I Saw A Guillemot Fall Today

Common guillemot

I saw a guillemot fall today
off the nesting cliffs
before it caught the wind;
I saw it snatched by a seagull’s bill
fast-disappearing in its maw.
Lazarus-like it emerged again
and I caught my breath for joy,
when swept down another gull
to swallow the fledgling whole.

Nature’s mien is none too keen
on compassion for the young.
The weak it passes over lightly
as fodder for the strong.
The world smiles at peace
entraps hopeful souls
then dogs of war do feed
while songbirds chirp
and children sing
of innocence and joy.

What means this? cries the philosopher
writing down his ethics.
Why it’s nature versus nurture,
exclaims the educationist.
Oh, hollow man, feed on love,
the poet strums a tune.
The guillemot parents of a fledgling bird
hear not the empty words.
They see beyond a skeptic’s sight
to an ordaining hand, and flying easy
from an empty nest, they’ll return again in spring.

Oh God, who takes away and gives,
our wounded hearts you see!
O give us strength to bear the pain
and rest in faith again.
Our grief we give to you once more
and pray our sight you’ll clear
to see the hope of eternal days
when tears no more we’ll fear.

En Pointe

Sarah of dVerse asks us to choose a poem we’ve read over the last year and write a response to it in conversation, as it were, with its preoccupations. I’ve chosen John Updike’s “Fine Point,” written just weeks before his death in January 2009. His consciousness of our tainted public and personal history, and faith’s endurance as he alludes to Psalm 23, is what engages me most. And so my response, “En Pointe.”

En Pointe

What divinity is this that tempers our clay

with hammers of wrath expended on temple,

church, in our uneasy play with pagan tunes

of lust? Even as we covet our neighbor’s lamb

we would sing tuneful papyrus songs in our Babylon

with lyres hung under willows, calling out as children

“Abba, Father,” knowing we are heard by the Name

of One who bore the curse of our sinful rebellions.

O Son of David, thou whose lips have tendered infinity –

“It is finished” mercy and justice united blood

spilled and body spent on the cross so that Surely—

yes, “surely”— and all the days of my life wilt thou

pursue not merely “follow”— poor substitute

for the ancient tongue which reaches out in mercy

as unbounded as a lover’s song of songs to me

now to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever. Selah.

Last Year’s Snow

When last year’s snow is slow to go
The chill hanging on, no mellow glow
Arrives, freeing wintry branches and briers
Beneath the ice like frozen desires.

So may our hearts harden, slow to thaw
When too long we don’t withdraw
Our gaze from yesterday’s wrong
Mistrusting forgiveness for which we long.

Then what loss we bear to gain instead
A bitter disbelief in what had once been shed
Where warm blood flowed from pierced side
Christ’s sacrifice unheeded and despised.

Look up, dear soul, see who’s risen above
Healing in his wings to bear your judgment in love
He enthroned in power, has power to melt
Your shame-hardened heart, set free from guilt.

Seeing Christmas Light

I stand at the well at the desert’s end
the camels noisy at the trough
there’s the star blazing above me
the night sky distraught with light.
I, looking down as into a mirror,
drawn to the abyss below.

The star grows preternaturally, soundless
my cries echo it close, spilling embittered tears,
so might the well’s bounds overflow,
now the journey has been for nothing
my hopes and fears for naught.

This cankered sore that my heart is
this cauled face, disfigured husk,
what the worldly-wise has given birth to,
I sag to my knees and howl:
there is no sorrow as impenetrable
as knowing the road you’ve followed
in the end was all a mirage.

Even as death hangs o’er me
an eternal vision belies it;
alone I stand under starlight
alone I gaze at the night
this wanderer as foolish as a beast
wondering that the yawning darkness
had not overtaken the light.

If birth is but a prelude to death
what if death is the prelude to life?
Here, across trackless sands following
a star as bright as the morning shines
to watch over me in the night;
bemused I lift my eyes up
to see a distant rise,
there to see a babe born
who set the star in the skies.

