To Heal the Sin-Sick Soul

Yesterday I lay in bed
All day
Unshed tears spilled down
Into my gut
And hardened into concrete

Unspoken love
Winged from my heart
To my head
The left side of my head

My sweaty sundress
Worn the bright day before
Lay crumpled on the floor

Today I got up
Not until late morning
But I got up
Put on the sweaty sundress
And forced myself outside

To sunshine
And leaves
Stirring in the breeze

To a showy red cardinal
Claiming the bird feeder
As his throne

To a humble song sparrow
Nesting below the roof peak
Of our brick-red garden shed

To the nuthatches pecking
Upside down
On the trunk of the red maple

To the smell of lemon balm
Planted near the porch
To ward off mosquitoes

To the music of our low fountain
Water plinking
Quiet but steady
From one small pitcher to another
Into our rock and moss pond
Surrounded by sky-seeking ferns
And one young yellow sharp leaved
Japanese maple

WOW! I thought
How could I forget
Even for a day

I live amidst goodness
Always, right here,
My balm in Gilead

Cream Cheese

In a compromise with my parents
That age ago
(they wanted near I wanted far
They wanted Catholic I wanted not)
I started college at Marquette University
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin
As far from New Orleans
As my parents would allow
But for them at least it was Jesuit
Though not Springfield,
Which was closer and
Also – importantly - where
One of my mother’s priest-cousins taught
We called him Father Junior

My parents drove me to Marquette
That first year
A drive delayed by Hurricane Betsy
My dad walked downtown from our house
To send the school a telegram
(The first like that they had ever received,
We were told when we finally arrived)
That I would miss freshman orientation
Because of a hurricane
The first night on the road 
We stayed in a motel
VERY exciting, my first time in a motel

At the diner where we ate breakfast
The next morning
After an increasingly confused exchange with the waitress
(Have you ever seen Jack Nicholson’s toast scene
In Five Easy Pieces?)
My dad was served – reluctantly – 
A block of Philadelphia cream cheese
Since he persisted that he wanted cream cheese for breakfast

And so we all three learned
That morning
Something none of us had known before
Only in New Orleans
Did cream cheese
Mean Creole cream cheese
(You might know it as curds and whey
Of Little Miss Muffet fame)
A breakfast favorite

In praise of Mary Oliver – and Skinks

I imagine Mary Oliver
after a nuclear holocaust
writing of her sorrow
that in our arrogance and anger
we destroyed ourselves
and most of our world

I imagine her writing of her fear
for the world and for herself
denying nothing
of her sadly changed expectations

I imagine her ending
But look at the way
this little brown skink
moves unhurried
up the porch wall
stopping and starting again
enjoying its bit of life

Here And There

Woody waits outside
On the porch he made for us
Sitting in the rocking chair
We bought in Ohio
Coming back from Michigan
Not our last time in Michigan
Just last weekend
When we drove there
For Jack’s memorial service
Stopping for the night in Berlin, Ohio
Because we don’t do the fast 10 hour interstate way
But wind our way slowly
Through the every season beauty
Of West Virginia
And Amish country Ohio

We went the slow way
Going up for the memorial service
For Woody’s nephew
Jack loved hunting, and his hungry chickens
As Woody loves gardening, and his Japanese maple trees

We came back the fast way on Monday
Because the assisted living home called
On Monday morning
Mom was having another hypertensive crisis
And they were taking her to the hospital
So I drove us back
Using the interstates and toll roads
Not hurrying, but not stopping for the night either

Mom is fine now
And Woody sits in his rocking chair
Waiting to take my hand
And walk together through our garden


I stare at the prompt,
“Write about uncertainty”
I sit, pen quiet, thinking thoughts
Uncertainty, I think, is my life
Uncertainty, I think, is my only sure possession
Uncertainty, I think, is my only certainty

Just as I pick up my pen to write
My phone buzzes
I have it nearby, on mute
In case it is my mother calling
Or, worse yet, her nursing home

It is my mother
I have to answer
Nothing is wrong
She just forgot this is my workshop time
And wanted to tell me her blood pressure
Is just fine
Nothing wrong today

Uncertainty is my life


I want no cathedral
In my head or soul
Unless it be
The cathedral of nothingness
Lifting unseen spires high 
Into its own nothingness
And within that nothingness
The sanctuary of Infinity
And within that infinity
The altar of Love
And on that love
The chalice of God
And within that god
In womanly orans
Tall and uplifted
As a cathedral spire
Arms bent, spread wide
Fingers cupped
As though to catch and cradle
Anointing oil
Dripping forever
From Sophia’s chalice

Cracked Light

Leonard told us
It’s the cracks
Through which we see the light

I’ve been looking for them
Those cracks in my shell

My problem is this:
Words keep sealing up
Every crack I find

As soon as I find a crack
I name it
As soon as I name it
It is this
It is not any other that
As soon as I name it
The name becomes glue
And seals the crack

On and on 
Around my shell
I search
Whenever I see light
I know there is a crack
What crack?


Oh damn
It’s sealing up again
No more crack

I give up
I rest in the center
And let the shell be

I am flooded
And floating
In many cracked light


Imagine, if you will, a person
No, wait, I don’t mean imagine the idea of a person
I mean SEE a person
How tall, how heavy
What color hair, eyes, skin
How old, how gendered

SMELL that person
Are they
Clean smelling
Slightly stale smelling
Or really rank

HEAR that person
Is their voice soft or loud
Their accent particular
Or talking heads generic
Do they snuffle
Or just quietly breathe

I don’t want you to sit there
Reading and imagining a vague person
I want you to imagine
A flesh and blood person
With girth and height
Color and clothing

Name that person
Know that person
Believe in that person

Now here’s the hard part
Believe that person
In their very particularity
Nothing more and nothing less
Is God
That is, that person is
Just like you
Just like me

Growing Silence

For six years
From 92 to 98
My mother lived with us


I have paused now
After writing those words
Because to give true texture
To that simple declarative
I have to reveal
Our ragged raveled family
Cut to pieces too often
By jealousy and illness
Alcohol and abuse

You see?
Already to write just that
Grows a weed in me
That offers no shelter
Even before the worm destroys it
And I sit, burning and cursing
And feeling sorry for myself

That is why my words stood still
A minute ago
Because what grows in my now stillness
Is just simple stillness
Sweet sweet quiet

But to appreciate what it means to me
To snuggle with Woody 
Within this tightly woven
Wide warm quiet quilt
For you to appreciate that
I would have to show you my family’s rags
And I would rather not

Or maybe, all I need tell you is this:
My mother
When she lived with us
Got up early, went to bed late
And kept CNN on her TV, loud, louder, loudest
Despite hearing aids and surround sound
So that even in my bedroom
A floor and a more away
I could hear the words of the talking heads
Louder than my own thoughts

Maybe I don’t need to tell you
More than that
For you to glimpse
The gorgeous flowering
Of silence in my home
And what it means to me