“Afterwards” by Matt Reeck

I have my chrome homepage set to poetry daily so that when I open the internet each morning, I have something to read. It keeps me fresh and helps me stay up to date with the contemporary poets around me.

To be honest, a lot of contemporary poets are just… weird. But I like their form, how they take sentences and splay them between stanzas and enjamb lines like it’s their job. They take every day speech and make it into something beautiful.

This poem is a great example: Afterwards by Matt Reeck.

Enjoy.

Possibly the greatest contemporary poet, ever.

Possibly the greatest contemporary poet, ever.

Winter Revised: an original poem

The Northerly’s blow cold from our lakes
with rain in fits, kissing our cheeks.

Evening falls into dark, the sharp contrast
of endless summer sunsets. Orion begins

his watch through colder nights. Winter isn’t far.
We’ll need each other, then, because summer

needs evening walks and porch sitting with books.
But winter, she forces our hand and closes the door.

We can’t leave. So, we watch movies; unfold
the Scrabble board or set out chess pieces.

A hearth all ablaze. Christmas nog. New Year’s
kiss. So many people complain about the snow,

But I don’t mind it. It keeps me with you.

Brasov, Romania in winter

Brasov, Romania in winter

© Joey Cottle, 2012

Manhood in Winter

I remember my father’s hands, at once hammer and vice.
His stubby finger pointed on the butt log before me,
The other hand choked a maul.

“You see the lines, son?” he asked, his finger
on a star crack where the oak heart
split over time at center of her year lines.

“That tells you where to swing. Start there.”
Hand around it’s throat, he raised the maul
high while one fist grasped it’s end. “And try not to miss,”

he gasped, pulling down with violence on line
the longest crack. She popped in two.
His hand wrapped still under the iron wedge,

he held the maul at me.

“Your turn,” he beckoned.
To this moment I can’t explain the shiver
in my spine to grasp

the yellow fiberglass handle, to perform
for him, my father appraising what sort of man
he made. Why a man needs to split logs,

I don’t know, but it’s in us to do. Warmth?
I suppose, but there’s always gas.
However, give a man an ax or a maul,

and he’ll just start hitting things.
I copied his motions, let fall the black iron, heaving
downward, I missed to the right,

chipped the top, knocked the log into my shins.
I bent over, thinking about my singing,
burning legs. I tried not to cuss (dad being a reverend),

feeling a fool: manly eagerness replaced
by a creeping shame. He let me whisper to myself,
said nothing about it. He turned the flat, chipped end to me.

“Just hit her in the middle,” he offered while he cradled
his hands inside Carhartt pockets.
Slow, I lifted eager, careful, overhead

and down. Centered, a jolt through my arms.
Oh! What pleasant noise, that ripping chord crackle!
I never felt so affirmed, as each half fell to a side.

“There it is!” he applauded.
“Now cut that cord over there,” he pointed to a pile
four-by-four-by-eight. “I’m cold. I’d like to go inside.”

And he went inside.

on a star crack where the oak heart split

on a star crack where the oak heart split

Rights and Priviledges

I have come to this conclusion in recent days: in light of my sin, the only right I have is a horrible, painful, meaningless death.

Some would posit that under the New Testament, we have a new set of rights. This is true to a certain extent. We were granted a writ of mercy by the sacrifice of Jesus, but not rights as we’re familiar with them. We think of our inalienable rights as human beings written in our Declaration of Independence and into our constitution, but the kingdom of heaven doesn’t work the same way. Yes, we can come boldly into the throne of grace, but only because He said so. We are new creations, but only because He formed us. We are going to heaven, but only because He allows us.

Those are not rights; those are privileges.

In that light, I would caution the believer who feels he knows his rights. Let him read this, and understand the deep heart of God:

…But on this one I will look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word. (Is. 66:2)

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,
and saves such as have a contrite spirit. (Ps. 34:18)

The Sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart –
These, O Lord, You will not despise (Ps. 51:17)
 

For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Is. 57:15)

A contrite heart, or otherwise spoken, a broken heart. Not broken in the sense of a wounded heart, but in the sense of penitence and remorse.

I’m treading a fine line, here, and some of my charismatic brethren may be tempted to suggest that I have forgotten grace entirely. Perhaps I don’t need words like “contrite” and “broken” because He has saved us, hasn’t He? Our sins are of little consequence, now, correct?

Yes, we are saved by grace. Yes, our sins are washed away, wholly, entirely, and completely. As far as the east is from the west, so He has set our sins from us. When He looks upon us, he sees us robed in the sacrifice of the Lamb. These things are no excuse for arrogance, however. We do not boast in the cleanliness of these new robes, we can only boast in the one that  sacrificed Himself for us, and we should be always conscious of the fact that we were once sinners and now we are under his grace.

Paul the apostle took it one step further. He lived in both places at once, boasting in the glory of the gift of salvation, and in the same breath, declaring the depth of his own transgressions:

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.

This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (I Tim. 1:12-17)

Herein, then,  is the contrite heart: “Lord, I have nothing that you have not given to me.”

I have no rights. Nothing in my hands is my own, but rather a gift from a God that delights in me, who joys in my joy. I cannot claim anything in this life except for the gratitude that I get to breath in the cool air of fall, to hear my daughter laugh, and enjoy the fellowship of my friends. These are His blessings to me, His gifts, He gave them to me for my enjoyment.