“While the tennis ball went back and forth”

The middle of June through the early part of July for tennis fans means the clay courts of Stade Roland Garros in Paris and the grass courts of Wimbledon, London. These venues are home for two of the great Grand Slam tennis fixtures. As a child I so loved the two weeks of what seemed unending tennis from Wimbledon, and while it was on TV the local tennis courts in the park were at their busiest! Although I have been fortunate to have played golf over the Scottish venues of The Open, I have still to find a way to visit or make a pilgrimage to Wimbledon! It is on my “bucket list”.

Today’s poem, although it mentions tennis, has nothing really to do with tennis. The subject matter is a lot more serious. The poet is Mary Karr, whom you might know as the author of three award winning bestselling memoirs The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit. Several years ago I heard her speak at Yale University on the subject of poetry and worship, a fascinating mixture of ideas and words. She has written several collections of poetry. The Burning Girl demands our attention and draws on all our senses as we gather with the crowd at the Hamptons during a summer house party. I believe this poem calls us to pay attention, to set proper priorities, and above all to allow love to do its proper work while all too often we are distracted by selfish ego. It is a poem of grief and tragic loss, all too soon as we seem to standby helpless. Ask yourself these questions: Do I notice what is right in front of me? Do I pay attention to the other? Do I love and let love do its miracle or do I hijack life for myself, clutching not sharing? This past year we have often been spectators of so much tragedy, so much grief. Yet we must not remain mere spectators.

The Burning Girl
While the tennis ball went back and forth in time
A girl was burning. While the tonic took its greeny
Acid lime, a girl was burning. While the ruby sun fell
From a cloud’s bent claws and Wimbledon was won
And lost, we sprawled along the shore in chairs,
We breathed the azure airs alongside
A girl with the thinnest arms all scarred and scored
With marks she’d made herself —
She sat with us in flames
That not all saw or saw but couldn’t say at risk
Of seeming impolite. And later we’d all think
Of the monk who’d doused himself with gas,
Lit a match, then sat unmoving and alert amid
Devouring light. She didn’t speak. She touched
No aspect of our silly selves.
I was the awkward guest everybody hardly knew.
She was an almost ghost her mother saw
Erasing the edges of herself each day
Smudging the lines like charcoal while her parents
Redrew her secretly into being over and
Again each night and dawn and sleepless
All years long. Having seen that mother’s love,
I testify: It was ocean endless. One drop could’ve
Brought to life the deadest Christ, and she
Emptied herself into that blazing child with all her might
And stared a hundred million miles into
The girl’s slender, dwindling shape.
Her father was the devoted king of helicopter pad
And putting green. His baby burned as we
All watched in disbelief.
I was the facile friend of friends insisting on a hug
Who hadn’t been along for years of doctors, wards,
And protocols. I forced her sadness close. I said
C’mon let’s hug it out. Her arms were white
Birch twigs that scissored stiffly at my neck till she
Slid on. That night we watched
Some fireworks on the dewy lawn for it was
Independence Day. Soon after, she was gone.
She was the flaming tower we all dared

To jump from. So she burned. by Mary Karr in her book Tropic of Squalor

Lord God,
if I remember correctly
it was Moses who noticed.
It was Moses who was drawn closer to it.
It was Moses whose life was changed forever by it.

A burning bush that was never consumed.
God’s voice that called his name and gave him a task.

Today O Lord,
is it true you speak my name?
Is it true that the very hairs of my head are numbered?
Help me to know your love which is ocean endless.

I pray for the broken hearted.
I pray for parents caught in never ending grief.
Comfort them with your ocean endless love.
Send us from prayer into life and circle our life with prayer.
Back and forth,
prayer and life,
life and prayer.
Remain close O God. Amen.

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