No matter what other advice the writing sages offer, they always offer this one piece: If you want to write a lot of good writing, you need to read a lot of good writing. And so it is. One person’s take on the events of their life is often the spur to see your own life experience differently — or even at all.


Poetry is useless to me,

a silent GPS for a blind man,

a tire tool in a canoe.


Then I open my Billy Collins,

read a couple of poems,

and suddenly poetry is

water to a man dying of thirst;

a breeze for a becalmed sailor;

salt and pepper for an unseasoned steak.



I am a poetic foot.

I am trochaic.



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



“Sir, could you come back when you’re a little more prepared?” “Next.”

Though the title isn’t an exact set of quotes, I have had the experience of going before an open mike with an audience of 20 or so and not being able to quite make liquid flowing speech out of haiku written in a notebook. So basically this is true.


If I tried to read

any of these poems now,

before transcription,


I’d sound like a fool,

struggling to read my own words

scribbled in this book.


I always find

I’m computer dependent,

an illiterate


until my own words,

my own jottings, good or bad,

are print on a page.



A fog of gold rolling down the street

Sometimes you encounter something beautiful that you have to describe because of its uniqueness. But even though what you see is simple, it becomes something you can visualize better if described in a number of different ways. That’s what the following five haiku express: five views of sunlight catching beech leaves rolling down the street.


Sunshine catches fire

in the roiling ball of gold

beech leaves in the street.


Flying gold beech leaves,

rolling just above the street.

Evidence of fall.


Like a gold roller

this roiling beech leaf mass

floats above the street.


Fall wind lifts the leaves

it just stripped from the beech trees.

Gold drifts in the street.


Like blown golden snow

drifting beech leaves roll above

the suburban street.




Flying wonders propelled by words

Polish Nobel laureate in poetry Czeslaw Milosz can write in a way that lifts your mind and spirits and sets them twirling. The words have an almost physical effect that seems to set off  sparks in the synapses. It happens when the poet combines words that make sense in the mind, in a nearly comprehensible way, but not particularly in the brain. This world renowned poet’s works sometimes give my brain that buzz.


Some writers skim, fly,

pirouette and dance upon

the crests of their words.


Nobel laureate

Czeslaw Milosz is one such.

I read in wonder,


and my mind takes flight

as it dances in his wake,

words become music.



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.




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.

Great blue heron and belted kingfisher on snowy creek in winter

Here are nine takes on the same five seconds along a snowy creek bed. If you’ve read multiple versions of poetry translations (sometimes by the same translator and sometimes by multiple translators), it feels a bit like this. After a time, you imagine they cannot have been working from the same set of words. Here, the amazement comes in thinking that each of these is, in its way, an accurate rendition of five seconds of action. And we wonder why people’s renditions of the same events, witnessed by each of them, differ so substantially. It’s no real wonder at all. Reality is wonderfully complex.

By the way, today will be our third 90 degree plus day in May here in Fort Worth (and it’s only May 5). Hot even for us, so a bit of snow remembered, is a pleasant thought all by itself. Add in birds, and it’s better, of course, but — aaaahhh, coolness.

Jeff Hensley


Belted kingfisher

sprays creek bed with his chatter.

Heron lifts from snow.


Great blue heron flies

from his spot on snowy bank;

kingfisher swoops past.


Kingfisher ratchets

past snowy bank as heron

lifts his wings, takes flight.


As kingfisher passes,

snowy bank pushes heron

aloft to warm feet.


Kingfisher’s flight path,

a straight but slow arrow, flung

past great blue heron.


Two flight paths converge:

as heron lifts from snow bank,

kingfisher passes.


In a snowy wood

flight of belted kingfisher

sends heron aloft.


Machine gun chatter

and kingfisher’s straight line of flight;

heron’s graceful wings.


Gracefully heron

lifts its great blue wings and flies.

Kingfisher passes.



Author! Author!

Doesn’t get much shorter than this, but notice how it demonstrates the way poetry can use only a few words — in this case 63, title included — to tell the reader a great deal. It’s a little hymn of praise to the Creator who gave us emotions to be able to have life to the fullest extent, and his example to make it worthwhile.

It’s Lent, so the alleluias here are reported in commentary and not in actual voiced praise, passing, I would think, any armed liturgist’s, most stringent tests of such things.



Author! Author!

Author of laughter,

Creator of belly laugh

and wry good humor.


Salter of the Earth

with tears that purify us,

cleanse our emotions.


Giver of the gift

of ultimate commitment,

giving us your life.


You alone are God,

worthy of our highest praise,

the gift of our lives.


May Alleluias

flow from our lives evermore

— hearts and acts and all.