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.

You felt; I felt

Sometimes it’s silly little things; thoughtful things done unthinkingly and unselfishly that tell us, unmistakably that we’re loved unconditionally. This is one of those things.

 

We’d not run out of bottled water

— liquid refreshment I fear running out of –

but without checking, you panicked,

ran to the store close to bedtime,

picked me up a two-day supply.

 

And you called me to tell me,

also telling me you hadn’t checked

to see if we’d really run out.

 

I knew we had a few days’ supply,

but was very grateful nonetheless.

 

You told me you felt a little bit foolish,

but I felt a whole lot loved.

 

 

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.”

 

 

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.

Jane Kenyon lives

We all have favorite authors and poets. Though their words have a life of their own, there is a finiteness to their lives and their productivity. Too many of my favorites have passed beyond us, and I know too much of their lives — enough to suffer each time I read in their biographies of their passing.

 

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.

 

 

This will be my last post for a short time, the Lord willing. I go into the hospital Friday morning early for the insertion of a plastic mesh under the muscles either side of my abdomen to seal an opening gap or three down the midline of my body where I had another surgery in May of last year. The mesh has been used successfully in this kind of surgery for the past 25 years by this excellent abdominal surgeon, and he quotes a 95 percent success rate for the surgery. I intend to join the other 95 percent for whom this has gone well, again, God willing. It’s projected I will only be in the hospital two or three days and will be back at work in two weeks after the surgery. If all that holds true, I’ll likely be back posting poetry in a week or so. Please pray for me. Jeff

 

 

Risking all on beauty

I remember the walk through the water-starved landscape of Wichita National Wildlife Refuge and seeing these two single blossoms. A lesson for us? Do some of the projects we engage in involve such risks? Are there relationships or works of our lives worthy of the same risk, that we might leave our mark of love in the life of another person — in a work of art?

 

One lone red flower,

sole bloom on a wandering vine,

there beside the creek.

 

A bit further on

blue, violet, and lilac

in a single bloom,

 

one morning glory,

the meandering vine’s sole

and brilliant blossom,

 

drought forcing these plants

to funnel all their energy

into examples

 

of their finest work,

gambling scarce resources

in the hope that seeds

 

might carry forward

unique characteristics

in one set of genes.

 

 

Baby steps

At the wedding reception of one of the sons of two of our closest friends, I had the privilege of holding the first grandchild of another of our closest friends, waltzing him around the reception hall, showing him the sights of the room, giving his mom a break, and, in the process, having the time of my life.

 

I hold a baby,

give my friends’ daughter a break

as I cruise the hall,

 

showing him people,

decorated wedding cake,

another baby.

 

Keeping tears at bay

by varying sights and sounds,

treating his young eyes

 

to this wedding feast

of men, women, and children

celebrating life.

 

Young Caleb and I,

performing this dance of love,

moving, mingling

 

with Christ’s body here

in varied and wondrous forms,

love making water wine.