Poetry

As a teenager I fell in love with poets such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder and Robert Frost and filled notebooks with observations on life and was fortunate to have some published in national poetry magazines.

This past Lent I enjoyed returning to poetry and attempted to write a poem every morning.

Below is a collection of that work as well as photographs I’ve taken to be published in an upcoming book, Easter: 21 Stations 

 

D02B2324-8480-49D9-BA9E-86A445E400A9

ASH WEDNESDAY

I.

On Shrove Tuesday I knelt
In front of my fireplace
With a ziplock bag and spoon
Scooping ashes I had forgotten
To order from the Catholic
Store on Fulton.
But ashes I learned are not easily cajoled,
Every molecule of soot preferred my cuticles
And khaki pants to the spoon and ziplock bag.
And so, staring at the mess I made, I thought,
Like a chimney sweep at the end of the day,
What’s the point of ashes anyway?

II.

God said to Adam,
After he ate the fruit
Of the tree of
The knowledge
Of evil and good,
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till your return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust
and to dust you shall return.”

Job said, after God had turned his
Blessings into a curse,
God has cast me into the mud…
Therefore I despise myself

and repent in dust and ashes.”

The Bible reads,
When Tamar
Was raped
by her half-brother,
She sprinkled ashes on her head,
tore her robe, and with her face
buried in her hands went away crying.”

III.

Aelfric of Eynsham in 1000 AD
Suggested ashes be
“Strewn” on our heads.
But tell me Aelfric,
Exactly why is that?
To remind us knowledge
Leads to death?
Sitting in ashes
Is how we beg forgiveness?
Or do ashes mark
When horror
Tears our world apart?

“Suffer us not to mock ourselves
with falsehood,” wrote T.S. Eliot
In Ash Wednesday.
But what falsehoods must
We, O Lord, set aside?
Or better phrased,
Where does truth reside?

IV.

Did you not know,
40,000 tons
Of cosmic dust falls on earth
Every year?
No wonder dust is found
On top of our refrigerator.

But scientists teach
Such dust has a purpose:
“Our bodies are made of
the burned-out embers of stars.”
Or, as Joni Mitchell sang,
“We are stardust.”

Without stardust there
Would be no new stars,
Or us, because molecules
In dust are building blocks
For cosmic recycling;
Or what people of faith call,
Resurrection.

So, perhaps, the truth of ashes
Is to remind us of our denouement;
As T.S. Eliot observed,
“In my beginning is my end…
In my end is my beginning.”

So with that thought
I stood before the congregation,
Fireplace ashes in hand,
Index finger raised aloft
Tracing the cross.
Saying “to dust you shall return.”
I wanted to add, but did not,
“So you will be raised again!”
But next year I think I will
Because it makes sense
As we begin the season Lent
To offer a cosmic reminder
Of the true reality of Easter.

 

B51B3902-CB37-4476-B85B-39834F701154

THE ESSENCE – Station One

Painter Mark Rothko after
Discerning the essence 
Of a painting would layer 
Colors on the canvas
Until that essence glowed 
From inside the canvas out.

So, I wonder, did Jesus ask
Who do people say that I am?
Curious if others saw his essence 
Beneath colors layered 
On the canvas of his life? 

One disciple said, 
“Some say you are Elijah!”
Another, “John the Baptist.”
I suspect for Jesus this 
Was somewhat flattering 
But also like being mistaken 
For your older brother.

Then Jesus asked  
Who do you say that I am? 
“You are the Messiah!” 
Peter answered
Jesus warned them 
To tell no one 
Which me makes consider 
If before Peter spoke
Jesus knew the answer? 

Or was he surprised 
In hearing the truth
Like when you sputter, 
“I love you” 
For the first time 
And want to savor 
The moment 
Keeping it private 
As long as you can 
Knowing since 
The essence 
Has been seen
Life will never be 
The same again.

 

BF11A1EC-62F5-4DE4-BE10-4AD1A321F935

THE FEAST – Station Two

Imagine the woman 
Who owns her own home 
During the time of Jesus
Can you see her? 
Chin forward
Eyes anticipating 
Three steps ahead
Of the moment unfolding.

“Jesus and his disciples 
came to a village where 
a woman named Martha
opened her home to him.” 

Martha hustles to impress her guest  
With a stew of lamb, onion and garlic
While Mary sits at Jesus’ feet like a cat
Martha says, ‘Lord, don’t you care that 
My sister has left me to do the work 
By myself? Tell her to help me!’”
“Martha, Martha,” Jesus answered,
“You are worried and upset 
About many things, but few things 
are needed—or indeed only one.”

