Friday, August 28, 2015

The Good Thief

The Good Thief

On Judgment day, who will your theories
and opinions impress?

O child of God, will you stand before the throne
a devout believer or as a man of faith?

Beliefs are straw a desperate man stuffs into a suit of rags
hoping to keep at bay his dark, circling fears.

A man of faith is empty.  His strength come from another source.
His coat flutters loosely from the crossbeam.

The Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus' robe
while the real treasure hung nearby, naked and vulnerable.

From another cross, the unrepentant thief railed against heaven
with a bitter tongue.  His logical assertions condemned him to hell.

But at the last possible moment, the good thief stole paradise.
He called out to his Beloved from a point of utter helplessness.

O child of God, will you go to your Beloved stuffed full of worthless notions
or become a man of faith, empty and unafraid?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fireworks - an excerpt from Rare Birds

Shari Jewell stood at the makeshift barricade strung across the lawn at Brookley Field.  She was happy and excited, waiting for the fireworks to begin, holding to her sister’s hand on one side and her cousin Carter’s on the other.  In a crowd of highly anticipatory people standing in the thickly settling dusk.  “Is it time soon?” she asked Jenny.
            “Soon,” answered Jenny.  “Do you remember the fireworks from last year?  When we lived in Richmond?”
            “Yes,” said Shari.  “It’s loud as thunder.  And like birds of fire all different colors.”
            “That’s right,” said Jenny, grinning at Carter.  “Birds of fire.”
            “Like golden eagles,” said Carter.
            “And green parrots,” added Jenny.
            “Red-tailed hawks.”
            “Blue jays.”
            “Yellow canaries.”
            “Pink flamingoes,” rejoined Jenny.

“White-tailed kites.”
“Oh, come on.”
“Look it up.”
"Purple finches.” 
“Scarlet Tanagers,” said Carter.        
                “Peacocks,” said Jenny, as a final, triumphant word.  “Peacocks.”
                “Peacocks,” agreed Carter, grinning at his pretty young cousin.
“Shari!” someone called.  Kimmie Broun was weaving through the crowd toward them.  Del was following her anxiously.  Kimmie hugged Shari and then Jenny.  Del nodded.
            “Hello, Del,” said Jenny.  “My cousin Carter.  This is Del Broun.”  They shook hands.
            “Kimmie just barrels through people,” said Del, half-grinning, “then, I have to follow.  Folks don’t mind a little girl pushin’ through ‘em but a grown man is another story.”  He stopped talking suddenly.  The grin left his face.  Jenny followed his eyes to a short blond woman standing some fifteen feet away.  She was looking back at Del through large thick glasses.  She smiled.  Waved.  Del waved back.  Then, looked sheepishly at Jenny.
            Jenny studied the woman again.  She was intrigued.  There seemed to be some connection between the woman and Del.  Next to her she recognized Faye Ruff, a friend from school.  Faye spied Jenny and moved toward her.  Olive and Web followed.  There were introductions and a sorting out.  Del explained how he knew Olive from Scouts.  He seemed discomfited, shy in the small blonde’s presence.  His son Todd, Del told them, was out there in the dark somewhere.  When they had arrived, he had quickly disappeared into the crowd. 
As he was speaking, the first rocket was launched, whistling upward.  A great explosion and a burst of light sent Shari into Carter’s arms.  He picked her up, holding her against his hip.  Her face buried in his throat.  Carter was abashed and pleased at his cousin’s trust and affection.  At his unaccustomed role.  After a time, she lifted her face toward the sky and watched the loud, fiery, colored birds.
            Del stole glances at Olive who stood nearby.  Kimmie and Web between them.  We could be mistaken for a family, thought Del.  Dismissing that thought from his mind.  Watching the varicolored lights play upon Olive’s face.  Heard her oohs and aahs.  Olive turning to smile up at him every now and then.  Kimmie squeezed his hand at the louder ones.  Del wanting his hand squeezed by Olive Ruff.  He felt suddenly lonely and lost, small under the sky, amidst a sea of strangers.  A spent ember had drifted down and settled in his chest.  Lit a flame in there.  He kept his eyes on the sky as he monitored the burning within.  He dared not look again toward Olive Ruff.

