“By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept as we remembered Zion”
Down the little White Salmon, a body of fog exactly wide
as the river is floating.
Crows on both sides cawing to each other
choking and gargling the language of crows.
In my right hand a little wind circumambulates five swollen hillocks of knuckle bone
where fires have been built.
That’s how I feel it.
That’s how I know the sky has come down to the riverbed
where white egrets are murmuring,
and their murmuring is a twin to the sound of currents.
I am only a white man walking by a green river in a modest fog.
If there is meaning here, I leave it to debating crows
but my left hand, the color of wonder bread, is open
offering a flow of air across the palm and back to sky.
The One without a name who takes the shape of water and of air
is also present in fire.
The name of Jesus is still powerful, even after 2000 years of depletion by religion and politics. Those who find themselves in the deepest possible need can shelter there and find themselves held in his arms. When we feel we can’t be any more alone, God may come to us as that Aloneness which answers to the name of Jesus.
I have worked twenty years in a paint store, gotten old there, by the measurement of the young. Once I found a sparrow dead behind stacked gallons of white semi-gloss. The little thing was dried up, its beak open wide, begging for water or air. When I found it I got angry with God. I looked at that sparrow and imagined it crying out to be saved but its voice was not heard. It died alone behind a rack of paint. Part of my anger was because I had tried and failed to save the bird myself. Found it flying around the store, door left open by a careless customer but I couldn’t catch it without breaking a wing so finally gave up and let it find its own way.
But then I recalled how so many facing death, unable to do more for themselves, just surrender. I saw that with our last cat. He was ready to go. Came in one night in October, said his good-byes, walked into the woods and didn’t come back. Then there was our little squirrel, rescued as a baby and raised back to life. A few times I saw him playing with the dog. He literally climbed into the dog’s mouth and relaxed there, lying down completely across his jaws! You don’t believe that but it’s true. At that moment I believed he was practicing for his death in the jaws of some cat or coyote. Maybe that sparrow also found himself in the arms of Jesus Christ.
I feel that name always as a blow to my heart and when I saw it in your article, I was reminded. You did good work, my friend, when you brought that name to life for those with eyes to read.
“I hear the surface of the river say, Go deeper.”
Before the stubble is knocked down, gathered
into piles for burning
I walk alone through dry rattling corn to make a hollow
in the center of the field.
When I believe I can’t be seen by passing farmers
I pull stalks up by the root
and lay them down in a circle as spokes of a wheel.
Then I dance inside this circle I have made
moving the way the moon moves around our earth.
In the next field they are already burning.
North, South, East and West, flames
in all directions, the cries of hawks flying into
and out of smoke.
It does not take long to make an opening in the earth
to go down into her
and because I am a man who loves the sound of his own voice,
Every moment I am alive, I am enamored with my self.
I go down into the earth and I come out teeming with prayer.
The body is a boat of leaves
always leaving this world behind
where blind men fight with shadows,
the left hand feeling in the dark
for the right.
Come from behind this wall of words
surprised to find the wall still standing
and slip into the Wind.
The body is a boat of leaves
but we are taken by our chosen river
as oak trees uprooted in a flood
stripped bare of private love and memory.
Compose your mind as you are able and be ready
to abandon face and finger prints. Leave them behind for crows
and river gulls.
These are only thoughts as I paddle under the Wind River bridge
and the blowing railroad trestle into the Columbia.
Eagle Creek Fire 2017 near Cascade Locks, Oregon. Photo by Carol Hopkins
“This is the village of the dead.”
All around us people are setting themselves on fire.
Some for what they think is love
but is nothing but meat fried in yesterday’s lard.
Some for money or to hear their own names carried up in a wind,
as an offering to the God who has no
Every human being is naked.
We see ourselves in mirrors and we always look away.
Only when shame stands up inside us erect as fire
do we know we are burning,
do we see the sky is on fire and every breath of air we take
Compassion sometimes means,
“Let them burn.”
for Tracy Park
I took my poems to a pool
And stepped with them into the water:
Into chaos and division,
Into harmony and completion.
When I stepped out the ink had washed away
And I had this fish in my pocket!
This is a poem I wrote in 1972 and forgot about. I must have given it to my old friend Tracy Park of Houston, Texas. Today we met again on facebook after all these years and he still had the poem. Amazing. Thanks, Tracy.
for Tim Britton
Not content just to kill,
the mountain lion north of Carson in the Gifford Pinchot Forest
takes a doe with a broken leg,
drags her by the left hind hoof into a fir tree
and leaves her there to cool a while.
Last night I dreamed I was painting a house the color of an apricot.
Ladder raised twenty feet, set into soft ground.
A dream ladder made of wood left out in rain for 20 years.
The grain split and slick with mold.
When I look up, my father is standing on the roof ridge
dressed in golfing clothes of the 1970’s
twenty years younger than I am now.
Lime green slacks held up with a woven belt.
Red nylon shirt, yellow spiked golf shoes, hat the color of a lemon
that matches the shoes.
Now he is back on the ground, looking very concerned for my safety.
Holding the ladder, my father is asking me without words
not to climb it
but I say I am ready now as ever will be.