Imagining a menu factory filled with artists in berets, wielding pallettes and brushes

In defense of the five year old, the menus at Panera’s had been designed to look as though each came colorfully from the hand of an individual artist. Watching as kids acquire language and a sense of how the world works are among life’s greatest joys, whether the kids are your own or belong to someone else’s family.

 

With a child’s wonder

she imagined how they might

have made the menus,

 

each one hand-painted.

And with a mother’s patience,

she explained printing.

 

And I, their witness,

took joy in it all, with my

coffee and sweet roll.

 

 

 

Borrowed Contemplation (courtesy of Wendell Barry)

Few poets have as distinctive a pattern of word usage and syntax as farmer ecologist poet Wendell Berry. One part of that pattern of words that identifies his work is linking most things to the earth. This one of mine does a bit of that.

 

Generations’ span

brings the curving arc of years

round and back again.

 

Certain of our ways

are rooted in our parents,

leaved in our children.

 

Ways of seeing things,

ways of showing loyalty,

living out our love.

 

And these things persist,

endure to blossom again,

seeded beyond us.

 

 

 

Grasping Grapevines

April 22, 2003

I’ve told this story many times, but due to the tracelines of memory when associated with splashes of adrenaline and emotion, it always seems fresh to me. I’d taken a 300 mile, one-way day trip to Caprock Canyons State Park, where a walk of an hour of two turned into an overnight adventure, drinking from high springs pooled up the canyon valleys, the Milky Way keeping time above me, as it moved like an hour hand across the clear West Texas night sky, sleeping on a high trail 20 feet above treetops and only 5 feet wide, hallucinating after a night of ragged sleep. But most importantly tapping into that resource more precious and as necessary to us as water, love.

Before I’d resigned myself to not finding a way out through the projecting ledge of limestone cap rock, I’d taken a trail up a canyon that had a gap of 15 feet or so. Green grapevines hung like a curtain to one side of the trail, and, thanks to the amazing power of adrenaline, I pulled myself across that gap, grasping the hanging green strands. That’s where this haiku piece begins.

Grasping Grapevines

 

Perfect metaphor:

lost and clinging to grapevines,

grasping each handful,

 

moving swiftly through

the space high above the trees

where the trail ended,

 

onto other side

where the trail takes up again,

and still I am lost.

 

I will spend the night

huddled to the canyon wall,

deep muscles aching

 

from unknown places

where their existence lay hid

until this long night,

 

and above, the stars,

Milky Way moving across

the inky dark sky,

 

deep in West Texas

where the caprock canyons

hold me for the night.

 

The morning will bring

moving hallucinations,

bushes become lions,

 

burnt uprooted shrub,

my porcupine companion,

silent, unmoving.

 

But lost, I’ll have known

what it is I miss of home,

how much I am loved.

 

Images, beauty

of the star strewn and cold night,

supplanted by love.

 

 

Watching snowfall in the night

Not too long after my mother’s death, my dad remembered a night my mom had stood on the white carpet in the living room, looking out wide floor to ceiling windows at the snow falling gently in the backyard. He remembered the moment and her deeply drinking in the beauty with wonder.

 

My father rose in the night

— he tells the story with wonder —

and found my mother, standing

at the window, in the dark,

watching the snow fall.

 

“It’s so beautiful,” she said,

and he now repeats her words with gentleness

in appreciation of her drinking in

the beauty of white flakes

falling , falling, falling

through darkened skies.

 

 

Images from a Chinese poet

Reading poetry written more than a millennium before us, by a Chinese poet living quietly in the country, among pines and mossy rocks, beside a pond, sometimes meditating, sometimes rejoicing with friends, lamenting the losses of age with old friends, drinking wine, sometimes to excess, all serve to remind us how similar our private thoughts and responses are over time. Unlike reading about members of the same nation today, that bring out contrasts, these images, all conflated and rolling over one another in the mind, bring out the timelessness and similarity of private memory and experience of the changing states of mind of a long life. Po Chu I.

 

 

Like roiling golden fall leaves,

images formed from words

brushed onto neural pathways

by the brush of a Chinese poet

roll through my mind,

reflecting the sun,

flecks from a fragmented set of images:

 

green bamboo, a scattering of red winter leaves,

a still pond, a mossy monastery wall,

a half full jar of wine, memories of shared friendships,

former glory, trees planted only to share their blossoms.

 

Like an animated movie

whose bright frames of color remain

even when the story line has faded,

the poems of Po Chu I

bring forward smatterings of a reality more than ten centuries old,

recorded by a civil servant, a regional ruler really,

who alone had time to sit and ponder and reflect.

Beauty in motion

Static pictures hang not only on walls

but in our minds as well.

 

Believing the captured image,

isolated from wind and bending stems

supporting petals of red, orange, yellow,

represents the reality,

we never see that the seasons

bringing us bright flowers

also keep them in motion.

 

A video clip captured on a smart phone

reveals a different reality,

one in which entire blossoms

disappear off the edge of a tiny screen

then rapidly reappear,

cycling through irregular waves of wind,

whipping them about

in a much more erratic fashion

than waves on a shore.