Kierkegaard wrote how 
“Purity of heart is 
To will one thing”
Riches and pleasure
Power and honor 
Will forever change 
Distracting the soul 
So we are to fix our gaze 
On what remains the same
The true host of the feast 
Who reveals He is 
The one thing we need.

 

510985C3-E97B-4E4A-8B33-01C372A67239

DE MESON – Station Three

Jesus doesn’t take 
The most direct route 
From Galilee to Jerusalem 
Which runs north to south. 
Where we find him instead  
Is walking east to west 
Between Galilee and Samaria.
Is he lost? On a walk about?
Not only that… he talks with lepers. 
Not only that… he heals a Samaritan. 
The Greek word dia meson 
Describes where we find Jesus  
It means through the midst. 

Could not this be Jesus’ bio
On his insta or twitter?
through the midst. 
Between nations on the border 
through the midst.
Between us
through the midst.
Of our diseases and loneliness 
through the midst. 
If we follow Jesus to Jerusalem  
Where he leads us is, dia meson. 

 

E77EBC40-84E7-4D9B-A53C-AAD3BF70B095

THE KNIFE – Station Four

She was selling a knife 
In the gift shop of the DIA.
Hold it in your hand, she said 
And the heat in your palm 
Will warm the blade
So it can slice through ice.
She pointed to a tray 
Of ice on a table and
She was right, it did.

Jesus said, “I am
The bread of life;
The light of the world;
The good shepherd.” 

He also said this:
“I have come to bring 
Fire on the earth… 
Father against son 
Will be divided, 
Son against father, 
Mother against daughter.”

When I read those words 
I thought of the blade in the DIA
Designed to radiate heat 
Dividing what is whole in half.
But still, it doesn’t feel right 
To equate division with Jesus 
Unless we realize it takes fire 
To make bread and light.
Shepherds need to fight 
Wolves in the night.
And maybe, sometimes, we do need
To be cut in half to be made whole.
Just please spare me that, O Lord.

 

5630DB4A-FD6C-4CA5-A223-E32032A6B2ED

SABAT MATER – Station Five

We often think of
Loved ones as
Frozen in time.
They remain
The same age
In our mind
As when we met.

I wonder did Mary
See Jesus in swaddling
Clothes in a manger
When he was healing
The blind or they shouted
“Hosanna” or when he died.
Was the memory of Jesus
As a child inside her
All the while?

 

FDE083B5-FB9E-4740-992B-3877A7376626

VERONICA’S VEIL – Station Six

It doesn’t say in the Bible
“God helps those 
Who help themselves” 
Or, “this too shall pass.”

No one named Veronica
Is mentioned either
But nonetheless 
She appears
In the 6th Station 
Wiping Jesus’ brow 
With her veil.  

It was said the veil later 
Displayed Christ’s image
Like the Shroud of Turin
But this is only mentioned 
400 years after 
Christ’s resurrection.

Veronica means “image of truth” 
(Vera is truth; eikona is image)
But how can this image be accurate 
If Veronica did not exist?

Tradition maintains icons 
On wood or canvas 
Point to truths 
Beyond themselves. 
Is this Veronica’s truth?
She reminds us to notice 
On our way to the cross
If someone is in distress
And to wipe the sweat 
Off their brow because in that
Moment what we will touch 
Is, in fact, the Christ.

 

D2E7EE06-DDB2-441C-A677-4CAEB7B5EBB6

SPY WEDNESDAY – Station Eleven 

When I was a young pastor
An old man came to see me
With W.H. Auden creases
In his cheeks,
Slumped shoulders,
He rubbed his hands
On his knees.

He said he cheated on his wife
Years ago and could never
Forgive himself.
He was like DeNiro
In The Mission
Seeking a path of contrition
A bag of armor
To carry up a hill
In teeming rain
To wash his sins away.

I said, God forgives you.
But what does that really mean?
Was it a truth I could proclaim?

His eyes flashed and I could see
He had heard those words before
Then I saw them die, my words,
Between us on the floor.
Because the only forgiveness
He wanted was from the one
He had betrayed years before.
She clearly had closed that door.

So he walked the earth like
A ghost praying to return
To a state of grace
He had to earn first.
I, the young pastor,
Had no words to explain
That was not how it worked.

 

8FAF6631-7809-4911-BFA3-95C0321A326E

SHERE THURSDAY – Station Twelve

It was the Festival 
Of Unleavened Bread.
Everyone lifted their fingers, 
After Jesus had said, 
“One of you will betray me.
His hand is on the table.”
Someone asked, 
“Jesus, who will betray you?”
Nobody noticed 
Judas glance down
Shocked his plans 
Were known.

