Today, in a gurgling stream
tinted with shades of hemlock and poplar,
I encountered namelessness.

Desiring a knowing
that is not mine to claim,
I filtered through descriptors, labels,
associations, theories
of why things are,
meanings and themes.

In response, the brook
became itself, a fountain of essence,
and the hemlock fervently
grew more greenly evergreen.

A pebble, part submerged,
I settled into the stream bed,
fronds of hemlock and a passing minnow
in the flow,
seeking to learn
the nothingness of a name.

“I Believe”

He knelt on the cold concrete of his cell
as a chorus of coughs and curses,
the prisoners’ psalm to darkness,
began to decrescendo after midnight.
Out of the depths of his own lungs
he felt a tremor, a tectonic shift,
a guttural, diaphragmatic contraction,
the stirrings of a call and response
from breath to the clay of his wracked body,
bent like hot iron in the furnace of shame;
his desperate hopes boiled to the bone
in a cauldron of condemnation;
he fell away into this pit called “home,”
and his tears made an ashen paste
of the pardon he’d longed for,
but never felt he deserved.
Into the eviscerated cavity of himself,
sorrow poured its salve.
But, in this, he knew no balm.
Then, from the corner of an eye he saw
a hooded figure; no warden, no inmate,
but a strange, silent witness to his torment.
The figure, only partially revealed
in the soft light of a dangling fixture
outside his cell door, seemed to emit
a sanctity he had never known,
and the ambient air was imbued with truth.
In this mysterious presence,
he remembered the words his grandmother
had spoken to him years hence,
of the call of Abraham, the father of faiths,
one ancient, starlit evening.
“He believed the Lord,” so the scripture goes,
“and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
Righteousness through belief.
The pardon he had longed for.
But could it be so? His soul was spent
save for this singular desire for mercy.
Then, a voice sounded
from the edge of the darkness…
“My child, I have known the chambers
of your contrite heart. And I have seen
that your remorse is true.
Now, please believe this…
you are forgiven. Live in the freedom of Love.”
The figure then vanished with no trace
but for the subtle, swinging motion
of the crooked light just beyond the cell door.
His body then quaked in torrents of weeping,
as he lay on the unforgiving hardness
of the cell block floor.
The warden on duty shouted, “Silence!”,
suddenly feeling the faintest breeze,
like warm breath on the back of his neck.
For a moment, as the voice
of the whimpering prisoner
called out to the concrete and iron
of the cell block halls,
the warden thought he heard
someone whisper…
“I believe. I believe. I believe.”
Then he nodded off to sleep.

What the Shadows Have to Say

What ponderings have you this evening, mind,
who, for the unheard stories, trade your sleep
to move among the shadows left behind
when sunset sinks beneath horizons, deep?

What utterings from voices long ago,
who may, by physics you cannot explain,
still stammer forth within the moonlight’s glow
their tales of triumph, mercy, joy or pain?

In contemplative solitude, and still,
you keep your vigil for the break of day,
to learn the song that stirs the whippoorwill,
to join with those who lie awake to pray.

Perhaps, as some who’ve slept well in their beds
awake to skim the surface of their day,
your rest will be a deeper one, instead,
for hearing what the shadows have to say.

Wounded Storytellers

“To tell one’s own story, a person needs others’ stories. We were all, I realized, wounded storytellers.” —Arthur W. Frank

In the wells of our lives, we hold the stories of others, each one of its own unique hue.

When I am the privileged hearer of another’s story, I am changed, and the other is changed, cross-imbued with eachothers’ shades, validated by shared truths. I then carry those colors, drawing from them, in part, to make the art of my life.

After the telling, a storyteller, with her inner eye, may be able to perceive a part of herself, her narrative, in the one who listened, who heard, who let his own colors be shaded by another.

Thus, the storied shades of lives twine together in patterns that beautify from the inside out, salving the wounded world.

When Words Turn To Lyrics

To read and to reckon with “no’s”
in the book of life’s “yes’s”—
whose indelible ink cannot be blotted;
to discover one’s own dark words,
guttural groanings of night,
death’s doglegging of one’s pages;
to see each story as a tale
of the self with different covers…
the hero’s myth played out de novo,
each memory, a new-old chapter’s script—
is to know the epiphany of music,
when flat words waltz into lyrics,
and paper “no’s” turn to black keys,
grace notes in every ballad of “Yes.”

Don’t Be Afraid

“Hey Papa…give me some wisdom.”

“Honey, old Papa doesn’t have much of that.
But, come to think of it, here’s a little tidbit.
Just tuck this one away somewhere,
and it may show itself later
when you least expect it…”

“Learn to recognize your own soul.

You’ve met it before, dear.
But you may not have recognized it.
It could have fluttered past your eyes
like a butterfly or moth,
or fallen gently on your nose
like a raindrop that finally broke free
from a leaf above your head.
Then again, it could have looked like
the gray earth after a rainless summer,
or the sunrise on that mountain
you loved on our family trip last year.
Some time in the future,
it may look like a rosebud on a gravestone,
or a letter you saved from a departed friend.
It might resemble long-lost love,
turning to run back to you,
or a strangely glowing cloud of darkness
when you’re weary of searching for light.

Learn to see it, and when you do,
don’t be afraid to cry.”

Papa, Would You Ever Give Up?

“Papa, would you ever give up on me?”

“Goodness, no, child. Why would you ask
Papa something like that?”

“I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder
what would happen if I messed up.
If I lost myself for some reason,
and maybe made poor decisions,
or found myself in a weak spot,
or not knowing which way to go.
Something like that. Does it make sense?”

“Yes, I think it does, dear.
It’s natural for us to ask such questions,
to wonder about such things.
We all want to be our best selves,
to be in control of our responses to life
and to make good decisions.
And we usually can do those things.
But sometimes, life can throw things at us
that can catch us in a bad place and
overwhelm our toolbox,
and we may find ourselves
searching, ashamed and afraid.
No one else can quite understand
the reasons another person may be
where they are at a given moment.
But dear, here is what I want you
always to remember…
Papa knows who you are inside.
He loves you, and always will.
And he will never, ever give up on you.
There is nothing you could do
and nowhere you could be
that Papa’s love will not find
and hold you and support you.
And do you know what?
Someone did that for old Papa
once upon a time,
when he had the same
questions that you do.”

“Thank you, Papa.
You make me feel better. I love you.”

“I love you, too, my child.”

Under the Low, Black Sky

It is a great mystery
to be together in weakness.

There is comfort in
knowing darkness, shared.

Through winter, a huddled warmth
as death moves over us.

Then, like some collective
dawning of midnight,
each part of the whole
knowing that humanity,
by essence, is shared,
we will sit together
with our candles
under the low, black sky.

A Little Family

A little family
made its way through rain.
Green-wooded father
caught wind drops of cold,
fear-filtering the world
of the mother-nestled child—
a tiny bird house holding
three fresh eggs of robin-blue—
as spring’s first shower
wept for winter through the
louvered nursing home
window at nap time.