Poetry - December, 2012


The year begins & Christ hides hushed

in the brambles and in the brush,
in the long shadows on the long street,
in the creases of the faces that I greet.
Dryad of my back yard,
Apollo of my morning,
bell tones hefted heavenward,
musk of hardwood burning,
my wild hand that guides the pen,
my tame heart that wilds when
all cries Christ! and Christ! again.
O beauty, O fast friend,
your touch upon my parchment skin,
youngs it new. The year begins.


The choice

The organ swings into the invitation hymn,
slinging us around the known world
toward the apogee of surrender,
Oh Muse of Scripture, Muse of Choice,
Muse of the Sawdust Trail.
I look at my hand resting on this oak pew,
shaped like Asia, a million cells teeming,
blood pumping, going on with its normal
irreligious, hungry life.
Things are being decided.
We are singing Just As I Am, the fourth verse,
over. My right hand listens
to the soprano next to me,
balancing on her catwalk of steep chords.
It longs to fly up to that soaring obbligato.
Just raise your hand, the Evangelist calls,
if you want God to use you on the mission field.
What he means: when God wants to find you,
He will know where to look.
My right hand twitches, tugging skyward
on its kite string. What I have been taught:
marks on paper, numbers, letters,
postulates, break down.
The whole repertoire of my life
has been practice for this moment.
I try to make myself restful and empty,
nothing but an interval
before the generous right hand,
and the sinister left, decide.


Third baptism

Uncovered in his isolette,
patches taped over his eyes, the baby
lies hot and quaking in the light as
my hand hesitates over the chalky shell,
the room sounding its clicks and soft alarms.

Ex opere operato, the sacrament draws
its holiness from the work done, not
the purity of the practitioner, but
every pettiness, every scalding word
and deliberate ignorance crowds
behind my eyes, in the crevices between
wrist bones, along my ears’ creases.

The mother shifts in her wheelchair,
adjusts her milk-heavy breasts, sighs.
I wet my fingers, slide them cool
along the newborn brow, into the soft
dip of fontanel, and say the words.


At 77

Growing old
is not like growing
more like slowing, undergoing
long agoing, touch-and-going
and foregoing, knowing
that what lies ahead
will certainly
need grace.


When it snowed in Damascus

The palm trees put on white hoods,
saber cacti were sheathed in cotton wool,
children licked it off the balcony railings
as if it were whipped cream.
It stayed for a remarkable 24 hours and every car
in the city sported a snowman on its roof!
Pickup trucks carried snow people riders.
All the photographs of the Great President
on University Avenue had bushy snow eyebrows.

Everyone laughed. They laughed a lot
over little things. When the old lady
who was throwing her garbage
out on the street nearly hit me
with a plastic bottle, we both laughed;
students running to catch the bus missed it,
and they laughed; the girl who cut the party cake
which fell apart, laughed. They all laughed
when the Great President’s eyebrows
slid down over his face.

Their laughter was lighter than snowflakes,
as strong as spider silk. It was the fabric
that protected them in that palace
where the desert is unfailing, dark
as the secret police and dependable as their poverty


A voice transfigured in winter


First Voice:        I remember
                         Your laughter
                         Had many wings

                         And thinking
                         Your laughter was everything
                         I imagined you
                         Flickering on the hill
                         Your face pale as feathers.

                         But your laughter lifted you up
                         Carrying you over the sea to where
                         Silence overcomes all sound.


Second Voice:  On the third day
                         I looked up
                         And saw Christ eat
                         A black apple
                         With fire for meat

                         Arms outspread under
                         The dark sun
                         His pale face

                         His right hand
                         Held flames that fluttered
                         With many wings.



We spend our years as a tale that is told.
                             —Ps. 90

Joey and I sit in The Prairie Junction.
He scans the menu then orders the “Prairieburg.”
He’s never been here before but it looks worth trying.

A man his friends call Marty just walked in.
Marty pulls up a chair next to Lorne and Rod.
They resemble a comradely flock of ancient birds.

I decide I’m going to order the chicken sandwich.
I haven’t had it before but it looks good too.
I mostly want to know that there is God.

The men have on the clothes they wear to church.
Right after service their wives must have gone back home.
Bill jokes about the football team at KU.

Lorne and Marty laugh as though they mean it.
Shelly the waitress is way too fat but nice.
She’s very young but she’s laughing right along.

There aren’t that many here but they all seem nice.
I remember a passage about the eye of God.
I want it truly to be on the sparrow, the eye.

I privately study the faces around their table.
Anybody would tell you that Lorne’s still handsome.
There’s a winter-wind-creased hawkish look to Rod.

Though he isn’t handsome he appears to tell a good tale.
There’s something in Marty’s expression that appears quite sad.
He looks to me as though something bad has happened.

Maybe it has but I have no way to tell.
His friends are being especially nice to Marty.
They may know the man has something painful to stand.

I don’t know anyone here at the Junction but one.
We’re not having much luck hunting out here but no matter.
It’s good just to be with such a dear chum as Joey.

We swap our own little narratives back and forth.
The men are of an age and so are we.
I don’t want them merely cut down like the grass that withers.

They all have been inside their church this morning.
I bet that each has made it a habit to pray.
These men I’m watching believe there’s God I believe.

And as for me that’s what I want there to be.


Christmas Eve

Luke 2:35

Adam’s rib was Christmas Eve
Foreshadow of a pierced side
Who pulling down forbidden fruit
Set fast in motion Yuletide.

Joseph’s bride was Second Eve
Endowed with gift of pierced soul
Who bowing down to own his will
Joined God in making wounded whole.


For shadowment: Villanelle for the solstice

Here, here in the crook of the year,
the crux and fix and flux of the year
light falls long across and dear.

Here in the ruck and dreck of the year
We glean and gather grace and gear,
here, here in the crook of the year.

Here is the neckbone of the year,
its knuckle sharp, its blade sheer,
where light falls long across and dear.

Hear the matins of the year,
the chant of praise and marrow fear,
here, here in the crook of the year.

Cheer the vespers of the year,
the prayers that rise from tongue to ear
as light falls long across and dear.

Clear your mind as night draws near.
Stead your heart and shed no tear.
Here, here in the crook of the year
where light falls long across and dear.


Kant at the laundromat

Between the plate glass
And the security bars
Hung a red and gold sign:
“Felíz Navidad.”

As my socks and dirty underwear
Churned with my jeans
I browsed a book
On that “most famous” passage in Kant
That lays open
The deep gash between
The world that is
The world that ought to be.

Above the rusty dryers
Another sign:
“Do not put babies in carts.”

Easy to imagine
The ugly gash
If one tumbled head first
To the unforgiving floor below.

No more I suppose
Ought a responsible mother
Put a newborn in a manger.

Ironic then
That we who say
“Felíz Navidad”
See beginning there
The convergence of
The world that is
With the world
That ought to be


When the rain clears

Standing on the street
in the early morning of late autumn,

I marvel to see, to my left,
over my own backyard, rain

and to my right, over my neighbor’s barn,
only clear, dry air.

As I walk this line
drawn by the ordinary length of asphalt,

I think of the theologian who said,
God is on the loose now,

no longer hidden behind
the parochet, waiting for the high priest

to ask for the atonement
of his people’s sins.

The rain has to clear somewhere.
Why not here? Like the road has rent

a veil that cloaks the fullness
of sight, separates shade from light.