Saturday, April 12, 2014

Morning Meeting


Beside a beaten blacktop road in Kansas,
at the muddy edges of a shallow pond
four sandhill cranes.

They punctuate the rim of the wet oval

with a peculiar regularity, spread apart
with some twelve feet between each.

The brown pond might be a round table

made of oak or maple or sycamore,
around which this quartet has met.

They lean their scarlet faces slightly forward,

adjusting their feathery elbows on the table
and gazing down their beaks at one another.

They might be here to settle a last will,

or discussing last night's ball game before
the boss enters the important board meeting.

Or maybe this is a diplomatic assembly,

its purpose to decide what to do about the
neighboring whippoorwills' ceaseless banter.

Whatever the issue had been, suddenly

it is resolved now, all taken care of.
One concedes, and the affair is over.

Simultaneously, eight wide wings unsettle

the dark water and lift the birds skyward.
Their meeting adjourned, they scatter apart

into the gray air, then come together again,

like the raindrops now joining together and
forming a tiny rivulet on the
single-pane
window
of this
barn.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Shield

My Shield

A dark room, 
a chair beneath me, I assume.
Then a harsh, blinding flash
a glaring bare bulb
reflecting off its silver globe
and directly into my eyes.
I slam them shut
and tilt my head down.

But next, a sudden shutdown 
to dark.
The flash in my retina dances,
then dims back to blackness.
Open the eyes, head back up.
Comfortable darkness.

Then it blazes back, brighter still.
Even closed, my eyes sting
against the jarring flash.
My eyelids press down harder,
the tiny muscles clenched against
my teary, shining cheekbones. 

Then, a hand. The hand
that first molded light into photons,
that first flicked fire to life,
that hand shields me, 
but only for an instant.
It reaches away, comes back.

The glaring light shudders, 
then darkens, 
and becomes a soft amber glow, 
filtered finally by 
a heavy, bronze garment
still being straightened over the bulb
by that hand, now joined by His other. 

Once a blinding blaze,
now only a gentle gleam 
a radiance even
illuminating His hands,
full of love, 
casting fingertip shadows 
on the dust-colored walls
of my heart. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sallie Mae, a poem

For any college graduate who's ever paid off ol' Sallie. You'll know where I'm coming from.



Sallie Mae, a poem

She landed, softly,
on the supple, white 
flesh of my thigh,
while I looked the other way,
blinded by a new freedom.

And as I looked on, 
she glanced around, 
checking that we were alone.
Then, her lance plunged into
 my soft, succulent skin.

I snapped back, smacked. 

But too late. 

She kicked off, 
swayed a bit, 
and buzzed off 
into the darkness, 

drunk on my blood.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Looking In, Looking Out

The Difference in Writing Fiction and Poetry

One of the classes I lead is a creative writing class, mostly focused on the development of strong, realistic fiction writing. This presents a few challenges to me, the largest of which is that I tend to write far more poetry than fiction myself. Not that I never throw down a good short story now and then, but poetry is much closer to the front of my compositional mind.

I tried and failed to explain this to my students, who - firstly - could not possibly fathom why anyone would ever consider writing poetry when not required to. Secondly, though, many of them didn't see how free verse poetry differs much from fiction writing. "It's just put into lines and stanzas," they said.

Well, no it isn't.

It's not just a completely different genre. It's a totally different view of the world, and a uniquely singular way of reporting it to the reader.


Writing fiction is about telling stories, and about looking into houses. It is about peeking into people’s lives, noticing the unnoticed, the small details that can make the fictitious realistic. The nervous swishing of a hand through hair, a man pouring his coffee in the kitchen, the fragile hips of an old dog swaying painfully as she ambles to the door – these are the things that often go unnoticed by us as we swing our sickles through the fields of life. 

But these are the moments that a fiction writer must catch and point out, saying to the reader, “See, I bet you would have missed that, wouldn’t you?” Well, here it is, lying truthfully on the page, adding that little bit of life that brings a story from being just a series of events, to being an episode of existence.  

Poetry is quite the opposite. If story telling is about looking in, then poetry is looking out. Poetry is gazing outward from your own window and telling the truth – the real truth – about what is there. In poetry, we make no efforts to hide reality, however simple or brutal it may be. 

What is mysterious, what is mortal, what is funny, what is too difficult or perhaps too obvious to think about – these are the forgotten and ignored horses that poets hitch to the front of the team. In this way, poetry and fiction share a heart – the heart of bringing the overlooked to the forefront of the readers’ attention.

I can only hope to show my students this, and to guide them to experience it for themselves.


Friday, January 4, 2013

Surviving wintertime


Surviving wintertime

is like trying to
strangle a porcupine.

Those beetle eyes
stare into yours, determined.
Does it even have a neck?
you think, as you try to
end this terrible encounter.

Its long quills stab at your chest,
icy needles piercing your
thin nylon jacket.

And when you finally give up
and fling the spiky critter to the ground,
you will look down at your
unfeeling fingertips,

dripping your happiness
into the now steaming snow.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

That Snow


That Snow

Yesterday’s snow is leaving us
thanks to today’s warmish sun.

That snow–
the same snow that,
as it fell, strained the eyes of a
tired trucker searching for tracks
on the slushy interstate,

That snow that made the children next door
exclaim when they heard
school had been canceled on its account,

That snow that brought to the widow’s mind
the day her husband died,
when those flakes drifted down
just outside the hospital window.

That snow is now melting,
turning to beads and sliding down to the ground
in the field across the road,
giving the muddy corn stubble a peek.

The wet soil is starting to show through
that snow this morning,
and the field is starting to look like
a handmade lace cloth

draped over a dark walnut table
where all of us sit,
quietly sipping cider from bright green cups,
and folding our napkins into
smaller and smaller triangles.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

At the Rescue Mission

I had the privilege last week to serve for a few hours at a rescue mission for homeless men in a nearby city, and it was quite an experience. Over the last several weeks, I have thought a lot about making this time of year about more than ourselves - about finding ways to honor Christ's birth by honoring others. This poem was born out of that experience at the rescue mission, as indicated by the title. 

These are the forgotten, the loathed, the avoided people who Jesus commanded us to love in Matthew 25:40. "I tell you the truth. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." To God be the glory. 



At the Rescue Mission

On the edge of town,
across from the industrial plants
and the piles of broken asphalt,
he leans into the doorway of the lit room,
looking for his usual spot.

A red glare shines on his windburned cheeks
from the fluorescent bulbs above him.
How stoic, how honorable
he seems in the worn denim and
unwashed cotton shirt. He might
just be returning from some
filthy battle, a hero.

He leans his weight into each step,
careful not to wake the other forty
sleeping warriors who litter the floor
all around him.

Each deliberate step brings him closer
to his bed, a thin mat on the cold tiles.
His pillow
a lumpy, yellowed mound
seems a cotton cloud to him as he
now lays his delicate head against it.

The cares of the day, and of
all the other days,
pass away from him now as he
gathers the exhausted blanket
to his chin and exhales.

In the corner, the workers
shear off thick slices of warm
banana bread onto plates -
soon to be Christmas breakfast
for each and every one
of the least of these.