So much

At year’s end, when all is sad and done in,
we gasp as clouds of smoke appear.
But it’s only the yews spewing pollen, outdoing
chimneys as if it were spring. That
and speech about Mideast peace as juncos
reseed themselves, the Christmas rose
flops open to cold, and Barney the cat
perfects his new trick—he unbars our door.

He stares.
(He prefers indoors.)
But right there’s the morning star,
just like the chorale’s. And up close, trouble—
a pup hunting kibble and warmth. And there’s more. Mt. Rainier
shows up in pink and blue bunting. So clear. Such fresh-powder glory.
The sleepy volcano seems suddenly haloed, huge, and near. So much
for our little stable.

Comeback for snowy plover

Associated Press headline, October 15, 1914

O lesser flake of feathers, O downy
shore-winged picker of cockles

and mites, twig-legged runner through ripples,
who was it called you out of extinction

to life and flirt again with the waves?
Who missed you enough to amend

your habitation? Who restored you,
winging you back to the beaches of our lives?

What urgent impulse then spirited you—
you in your dappled egg—to break shell,

chick stirring in shallow sand-scrape,
lifting to fly the salt wind, rising in drifts

over wild surf, your pinions
riding the breath of God?

Free will in the late capitalist era

The long slow mills have no choice, the freeway has no choice.
The empty fields have no choice, when the snow falls they agree
to turn white and later muddy, when the sun burns they parch
and crack, learn to be tough. What choice do I have, wakened
at dawn, bleary and empty, except to stand up and totter on,
slowly gather the pieces of myself, the day ahead ordinary
or not, who will arrive and who depart, on the radio a new
calamity far away. Eat something, drink something, pull on
my shoes and coat and walk through the backyard of the brick
house whose owners moved out months ago, the knobby grass
soggy from the last rains, smelly gifts from the neighbors’ dogs
hiding in the hollows. I have no choice and I’m one of the lucky
ones, one of the last ones, who else will have such an easy
sweet time of it, tucked into this town like a child into bed,
free to leave any time I can afford it. What else can I do
but slide my card in the slot, pull open the door, trudge
up the stairs to the desk where the whole day is waiting?

Eliab’s complaint

1 Samuel 16

I had all the qualifications:
the prerogatives of the firstborn,
the stature of a man of authority, a Goliath,
an aquiline nose, an Octavian head,
a heart flaming with anger, Saul’s
good looks and regal gait. I had splendor
and grace. I prayed loudly, devoutly.
I came from good roots
and was born in the right place.
Who could be holier from Bethlehem?

How could my kid brother be anointed,
the one with rosacea, looks like carpenter’s
shavings, the smell of sheep dung on his hands,
who roamed the fields looking for a lost lamb.
He wasn’t even invited to the sacrificial banquet.

That old stickler Samuel knew I should be king.
I coveted the horn that was strapped
over his shoulders leaning toward me.
Why wasn’t that good enough for God?
My name alone should have given me
the edge in the kingdom.

Any fool could see that.


So tonight we carol again squinting
at words by candlelight: betwixt
an ox and a silly poor ass,
and (louder) mortal flesh keep silence.

Animal warmth in this darkness rises
among us with each singer’s breath, as shadows
suggest great slumbering beasts
whose fur brushes us with peace and eases

our way to believe Incarnatus est.
Bodies and beast-shadows sway and grow still.
No one startles as candle
flames tongue air that now seems alive. Breathing. Blessed.