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

The deft of it

Just spent four days with my mom and dad,
Who together are hundred and eighty-four
Years old, and there are so many wry funny
Things to report, and some saddening things
Also, like fragility, and the ravines that pain
Cuts in faces after years of wincing. But I’ll
Tell you just one: my dad at one point tosses
A bag of bread from his seat at the oak table
Onto the thin counter to his right. Maybe six
Feet of air, and he didn’t glance at the target.
A little flick of the wrist, and the bread lands
Exactly right. This nailed me, but Pop didn’t
Look up from the crossword puzzle. It could
Easily be explained: former excellent tennis
Player, knows the spatial music of the house
In his bones, probably made that throw sixty
Times, but still . . . the silent casual easy grace,
The deft of it! He’s all bones now, he weighs
Less than he did when he was a reed of a kid
Away to the war they thought would kill him
For sure, but when I hug him he’s still all tall
Though some of the tall is bent. Look, I get it
That someday he won’t be sitting at the table.
I get it. Believe me, I have examined the idea.
But that his deft won’t be there, his sideways
Smile when I gawp at something he says; I’m
Not quite getting that. He says he’d like to be
Buried in a military cemetery in a deep forest
About an hour away. There’s oak and cypress
And pine. This will happen, I guess, and then
He’ll be a thin kid again somehow or the most
Deft of the falcon chicks or the willow branch
That finally figures out how to sip from a lake
All easy and casual, like it didn’t take practice.

Gravity-defying gratitude

There’s no such thing as
heartfelt praise too wild.
Yes, wide-eyed, as child
but not bashful, mild.
The thing at hymn sing
to boldly hold in mind,
God sings us, His universe,
in fervent observant verse.
We are His hymns. Amen!
But then, conversely,
might not we be “Her”
shouting forth forte sopranos?

On first seeing Rembrandt’s self-portrait as St. Paul

Was it Rembrandt
or was it Saint Paul
who raised his brows
in doubt
about that time
when ecstasy
embraced him
in a Third Heaven?

Can anybody made of clay
penetrate the barriers
that keep human eyes
from seeing into habitations
fit only for wanderers
who’ve been there before?

Words like “epiphany”
escape Rembrandt’s brush,
he contemplates in oil,
mixes paints in angst,
Paul’s tears glaze his eyes,
the weight of glory
on the tilt of Paul’s shoulder.