~for J. Rouleau

  • The size and swiftness of our ignorance
  • is like the surface area of an expanding balloon:
  • the stuff we know, our breath, all inside;
  • beyond the thin rubber skin, magical air.
  • The more we know, the more widely we touch
  • what is mystery still.
  • Angels and demons of our long memory
  • changed the weather, the climates of our hearts.
  • We waved meat and sheaves to them
  • and they answered yes or no;
  • we tamed them, condensed them,
  • and nothing changed.
  • We knelt moving our lips,
  • sliding crystal beads through our fingers,
  • and He said no or yes.
  • Now, on this common rock,
  • beneath the inhabited sky,
  • we breathe
  • into the dark blue sphere of our certainty
  • the very breath
  • of what we thought was god.
  • And inside and outside,
  • still, we hear the Voice:
  • What about this?  And this?
  • 2001

For some reason, today I can’t format this without the stupid dots.  What about this?


    I wrote this in 1998.  Our son came home from a semester in England, and we met him at the airport.  I hadn’t yet written my Christmas sermon.  This is essentially the poetic version of the sermon that resulted.  It was published in The Other Side the following year.


Drove to Boston, four hours in wet snow.
Already tired, late flight coming in,
and I’m preaching Christmas Day:
something about snowgeese, maybe,
the way they change the landscape
even after they’ve flown away–
the way God changed it once,
by making human footprints.

Half the world is here, waiting for planes.
A tall kid in a baseball hat
slouches around, looks at his watch, drinks a coke.
Passengers from France are surfacing.
The kid spots a first class woman in a suit
crisp and red as a poinsettia,
dances on his toes,
hollers, “Here Mom, over here!”

A thin woman from the back of the plane
stands still as the last tree in the lot,
touches one enameled fingertip to a shadowed eyelid,
shoulders a cheap vinyl bag.
Roaring into the crowd
–did he ride his Harley through this snow?–
a man in a motorcycle jacket
who has not forgotten her.
The lights come on all over town.

The plane from Lisbon lands,
the watchers shift and hum.
A tiny black-eyed boy breaks away,
screaming “POPPY!  POPPY!”
runs through the NO UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL barrier
as if he’s authorized,
throws himself at an old man carrying an umbrella, a paper sack.
Poppy drops his burdens,
raises up the child.
I see ten thousand white geese.
I see starlight on the snow.

The plane from England touches down, taxies in.
The doors open.
When after all these months I see my son
I know that together we have one face,
the face of God,
of someone being born.


I wrote this back in 2003, (I think) after practicing “Messiah.”  The mezzo was Wendy Hoffman-Farrell, and this poem is dedicated to her.

. . . I always used to believe he would,
but lately, with life wandering out of control–
beasts, sharp edges everywhere–
I have not been so sure.

Concentrating on my part–
the crazy alto timing in “He shall purify,”
the slippery bits in “Unto us”–
I was forgetting to listen.

But then her voice.
Not like light–
not clear, star-studded, disturbing,
the dangerous sky of a wild and wakeful night–

but close and warm and dark,
the safe dark when everything that can harm is asleep,
the comforting dark when you have been gathered up
and peek out at the puzzling world
from the folds of his robes,
the happiness of his encircling arms.


                                                     after a print by Ray Hudson

Snow falls in enormous
flakes, each bigger
than the invisible moon.

In twenty-seven rectangles, four trees
climb a blue hill;  beyond,
the mountains rise green.

Snow falls from blue
through gray, mirrored
once,  once turned over.

It has been shown that the human
brain can get used
to anything:  eyeglasses that reverse

or invert the world,
nearly any loss.
It has been proven that

we do not perceive the world
as it is.  That must
be so, since the moon

could never be
so small, since hills are never
so blue.  It must be so

if four trees
can climb a blue hill
twenty-seven ways.


The year they found her bones
my son was riding my hip.
The year they found her bones
he learned to sing, sitting on my  lap:
Row, row, row your boat,
life is but a dream.
I watched him climb the chairs,
he practiced stairs.  We made faces:
Can you make a happy face? 
Angry? Silly? Sad? 

He learned to say please and thank you,
the intricate gaze and glance.
Sentences grew long.
He found meter and rhyme,
the spine of his stamping dance.

Raising little hominids
takes time.

Juvenile, he stalked us with his friends,
spying from the edges of the lawn;
always they carried sticks.
He kept an eye on girls,
to see, he said.
what they’ll do next.
Adolescent, he found his clan;
invented lives and names.

Now, he’s a long walk away
but the mother-bond holds tight:
his low voice on the phone
every Sunday night.
I believe Lucy
held together.  Our hearts shatter,
people scatter.
Our bones come apart.