That One Day Mid-Winter

featured in the poetry forum June 30, 2019  :: 0 comments

On your own terms, when you can go
Inside any time you like, and the sun
Is high and tall, and the wind is low,
Something dreamlike about winter,
Something of eternity.

As if after death your soul would
Still be dreaming, and you’d live
On as a sun dog, all the rays
Reflecting, each to each. No way
To tell which one shone the brightest
Or had the most vivid streaks.

But tough to think of this on that one day
Mid-winter when it gets dark at two,
The wind slicing, and for the last
Few minutes you’ve been looking
For the shallow end of a slush lake,
One mile long and two miles wide.

As children we are told, whether we care
Or not, that there are two parts
To every story, and each coin has two
Sides. No one believes this at heart.
No one really takes this in,

Except, maybe, in winter, that day
The sun says ‘Excuse me,’ and rises late,
And weakly. By noon you have lost all hope.
And yet after twelve the sky is so blue
Your heart leaps, catching you quite

Off guard, and the wind died down
When you weren’t looking, and
Now what snow is left on the fields
Shines so bright you can barely look,
Everything white, perfect, and forever.

editors note:

Two sides to faith when we can’t describe it; hot and cold, winter and summer, life and… – mh clay

John Allen Chau (1991-2018)

featured in the poetry forum March 6, 2019  :: 0 comments

Dear Mrs Chau, my files say, according
To reports, your son was killed carrying
Out the Great Commission, that is, and I’m
Just reading from my notes, ‘Go ye, and teach
All nations.’ We know he brought fish,
A football for the kids, and a Bible,
Waterproof. About his life there, his time
With the Sentinelese, we only wish
We knew more… except they shot him full
Of arrows and buried him on the beach.

All we know of the islanders is that
They stick to one holy creed and one fact:
No outsiders, ever. My new boss called
Me today. He told me he heard once, years
Ago, that a Christian scholar, who hired
As a go-between a local fisherman,
Did (quietly) spend a few hours with the old
Men of Sentinel. I’m told he was inspired
And on the morning he spoke the sun
Stood tall, the sky blue, bluer than the seas.

The scholar gave them great good news: Man was
Sinful from birth, and therefore the wages
Of sin,
let me re-check that quote my wife
Found, Ma’am, is death. This was no fable.
Should they beg pardon of Y-H-W-H, unseen,
Unheard, they might be spared raging, endless
Fires.
That’s when the arrows flew and the man
Of God fled. Maybe he treasured our life
Here more than the life to come; between
Our hopes and fears often a great abyss.
Mrs. Chau, be well. His great commission
Was done. I’ll call if we find his Bible.

editors note:

Not cynical to consider; one man’s “good news” is another’s anathema. – mh clay

Book Launch

featured in the poetry forum December 13, 2018  :: 0 comments

Once the author, a doctor, has finished
His preamble, he reads from his careful,
Wry book. He tells us that his wife’s cancer
Diagnosis, in her late 30s, brought
Him to a dead halt, that all the things he
Thought he knew, the rich Jewish scriptural
Tradition he was brought up in, just had
No weight. He had to ask the rabbi —nicely—
To hold off on the well-meaning pleas to
God. “My wife and I would face this cancer
Alone. For us the gods, and the stories
They inspired, were human inventions.”

He asks for questions and I smile because
The first one, from a woman who does not
Quite look at him, is not a question. “You…
Say faith is an invention, but… sometimes
At night I go for walks with my husband.
We can see the stars and the heavens. In
The summer there are birds, rabbits, sometimes
We see deer by the lake. I see… God. We
Feel his presence.” The author politely
Waits, to see if there’s more, but it seems this
Magnificat is over.

He breathes, once, twice. “What a great question. I
Don’t tell my patients to forsake their faith.
If religion, if belief makes you lead
A happy life… I’m the last guy to stand
In the way. I’ve advised many patients
To rejoin their temple or church. All I
Argue in this book is that the results
Are in, and the lab says there is no God,
And the math can tell us how we got here.
I’ll say one last thing. The more secular,
The more decent. Where do you want to live—
Sweden or Iran?”

