My Lady of the Ozarks in the flesh

Truly Jesus walks with the poor, and this dear woman was as poor as they come. More than 40 years later I still remember her beatific presence, her warm smile, her peaceful countenance. None of that could be explained in human terms. Nothing in her life could explain it. Only the presence of God in her heart in a special way.

 

She was poor, holy,

My Lady of the Ozarks.

She’d been married to

 

an alcoholic

for at least 20 long years.

But there was no sign

 

of excessive wear.

She bore no lined countenance,

in fact no wrinkles

 

desecrated her

beautiful, smooth-skinned face.

A true hill person.

 

I’ve become certain,

looking back across the years,

one explanation

 

alone can explain

the glow that lit her bright face

each day she performed

 

her chores within

the walls of her small frame house

set back in the hills

 

with its newsprint

wallpapered walls, its cookstove

burning wood he cut,

 

gathering berries

as each came into season,

tending her garden.

 

Only her focus

on love from the living God,

only focus on

 

a God who loved and

walked alongside her each day

could explain her glow.

 

Ozark hill woman.

My Lady of the Ozarks.

Jesus her companion.

 

 

And the clown hands you a flower

There’s always a point at which the only sensible thing to do is to send in the clowns. But you begin to worry that it might be you with the seltzer bottle.

 

My old red Camry

only draws a crowd one place

— my car repair shop.

 

The odometer

is well into its second

time through the numbers.

 

So when I fetched it

after a big repair job

— a new compressor

 

so the AC worked,

a new window crank handle,

and bending the frame

 

of the driver’s door

so the window would seal tight —

at a time dealers

 

weren’t charging interest,

practically begging people

to take their new cars,

 

everyone came out

— the mechanics, their helpers,

everybody

 

who works at the place

had to see what kind of guy

fixes an old car,

 

keeps it on the road

at a time when brand new cars

are practically free.

 

I could read their smiles.

They were all quite transparent.

If I’d only had

 

a seltzer bottle,

a big bright orange fright wig,

enormous black shoes,

 

then the picture

would have been complete

— the clown and his crowd.

*******

But please keep in mind

this is the same small garage

where I brought a woman

 

with bad car problems,

a lady in a wheelchair.

They fixed her car.

 

She had brought the part,

and they installed it for free,

not letting me pay,

 

though I offered to.

I’ve never experienced

generosity

 

offered to strangers,

unsolicited giving,

from an auto shop.

 

No clowning around,

just guys who work with their hands

and offer their hearts.

 

 

The bas relief face is gone

I often think we need a half-sized Statue of Liberty at DFW Airport. Every nation on earth is represented here. Tribes from Africa, representing all the nations there, Burma or Myanmar, Honduras, Vietnam, Switzerland, Great Britain, and Indonesia. My wife and brother-in-law teach ESL, and just at Christmas, I heard there are now Malaysians in his class — a new country represented in the mix. But many have crossed from our southern borders, as did the fry cook described below, no doubt, his features straight from an Aztec temple frieze.

 

The Aztec-profiled,

chicken dipping, deep-fry cook

finally moved on.

 

When I’m at Popeye’s

I’ll miss his stone-chiseled looks,

features depicted

 

in old Mexico,

carved into the temple walls

— minus the ball cap.

 

 

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.

 

 

Royal flush — spades!

My friend lives in L’Arche

in communion with Downs folks.

I couldn’t do that,

 

so I admire her,

the strength of her commitment

to Gospel values.

 

To me, it’s as though

she’s enfleshed the Gospel words,

laid down her one life

 

for sake of others.

It’s as though, playing poker,

the rest of us bluffed.

 

 

Gussie’s love

Gussie’s love

Sister Gussie’s gone.

Opinionated, loving,

saintly Gussie’s gone.

 

Crowding at the gate

waiting for her arrival

were those she had helped.

 

Must have been a lot

of the young and the old there

eager to greet her.

 

Since she was ninety,

those of us who remain here

cannot fool ourselves.

 

We grieve not for her,

knowing she is dancing now,

out beyond the stars.

 

 

Along a rutted Ozark woodland road

Feb. 18, 2003

Along a rutted Ozark woodland road

The woods, foggy, deep,

yielded the long-maned horses

moving beside me.

 

The horses transformed.

Barking huskies replaced them.

Loud, threatening dogs.

 

It seems a dream now,

but then it had such substance.

Fog, then hooves, then paws.

 

The sound of his voice

stilled the pack, parted the herd.

I emerged from car.

 

My quest had ended.

The woodcarver owned the voice,

and I had found him.

 

He greeted me there

beside airy, windowed house

he had built himself.

 

Inside buffalo,

coyotes, and wolves on shelves,

the work of his hands.

 

Buffalo he’d carved

he rolled on his palms, showing

its rounded belly.

 

Collector had sent

it back to him for trimming,

asked him to slim it.

 

Work never finished,

constant tinkering and striving

for some perfection

 

that always eludes,

always just beyond our reach,

like spring’s first firefly.

 

I found the woodcarver from a description of where he lived in an article on him in National Geographic. His talent had been nurtured during the Great Depression by Clara Muxton, the founder of what became the Ozark Native Craft Association,  with which Susan and I worked in 1971.

Morning walk, Honduran village

January 3, 2009

Morning walk, Honduran village

 

Hand carved wooden yokes

adorn the broad, muscled necks

of tan oxen pairs

 

plowing the cornfields

that surround red-tile roofed homes

of small villages

 

with houses linked

wall to wall, lining

narrow, unpaved streets

 

where dogs, pigs, horses

and barefoot small children

share the tight space

 

with oxen duos

on their way out to plow

as my friend and I

 

press ourselves against

the wall so they can pass,

heading for their fields.

 

Three-quarter sized horses

carrying round bundles of

smallish round firewood

 

also share our space

as the two of us enjoy

the bright fall morning.