The farm wife examines her Mennonite roots

They’re the riddle in my garden
           What has eyes but cannot see?
Like a stone, they fit my hand
            as I turn their other cheek.
With love but no regrets,
            I mash them into mounds
or whip them, scallop them,
           dice them for rivel soup.
Cancer could not lessen
           Dad’s affection for them fried.
He tells how they clustered
           like sleigh bells in the sand
where nothing else but winter
           squash and zucchini thrived.
His mother, Fannie Mishler,
           fixed them for every meal
like some cultures live on rice.
           My son-in-law from St. Louis
splashes hot sauce on their skin,
           but I fancy even their pockmarked
faces that shrivel as they age.


Christ lives in my unchosen life, resident
In the upright ashes of these brittle bones,
Mapping blood routes and checking airways,
Catching the breaking news in my nerves,

Ever exploring under wrinkling tissue skin
For portal throughout my temporal universe,
Arriving at last behind these old searching eyes
And, through haunting blur, giving vision to wings

Of candle flames fluttering about the altar’s cross
As pipes, chimes and steeple bells ring, resonate
And indwell, bidding me, familiar beggar at table,
To take bread and wine like a taster for the king.

Nearing Lazarus’ tomb

He’d seen it all. Swathes of nothingness
spun into stars, the slapping of the first fin onto land,
and now these creatures, by far the cleverest
and the saddest—though listing it that way
felt faulty, as if all happenings unfurled inch by inch
instead of blooming in one cacophony,
the apple crumpling just outside the city walls.

And it wasn’t even an apple, or fig,
or pomegranate glinting with infernal seeds,
though he’d accommodate their legends,
accept provisional truths, the same way they worked
with the earth un-sphered and stilled
in leaf-thin sketch.
                              To overlook
imprecision in the premises, concede
to the limits of both flesh and paper,
was what it meant to translate, as to love.
Which struck him as strange pottery:
roll everything that’s been into a coil
and score it with each day; cram self into cage
of clay and bone; daub their closed eyes in slip
and wait for it to flake off to new sight. It seemed to take
what they called a lifetime.

But they didn’t have that, not right here,
beside the village known as House-of-Misery
whose people rent their clothes. Before he even spoke
Mary’s tears were falling warm onto his feet,
carving clear trails through the coat of dust.

If you had been here. He stood
enveloped in the sound of all their moans,
entangled in her locks of dampening hair.
If you had been here. All grief’s audacity
pitched in her splintering voice, she raised her head
to look at him, and in her water-darkened eyes
he who’d seen all things felt this:
pain’s veil dividing now from everything
that is not-now. And he began to weep.

The story

We stood on a green hill
on a brisk day,
two small sisters in coats, singing
two-part harmony into a tiny grave.
Our preacher dad had asked us
to sing the one about children
and their heavenly father
at the burial of a baby, stillborn
to a couple named Story.

But this was a story
I couldn’t crack. How
could a baby be born
with no breath or life,
how could a baby be dead,
but still, born?

I looked at the mother’s eyes
as the two of us sparrowed on
about how life and death
would never sever—I knew
it meant separate—children
from God’s strong arms.

It was nice to get paid for singing,
but I didn’t want to ever be dead
and flourishing in some faraway
holy courts. Each night I prayed
uneasily that If I died before I woke
the Lord would take my soul—
God suddenly materializing
in the dark room, like a frightful thief
in the night, to spirit some unseen
part of me up and away.

I liked my real home on the prairie.
And I wanted my story: all babies born
unstill into their fathers’ arms,
everyone mounting green hills
unwounded by grave dirt,
all of us singing an old, old story
and breathing, breathing,
grace all around us like fresh air.

Natural life with no parole

That’s what it’s called the men tell me
after our discussion of Matthew Five and
what it means to turn the other cheek,
or not, the latter being the path that
brought them here. But what, I wonder
is a “natural life”? Isn’t it, really, the life
led by everyone, those behind walls and
those without, each of us living the one
life given which is to say there’s no parole
for anyone. Yet listening to the men describe
how they found Jesus, or rather He found
them despite everything, or maybe because,
I think of Paul on the road to Damascus,
the sudden light, blinding, transforming,
reforming, or then again this, a slow inner
revealing, the shy gift of sweet snowdrops