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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The White Flag

I wrote this a few years ago, and every time I see a sack caught amidst a shrub, or stretched against a fence, this is what comes to mind.

On a plastic grocery bag caught in a tree

There, flickering in the breeze outside my window,
advertising some tattered ‘mart’ logo,
waves the white flag of Nature.
It has finally surrendered in the
long battle against Man.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Two Travelers

Two Travelers

I am convinced that
there are two types of travelers.
There are those who embrace maps, with their
squirming blue forms of lakes
and the clustering splotches of cities.
These travelers find a sort of
security in the whispers from their atlases.
They crave comfort and a map’s false confidence
while ambling along an unfamiliar highway or road.

The other type of traveler is eternally lost,
though not trying to be found,
turning down whichever trail seems to beckon.
A honed sense of direction is not necessarily theirs,
but only a sense of self,
the confidence that way leads on to way,
that we will cross the paths we’re meant to.
The unfamiliarity of low-hanging branches
that darken a dirt road
do not alarm them, but seem as arms,
lonely as their own,
reaching down for some type
 of companionship.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

As I Walk Through A Busy Restaurant

As I Walk Through a Busy Restaurant

The three glasses of water I drank with
our appetizer have done their duty,
and I make my way across the
hard tiles toward the restrooms.
About four seconds of conversation
from each booth enters my ears as I pass.

The hysterectomy of the woman in pink
is not what I will want in my mind when
I return to my table and cut in to my steak,
but I get all the details anyway.

Luckily, the old man in plaid won
the bowling pot this evening,
and his friend finally found a buyer
for his rusty old Studebaker from high school.
The young couple shouts about food stamps,
and the old couple talks about nothing.

The denim-clad men inform me that
the wheat in the fields is beginning to joint,
and the sobbing teens behind them were both
dumped by their boyfriends today.
How will they ever survive?

Like a storm-torn billboard revealing its layers,
the diners thread together a string of remarks
that is at the same time endless and incoherent.
Spanish splashes into the pool of comments
as I pass by the smoky kitchen
and gladly enter the sanctuary of the men’s room.

The safety of the empty tile cube
and the soft flit of Miles Davis’ trumpet
refresh my dripping, overwhelmed mind.
I’m not sure if I can make it back to my table
through the deluge that I know awaits me.

I wash my hands slowly and turn to face the door,
and once again begin to swim through the flood of details –
about the green-eyed lady’s nasty divorce,
the young man’s term paper,
and the blue-haired woman’s prescriptions,
which have caused her insomnia and oily discharge.

I continue to brave the wave of multiplicity,
driving against the torrent, trying to stay afloat.
Across the noisy, blustery room,
a toddler in a high chair meets my gaze and waves
his hand in the air, shouting muffled noises to me
like a shoreline passerby trying to
save the drowning stranger bobbing about
in the rambling, jumbled sea.

I try to focus on his tiny, flailing hand as I
attempt to propel myself ahead.
The pelting elements, though, become too strong.
They wash over me and will soon be only
a puddle on the burnt orange tile floor,
rippling back and forth against my lifeless body.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

The side of a highway in September,
ankle-high grass brushed with dew,
and we are in the second mile of our walk,
Two cold men, volunteers with a thankless duty,
collecting trash along the roadway.

Lugging our mostly full shoulder-slung bags,
the risen sun at our backs,
we discover that someone lost a flag –
a miniature American flag,
maybe six inches wide and four tall,
attached with staples to a thin wooden stick.

Every item found had, until this point,
faced the same destiny –
to be gripped by our dampened yellow gloves,
then plunked into the pitiless blue bags.
But now this.

My partner in sanitation,
a short and muscled man with graying
strands sneaking from below his cap,
looked at it for a moment, 
waving it a little in his hands
then continued along the shoulder
holding the patriotic emblem
between the fingers of his bag-laden hand
as we proceeded with our cleanup.

It was a cumbersome job,
or at least seemed to be,
to watch him keep the flag at full staff
while still reaching for trashy bits in the grass.
A few hundred yards later, where we paused
to tie our bags and unsettle new ones,
my companion in this lonesome job
without a word crossed the ditch and worked the flag stick
between the taut tentacles of a barbed wire fence.

Standing back, we watched the banner,
the tiny emblem of our freedom and nation,
ruffling in a morning zephyr of the plains.
Chins upheld, indivisible, we stood in reverence.

A sigh, cleared throat, the unfurling of new bags,
and we bent again to our labor.