Common elegance

he turned the fish by their tails
on the iron grate; their skins

sticking and burning.
The fire died once
and he bent and blew

on the embers, holding
his robe at the throat,
a gesture of such common elegance

the gates flew open.
A ribbon of dawn
lay taut and pink on the sea.

When at last he raised his head
and looked at me, I shivered.
Simon, son of John, do you love me?


Obvious of course, now and in the beginning:
God is not a perfectionist.   Good at detail for sure,
and drama, but lacking the
compulsion to get every piece of
punctuation in its proper place,      ever.
And forever forgetting the finishing touches:
a proper frame, that final proofreading.

Tempting to be critical of such sloppiness,
all those excesses and omissions.   For instance,
surely there is too much sadness to go around,
more than what’s necessary for lessons and poetry.

But I don’t mean there is no serious business here.
Only that there is something else on the canvas,
an art in line and color, a splash of mystery,
a priority of passion perhaps,
well beyond the right answer and its rush of applause,
something still seeping into our soil.


Consider its extravagant fertility! How
dependably it breeds itself in the marrow
to fill again what drains away, the rivers of bright
platelets singing in their arterial dark

until a simple incursion, some sharp sever.
A jag. An abrupt disclosure as our secret fluid
spills against its will—whether a startle or a slow
seepage, a prompt to remember our fragility.

When a bold splash on a lintel in Egypt signaled
safety, a lifeguard against the death angel, we didn’t
have to die; it was only a lamb, and a quick throat cut
that flooded us into another life.

“His blood be upon us” echoes in that old yell of
rejection. We can yield instead to be
washed in grace, the scandal of mercy
acting as God’s unlikely laundry.

Today the cup calls us to the altar rail, transfuses us
as we drink deep, a stain that blots old grimes
and dyes us with itself.

In the alley

Here’s a story. My first job, at fifteen, was in a bakery,
Cleaning the vast foul pots and kettles and baking pans
At night, for hours, alone, with horrifying chemicals, &
Finally locking the shop and trudging home in the dark.
I hated it from the first hour but I couldn’t quit instantly
Because I was afraid to be teased and be mortified. This
Went on a week. The back door to the bakery was in an
Alley that looked like a good place to get shot. One day
As I shuffled sadly down the alley I saw a slumped man
Sitting by the back door, smoking. I didn’t know him &
Figured I was about to get rolled. I was sort of relieved,
To be honest, because then I’d have a decent excuse for
Quitting. But when I got there the man stood up, and he
Said boy, I run the shop next door, and I see you in here
Working, and I bet you have not eaten, and that’s awful
Hard work, I know how that guy leaves his kitchenware,
So here’s a sandwich. Now, it’s not from me exactly but
From my wife who has a real sharp eye. So there you go.
I quit a few days later, and at my dad’s instruction I quit
Face to face with the baker, who was furious, and it was
No fun at all, but then I went and said thanks to the lady.
Even now sometimes I see that man smoking in the alley,
And standing up, and being kind to a kid he didn’t know.
Even now I’ll be walking along and suddenly there he is,
Waiting to be kind. We think we are alone but we aren’t.

First petitions

That there will be one or two waiting
with hands to hold you through floods
of crowds and reaching for you in rivers
of sports fans rushing past your head;

to lay on blessings of evening explorations,
fidget through long hours awaiting
the door latch and the fridge slam you
tucked into a familiar corner at home;

to give up reaching and fall at the bedside,
fold and submit you and your youth
beyond the touch of helping hands
to a kinder embrace, not here but not far.