Reading poetry is one of the ways some of us nourish our faith, a way we set or reset our inner compass and stay focused on the big picture, on the spiritual journey. I know that is true for me. In this monthly column, Setting the Inner Compass, I share some of the poems I find nourishing to the soul.
In this column, I share a poem by Jane Flanders, “SPIT”. It is one of my long-time favorites. The poem’s earthiness engages my imagination. I like the way it helps us see a miracle story from a different point of view. While it’s clear and obvious that the focus of the gospel of Mark is Jesus, Flanders poem reminds us that other people are in the story as well, that the characters we meet in the gospel narrative are not props but people, people like us trying to figure out what was going on.
Jane (Hess) Flanders was born in 1940. She attended Bryn Mawr College and earned an M.A. at Columbia University. A memorial plaque at the “Jane Flanders Nook” on the Bryn Mawr campus describes her as “Poet, Musician, Gardener. ” She died in 2001. In the permissions letter her husband Steven sent to me he shared that a “distinguished Philadelphia composer is working on an art song based on this poem.”
Until next month.
by Jane Flanders
Mark 8: 22-26
I could hear him spit on his hands.
that’s how I knew what it was
when he touched my eyelids,
not a smelly potion
made from some seeds and leaves
or some kind of oil like the others tried.
Nothing had worked.
Sooner raise a man from the dead
than make a blind one see.
It wasn’t belief that did it.
I thought I was blind forever.
And when I heard him spit, I almost laughed.
How simple did he think I was?
People have always conned me or tried to.
Easy to fool a man with no eyes.
But this was the most bald-faced try ever.
Why didn’t I strike his hands away?
Well, I didn’t.
I was remembering how, when I was small,
My mother spit on the hem of her skirt
And wiped my dirty face.
People always ask me what was it was like,
to open my eyes and see for the first time
form, color, the things of this world.
Terrifying, I tell you.
For a moment I wanted the dark back,
hated those hands. “What do you see?”
he said. And because I was scared
I said, “I see trees walking.”
He touched me again.
This time I raised my eyes to his
and saw there two little men staring back,
their mouths agape,
their hair and beards flying.
And then I did laugh.
No one had told me how funny things looked.
“Don’t tell anyone,” he said
(that must have been one of his jokes)
and turned away.
Well, that was that.
I heard later that they got him on some charge
or other. There were strange tales
going around, but all I know is this:
I who was blind can see
and it was spit!
“Spit” is published with permission of Steven Flanders: Jane Flanders (1941-2001) was a widely published poet and teacher. Author of Timepiece (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988) and two other volumes of poetry published during her lifetime, plus three posthumous volumes, she received diverse awards and taught at Sarah Lawrence College and several other Universities.
Rev. Dave Brown is a writer, creator/host of Blues Vespers, one of the PNW Interfaith Amigos and former pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, WA. He serves on the PCUSA Education Roundtable. (firstname.lastname@example.org)