Shark story

The little yellow armed services two-man raft was about 150 yards off the water’s edge at Surfside Beach, near Galveston. Susan and I were drifting lazily in easy water, as her then-teen brother bounced off the bottom in water about five and a half feet deep. Then came the circling shark fin and what to us was his instantaneous leap into the boat. To him it seemed an eternity. Difference of perspective, no doubt.

Jeff Hensley


The shark circled us,

tight around our two-man raft.

The accounts vary


as to just how close.

One who was there says 10 feet,

another 20.


The third, just too close,

because he was climbing in,

no time to measure.



Baltimore historic B&B

Meg Ryan, in “Sleepless in Seattle,”  apparently “lived” in the same block of Fells Point where my bed and breakfast faced the Baltimore harbor. I ate in the harbor side restaurant you can see in some of the shots, just down the way from “her” doorway.

You may even be able to see the front door of the place I enjoyed as “my” residence for a few days.

The cost of the B&B was less than the convention hotel in the Inner Harbor area, and it was quite comfortable. But my daughter was about three, and I delighted in time she and my wife and I spent together. I missed them terribly, even though the meeting was good, the shared conviviality with my fellows in the Catholic Press delightful.

Away from the meeting, I would wander the Inner Harbor area. I remember walking along floating plank docks one evening, with their tethered yachts, being blasted by the calliope music and cyclonic speed of the nearby merry-go-round, its sparkling reflection spinning wildly in the water between, all the while missing my family like crazy.

Jeff Hensley


Water taxi ride

links Inner Harbor, Fells Point

where B&B sits


Taxi’s convenient,

easier than walking here.

Too much construction.


It’s romantic, yet,

even with its window seats

and harbor side view,


it’s still just a place,

a place to sleep a few nights

far from home, missing you.




“Good night, Becky.” “Good night, John Boy.”

My daughter played Becky, in fact, and Ryan played John Boy, — both of them quite well and convincingly in the Kids Who Care production at the Scott Theatre in Fort Worth.

I played the bit part of the sheriff, with few lines and plenty of difficulty remembering them.

It was a high point of our relationship during Amy’s growing up years.

I’m not sure where Ryan went next, but I’m pretty sure he was as successful in his later pursuits as he was as a late teen, at the top end of the age scale for “children’s” theater.

Jeff Hensley



Tall, gangly Ryan,

the teen actor who played lead

in “The Homecoming,”


had great character

while playing great character,

and most admired him.


Watching from the wings,

you’d see he was the only one

who always knew his lines.


Like a strong column

he would hold things together

by being himself.


But even at that,

some managed to be jealous,

mistaking focus


for an aloofness

that Ryan didn’t possess.

It caused him some pain


but didn’t change him.

Ryan continued to be

Ryan. Who else could?



Seeking to document Salvation Army assistance at Delta crash

It’s been 12 years, and I do still remember the searing, laser-like look the fireman gave me when he saw my camera. I understand, but I was just trying to do my job, show Salvation Army funding at work in disaster assistance, supporting the rescue workers.

Oddly, my camera and the words that I was working for the Salvation Army easily got me across police lines into the area of the crash.

We seem to have more than our share of these events happening around the world at the present. May God bless all those who are involved or affected, at whatever level.

Jeff Hensley


Fireman glared at me.

I dared not take his picture

at airplane crash site.


I’d watched the bodies

wrapped in black plastic pour from

the burned-out plane’s shell.


Workers like this man

had delivered the crashed jet’s

stillborn children.


I didn’t seek to

exploit his traumatized state,

just doing my job,


seeking to capture

him taking sandwich, coffee

from SA canteen.


The look on his face

is one I’ll never forget,

one of pain, anger.


not to be messed with,

not to be captured on film,

not to be displayed.




The holy image

that is every human

reflects its maker.


Like the shining moon,

though it cannot be erased,

it can be eclipsed.


And oddly enough

it is done by the same means:

The light source is blocked.



Easter triptych: beyond limits of incorporated Jesus

Gray, aging bikers,

stretching all their wrinkles tight,

out on Easter ride.


Man with tattooed arms

watches how I look at him

while he holds the door


If he’d been in church

with the young son at his side,

resurrection’s light


hadn’t blinded him

to the constant likelihood

that others would see


only marks on arm

and miss the sight of a man

Jesus rose to save.


Man with bulging gut,

all his worldly goods in bags,

stands at side of road.


It’s noon on Easter.

He’s a block from a full church,

but it’s not complete.


