I am not sure when I started writing this poem or why or whose kitchen I stood in, but possibly it will help us think more about words. Ironically when I was finished, it had a word count of 1,000. I know with social media and texting, we often take words wrong or quickly respond without thinking about our words. Even still, what if all the words we spoke about ourselves were tasted and measured?
Psalms–Tehillim 139:14 Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB) ” I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Thy ma’asim (works); and that my nefesh (soul) knoweth very well.”
I dropped words
They shattered on the floor.
Right in front of you
He dropped words, 22 letters crowned with Glory.
Holding the cosmos together
I never meant for my words to fall, or me, for that matter.
But you didn’t seem interested in catching them.
His words sailed through the seas.
They were brightly colored blooms of an almond tree.
My words went soaring through your kitchen towards your heart.
You stood awkwardly and let them fall.
I held Words out for you in the palms of my hands.
Big pink balloon blossoms,
You pulled out a needle and popped them.
You squinted your eyes, and then you twisted your mouth.
Yes, you released silent words in ways that needed no explanation.
I acted as if my words were not lying on your cold tile floor.
You stepped on two verses as you maneuvered to the coffee maker.
And flung a few careless words into the air.
Not only did you not catch the ones I gave you.
Later you stopped sending any words at all.
The few that made it into your mouth, you spat back out.
I tried to package mine better, and I held them in my mouth for a bit.
Measuring their worth before releasing them to you
I added hues of ruddy sunburst and hints of emerald green.
Tiny delicate touches to make the words kinder, sweeter.
I bounced words up and down like a basketball.
Then polished them up like golden apples.
But you kept looking for a worm.
Inspecting them for flaws
I extended them again.
Take these pretty words from me, I said
Yet they dangled there in mid-air.
Words suspended with no one to grasp them.
Just hanging there like a dangling modifier.
Was there something so ugly inside of my soul that your eyes bore holes?
I left and came back another day.
I brought different words.
Yes, that day. . .
I held words in my fist.
I clenched them tightly to my chest and blew them into the air.
Into your face
I looked intently into your eyes.
Like a breath of wind, the words breathed.
You made your face like stone and wrapped it in a marketed smile.
A fissure really
Like a pumpkin face
Perhaps you didn’t know how to taste the words I used from His Word?
The power of them is mightier than the sword.
Forged in fire and blasted with Ruach
They are like the gilded wings of a bird taking flight.
Like a wasp stinger embedded in our soul
We wad up words and layer them with love, judgment, and hate.
Then fling them in the face.
Or throw none at all.
Some words smell like a rotten corpse,
Lying naked on the floor
Other words float above like a tuft of cotton.
Our jaws can bring stale perfume.
Thoughtless words dissipate before noon.
Words that linger on the surface
Words that rattle from a cage
Words that splatter candle wax
And words that type
Empty words from comic books and politicians with a hook
Words from the young still tainted with puffs of air, pride, and sexual flair.
Words like magic carpet rides
And words like diamonds light up the skies.
Words as thick as molasses
Words that comfort, heal and hold
Words that open doors and shut
Words from babes who utter sounds
And all the words that fell to the ground –
That no one caught or let soak in,
To lend an ear or be a friend.
And all these words clutched in my fist.
I hope one day to breathe on paper and send words that sail the seas.
Words layered with Torah seeds and honey from bees.
Words that stand up tall and hold sounds
Words that were spoken on the Mount and words that cause fires to burst
Words that no longer can break or hurt
Or wound or tear
or make feel bare
Yes, Words that bring a shine.
Words that neither run nor hide
Nor bother to rhyme
Words that are tucked away in shoes
Standing on His Word
Words that form a song that soothes
And words that sing a halleluYah
Words that pump through my veins
For all I have to give to you are words
I have no fortune; I have no fame,
All I have are these words in the palms of my hands
The ones I picked up off your floor
The ones I washed and prayed over again
With my frail limp hands
For it is all I have
My Abba Father—
My best friend
The one who washed me with His Words
Like goat milk soap and the freshest rain
Like precious oil upon my head
His Words hold me still.
