I’ve been thinking about what you said about dwelling on things. Tell me about it! Lately I keep coming back to a memory that has plagued me since I was fifteen. That summer I worked for the Youth Conservation Corps, at Fort Columbia State Park. It was a great job – being outdoors, fixing trail, with kids my age and older. But there was a younger kid who annoyed me. He didn’t work with us. His dad was the park ranger. He was nice enough, I can’t remember him actually ever doing anything “wrong.” I guess he just cramped my style. And so I shared that thought, one night in one of the army tents. “He’s always around. It bugs me.” Which brought, from behind me in the dark, words that have echoed in me ever since. “I’m sorry. I won’t do that anymore.” He kept his word. He never came around again. Nor did I seek him out. Life sets traps and I jump right in. I get after myself and then I get after God. What a mess, what a godawful blueprint!
I will wring death
from this rag of life
I will throttle
it as it goes
choked from a rag
but watch me
Seeing my black boots, I thought
of how Dad put them outside
that Christmas we visited –
when his mind was going
and he draped a shroud
over my head – and my boots
were cold when I retrieved them.
And about how my uncle Mike
at a family reunion
put his arm in the photo
around the one who was missing
and said the next time might be
the last time
and it was.
And about how we’ll stand outside in a minute
watching a hearse go by,
and it will carry no one I’ve mentioned
So what I did was swap out death for life.
I poked through and (for life was not all)
down in around and out again,
stitching a garment for every weather.
I have troubled much
with death, have trod
with feet bigger
than all my life combined.
Stay me, Lord!
Hold me here to
pray like a tree.
Two lines of birds,
two helicopters circling
of the wanton killer,
and a lone jetliner
leaving our fair town
I had thought light and then dust
was my enemy, but then I saw the mold,
spores of it skipping from the window to the shelf
to the tops of the books below.
These freckles I bleached.
Till I dreamt of them, swirling.
Not for fear but love did I dream –
for he in whom the cancer had spread –
of microbursts and a metastatic sky.
are, you say, your
memory you’re keeping alive.
But no, without us they thrive.
This difference is more than semantics.
Mercy was a schoolyard word,
the key unlocking the grip of the bully,
something I saw often enough
but normally (neatly, nimbly)
dodged myself. God did thus
himself a disservice, putting
his good word first in the
mouth of the enemy who demanded it –
of his victim no less.
And this was part of a larger pattern,
I saw, God betting on the wrong horse,
dumping his treasures in the mud,
thinking all-screwed-up might make
the good, the true and the beautiful
Oh I’ll admit:
I never see the truth better
than when I’m wrong
or love purity more
than when I’ve sinned.
So maybe this is just the way.
Why must dark
dress up our day?
You won’t be passing out stones
or scorpions or wasps on the other side
of apples. You won’t be not holding
the ladder when he climbs,
or not looking when she crosses.
You’ll not wonder when you should know,
for you’ll know, though you’d rather not.
You’ll know and do what you should do
because you are who you are,
the man, at last, you were meant to be.