Poetry Altar:
Spiritual Poems

by Alx Uttermann

Following are some of UCBK minister Alx Uttermann's lyric spiritual poems, many composed in and around Penukonda, India. A fan of Rumi, Hafiz, Wordsworth, David Whyte, Basho, Rilke, Kabir, Mirabai, Mary Oliver and other sacred writers, Alx has been writing and performing poetry since the 1980s.




traffic outside the window this morning,
cars & trucks & vans streaming metallic sun glints
as the world is moving along,

everyone going somewhere.

I am going nowhere

except into the red flowers
brushing the windowpane

their petals
my petals
like bird wings, carefully feathered

& ready,
just ready,

for flight.







                                                                    for Marcie

means jumping into fear

the way a tiger leaps
through a burning circus ring,
too certain of its own fire
to consider the odor of singed fur

& in so doing, loves the unlovable.

or, how about this:

risk means
not fearing the fear suit of chain mail
someone else has spent a lifetime forging
& wearing over the chest,

a wall of breathing metal
sure to deflect the impact of love
that, to the once-wounded,
can only be understood as an assault
with a deadly weapon --

courage, after all, has its root
in the French 'coeur,'
the heart.

courage lies in the willingness
to see through the barbed wire, day after day,

& in melting the blind, shielded heart of another
through your own steady flame
that knows only how to give heat, to give light.

the audience cheering the bravery of the tiger's jump
is not applauding that tiger, that jump,
that certain brush with fire.

it's the love of taking on the impossible
that stirs us to stomp & clap & whistle,
& even, occasionally,

to leap,

to love,

to be like St. Francis, who cared more
about understanding
than about being understood.

dear god, let me care more always
about seeing the majestic embers of Thy light --
the heart of another human being --
than about being seen myself.

let me be that circus,
that crowd,
that flaming ring,

the impossibility of that tiger.










let's be clear:
you started this journey
back when the world was new
from a town
somewhere in the middle
of the middle (& it made sense)

with a few simple things
rolled up in a cloth
tied to a stick
or swept into a small bag.

from then 'til now
the mystery of accumulation
is unfathomable --

a pair of socks picked up in a dark city,
some brightly illustrated comic books highlighting
the existential crisis & lack of superheroes in the modern world,
two piles of dirty clothes left over from a relationship gone sour,
an anonymous phone number scrawled on a card, saying "call me!"

where did all this stuff come from?
how did it all get to seem so important?
(how did it all get so heavy?)

& why are you still carrying all the tears of the past,
into such foreign & unknown territory
as the future?

when you meet people in your travels,
quite a number of them
are fresh to the business of journeying,
& as such, are completely unencumbered,
skipping blithely along,
humming about wizards.

they're the ones who look at you
open-faced in their non-comprehension
& curious in their pity.

(they travel lighter these days.)

they see you struggling, panting,
limping, folding over & near the crumpling point
as you stagger along under the weight
of all that baggage

& wonder, innocently, whether
you really need all those crates on your back
why you're still clutching
in one hand
some photos of parents & grandparents,
those sepia people
who suffered their own voyaging pains
& walked many roads (some dead-end streets)
before you were ever born.

it's a question to ponder, isn't it?
they had, after all, their own luggage,
their own homes full of furniture
& bitter disappointments, dust, cheer,
memories of what-might-have-been,
& matching sets of utensils & dreams...

what's theirs was their's.
what's yours isn't their's
(so why do you persist
in adding their cobwebby crap
& old twisted forks to your own bags?)

& it's clear to an outsider,
a fool, a joker, a wanderer who should, by rights,
be carrying three houses, nine lives
& many children on her back,
in addition to the sorrows of the world,

that even what's yours isn't yours.

the easiest thing in the world to see
when another person is struggling
to carry an unbearable load
is this:

all burdens should simply be put down
by the side of the road -- now! --
while you rest
for a while.

