What Angels Think of Us

That we are slow, unwitting, confused.
Prone to mistakes, predictable.
That we are flightless, but a little lower
in the great chain of being than they are.

How simple it all seems to them, our lives:
Born, walk awhile, lie down, die.

What could they know of us?
Not all of us cross
a rickety bridge as children.
Some will go out for bread
and not return home.

Perhaps they think of us
as younger siblings born as a
late, last surprise, another generation
between, yet familial duties remain —
and they pity our constant stumbling.

When we went to the movies,
they would gather in the parking lot,
comparing notes, sharing a smoke.
You could almost see them in
the slight distortion around the lights.

They are messengers bearing announcements.
They stoop a little when they approach us.
"Don't be afraid," they often say. They don't
linger. Like older siblings they have to be
somewhere else, holding back the Furies,
pouring out plagues, circling the throne.

Under the Skin

Where the road cuts deep
in the mountain's flank
there are seams of ash in stone.
There was violence once
which a wound reveals
and the fractured bones
still strain
to stand.

Only the wound reveals.

The janitor rests his head
against the window
of the morning bus to home.
He lives alone.
He shuts the door.
And when he dies
he leaves a million dollars
to the music school
for scholarships.

Who could have known?

The heart sets out on its way,
a pilgrim through the world.
The heart draws to itself
all that which can be seen,
though words are not yet born
to name it all to sound.

The heart bears all.

In the end the apostle writes,
"There were many things that Jesus did.
If they were all to be written down,
I suppose the world could not hold the books."

There is so much more to tell.

Over the Fence

I slept out in the field under the oak.
The rain was soft. I'd climbed the fence
just off the road. One light through the mist
from a shed across the field.
In California it was rush hour, all traffic
stopped in stinking heat. But I was there
in Wales in the night hours, grinning like
a fool. Still praising the great world.
At home in the fields of the Lord.

Secret Things

There are secrets in the forest,
quiet movements of coming and going.
A communion of deer reaching out
with delicate tongues for the Host,
administered by an invisible priestess.
If you hold your breath you might hear their
murmured Amens, see the green shoots
as the body of their god moves gently
in response.

I was thinking as I walked,
'Where are the deer?' and I looked up
to see one regarding me placidly.
Then there were five more and two
off in a thicket by themselves.

Theirs is a language of movement,
of gestures. They have no secrets;
they are like the books
on the table
by the window
that you meant to read.
You walk by today, tomorrow.
Soon, you cannot see them.

Parabola

Parabola: The path of a projectile under the influence of gravity.

And we arrived squalling,
after deep immersion in warmth,
projectiles shot into the world, tumbling end

over end, caroming off walls of bent law,
jolting down the rough scree of injustice,
dragging the long tail of generations.

We split the air, the air streaming around us,
feathering up behind in colors only seen
against the dark clouds of history.

What drew us forward was hunger
for justice, memory and longing.
Also, accidents of place, conjunction
of powers, and limits.

How long we ascended,
thrust over gravity!
The arc of ambition, a certain defiance
of inertia and the cost of fuel.

The wide heart of goodness,
the cool fire of sacrifice.

History is a book of stone,
open always to the chapters
that will break your bones
when you fall.

Leap!

We who are alive
shall be caught up
in the arc of this parabola.

We shall rise and fly,
somehow stay aloft against
the gravity of this hour.

Life Gone

The cat pounced before I could move.
The bird was on the rail in front of me,
then in the jaws of the cat.
No more — and no less.
I could not even protest.
How do you argue
the point?

Time's up, said the tide
as it rolled in.
Moving on, said the sun.

But wait! I said,
to the cloud passing over.
Wait . . .

Last Days

We all want to be riding on
when the summons comes.

Going on, going toward,
to be seen as willing ourselves

into the next day and the next,
circling the lake once more

and then finding the passage
between the mountains to

the upper valley starred with flowers,
with ships of clouds running aground

among the trees and the trees dripping
with spring and life in droplets,

and then to hear among the rocks
the deep, the dark deep resonance

of the old sweet earth, again
and again, before the end.

Absent Gods

When my father died, I was not there.
I was a continent away when the call came.
I cancelled my class that night,
not willing for the welling eyes of my students
to unstop some hidden spring of tears
deep within the man
I thought I was.

In an instant I was four, my face pressed
up against his overcoat, the collar faintly
smelling of cigarettes and travel and
the clean bite of snow in his hair.

He would fly down from the gray sky,
to be with his parents and me for a day,
clattering across the lowered drawbridge
of my heart, past the flickering lamps
of dim memory, and into the courtyard
of the present.

He was the closest god that I could know.

Gods become less real the more they are
not present. Their absence as a being
shape-shifts by fate and circumstance.
We name it, shuffle memories, love it more
than less, understanding without knowing.

Wavewalker

I was never one for miracles.
They seemed like wishful thinking
or the inevitable Coke machine
at the end of the last road out of
the last town at the far tip of 
the continent at the bottom of the world.

Experience, says Hume — that's the
ticket. Experience refutes the ignorance
of barbarous nations who believe in
the miraculous. Miracles break laws.

A thirsty person sees a far-off lake
lying across a desert road. What
are we to make of that? This is
the world, every natural law at work,
busting up our sight, creating out of
scraps lying around things
that cannot be.

Then comes Jesus striding from wave
to wave, throwing demons up against
the wall, pulling loaves and fishes
out of loaves and fishes, and I read
about it and I say bread that is eaten —
chewed and swallowed — lasts longer
than the water of life at the far end
of the desert road, which I could have
and die trying. 

When You Are Wounded

When someone is hurting,
the first thing they must do
is answer the question,
"Are you alright?"

It's call and response,
a ping-pong of language,
a catechism of guilt performed.

The wounded answers
between clenched teeth,
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Really."
Then the business of caring
can take place.

We will ride our invisible horses
into the wind. But we are truer
to the earth of which we are made
to say, "There is a deep abyss here
that I must climb out of — help me."

There is a silence when we reach someone
that is better than words. The silence
of grasses moved by the breeze. The silence
of a hand laid against a cheek. The silence
of a blanket laid over one's feet.

It's true: shock rises like heat
off the pavement. We come
from a far place in the wake 
of an afterthought. How will
our minds grow into our bodies?
But attention surely must be paid.

Forgive us our laggard ways —
how we now live —
we are asked to live
faster than sound,
reaction crucifying
perception.