Fish at Kemah (rhymes with Lima, Peru, that is)

June 29, 2000

Fish at Kemah (rhymes with Lima, Peru, that is)


Under Kemah’s lights

at edge of Galveston Bay

tiny fish swarm, churn,


roiling the surface

for what must be fifty yards

along the boardwalk.


Shrimp and crabs swim past

pull themselves through light’s circle,

but beyond its reach,


shadows of fish glide by.

Steaming, teeming, boiling life

drawn by Kemah’s lights.


Two days later

shaded from summer’s broiling sun

mallard family,


mom, dad, half-grown ducks,

swim about in field of fish,

swarms of channel cats.


What is it draws them

to these seafood restaurants?

Is it fish death wish?


Are they drawn by cries

of lobsters turning bright red

as they’re dropped in pots?


Is it smell of shrimp

battered, boiled, and grilled on coals?

Why not run away?


Why not fly to the

far corners of the Gulf Coast?

Why not seek safety?


Or are they plotting,

milling about, making plans

to storm the Bastille?


Will the headlines read:

“Fish make daring daylight raid

freeing finny friends?”


Alas, I think not.

More likely we’ll find that fish

think less than we thought.



Memorial Day, 2000

May 31, 2000

Memorial Day, 2000


All day long we’d seen streets

around the Capitol Mall crowded with

long haired veterans on Harleys.


We had no interest

in the Vietnam Memorial

this last Monday in May.


But when the night tour of DC stopped here,

this twenty-fifth year since the war ended,

I found myself walking with my wife and daughter


past subtly lit black, polished stone,

flowers, and pictures left there

by friends, families.


A Park Service ranger stoops and writes, noting time, date, and panel

where each remembrance has been found.

before zipping it into a plastic archival bag.


Stridently, a woman beside me asks

how a name inscribed too high to reach can be rubbed,

her loved one’s name obtained.


A second ranger asks,

“Do you have paper, pencil?”

— gently she asks her.


Five minutes later

we come upon this woman,

her husband, the ranger.


The flaxen-haired ranger stands on a ladder,

her flashlight on the sheet of paper, as she rubs the name,

lifting it from the wall.


Soft glow makes this scene

a touching memorial

to kindness, healing.


Willowy blonde ranger

brought ladder, pencil, paper,

and quiet respect.



Twenty-five words or less…

June 22, 2000

Twenty-five words or less…


Track the flow of blood

inside a flea’s knees.

using your most powerful microscope


Now, in great detail,

explain the viscosity

in fleas’ — and bees’ — knees.


And more, if you can,

discuss the relationship

of the two flow rates


to the ebb and flow

of tides in the Bay of Fundy

and the ordered flow


of ions within the

aurora borealis

in 25 words or less.


Your homework will be

to replicate these items.

There’s no time limit.



Jane Kenyon lives…

November 2, 2006

Jane Kenyon Lives…

by Jeff Hensley


She dies again,

and I cry again

appreciating her life.


Like C.S. Lewis;

like Loren Eiseley;

like the aging of Annie Dillard

who announced on her website

she might not write again.


Each time I experience sadness.

I mourn and I cry,

aware there will be no more words,

no more books,

flowing from this favorite.


Their undying works,

the miracle of

their productivity,

their creativity,


like the still-burning candle

on Jack’s coffin

as they carried it

outside to the graveyard.


By the grace of God,

the wind can’t blow out,

no breeze erase

the beauty of their words.



To be picked but not to pique

July 19. 1999

To be picked but not to pique


God, what will you say of our response

to this picture of a boy in the desert —


formerly a meadow —

picking grains of rice from sand

so that he may eat?


What will you say when we face you then,

as we hope we’ll be picked, not pique you,

as you separate us,


putting sheep, not rice, into one category,

goats into another.


How will we face you, if having seen the boy there,

we failed to see you?

Isaiah 40, the fighter jet version

October 26, 2013

Isaiah 40, the fighter jet version


They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.

—Isaiah 40:31


You call my attention out the window to the jet fighter digging in,

grasping the air to right itself,

to reverse its tail-first plunging toward the earth.


At last, nose at 30°, its engines begin to slow the fall

and lift it skyward again.


At the top of its arc, it goes dead stick again

and twirls, rocks, tumbles,

like a billion dollar feather

floating on the wind.


We watch slack-jawed, amazed, and scandalized

that the test pilot seems to be performing these tests

over a neighborhood two miles inside the loop.


Finally again, at what seems well past the last minute

for such a correction, the tumbling stops, the tail sits lower than the nose,

and, stabilized, the falling plane digs for traction,

slowly, like  a slow motion sequence in a movie,

it starts again its steep climb,

to repeat the cycle one more time.


Golden wildflower pollen coated my jeans to my knees.

Pollen from spring wildflowers covered my jeans up to the knees, making it look like I’d walked through Gulf Coast breakers of dry macaroni and cheese mix. (WordsWordsWordsPhoto / Jeff Hensley)

March 2, 2011



A late spring day

and a hill of buttercups,

Indian paintbrush, firewheels,

and cone flowers.


With camera in hand

I wade the blossoms

surging in the wind

like knee deep rollers

at the Gulf shore.