(your movement
is more important
than your stuff.)

later, when it's time to move on
& keep walking
into possibility,

you can simply
leave what you dropped
on the ground behind you.

trust that the right hands
guided by an Unseen Traveler
will come along
& pick up those troubles
to dispose of them properly.

one more thing:

later still,
when you can hardly recall
what all that clutter even looked like,

you'll begin
to fly.







the diamond

consider the diamond:

the tender darkness of a fleshy soul
deep within the heart of the earth,
secure & content in the silence
of its own endless night

until the whole weight of the world
bears down,

squeezing the black deposits out
forcing flesh into stone,
fluid into crystal,

hardening a molten heart
into the sacred geometry
of squares & angles.

& as if millenniae
of that rigidifying grief
isn't enough to shatter
a rock back into a rainbow,

the thing
gets rudely unearthed

to the derision
of being called 'rough.'

yeah, rough.

& then
the real sacrifice begins.

Jesus wanting to return the cup
knew everything there is to know
about diamonds, about

what must it feel like

to have your limbs
sawed off one by one

your head shaved
your edges sliced
your heart carved up
piece by piece

your familiar form
chiseled away

until fragments of your self
are strewn
all over some workman's table,

dust settling back to iridescent dust.

how is it
(terrible sweet wisdom)
to endure like that,

with all the leaping blue-gold flame
of those eons forged in the earth's furnaces

with the solid light
of a million trapped & unshed tears

ruthlessly on all sides
by a true master whose gemstone eyes

a clear & unspeakable compassion
for the sufferings
of each little pebble on the beach...

& what does it take, really,
to emerge at long last, flawless
in the eyes of your maker,

ready to inspire the world:

for inside every black stone
lies the same suffering,
the same journey,

the same precious light diamond liquid fire

to come out of hiding

shine like the sun.








Prathiyangira Ma

if my true Mother
is a lion

then let her be poised to spring
& pounce,

claws razor-points & extended

onto the back of my neck,
ripping flesh
with her ice-pick teeth

& sucking out
all that is still unholy:

those rivers of bloody jealousy,
pride, & arrogant egoism

still flowing
in my veins.









it's simple

it's simple,
this voice learning to hear itself

like the way the book falls open
to just the right page
the one that says 'yes!'
& has obscure handwritten notes scribbled
in the margins

so simple,
this window opening to the moon

how you brush aside the curtains
so gently
with one hand
to get a better view
& the silver light kisses your cheek in thanks

so simple,
this heart opening to love

how you've stretched it before
a hundred times beyond the point of snapping
& have finally come to discover
that the heart knows
how to bend, how to give, how to expand outwards
in all directions

& never once
needs to break







to a young man

my dear warrior prince,
how long, how valiantly you have fought
to stand as a man,
to belong to your tribe & its gods.

you've spent years
carving & painting & polishing your spear,
that brightly colored, clear-cut
symbol of how ferocious,
how strong,
how proud you are.

how well you can stand alone.

how nobly you have faced the lion,
how wisely you have protected your people in times of illness,
how intimately you have talked to the god of rain, to the god of war.

how victorious you have been, o my brother,
vanquishing every enemy in sight.

save one.

the shadow of love is stalking your heart.
it will catch up to you.
battle is inevitable, because you think you have to fight.

your weapons are useless, put them down.

your pride is a knife.
your cunning is a smokescreen.
your arrogant wisdom is a suit of armor.
your fearless ferocity, your precious spear.

your weapons are useless.
put them down.

better to pick up in their stead, a mirror.
a mirror
where a woman's face smiles back at you.

for in that reflection,
all the rules of war can change.
& only the old warrior knows from experience
that success requires a full range of weaponry,
weapons that really work.

your patience is a vessel, essential to holding food or wine.
your kindness: spilling out as nourishment you share with the fighters you are training.
your humility can be shaped into a bow, worn on your back,
always reminding you of its weight and flexibility.
your humor, the perfect arrows. teach others by hitting the mark precisely.

your love: the ultimate weapon.
it can destroy generations, lifetimes,
of the ignorance of pain, fear, heartache,
in a single embrace.

your love is that mirror.
you keep thinking you should see yourself alone in it,
but all that is visible is her soft face,

enjoy the shock of recognition when it comes.

& once you have allowed the miracle of her
into your own heart,
turn the mirror outwards.
that light will caress millions.

this is the true, the only way, to fight.
it is the only way to live.

