Poetry

Poetry

When

Will You harass a driven leaf,
Will You pursue dried-up straw . . .
                                  —Job 13:25

when
the sun
no longer
warms
nourishes
trees
dry
leaves
wither
crack
fall
pummeled
under foot
ground
into
earth
to begin
again
i pray
you do
the same
with
the sins
i leave
behind
and not
with those
i keep

A funeral begins at the church across the street

Men and women in black, a few at first and then more, move
quickly and silently across the parking lot, like a slow rain
beginning to fall into the dark mouth of the sanctuary.
A blue jay screams curses from the skirts of a pecan tree.

Then comes the small girl the neighbors call
“the urchin,” who spends each day alone flitting
around the neighborhood like a trapped moth.
She is surrounded by three patchy dogs.

She marches barefoot and chants a little song
about the summer morning, three stray dogs,
and her very own self. She passes between the mourners,
a blade of blue sky cutting through storm cloud.

When she gets home, her mother will still sit like a sea wall
in front of the Trinity Broadcasting Network with a can of beer.
The urchin will go into the kitchen for a glass of warm tap water.
The man in the coffin will still be dead. The mourners

will still gather and be sad. Nothing will be any better.
The jay will keep screaming its malediction on the deep
down meanness of the world. But, look now, for a moment:
the song, the girl, and three loping dogs.

Parable

My good neighbor of long standing said to me,
You know, I think that old nursery rhyme,
Row, Row, Row Your Boat, is the golden key
To a successful life. Remember how it goes?

Oh yes, I said, but what about all those folks
Whose boat is leaking, and their oars have
Battered blades and split handles that pinch
Their palms and splinter their fingers at every stroke,
And as far as they can see downstream,
There is crashing white water, great boulders
And perhaps a fatal waterfall ahead?

Ah yes, he sighed. I pray for them every day.
I pray earnestly that they can swim—that they
Know how to swim, he said, pouting his lips
Thoughtfully and nodding his white head.
Yes, they must know how to swim.

If you, God, are my tabula rasa

And I am one of your many amanuenses
    writing letters recommending you,
    then I am free
    to know you as I do
    and write you as I will,
    searching out your ways as I find you
    and longing to trust who it is I find.

But you are who I say you are and not,
    who they wrote you were and often are,
    who I wish you were and I hear Wish again.

So that I, exhausted, resign myself to Eckhart’s
    ecstatic, My me is God, and I am both glad and sad,
    for I turn around and there you are
    and it remains true that I see
    so little of me in you.

Still, no one is searching for me the way you are,
    even as I play my childish hide-and-seek with you,
    until you grow weary of my game
    and like a father with better things to do,
    go back to writing the ever evolving You.

And the silence resumes.

What it is you would like the stone to say

Called the cemetery this morning to begin to plot
What happens to my mom and dad after they die.
Yes, I just wrote plot. My parents would smile at
That. They are not afraid. They have lived so wry
And well. They survived wars and four dead sons
And savage diseases, and they still reach for each
Other here and there. I have seen it. The cemetery
People are so very helpful. Discharge papers: that
Is the first thing. The cemetery will donate a head
Stone free of charge. And the casket liner. I admit
The casket liner was not on my list of stuff to talk
To the cemetery folks about. Plenty of room, says
The cemetery lady. Yes, your mom will be buried
With your dad, no charge. What do we engrave on
The stone? The specific words? In loving memory,
Usually. That is standard. Can you edit the words?
Well, I suppose so. Within reason. There are space
Concerns, of course. I suggest you talk to your dad
And mom and brothers and sisters, and agree upon
What it is you would like the stone to say. I would
Like the stone to say grace, and sinewy, and young.
They were so young when they married. He did not
Expect to survive the war. Their first son died—his
Name was Seamus. Can you find room for Seamus
On the stone? Mom nearly died, too. But she is too
Tough to die at thirty. A hundred and thirty, maybe.
Can we say endurance, and prayerful, and compose
A poem about how they like their tea, and who gets
What section of the paper first, and how they never
Ever forget a birthday or anniversary? Can we copy
Their meticulous undamaged handwriting? Can you
Show the note of her laughter, and the way he never
Misses a day with the crossword and how he is right
Now bending over the tomato plants to be sure he is
Not about to water the tiny shy frogs who live there?