On our way to the train we pass a man
Who’s not sitting or standing at the bus
Shelter; he is not moving at all, nor
Was he when we went by him two hours
Ago. When sober, does he think of his
State? Is it good news to him that for some
He’s safe in the loving hands of Jesus?
That he’ll know one day, even as also
He is known; and that to others he had
Too many cocktails of bad luck blended
With bad choices? What need have we of
Mercy, when there is no judgement?

editors note: What need, indeed. Selah. – mh clay

SISTERS ET INFANS

featured in the poetry forum August 2, 2018  :: 0 comments

Daisy Grace, at first the world will be all
One to you — cold, wet, warm, dry. When things don’t
Pan out, two tall giants will come ’round
And set you at ease. It’s later that life
Gets more diverse, and when you’re about ten
Or so, they will tell you that by divine
Plan, or random chance, the earth spins, in space,
On top of nothing, at x miles per hour,
Looping around a large gas fire. Nothing
To stop us from spinning. Any day
The fire could go out.

(At ten these thoughts could make my heart stop still.)
Some at school will say that chance makes most sense,
That in a void there was a bang, atoms
Formed, then rocks knitted into planets,
And the waters came. That truth like speech is made,
Not found. At home your mother and father
Will speak of the great hope, that he who is
Love made you, the stars, all the rocks. Holy,
He moved upon the waters. That wisdom
Was with God in the beginning of his way.
That there is nothing by chance.

On a still morning in the fall in Sisters,
Your own journey will begin, and may your
Life be the same blend of awe and beauty
As your name. Burn brighter than any helium
Fire. When you fall in love, be an ever
Fixed mark. And when you make your choice, divine
Will or random chance or could not care less,
Be the soul who makes all souls lighter; that
One person we all know, who really does
Forgive and forget, who is too busy
Living to judge, whose law could only be
Love without beginning, love without ending.

editors note:

It’s not what you know, but how you love. – mh clay

AND IS IT TRUE?

featured in the poetry forum April 9, 2018  :: 0 comments

And is it true? Is it true? –the poet
Said, over and over, willing belief.
That God had become man, had, like us, his
Ups and downs, his good days and bad, a fierce stare,
A charming smile, some days all agape,
Some days all cloud.

Like the poet, you’d like to believe too,
That salvation isn’t just an old word
In the big dictionaries at the back
Of the library, away from blu-rays
And new cds, so far back you don’t see
Anyone.

Like faith was something we tried once and then,
Our receipt intact, brought it back, unused,
Untouched. Like a belief in God only
Thrives in the “people’s” republics run by
A tyrant, the water foul, your family
Rotting in jail.

You would believe the story of Luke,
The poor couple in the inn, a light sent
To save, but in our day the birth of what
Some called love and some called forgiveness, just
Means fights in the parking lot, and lineups
Right out of Lobachevsky.

Yet to complain about money’s chokehold
On Christ’s birth is to say water is wet.
Everyone agrees with you… on their way
To the store. What is the hold here, what keeps
Us writing cards and making sure the paper
Is red, and green, new and fresh?

One Christmas morning my mother-in-law
Was so excited over a nice gift
She almost fell, dizzy. Had it been up
To her, she’d have given presents all hours,
Her heaven a house where people she loves
Open things she’s wrapped and taped.

Which may solve the mystery, which may be
Clear cut glass… we put up with this nonsense
Since to give a gift you wanted to, meant to,
Not had to, is one of the few ways we
Have to see love visible, not a part
Of a heart sometimes well hid.

The fresh flowers bought the night before,
The new perfume that smells like Paris,
The new books by your favorite author,
The new sweater that will dazzle all year,
The front row tickets, all a compact,
Saying I love you, I love you.

editors note:

No time for introspection in the midst of the holiday hijinx, but now, these months past, we have an answer to, “Which came first, religion or love?” Do you see it? – mh clay

GREENBACK, TENNESSEE

featured in the poetry forum September 2, 2017  :: 0 comments

There is a man of God in the hills
Of Tennessee who says our Lord
Is coming. Today. He scans the skies
For signs. He builds his kingdom brick by brick.

People say they look for Jesus
To return but don’t mean it. This man
Does. “Holy, holy. His house has done
Arrived. He ain’t gonna be far behind.”

