On Poetry and Pat Feldman

I started reading the newspaper to begin my days in graduate school at Iowa State University–The Des Moines Register.  It was an excellent newspaper from an era that now seems as far away and quaint as fading memories of my parents watching Walter Cronkite on a black and white TV.

The news is not black and white these days, as we all well-know; facts go begging and we are awash with options and opinions–it is all so exhausting, conflicted. 

A few months ago, weary of it all, I broke a habit and started a new one.

I stopped reading the newspaper in the morning, quit looking at my phone or iPad to start my days, and started reading poetry. This small change of habit has been such a blessing, such a relief, and such a gift, shifting my sense of time and feeding creativity.

Currently, I am reading Jim Harrison’s last collection of poems, Deadman’s Float.  Here is favorite poem, which I would be glad to quote for you by heart:


This year, we have two gorgeous 
yellow warblers nesting in the honeysuckle bush.
The other day I stuck my head in the bush.
The nestlings weigh one-twentieth of an ounce,
about the size of a honey bee. We stared at 
each other, startled by our existence.
In a month or so, when they reach the size 
of bumble bees, they'll fly off to Costa Rica, without a map.

Much of pastoring is about poetry, learning to find the lyrical rhythm of our lives together, the beauty of it, ways we are startled by our existence, times we discover our stunning ability to fly like warblers into chartless lands.  

Pat Feldman loved birds and flowers and the startling joy of our mutual existence–loved poetry And when we celebrated her life, the church full to capacity with people standing in the aisles, granddaughter Scout and her son Jason shared poems they wrote in her memory.

These poems below are offered in memory of Pat, to be sure, but also to remind us all that in all the news of the world, poetry reveals truth that sustains us.

May  God bless you and keep you,
Pr. Craig Jan-McMahon

Be Like You
by Scout Feldman
When I was young
And staring at the multiplication tables that you brought when you came to visit
I never imagined I’d want to be like you
As I stared at that paper, filled with multiplication, 
Having no idea how to even add double digit numbers,
You told me to multiply by two
You told me it was the same thing as adding the number to itself
Three times two
Three plus three
Multiplication is replication
You taught me to replicate
To duplicate
To recreate
At the time I had no idea how appealing replication could be
But more appealing than the replication of numbers 
Was the replication of your smile
I wanted to make people smile the way you did
The way you made people laugh
I wanted to be like you. 
Something I never thought I’d do.
By Jason Feldman
Rest: While we mourn the loss of you
A collector of things
Custodian of friendships
       - epicurious relationships, toasting to the meaning
       - literary discussions turned to laughter, over knowledge
Celebrations of talent, as if they were her own, knowing she played a part
Prayers, with eyes shut so tight and hands clasped so strong 
              Knowing she will hear and provide
              Keeping us all safe, so precious
A woman to whom Cardinals sang
                in pre- dawn spring
Calling for her to awaken- acknowledge life
To her:
Loons have swooned while discussing a sunset 
              Shimmering on the water
              before the fire begins to crackle
                                         and children's laughter makes the stars brighten
Her classroom was a child's refuge
          - Knowledge, Energy, Growth, Safety
New paths to intellect - welcomed and pushed away
        Old ways still ring true
Look me in the eye
I care about you 
Your success is a reflection
My Effort
My Kindness
My Sweat 
My Tears
After years of hope we pause for breath and celebrate
Even though in the beginning of this chapter she asked, "Why me?"
However, show me no pity.
I have lived and loved.
Cause in the end we circled around, 
                 While she asked, "When will it be over?"
She took the time to roll her eyes and gasp 
Smile, and pray for us.
Rest: As we celebrate the memory of you.

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