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I want to hang your picture, sad in the hall,
you who’ve been neglected all these months—
with your face turned to the wall and me
wrongly insisting that hanging your picture was
nothing more than a temporal act.
The way the sun struck that certain tree this morning
made the leaves white with meaning,
though thick dust had collected,
under each parlor chair.
“There are shadows to deal with,” I said.
To deal with a shadow is to bind it forever.
Nothing’s powerful as forever
unless it’s just gone.
from Paper Snowflakes, available from Southern Hum Press
Please be in prayer for Barbara Cline and her daughters Lisa and Gabe (and husband Jeff) in the loss of their husband and father, Jennings E. Cline, and for traveling mercies for our family as we drive to Knoxville next Friday for Jennings’ memorial service. Jennings was Bill’s brother-in-law and was sixty-one at the time of his passing.
Jennings is also survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Cline of Montgomery, AL, a sister Charlene (and family), and a brother Sherman (and family).
–for Pam and Michael
I think we’re all children when lightning bugs mate
and surely at home in a mulberry tree, those branches
lending us sanctuary–for the best of all reasons:
For the three of us at the back of the yard–together.
And our “other brother,” Mike,
who lived across the street with “Muddy.”
And with “Pokey.” And with Renee. For her.
For her, even in high school, when, converting, she
became Lutheran, and, after that, seldom climbed the tree.
It’s my guess she knew, by that time,
that the berries were filled with small, white bugs.
For our having missed that detail,
perhaps due to their smallness, or to ours.
Or maybe they didn’t frighten us like Ol’ Henry did.
For Ol’ Henry, who pushed his wooden cart through the gravel,
his slow gait giving a fearsome drama to our part of Joplin.
For interruptions in the alley during baseball,
where I was a kicking-wanna-be (after Spahnie). I,
who knew major league statistics better than the guys,
stopped mid-wind-up to untangle my limbs,
while old “Tommy” eased his car slowly past each rock
and past the mulberry tree that shaded the rock
that was third base. The mulberry tree
gave us hands with juicy berries: berries the color of church-carpet.
For leaving the ground like rockets in stealth mode,
or up that tree like chattering squirrels, making plans
for the vegetable can, kicked at night from yard to yard–
hiding, seeking. For bags of locust shells.
The request line, called, giggling, after seven, using
made-up names instead of our own. For those summers,
when childhood gave us the gift of each other.
I should have been in the school-chapel, by ’69–
newly married, in Charlotte, safe in the wide arms of
God. Instead, I’m atop an old mulberry tree.
Sure the tree bears fruit: The rooms keep getting darker,
each ascending floor more mysterious.
The floors go up and up.My friends are my children: Victor and Troy.
Both children become Michael.
And we’re playing with Linda at church, after the meal.
“Mother, May I?” comes softly from whispering lips. Or
are we at the ice cream social,
where, with several saw horses, in the sweltering August heat,
the deacons blocked off Fourth and Pearl? We tip-toed
up rib-coated, baptistery stairs.
And what did we risk by running in church?
Tonight’s sky, like the droning of crickets,
like briquettes in the shadows, bituminous coal,
the cloud-concealed moon,
far, far away–breathing smog.
Tallish trees in the distance
with leaves and trunks feathered into nightfall.
Even the umbrage fades into evening’s soft face.
There’s no color now. No mulberry tree.
Just a barrel beneath the elms,
where, two days ago, our neighbor’s cat gave birth to
one stillborn kitten and two that were alive.
At dusk, everything’s black.
I’m not afraid of the dark.
But about midnight, despite well-designed eves,
a pelting rain wets my outstretched legs. Low
flashes of lightening cause me to shiver,
to reach for a blanket, the fern to my left
flex its emerald-bright fronds. At dawn,
an infant sun peeks shyly through.
A row of trees, sky-scraper tall. In the distance:
green leaves, trunks, yellow-brown, drops of liquid silver.
That’s not all from memory though.
Yes, there’s nothing like life in the firefly shadows:
Sometimes I dance with my shadow and sing songs to the moon.
first published in Facets: A Literary Magazine and now in Paper Snowflakes, available from Southern Hum Press
“A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.”
From Seeds by Thomas Merton, selected and edited Robert Inchausti. Shambhala Publications, Inc.,
Boston, MA, 2002, p 112.
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” —Albert Einstein
blown down by the wind in the forest
with no person to hear, kills a small gray squirrel
whose flattened body will lie and rot before spring
like the leaves that—once orange—go missing
only to become dirt, while hidden under ice and snow,
who dares to pretend that when the tree fell
there was no thud, as if startling a deer doesn’t
count? Gathering birds fly south from the forest, are
adverbs of great honesty. But will they bear witness?
If a tree, felled by wind is still down when the crocus
offer color—yellow and purple—consider how the
mushroom—alive for a only day—was torn, decapitated
by the act, how a sound, un-provable, is more probable
than the likelihood of creation as 7-day wonder.
How little thought for the others. If, however, a tree,
is the maker of something inexplicable—falling—
are we, perhaps, coming closer to an understanding?
The squirrel, the deer, the mushroom. Tree in creation.
The leaves. Humankind, in the fall. The fall and the winter.
See, we need our birds as modifiers here
with only seven days to get us going.
fisrt published in Blue Fifth Review and later in Paper Snowflakes, available from Southern Hum Press
I’m trudging along the blue ridge—
scanning for beauty, note pad ready.
The path in the woods is shaded ’til noon.
Dew stays on the grass beside the marked trail.
The path up the mountain looks over into valley,
where droplets of water dance on the jagged rocks.
When I die, I will not leave behind
books, piled high enough, but rather,
like Keats, my brain will be under-gleaned.
So many words. So little light.
I refuse to think this pain away. “No, no!” I cry,
at the over-look, where the houses below look like
toys. “The hush will come soon enough.
There are hints already in the green water.”
I am scuffing my boots as I climb.
So many words. With so little light—
but the God judges love offerings, even now,
before a breathless body’s burned, charcoal ashes
thrown to the wind, return to the forest with its
small gray squirrel and in the spring mating robins,
past the calling loons, and then still, still, on.
first published in Southern Hum