve Rasmussen


Holy Week Women (Spoken Word Video)

Cover Hannah RasmussenIn preparation for Easter, I’m asking: how the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection relate to mine?

Through spoken word, I tell how God gave women big roles in the first Passover, Good Friday and Easter – but we don’t always hear the whole story.

Click these links to watch the video or read the words.

This is part of my group guide for young adults curious about gender and the Bible, which Christians for Biblical Equality is publishing this year. Let me know if you’re interested to learn more.


Farewell, Imaginary Friend

Big hand flicking small person

Farewell, imaginary friend
for years you’ve kept me company:
I taught you in our school pretend
and mapped your house and family,
by candlelight a letter wrote when both of us were 93,
“I miss her every night” – I quote
my poem when you were lost at sea.

Strange that my memories of us
are searches – like you wouldn’t stay.
Like all my other friends you must
have always been going away.

One day I’ll find you incarnate
as I described in listing song.
I’m sure I’ll know when we have met
because it’s forty-four lines long.

Gray days, you, rainbow, promised love.
You had no substance, shadow, scent –
the real I felt unworthy of.
Our game began as innocent.

‘Til wanting me possessively
you clouded sight aggressively.

I polished you to gaze upon
my image in your idol’s gleam.
With your ideals you blinded, conned –
my other friends less perfect seemed.

I tried to recreate them in
our image, squish them to our mold.
Ignored how people are within –
they hurt from hammers, unlike gold.

So from flawed people I withdrew –
you said it proved only you cared.
I tried to leave, came back to you
‘cause being alone made me scared.

Dear – wait, I never knew your name!
So please, still at a distance stay.
Today I leave you and our game,
declare my independence day.

Imaginary friend, goodbye.
Our friendship was as fake as you.
Bye, mobile home in castled sky –
so lonely ‘cause it had a view.

I’ve found a friend who’s down to earth.
He’s heaven-sent – Emmanuel.
He’s known me since before my birth
but never left. None loved so well.

He laughs, “Oh honey!” at mistakes,
chats over tea around the hearth.
He shards into stained glass remakes.
He died of love and gave me worth.

I’ll sing for him who gave me voice,
whose image I reflect adore,
in rainbow promises rejoice,
and over all his letters pore.

But all affection I give free,
this love was unearned from the start.
The Son makes all my shadows flee,
dwells in the flesh of muscled heart.

This is his home now, see his crest?
So leave us be, unwanted guest.


Labyrinth: A Patchwork Psalm for the Road

Birthday card (from Amani ya Juu in Kenya)

Birthday card (from Amani ya Juu in Kenya)

Exactly 22 years after

crowning at my dawn birth

and nearly a month after

cap and tassel crowns me an adult

 

I stand at the crossroads and look.

 

Behind me are

the jobs I turned down and the ones that turned me down,

the housing offers I passed up

because my gut wouldn’t settle.

 

Ahead of me is

where the sidewalk ends

and before the street begins.

 

I used to walk

hoping the length of my strides

would project strength I didn’t have on the inside.

 

This time I humble my pride,

silence myself to seek the ancient paths.

 

A ring tone

an editor

tells me my writing will be published.

a coauthor

quotes Antonio Machado

“Caminante, no hay camino,

se hace camino al andar.”

 

In Walden’s solitary naturescape

feet padding to the pond

wore a groove through the grass.

 

A ring tone

a stranger

calls me

to work on the Africa Study Bible team.

the job

calls me

to move to Nairobi.

 

I wanted to settle

two more years at least in Minnesota

but my gut

freed me of job or house ties.

 

There is no reason I couldn’t.

 

A ring tone

my pastor

calls me

to read Isaiah 42:16:

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not seen

Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.”

 

For my birthday my parents give me

a card from Kenya –

flipflops and a proverb:

“The path is made by walking.”

 

I will be collecting proverbs

connecting them with scripture’s wisdom.

 

I have already started.

 

New things shown

God

calls me

“This is the way, walk in it.”

 

I have already started.

 

Sing into the unknown

I

call out:

 

“If you will be with me

   On this journey I am taking

If you will give me food to eat

   And clothes to wear

So that I return safely

   To my father’s household.

Then you, Lord, will be my God

   And I will follow you.

 

“Like in blindfolded partner dodgeball,

Your voice will tell me “This is the Way.

Through a shadowed valley,

    Your word is my streetlamp.

I wait for your direction

I listen to your commands.

If I do what you want

   You will make certain each step I take is sure.

You hold my hand

   So if I stumble, I still won’t fall.

Knowing you will never forsake me,

    I walk with grace and confidence.

 

“You go before me,

   You hem me in behind.

I trust in you,

Because you are the path-maker.

I step inside your footprints

You have already pressed the snow smooth.

 

“Your ways are higher than mine,

You see the labyrinth’s end from a bird’s eye view.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

   Too lofty for me to attain.

 

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”

 

I have already started.