The still pilgrim hears a diagnosis

“Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nervous system disease that
affects the brain and spinal cord. No one knows its cause.
Onset typically begins between the ages of 20 and 40.
Some people lose the ability to write, speak, or walk.”
—U.S. National Library of Medicine

Another blessing. Another gray rain.
All day yesterday it fell and fell.
The sky never changed. It stayed the same.
White grim gray. It was hard to tell
what was cloud and what was light,
what was water, what was sun.
Day slunk slowly into night.
And once again it’s begun.
I drove my car to the hospital.
The narrow halls were white grim gray.
The doctor acted cheerful
despite the words she had to say.
I sat beside my grown young son
and hoped for blessing. There was none.

Three questions


Along the Beaver Creek,
lobelia clings to the soil,
foiling its every effort
to sneak into the stream,
which riffles over rocks below,
aerating the water that fuels
the wetland where a dragonfly
squints its blue, bulbous eyes,
spying mosquitoes mating,
then steers its body
to reach their next move.  
Do you dare, while traipsing
this trail and glancing
milkweed blossoms,
to covet anything
your neighbor may have?


Six months later,
and a mile away,
on a lime-dusted field,
a singular tree,
its leaves shorn
and humming in wind
somewhere south,
            Winter will bear
a crop of snow,
which will deepen
with the season
and wrap around
the stoic oak. No one
will amble by for months.
Driving by, will you
sing your praise
purely from the road’s
safe distance?


In between, where there is so much time,
when inspiration won’t spread its wings
and raise its crimson head,

when nothing but mud dominates
the wetland, when tarnished tin
is the only color the sky can muster,

what then? Will you savor the age-old scent
of the now-and-not-yet, sense its tension
in the toppled tree, damp and fungus festooned,

as you take each successive step?


(John 5:1–9)

These waters, I must trouble for myself,
in an age of the absence of angels, as I plunge,
first of the day to break the lambent surface of the pool,
and commence my daily reaching after miracles,
swimming laps at almost eighty-one.
The miracle I seek these recent years has been defined,
and then refined, by that old friendly temporizer, “yet”;
no longer seeking not-to-die-at-all, just not-to-die-quite-yet,
to win a couple bonus years, in which to pen another poem
or two, to pile a few more chosen words onto this heap
I have—for Oh so long—been working on.
Any healing that might come will clearly have to be
short term. Until, that is, I reach the final turn,
take up my beggar’s bed, and walk.

Two eagles

Saw two eagles swirling and dogging each other
Over the river yesterday—courting or fighting—
And not even the most veteran and experienced
Observer could ever tell which it is they were at.
There’s some deep crucial true thing to say here
About loving and fighting, yes? You feel it too?
But I am not quite sure what it is. All I can do is
Point to the two eagles and say see what I mean?
That’s what a poem is, it seems to me; a poem is
A way to point at something we get but can’t say.
So there are the eagles saying something graceful
And painful and amazing. What is it? Exactly so.

After the rain

When sourgrass bends sweet and heavy
over the path and even the sumac fawns at my feet,
when little streams run large and muddy

under the light of poison oak,
and when tongues of bark hang sodden
from the paling sheen of eucalyptus—

then, then is there moisture enough in my throat
for praise, if only the tiny frogs would return
to bass the bottom of our song.