There is the throne of the Lord,
Built from old Coke bottles. There is
The chamber for the saints, made
From egg cartons. There are the

Words of the prophet, scribbled
Like graffiti on walls fashioned from
Plywood rescued from a dump.
You can’t and won’t miss the words

BEHOLD A PALE HORSE, since he
Underlines this citation with red chalk
He found in the garbage can of a bible
School which closed last year.

He tells the reporter who comes
To do the condescending story,
“Jesus started to speak with me,
In private messages, in 1982.

Before the Lord showed me his spirit,
I was that guy in the neighborhood
You kept your kids well clear of. I wrote letters
To presidents, popes, and professors.

You laugh: someday no one will be laughing.
People mock what they don’t get.
Our Lord was laughed at by killers,

Thieves, and low-lifes. As soon as
I can pay back the government folks
At the hydro office, I will turn the lights
On here at night so, for miles around,

People can see my signs, can know
The end isn’t coming, it’s here.
I’ll do em up good, when I’m done,
They’ll be lights that can never go out.

Won’t matter if I’m here or not.”

editors note:

We need these beacons to bully us into submission before… well, we don’t know exactly, but, by god, beware! (Congrats to Brian on his new collection, Weekend Getaway at Generic Hotel. You can get a copy here – check it out!) – mh clay

IN THE NORTHWEST WINTER MORNINGS

featured in the poetry forum May 14, 2017  :: 0 comments

In the northwest, winter mornings come late, opaque,
And one day when the sun hovers but does not rise,
I drift off, more tired than I knew. When I look north
I barely see an outline of light, just tracing
The top of the cedars. I look west and see our
Local church is having its last ever service,
The faithful come two by two, their breath trailing frost.

The last preacher of this last dream church now lays out
The final doctrine, that our light has come, and it’s
Us, and always was us. “Like Jesus said, we are
The light of the world; the bible also says, ‘Now
Faith is being sure we will get what we hope for,’
And what could be better than that? Go in peace.” I
See a few of the older ones standing at the door,
Lingering, hoping that at this last hour they’d sing
A song of the Lord, in this last house where such love
And sorrow meet.

And the preacher would like to, what a lovely thought,
But they cut all that out years ago, and it’s almost
Noon, and damned if he can remember one.

editors note:

We can hear the song, sung in the light. Can’t remember the lyrics, but we can hum along. (Congrats to Brian! He has a new collection released, Weekend Getaway at Generic Hotel. Get your copy here.) – mh clay

SHOAH

featured in the poetry forum February 8, 2017  :: 0 comments

Hi my name is Tony and I will be
Your guide today. Just kidding. I could not
Care less. Get the fuck on the bus and shut
The fuck up. I am a teacher at School
Of the Rock, Secondary, Catholic.
It’s my job to counsel and be a role
Model, all “within a faith dimension.”
(Those last four words right from our motto.)
The first stop on our tour is the, uhm, Shri
Swamin… Swamin… Swaminarayan

Mandir something or other. What? Who
The fuck knows. What? Probably named after
Some dude named Swami. It is (I am betting)
A Hindu temple. My old man, on all his
Sober days, said every religion was
Just bullshit, just a new way of stealing.
Anyway, get off the bus, make sure you’re
On the right tour, and ask your guide if you
Little shits have any questions. I’ll be
Out back smoking.

Next stop? Let’s see. Chris, you are a doofus
Times another doofus. Shut the fuck up.
There is nothing I would not give for a beer.
Next stop is… ah… Fo… Guang Shan Temple
Over in Brampton. What? Buddhist, who knows,
A lot of people over there believe
That stuff, or say they do. I know they get
A ton of movie stars in Tibet. Big,
Big, stuff. Anyway, I repeat, ask your
Guide your questions. You know where to find me.

Last stop… Everyone get back on the bus
And shut up. This one is called… Chad… Shad… Yad
Va-Shem
. What? Crap, search me, it’s way out
Of my pay scale. Funny, this one time, years
Ago, I did go on the tour, except that
It really bothered me, so I haven’t
Been since. School of the Rock wouldn’t dream
Of paying me twice. I do remember
Our guide said I reminded him why he
Worked there, that men like me were living proof

Shoah was always within easy reach,
That men like me made the trains to Belzec
A sure thing. I heard a kid laugh at that,
But I never got around to asking
What was so goddamn funny. I don’t get
These stupid tours. The prices always go up.
Most kids come back dumber than they left.
Like god from a machine will come down as
Fire. As if sin will be wiped clean. As if
My students won’t be coffin stuffing one
Day, just like me. They will fit
As well as better.

editors note:

Some still say, “Never again!” (But, some don’t.) – mh clay

RACHEL SUITES

featured in the poetry forum June 25, 2016  :: 0 comments

Allemande

The healing table laid just so. Jug of
Ice water, cooling pleasantly. Two
Different painkillers, both within easy
Reach. TV remote controls, all three
Of them, just to the right.