Help me heal
Turn my heart
Still my soul
King David’s words helped me through many nights.
And Job’s words I carried in my lungs.
Yes, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
Songs from Solomon
And cries from Jacob.
Wisdom words marching with ants
Proverbial songs and stories that dance
I long to hear from you again.
Without your words, my heart feels bruised.
My Abba’s Words are like aged wine.
That gets smoother all the time.
His Words I’ve wholly stored
Tucked and polished and hidden beneath
Inside my soul forever, they keep
Like a river of never-ending love
Hold me up by Your Word.
Hold me up by Your Son.
Take my Words and wash them in Yours.
Take these words spilled on the floor.
And whisper to those who no longer speak.
Who step over the words I am trying to fly.
That I love them regardless of my inability to form one word to heal
Storm . . .
Photo by Robonwriting.
It was one of those cool unisex names you hear spoken over a spunky three-year-old tomboy with ringlets– a name like Charlie, Jessie, Bobbie, and Jordan. To protect the innocent, I’ll call her Johnnie. The first time I met Johnnie is imprinted in my mind—branded even. I had just moved into a shotgun house on the other side of the tracks . . . You know the side where the white folks turn honey brown, and the corner store sells more lottery tickets and liquor than food.
My neighborhood was not frequented by family much, and my mother refused to visit in her sports car after my car was vandalized. The trunk busted open. The windows shattered.
We had one air conditioning unit and several rooms missing ceilings tiles. We had a refrigerator, but no stove. For cooking purposes, I used an electric skillet to accommodate the microwave. The dark paneled walls left much to be desired, and unbeknownst to me, there was a rat infestation in the building at the end of my backyard. On this particular night in summer, I was hot and slightly pregnant. I had gone outside to sit on the porch and look up at the moon, feel the breeze blow upon my perspiring neck, and try to cool off a bit.
As I sat there, a man approached me and began to talk smack. He made sexual advances. His eyes were shifting up and down, and then his words began to make me nervous. He was darker than honey brown—warm charcoal. It would be hours before my then-husband would be home from his second job delivering pizzas. I couldn’t breathe. I eyed the distance from the steps by the sidewalk to my front door. My children were sleeping. Suddenly out of nowhere, Johnnie was standing behind the man, and swifter than a jackrabbit, she jumped up and grabbed his arm. I heard the click of her switchblade before I listened to her voice that bellowed, ‘Nigga touch this girl, and I’ll kill ya. I’ll drain your blood all over the sidewalk. Understand? Now get on outta here.” I watched the man stagger on down the sidewalk, mouthing words unheard of in my familiar circles.
I looked up at this savior–this woman who was smiling from ear to ear and began to thank her and explain how I wasn’t sure what I would have done if she hadn’t come along at just the right time. However, my eyes were carefully watching the knife and her hands that slid it back down in her front pocket.
She smiled even wider, her gold front tooth catching the street light. “Girl, he knows better than to mess with Johnnie Portman! You saw his tired @##% get on down the street didn’t ya. HA HA!” “My name’s Johnnie, and you must be my new neighbor. Yep, that’s my little house next door.”
She pointed to the brown shotgun house on the left side of me with pride. She held her arms out and gave me a hug; I will never forget. It was a hug with several layers of good fat, the kind of fat that smells like cornbread and greens, fried pork fat, and biscuits made with real lard. Her body grabbed me and enveloped me in a sandwich type style hold.
“Anyone around here try and mess with you just call oh Jonnie. I’ll make sure you’re okay. Alright?” Alright then, shoot. You don’t really need to be out here at night alone, though. Understand?”
I nodded. Smiled. Tilted my head down nervously, then back up again.
“Girl, you not from around here are ya?”
“No, I must admit I’m not. Thanks for looking out for me.