When I emerge

with photos of captured spring beauty

my jeans are covered to mid-thigh

with golden pollen,


as though I’d been wading

in a packet of dry

macaroni and cheese mix.


March 1, 2011



The old man sits

resting in a dining room chair

on his slender concrete front porch.

Behind him the front wall of his small, shoddy built house

tapers downward to the left,

angling jaggedly

from the top of the wall

toward the foundation.


There is no roof.

The front door is intact.

It’s like a scenery backdrop.


Hollywood hasn’t been here;

instead, a spring tornado.


I ask permission –- to look around,

to ask a few questions, take a few pictures.

I’m a journalist, documenting

the damage; the suffering of the residents.


He nods wearily, says its fine.

And I go behind the façade

into empty, partially walled rooms

open to the bright blue sky.


Beyond the open back side of the house,

the debris field of building materials,

splintered, well-aged two by fours and wallboard,

strollers, wood-framed play pens, and pieces of clothing,

decorates the crowns of tall trees between his house

and the remains of the houses of his back door neighbors,

as though they’d done their spring cleaning

and left it hanging high.


A couple of his friends, contemporaries,

only a few years younger than his 75-plus years,

walk around the open-air structure,

collecting what remains of his life.


Around the half walls of rooms

stand bookcases and tables

still carrying their bric-a-brac, and books,

undisturbed by the whirling winds

that two days before bent the four parallel steel poles

of a nearby billboard’s supports

at a 60° angle, still parallel.

They stand today, community art,

a monument to the storm and its survivors.


My new friend’s house sits in a neighborhood,

of homes set tightly along narrow streets,

but separated by deep back yards. There are

several blocks of these fragile thin-walled, homes,

constructed skimpily enough

to make manufactured housing seem durable,

built beyond what necessity might require.


A drive through the neighborhood this week

reveals it much the same as in pre-tornado days.

But many homes have been improved

by the masonry skills of their owners who have clad

their weak shells with brick, stone.


I think back on the old man and his friends

and the others I met that day,

and wonder if, having survived this,

the worst that nature could throw at them,

they now know some pride in their endurance,

their lives like those billboard supports:

bent but not broken.

Ice in two states…

March 28, 2011

Ice in two states…


I awake before dawn to snow

visible only in pools of light

shed by the hotel parking lot’s pole lamps,

circles of slowly falling flakes

accumulating in thin, spring grass.


On the short trip to Dulles

the headlights and street lights

form horizontal and vertical snow globes

on this seventh day of spring.


Once on the plane

Snow accumulates

on the wing’s leading edge

just outside my window.

I’m relieved to see de-icing crews fogging the air,

even more relieved to see the co-pilot

checking the results of their efforts,

ducking in the middle row,

grabbing the seat tops either side of the aisle

for balance.


We take off into the dark

with light above the cloud cover

that stays with us,

gradually growing brighter.

Seven hundred miles of cotton balls to Atlanta,

turning gray to pink to white.


Then another 1,000 miles of white cotton

as we pierce the thick clouds above Atlanta

and back through the vaporous curtain into DFW.


Three hours later, sitting at lunch,

digging into a fajita chicken-filled chimichanga

so rich and cheesy I know I’m home again,

penny-sized hail punctuates the light rain,

just begun outside the window

of the Salvadoran/TexMex restaurant,

almost enough to cover the sidewalk and street.



Ice in two states

the last of the snow floating gracefully,

the first of the thunderstorms’ hail crashing wetly;

Virginia and Texas.

Super Moon

March 23, 2011

Super Moon


It was a super moon, they said,

full and coming the day before

the vernal equinox,

it seemed there must be something

significant in the timing.


An astronomical event

the Aztecs and the Indians of the Southwest deserts

would have marked on temple or canyon walls.


But for me, it meant lying in the front yard

at 2:30 in the morning, porch light off,

drinking in this largest moon, this brightest moon,

not to be seen again for nearly 20 years.


Taking in the paucity of stars,

only a dozen or so visible

in the tenth of the sky

not covered in clouds.


Admiring the not quite cobalt blue of the visible sky,

its deep black tempered, lightened

by this surreal flooding of the sky with extraordinary light,

edges of cloud banks resembling shorelines of Antarctic ice shelves

drifting in a sea of sky.


The moon itself now obscured,

its great light turning space into this cold southern sea,

surrounding a continent of clouds.


With the Big Dipper among the still visible stars,

it would have held an incomprehensibly large

bite of this interstellar space sea water,

filled with swarms of celestial herrings,

masses of flying penguins, their tiny wings

at last adequate to move their bodies

through the near vacuum of space,

at home in the sea sky as they would have been

in the sky sheltered sea.


Full of this beauty,

my duty to drink it in accomplished,

I rose from the grass, thinking how odd any neighbor

— rising in the night to relieve the dryness of their mouths

or check to make sure they’d locked their front doors —

would perceive my, to them, lunatic behavior.


But the One who created these conditions

must simply have looked down and seen

a heart and eyes He had created,

admiring his handiwork,

drinking thirstily

from the fullness

of the cup of his creation.