Category Archives: Poetry

Oak Trees

Just me? Don’t the oak trees seem happier?
Haven’t they soaked up extra green from the earth?
But isn’t that their roots communicating
about this strange, over-cool July breeze disturbing their wet leaves?

I appreciate their lack of worry,
though I can’t be sure of how they’re reacting
to their cousins roasting in British Colombia
or to the tiny whiff of smoke they must smell from California.

I suspect they leave the worry to me
and just grow, taking the best the summer offers
and savoring it; pulling the sun right out of the air,
just swallowing it whole, wearing it, defiant of the future.

They rest in glory, immortal glory.
I’m the one who can block out the sun with a mood.
I can smell imaginary smoke or fear a possibility.
I know I must turn into the green of the morning and feast.

So the trees and I are writing this praise,
sitting together in your forest, in your gift of today:
this sun, this air, this love in which I have always lived,
this endless potential present in each drop sailing off every leaf,

present in me, present in us,
present in grandchildren skimming across the lake,
present in the stumbling church and diseased country,
present when the next disaster or betrayal occurs,
as you well know, Lord, as you well know.

Flowering Overwhelm on Memorial Day

The Overwhelm comes upon us,
an angel of death coursing
through the streets like an oily snake
invented for the screen by Cecil B. DeMille.
We can’t tell if it’s real or not.
But we feel it sucking the life out of Spring.
We shut down and cower in our darkness.

Memorial Day tries to jump start Summer
but it’s another rainy day
taunting us with our dashed hopes of
a maskless picnic in the sun.
The Overwhelm rises up like a pool
of sewage in the basement.
We turn the air freshener in the socket
up to high but soon just go to sleep.

In the dark of night I rise with
outrage stuck in my throat.
I imagine ancient Roman wives with flowers
skulking out to the graves of their husbands,
his death day guarded in a private brain cell,
matrons in Charleston fighting for the honor
of inventing her son’s Decoration Day,
women wearing poppy pins from Flanders Fields
and Seeger asking where all the flowers have gone.

I have many reasons to dissociate.
The face of Trump rises like a blood moon
in the nighttime of the Empire,
the church crippled by the pandemic,
and our wan faces blearily, bravely,
weakly attending to one another on screen.
We can barely find the energy
to try a vacation on our one day off,
much less move with the impulse to be
outraged over Armed Forces Day,
Veterans Day, and Memorial Day
tromping around the calendar.

God help us, it is George Floyd Death Day!
At the same time it is San Jose Death Day,
which followed Palestine Oppression Day and
Jews beat-up-on-the-streets of New York Day,
not long after Asian woman pummeled-on-screen Day,
and police killing-filmed Day, killing, killing
at the same rate as this Day last year.
Even the Underground Railroad masterpiece
can’t shake us out of the stupor of the Overwhelm.

Oh Lord, stoke my outrage!
What a colossal waste of flowers!
My God, we are still making weapons!
The police are armed to the teeth
trying to protect our right to carry
and still formally killing the caught killers
not informally executed in the streets.
O my God, how much did they spend
in Afghanistan and on the Israelis
for rockets targeting Gaza apartments?

Jesus, I need to be flabbergasted
and all I can do is throw a poem out there
on a day when people would rather rest in their grave,
avoiding the feeling of death inside,
and just try not to remember for a moment.
Oh God, the Overwhelm is snaking through the streets
and no amount of flowers can mask the smell.

The cross in the night

I needed a new taste of your cruciform love
as I lay awake feeling at home
but entertaining all those homeless thoughts of loss
which are always looking to move in.

I received a word from the poet, C. Day Lewis,
pondering the day his son left home.
Oh, he would be at dinner, but gone, nonetheless,
finding his way among friends. He said:

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How self-hood begins with walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

At every table I eat a bowl of letting go
and feel hungry as I find my way.
On your icon across the room you are loving,
vulnerable in your passion.

I have a lot to learn of the cross in the night
as others feel free to sleep away —
or so my piece of broken heart often tells me
as I resist learning love from you,
as I hear the voice of love in me.

 

C. Day Lewis poem in full.

Trail in an unknown forest

an unknown forest

Off a road we never travelled,
the empty lot for the trailhead parking
seemed eager for a visitor
on a mild day in March.