            Not a hundred yards away, Amos, Wanda and Ruddy sat on the tailgate of the old Stringfellow pickup.  They were parked across from the fenced area, beside the highway.  The sky was exploding in colors above them.  Fireworks in the heart of Dixie, in the deep, warm Alabama night.  It’s like a date, thought Wanda and Amos independently.  Each, perhaps, not caring much about independence for themselves anymore.  Ruddy, sitting between them, a proper chaperone.  It felt good, to be out in the world together.  Neither had been on a date in many years.  Maybe a portent of things to come? 
She was wearing her soft, faded jeans and plain, feminine blouse.  A gold locket around her throat.  It made Amos’s heart leap.  He wanted to touch the woman to whom he sat so close.  Stroke her hair.  Explore her eyes.  He did not have the nerve.  Even when they returned to Bayou Petite, she would say goodnight while holding onto Ruddy.  And he would nod and smile and walk toward his house under the moon-shadowed oaks. 
Wanda felt Amos’s eyes upon her, his admiration and appreciation.  She was shy under his gaze and yet she felt safe.  She held her head tilted upwards, motionless, as if posing.  She hoped he would not notice in the dim light, how she was trembling slightly, blushing deeply, her breasts and neck hot in the humid night.

A great, brilliant, thunderous finale sent the crowd to their cars.  The group that had gathered around Jenny and Carter walked loosely together.  No one had anything to say.  Words seemed an intrusion.  Todd was waiting at Del’s car.  The three families parted and made their way home.  Across the field, Amos cranked the truck and entered the highway.  The beauty of the fireworks left an afterglow in each heart and mind.  And there were other afterglows and impressions, emotions and yearnings that lasted long into the night. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

It takes a death

It takes a death

It takes a death, often
to bring us down to earth,

to the dove's heart a blow,
an arrow bestirring the dust,

a crucifixion of some sort,
whether on rough timbers

or the rotting beams of old bones,
grave dust silhouetting

our common little crucifixes
built humbly upon the rickety bridges

of nothingness but also revealing
the genuinely endearing

human qualities of valor and gallantry -
for how else may God be brave

but through us?  Clearing the air
long enough to glimpse:  Everyone

continuously reaching for God, for love,
for the above ground truth of who we are.

O child of God, there's nothing to seek;
nothing to find but the hidden One.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amos's Dream - an excerpt from Rare Birds

          Amos Luck awoke to a deafening crack of thunder.  It seemed to cleave the air above the crown of the roof.  It left him gasping for breath, drenched in sweat. The power was out, the darkness thick, the box fan circling indolently in the window.  He carefully reconstructed a tortuous dream.         
           Jesus, white gowned, crowned with thorns, showing Amos His scars.  Christ’s face becoming Wanda’s with hazel eyes, such love, such love, a seductive smile.  Half-naked, open-armed.  Birdsong drowning out her words.  Warblers, wrens and sparrows everywhere.  Macramé bra.  Erect nipples visible.  The screech of owls, macramé owls, gunshots, gutted fish on the dock, Wanda below the surface of the creek water.  Catfish, duckweed.  Staring at her clean, smooth nakedness.  As she swam and swam, not coming up for air.  Lost in pines thick with crows; bleeding from the stigmata.  Jim on his haunches roasting a skewered quail over a campfire.  Caskets, every person Amos had every buried, lining both sides of the road up to the highway.  Jim, with labored difficulty, climbing into the last one, it’s silk interior bearing a pattern of bluebirds.   Jesus walking down the same road with Amos; weeping, wet faced.  Lightning, thunder every few steps.  Speaking urgently to Amos in a language he could not understand.
            He pulled himself out of bed.  There was no running water.  The pump was off.  He poured himself some tea from the refrigerator.  The rain seemed to be over.  Occasional lightning and distant thunder, the storm heading toward Mobile.  Then, out into the Gulf.  Gusts of wind; raindrops from the branches.  He walked down to the dock in his boxer shorts.  Sitting cross-legged.  He wondered if the books from Herring had anything to do with the dream.
A few days before, in the mail he had received The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley and The Art of Listening by Jiddu Krishnamurti. These books, the types of which he had once considered blasphemous, he now found intriguing.  Tossed out like a lifeline.  Was this the hand of God?  Was He answering Amos’s prayer?  Or was it an ineffectual last straw for him to grasp?  Reincarnation; mysticism, the recurring advent of God on earth; the nature of the soul and the ego; life as a waking dream; concepts that did not replace his Christian beliefs so much as augment and enrich them.  Or was it all of the Devil?  Self-delusion.  Herring had enclosed a brief note.  To my friend Amos, the most genuine, passionate seeker of God I have ever known. 
Passionate no longer, thought Amos.  Waylaid.  Broken. Vulnerable, ignorant, alone.  Weeping, like Jesus; wet-cheeked, silently.  Something to grab hold of.  Words in a book?  Ideas in the mind?  Something eternal, real, benevolent; something beyond the self.  If there is nothing beyond, what meaning is there here?  I’ve drained dry the cup.  End of the road.  Dead bodies strewn everywhere.  Dead inside, yet my body still breathes; my heart still beats.  Passionate seeker?  The only sparks left in these dead ashes are lust and fear.  O my Lord, have you abandoned me?