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.

How to Clean Up before Christmas

Start by observing the residue of childhood. Note the rotting oak leaves on last year’s toys, plastics long since dissuaded from their original color by ultraviolet rays. Recall how they emerged, shining hydrogenated petroleum, the last gasp of some grasping raptor. Marvel as casual conspiracy between a forgetful toddler and her neighborhood star undoes industrial complexity. Brace yourself as this year’s toys arrive in waves. Strategically maneuver around school crafts and children’s church presents. Have UPS kill off a few extra dinosaurs, for good measure, to ship the good intentions of far-flung relatives or even your own nagging guilt. Sweep up litter. Weep over glitter. Whisper a litany for global trade and the Pacific garbage patch. Tidy up as though it is a game of chicken with the universe. Be careful what you cast out—thoughts count, and twaddle is freighted with love. Try not to stuff souls past and present into stockings. Calculate the cycle of ashes and dust looping from eternity past to Christmas morning to landfill. Measure the relative proximity of Bethlehem to your living room. Factor in the arc of the great circle. Set a stopwatch for the distance in time, a route growing longer with each revolution. Feel the warping of the continuum as the accretion of candles and carols and traditions makes mangers manageable. When you have swept the last artificial fir needle and loaded the last dessert spoon into a groaning dishwasher, don’t rest. Embrace the life you’re tasked with living. Meditate on your insignificance and significance. Look, look in the mirror at your own demise and resurrection. Think dead men’s thoughts after them.

For the time being
Seven demons scour earth
For a spotless room.

Image: My backyard, October 2019.

With Fear and Great Joy

With fear and great joy
They ran to tell.

If your kind and faithful friend had died
A gruesome death and then said, “Good morning!”
From behind as you went to put flowers
On their fresh-tilled grave, what would you do?

Where do you run
With fear and great joy?

How is a new world announced? “Do not fear”
Whispered with power, growing, rippling out
To hill and hollow, city, field, and slum
With the holy whiplash of redemption.

With fear and great joy
You catch your breath

Frozen with longing for something not yet,
Glass-eyed, like a road-killed coyote in
The permanent howl of rigor mortis.
Truth is the hardest story to swallow.

You will see it
With fear and great joy.

Each friendship is resurrection practice,
Reaching for love and faith and hope and rest
Knowing full-well that time and space and sin
And death wait to undo every effort.

With fear and great joy
Hold tight to them.

Darkness first fell in the garden light made.
Hope wept in a garden after midnight,
And life was proved in a garden anew.
Oaks of righteousness rise from ruined land

To bring good news
With fear and great joy.

 

A Sure Thing

How does one gain the confidence
Of a finch that flies headlong
Into an arborvitae?

A mass of tangled greens that might,
(Or not) hold a nest, eggs, mate, home,
Or at least defray the rain a moment.

Is it instinct that creates faith?
Or memory of the warm twirl of grass
And feathers that gives courage to return?

Whatever credence I enjoy
Passes through me, a current
From fixed point to fixed point.

The heart is no dynamo,
And unworthy of trust.
Belief is a signpost
Pointing only to itself,
A shadow of a shadow
From which no flutter bursts forth.

Image: Snow at Sunset Rock, Lookout Mountain, Tenn., December 2017.