Come April, When Robin Returns Again

Come April, when the robin returns,
When days begin to lengthen once again,
Fallen leaves now mulch
Under heavy persistence of past winter’s snow,
My heart will warm in hearing song.

I will cherish approach of spring,
Will feel it as a seed of hope
Planted deep inside my brittle bones,
Watch with expectation every bud,
Know force of greening that I love,
Heart thrusting, beating, pulsing.

Daffodils will trumpet,
Sprouting out from afterthought of
Hidden root and bulb to blossom
Yellow in the yellow Sun.
Bees begin to buzz in seeking nectar,
Hungry as they calculate the route.

And I will be the Queen who waits,
Deposits seeds of life in hidden
Chambers of the hive, deep where
Light cannot reach, yet informs the heart—
Knows that summer swims its way and no one
Can delay or nullify the force of life.

I Carry You in My Pocket

 Perhaps I should tell you.
I carry you in my pocket—
Which means I see you,
Sense your pulsing mood
So close against my own naked heart.

Please, there is no need to worry.
I can bear the pain, the loss,
The deafness and refusal you send back.
I feel it even in my dreams.

Sometimes I take you out of pocket,
Turn you over in my palm,
Draw you close in ways you will never know,
Bless you in forgiving prayer,
Hold you tenderly in unending love.

Never Touching What Lies So Near

Sometimes the branches reach down,
Almost touch what reaches up—
Empty space so thin
Still air hovers, draws a quiet breath,
Exhales so tenderly that water
Knows no ripples as it reflects the steady light.

Perhaps this is as close as Earth gets to peace,
Not quite touching what lies so near,
Never able to hold within our grasp,
Yet yearning is so clear….
Intimacy not a finger’s width away
But always slender space for grace.

By the Time I Arrived, It Was Too Late

By the time I got there it was too late.
The bartender was drying the last of the glasses.
All the drunks were either lying on the floor
Or already driving, weaving home
As best they could, knowing that they should
Go soberly to church upon the morning’s dawn.

The lights flash on and off, arresting them at first,
Stories in their minds gathering a storm,
Fearful that at last the curse of drink
Had finally caught, exposed the shame,
Hidden disgrace now published where all would read
Guilt spilled out on complicated streets.

Oh, Jesus… let them go safely home.
Forgive the heavy spirits that seize upon their hearts.
Let them walk through the wreckage of their lives,
Finally to learn from whatever source or pain.
Spread wings of love released that they
Might drink surrender and know authentic peace.
Plant in springtime yet to come such seeds
That birds will sing no more of drunken grief.

Teaching How to Curse; Learning How to Pray

Maybe I was seven or eight
When close friend and our two fathers
Went fishing in early morning hours,
Down on a moonless night in the Ozarks.
Gas lanterns hanging from sides of boat
Attracted ten thousand thousand insects,
Drawing more fish than we could count.

I could feel the boat gently swaying,
Fish tugging against the lines.
Smells of oil and gasoline, hint of wet rope,
Sweat of human flesh,
Living fish on bottom of the narrow keel—
Odors of the world outside the boat
Drifting upon the slightest breeze—
Every smell of warm summer’s air
As I inhaled deeply, wavering lantern light,
Layered motion of lake’s water
Washing against cradle of the craft.

Then nightmare of the insect world—
Worse than heavy hailstorm,
Random traffic never ceasing,
Darkness beyond the pool of lantern’s light
Impenetrable to sight.
“God damn these bugs!” the other father cursed.
Ordained Elder of our church screaming in the night—
“God damn these bugs!  God damn these bugs!”

Ah, the honest teaching of deliberate prayer
Shouted in desperation of frantic nighttime air.
Thank God he was bald and had no hair!
They came, hard-shelled and soft,
Biting and stinging, chirping, buzzing, droning—
Crawling legs upon my skin and scalp,
Flying into nose, eyes and mouth.
As a million misguided drones they attacked,
Pelting themselves against hull of boat
As others chose to end their lives
Burning, kamikaze against hot lantern glass,
Relentless ping of bodies, frying, dying,
Falling into water, fish rising for the feast.

Some at least had decency to kill themselves
Before drawing human blood.
Even now I cringe at old dark memories,
Dreams of plague of small winged beetles,
White Mayflies flapping, buzzing
Until I could hardly hear Elder’s screaming curse.

Fish filling every stringer, the icebox,
Then filling bottom of the boat— flapping,
Gasping as they slowly died,
Contorting death, mouths opening, shutting,
Bloodless stench of death…..

Later, we turned off the lights.
I looked high beyond spectrum of
Surrounding darkness, galaxies of scattered stars
Shining brightly as I’d never seen stars shine before.
I did not know enough numbers to count their number,
But learned that night the whole
Was much greater than any part.

Slowly, I read open textbook of constellations,
Heroes of ancient myth spread out on field of ink,
And the milky haze of Milky Way,
Arced above as silent benediction….
I could hardly tear myself away,
Gazing directly into Glory’s open eyes.
One night, so long ago….
When I was taught to curse
And learned to pray.

So Vigilant They Fly Upon Ocean of Samsara

             Late November and by now
Monarch butterflies have dispersed,
Migrating their swerving way upon invisible currents,
Overzealous yellow and black wings beating toward destination,
Down to singular hidden valley in Mexico
Where finally in surrender they rest and breed,
Pass to offspring such mystifying ways,
Free themselves from cocoon, spread new wings,
Navigate in early spring departing flight,
Return to summer in the north
Without the slightest speculation.

I pause and marvel at such deep mystery,
Notice even in absence of fluttering beauty,
Hopeful arrival at journey’s end,
Breadth of mutating instincts, so vigilant
Floating upon eternal sea, the ocean of samsara
Seeking unremembered freedom as they fly
From birth to death to birth on fragile. tender wings,
Thousands of miles, never needing to know the ending.

Thanksgiving on Empire Prairie

Growing up in Northwest Missouri,
Every Thanksgiving, we drove
Six miles out of town to Empire Prairie
To the little white Presbyterian Church
That stood where the road curved north.

Women of the church would cook,
Prepare food for days in warm basement kitchen,
Menu always the same:  turkey, mashed potatoes,
Gravy, choice of vegetables, rolls, deserts.

Tables were set up tightly,
Metal folding chairs in place.
Silverware in a basket by white plates.
People bought tickets, came for miles—
Sixty or seventy at a setting I suppose.
Three settings from noon to three.

There was not much sense of intimacy.
I often ate next to someone I did not know.
But there was gathered community,
Lasting but an hour—still there was power
Bestowed by prayer upon the people there.
And the richness of the land and food.

For some strange reason, I remember
Steepness of the concrete stairs
Leading down to the large room underground….
Warm smells from cooking.
Men gathered outside to smoke
After the meal, standing in bright sun,
Speaking always of the harvesting of crops.

There are no church dinners now.
Almost thirty years ago, the building burned—
I’m pretty sure it was the furnace,
Something electrical went wrong.
By the time someone drove by
On cold winter’s night, it was too late,
Flames rising high toward heaven’s gate.
Now the nearby headstones
Stand in silent testimony to past times,
Buried memories resurrected yet again.

The years come on so fast; they pass
Along with those who placed their faith,
Gathered in prayer every November.
The little boys and girls now all grown old,
Gray hair upon their heads,
Preparing to sleep in their beds,
Still saying their prayers of blessing.