Work and rest

The day’s labor works
its hollow ache deep
into the arms and legs,
into ligaments and bones as
hands, weary of
clenching tools, feel
the nervous twinge
of spent muscles
threatening to cramp
in protest.

The day, worked together,
yields its product: a porch…
a wall…a barn…a garden…
something broken,
now repaired…something
overgrown, now cleared.
And the workers,
made brothers or
sisters by communion
in exertion, find
commonness with God
in the joyful work of creation
and the peace of rest.

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My Valentine

It is a special kind of hubris
that I could dare to
call you “mine.”
The slightest moment’s reflection
on the word
shakes my soul with
holy fear.
Yet, regretfully, I find
the limitations of
my language
daily cause me to utter
such thoughtless nonsense as:
“My wife…,”
“My bride…,”
“My love…,”
“My Vangie….”
As if something so wild
so beautiful,
so mindful, or
so wise
Could belong to someone
who had no claim to divinity—
a man with
so little that is worthy
of your attention.
One might as well claim to own
a mountain or a river,
an ocean, or a moon.
I suppose my only hope is
that, someday,
it will not be awkward to say
in normal conversation
“the woman I belong to.”
Because, I belong
to you.

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My grandfather’s painting

My grandfather, his beloved
Jean long gone from his arms,
having been stolen slowly,
piece by piece, must have struggled
to learn to grieve, to comprehend
her absence.  I remember his home
ornamented with her pictures,
like demure smiling ghosts
of her youth, shocking in their
disparity to the hollow figure
who had struggled to gasp her
final breaths as she lay in
her frail white gown.  Her bed,
like an awkward stranger
in the downstairs space he
had made up for her,
the last bed she would know, had
remained in that space, quiet
and empty, kept company by
a few of her things, get well cards,
and a miscellany of  sterile plastic
remnants of modernity’s efforts
to lengthen her life.  To move it
must have felt too much like
moving on without her.  How could he
have imagined how to begin?  It may as well
have been made of stone.

I have often wondered what
a strange desperation he
must have endured, that my
my grandfather found his expression
in oil and canvas, brush and palette.
I wonder what it was like to first
plunge his brush into the thick paints and
to play with light and color…to wonder
if this is what God feels like.
I wonder how it felt to pour out
his heart as he poured out the
dark sienna and burnt umber from their tubes.
I wonder how many hours he spent
staring into his canvas’ flat surface
listening to the dull scratch of the
palette knife wielded deftly by his hands
as he created trees and streams,
rocks and mountains.

I barely knew him.  But I can still
see him in the brush strokes of
the painting he gave me
when I was young.  To please my
childish infatuation, he had
painted me a roan stallion,
turned in profile behind an aged
wooden fence, held with rusty nails
and set against a clear fall sky,
faintly clouded.

In it, I can see his love
for me, but more for her.
For me, he painted the supple
tones of the stallion’s muscles.
For her, he simply painted,
painting to ease his mind
and his heart of his missing her,
to allow some part of himself
to forget the ache, to place it
somewhere else than in
his mind alone.

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Violet

For Vicky McCreary

Gentle lavender petals
lifted in praise by
soft, verdant sprigs up
through the dark soil, she is
a living ray of light and color
Sprung from under the
decaying buff-grey fallen leaves
mangled from the Winter snows
following Autumn’s dark
undressing of the world.

In the Spring, the violet
remembers what is
good and green; she
calls to mind what is
warm and peaceful
as the bright sun casts life
back into the branches
of the white oak and the walnut
after the harsh cold of the icy Winter.

Her beauty is her tenderness, her
willingness to bloom on the forest floor.
Susceptible to her surroundings,
she bears her tears and scars with grace,
sharing her velvet fragrance,
undaunted. Her life, perennial
though it is, remains a gift
to be shared—all the more precious
for its brevity. She is a
blessing of fresh hope: a cold stream
burbling over smooth stones in
a dry place.

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Canine ontology

With brown eyes transfixed on
The stick in my hand, his feet
Spread to grip the soft earth,
His legs set like a catapult waiting
To spring—eagerly frozen—
Anticipating the movement
Of my shoulders, he gazes with such
Intensity it would seem that nothing
In the world could be as important
As this moment—this stick.

