Lance Brett Hall

Stories Make Meaning. How Do We Make Stories?

my phone has died(a poem replaced it)


I placed my lunch order at a local restaurant, and while I was waiting, I did what everyone else was doing in the burger joint. I stared at my phone.

I had no idea my phone had so little battery left, but it died suddenly, before it even connected to the WiFi.

“What do I do now?” I asked myself. For a minute, I stared at whatever vacuous thing was broadcast between commercials on the restaurant’s TVs. That seemed worse than staring at my phone, and infinitely worse than sitting in silence.

All of a sudden, I remembered I carried e. e. cummings with me.

I have a tiny copy of cummings’ “i am a little church” in my wallet. I had tried to memorize it when we still lived in Chicago. The noisy layovers waiting for the ‘L’ seemed perfect for a moment of poetry, and at one point, I largely knew the poem by heart.

So with a dead phone in my pocket, I read “i am a little church” again for the first time in what must be a year.

The first time I read it, it was almost foreign to me. The second time, I could remember all the lines, but the order of each surprised me. The third time through, waiting for my burger and fries, I was struck all over again what a simple genius cummings was.

The way cummings is having a conversation:

i am a little church(no great cathedral)

i am a little church(far from the frantic/ world)

The way he repeats himself, but is always doing subtle acrobatics, working in opposites:

–i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

–i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

The way his words move through time

a miracle of unceasing/ birth and glory and death and resurrection;

The way his rhyme flows,

…clumsily striving
…laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

And maybe most of all, his profound and simple theology

winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever;

When I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher showed me the poem he had with him. He kept walking down the hallway, but told me with a wink, Always carry a poem in your pocket.

Twenty years later, that bit of advice lifted my day off of the screen of my phone, and reminded me that my life is the life of the reaper and the sower.

If you’re reading this, print or write down a poem and carry with you. Try and memorize it. If you succeed, you’ll always have it with you. If you don’t (and I haven’t yet), you’ll have a small, quiet reminder to lift your diminutive spire from the frantic/ world with its rapture and anguish.