2013 Vermont and Kansas 145I am sitting in a house amid

plowed fields I know as well

as any place I’ve ever been. I have driven

the Wellman Road in winter, walked

the quarter mile north to the old house where ghosts

of hens and cattle haunt the decaying barn. The land

around here is old, more ancient than glaciers that rose

over relict seas; its people old.

They dip their spoons into gravy that drips

onto mashed potatoes and turkey and sage-flavored

dressing, slowly carry laden plates to a place at the table,

festively lit with gold candles, eat without talking,

embrace their new babies

with something like surprise.

PaperArtist_2014-09-08_19-53-06_resizedMarks of the change of season: the annual autumnal equinox;

Orion and the dog star Sirius, rising in the east just after midnight,

trapping Scorpius like a fox on the run.

A day’s clouds dress

in richer apparel for fall. Dark grays, clearer whites,

and the maples you planted, knowing their flare for drama,

wear sequined gowns of red and orange

for the last dance before the winter snows.


October tempts us to think we’ve seen it all. But the world

is too big to apprehend in a single glance. Only grace matters,

the lucky chance. Dawn races in, later than usual.

Wind from the west is tearing leaves from every tree,

and the leaves are great butterflies streaming,

as in a migration, toward the sun.

IMG_0490On Coleman Hills Road I step back in time. Lichened rock walls

from the 18th century bisect hayfields where a lone farmer mows.

Long-rusted barbed wire weaves a shawl on warps of weathered fencing,

and ancient apple trees drop their red and gold trove into dense grass.

Two old chairs in a side yard wait for someone to sit down in the quiet,

and a doe bounds across the gravel road, melts into a hide deep

in timber. Tonight in sleep I will remember how you slowed

the car, looking out for a fawn or more than one,

and then drove on up the hill toward the red barn and home.

Sky from Porch 005We wait for the swallows to hatch, a clutch warmed

by the small bird in midnight blue headdress, lightning on the wing.

We wait for the perfect storm. Grasses lie parched

around the garden beds, and wildflowers won’t sprout.

Storm clouds promise much, but race clear through

on wings of dry wind ahead of nightfall. At our age

we wait for the mystery of the last page in the book.


If there is grace in waiting it is this:

in this wild and quiet country is space enough for the long view,

room enough for a good long look at your dear face, hours

in which nothing much happens at all. We pause,

as if we’ve cornered all the time in the world.

IMG_0415I stand within a deeply carved Rouault woodcut

framed at the edge of the habitable world. Ghosts

of saints Columba and Patrick tread here among sheep

and the new lambs. Arms of the sea cradle Ardionra Croft,

tamed over centuries by the same farm family. The house

of stone and thatch rests upon beds of ancient

basalt, serpentine and Iona’s own creamy marble veined

with pale or dark green. Stilts and jackdaws rove

among the sheep grazing on the machair. Farther out

the ferry churns its hourly rounds over the marine blue sound.

Like others who walk here I have come to find something.

If I’m lucky I will know it when I see it. If I’m quiet

I hear the sea’s soft lap on the marbled bay. I wait

seated on the stiff grass, rest my back against a basalt wall, rest

the bird book in my open lap. A wheatear pecks boldly nearby.


On the road back to the Abbey

a wedding party led by a piper in his dress Mackinnon kilt

walks to a Celtic lilt: the bride, her father,

her women friends in pancake hats with feathers.

Sea breezes gently lift her hair and ripple the satin

streamers of her bouquet. In the Abbey

she will take her vows to cherish the island boy

who waits with trembling hands for her at the marble altar, wanting

and not wanting the instant when she and the air and the shafts of sun

gleam in the open door and she wafts down the aisle

like the censer’s smoky perfume. In the ancient way

they will craft rooms of stone and thatch, their own croft with lambs.

It is a perfect day for making promises. On this machair, this isle,

theirs will be the fire that never dies away.

IMG_0359“Nothing is exempt from resurrection.”—Kay Ryan


At the beginning were three, and three

at the end, thirty years or more after

the scene at the inn.


Three from afar, drawn by starlight,

bore precious perfumes and gold

to the site of a birth, a promise

of Paradise. Obedience to signs in a dream

to return a different way, to shield

the child from harm for a time.


Years after, three women of Galilee

walked at sunrise to a tomb,

bore spices and oils to tend the spent

body of their friend

amid the silence of the dead.

Imagine their fear.


The heavy stone out of place.

(They themselves had seen the seal.)

And inside, the voice, the face

as in a dream, the warning

that no body was there. The brutal

execution suddenly all too real.

Flight their only choice,

no paradise there.


The end, the beginning. So curious,

parallel mysteries, a riddle, shrouded

in myrrh and linen, carried

on the wings of a dove.

Hands Holding Seedling, image by adams, courtesy of freedigitalimages.net

Hands Holding Seedling, by adamr/Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Gather everything up:

the tiller and plow; the handfuls

of seeds in an apron pocket.

Hoe until every clod is broken and fine.

Fill every corner with herbs, basil and feathers

of dill, Romanesco turrets, the clarifying sage;

set out tomatoes. Let them

bathe in the garden’s spot of sun,

or in the showers that soon will come;

wait for their fierce thrust toward air.

Everything that was made started with dust,

earth’s and all the stars’—remnants

of a provenance too beautiful

to understand. Only trust

the wisdom of the seeds.

IMG_0387The plane was called Wings of the Morning.

It used fuel to be found only in Uganda.

It was tiny, like a toy, but one said nothing of this

to the pilot, who was the son

of the bishop in Kamina. Wings of the Morning

took its name from a psalm,

guarding us with a promise from an ancient past.


We rode low. Over tails of dust from trucks

on the one northbound road. Above towns made of thatch.

Farmers hoeing their ground, quilts of cantaloupe and cassava,

patches small enough to be planted by hand.

Looking up at our passing. Our course

took us over a tree lined river, crisscrossing

the heart of this part of Congo, unseen

by the farmers though they knew it was there,

but from the air heavy, slow moving, twisting like a boa.

A congregation at the airstrip

prayed and sang in Ki-Swahili, and smiled at us.


Their prayers carried us back through calm air.

Long afterward, in my room in the Congo night

or home, at last, I could hear their sounds,

familiar and clear as psalms; as impenetrable and divine

as the river’s oily strand.


Ki-Luba mask, found at Lubumbashi, DRC, July 2006 (Photo: Linda Beher)

ID-100176172 StarBurst Background SamiublueThe urban inn, unexpected grittiness.

Their exchange of unbelieving

glances, dawning recognition.

Treasures offered,

carried a long way. Calculation of a cost

of the less-traveled road.

Obedience to dreams

as ephemeral as stars. Years to absorb

the import, all-night discussions

at every oasis. Back home

any drift of wood smoke

sharp as incense

would remind them of the allure:

the rough loft,

the mother’s small-town eyes,

her child’s high cry.


Image by Samuiblue, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Delete 009They give up their burden of ice

needle by needle. We see them lift their limbs

with the caution of the very old.

The mountain hides its face behind a veil

of light rain, turning from the dimming light

to something more.

Our needs are small but bold in this darkest hour:

if the trees let go, so can we. Give ourselves away

to the wild and perfect night.


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