Easter 2017

I slowly wake in winter’s cave,
body stiff and sore.
In the still grey skies
trees bulge with sap,
their flowers opening,
the earth of another year
pressing out into the visible.
I drift back to sleep,
doze in the soft dark
as rivers fall
with the joy of ice.
The deep blanket
is pulled back by the sun
and the green land breathes.
Song birds are out
along the swollen rivers,
creatures pad through snowmelt.
It’s time to arise
and join the flush of spring.

 

 

 


Cigarette

Oregon 1988

 

We stood on the porch,
night sounds around us,
the darkness comfortable,
letting us be together
without the impulse to talk
electric light would bring.

 

He held a cigarette in one hand
as if holding it was a pleasure.
After a while he asked me to find a match.
I brought one from the wood stove
and again he just stood there,
cigarette in one hand, match in the other,
as if they were old friends with no reason to hurry.

 

One of my daughters came out on the porch,
then the other, like moths to his flame.
The younger noticed the cigarette
like everything within her range.
“Grandpa, you shouldn’t smoke.”

 

For a while he didn’t say anything
though the irony was sharp,
the cancer having eaten so much of his body
but there was no mocking in his eyes.

 

He didn’t seem to be thinking, just waiting.
Then he said, “Why not?”
“Because they’re not good for you,”
the older one now, so direct,
with no prejudice for his age or condition.

 

He stood there a while longer,
the cigarette and the match,
holding them fondly,
as if the moment mattered,
as if something would arrive if he’d wait.

 

After a while he said, “Well, you’re probably right,”
and put the match in his pocket,
still holding the cigarette as they nuzzled up to him,
that rough hand drawing them both in,
brushing the hair back across their foreheads,
the crickets scratching and spring frogs croaking
in the warm darkness.

 

 

 

 


Old Joe

“It was a shame wen dey kilt dat president”
the old man said looking down
on the colorful caladias
“and dos utter gud men.”
It was a shame Joe
but what can you do?
“Dere you are, holdin dat baby.
Wat you tink?”
What do I think about what Joe?
“Bout what you cain do.”
Not sure I’m following you.
You were talking about the dead president
and now my little girl.
“Yo don’t tink dis world is all one ting?”
Well I guess so.
“Yo gess so. Hum.”
We were circling his shotgun home,
the retired railroad man and I,
my daughter snug up against my chest.
He had the nicest flowers planted,
his house painted and well cared for.
He called himself “old black Joe”
and he was just that, old and coal black.
His face shined in the New Orleans heat
his white strap undershirt bleach bright against his skin.
He wore khaki work pants with a crease and a shiny black belt.
“I drove spikes fo de railroad wit a sixteen pound hammer.
Did dat ev-e-ry day fo foty years.”
His wife was missionary baptist, dressed all in white.
She didn’t like me with Joe but he enjoyed the talk.
He loved the face of my baby girl,
his face lit up like a light bulb when he’d see her.
“Dats a pretty gal you got dere son.”
Yes sir, thank you.
“Yo mat tink dem men who kilt de president
oar run de railroad, dey callin de shots,
but dat baby in yo arms, how yo hold her,
dats what keeps the world. Yo’ll find out.”
His wife spoke to me through the screen door
when Joe hadn’t been around for awhile,
told me he had the cancer,
was in the Prytania Street hospital.
His room was cool and dark.
He was in so much pain
all he could say was “Lode haf mercy,
Lode haf mercy” over and over.
I started saying it back to him,
feeling foolish at first,
speaking to Someone I wasn’t sure I knew,
but the feeling rose in my heart
and I wanted mercy for Joe, for the whole world,
which I understood Joe was asking for too.
I held one of his big hands and prayed with him
until the pain let off, the body spasms quieted.
When I left the room I knew I wouldn’t see him again.
My daughter is a full grown woman now,
her son a young man, close to me.
The sea is up in a strong wind outside the cabin
and I’m thinking about Joe, how he held this world.
The old railroad man knew more than most folks,
me still growing into his knowledge,
how he would open his hands and smile,
his gold teeth flashing when he’d look at my baby girl.

 

 

 


Night’s Apron

Before first light
night spreads its apron
upon the lap of the earth
gathering starlight;
while ant sleeps
rare gems of silence
glisten in the dark.

 

 

 


Lazarus Rising

Awake to the morning
in streaming gray clouds
the stark outline of trees
breathe in the stillness
of sentient Earth
speaking softly
through early light.
The day comes
with Spring force,
the rush of snow melt
flooding the valley
with the weight of water,
cleaning the deadfall
fallen in its path,
the Lazarus of winter
rising to the voice
of the living Earth.

 

 

 

photograph by Willard Walch

 


Walk Together

Humbled by beauty
we enter the night
holding hands
across the bridge
and back to morning,
awake again to light,
to the life we have
simple and connected.
Ten thousand reasons not to love
discarded on the old road
hard trod and rutted by faith
we walk together in this life.

 

 

 

 


Prepare a Room

The world is full,
overflowing with concern.
People driven into the sea,
earth torn open with jagged mines,
oceans clogged with islands of refuse.
No one dare empty
before the gods of growth
yet thunder beings appear in the sky,
cast lightning into the earth.
I gather myself on the altar within
letting silence overtake me.
The whetstone of the infinite
sharpens the dull mind
to the task at hand –
quiet the hive
and prepare a room
for the guest
who might be coming.

 

 

Photograph by Patrick Orleman

 


Form a Bridge

Along the border of night and day
old ghosts walk the valley
among the shades of beaver,
fox, raven and wolf,
their wisdom a voice within
to guide us through winter dark.
Nothing can replace the wild
but in the space where dreams awake
we take our place beside the fearless
and form a bridge to Eden.

 

 

 


What I Desire

Sheets of rain then open sky,
rivers run, spilling their wealth,
ironwood trees bulging with desire,
spring drawn from the earth well.
I am slow to get up
sated with the luxury of sleep
but I see birds circling
and something in me lifts.
The destination is far,
the road filled with changes
yet the world is ready
to let winter dark rise.
More than root and branch
I am the rising
and what I desire is light.

 

 

 

watercolor by Eilish Hynes

 


Laid to Rest

Thick moss covering the wet ground
easily lifted beneath his hands,
opening a space for the burial.
He had come to this space
beside the cold flowing creek
to bring what was left of their memory;
he’d carried the corpse long enough.
Wildness called him from the dark
as he trekked to his old campsite.
Lifting back the green shroud
he pared away the soft earth
and placed the broken twigs
and desiccated flower
that were his fondest hope.
Arranging the bone-like sticks
to settle in their resting place,
he folded the blanket of moss
over the grave in forest silence,
scooped dirt into the cut edges
until the wound was filled.
Then he gently tamped the earth
and turned back to the winter creek,
the frigid crossing and mended life
that was his own.