Bits of snow lay untouched on the path
and painted the forest floor in patches.
The sunshine felt as new as the trail
after months locked indoors.

The rocky way relied on blazes
and our old feet relied on memory
of many hikes over many years, those
with less expectation of falling.

There are wonders to be seen.
Inside and out there are vistas.
Now the tree growing out of a rock
seems like a personal statement.
Now the stone like the Stone Table
has a deep spiritual history.
Now the slab like a stage
is pondered from erotic to sublime.
Now the muddy flats speak of
foreign places and mysterious art,
while the destination creek flows
with thoughts for the future.

It is always striking how the way into
the unknown of a new forest seems long.
How far is it? Should we keep going?
How can we gauge the effort this takes?

Yet the way back through the now
familiar landscape, dotted with experience
like patches of snow, seems short, soon to
embolden an unknown route back home.

Just a bit of courage to try
a new path and the interior landscape
feels the breeze of a spring thaw
where it is frozen with fear and doubt.

Though the pilgrimage of Lent seems long
in a year so hard and fraught,
so many days it seems like a short way
back to the home You make for us.

And even when my courage seems so small
and the mud of spring annoying,
You move me to stay on the way of the heart:
that old unknown end, always a familiar new end
marking the trailhead of hope.

We must bring the Now to now

Image result for valentine on a melting glacier

I suspect Valentine was a wizened elder, 
old and comfortable in his ways and position, 
when the authorities made their new law 
and thrust him into his new, secret obedience to Love. 

He once handed off his cross to the younger ones. 
But it quickly came around the track to him again. 
He was no longer the future but the now — 
the eternal now he knew so well beckoned him Home. 

And he brought that Home to his home. 
He brought that Now to now. 
He lived Eternally in the face of the powers 
who pretend to have the power of death. 

I know my Valentine is a wizened elder, 
old and comfortable in her ways and position. 
Yet the authorities still make their laws 
and thrust the young into choices which question all their love. 

What will You have us do with this baton we see, 
coming quickly to us across the melting glaciers 
in an age of lies when the evil go free 
and the machines bind the hearts and minds of the children? 

We must bring our Home to our home 
and bring our Now to now, 
and love Eternally in the face of the powers — 
prove they do not have the power of death 
over those who listen to the Spirit’s voice and follow. 

Lament for the climate

Trees Clapping by Brenda Bogart

There’s Wendell Berry writing,
quill plucked from a wild turkey with thanks,
sitting in his Kentucky cabin
voting absentee for Amy McGrath.

“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

Take a deep breath

Because among us normals,
ballpoint crushed into the back seat rug,
sitting on 95 smelling fumes,
we’re sipping sodas with plastic straws.

When despair grows in us
and we wake in the night to gunshot pops
in fear of what our lives and our children’s lives may be,
we go and lie down where the AC
hums with a restful buzz in the night air, while the great sirens blare
to disturb to pieces the silence
that might settle on the neighborhood
of grief. They come into the presence of street trees
feeling above the light pollution
for a twinkling star. For a time
we listen for them to leave our block, and we sleep.

Take a deep breath.
Yes take a deep breath.

Because over all the world
prophets fill up reams of webpages;
they ponder and sip imported wine,
pen warnings under pics of burned pines.

The despair grows in the world
when we see another shot of a seal
chewing on a plastic bottle on a littered beach
while powers dash to sign the first lease
on a wild Alaskan landscape, elk breath groaning into cold air,
snorting clouds up like morning prayers,
their bodies sensing the immanence
of grief. And we too buy a window with better seal,
hoping a child doesn’t breathe the air,
or hear the dire prayers. For a time
we watch them sleep, then order a tree. We’ll plant it.

Take a deep breath
a breath of the world’s breath,
and dream of God’s future in that tree.

Turning

Paul ran away up the forest road
until our voices echoed into the fall
demanding he stop.
Nana labored down the way,
irresistibly tempted to run with his youth.

When Lulu picked up a bright red leaf,
she held it up for inspection,
insisting we stop —
our time suspended in glory,
in gratuitous art, strewn on the Temple floor.

I wanted to climb the fallen trees
to honor how they once stretched to the sky
then came to a stop:
their roots upended in crisp air;
the hole awaiting snow coming to fill the wound.

