Her house was a three year old’s drawing
of a house—two windows on the second floor
with two below to flank the door.
On the porch a pair of supermarket tube
and webbing chairs in case a guest or two
dropped by plus one where she could lean way back,
a coverlet across her knees when fall
was in the air or she felt ill.

    The shades she always kept exactly so,
the ones above just low
enough to hide her on her way to bed,
the ones below up high to let
some daylight in. Now that the house is empty
as a drum, they’re every whichway
like an old drunk’s stare,
and somebody’s pinched the supermarket chairs.

    Sweet Jesus, forgive me all the days I spotted
her in one of them and slunk behind the trees
across the street. A caller on her porch
for all to see she would have rated
with her trip to England on a plane,
or winning first prize for her grapenut pie,
or the day that she retired from the Inn
and they gave her a purple orchid on a pin.

    Or having some boy ask her to dance,
or being voted president of her class,
or some spring morning with her room all warm
and sunlit waking up in Spencer Tracy’s arms.


You’ve gone AWOL and only
Jesus can bring you back, not this
poem that I began with the lie
that we can overhear your laughter,
not hubris or tears and rain.
You are an ocean who’s left
the nest of earth I thought you’d promised
not to. The sky who folded up
your blue tent and took off.

What remained, they packed off
to flame. Before the day we sat
to make your legend in the church,
I could almost feel your curious, dare-
devil spirit peel itself from the wall
of death like a cartoon character
and bop out to explore. So tell me
what you learned. Is it possible
to breathe astral, heavenly air?

And tell me. Was it worth it?—
all that sturm und drang you pitched
against our brother Death who’d rather
work in secret—swelling, hemorrhage,
collision of blood cells, collusion
over charts, snarled traffic of the body,
roads under construction, accident,
the rampage of doctors to prevent
the clever kleptomaniac from winning
as long as possible. He could only
steal your body. Which I miss, it’s true,
oh god, true. The screen door you
banged every afternoon, now silent.

All Eve's Children

It was not meant as exclusionary,
the way the boy
laid his arm along the pew,
not touching her back
but cupping the bowl of his hand
over the girl’s shoulder,
exactly the way
his father encircled his mother
in decorous Sunday embrace.

Near in age and adoring,
his forsaken younger sister
saw the story of all Eve’s children,
an enacted parable of man leaving
father and mother to cling to wife,
heard Scylla and Charybdis’ seductive hymn,
felt the tension of two great loves,
perceived in a piercing moment
ties tighter than the bonds of blood.

Two Ways

Phenomenology, a cruel creed,
Preaches its faith in omnipresent ways:
“One world alone” is all the creed we need,
Empiricism controls all our ways.
And so we build our barns and get and store,
Laughing at those who sing noumenal songs,
Ignoring those who say, “No, there is more,”
Scorning an ethic built on “Right” and “Wrong.”
In stark contrast, the Galilean Jew,
Who used his stories to affirm his creed,
Out-Kanting Kant on what we ought to do,
Sounded a warning every person needs:
“Do not forget, you fool, all bills come due,
This night your soul will be required of you.”*

*Luke 12:20


When I was young,
Christmas wasn’t very much—
a balsam culled from the edge of a field,
colored balls in a tattered box,
durable strings of colored lights,
glorious music in local churches,
long, slow winter hours.

Now that I am four fifths old,
Christmas is so very much,
so bought and sold in Christian bulk,
   carols slammed down secular streets—
   bad or worse in slipshod churches.
What sea or landfill’s deep enough
to hold the glitter-smash
of all these broken ornaments?

. . . Who are you again?

I was a wise man,
literate in stars.
—and now—?

Ancient and uneasy in America,
wrapped in swaddling robes,
wheel-chaired, parked
beneath denatured swags
of falsely berried nevergreen,
I miss austerity.
I miss desert travel.
I miss the naive Christmases
when, four fifths young
in my frugal father’s house,
I wrote my hopes on a battered desk
in a shadowy hall upstairs—
the ceiling high and cold with draft
on dragging winter evenings
when there was no entertainment
but my mind unentertained,
    yet knowledge of approaching holiday.
Once I dreamed that I worked all night, forgetting—
then woke in the downstairs room
as warm as womb: the tree of light.

But most of all,
I miss how every modest Christmas morning,
disappointment in the presents
faded quietly and wisely, gone by breakfast
even for us children.

. . . but—who are you again?

come back
in another searching time.
Searching for what?

The light from the star
that just now is arriving.
The astrologer? One of the three?
Why here?

Too much room at the Christian Inn.
And who would look for a Magus here
among this wreckage of untreasured age
and unmined memory?
Herod is alive and well
and killing babes for no reason at all.
This is the manger of 2005
and the hay is eating the oxen.
I do not understand you.

What is it in this saturated, satiated
anti-Midas age of yours
that everything you touch,
once gold, turns lead!
Even the holy babe we found
is new-born, yes! again this year,
       but four fifths dead.
Wait! Don’t wheel away—!
I’ll tell you what I still can see
on late-in-Advent evenings
in my clearest memory: the true Nativity–
my faithful father’s glowing tree
reflected in the tall black window panes of living room,
the colored lights imposed
on bare and frozen trees outside,
and that was it—the lead-to-golden bough,
like Gabriel’s who imposed on Mary’s how.

Like Christmas then on Christmas now.
Believe I do reject the artificial tree
and heart of modern Christmas “season”—

Are there any more like you?
Two or three in beds and halls
and cattle stalls
on every floor.

Will you take back one Christmas night,
one Christmas morning, only, for your use?
Will you refuse cartoonish “power” pointed
songs of praise (follow the bouncing ball)
projected in what used to be a sacred space,
and wait for writing by the hand on temple wall
Can we agree?

Will you come with me?
Though I seem to nod in this cushioned chair
in the cushioned space of used-to-mean,
let word go forth in Herod’s time again:
we are at odds with the even powers
and will report to no one what we’ve seen.
We’ll secret the strains of ancient songs
of love bereft and hope long gone,
safe in heart, secure in mind,
singing the news between mourn and morn:
—for two or three of us old kings
          he is still born.