In the summer of 1991, Johnnie taught me things I would never learn at a college or a church house. Like the time I had to gas up for work on an early Sunday morning and was confronted by a drunk man, reeking, and had apparently been in a fight by the blood and cuts on his hand and dress shirt. He didn’t look homeless. He had a nice suit coat and dress pants on. He tried to grab my purse and began asking for my money. I looked him directly in the eye, and in Johnnie fashion, said, “I don’t have any money, and I’m on my way to work. Now go inside and clean yourself up. You’re drunk.” He looked stunned but headed towards the door of the corner store. He had obeyed me like the man Johnnie had told to get on down the road.
Somehow, I moved to this area of town and reached this place of poverty and loss through events that caused a chain reaction. I was uneducated, pregnant with a third, and at times depressed. Johnnie helped me get through many social issues and spiritual issues. She had a way of making me believe and hope. My place of poverty was her place of rescue. It was her new beginnings. Her glasses revealed things my glasses couldn’t see.
I’ll never forget the first time I was invited to Johnnie’s house and ushered into her living room. She smiled her fantastic smile and took off her flip-flop to swat a cockroach that she declared was just greeting me at the door. As I made my way into the kitchen, I met her son and daughter, who were both pleasant and excited to get to know me– their mysterious new neighbor. Johnnie was wearing a housecoat, and she had a comb stuck in her hair. She had attitude and big beautiful eyes. She also had a huge iron skillet, and in the midst of cockroaches crunching under my shoes, she was carefully and meticulously frying up chicken Colonel Sander’s would have coveted.
Her daughter squashed a roach and looked at me, and made a face. “I hate these bugs, mama!” she said. I’m scared they will crawl inside my ears while I’m asleep or worse, my mouth.” I shook my head and said how sorry I was while trying to refrain from leaping atop the table and screaming for the Orkin man to come and fumigate the place!
Johnnie brushed it off and acted as if she wasn’t aware of how many roaches were greeting her guest.
Instead, she ushered me back into the front room and began to show off her new black sofa and love seat. “I got this at rent a center. Just got rid of my tired little couch last week.” she pointed to her new glass coffee table and bragged. Johnnie was taking me on a tour of her little house like many who live in mansions would do. She loved it here. It was much better than the last place she lived. “We hardly ever hear any gunshots,” she said. I sighed, thinking about the sights and sounds of my new environment.
It was finally starting to sink in. I had been thrust into a social status I was not familiar with. Sure, at my ripe age of 23, I had felt eviction, gone without electric–scrounged for food and watched my husband turn the water back on from the main shut off. However, now I had entered a place I had not been raised in. I didn’t understand the language but thank Abba Father; I had a friend. This friend would help me survive, make me smile, love me for who I was, and cause my children’s eyes to light up every time she made an appearance.
One night I told Johnnie that we should go to the store and get bombs to let off and kill all the roaches. I told her I needed some as well and would share with her. Even though I lacked ceilings and a stove, I had not seen any roaches. We carted her kids off to spend the night with family and sealed up the windows. The next morning after sweeping up the dead bugs and cleaning the floors, I was thanked by her daughter, who told me she thought she would find it more comfortable to sleep in now.
A few months later, I asked her son and daughter what color they would like their rooms to be painted. The young man wanted blue. He was named after a great Italian poet, but I’m sure he nor his mother who placed the title on him knew this. Honestly, I didn’t at the time. This was before my art history class and English 101. Her daughter wanted a pink or purple room like most girls her age, and I set out to help them with what little I had to give.
One morning, after the bombing of bugs, Johnnie sent her daughter over to get me. She was frying country steaks, crispy potatoes and making buttery biscuits. “I’ve got plenty,” she said. I noticed a bottle of bleach and a mop and began to clean, sweep up dead roaches and press the bleach-filled mop hard against the linoleum until its dark sticky brown turned a speckled robin blue. Johnnie’s boyfriend came in from the bedroom to the kitchen and looked as surprised to see a white gal mopping his floor as he did the blue color that had laid dormant underneath.
He smiled and said, “Wow, it looks nice in here. Johnnie introduced us. He grabbed his food and kissed his woman, and then made his way back down the hall where he would collide on the mattress in front of the small t.v. Johnnie’s kids ran from their rooms to the kitchen, back and forth, bringing me pictures they’d colored, grades they had made that they were proud of. Her young son had won a creative writing contest for young authors. Maybe she knew more about his name than I had given her credit.