At once I see every muscle ready,
Every part of him set, and I think
He is entirely present, mind
And body entirely here,
Living entirely in this moment.

Jealous of the pureness of his joy,
I join him—lurching back on my foot
I hurl the stick as hard as I can and
Feel my own muscles pull and my own
Lungs gasp. As the damp bark of the stick
Rubs past my fingers, I listen
To the turf tear under his claws as
He launches, eyes still glued to the prize,
Running recklessly, all-out, without abandon.
Taking a lesson, I try to feel
Satisfaction in the length of my throw:
To enjoy, as he seems to, the
Simplicity of using my body. The throw
Isn’t bad—but not long enough for him.
In a second he shoots past
The place where it lands and
Nearly trips over himself as,
Mid-run, his mouth lunges to grab it.

The stick gripped loosely in his teeth,
He trots back to me with head held high.
And I notice that he does not covet. He
Does not wish to be other than he is.
He is not a dualist.
His pleasure (as his gift) is himself,
His flesh and bones,
His teeth and ears,
His feet and tail:
His body.
And he lives to enjoy it:
To run and play, to taste,
To see and hear and
To smell—catching the scent and
Finding out what left it and where it next went.
He lives to explore his place.

He is an eminently physical thing,
A being living each moment as a
Celebration of his location in space and time.
In this, I think, he lives as we are meant to:
Not looking for the “next thing,” or
Pining for the non-corporeal bliss
Of a disembodied heaven, But being
In this place…in this time…in himself,
Enjoying what he is where he is.
And I think, “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,
Incarnate God, and
Restore all bodies
and this world.”

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A prayer for Max

me and max

Lord of all creatures,
If ever was a dog grown up
In perpetual puppyhood,
It was our Max.
Ever-ready to pounce and play,
Grey-faced, front paws outstretched,
Chasing me around the kitchen
In her silly canine game until,
Overstimulated, crazy barking,
Spinning like a dervish…
I swear, you could hear her laughing.
She was a giant pup.

Perhaps it was your seemingly
Reckless divine humor
That made you equip her
So awkwardly.
Her Labrador frame and feet, set
Clumsily in her sleek Greyhound form,
Begged for bigger, floppier ears
To frame her long narrow face.
And no context could normalize
The funny sideways curl of her tail.
But, these inelegancies she wore
With quiet grace; embodying
Her size with conscious gentleness,
She lived her life as if to demonstrate
The words of the Savior when he said,
“Blessed are the meek.”

In my fantastic hubris, I have sometimes wondered
What it is to be worshiped and adored.
In this, Max was my teacher.
For, I awoke each morning
To the expression of one enamored,
Her glossy bronze eyes gazing at me
As I descended the steps
In anticipation of a tender word,
A loving pat, a scratch behind the ear—
And the eternally springing hope that
The day might include her very favorite:
A ride through the country in the truck,
Gazing at the clouds as the breeze carried
Its myriad smells of fields and farms.
Looking back I realize
It turned out I make an unworthy god.
She asked for little and, frequently,
Though we truly loved her, received it.

I knew her time was not long
When her ribs began to show so suddenly.
I wondered if she knew it, too,
When a body that once was nigh uncatchable
Could hardly walk past the driveway,
And stumbled on the stairs.
I wondered if she knew it better than I,
And what she felt when I lost my patience,
“Come on, Max!” Because I’d forgotten…

“Take care, Max.”  I should have said,
Remembering the way she always looked at me
When I came into the room
Remembering how few friends had given
So much of themselves
And expected so little in return.

Lord of all creatures,
Receive our dear Max. Let her run free in green fields.
Give her soft meadows of flowers to rest in.
Provide your cold streams to drink and splash in.
Give her scores of turtles to catch and kitties to befriend.
Lord, of all creatures, let her inherit the earth.
And, someday, if you find us worthy,
Let us watch her bounding across the hills,
And hear her booming playful “awoof!” again.

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Care

I, too, have wondered
Why I’ve spent so many words,
So much effort,
Describing the injustices
I’ve seen done
By people of power
In places called “Christian.”

Believe it or not,
It’s not bitterness,
Unforgiveness,
Or revenge.

I just keep thinking
Maybe someone will care.

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