Tattooed man, bikers,

homeless man whose mind has left

him less than enough


to face life’s problems,

only seem to underline

all the work that’s left.


Easters yet to come,

each Sunday’s little Easter,

chance for us to say


Come home, Jesus waits.

There’s still room here in his church,

love enough for you.



Great (black) blue heron

I see the heron,

his shadowy shape marking

the spot he fishes.


Must be a good spot

here where stream enters river,

limestone bed shallows.


For night after night

I see him standing alone

on his spindly legs.


Shadowy outline,

bundle of nerves and muscle,

hollow bones, sinew;


wonderful fisher,

majestic, patient catcher

of wriggling life.



LA Chinatown, early morning

It’s now 9 a.m.

and I’m the only Anglo

here in Chinatown.


Truckload of oranges

quickly sells to elderly

Chinese clientele;


Fish, squid, octopus

line floor in buckets and tubs,

two kinds of redfish;


The department store’s

ample apothecary,

wonderland of smells,


bright yellow and red

cases, whose lids lift, reveal

Chinese healing herbs.


Dry goods shelves upstairs

have rice bowls in undreamed of

shades and hues of  blue,


a dozen brands of

automatic rice cookers

and bamboo steamers.


I buy two blue bowls

and a round blue denim hat

with a two-inch brim.



A cycle of seasons


O.K. everyone has to do at least one of these. it’s obligatory. Here’s mine.



A Cycle of Seasons

by Jeff Hensley


Fall Laments

Cycle of the year,

drawing down of evening shade

earlier each day


as fall approaches.

How much does it parallel

moving of our lives


toward the evening’s dark,

the swift cycle of our lives

sometimes moves faster


than the year’s cycle,

our wick’s light diminishes,

faster than leaves fade.


Winter Sleeps

Approach of winter

with its white finality,



slowly the spread of

the life that turned all things green,

beautiful itself.


We’re drawn to it

with its dreamless sleep, its peace,

blanket drawn around


pure and light, white night

that stills the once dreaming heart

that was our short life.


Spring Bursts

In time we will find

the burning green fuse explodes.

It bursts through the snow.


Unexpected power,

exploded rainbow colors

break through the snow’s crust.


Crocus and pansy

manifest dreams of bulbs, seeds,

make real ideas


until now, latent

in shoots that smoldered unseen,

turned potently green.


Summer Matures

The living out time

doesn’t ask what lies ahead,

it just bears its life.


It gives and gives and

then it gives all that it has;

it can do no less.


Shades of green darken,

locusts and frogs and crickets

whirr and croak and creak.


Water flows through roots

moving out the leaves and shoots,

plumply fills the fruits.



Nine miners; one bucket

Since it’s been nearly a dozen years since the Quecreek Mine (near) disaster, I thought I ought to go onto the Web and review some of the facts in this episode, particularly looking for references to the watertight lunch bucket in which the nine miners’ final notes to their families were sealed. Rescue efforts lasted for four days before a hole was successfully drilled to the high spot they had reached when the shaft of the mine flooded. If you want to read the full account, you can go directly to “Quecreek Mine disaster” or “nine miners, lunch bucket.” But what strikes me, a decade on, is the scant mention of the notes written to their families. For me, it is the the detail competing with their other final moment actions before rescue in which they tied their bodies together with a rope so they would all be found together, ate the one lunch and Pepsi, packed by one of the miners four days earlier, and still cold and dry inside a lunch bucket; and the details of the amazing rescue itself.

Scant mention though in any of the four or five accounts I read of the lunch bucket in which they left final notes to their families, notes they chose to seal forever, after their rescue, adding to the mystique of the exact words of sentiment, love, regret, or whatever else seemed most important to communicate in a few words, to their loved ones at what they thought were the ends of their lives.

Despite history’s lack of attention to this great symbol, I think it the duty of those of us who remember, to hold their actions and their words in our hearts, banking the fires of our love and loyalty toward our own families.


Surface the power

of the hidden springs of life,

powerful symbols


of all that matters,

and you’ve brought forth

social dynamite.


Life-long commitments;

bonds of love unbreakable;

lifetimes of giving.


When we tell stories

that offer these essences,

we keep fires burning


in the hearts of men

and women; we all draw strength

for another day.


The greatest writers

fall short in their eloquence

when measured against


the nine miners’ tale,

now our unsurpassed symbol

— short of crossed timbers:


Nine notes to loved ones

hid from our eyes forever

in a tattered bucket.