If the wind is steady–
on these plains it often
is– and if the dacron
line has not been eaten
by those grey and tiny
field mice that slip into
my small storage shed, and
if the stake is driven
firmly in the ground, and
if the rip-stop nylon
like a parachute can
hold, and if the fiber-
glass rods bend but do not
break, the sky has color
added and our hearts can
Three things up above tonight,
No, four: last, a star, (the kite
First reached altitude), a hot
Air balloon was second, third,
Bright against the dark-turned
Sky–precisely half a moon.
Matches lit the hurricane
Lantern and a pipe beside
Rocking chair, plants, on side
Porch. Horizon towns show light
After light: gold, yellow, white.
Flashing red antennas point…
– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, September 21, 2003.
Join Steve for an evening of poetry on the theme “Becoming Free: Go Fly a Kite” Tuesday, October 1 at 7:00 p.m. Steve’s visit is part of the Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church’s Tuesday Dialogues Program: examining critical public issues locally and globally. Steve will look at emancipation – both social and personal – in advance of a major celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration here in Chaska, MN on Saturday, October 26 at Chaska High School.
He comes by night. He slips along the buildings of the city streets in hopes that no one will notice. He is a man of position and authority, a learned teacher with a Ph.D. in religion on his way to the kindergarten teacher. “Everything I need to know in life I learned in Kindergarten,” wrote Robert Fulghum. Nicodemus has a sense that he has lost a thing or two along the way, that he needs to start over again.
He’s sent a private message asking for a confidential meeting. The arrangements have been made for the time and place…under the cover of darkness… at Nicodemus’ request.
Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt pulled up around his face and wearing an old trench coat to blend in with displaced people who spend the night on the street, Nicodemus changes his normally stately gait on the way to his secret meeting.
Arriving at the appointed address at the appointed time, he ducks quickly to his left into the alley and darts up the stairs to the flat roof where the kindergarten teacher is waiting.
They kiss each other on the cheeks, the left and then the right, as is the custom among their people.
The teacher motions to the wood stool his hands have made for occasions like this. The stool is well-worn by others who have come it at night, some by advance arrangement, others on the spur of the moment, when the darkness outside or within themselves has overwhelmed them and a hot cup of chamomile tea or warm milk won’t help them get back to sleep.
Nicodemus sits on the stool. But there is no second stool or chair. The teacher takes his customary place on the wall at the roof’s edge, his body and face partially lit by a full-moon, the city landscape and the whole world over the teacher’s shoulder, a strange kind of classroom. Nicodemus can see him – sitting calmly, erect, at full attention, his eyes fixed on his eyes, steady and searching and seeing, it seems, what even Nicodemus does not yet know about himself and the real reason he has come.
The man on the wall sits and waits for Nicodemus to break the silence. The wordlessness does not trouble him. He is at home with silence.
“You are a teacher who has come from God because no one can do what you do apart from the presence of God,” declares Nicodemus.
Nicodemus awaits a response to his declaration of honor, but there comes no response except for the eyes beholding him.
Nicodemus fidgets, uncomfortable with the silence. He repeats his declaration, increasing the decibels in case the teacher is hard of hearing, but not so loud as to wake the neighbors, the street people, or the police:
“You are a teacher who has come from God because no one can do what you do apart from the presence of God.”
Jesus gives a slight nod and looks at him from the wall.
“No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born anew,” he says.
“So it’s about seeing?”
“Yes. It’s about seeing.”
Turning and pointing to the world over his shoulder, he asks Nicodemus, “Do you see this magnificent landscape behind me?… Look at it… Really look… What do you see?”
“I see a mess.”
“Ah, but look again, Nicodemus. You’re looking with the wrong eyes. It is a mess. Anyone can see the mess. If you look, you can see a different outline through the darkness. Maybe you need glasses. Maybe your ears will help you see.”
They fall again into the silence, but the words – “Maybe your ears will help you see” – speak to an inner darkness. Nicodemus looks with his ears at the night landscape and the distant horizon and the stars over the teacher’s shoulder, listening to the faintest sound of a familiar tune they both had learned in kindergarten at the synagogue.
Jesus, is humming. Softly. Without thinking, Nicodemus joins in humming the tune, and then begins to mouth the words, the familiar words spoken quietly by every faithful Jew living under Roman occupation and in the dark nights of the soul, the words sung or spoken in silence by every Jew on the way home from synagogue, a kind of lullaby of faith, a way of seeing with the ears:
“Peace unto you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.” (repeat twice)
“May your coming be in peace angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy one, blessed be He. (repeat twice)
“Bless me with peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy one, blessed be He.” (repeat twice)
“May your departure be in peace, angels of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the supreme King of kings, the Holy one, blessed be He.” (repeat twice)
“For He will instruct His angels in your behalf, to guard you in all your ways. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from now and for evermore.”