“Hello City Light,” my friend shouts, Black, Vietnam vet, towering over all of us, the Displaced, suffered in line for a hot meal
“Which is the way
to the home of the light”
May we, in a spirit of wisdom and insight
What is good . . .
I Needed Some Extra Jesus
Again the morning
from the night
I have been in danger
of becoming a grownup.
She speaks to small creatures,
speaks for them–
It comes expected as another fall
from your bike, or sudden sinking, how to swim
forgotten as the spell to rescue you
The castle walls have been breached,
the castle keep in ruins.
Pale horse of a blank page
the pencil worn to a nub
in blossom, bougainvilleas dripping
pink from their hanging baskets
I can find no poem opening line
sad or romantic enough
for a supermarket-bakery cake
inscribed “Happy Birthday Edna”
One day we find ourselves
running on a ridgeline,
an ice storm seconds behind
It is good to have a good ear for music
whispered in the sound of silence
“Blessed is the apple the banana loves.”
She is all our mothers, too young and lovely, probably alone except for Gracie Rose, eighteen months old
“Last night in Jerez some people lived, some people died.”
Haven’t we always known the trees are talking to each other
I’m sure I have. I must have. I just can’t remember composing a poem in my sleep before
This is a poem for the poem I wish I had written.
And the prophets will rise.
This week especially I wish all of us the inexplicable joy
of finding (receiving) the words, the only right ones.
“And God said, ‘Let there be light'”
You won’t find it
on a road sign
“And the dark
doesn’t feel so
and a child leads them
“Cry out for joy and gladness”
This remembrance is my story-picture Post of my heroes–the Sunday morning breakfast crew at City Light
He calls to me from fifty feet away. I veer toward the middle of the street. A social distance, not, I recognize, from caution against COVID-19 contagion.
“. . . on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shown.”
(Isaiah 9: 1, The Jerusalem Bible)
Okay, I don’t like the New Normal any more than you do.
I’m the new guy at City Light, having been volunteering a little less than a year. I am offering this Post to express my admiration for the City Light veterans, faithful caretakers of its beacon of shelter and hope.
Once there was a baby who when she was born winked at her mother, and in the wink was a smile her big sister saw, and smiled back–a Secret between sisters.
The sun rises, the sun sets
a generation comes, a generation goes
southward the wind, northward it turns
and turns again, again it turns
“There is no need for you to be afraid.”
Today, Friday, April 10, 2020, is “Good Friday,” but on the day of Jesus’s crucifixion, death, and burial, there was nothing good about this Friday.
Living on the street doesn’t mean we’re homeless.
Should God decree the whale’s belly does not make us homeless.
“‘You see, there is nothing you can do;
look, the whole world is running after him!'”
(John 12: 19, The Jerusalem Bible)
Margaret, four years old, fresh from her bath, red hair haloed about her face, gazing up,
“I only know that I was blind and now I can see.”
(John 9:26, The Jerusalem Bible)
Her street composed in leaves,
each one a song from a jukebox (Remember?),
its catalogue of poems singing sibilant cities–
St. Louis, Jerusalem, San Antonio.
7:00 a.m., City Light Community Ministries
preparing hot breakfasts–scrambled eggs, gravy,
bread, a banana, homemade chocolate donut,
Ludwig van Beethoven was thirty-eight years old, hiding in his brother’s basement, terrified by the bombardment of Vienna under siege by the French:
“and the pleasure, the only long pleasure, of taking a place in the story of leaves” (Donald Hall, “Kicking the Leaves”)
Hardin-Simmons, the liberal arts university where I taught for forty-two years and quickly came to love, is disappearing as I knew it.
“When animals die out, the last survivor
is called an endling. It is a word of soft beauty,
heartbreaking solitude, and chilling finality.”
I’ve given up getting better.
“They were our guardian angels.
Naughty, nippy, yippy angels,
but angels nonetheless.”
To my friends cast out.
“and light shines in darkness,
and darkness could not overpower it”
“In spite of everything, don’t lose your faith
in a table circumferenced with friends.”
“10 things I learned in the ’10s”
I never imagined I would not be able to throw a baseball.
Every day bodies tumble from high buildings, achieving maximum velocity, the streets below spinning kaleidoscopic colors clicking their stained-glass windows
“Better two than one by himself. . . .
If one should fall, the other helps him up.”
(Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11)
I am not a preacher. I do not claim to be wise, but I can recognize and celebrate wisdom, humility, and compassion in those who are servant leaders
There has come an arctic cold that sweeps across the screen, the confident weather lady conducting blue into orange and red, no green this time of year in Abilene
“Is it I who have come to this age
or is it the age that has come to me
which one has brought along all these
silent images on their shadowy river”
He is, I think, his own angel, or mine,
not winged or gifted with a voice of annunciation–
Blessed are you of all–or wielding a double-edged sword
May no possums caution their ugly selves
along the top of your backyard fence,
just out of reach.
Even here a new star
has risen above
the city underpass,
“. . . it is the going we remember
it is the way that comes along with us”
W. S. Merwin, “Only Now”
A voice whispering rise and walk to the table at the window, the page, the pencil, and record the favor of men lost in crowds, displaced outside of family–the darkness not only of this night, shepherds tending to lambs fallen into gullies, tangled in briars
“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1: 5 (ESV)
The man said to Jesus,
“And who is my neighbor?”
