The Painter

This poem is dedicated in loving memory of, and deep gratitude for George Parker, the artist who helped my father discover his gift for painting while floating the dark sea of Alzheimer’s. Some day, I hope to thank Mr. Parker properly for what he did for Dad, and so many others (he died a few weeks after Dad). RIP, Mr. George.
(The painting is of the Sand Island Lighthouse near Mobile Bay, by George Parker)
 
The Painter
 
Through marsh and bog, on piers
half-bridging some lost bayou near the bay
with canvas, oil and brush
the briny painter made his brackish way
toward a lighthouse, lone
and long against the channel waters, where
torpedoes once tore bands
of brothers from the scrolls of yesteryear.
 
Perhaps he came because
a hull within the harbor of his heart
unhinged and set adrift
across the darkened waters, where all art
must find its wings and wait
’til bayward breeze upon the spray is stirred,
thus lifted by the lights
from towers where the call, “Come home,” is heard.
 
As reverent as a priest
at Eucharist, the painter, with his face
awash in awe, set lines
and colors to his icon of that place,
symbolic of a time
when he’d first heard the story of the light,
and of its keeper’s name,
and many who’d been rescued in the night.
 
As time did burnish bricks
and rend a schism to the mortar’s hold
yet left the burning beam
alight atop the weathered head, so old,
time’s hands a double dose
of deepest pain poured in the chalice of
a lonely painter’s heart,
stopped cold and final for the lack of love.
 
Pulseless and dead to earth
the painter lay mere moments from the brink
of no return to clay,
light years away from what a mind can think
or say or see or know.
Yet in those blessed hours so far removed
from any fear or want,
a Visitation which may not be proved
took all the pain away
and shocked the stillness in the painter’s soul
with thunder, and the dance
that quickens lifeless flesh to make it whole.
 
Unconscious, in the seen
and seeming truth on which existence tells
its narrative of toil
and fear and death, its heavens and its hells,
above his darkest depths
the painter rose aright like moon-drawn tide
toward a Voice he knew,
which spoke from deep within the Light to guide.
 
A primal longing grew
within his soul to hide himself and spend
forever in this place
he felt to be Love’s truthful start and end.
Just then, commotion broke
around the bedside where his body lay;
the Lighthouse of his dream
appeared as though more distant, as the day
distilled from God to now.
 
Departing gently from the other shore…
 
he heard a final echo
from the Light, reverberating then
and evermore to give
new meaning through a death that might have been.
“Painter, you will paint,
indeed, much as you have along these years.
But now, instead of light,
your subjects will be shadows, drops of tears,
muted no-name vessels
left unmoored upon the moonless wave,
fog-bound faces homeward
peering for a beacon that could save.
 
You my child, are now
the keeper of the lighthouse you have sought —
You survived, and so
will rescue with the lifeline that you caught.
Many lives will see the
glory of a painter’s gift reframed
and will tell the timeless
story of lost memories reclaimed.
 
Now the painters are the
promised keepers of the towered light
that illuminates
all places of unknowing in the night.
For an artist is an
artist, though beset by age or ill.
Love must share the gift
imparted through the Painter’s living will.
George's Lighthouse

A Soldier’s Benediction

“Why is he here?”, someone piqued indignantly

near the very reverent back pew of the big church.

Into the cavernous silence he moved with noisy ataxia.

After an exchange with an usher, he stumbled to a seat,

stepping on toes and into purses. A compact cracked.

Prelude. Collect. Prayer. Then he started his homily.

Yes, homily. From my seat I couldn’t hear most of it.

Except the staff-sargeantly “Amen” barked out above

a choral anthem, scripture reading or responsive psalm.

I kept thinking someone would move. But no one did.

He dropped a coin in the offering plate. It fell noiselessly

on a bed of bills, pealing the halls of Heaven.

“Our father,” he spoke, dysarthrically delayed. “For thine

is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory… Amen.

Semper Fi forever!” Then it struck home. A wounded

warrior come to worship. Where had he been? What

had he seen? Where was he now? He dragged a

sack of Hell into the Holy nave. Yet nothing burned.

No one was condemned. The passing of the peace.

The blessed sacrament. The bread and wine. All of it.

Always given. Always claimed. Always faithful.

As he limped away, a voice cried in the wilderness:

“Prepare the way!” A soldier’s big church benediction.

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To the River on Sundays

He comes to the river on Sundays
when oak and sycamore and beech
get their crowns of morning light
from the benevolent hands of sunrise.

One with voices of the singing shoals
he makes his prayer of remembrance
in the bank bottom forest of forgetting,
looking down on eddies of joy and sorrow
born and dying in the water-turned-sky
of the spring-fed fountain of his life.

The ground beneath is Holy with leaves.
Taking three, he casts them in the current
and bows his heart to the miracle of
tripartite death turned to dancing
on the wind-stirred waters of autumn.

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Rise Up, Sweet Soul

Rise up sweet soul with wings of the dawn;
the sorrow has ended, the shadows have flown.
Take Heaven in your hands and never let go—
The Spirit is calling you home.

A clear horizon awaits your eyes;
Deep blue forever before you lies.
That great eternal rest for the soul has been won—
Lie down with the setting sun.

The life you lived will carry us on.
Your faith and compassion will be our song.
We’ll be together again when life becomes light—
In a land where there’s no more night.

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Places

I believe there are certain places, specific environments for each of us that retain spiritual energy or significance in our lives because of what has transpired there. These may be places where meaningful events have occurred, where we have come into immediate contact with the loving presence of God through relationships with others, through suffering, death or loss, through life-changing blessings, or through other circumstances which have transformed us and brought growth. I feel these places forever are marked with this energy; are hallowed, so to speak, and if possible, we should look for opportunities to revisit such places as life moves on, in a spirit of gratitude, homage and awe.

#gratitude #awe #transformation #restoration

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Labor Day

Some mornings on my way to work
I see him waiting, anxious to cross
when traffic has slowed.

At times, I catch him heading back
with a loaf of bread or quart of milk,
leaning and limping.

We hurry on. Mustn’t be late, we say.

I’ve never seen anyone with him.
I’m late for work.

He is old.

Some days are hot. Some, rainy or cold.
Seasons change. His clothes do not.
Plaid, untucked, short-sleeve shirt,
work pants like my Grandpa wore –
too large for his legs.

In my rear view, he shuffles back,
bags in hand.
Cars come faster. I wonder…

What will happen
with the hobbling hands of time?
Will work-bound drivers
slow to stopping like they used to
for processions of the dead?

Here’s a more pressing question.

Would I slow to a stop
if I passed that way today?

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