Poetry - November, 2011



I walked down to the shore this morning,
              sun still low on the sea;
another had been there before me,
              making tracks
that made straight for the waves.

Brown pelicans came with their ripples and ribbons;
              sanderlings and sandpipers
kept darting, drilling the sand; under a breaker
              a conch lay broken and blazing,
a ladder curving back to the deep.

A pair of burred pufferfish, hides starred and striped,
              were curing to tanned leather,
lips and eyes sewn tight in the glare.
              Then a four-wheel came, and exhaust
and dark clouds swept the ocean away,

leaving only the sun at my feet,
              following the swells in and out,
each step
              stamping a small fire in the wet,
the burn of the surf too bright now to face.          



 —Bow River, Alberta

The rowdy gulls—derisive creatures,
their yammer an instantaneous flash point of anger
for you. Escaped, your mammoth trout, for which

you'd traveled here, the fish
you'd drawn so close that each haloed spot
showed clear, though the river was murky, its surface pocked

by storm. The feral you of your youth returned,
as if he'd never been gone—
which he hadn't. Incredibly, it appeared

to you, a man in his sixties, that what endured
of life would come to nothing. Your brother rocked
in the bow of the boat. He'd caught

a trophy minutes before, and released it.
He teased you and, incredibly, in that instant
he seemed an enemy. What madness was that?

Then reason came back:
you weighed such insignificant loss
against the loss of loved ones to age or disease.

You considered a fish you would have freed against
the elegant downstream bend
in the river, at which a pair of eagles

teetered on spruce limbs, tails and heads essential
illustrations of whiteness. And in that moment
you missed your wife, your grownup

children, a grandchild who shares the games
she invents for you, the smaller and younger twins
waiting their turns, you could hope, to do the same.

Ineffable changes came
along with an effortless, dawdling gesture of snow,
through which the sun now maundered down to the flow.

Your trout was already cached in memory's vaults.
The squalling gulls showed angel-pale.
You turned and smiled at your brother. He smiled.

And all was well. And all was well.


Natural theology from the Sherman bench

East Lansing, May 2003

If I really loved Jesus I would surely not be here in the sunshine.
I'd be trying to love the poets now reading in a room without me.
If I really, really loved I would not even think what I think,

and it would go easier. Because my neighbors' dogs bark
at dawn for sheer joy. Because like them I have known joy.
I have matched and folded the family socks, survived history

so far, seen my small desires satisfied. Did I come all this way
to sit on a bench? Did the ragged goose feather once have a home?
It's too hot to sit long in the sun. Can we, can we, can we, the girl

asks her mother, and her brother hitches his pants and runs fast
as he can down the wrong path. His sister calls and he runs back,
sniffs a yellow tulip. Oh do what you want says her mother

and the new weeds, and the cardinal says I will do what I can.