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