Living in the City

The cobblestone streets and sidewalks
were hard, with blood in the cracks.
Old buildings held the cries of mothers
and children, the laughter of immigrants.
It was the only world we knew and though rivers
ran below the rock palisades the earth had forgotten us
and we were left to fight it out beneath the streetlights.
Somewhere above the glare we believed there were stars,
that a moon still graced the sky, but we were looking down
and around the corner braced for the next raft of trouble.
Sometimes there would be songs on the corner
and girls in high heel shoes, their legs showing
beneath a red skirt, click click clicking for our attention.
We were desperate for love but usually settled for a brawl.
I remember all their names, their faces, wish I had been
a better friend, loved that girl a little stronger,
held her tighter until that pulse between our legs
could find the joy that only came at midnight.
Out of time’s cloud I hold them dear,
with all the faults of exiles in a stolen land,
wanting to go home, wanting to be loved,
wanting to live the one life we still could dream.

 

 

 


 


Only This Life

I’ve shaped wood
into the soft curve
of tapered molding
and myself
into a rough hewn beam
to support the weight
of generations.
Resting on the columns
of all who went before
I hold up the roof
for those coming.
Look into the well of life,
the mirror of your heart.
There is only this life.
Why serve the infidel?

 

 


photograph by Willard Walch


 


When You Find Me

Blessings come slowly
like soft light
in early morning
or the dimming skies
of nightfall.
Prayers are heard
and answers given
though they rise
in their own time
like the crocuses in spring.
I wait in the earth,
the long winter dark
my old friend.
Extend your faith
to the deepest roots
and when you find me
below the soft wet soil
drink deep.

 

 


photograph by Sandra M. Jensen


 


Between Dreams

Let it be dark,
this cave of contemplation.
No light need enter,
no warmth.
Outside winds howl,
the distant noise
of breaking ice
and cold shot trees.
Having given up the sun
and taken to the cavern
I say what stone says,
the weight I’ve carried
laid down in darkness.
I breathe slowly
between dreams
with heart at rest
in the very slow beat
of winter.

 

 


 


Crazy Enough

Birds below the winter sky,
their wings etched in black
against the thick gray blanket.
In leafless months they’re visible
in rooks and nesting branches
as they come and go in the wet morning.
Their patterns marked above
the crowded street, where cars
move in straight lines, the birds
cover and cross by their own desire.
I weave them together in my thoughts,
always the knitter of the frayed edge
and contrary force.
Peace chiefs of the great prairie
offered this prayer during the horror,
when the buffalo were ridden down,
the grass altar torn apart.
Warriors said our prayers were crazy
but the old woman told us
we were not crazy enough.

 

(for William Stafford)

 

 

 


 


Wearing the Darkness

In the last days of December
low clouds move slowly
through shades of grey,
the soft beauty
of a northwest morning
after days of rain.
Earth wet and breathing,
evergreens stretch their roots
as birds circle in the cold air.
I’m glad to sit by the fire,
wearing the darkness
like an old hooded sweatshirt,
worn soft in just the right places,
warm enough for winter.

 

 


 


Hollow Reeds

Clear night
with dry cold
and east wind,
change coming
in quiet steps
as last leaves fall,
bare branches stir.
Fullness past
we may empty
with the earth,
hollow reeds
for winter music.

 

 

 


 


Christmas Eve

The Moon nestled
in egyptian blue;
Orion chasing Pleiades
with Sirius close behind.
The ancients on winter track
as we follow in the snow,
our memories softened
by the night of forgiveness
coming upon the earth,
the poverty of the stable
reminder of the great love
that holds us to the stars.

 

 


 


Peace of Kings

The roar of motors fills the streets,
compressors pound the roof tops
maintaining the illusion.
Quietly I lift the veil,
the sanctuary of old
intact despite the fury.
The peace of kings
rises from the darkness
and in the grey solstice dawn
one bright banner unfurls.

 

 

 


photograph by Louis MacKenzie


 


Sound of Drums

There are days when fog
holds tight to the river
and the smell of corruption
lays down on the world
like it will never move.
Days when the sky breaks,
the blue that rushes in
a deep river of faith.
Today might be one of those days
as I drop below the fog
to the peace beneath the city,
under the basements,
the pipes and channels
cut from wet ground,
down where the furthest root
reaches the sound of drums,
of water over rocks
and the old earth breathing.