 

The beauty of flowers in spring,

like the flowing line of a horse’s gait,

can be caught, isolated into individual frames,

each a portrait worthy of display,

but none by itself, reveals the true image of the thing,

the reality, as it appears in a field in springtime

or the third turn of a dirt track.

 

 

Blending with sand and weathered wood

May 30, 2002

Posted with note Sept. 22, 2014

Blending with sand and weathered wood

By Jeff Hensley

I’d read in a recent issue of Audobon that the seabirds that fly the migration route along the Eastern seaboard made a spectacular stopover here at the mouth of the Delaware where it empties into the Chesapeake’s waters. They come because these dinosaur, hard-shelled horseshoe crabs flock here by the tens of thousands, spreading the sand along the shore with their millions upon millions of eggs. And they were here: the WWII Nazi-helmeted crabs and the tens of thousands of shorebirds, the latter stuffing themselves for migrations that would take many of them as far as the Arctic. They needed the massive amounts of calories for the incredibly long flights they were about to make northward. It was a hedonistic riot of eating, with flights of first one variety of bird, then another — varieties I’d only glimpsed by ones and twos on Gulf beaches, now in flocks of a thousand or more — bright, beautiful birds, lie the ruddy turnstone — swinging in to swoop up this nascent abundance of prehistoric shellfish. For a birder, it was a thrill beyond thrill.

 

I shelter on the deck

of a wrecked wooden boat,

here where the Delaware River

empties into Chesapeake Bay.

 

Thousands of shorebirds

land and fly and land,

feasting on the eggs

of horseshoe crabs.

 

Sand has buried all but the deck

and a bit of the boat’s housing.

 

A cacophonous symphony

of bird noise

rings around me,

rising and falling,

as groups of one species,

then another,

move closer and past me.

 

And like that performed on

glued flats of formed wood,

 

strings of gut and horsehair

and tubes of brass and

tightly stretched skins,

 

I find that somewhat less than an hour of this

strains my capacity

to drink in these heavy

surging sounds.

It is enough,

 

enough to create

these remembered sensations for a lifetime.

Though the piece’s themes

are long forgotten.

 

The stars at night shine big and bright…

The stars at night shine big and bright…

 

Who owns the stars, owns all that is.

Nothing that has substance was ever first anything other than the dust of

stars.

 

Was never anything other than the seemingly insubstantial source of light

traveling to our eyes from distances only mathematically conceivable.

 

Even we — our bodies, but not our souls — are made of stardust.

 

As wondrous as that substance is, it holds not a candle

to that other insubstantial entity,

that part of us joined by bonds unbreakable

to the One who made the stars themselves,

 

The One who arranged all those subatomic structures

into this little ball of green and blue, of mountains, seas and grasses,

of forests and fishes and furry things, and gems and minerals,

 

of all things living and otherwise wondrous, as well as the depthless surrounding space.

 

And anyone who owns the stars owns all that is

 

and shares it with all the rest of us.

 

One Starmaker, One Father of us all.

 

 

Souls Sparked Bright too Young

As I start posting again after my most recent dust up with mortality, perhaps this little meditation on three friends who died at less than half my current age is appropriate. Who knows what each might have done with their lives. But they never had the chance. May they rest with God.

Souls Sparked Bright too Young

by Jeff Hensley

Whatever happened to Jerry?

 Never quite at ease

inside the skin on his back.

And he died so young.

And Jimmy…

He was a runner.

Denied the pain until dead.

Appendicitis.

And Johnny…

We walked him around

trying to sober him up.

Died before thirty.

 

Life can be too short

to even set directions,

much less make a mark.

 

Today is All Saints

and some as young as these

have been honored thus.

 

Bright stars shooting fast,

their paths bright, indelible.

Others simply fade.

 

Somewhere there’s a mark,

bright within their loved ones’ hearts

— and the mind of God.

 

I’m back

Sept. 2, 2014

I’m back.I notice my last post was on May 21, about 3 months and a dozen days ago. Two days after that posting about roseate spoonbills at High Island on the Texas Gulf Coast, I went into the hospital with intense pain in my gut, which turned out to be the result of a rare disease called xanthamatosis. My body creates triglycerides out all sources of fat and other things that turn to fat in the body, due to a quirk of metabolism. The pain was the result of bloated fat cells slowing down the movement of food through my small intestine, which proceeded to twist up on itself like a kinked hose. The actions of an unselfish and highly skilled surgeon, Peter Rutledge, in the wee hours of the next morning saved either my life or the pain of living with a colostomy bag. As it was, because of his quick action to relieve my intense pain, I lost “only” five and a half feet of my 11 feet of small intestine, leaving me enough processing power to live a normal life — though I do get very hungry at intervals of two or three hours.

So, praise God, for his healing power and great thanks to a noble doctor who took a surgical time around 2 a.m. on a Saturday, rather than a time the next afternoon that might not have yielded such good results, and to my many friends and family who were praying for me to pull through and that the surgeon would act wisely and with skill. I’m here; I’m well; and I’m using a lot less fat and starch in my diet in order to stay out of hospitals, so I can retain what is left of my intestines.