“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
Crows on opposite sides cawing at each other,
choking and gargling in 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 when the sky has come down to the riverbed
where white egrets are murmuring.
The sound of 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.
My left hand, the color of wonder bread, remains open,
offering a flow of air across the palm, 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 do good work, my friend, when you bring 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
We are always leaving this world behind
where blind men fight with shadows,
the left hand feeling in the dark
for the right.
We come from behind a wall of words
surprised to find the wall still standing
and slip into the Wind.
The body is a boat of leaves.
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 the crows
and the 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 love that 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.
“Let us cross the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
last words of Stonewall Jackson
The moon has always been a major symbol for me, as long as I can remember. In the play, Our Town, which we read in junior high, there are references to the moon being “terrible”. That made an impact on my mind I have never forgotten
and is one of the ways I have experienced the moon, the fierceness of its light.
A second way is seeing the moon in the upper branches of a tree, as if it is a silver crown. Third way is seeing the moon in daylight, like a white petal torn from a white rose. Fourth is the new moon, just a sliver, like a clipped fingernail.
But last night I saw nothing at all, except maybe a smudge of light inside heavy rain.
It is hard to believe there was a time when we were young enough to think
all issues would be resolved one day, everything revealed and understood, even why the creation came into being. Revealed and understood not by scriptures or science, or the revelations of others but through our own experience.
Now I look forward to evening time, my cup of tea, a time of day so quiet you can hear a sparrow beating its wings, or a rabbit small as a rat nibbling some blade of grass. These small things are precious to me now as I imagined far grander revelations would be.
Let the little become the big and the big be shouldered by someone else. Now I know that where there is a gathering of power, there is also corruption. The man who knows he is without power is a man on the verge of being free from its imaginary gifts.
I have never been anything but a shell
a curvature through which the ocean can be heard.
I am the hollow reed.
It is you who blows breath through me
The choice is always yours.
9 NOVEMBER, 2016 written by Carol Hopkins
The birds outside my window don’t realize Donald Trump
is their President.
They peck for seed placed on concrete walls
that enclose our friend’s porch.
They are oblivious to the walls of this world
and satisfied, even without health insurance.
Millions of dollars have been spent here on houses with a view of the Columbia.
The bluejay having eaten his fill
is lifted by his own wings into hundred foot fir trees.
For him the view is free.