My children ended up playing with her children and their cousins. Family warned me to keep my sons away from the children there, but what harm could possibly come from children running through dirt passing the hours away with make-believe games? Were we different from them? No, and our children found ways in the midst of poverty to laugh, hide, kick balls, run, play, and eat their share of cold leftover pizzas. No color lived there.
Johnnie knew about life, and she knew about death. She’d lost family to senseless drugs, and yes, shots fired. One night, Johnnie pointed to each house on the street, and one by one, informed me of who lived there. She knew who was hooked on crack or some other substance. Who was a God-fearing man and who was a nosy woman.
She named whose dirty kids were on the corner and how whenever they came to her house, she’d give them baths because she never knew if they had water or not. Johnnie was cleaning things more critical than floors.
Dinners were shared many a night, and her food stamps supplied a few staple items when things were lean. One night after Johnnie had bought a lottery ticket, she looked at me and said, “When I win the lottery, I am going to get off these little food stamps.” I said, “Well, Johnnie with millions you could eat dinner in a different country every night.” She had no idea what even a million dollars were. She lacked math skills but not love. She brought me half of her government cheese, and I gave her half my towels I found at a yard sale. She bought my boy’s soda pops and Cheetos and hugged them in Johnnie fashion, and when the day came, I went into labor, Johnnie came over and cleaned my house. She folded my clothes and picked up the toys. When my relatives and family members showed up to see the baby, they were quite surprised to see Johnnie embracing my Samuel in cornbread pork fat fashion. Her eyes lit up as she looked down at my son like he was part of her.
Anytime she came by to visit, she would walk in and look me in the eye, that gold tooth shining, and exclaim, “Give me my lil white baby!”
Gosh, I loved her. How I miss her. I wonder if her son is writing. I wonder if her daughter is a mother now. I can still taste her chicken, her words, and her heart. She forever changed my view of the world and my voice as a writer. Wherever you are tonight, Johnnie, thank you for saving me on a hot summer night and for sharing all your wealth with me! Your wealth was what helped me get through many rough nights, and when I packed up and moved back across town into a lower-middle-class subdivision, the smallest unkempt house on the street, I was ecstatic. Every room had ceilings, and the backyard was fenced in. There were no dilapidated buildings with rats or mice–no bugs greeting friends at the door. The backyard had a bright green substance called grass, and the front porch was safe enough to sit on most nights at any hour and gaze up at the moon. However, no one brought me or my children golden smiles, packaged cheese, and hope the size of giant helium balloons.
I’m so honored to feature my husband, Jeff Manning, as this month’s author of the month. He, of course, is my favorite author showcased so far! This story is one that will cause you to grab the kleenex but in a good way.
At the request of my beloved wife and best friend, I would like to share a walk down memory lane with you. It’s one of those memories that’s like a tapestry, our heavenly Father weaving a beautiful quilt and me honored to be a part of it. As I start this second sentence, there are already tears in my eyes just thinking about the goodness of our Abba Father and how intricate His details are. I hope this message blesses you.
About a week ago, my Father, Danny Manning, called me and asked how long it had been since an article had been published in the Metro section of the newspaper featuring a little boy named Colby and me. Colby was a cancer patient at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. As we talked, it was hard for us to believe that it had been over fifteen years since the publication. Weeks prior, my wife had gone through some of my old pictures and plaques to place in our office, and she had pulled the framed article out to hang above my desk.
As dad and I continued to talk, he let me know that the Kosair Children’s Hospital Foundation had called and wanted him to come and take a tour. He wanted to see if I would accompany him. The hospital wanted to show my dad all the updates they had made since he had been faithfully giving monthly for all these years. What a blessing to have parents that are such givers!
About a week before this phone conversation with my father, some friends of my wife and I, Shawn & Anna Dolphin, were over to the house for a Shabbat when this article on the office wall initiated the testimony I’m about to share with you. Again, tears were shed.
