Poetry - May, 2014


On first seeing Rembrandt’s self-portrait as St. Paul

Was it Rembrandt
or was it Saint Paul
who raised his brows
in doubt
about that time
when ecstasy
embraced him
in a Third Heaven?

Can anybody made of clay
penetrate the barriers
that keep human eyes
from seeing into habitations
fit only for wanderers
who’ve been there before?

Words like “epiphany”
escape Rembrandt’s brush,
he contemplates in oil,
mixes paints in angst,
Paul’s tears glaze his eyes,
the weight of glory
on the tilt of Paul’s shoulder.


The hidden life

There are also many other things that Jesus did,
but if these were to be described individually,
I do not think the whole world could contain the books that would be written.
—John 21:24–25

He cried when he slid out, a slippery fish,
his mortal lungs unready for the rush.
He took his mother’s breast like a starved kid.
He craved meat young, forced his fist in the dish.
He tottered to his feet when he was one,
and brought his father to his eager knees.
He learned to walk, but never learned to run.
He napped, read books, talked to the trees.
When he turned twelve, he fell in love with fire.
He’d light his torches underneath the stars,
heave them towards the lights in the night sky
mapping the distance, counting the hours.
He studied the sun as it rose and fell.
He envied it, but did not tell.


If you had been here, Lord

Back a week from the grave. He pecks at the food
his sisters set before him. He is afraid to sleep. He imagines
the eyes of everyone upon him but they are careful not to stare,
a meaningless courtesy: the midday sun consumes both sight and soul.
His funeral shroud is unburnt—he won’t allow it—but his sisters
refuse to permit its being brought into the house. Sometimes
they catch him holding it to his face and weeping into it. It smells
so foully that not even the crows will approach it. He rarely speaks
but sometimes talks of going away. It is almost, to their shame,
to be wished for.


Yahweh at Mamre

We take turns monitoring the storm’s approach;
I’ve rolled the awnings, taken laundry from the lines.
Dull strips of cloud stretch from the west;
Wind-prodded, trees wake from an afternoon’s listlessness.

My wife completes one last stitch from her sewing.
In the lull, I read from Genesis: Yahweh.
Fed and rested in the shade of a terebinth tree,
Walks toward Sodom and Gomorrah, cities of the plains.

Their contempt, we can be sure, is unforgiven.
We know by instinct not to meddle with such intimacy.
The tornado sirens sound; all over town, citizens
Descend to their basements. The temperature drops.

Wind and rain begin their agony; divine demonstrations.
My wife kisses me, covered with the cinders of Lot’s hope.


The farm wife eats out at Marner’s Six Mile Café

Widowed farmers cram the table
near the peanut butter pies,

but I prefer the back booth
beneath a pike framed with flowers.

Under a coffee cup’s “Start your day
with Jesus,” I find Topeka Seed & Stove.

Once, when it was crowded,
we ate in the kitchen where an Amish

cook beats batter while flipping eggs
and watching toast. Annie doesn’t bring

us menus. She knows the girls and I
will order pancakes with cinnamon butter

faces. When my sisters visit, they say,
“Let’s go someplace with atmosphere.”

They mean a chain near the interstate
where they decorate with movie stars

and license plates, where the booths
are so tall, you can’t see your neighbors.



Perhaps you are perplexed to determine
how two such disparate stories could be told
about me. But the truth hides somewhere between
and beyond these accounts—I was neither a poor
beggar nor a wealthy intimate of God’s Son.

If in these tales I appear as a mere prop—a passive
player in parables concerned with actors who wielded
some form of genuine power—thus far you may credit
each tale: I had no voice. Dumb from birth,
the real miracle for me would have been to speak.

And yet this never seemed to me a curse or even a lack—
I grew to love my silence, and in my early years I was
thought to be simply shy as my maternal sisters
supplied my voice in public encounters. Indeed, their
ready reading of my intent was all the miracle I craved.

I neither anticipated nor needed any return from
the grave—that was about his need, his purpose,
not mine. And to be enfolded in the arms of Abraham
like some Isaac or Ishmael, my sight simply a torment
to some rich fool—what is that to me? To you?