A prayer for 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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The blasphemies of the American civil religion

Soldiers have sacrificed for my religious “freedom,” therefore I am required by the masses to worship a flag regardless of my convictions.  To not do so is frequently called “sacrilege.”

The “American Dream” is a gift given to the most faithful.  Some black men (who, because of their status, have more to atone for than we white people) have achieved playing football, therefore expressing the injustices others experience means they are ungrateful to be allowed their high social status…it is to turn the nose up at the gift.

Police “lay their lives on the line” to protect us, therefore they ought to be able to kill us with impunity—and we must be grateful to them.  I sometimes wonder if I should be happy if a firefighter decided to burn my house down with my family in it.  He does, after all, make great sacrifices to protect me from fires.

The cult of “freedom” is the American version of the Emperor cult of the Caesars of ancient Rome.  Its salvation (freedom) requires me to revere its totems (flags), genuflect for its songs (anthems), tithe to its temples (establishments), worship its messiahs (providers of freedom), venerate its martyrs, fund its priests (politicians), honor its patriarchs (forefathers), and exegete its scriptures (constitution).  It has all the ceremonies, rites, rituals, traditions, orthodoxies, and heresies of any religion—and like many theocracies, it wars with others to maintain its position.  Every war is somehow, inexplicably, a battle for my freedom.  Any foreigner (non-citizen) is a faithless pagan and somehow, less.  To become a proselyte, one must pay an awful price.  And just like in the Emperor cult of Rome, you can have any other “religion” you want, as long as you make sure it plays second fiddle to the Empire—because don’t forget that the Empire makes your religion possible.  Your god must always honor the Empire cult.

And for the blind, following masses, to question the civil religion, to refuse to worship its flag by pointing out injustice is to question this salvation, to blaspheme its messiahs, its totems, and its anthems.

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James

I’ve been there
In that darkest place;
Felt that bitter hollow
In my chest
As my life was
Ripped away
So cruelly
And the sound of music
Amplified the emptiness.

I’ve looked down
At hands that shake;
Not comprehending
The wild shriek inside which
Was my soul tearing
Itself apart to open
Them…to let go
Of my own flesh,
My children.

I’ve walked through that
Valley—the Valley of Shadows;
Taken the blame
And wondered how
Someone I had loved
Could hate me
So thoroughly.
I’ve learned to hate
Just to survive it,
Then struggled to stop.

Not knowing how,
Turning to the shepherd
Who has always
Brought me to green places,
Peaceful streams
Of fresh water,
The one who has always
Prepared tables for me,
Right in front of
All my betrayers,
I’ve walked that Valley,
Fearing no evil
Sensing his presence
And trusting his discipline.

And goodness and mercy followed me
To his house.

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Small things

How important the small things are!
Time spent with a friend stacking
Stones in the ground while the cool breeze
Gentles the sun’s blazing rays
Reminds me that I’m not alone.
I am part of this world—as the grass,
As a neighbor, as the birds in the sky,
As the leaves of the trees.

How vital are the minutia which
Keep us grounded? Putting away the clothes,
Preparing dinner, taking out the trash,
Feeding the dog…we are carnal creatures,
Living physically, subsisting as all
Organisms do: by making a place
In relation to others; by caring for
One another, by being home.

It is a lie of the ego which insists
“I am destined for some great thing.”
A champion hubris hoping to attain
That which only God may inhabit.
I once told myself I must look beyond small things,
That I would soon “be someone.” That
People would care what I thought
And read what I wrote.
Those days are long gone.
Now I am pleased to enjoy discovering
The wormy grains of rough-cut pallet wood,
Distressed by years of abuse and weather,
Dismissed as disposable resources meant
For moving something valuable from one place
To another. I see myself in the boards, in the rocks,
In the trees and the dishes: a mere thing in this world,
Used up and thrown away by people who know
Little other than their own ambitions to be something
Other than what they are, to treat me as chattel. I have
No more ambition of my own, other than to survive the day,
To come home to my wife, to feel her warm smile,
To sense her steady breathing beside me at night, to bury my
Nose in her honey hair and hold every detail about
Each moment in my mind as long as it will stay
Before fading into that nameless euphoria
Which has no words, only that note of
Visceral contentment felt deep inside:
The distant memory of peace and security
Known only by the innocence of childhood.

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The mind of a bird

This summer, a pair of Warblers
Chose our porch to raise a brood.
It didn’t seem the wisest choice to me,
As, no matter how thoughtfully we open it
They constantly find their world upturned
Whenever we use the front door.
But I don’t claim to know what goes on in
The mind of a bird. I suppose as they
Built their moss-covered nest
They must have thought the space
Under the eave seemed hidden enough
To be safe from the Red-tailed Hawks
Which patrol the trees in our neighborhood
And high enough to be safe from
Invaders of the slithering variety.
Though their presence, viewed through the
Storm door, taunts our orange and white
Tabby to the brink of madness,
I guess they figured a little foot traffic
Is a small price to pay for a safe place
To settle down and raise some chicks.
And I like to think that maybe we’ve earned a good
Reputation in the local bird community.

The young are hatched now for a few days,
Their tiny heads popping up over the edge
Of the soft nest. Left alone while mother
And father hunt, I climb onto the railing
To see the babies. Mouths open, eyes closed
Waiting for mother, the three chicks seem
A tiny grey ball of soft fluff.
“We’ll keep an eye on you until she returns,”
I whisper. In a heartless world it seems
The least we can do.

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Crape myrtle, II

Heat-loving crape myrtle,
Its early-summer blossoms
Shed their tiny petals
Snow-like in the verdant grass.

Reaching for the knobby
Branch, I pull a
Cluster of its sweet
Fragrant softness, to cut it

Clean with my knife,
Which I close and put
Back in my pocket.
Burying my nose deep

In its sweetness
I draw deeply into
My lungs its spirit:
A soft aroma, drawn

From far beneath
My feet, deep in the
Red clay by roots
I cannot fathom.

Knowing of only one
To share the moment with,
I carry the tender shoots
Past the Roses and

The Hostas, the Basil
And the Cilantro, the
Lemon Balm and the
Lavender into the kitchen

Where she washes
The supper dishes,
Her blonde curls skimming
Her neck with such tenderness

As would make Solomon
Blush. Presenting my
Offering, I hope only
For her smile.

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