Over at the Men on the Journey male spirituality site today, the theme of “shadow boxing” caused me to offer the poem below. So I figgered I would also re-post it here, for the wimmin-folk, plus the handful of people who may not be involved over there but still might be watching what I’m up to these days.
The poem itself grew out of a challenging but successful concert/worship event last month, into which I put a lot of energy. I had to “man up” to make it happen, and deal with not only some exiled, shadow portions of my own soul, but also those of the performer who was to guide us that evening, Americana musician Bill Mallonee (formerly of the band Vigilantes of Love).
Fear of failure is one of the aspects of life that keeps us living in the shadows of our lives, afraid to take Jesus’ hand as he draws us out into the glaring light of the truth (about ourselves, and even sometimes about our “heroes”.)
So I offer the poem as a small, odd success story.
Dudes Who Dance on the Devil’s Grave (For Bill M. & Michael B.)
I got this little notepad in my hands,
To help me introduce this strange pugilist–
a welterweight in western boots–
To the crowd we brought in
So he could knock ’em out.
My notes : just an odd collection of contradictory adjectives,
Compliments with a limp —
“Neo-traditional”, “harshly hopeful”.
I step to the mic,
But I’m suddenly shakey,
afraid I’ll be found out,
a fake, a fraud,
As if the blush could ever be knocked off the rose
By a punch, or their failure
To hear or to love.
No. Calm down.
Only a bitter, useless grudge,
Could steal the sweetness of this moment.
Relaaaax, says my Inner Andy.
(“Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me”… )
Enjoy the show.
Engage the wonder button,
let fear fade, love grow.
So I do. And it does.
I invoke the names of the holy ones —
Cash, Presley, Papa Ray,
Waylon and Willie,
who paved the way,
Bible in one hand, bottle in the other…
Fighters, sinnersaints just like you.
Now here you come, bare-knuckled,
refusing to knuckle under,
One half saint, the other half stooge.
You come out swinging.
Daring us to dismiss you–
Kudzu and calamity in your guitar,
Compassion, frustration and grace in your voice,
Singing like your hair’s on fire
(Or your soul… Blistered ag’ in,
Like you said it would be,
Since living in the bright Light
Always takes its toll.)
Outside, crazy colors start to blaze in the maples,
While here in the infirmary–
where we find the courage
To fess up that we’re sick–
Streetlight trickles through stained glass,
People talk, people listen,
And this room becomes what it was built to be:
We bicker like Jacob and Esau,
You and I,
As amused, confused listeners
Try to make out our strange brother-tongue.
I throw an elbow,
And you back off.
You flick a guitar pick,
Wink at your woman,
And bring the house down around us,
While the ever-ready Referee
just tries to keep us all safe.
After the show, we’ll go next door
To the graveyard next to the church,
Tap a keg,
And get down to solving the problems of the world.
Let us dance on the grave of the devil,
The liar who once told us that what we just did,
Simply cannot be done.
But our precious proof otherwise
rings in my ears even now.
Its jangly tone will keep me awake tonight,
And my spirit may never again
sleep with the stupor of ignorant bliss.
(Mark S. Nielsen, Sept. 24-26, 2010)