It all started months after I decided to rededicate my life in the mid-1990’s. Following a service at church, a lady came up to me and told me that she had a word for me from the Father. She went on to say to me that God had a plan for me to head up a ministry. She said I would be ministering to many men and for me to get spiritually prepared. I thanked her and then thought, “This lady is crazy! I am trying to get my own life straight, and now I am going to be involved in ministry? Yea, right lady!”
Well, our Father does work in mysterious ways, and I came to realize that the lady in question wasn’t crazy. Within a year, me and two other brothers in Christ, Donnie Chambers, and Todd Brimm, started the Shield of Faith Christian Police Officers Association. This is an entire testimony in itself and would take another article or two to write about. However, one facet of the ministry started about a year later when we received a call from a Crimes Against Children Detective about a young child at Kosair Children’s Hospital that would forever change our lives.
To our astonishment, a seven-year-old boy who, along with his mother, had been traveling with the circus had grabbed a live wire that burned off three of his little fingers. The shocking part was that his mother abandoned him at the hospital with only the clothes on his back and left with the circus, never to return. We were asked to step in. What could we do? A group of us nervously went and befriended this child, seeing him daily and bringing him clothes and toys. We could tell he hadn’t had the best of upbringings due to his choice of language at times. We did about all we could do and tried to shower him with our Father’s love and prayers of protection.
I will never forget the day I received the call from the hospital asking me to come down and be with this child as they took his bandages off completely. He was going to see his hand for the first time after the surgeries. They were worried about this being traumatic and wanted his new friends to be there with him for support. I grabbed a co-worker, Tony Denham, who was also a member of the Shield of Faith, and we headed down to the hospital. I will never forget holding this child down as he screamed while they took off the bandages. Boy, was this kid resilient! In a couple of minutes, he was fine and ready to play. Tony and I drove back to headquarters in silence with the previous events being replayed in our heads. Simultaneously, we both started talking about how in the world a mother could leave their child to go through something like that all by themselves. I am thankful that this story ended well. The little boy who was abandoned ended up being adopted by a good family and moving on to a new life. Praise the Lord Adonai!
Soon after this, Dr. Steve Wright, the Medical Director of Kosair Children’s Hospital, approached us about the possibility of visiting some of the children on a regular basis. I remember our first meeting, where we were instructed about the do’s and don’ts of what to say and not to say. How fragile some of the situations were. We began to realize that the primary place we were going was to the children’s unit in the cancer ward. Talk about having second thoughts! Fear began to rear its ugly head. I was nervous but felt like this was of God, and so did my brothers and sisters of the Shield of Faith.
I remember being nervous as anything as we went into the first room of the cancer unit. There was this chubby little boy introduced to us as Colby. He had no hair from the chemo treatments but a smile that lit up the room. This little fellow sat up in his bed and spoke with a country twang I will never forget. I remember thinking about all the do’s and don’ts and thought, “What would be a safe question for Colby?” So I asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” He thought for a split second and said, “I want to be a Preacher.” At that very moment, I knew that the Father himself had sent us to do this work. I didn’t know that Colby indeed would preach a message to me and others that no spiritual leader ever has.
Over the next couple of years, Colby and I developed a God-ordained relationship that I will forever cherish. We began to visit the Hospital once a week on Wednesdays, and very seldom did we miss. The children always looked forward to the Police showing up in their uniforms and coming to see them. All the kids had a soft spot in our hearts, but Colby was super special. No matter how much he was hurting, he always made it a point to make our day more special than we ever made his.
He lived at the hospital due to his condition. During Christmas in 1999, Colby was allowed to go home to Casey County, KY, to be with family. They contacted me and asked if I could usher him back to the hospital after his visit due to the family having some problems. This was a two-hour drive, and Donnie Chambers and a couple of others accompanied me. We couldn’t pass up the chance to surprise Colby with some presents. I bring this point up due to the attached article that was in the newspaper. In this article’s photo, there is a picture of me and Colby where I am cracking up. He had just reminded me of how bad a driver I was because he got car sick on the drive back to the hospital. Ha! Yes, he was a character.