Luke 10: 29-30 (The Jerusalem Bible)
I don’t know why “No” was my thoughtless, truthful answer to Louise’s asking if I would like to take a thirty-minute prayer slot.
“. . . without vulnerability
there can be no relationship.”
David Brooks *
I don’t know what losses, what anguish, may have led New York Times opinion writer David Brooks to this consolation, maybe his brick wall of certainty, of control, of this is me, crumbled, reality gone, the reality we walk hand in hand with until the hand drops, and we are left staring into the void. So now Who am I? Who can I turn to?
This morning, I’m nostalgic (no, Bob, be honest–weepy) for friends past and present. Of course it’s 4:00 a.m. again. Again I’m at my writing table, a cup of dark-roast coffee, a square of dark chocolate, the smooth touch of this Blackwing 602 pencil leading me across the pages of my Moleskine notebook and, oh yes, Beegie Adair’s jazz trio playing Always On My Mind as in you were always on my mind.
“Words save our lives, sometimes.” Neil Gaiman.
I understand. Lil comes late to the noonday meal at the City Light Mission.
Lynn, the angel of City Light Mission, turns to me arranging the counter-top crocks of Robert’s homemade ranch salad dressing and the sliced jalapeños, my assignment today with which to greet the first-name only patrons filling their paper plates with the plenty promised by Jesus
“Who would you call in the middle of the night
if you were sick or afraid?” *
Shankar Vedantam’s question is mostly responsible for my mood this morning.
Not political. Not tightfisted, pursed lips, finger-wagging shame on you for not being me. No, I mean a song on a city bus, a hug brushing aside a handshake, a laugh sudden and unafraid.
A young woman with a baby cuddled to her breast but not nursing, being carried in a kind of papoose pouch, climbing all the way up the narrow concrete steps spaced too close for my comfort having caught my toe and stumbled more than once, so I am afraid for her—she could fall.
It began, I think, with losing everything–his college degree in biology, environmental science, National Park management, a Park ranger, like the romance of joining the French Foreign Legion, the girl in that song–Laura–“the face in the misty light . . . only a dream” lost and himself as well
“Milkflower petals on the street
like pieces of a girl’s dress.
May your days be merry and bright. . .
He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips.
Open, he says.”
“Aubade with Burning City”*
“What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
I’m saying: What if that is joy?”
So here’s a question for you, Reinhold Niebuhr: Did you ever take this sinful world as it is, not as you, and I, would have it? And here’s another: In the dark of a deep night, humming your mantra like counting sheep—“Serenity come! Serenity, come.”—did you feel the twelve dance steps of heavy-footed men clutching a bottle like a lithe partner not wincing when they mashed her toe or miss-stepped against her shin, laughing their song from a throat thrown back, a kind of fire swallowed, and she whispering how serene they might be spinning her away for God, and they turned little one, the child they maybe never got to be?
Holidays are the worst, families gathered around dining-room tables passed down from parents, someone blessing the turkey, the brisket, the sweet potatoes and three-bean salad, thick-sliced bread just out of the oven, an expectation of pecan pie.
What rescues this smile from the beginning-to-curl-down corners of my mouth is my remembering the mother wolf in the Fort Worth Zoo when Katrina and I were young and students with twin babies in special take-your-baby-everywhere-you-adventure backpacks, . . .
“I said to Michael, Jr, last night, ‘let’s go cruising.’” This is the opening sentence of the email my daughter-in-law Tiffany Haggard Fink sent Thursday morning. It’s a wonderful email celebrating the love she and her brother Michael have for their father, Michael C. Haggard, Sr., who passed away Sunday, August 11. His memorial service was Wednesday, August 14. Mike loved street rods, muscle cars—the faster and louder the better. He also loved the blues, that music in the growl of a V8 engine at a stop sign, a long stretch of blacktop road.
It was a Lucy dog, Australian shepherd,
not German, not even that American
of all herding dogs, rescuer of Timmy
from the well, a bearded collie,
but Lucy diamonded from the sky–
I’ll be all around in the dog park—I’ll be everywhere—
wherever you look. Wherever there’s a poet can’t nudge the word
from the tip of a Blackwing 602 pencil, I’ll be there
to whisper ineffable.
For the past forty-two years I have been eighteen years old. Sometimes seventeen; sometimes nineteen, twenty, twenty-one or twenty-two. Never over thirty—the age Mick Jagger told my generation should not be trusted, and certainly not seventy-three, an age when the only names you can recall are those of your family physician, surgeons, and physical therapists. The Age of Retirement! The age I never expected.
The words descending to my fingers
following the soft lead of the Blackwing pencil
still available to a penitent rising in the dark
of 4:00 a.m., transcribing a path
from the woman stirring to hum my name
and ask what is always rising on her breath
to hover at my ear—Are you all right?—
This has been a year. A year for taking the long look back, forty-two years that seem a day—what my friend Donald Hall called the one day, every other day too frantic to recognize this day Henry David Thoreau knew we will each come to, asking have we lived, been attentive to what each day has to discover.
This is how it started. Rising at 4:00 a.m. Dark chocolate. Lucy came much later, after Susie, Chelsea, Bosco, Kita, Kianna, and Wrangler. Lucy does not get the dark chocolate and coffee.