Soundtrack

At six-fifteen in the suburbs
Day and night shifts greet each other,

Chattering robins, cardinals, wrens
Echoed by a barred owl’s questions.

For a moment they acknowledge
The shared dominion of sound

And take turns, stopping dissonance
With great breaths between each call.

Dark and light are not comingled
With such grace in ordinary time;

Hope of light vain and vague at night,
Darkness tempting thoughts in the noon sun.

But the turntable spins time and again,
Accompanied by untroubled birds.

Nature Is

After Seamus Heaney

Go down from the mountains to the coastal plain
before it gets so hot that you wish
to stay indoors. On a March morning

The swamp is almost inviting. New leaves
dapple earth with just enough shade to let
the unvarnished sun raise color in your cheeks

While a north breeze cools the ground to keep
snakes torpid and ticks at rest. You can hear
the trees flecked with warblers, and wonder why

You never thought such a place could welcome.
nature is not fickle, but rather patient.
go down further still, east. The swamp becomes scrub

Straining at life in wind-scoured dunes. Cold sky and sea
blend, stitched by breaching dolphins and diving terns.
nature is this, but also a shark-bitten loon

flopping to the beach and dying as you stroke its neck.
You are not like nature, straining for interpretation
from what is content to be. Go up and come down again.

Image: Congaree National Park, Richland County, SC, March 2022.

Lungs

I breathe in
Sunsets to
Breathe out prayers.
Like the old split-trunk willow oak
At the cemetery corner,
A pair of lungs in the winter dusk
Drinking deeply from the good earth
To exhale the life of the world.

New Morning Mercies

After Anthony Bourdain, after a fashion.

On the day my next-door neighbor died
I went to breakfast in a hurricane.
The water ran through the floor of Waffle House
As waffle batter ran dry in the kitchen.

While I sat, deep in conversation,
Trying to imagine how to remake the world,
A home-health nurse brought a man with his walker
To a corner table for weekly worship.

A family from out of state sat down
And got up after twenty minutes waiting
To have their order taken, unwilling
To further delay progress to Florida.

I shouted across bad coffee for hope,
Over the drone of a country jukebox
And the pleas of hungry addicts, but this—
This—is the world as it is, more or less.

What is the life of a saint but suffering—
Patiently, daily, not in crucifixion
Or being drawn and quartered or burned at the stake,
But simple, faithful endurance through each day?

What is the life of a saint but living
In the tension between having one’s cake
And eating it, with holy disregard
For the contrast between spirit and flesh?

The next day was the first crisp morning of fall,
Broken only by the first southbound monarch,
Bearing the indignity of migration
For the joy set before him with foreordained poise.

When he gets to Cerro Prieto,
He’ll be welcomed as an ancestral spirit
Together with multitudes lighting
In sacred firs, echoing resurrection.

Image: Getty Images