In reference to the attached article, we were approached by the Hospital and the Courier-Journal requesting to join us during one of our visits. Out of all the rooms and all the children, they chose Colby to share in the article. Yes, He was that special.
From that article alone, we started getting a plethora of donations. Not just money, but toys, including police wagons to carry everything around on. Another article was done in the Southeast Outlook about Colby getting baptized in the hospital’s burn unit. Yes, he was spreading the gospel and becoming more of a preacher than I ever dreamed of being. He continued to touch everybody he came in contact with, and especially me.
One day I got the call nobody ever wants to hear. Colby didn’t have long, and he wanted to see me. During the visit, I couldn’t get over how brave he was. He asked me if he could be buried with my police handcuffs. What an honor. I remember handcuffing him and me together and letting his family take a picture of us. Two days later, I was called to his bedside, where he took his last breath minutes before I arrived.
I’m proud to say that the Chief at the time, Gene Sherrard, of the Louisville Police Department, allowed us to take a brand new police car to escort Colby home to Casey County, KY. Along with that, he allowed the Shield of Faith Officers to be his Pallbearers and to play taps with the bugle. I had the honor and privilege of speaking at Colby’s funeral and placing my cuffs into his casket. This kind soul wanted to preach the gospel, and he did it better than any man I’ve seen yet.
One thing I will never forget was when we arrived at the cemetery, and we got out of our cars and were close to starting the service. A Donkey came over to the fence, made the loudest noises, and carried on for a couple of minutes. I remember the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I remember thinking at that very moment that braying was for Colby. After the service, two other officers that were with us said the exact same thing; the same thought had come to them. The donkey was brought up several times on our ride home, and it also reminded me of the humble donkey Jesus-Yeshua rode in on and the fact that our Father used a donkey to speak.
For five years, I had the honor of meeting and making many friends at Kosair. Again, several of these children went on to be with the Lord Adonai, and others received miracles. The toys continued to pour in due to Colby, and I am proud to say that off and on for the past sixteen years, officers of the Shield of Faith have continued to make these visits, as well as my faithful dad.
Yes, I believe Colby was a Preacher and ministered to many unknowingly. I also know that only God could have taken the broken man I was, who was just trying to get my life back on track and place my feet on a path that would connect me with a little ole country boy that would forever change my life.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the ones that indeed are the angels at these children’s hospitals. I want to commend the doctors and especially the nurses who are there every day, caring for and comforting not only the children but the families also. I pray many blessings and much comfort over these angels as they deal day in and day out with some of their new friends suffering and some passing away.
:The picture above shows Colby and I handcuffed. It was taken two days before he passed away.
Oh, angry young man with your feet in your shoes And your fist in your HANDS. Won’t you tell me, Where are you going, angry young man?
You walk with a sting of rebellion and rage. As the asphalt slaps the stride of your gait.
And the nape of your nose bores into the sun. As you wrinkle your scowl at what they’ve become, It’s everything you’re not. And the festering boils from the stench of your past. Waltz up to enchant you and offer a dance. Why can’t you move forward? Your pride will not bend. And now you have pissed all your prizes to the wind. With a chest puffed out wide and shoulders, you’ve chipped. Oh, angry young man, your sail has a ship. And a baggage claim tag too large to behold Is weighing you down As your hands fold.
If you would only look at creation and notice that it breathes Swaying colors of green with a sprinkle of gold, A teardrop of amber and a breeze blowing bold. All God’s creation sings, yes it shouts, if only you knew what the world was about?
Take away your titles, your money, and all your earthly dreams. Then gaze into the mirror and grasp. What you are without your material clout.
Not what they tell you The world that is. . . But HE who formed you, the one who says, “Be still.” Splash the Word on your numb and wake up the sleepy man. Shake off the chip on your shoulder, Shake off the blood from your hands.
Take away the swine flesh that you eat. And bow lowly before the feet, Of The One, the whole world will bow to. Take off the unholy, take off your shoes.
For the ground you are on is Sanctified. And all our pride will become liquefied, Rundown into the ground and dissipate. Please take off the unholy son before it’s too late.