Thursday, March 29, 2018

Things That Don't Change

Woman Reading by a Window, Gari Melchers, c.1905

I still clutch the cuffs of my sweater, one arm 
at a time, the way my mother taught me when
I put my coat on so it wouldn’t scrunch up my
sleeves at my elbows. The mother is gone and
the coat long outgrown, and I miss someone
fussing at me out of love and concern for my
clothing and comfort. I know a woman who
mounted a spring on her screen door so it
would slam shut as it did when she was a child.
The past can’t be reclaimed with hardware,
however, and the screen door might snap at
her fingers, as it must have when she was a child.

So I cling to the age I am—I can be sure of that—
and look around for the things that don’t
change. Today it’s the season’s first robin,
grown fat as a fireplug; new grass; and the slant
of the afternoon sun at the equinox, warmer
than yesterday’s, clearer than memories,
carrying images: baskets of bread by a
window... dark-blue linoleum kitchens... winter
coats worn one last time before hanging them
up in the attic with mothballs... embers not
quite cold now stirred into flame by the
ages-old afternoon sun at the equinox.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Symptom

Machu Picchu —

The many-feathered thing that scared me had
six eyes and seven feet and eighty other parts
I’ve never seen on any living thing, and if it had
a clever aspect or a bashful grin I couldn’t say
because I dared not more than glance. I saw
that it was quite peculiar, and I wasn’t feeling very
strong, not up to confrontation, certainly, or even
hi, how have you been, so I assumed, as one does
(wouldn’t you?), it was the enemy, plus it arrived
without an invitation—didn’t phone or text ahead—
one minute I was by myself, the next I had a
feathered six-eyed, seven-footed stranger on my
bed. I did what anyone would do—jumped up and
ran around and ‘round the room, in case it got it in
its six-eyed head to spray me with a noxious liquid
that would paralyze me or else, worse yet, stain my

I ran in circles for a while, assuming it was after me,
but, no, it sat sedately on the bed—a bit bemused, it
must be said, as if it were expecting me to stay and
chat instead of dashing hither, yon, and back again.
In my defense, it hadn’t said a word, so how was I
to know what sort of language to address it in,
American or Alien or French, assuming that I were
inclined to overlook its strange, outré demeanor
and proceed to conversation? I just wished it to be
gone. I didn’t want, right then, to know its history
or antecedents, only its intention. But it kept its
silence. Panting and exhausted, I was forced to stop
and catch my breath, and there it sat, no more
malicious than my daddy’s hat, the gray fedora
that, when not on Daddy’s head, perched on a
high shelf in the entryway. The creature radiated
curiosity and not a bit of malice, but I turned my
head to cough, preparatory to an inquiry about its
origin, and when I turned back it had gone.

Well, isn’t that the oddest thing, said I to me, to up
and leave just when I had begun to see it
differently? If there are any lessons here, they are,
first, lock your doors, and, second, keep an open
mind when you’re presented with a little feathered
person of the six-eyed, seven-footed kind. It might
mean an adventure; don’t reject it out of hand and
find to your regret that it has gone to Machu
Picchu and you have been left behind.

Monday, January 1, 2018

You Are the Cause of God's Rejoicing

The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love
he will rejoice over you with singing. —Zeph. 3:17

In the universe are more than
four times forty billion galaxies,
each having on the order of
a hundred billion stars, and no one
knows how many other worlds there are,
and the one God in whom
all is contained created all that
is, from nothing, fifteen billion years ago.
Imagine for a moment all the
energy and matter that emerged
at that amazing singularity; and
ponder: God delights in me, and
with his love he quiets me.

For if there were not another person
anywhere, God would have made the
universe for you alone—created stars
and planets, elements and atoms,
corn and wheat and cottonwoods
in yellow-green profusion drinking from the
shallow streams meandering across the plains.

How can we take it in and make it
personal, this love that soars above a
trillion trillion light years? You can never be
anonymous, or lost among the
spinning suns and streaking comets;
you are the cause of God’s rejoicing.
He places you in paradise and blesses
you, requiring nothing but that you
accept his grace.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why the Skylark Sings a New Song

Curiosity awakens every
spring, beginning with new sweetness in the
air, where before was winter’s clawing
at my face and biting nose and ears. Now
I have leisure for imagining. I’m
like an ancient tree whose roots extend—
how far? Beneath the seas? And if they end
at all, is it in paradise? Do they
then intersect and mingle with the roots
of all the other trees in all the forests?
Out of loneliness and curiosity
we reach, for love embrace and never choose
to separate, though we encounter secrets,
buried deep, in stages of decay,
and honesty—eternal. Truth remains;
it is the angel at my side, who stays
for courage and as friend, protector, guide,
through every transformation—life to death
and into life again.