& the first few steps are excruciatingly

put down your weapons.
drop your proudly carved, treasured spear.

forget your fears of exposure --
you are always naked in the eyes of those who matter most.

pick up the mirror.
see her face as your own.
rejoice that you are not alone.
& love her.
love her dearer than you value yourself.

& through that love, welcome everyone else in.

only then are you a man.
only then do you belong to your tribe, to your gods.
only then will you fight the good fight.








how to build a temple in twelve easy stages

1) you cannot choose your location,
it's been determined in advance.

already, you have the land you were given --
a wild patch of earth
overgrown with bushes & weeds,
strewn about with stones & rocks
(even a few misplaced boulders)

& plenty of dirt.

plenty of dirt.

plenty of dirt.

start there.

2) meet your builder.

you'll recognize the right one at once.

he or she is luminous from countless constructions
& reconstructions -- over lifetimes.

the confidence your builder exudes
& such trust in the Infinite
makes you think:

if I can have just enough faith,
it is possible to transform
even the sorriest lot
into a home for god.

3) start clearing away the debris.

no one wants to admit their property
is full of turbulent, naturally chaotic crap
that no one else wants, either.

but it is, and the tough work
has to be done.

your fingers will be lacerated
by hauling all the twisted branches
& haunted bits of rock & glass away.

your back will ache, your head will pound
& you'll be grouchy --
grouchier beyond your wildest nightmares --
until it's finished.

(especially when you notice
your builder sitting in the shade
sipping a cold lemonade
& laughing
at your every little irritation & outburst.)

4) sort through the wreckage you've hauled off.

amazingly enough, some of the rocks & branches
you piled up & cleared away
are beautiful.

you can employ them in the new construction.

they just were overlooked,
obscured by dirt,

or misused,

5) consult with your builder at every step.

no one knows how excruciatingly difficult
this process is except the master builder.

don't worry -- he's built many many many
temples before.

moreover, he knows exactly
how to measure every dimension
inside and out,

where to place each perfect stone,
how to mix impeccable mortar,

how to create frame
& arch
& sculpture.

how to breathe life
into the lifeless.

how to awaken the heart
in a building
of wood & plaster & stone.

6) don't be dismayed when things don't proceed
along the schedule originally mapped out.

perfection has its own timeline.

so it may take eight months longer than promised
for the load of bricks to arrive.

& the paint won't match the hues
selected in the store.

the master sculptor you hired on contract
to create forms of dancing deities
might show up late every morning, hungover.

you will definitely be over-budget
& late in delivery
by the time
the time arrives to cut any ribbons.

flexibility is a necessary construction tool
when you're creating a home for the soul.

7) just do your duty.

whatever task is in front of you, do it
with your full concentration & dedication.

if your priority for the day is
making sure the electrical wiring is done,
don't keep looking to see

if the sculptor is sleeping
under a tree, past his lunch break.

& for god's sake, don't keep running
after the builder to find out what he's
doing, at any given moment.

or who he's conferring with.

some builders work best
by the mist of privacy...

8) learn to laugh.

especially, and this is tricky:

at yourself.

9) enjoy each step along the way
as though it were the only one you'll ever make.

once the walls & ceilings are in place,
the lights are on
& the rose garden is starting to bloom

no matter what you're doing

the fragrance around you
is starting to grow.

make sure to smell it.

notice the beauty outside
& inside

your temple.

the work in progress
is the progress.
the work is its own result.

& the joy is


10) finish the building.

after all of the heartbreaks,
uncertainties, daily surrenders,
laughter, tears, quarrels, questions,
faith & patience
it's taken to create this place,

once you turn the lights on
& say some prayer of thanks
& consecration,

the actual moment of finishing
will seem anti-climactic.

in every ending --
there is indeed a fresh beginning.

11) don't spend too much time admiring the place
once it's done.

a temple is only as beautiful
as the god who lives in it.

invite the god in.
invite your friends in.

never forget to salute
the almost-impossible task
your builder took on,
holding your hand
step by step,
day by day,
helping you transform

the simplest collection
of rocks & weeds

into a splendid temple,

this home
in your heart.

12) start the real work.

ignite the hearts of everyone
known & unknown,
seen & unseen,

from the flame burning in your own altar.







All works here:  Copyright 2006, Alx Uttermann, all rights reserved.

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