Breastplates

Saint Patrick prayed, “Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,” finding
Jesus behind him, Jesus within him,
Beneath, above, right, left, before, with, by,
And I wonder why this bit of truth is
Buried in context of shamrocks, green beer,
Cabbage, corned beef, Guinness, and potatoes.
But torrid mid-March is also longing,
The throes of Lent, writhing in Christless dark,
Silent, waiting for a break in routine
Between ashes and tombs and quarantine.
Is it only the dead, voiceless prophets
Who now behold wonders and rest from fear?

Image: Wakerobins, Hamilton County, Tenn., March 2020.

Reasons to Paint in Quarantine

Each courtesy I am accustomed to
Becomes an act of thoughtless violence,
Posing threats to all save a trusted few.
Streets and schools become a pool of silence.
To stay at home and read a tome or play
A game or bake a pie or pause to cry
Or break a dish or eat a fish or pray
Makes no change to the gray and lukewarm sky.
Lenten paths of mourning lead to brooding,
Rustic joys like bread, butter, and laughter
Keep a light on, my soul now concluding,
“Look up, beauty is now and not after.
What is true is sad; what was good is bad,
Find some fearful symmetry or go mad.”

Image: Fungus, Branch, Moss, Snow—Hamilton County, Tenn., + original watercolor, February 2020.

Don’t Look Down

Your maxims are proverbs of ashes.
Not the cleansing of bull’s ashes,
But the trampling of wisdom
Under unholy feet.
Sackcloth and ashes
Are your reward;
You earned it,
This cruel
Dust.

Hope is
Ashes and dust.
Dust you are and to dust
You will return, so be kind to
Ashes.

Woe to him who despises ashes;
Roses need potassium chloride to bloom.

If dust’s maker made himself dust,
Then dust in glory is noble and just.
Surely resurrection and life
Presuppose death and strife.

The Ground Knows

A week of rain swells the runoff creek,
Its muffled roar suffusing the woods
As the blank-blue sky of Northern air
Sidles down the plateau to cradle
Our valley in momentary chill
Fixing in time every splashed droplet.

Winter in Tennessee is a pendulum.

Ice grasps rocks and branches, layer by
Layer accreting into crowds of
Overnight stalagmites and a lone
Ephemeral agate at the end
Of a string dangling from a footbridge
That sways with each splash, marking the time
Till warmth rushes back, which the ground knows
Well, watching an Iris bloom too soon.

Winter in Tennessee is a pendulum

Yellow light bursts from a stem, calling
January’s bluff for a moment,
But it dies—a raisin in the frost,
Hoping for a slice of spring before
The long flat note of summer goads it
To try for glory again next year.

Life in Tennessee is a pendulum.

Image: Ice pendulum, Glen Falls, Hamilton County, Tenn., January 2020