If I were a vine, what sorts of flowers
might I bear—lantana, honeysuckle,
trumpet creeper—gathering until
perhaps we form a bower or a planet?
Songbirds flutter ‘round our vanguard, curious
like us to see what happens when the sun
approaches and the snow melts. Oh, what clever
greenery will grow around us in the
days to come? Will there be a new
carnation or a brighter, redder peony?
We are eager, but content to wait;
and the skylark makes a song out of our

Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Tree Charlie

There’s a sturdy tree, a Norfolk Island
pine whose name is Charlie; genderwise,
I’m pretty sure that she’s a girl. In any
case, I tend to her as if she were a
croupy child. I’ve given her the finest
spot I can arrange, there being limited
availability of sunny windows
in my little place. She seems to like the
kitchen table, which gets ample daylight
after two p.m. I hydrate her with water
from the tap and feed her evil-smelling
fertilizer; and, when I remember
to, I whisper tenderly in the
direction of where ears might be—you never
know with trees—and play the music of
Franz Schubert, Haydn, Bach, and Telemann—
melodic and conducive to serenity,
for me at least... again, you never know with
trees, and Charlie has her own

Perhaps I’m overly concerned with
Charlie’s growth and day-to-day vitality—
I hover, I confess—but when I’m tempted
to neglect her (she’s a room away from
where I tend to nest, a daunting twelve or
thirteen steps), she shoots me a reminder
in the form of needles turning brown, and
Charlie sheds at an alarming rate. So
I pretend that she’s my sacred self. It
helps not only for recalling that it’s
time for her to have a drink and that I
have to turn her now and then, but also
for my tendency to see her as an
ornament, ignoring, temporarily,
what makes her Charlie—not inanimate but
living and respiring and essential
as the U.N., my attentive next-door
neighbor, and the light and air we all
depend on if we want to breathe, which
I do, constantly. With this in mind, I
have to hope she doesn’t prematurely
die of some arboreal disease; and
when her time with me, beside my kitchen
window, has to end, as is the way of
things for indoor trees, I’ll know I treated
her with more than kindness but with awe and
reverence, I don’t mind saying, for her
soul, forever fresh and green in
some sweet, fragrant heaven that’s reserved for
noble creatures such as Charlie and her
brother-sister trees.

To Heaven and Back in an Afternoon

Behind a veil I cannot see are wonders 
making ready to amaze me. They will
answer all my questions, which I’ve asked
forever, or at least since I could speak
without a lisp. I risked the wrath of half
the population of my childhood, dogging
all my elders unremittingly and never
missing, not a single day. The big kids
are intimidating. Go away! they used to
say, not so unkindly, laughing anyway
and running way too fast for me to catch them.

Sweet, funny Mom, bright-eyed, alert,
and smart as a new hat, would be the only
answerer. It seemed that no one else was
half as bold—not that she knew which shade
of green the scenery might be, which scents
and sounds prevail, or whether there are structures
roofed and gabled or just splendid open air.

It must be beautiful beyond imagining,
she’d say. It may be there are colors never
seen on earth, or even in this universe.

Now she no longer has to guess.

Here’s what I suspect: Right now, as I sit
on my bed, at least a dozen angels
are my guests. My mother’s here. My father, too,
Aunt Polly, Alma, and a gaggle of the
ancients, all their faces lit with love like
treetops in the first pink flush of sunrise.
Clumps of pure white flowers send their light
perfume into the atmosphere. One by one,
the sun illuminates them. See? They line
a smooth and slender road extending all the
way to glory, and their story draws me
through the veil. Each step I take expands my
vista exponentially. Without a sense of
having climbed, I find myself above the
highest mountain with the whole world at my
feet. I holler, Look at me! An echo mocks
good-naturedly, repeating Look at me... at me...
at me....

It’s spring, not even May yet, in my bedroom...
and a warm midsummer day behind the veil,
the breeze sufficient to hold off the heat.
Flat, glossy leaves like workers’ hands are clapping
just above me in the tree I just this minute
sit beside and then lean back on. I can
feel my eyelids flutter. No! I want to
stamp this afternoon upon my memory—
to paint indelibly a picture of the
bright green rolling landscape—fields of corn
and soybeans; stands of maple, cottonwood,
and Dutch elm trees; old barns crying out for
paint; and steeples, tractors, skinny winding
roads where pickup trucks make clouds of
dust that chug with them from house to
road to town and back.

What odd place have I landed in? Is this 
a slice of Heaven, or Ohio? I need you here
to anchor me in your accommodating
vision of reality—not physical
(the spirit flies, defying gravity)—
but not allowing me to paint the sky
with candy clouds and overlook the cyclone’s
eye. I need to know that you can see them
too—the ancients in new incarnations,
beaming, calling, Look at me... at me... at me....

Monday, December 18, 2017

Baby Born on Christmas

Follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar, the Adoration of the Christ Child

Lo, the baby born on Christmas~
            Sisters, can you hear the sound?
Angels singing Alleluia,
            angels here and all around.
He is sweet as Heaven’s clover
            meadows in the morning sun
fed by love and living water.
            Feed, O sacred spring, in us
hope that clings at summer’s end
            as petals to the dying rose.
Then we shall sing Alleluia!
            Then shall all God’s creatures know
how the baby came in winter
            to a dark and barren land.
Brothers, can you see the tender
            vine upon the desert sand?
Even as the clouds of death
            cast their shadows o’er the ground,
victorious are life and breath.
            Oh, hear the angel carols now,
Noel! Glory, Alleluia!
            fills the mountains and the sky.
We too sing him Alleluia!
            Sing for him a lullaby.

Underneath the brittle
surface of the lake
creatures keep their vigil.
Soon the land will wake
seeds at rest before their
season has begun,
sleeping until morning,
waiting for the sun.

Life does not surrender
when the dry leaves stung
by the frost recover,
yielding one by one.
When the wind blows bitter
o’er the frozen earth,
life comes new in winter
with the baby’s birth.

We are born anew then,
clean and fresh as morning.
All has been forgiven,
seventy times seven,
long before we seek it.
On the wind, the breath of
grace descends; receive it.
Breathe, and breathe it in.

Lo, the baby born in winter~
            Children, this we celebrate
on Christmas, for his innocence
            is born in us today.