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This poem about child sexual abuse split me in two today, and I thought it was worth a read.

Ghost Story
by Matthew Dickman
for matthew z and matthew r

I remember telling the joke
about child molestation and seeing
the face of the young man
I didn’t know well enough
turn from something with light
inside of it into something like
an animal that’s had its brain
bashed in, something like that, some
sky inside him breaking
all over the table and the beers.
It’s amazing, finding out
my thoughtlessness has no bounds,
is no match for any barbarian,
that it runs wild and hard
like the Mississippi. No, the Rio Grande.
No, the Columbia. A great river
of thorns and when this stranger
stood up and muttered
something about a cigarette,
the Hazmat team
in my chest begins to cordon
off my heart, glowing
a toxic yellow,
and all I could think about
was the punch line “sexy kids,”
that was it, “sexy kids,” and all the children
I’ve cared for, wiping
their noses, rocking them to sleep,
all the nieces and nephews I love,
and how no one ever
opened me up like can of soup
in the second grade, the man
now standing on the sidewalk, smoke smothering
his body, a ghost unable
to hold his wrists down
or make a sound like a large knee in between
two small knees, but terrifying and horrible all the same.

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This is a Mary Oliver poem (you may know her for the quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”) called Rage. I read it this afternoon, and I was undone.

What’s more, someone who borrowed the book before me wrote in pencil, “Child abuse?” There’s no question, and I’d venture to say it’s sexual abuse from the context. Her work is beautiful, in my opinion. Please, enjoy.
You are the dark song
of the morning;
serious and slow,
you shave, you dress,
you descend the stairs
in your public clothes
and drive away, you become
the wise and powerful one
who makes all the days
possible in the world.
But you were also the red song
in the night,
stumbling through the house
to the child’s bed,
to the damp rose of her body,
leaving your bitter taste.
And forever those nights snarl
the delicate machinery of the days.
When the child’s mother smiles
you see on her cheekbones
a truth you will never confess;
and you see how the child grows–
timidly, crouching in corners.
Sometimes in the wide night
you hear the most mournful cry,
a ravished and terrible moment.
In your dreams she’s a tree
that will never come to leaf–
in your dreams she’s a watch
you dropped on the dark stones
till no one could gather the fragments–
in your dreams you have sullied and murdered,
and dreams do not lie.

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I can. not. believe. how quickly May passed. I was looking forward to getting out of April, and all of a sudden it’s June. Not sure how that happened.

Without getting into too many specifics, I feel like I just need to come out and say what it is I’ve been hinting at for the last two months. I’ve been remembering things about my childhood lately, from the home I lived in as a young toddler. Some of these memories are extremely painful, including memories of my being pretty seriously abused. The ins and outs are personal and they are tender in my heart right now, so I won’t share them any time soon (if at all).

So why mention it at all? Well. Just today Jesus told me 15 things that were stolen from me because of what happened. Some of them He can return to me, some are gone this side of eternity.

Today I saw the movie The Tree of Life, and I’ve been thinking a great deal about its premise. The movie opens with a challenge; you may choose the way of nature or the way of grace. Over the next two hours those roles are played out, and it’s clear what we should choose. Except in my young life, it was the way of nature, and I’m trying to learn how to that past with the way of grace.

This is sacred ground, ground that has not been trod. I am terrified. But as is my way, I go on. That must be how it works, this way of grace. Perhaps that’s because if I could see it, figure it out myself, it wouldn’t be grace. It would just be math, exchanging my stuff for His stuff. I love how grace just takes my stuff and doesn’t keep a tab, doesn’t send an invoice, just stamps it paid and asks me to use the honor system.

The tree of life is the way of grace. There is no other way.

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