According to Luke,
The disciples‘
Next thought,
Was not,
How can we stop this?
Instead, they asked 
Who is the greatest?
(It’s in the text. I kid you not.)

The word used to describe
The twelve is philoneikia, 
Which means to love strife.
Meaning, right after Jesus 
Had taught about sacrifice, 
Broke bread, lifted the cup,
The disciples’ response was
To fight over who was number one.  

Can you imagine
Jesus’ face must 
Have gone slack 
Watching his words 
Slide off their souls 
Like rain on glass?

The old English name for 
This night is Shere Thursday 
Which means “pure” or “guilt free.”
In medieval times men apparently
Shaved their beards this day, 
As one might shear a lamb;
Letting go of the past 
Choosing to face 
The future, clean.

With that in mind 
Perhaps it makes sense 
On this night that 
We see the disciples 
At their worst
As we begin to walk  
To the cross
And to recognize
We too need to shear 
From our lives 
Hubris and pride.

 

C5A18C2F-065E-4A5A-BDEA-D2DE470ADCFE

GETHSEMANE – Station Thirteen 

In the September
Of my years
I count what has
Overtime
Slipped away
Like kites
Untethered
From my hand
Now floating
Aimlessly up
Never to
Return again
Nudged by
The whimsy
Of the wind.

“Send me out into another life lord,”
Wrote W.S. Merwin,
“Because this one is growing faint
I do not think it goes all the way.”

But in the calculus
Of the spirit the arc
Of our life intersects
With the ineffable.

We learned this
From Jesus
Who felt forsaken
In Gethsemane
Yet the revelation
Was nothing is lost
That feels lost and
What has slipped
Through our hands
Is found by the One
Beyond the clouds
Where kites we can
No longer see
Are all redeemed.

 

72EB8E42-2290-494D-A8A4-EF222B4F9266

FALLING – Station Fourteen

I slipped on ice once 
Hidden beneath snow
In my driveway and 
For a moment was falling 
Parallel to the ground 
Until my hip bounced 
Off the gray asphalt 
And I lay flat like a whale 
Surprised to be suddenly 
Washed up on shore.

But we are always falling 
The earth pulling us down.
Newton sussed this out 
Describing the invisible force 
Drawing objects to each other 
Every atom attracting another
Like the moon pulls on water 
The Milky Way falls every day 
Farther to the Andromeda galaxy. 

In the 18th century the church 
Defined 14 stations of the cross
3 marked when Jesus fell down
But as with Veronica, it didn’t happen. 
Jesus didn’t fall on his way to the cross. 
Those stations are made up.

John Wheeler sums up Einstein’s later 
Revision of Newton’s theory. 
He said “Space tells matter 
how to move and matter tells 
space how to curve.” 
It’s slightly more complicated 
Than Newton thought. 
Space is more like a mattress 
That sags with the weight 
Of an object 
Curving 
and moving 
Like waves 
on the ocean.
So, technically, yes, we are all falling
And sagging in space 
Cresting and dropping in gravity waves
Jesus did. So do we.
And that lesson 
Is worthy of a station.

 

71E07358-13CD-4F88-BEAA-0EAB2AD6E4DB

GOOD FRIDAY – Station Fifteen 

It is unimaginable
To imagine
The One who created
Neutrinos and quarks,
Anti-matter and matter,
Galaxies and stars,
Felt fire in his palms
As a hammer struck
A nail through to wood.

But when we gaze
Up in wonder
It is good to remember
Stars burn out and die,
Galaxies are swallowed
Whole by black holes.

It is good to remember
God created a universe
That destroys itself and
Perhaps this is why God
Did not stop the hammer
As planets and suns
Are born over and over
Again from the stardust
Of dead stars.

It is good to remember
What was, and is, and would be,
In the tomb where Jesus lay –
The plot we might say
Was already written in the stars
For those with eyes to see.

 

BAD28AE5-8FA6-469B-8390-EEB0659E7A88

HOLY SATURDAY – Station Sixteen 

When Jesus died
What happened next?
Did his eyes remain closed?
Did he pace around the tomb?
Was he surprised God didn’t lie
When God said he would die?

Did his spirit ascend to heaven
During the intermission
Between Good Friday and Easter?
Did he roll his eyes about Peter?
Smile about the disciple he loved
With Gabriel as they caught up
Wherever it is angels hang out?

“We grow accustomed,”
Said Emily Dickinson,
“to the dark.”

I wonder, did Jesus grow
Accustomed to the dark
During those three days
In a cave?
Or was there always
Inside him a light
That never died;
Like a pilot light
In the corner of our eye
We see when we walk by
A fireplace at midnight?