Poetry - April, 2014


Fluid mechanics

Sitting in a chapel high in the golden sculpted hills of California
A few minutes before Mass I reach down to a small wooden box
By my chair, where missals and songbooks are stored, and I find
A set of ancient eyeglasses folded into an old cloth case, so worn
That it feels like a pelt, and I realize that my chair must belong to
A certain sister here at the old mission. Maybe she’s here at Mass,
Trying not to be peeved that I snagged her seat. After Mass I ask
Around and a sweet nun with a cane says oh no, dear, that’s Sister
Maureen Mary’s seat. She passed over two years ago. She was tall
And hilarious and subject to fits of darkness. She’d been a student
Of engineering, a really brilliant girl, when she decided to join our
Community. Her parents were appalled, or as Sister Maureen likes
To say, aghast. She became a wonderful teacher with us. When she
Died we got hundreds of notes from her former students. Teachers
Have to cultivate the long view, as Sister said herself. You haven’t
Much immediate evidence of your labors. But you get flashes, here
And there, and hugs at the end of the year, she would say. She was
Still an engineer, she said—still actually working in fluid mechanics.
Her mom and dad began to visit once a year and then once a month.
Her sister never visited even once although she sent money. Sister’s
Parents died and willed us the truck in which they came to visit their
Daughter. We use it all over the place. You’ll see it go by today, for
Certain. When Sister died we left her glasses there just for moments
Like this, when someone discovers her. Often it is us, of course, and
We laugh, but then you spend the rest of the day remembering Sister
Maureen Mary, who is a most remarkable soul, whom I miss terribly.


Thomas Didymus

When Mary Magdalene     said she’d seen
the Lord     it was strangely disappointing
One of the worst women     saved from the street
to have been first     I knew it must be true
that’s just what he would do     but then
when I was the only one     to fight fear
& search for myself     the others lagging behind
it was like the soldier’s spear     went right through
me too     when I returned to hear
the others bragging    (that was the worst)
that I was the only one     not to have been there
not to have seen where his hands were pierced
I went into denial     I won’t believe     I said
Anything less than my fingers in his wounds
won’t be enough     My words sounded odd
to my ears     A week later I was among
them when he appeared     & called my bluff
My Lord & my God     Conviction rolled off my tongue


He’s not here

There’s no Jesus on the page.
No church or priest or wafer.
He’s a dark figure. An inky
character he is, that Jesus.
Here there’s no ink for him.

These are not holy words
and this is no evangelistic sermon.
It’s no polemic. This poem’s plain,
as plain as rain and oil and wine.
It may speak of a rough-cut slab,

but there’s no altar and no wood.
There’s no ram or holocaust.
The writing’s black marks
like smudges on a linen cloth
under a kind and lambent light.


Haircuts & tacos

That’s what the sign says
on the storefront in Bullhead City
along the steaming Colorado.

Which would you want first?
Either way, you’ll be tasting
split ends in your refried beans.

But think about the time saved,
about all the things we might
combine: Gas & Perm,

Laundromat & Five-Stud Poker
(Hold ’em & Fold ’em),
Freshman Comp & Foot Massage.

Efficiency. Eclecticism.
These are signs of democracy,
the little engines that make us

mix our metaphors, Free Wi-Fi
While U Wait in the green room,
the jury box, the wedding chapel.


Shadow and light

Sometimes to the eye, the green shadow of the vine
has more substance than the vine itself, its leaves
fluttering, translucent awnings in the mind.

Tall morning shadows of children exaggerate
the future everywhere. Saints and reprobates alike
cast shadows in the harsh light of the real.

And memory is full of shadows, borrowing light
from contemplation to discern the faces and forms
of all who have slipped away from our embrace.

If in that last darkness there is light, jasper walls
will test our final substance. Perhaps the dead will
know us first by tracing the shadows that we cast.