I read this poem, or rather story in the form of a poem, in lieu of preaching a sermon on John 6:1–15 at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church on July 26. I had no great words of wisdom to offer about the story of the loaves and fishes, and, in any case, I’m a writer, not a preacher.
We walked for miles to see him, this brand-new prophet,
packed a picnic in the dark before dawn:
bread, a little stale; some cheese, a skin of wine,
more than we needed. My wife overpacks.
On my back I bore this feast, beyond
the town, the stubbly fields, into the desert—
the wilderness, she driving me before her
like a damned goat to die. We lived, of course,
but that was later. Meantime the sun shone hot
and hotter as it climbed, as we climbed
one hill after another, to see another valley
void of life and full of rocks, the few
bare bushes brown, and worse than none.
The sky became a vast and cloudless fire
that washed the world to white. We kept our eyes
down on the ground. A lonesome vulture fed
on carrion—though what could have lived here
long enough to die, I could not guess. Perhaps
another prophet, less successful. This one—
This one they all talk about, the one
the fishmonger says is Lord. I’ve heard it before.
My wife, my neighbor, the fishmonger say to me:
You have to hear him preach! But all I could think,
trudging over hill and sun-baked vale:
If this guy is Lord, someone forgot
to prepare his way. Continue reading “We walked for miles to see him”
With apologies to the psalmist.
Each day tells its tale unto the next:
The sun in jaunty setting shouts its benediction to the sky
Like a TV talk show host leaving the stage.
One by one the sky announces stars
But the twinkling stars forget their lines, and the moon, old nag
Spends half the night in prompting. Insouciant satellites streak
Across the stage, and are removed. The audience
Doze, or check their phones. Before the dawn
The constellations are confused, and reel half-lit
About the murky void, Orion and the Pleiades
Doing God knows what together in the West. Now Venus,
Always eager, is up too early, and Jupiter demurely
Hides his face behind a cloud. The night grows pale
And imparts what knowledge it recalls—a whispered word,
The echo of a gesture. Something about the truth?
Not much remains. The day, in any case
Will not believe a word of it.
She rides ahead and would head off
His maverick thoughts, guiding them to sensible
Corrals — but stubbornly they canter,
This one to its mother, that to the river’s cool
Repose, each in a time and place its own.
He will speak his piece.
A lifetime’s work reduced by lifetimes since
To a pile of stones in a ferny wood, grown o’er
With moss and vines, and gently hid to all
But those who wish to see. A gift from him
Who dwelt here once, to be now so effaced
From a hillside once his own — for now it may
Be mine, or anyone’s. Would that we
Were half so generous.
Silent at her loom the spider labors
To be unseen and never heard — as do I, watching,
Until, unseeing, I cry out: Web in my beard.
She chews her words, predigesting
Speech, sound and picture out of sync
Like Mothra’s overdub. I would prefer
Silence, and a piano.
Thin and wan like a starving dog, the coffee
Tints the cup — or does the cup tint it?
Not strong enough to fuel philosophy.
By nine the air already sweats.
The sun, wearier today than once
Climbs but slow, as travelers laden
Struggle to heft again damp spirits,
While all around our dizzied ears
This primeval din the wood exudes—
This moldering cacophony
Swells in time with sweltering
And seeps in through our pores like rain.
By nine the air already sweats.
But overhead on fruitless bough
A bird extends his morning song,
Forgetting that it is no longer June.
Sit in the shade of a flowering tree
While wisps of cloud like puppies chase their tails.
Watch the ribcage of a dog
Fall into rhythm with the swaying grass.
Study the violent dancing of a tree, the moment after
An unseen squirrel leaps from its boughs.
Imagine names for numbers of the shades
Of green that fill the layers of the wood.
Overhear the whispers of the afternoon
To its lover going back to sleep.
Hold your pen at equipoise
Between the silence and a conversation:
Await the inspiration of somnolence. Bask
In the bright doldrums of the day.
Repeat as necessary.
On Friday I hiked the portion of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail that runs along the Eno River, about nine miles from Roxboro Road in Durham through West Point on the Eno Park, across Guess Road into the Eno River State Park, and then to Pleasant Green in Orange County. One day, when the trail is complete, I hope to hike the whole state. For the moment, this will have to do.
These are my snapsnots from the walk.
The rains part like a curtain; the underbrush
Stirs with sultry buzz and hum. Summer?
Goose on the river watches my confusion:
Which way the trail? Which hue the blaze?
He’s not telling.
I sit and rest by spring’s last bluets,
Pale and drooping in the summer heat.
The sycamore leans out over the river,
Stretched root to branch like a diver ready to leap,
Stripping his bark as he goes.
Swallowtails loop around the weeds
In search of some forgotten nectar,
While laurel clings to rocks above. Continue reading “Nine miles along the Eno River”
If you’re new to this, read the Cheap Poetry Manifesto.
Scattered on the path, the maple blossoms
Drops of blood shed by the spring’s new birthing.
The rain will wash it clean, baptize the season.
The infant leaves, so pale and paper-smooth,
Uninked by summer, by insects yet unbitten,
Still bear the hope of every imaginable season:
A book that pleases most while yet unwritten.
Loblolly, lo unfaithful pine
Spills his seed upon the breeze,
Films in yellow yours and mine
And maketh every one to sneeze.
Some birds have songs that ring out like a bell tone,
But the wood thrush rings, I think, more like a cell phone.
I turn on the game: It’s 14 to 2,
The other guys. What is a Phils fan to do
With 8 runs to Halladay, 4 charged to Durbin?
Put down that beer, friend, and go for the bourbon.
Your wobbly letters on the little jars,
The i’s like lollypops, the g’s like smiles,
From your younger self alert the nose:
This one cumin, that one coriander,
Saffron, sumac, cardamom, paprika–
No, that’s cayenne, dad! –Lighthearted warning
To which (as to so many of your words)
I might have listened.