We see faces; we hear voices

We see a face in the shining visage of the full moon.

It’s not so much a matter of there being a fully developed

set of facial features on its surface to perceive

as it is that we, looking for facial features, find them.

 

It’s what we’ve been doing all our lives.

 

When our parents first held us,

we looked into their eyes;

we recognized features there,

though we had no names for them:

eyes, a nose, a mouth,

set in a roundish, oval.

 

And from that point on,

when we heard a voice or recognized

the form of a human, we looked for that

indicator of their intent,

that source of love and approval

and nurturing

— the face.

 

Many times, I’ve noticed,

especially when my mind is tired,

that staring into seemingly random patterns on walls

on floors, even ceilings, that my brain will form those patterns into faces.

Bearded and bewigged ones, angelic ones;

too many Lincolns, Washingtons, and cherubs to count.

 

But it all links back, ultimately to those first experiences,

when being lifted from crib or cradle, we came quickly to realize

that the best indicator that we were loved

was a smiling, cooing face, searching our own

for signs of a response.

 

I think that’s why the craters and shadows

we perceive on our friendly sallow-faced satellite

most often seem to be smiling back at us.

 

*******

 

Western outdoors adventure writer Craig Childs

tells of an experience deep in a slot canyon

leading into the main basin of the Grand Canyon.

 

He had been wandering interconnected canyons for days,

isolated from human companionship,

when he heard voices ahead, hidden in the folds of the rock.

 

He definitely was drawing closer

and the voices became clearer as he approached.

He could almost make out the words of their

boisterous conversation,

 

He was about to shout a greeting

when he turned a bend and found water flowing over rocks.

 

Like faces from the visual,

we seek to make human conversation

from the auditory.

 

It’s almost enough evidence to make you think

we are deeply, to the core of our souls,

engineered for connection to each other,

to the giving and receiving of love and attention

and mutual validation through our interactions.

 

Perhaps we are all bits of the Trinity,

longing for the give and take of connectedness.

 

Bits of the Trinity longing to share the give and take

of life and love with humanity,

even if we have to create them ourselves.

The purple flash

It’s literally impossible to describe a moment of ecstasy and being swept up into that “at one with the universe” feeling that I experienced yesterday near sunset on the Trinity River. It’s impossible because it has to be experienced. That said, here’s part of what I experienced, set down in words.

 

There’s a phenomenon

that occurs when the sun sets

into the ocean, as you gaze west,

from the level of the water’s surface.

 

It happens in an instant.

For just a second, the light is refracted

and the orange glow of the sun turns green,

thus the name it’s been given:

the green flash.

 

Yesterday I took an outlandishly long walk

from my house to the sturdy wooden benches

set on limestone slabs where a channelized creek

flows into the Trinity River.

 

By the time I arrived,

the sun was moving toward the horizon.

A great blue heron and a great egret

fished the waters below me in the river.

Barn swallows swept past me from the far bank of the creek,

off to one side of the point of the triangle of land high above the river

where I sat in the shade of a hackberry,

its branches on either side me, providing cool shade

and moving gently side to side.

 

I was swept up into a pattern of blessedness,

subsumed into the breeze, the birdsong,

the sight of starlings playing in the river below

and mallards and blue-winged teal dabbling nearby,

when the number of birds in flight nearby seemed to double

and a pair of mallards swept by me,

flying right past the point, just above eye level.

As they did the bright green of the two breeding-plumaged males’ heads

flashed, for only a moment to bright metallic purple,

a slight difference in the refraction patterns of the light:

the purple flash.

Paired: Halved

As some have put it, it’s a day we both know is coming. Each husband and wife know it’s a moment on the horizon. But because it’s so frightening, we seldom if ever speak of it, except to make financial arrangements or deal with it through legal documents. Even poets seem to  avoid the unanticipated aspects of the loss of a spouse. it’s simply too painful.

 

It’s a subject often approached by poets,

those who are married or otherwise paired

in at least a semi-permanent bond.

 

But it’s an approach a bit like

an aborted approach to an airport…

“Yes, folks, that was a close call….”

 

Yes, there’s an allusion to one of you

going on alone,

and an admission of a glancing nod

toward the empty spot

beside the one who continues.

 

But there’s no acknowledgment

that for many of us half of the self

is no longer there.

 

Family memories, jokes, shared experiences;

knowledge of your glaring faults

and fumbling attempts at reconciliation;

your glowing moments of triumph;

your overcoming of dark failures

that could have demolished you;

the love you shared – and gave away –

that was deeper than life itself.

