Three Poems for Worship

From Monument: Poems on Aging and Dying

Reprinted with permission from Sand Hills Press.

God Speaks to the Geriatric Convention

You should read the Old Testament

to see how old people

messed up my world

and the price

you have all had to pay

for it.

You should consider the idea of covenant,

the agreement to live

according to my laws

and what happens

when you don’t.

You should remember

that my justice and your justice

are not the same thing.

You should keep in mind

the words “abomination,”

“wrath” and “scourge.”

You should never forget

that I’m omniscient, omnipresent

and omnipotent—and you’re not.

You should imagine

that when you walk

through the valley of the shadow of death

that I am the one

who casts the shadow.

You should acknowledge

that even a good shepherd

eats mutton,

and that’s why

he leads you to green pastures

and still waters.

You certainly know

that if someone prepares a table

before you, someone

has to pay the bill,

and that the oil

that runs off your head

is expensive.

You’ve probably guessed

that goodness and mercy

are in short supply

and that your share

may not be available.

If you plan to dwell in my house,

you may need a reservation.

But be of good cheer.

Lift up your eyes

to the everlasting hills

and I’ll do what I can

to focus your bleary vision.

Raise your feeble voices

in my adoration

and I’ll provide a catchy tune.

Warble, wobble and twitch

into a dance of praise

for my grace

and I’ll tap and clap along.

Never forget that only I know

what eternity is like.

I hope you like surprises.

Have a good day.

Let’s Pretend

Each morning I arise and pretend

that I’m alive.

It’s a good way to start the day

even though the heartbeat’s a little slower,

the blood a little thinner

and the appetite fails completely.

Putting on shoes and clothes is an act of faith

that I will last out the day.

Swallowing pills is an act of trust

that my cardiologist knows what he’s doing.

Going to the bathroom

seems a waste of time.

I pretend that breakfast is nourishing.

I pretend the sun is shining.

I pretend that the clocks are working.

Nothing deters my imagination

as I sweep my porch,

collect the mail and pay my bills

As if I had all time before me

And it was just another day

out of a multitude of days.

Which it is

except each one could be my last one.

“Let’s pretend,” I say to myself,

“that I have a future.

Let’s pretend that there is much to be done

and that there is time for the doing.”

As I pretend,

I remind myself

not to buy new socks,

not to check out long books from the library

and never to buy green bananas.

A Morning Prayer in Old Age

Lord, let my knees bend

one more time.

Let my ears hear and my eyes see

one more day.

Let the words of my mouth

not be slurred.

Let the meditations of my heart

not fibrillate,

and let me breathe enough.

Help me to rise from my bed,

to bend over and put on my socks,

to stay upright while putting on

my underclothes, a shirt and trousers.

Help me to tie my shoelaces.

Grant me the strength

to descend the stairs

and sit down for breakfast.

Grant me the ability

to close my hands

on the handle of a cup

and on the handle of a spoon.

Grant me the skill

to lift the cup to my lips

and the spoon to my mouth.

Grant me the courage

to drink my tea and chew my food,

to swallow and not choke.

Sustain my attention

so that I take the right pills

in the right number.

Sustain the miracle of blood circulating

without clotting

and without the arteries closing.

Bestow upon my ears

the ability to resonate

to a Mozart sonata.

Bestow upon my voice

the power to whisper

this prayer aloud.

Bless me with thought

so that at noon

I can remember

what I prayed for at dawn.

If all is well, Lord,

when darkness falls,

Anoint my sleep

with the hope of rising

one more time.

About the Author

Dallas Wiebe

Dallas Wiebe (1930-2008) graduated with degrees in English from Bethel College (1954) and the University of Michigan (M.A., 1955; Ph.D., 1960). After teaching at the University of Wisconsin, he taught literature and creative writing from 1963 to 1995 at the University of Cincinnati, where he founded the Cincinnati Poetry Review. Wiebe’s first novel was Skyblue the Badass (Doubleday/Paris Review Editions, 1969). In 1997 he published his explicitly Mennonite novel, Our Asian Journey (MLR Editions Canada). His short stories appeared in major journals, including the Paris Review. In 1978 he won the Aga Khan Fiction Prize from the Paris Review and the next year a Pushcart Prize. Burning Deck Press published four volumes of his stories: The Transparent Eye-Ball (1982), Going to the Mountain (1988), Skyblue’s Essays (1995), and The Vox Populi Street Stories (2003). Collections of his poems include minimalist works in The Kansas Poems (Cincinnati Poetry Review Press, 1987) and Christian explorations in On the Cross: Devotional Poems (DreamSeeker Books/Herald Press, 2005). The poems appearing in this issue of CMW are from Monument: Poems on Aging and Dying (Sand Hills Books), published the year he died.

– Paul Tiessen