We thought we might make a root ball home,
roofing the pit to keep out the looming darkness.
But we had to stop
and motor back through the leaf storm
to warm climbs of normality as the world turned.

Lend me a hand Francis

Lend me a hand, Francis,
and pull me onto the road
leading to the sun, sunrise and sunset,
ending up who-knows-where in trust.

Take my hand, Jesus,
and pull me out of the sea
ebbing into the past, sunset to sunrise,
leaving behind who-knows-what to trust.

The road is fearfully new.
My doing had a lot of being in it.
Now my being must discover what to do.
The tide of yesterday inevitably pulls out.

Take my hand, Francis,
and walk with me on the way –
you who stopped wondering where you were going,
and help me listen to the birds sing.

Lend me your hand, Jesus,
and keep me from sinking –
you who became small and suffered so in love,
please make my way full of your heart song.

The road is wonderfully new.
I feel guilty for sleeping eight hours last night.
I’m a kitten on grass in a strange backyard.
The tide of tomorrow is pulling down my castle
as the sun dawns on another Francis Day.

You in my mother: A psalm for Mother’s Day

50th Anniversary song

When I call you “Mother,” Lord,
I don’t often think of my mother.
She seems to have kept her spirit locked away.
At least she never revealed it to me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to being bad,
Bravely sailing on her own path with her sailor.

I should take another look
And find you in her nature and love.
I seem to have missed you as I turned away
And left her wondering where my faith took me:
Rebellious, willful, resigned to go new ways,
Bravely sailing on my own path with my Sailor.

But You were in my own backyard
As well as in the endless dawn —
In her laughter, optimism and perpetual pluck,
In her courage and friendships and hospitality,
In her wonder, curiosity and righteous fury:
Making a cake, talking to the dog,
Loving a game, having a chat,
Keeping the peace, playing a prank.

You found me on my mother’s path
And I met you in my mother’s fashion —
In all the playful ways you have turned to me,
In the way I see you finding me funny:
Rebellious, willful, we resist the ways of the world,
Bravely sailing on everyone’s path to fullness.

I don’t know Mom’s destination.
But I have seen your destination in her,
And mine.
And I give thanks.

Lockdown grief and joy

We’ve been packing up our house for quite a while. Now we are at the last moment before the move this week. So that was disorienting enough!

Then Covid-19 stole the best together-times of the year: the sunrise meeting for Resurrection Sunday and the parties afterward. Gwen and I usually have a party. I was sad enough about moving and missing things until family and friends started telling us how much they were missing things with me! So on the most joyous day of the year, I was sad, too.

Angie sent over a video that made me cry for joy and tear up for sadness because a flash mob was praising God in the mall but we can’t do that together right now.

So that’s how it is this year. The lockdown finally got to me on Easter. But it feels kind of fresh, too. On Good Friday, I wrote the poem that follows. I thought I’d put it out there again, now that I know even better how we all have a bittersweet taste in our mouths: sweet from Easter candy and bitter from Easter coronavirus. Things may never be the same for us this year, because of joy or because of sadness, but Jesus will be our joy and ever with us in our sadness.

On Friday, my thoughts turned to the terror and ecstasy of birth. I’ve got a feeling we are all being cleansed in a way by this strange, communal experience of “social distancing” and the threat of catching the virus.  I know I feel like something new is being born. It made me think of another notable birth I experienced.

My wife was as big as a barn.
Her water broke with a flood
and the twins rode the river.

The birthing room was a bedlam:
our household peeking in,
a class walking through gaping.

Crazy, wondrous — jolt after jolt.
The first twin came out blue,
The next surfed out, tubing it.

Grief — surrounded on the table.
Joy — held by a slimy ankle.
I was suspended between.

The blue baby pinked up enough,
the flying one tucked up next.
And the birth-threatened love lived.

All was well again.

Awake at 3, the night bird sang;
I’m awake to listen.
And then the siren sounded.

The song of love met the tragic:
a tulip pushes up,
a loved one moves through the veil.

Our grief is budding out this year
like an unknown blossom
in a dystopic garden.

Our birthing room is a bedlam:
Peeking, pushing, pinking.
We are suspended between.

All will be well again.