Recrudescence

Slim, liminal, posterns of light
these words given and received
outskirting impossibilities
and health-riven cheek-jowling pain
absenting gormless vacuity,
Jude not Judas, thirty pieces of silver
husbandry of waterless clouds
but faith’s Canaan vine-laden
Jerusalem’s milk
unfathomable peace
Cross-borne recrudescence
and a Kingdom come.

dVerse's Quadrille #116: "possible," 44 words
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Journey (2)

Image credit; Evan Clark@ Unsplash

Journey

water still
log submerged
balanced feet
journey of the mind

what do you see,
what do you understand?
“to reach the shore
keep your eyes on land”

feet submerged
the sky above
you whisper, what now
as your heart gives out

from misty shore
a Voice calls out
“to walk on water
you can’t look down”

can faith hold firm
Who do you trust?
what your eyes can’t see
is what bears you up


Leaves in Light

Eden’s light long since faded
we no longer look to know or see
as we once saw but question
the light we possess, frugal,
appalled at universal decay:
but now You have come.

Contained within the palms of Your hands,
not a leaf, not a flower, not a rock,
not the universe in a grain of sand,
but nails driven into You in whom
we have our being.

You did not suffer apart from me
as a celestial leaf in glory fallen
shorn from root, tree, limb,
but You in me, now dead, buried,
risen to new life.

In this crucible of exile do not deny me
now the fire of your Spirit along darkened veins,
a reckoning, their pride of life burnt dry
into joyous rivers of light.


Romans 6:22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.


The Bright Field

Since my last poem, “October Fire,” I encountered “The Bright Field” by R. S. Thomas, a Welsh poet and Anglican priest of the last century. It’s theme of illumination is so allied to mine (though its poetic genius far eclipses mine) that I’d like to share it with you, that it might enflame and brighten your heart with hope. We are living in times that make us distrust the very leaders and experts that vie for our trust, and suspect the motives of those who claim to speak for the general welfare, for the sick, the poor and the oppressed. Our hopes have been misplaced if they have been placed on men and women. In the days leading up to our national election, let us pray that many will turn to the only true source of hope, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reach out again to their neighbor on every street and every corner with grace and love.

A field in the Shenandoah Valley

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

October Fire

Once, a child alone when October came
I hear his footsteps just in the next room
and when I rush to see him there
he wasn’t there. He was everywhere.

Much later I cross a river, climb the embankment
of trees, upwards to the plains, dry and dusty
their breath, until I choke, my breath raw
diseased, my bones on fire, the pain rasping
pits of agony, feet twisted into unnatural screws.
He stands clothed like a burning bush in wilderness
autumn’s cloak across the mountaintop
a fire unnatural, burning yet not burning
for blind eyes to see, deaf ears to hear, “I AM.”

Now as another October comes
I feel him near, the warmth of his presence
a river running through the weatherized
windows and doors, invisibly clear.

I know this darkness before light
I know this voice before sound
I know this death in life
where bush burns but is not consumed.

I wait.

Mish's Open Link Night #275
Click on Mr. Linky for more poems and join in.

Interior Dream

Image by Catrin Welz-Stein

It’s a paper moon in a darling’s tomb
On the wallpaper in the green-lit gloom
There a swallow-tail with a robin’s breast
Speaks an omen of a tailor dressed
In a silk-hat heavy on his balding pate
A dark coat collared, the pants of slate
Graveyard shoes that steal starlight
An iron key balanced and held upright.
Off he flew from the paper moon
Left a keyhole remark like an empty tune
Sung by a voice in the gloaming mist
Heard by a tailor holding in one fist
Secrets stitched by a loveless hand
On a flightless bird o’er a clouded land.


Written for Lillian's dVerse "Let Your Words Be Your Paintbrush!"; write an ekphrastic poem using one of four Catrin Welz-Stein images. Click Mr. Linky to read more and join in!