Dear Ethel,

I remember you saying that if Jesus showed up
unexpectedly for an afternoon visit, you would
serve him whatever was on the counter––
chicken soup? apple pie? And you were sure
he wouldn’t complain if one of the younger cats
who hadn’t yet learned the social graces
climbed up the side of his white robe, maybe
catching some skin along the way.

Now it’s been years since you left to meet
the guest of your vision, who sipped his soup
and ate his pie, unbothered by the cat who
gained the table and began to share soup
and pie. Jesus rose to give over his seat
while he moved closer to you for coffee
and you to him to share your apple pie.

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Lost in Limbo

Outside these cemetery gates
guarded by angels of stone, unbaptized
infants were once buried, unable
to be interred in hallowed ground
because of original sin not washed away.

Not knowing what to do
that was merciful yet just, rule makers
wrote them into the margin of books
that held the question open––in limbo,
Latin for margin, which hardened
to doctrine of a secondary heaven
where needs were met for these innocent
babes, who because no one thought
to baptize–– even with spittle,
in an emergency––would be separated
from God for all eternity.

Lord, have mercy on all of us
who subscribed to such a belief about you
who from the first and to the last
is source of comfort for grieving parents
then and now, when the height, length, and
depth of your love is present as medicament
for this grievous wound, as you on your knees
dig with your hands in the earth you created
to hollow out a hole the size of love
to receive the body; then do you gather up
the perfect soul and return with it to home.

To Bury or to Burn?

The reign of God is like a buried treasure
a man found in a field. Matthew 13: 44

To bury or to burn drafts of poems
stacked two feet high in my writing house––
I have no illusion of them being sought
by academy, library, or even family.
So what’s the point of saving them
and not throwing them in the recycling

bin, onto the town dump, or into the stove?
How quickly those piles of poems
would burn to ash.
I choose not to burn
but to bury, honoring the work by giving
its shaping back to the earth from which it
sprang, a witness to the promise of resurrection.

Housekeeping

Someone is in the house. Uninvited.
Not feeling threatened, but uncomfortable
and needing to know who it is because
a young child, full of trust, as children are
is busy in all the rooms of the house
and could easily be discovered
by someone else.

You! What are you doing here?
Why didn’t you leave when the party was over?
This is not your home.

Your quick smile, your red shirt, your evasive
eyes, your glossy attempts to explain
your presence. Your resistance to leaving––
more than that––your insistence on staying
is as clear as your dancing feet that tap
into room after room as I follow you,
with a broom meant for cleaning.

Tightrope Walking

In Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth,
the protagonist and his wife have had a child,
a much desired son. They walk along
talking excitedly about their beautiful boy.

Suddenly, fearfully they realize what
they are doing. The mother tucks
the baby out of sight, and together
she and her husband lament

the misshapen, unfortunate child,
hoping to deflect the gods’
vengeance and not to tempt foul fate.

A partridge setting on a nest
with chicks warm beneath her wing.
would understand. With danger near
she would cry out and feign wounded

wing, ‘round and around she’d run
to distract a predator from discovering
and destroying her chicks.

My mother too a fatalist, a strategist
and dealmaker with the gods, when
approaching a stop light that shone green
would begin her litany of denial: It’ll never last.

It’ll be red by the time we get there.
You’ll see. Eureka. The light still green
on our arrival, she’d drive on through
the intersection shaking her head

with a small victory chuckle. Either way
she won. She’d be right or she’d be happy
to take what the gods had offered that day,
more than enough for her.

The Ancient of Days

Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
v. 1 “O, Worship the King”

The hymn we sang at the knee of our mother
who taught us the harmonies learned
in her childhood, who rejoiced in the sound
of her daughters singing, singing the worship
of God, the Ancient of Days.

Truest of all the titles of God, whose eye
is that of the oldest elephant present
on the day of creation; an eye not so weighty
with justice as mercy, a compassion so deep
it disappears into the heart of one who sees it,
to be mined only for God’s adornment and purpose.

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