 

On and on it goes, as part of you, perhaps half,

or simply, and literally, the better half of you is gone.

 

You won’t just be missing the one who is gone,

but the best sides of your self, as well,

the ones that remain invisible to you

because they’re only seen by those

closest to you, yet outside of you.

 

 

 

Place your bets; place your bets

One guesses there is a breaking point for every non-believer, a point at which betting with the House makes more sense than betting against it. Here’s a probing try at finding where that point lies for someone who sits in the dark contemplating the Light.

 

No atheists on take off or landing.

Foxholes, of course, everyone knows about that one.

What about those swinging seats

when the Ferris wheel stalls?

Bet there are none there.

Skydivers — none.

Scuba divers low on air, too far from the surface — none.

 

So what does it take

to get you to take Pascal’s gamble?

A chute that won’t open?

Or simply the realization

that every beating heart

eventually

stops.

The crunch generation rodeo

The plight of millions who are raising families while taking care of aging parents has created a genuine crunch generation who must fight to stay in the saddle — a form of stasis — never really winning or losing, just staying afloat, bearing in mind that all such binds are time limited. They can’t last forever. Thank God!

 

Her hand must be wired

into the reins

in violation of all

sound rodeo rules,

and she rides astride

not one, but two

unruly mounts.

 

One threatens death,

collapse beneath her,

despite best efforts

to keep her moving,

head up in the chute.

 

The other writhes, jumps,

bucks, and climbs the walls,

heedless of calming words,

maternal clucking noises

and admonitions to calm.

 

But the chute gate never opens;

the rider tires, but perseveres,

and the announcer

seems to be reading

the 23rd Psalm

in the booming, amplified,

twangy, West Texas voice

so typical of rodeo announcers.

 

Will the buzzer razz,

signaling the end of the ride,

or will this noble cowgirl

get thrown under one ride

or the other.

 

Maybe that’s what

the announcer means

by that “shadow of death” line.

 

Maybe that’s the promise

of that last phrase —

“And I will dwell in the House of the Lord, forever.”

 

 

Small coppery snake — but powerful

Though ultimately destined to be crushed under the foot of a fearless, virtue-filled woman, like spiders, these creatures, all wiggly and limbless, exercise an amazing power to create backwards movement among most of the females I’m acquainted with — though of course, not all…

 

The tiny snake

moved rapidly

within the palm of my hand,

his constant, rapid motion

making “writhing”

seem an inadequate verb.

 

The school’s assistant

who had pointed him out

jumped back reflexively

when I rose from

scooping the tiny reptile

into my palm.

 

But the uniformed school girls

in their blue and green plaid

outfits moved closer

for a look

before replicating

the same leaping backstep,

so typical

since that first

historic encounter.

 

Brashly crashing

If I’ve learned anything about anger, it’s that expressing it to people without restraint, whether they’re people I love or people I only have functional dealings with — like folks at the post office — there is almost always a huge downside that renders that action harmful. Often it even requires apologies, requests for forgiveness. So my bottom line is usually that such anger is without value; does no good at all, in fact does harm. But nonetheless anger happens. What follows is about rhyme and internal rhyme and noise. Noise significant of nothing.

 

I crash and clang about.

I brashly bang,

my armor dinged.

 

I all but shout,

but keep it all within,

corrosive acids race without

a chance of release, but doubt

that spewing all this pressure out

 

would release me from the pain,

my unfocused anger and my pout,

would then produce these flaring spouts

like oil wells flaming out.

 

 

The FOS

We all enter into the Fellowship of Suffering from time to time. Some of us stay there for extended periods. Some seem never to emerge. But the Son of Man came to bring us permanently from the FOS into the light of his Father’s love. The rest of us are meant to assure that no one, even those who seem never to leave its clutches, feels they are unloved, that no one cares — about them.

 

The Fellowship of Suffering,

it occurs to me,

has a large membership.

 

Those shouldering the cross

of extraordinary burdens:

children with mortally threatening diseases

or facing addictions

and launch delays,

in their 20s

—   and even 30s and 40s.

 

Fatal diagnoses

and parents with Alzheimer’s,

aphasia, fatal tumors —

the list goes on.

 

Gloomy isn’t it?

But all of reality,

it’s not.

 

And part of the secret

to finding a smile

that’s not a grimace

is discovering,

just as we’ve been promised,

we don’t walk alone.

 

The sun shines on rainy days,

and storms also water the soul

as well as washing away the riverbanks,

sometimes, the very ground

on which we stand.

 

Jesus and Others

stand with us.

And sometimes

even plunge

into the flood

—   and save us.