Will You Be Planting Dahlias?

For my mother. 

Yes, you are in my bones,
as matrix for the matrix of my marrow
and my cells are busy building on your scaffold
there, where bloods are born.

On certain autumn midnights I would ride
my dreams against your sleep.
You localized my life, assured yourself that I was fine,
then turned upon your side.

But now you stir my dreams.
At dawn I hear the mother robins wake and search.
I turn and turn again but matrix of my marrow
has become a womb too deep.

Say, are you planting dahlias
by the walk this spring, again?
And is there room that I could nudge your side
and hold your hose and fold your gloves?

Merry Christmas, Figure It Out

There are good Christmases, but none perfect, because the “not yet” of Christmas is never totally immersed by the “already”. Because the cosmic template of the feast, the original Christmas event, was a dire, frightening “not yet”.

Unwanted pregnancy. Destroyed love affair. Angels giving out impossible assignments. Reputations trashed. Futures gone. Leaving home, huge pregnant. Uncomfortable travel, to a place not chosen. A birth, horribly timed. No place to rest. No place to put the baby. Relying on the kindness of strangers in a strange land. Uninvited guests from foreign countries. The news that soldiers are searching for the baby to slaughter him.

What could be more “Not yet” than this story, against the background of some vague promises from angels that this would be a wonderful experience? There’s never been a more empirically disappointing Christmas than the first one, and that’s our template. We’re meant, by a mystical bond with the liturgical template, to experience the “not yet” against the longing of the “already”.

So the experience of Christmas never quite ascends to the vision of Christmas, which, like all visions, is made of just the bright shiny bits with the dark seams of the original, and even the disappointing memories of our past holidays, always dropping away. It’s o.k.; follow the star, and figure it out. .

So I snap back to the start of it all, where the angel appears with greetings – “Merry Christmas”. We now know that what the angel actually said was “Merry Christmas, figure it out.”

The Cross of Blue Flame

You’d be walking home after Sunday evening church. A few minutes past the golden hour, to the mauve hour, when the sun shafts are gone, but the sky is still lighter than the tree trunks. Woods on the right, the creek down the hill on the left side, and far across the creek and beyond the fields, the occasional light from a house. The trees are close on this right side, shadowing the road from a stirring roof overhead.

You have long memorized the bumps of the road; you’ve walked it since you were a child. For anyone else it would be too shadowed at this hour for steady steps.

Far off through the trees there’s a light, moving from trunk to trunk, gently, neither hiding nor hurrying, but coming your way. It’s a cool light, toward blue. The blue shimmers like a northern light, with an internal dance that shifts the shape of the flame second by second.

When the flame reaches the road a stone throw ahead of you, it stops. It is clearly there for you. After you also stop and collect your puzzled thoughts toward the blue flickering point, the flame stops dancing, contracts into its own center, then stretches four arms back out into the unmistakeable sign of a Baptist cross, like the one atop all the country churches. There it stands for a long minute, in a brighter, steadier blue glow. It stands, you stand, breathing. Then it contracts again back into its own center, and is gone. The dark returns.

You wait for something else but there is nothing else. Then, when the frogs timidly start again in the creek and the owl resumes her rollcall, you notice how quiet the woods had already become.

It’s always on a road like this and a night like this. It’s always after evening church service. Never across open ground, never near graves. This is not the cemetery wisp. This is no prophecy; no knowledge is offered and there is nothing asked of you.

You’ll only see the blue cross once in your life. You’ll hesitate to tell anyone, because you’re not sure what it meant. But then, always, and within a few days, a death of someone you know. You’ll wonder if the blue cross was to warn you – that’s natural – but it doesn’t feel like a warning.

Later, as you casually ask around, you’ll realize there is no-one you know who has seen the blue cross, but many of them have known someone who said they heard of it.

As best I can tell, it means something like this:

“Death is known to me. I start your mornings and I count your evenings. When the old ones leave the church building to walk their dirt roads toward home, I count their steps. And as the road and the woods and the steeple-bells age, to tell them all their time runs old, I watch. Death is not my friend, but is an acquaintance, and I count his steps too.”