Courante

If you missed any of that, there’s more:
A Nixon book one foot away, easily grasped –
And something else on the Long March
Nearby, on the closest shelf. You can
Tell Rachel was raised by a nurse,
But if you can’t, beneath my healing
Table is a discreet unmarked brown
Puke bucket.

Sarabande

Love shoots out and manifests itself in
The world as it would. Checking it is like
Checking Niagara Falls; you can do it
But your success would be short-lived
And fruitless.

Menuet I

The anesthesiologist who met Rachel knew
She was up against a force. “I can tell….”
She said, trailing off. In my mind I finish
Her thought: “I can tell this woman is,
Despite herself, deeply in love. Nothing
Bad can happen to you while she is here
Or thinking of you. Nothing on earth escapes
This. She will protect you from all fates.
In heaven her light will make stars scarlet
With jealousy. In hell she will draw the shades,
Run the coldest shower, and stand there until your soul
Can rest.”

Menuet II

Funny how she could tell all that from your
Eyes, which were bluer than usual and red-shot,
Doing your best to look bored. You could tell
I wanted out, now, and tried to act like I could
Handle it. I couldn’t. I wanted to leave.

Gigue

How can you fall in love, in summer on the
Prairies, again in Vancouver in fall, all
Over again in Montreal, in a museum
In California, and keep falling, deeper?
Why is holding hands in the hospital
Ratification of what can’t be written down?

editors note:

Dances of love for what ails you. – mh clay

WONDER WORKING POWER

featured in the poetry forum March 6, 2016  :: 0 comments

On any Sunday morning in your mind,
Probably in winter, a man steps in
To a large baptismal font, or as we
Much preferred, tank. “The old now cast away
For the new. The old ways of sin now purged
For the new life of grace. Baptism just
An outward sign, but a sign nonetheless.
Let us pray.” The rolled up shirt sleeves, in lieu
Of his normal jacket and tie, tell us
That today a few of us will put on

The incorruptible. “Jason, join me,
Would you?” Jason we have known for years and
Works part-time at the local Petro Can.
Nervous at first, he tells us why he’s here.
“When my mother drank too much, we hid. My
Dad left early. He could not take it, so
My sisters and I, we kept hiding. Jill
Got married and so did Laurie. It was
Just me now, hard to hide when there’s only
You. I came to this church because….” He points

But doesn’t need to. “I… Greg invited
Me.” He motions his head shyly towards
Greg, in the same pew eight years, with the same
Yellow brown tie. They exchange smiles. “This church
Took me in and cared. Nobody else cared.
No one. Then Jesus took away my sin.
It rolled away… and now I am, now I
Am—” “Free,” our pastor whispers into his
Mic, in tears himself, as are many. The
Hurt of only knowing slightly, when you

Should know deeply, stings. A few seconds pass,
Very still. On a nod, Jason pinches
His nose and tilts his head, the pastor taking
Him in his arms, and after he has said
“In the name of the father, the son, and
The holy ghost,” briefly dips him in the
Water. Once Jason is back on his feet,
Winds whip up high. “Praise Jesus! Thank you God!”
He bounds out of the tank and we can hear
A soul leap free forever. A child sees

This and sees the hand of the Lord wiping
Away all tears. Later, when age gives what
You hope is wisdom, you think you’re either
Lucky, born into a family who
Cares, or you have Jason’s mother, in which
Case no sleep is ever sound enough. They
Don’t often baptize at the old church now;
Like speaking in tongues, or singing “There’s pow’r
In the blood of the lamb,” people have moved
On. Perhaps corruptible was always
A better fit. Or they’ve lost the eyes of
A child, who saw grace falling all day
Everywhere, as snow deep in winter.

editors note:

Salvation in sanctuary. All god’s chillun jus’ wanna be safe! – mh clay