Wednesday, June 27, 2018

THE TRUNK



In a sermon I delivered Sunday about the story of Christ stilling a storm that threatened his life and that of the disciples, I mentioned Hurricane Lily, a big wind slated to hit New Iberia in 2002. At the time of the anticipated storm, the word went out that there wouldn't be enough body bags for victims of this hurricane when it hit New Iberia. But when the hurricane did hit, it seemed to come right up to New Iberia’s door and just stopped, a dead wind totally rebuked. It was a miraculous event and faithful Roman Catholics in the city declared: “That wasn’t the wind you heard from Lady Lily, it was the sound of Rosary beads clacking.” They took credit for their prayers stopping the awful wind at the door of the town. It was no small miracle and one that locals said probably rivaled Christ rebuking the wind in Mark’s Gospel.

But the story about faith and miracles listeners seemed to enjoy most on Sunday centered on a trunk that came across the ocean from Sicily. This past week I visited with a friend who had moved from Lafayette, Louisiana after retiring from her work as an English professor at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette to live near her son and his family in LaGrange Georgia. She had bought a beautiful home in a wooded area there and furnished it beautifully. But what attracted me in her carefully-appointed study was a huge trunk that served as a coffee table in the spacious room. The wood and the leather straps on this trunk had been restored, and it stood out among all the trappings. “It belonged to my grandparents,” my friend said. “All they owned was in that trunk when they left Sicily and arrived at Ellis Island. They never forgot the crossing and their early settlement in Bessemer, Alabama where my grandfather established a Mom and Pop grocery. It’s a reminder of how blessed my family is today because of their courage and faith in crossing over the ocean.” 

I kept eying that trunk, and the thought came to me that it was one of the metaphors for the sermon I’d preach on Sunday. Those Italian immigrants, who were devoted Roman Catholics, must have endured many storms and possessed strong faith when they crossed over and became rooted in this country. They must have believed that the struggling neighborhood in Bessemer would become a refuge for them… and it did. To that family, becoming established in this country was a miracle not unlike the one in Mark’s Gospel, one wrought by faith and symbolized by the huge trunk which held their faith and was passed on to several generations. However, as the poet Anne Porter wrote: “[perhaps] all their desperate long journey [had been] lost in joy and utterly forgotten…”

After I arrived home in Sewanee on Tuesday, I wrote the sermon and, then, this poem that will probably be included in a new volume of poetry I’m writing entitled Tracks.

THE TRUNK

She finished her morning prayers,
stepped down the gangplank 
and bent to kiss the earth.
She knew how it was to speak with God.

She had watched olives and grapes grow,
sitting in a courtyard beside a stone house
just large enough to hold her dreams
before she left the warm air of Sicily.

She recalled how she’d become bound,
heavy, like branches laden with fruit,
gazing out at dust and shadows,
finally making life inside a dream

and packing it away in the wooden trunk,
shutting it against pretending
there was no purpose for her.
Surely, she had thought, there was more.

I would like to see inside the trunk, 
imagining green bottles that had held olive oil,
wine corks, worn shoes, hardened and toes up,
fringed shawls of hope… and hopelessness,

visions of a world where her children 
would become less restless,
could live where freedom
had built a village exceeding the old one

and she could make good soup
because her pantry held all the ingredients,
not like the Old World
and scarcely enough to make scent.

She hardly recognizes the loss,
the shift in landscape that much past, 
except when she opens the trunk…

and lets someone out to tell her story.


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