Oops

The mountains saw God. And oops.
Their hair turned white. Parted nice and neat
in between full wavering ridgelines combed over into neat clean
albeit dusty looking landscaping. Streaks of dark where evergreen
keeps the whole scene dirtier and salt and peppered. Bovines speckled
like dandruff and the hillside is framed in farmhouses for ears.

Muddy overflowing creeks at the bottoms of powder white mountains.

Electrified, traumatized by the divine presence
streaked white lightning like a skunk’s sour complexion.
Smell it from a corpse on the side of the twisted mountain spine.
Conscious thoughts in cars slow one by one slink up along connecting
traffic circles and overlapping highway junctions to thoroughfares down around
the hips to the mind. Some house in a row of them. This one is mine. My mind.

When it believes it perceives a thing it fails to describe.
A jolt of spirit blown white lights the burning penetrating radioactive kind.
Snow. High of sixty yesterday. Tonight. Oops. Low of nineteen. God.

Is not all these mountains have seen.

Continue

It is all perfect. This is all entirely correct. The small-
ness. The triviality. Sheer, daunting, cliffscape minute-
ness. It is of vital importance. In every pursuit except excuse.
Or alleviation. From the one inarguable commandment of life.

Continue.

Let us start at the beginning. At the heart.
Each tiny minuscule cell beats. Contracts.
No heart is squeezed, or pressed, or gripped into action.
Just broken into a trillion seamless pieces
All showed up to orchestra rehearsal on time
Ready to start.

No matter the proportion.
All life is collaboration.
And the further we stare exclusively outward
The smaller, less consequential, more unimportant
Problems unreal
We’ll feel.

Because there is no universe to know outside of us.
Everything we are meant to know can not be avoided.
You are Atlas.
The boon of self awareness.

The realization that you are currently highly covetable real estate in the universe.
You’re third violin in a symphony of millions.

There isn’t one cell in a sea of heart.
You are the heart.

A heart cell.

To declare the answers to those questions are and have always been within.
And the only way to claim ignorance against them is to ask them out loud to the world.
And never whisper them alone under your breath.

If you ever so desired to learn if there was a secret purpose to life
Why should you need to ask anyone else other than yourself?

Forever-Open

Once I was a week’s vacation for a church janitor. On paper, the position is called sexton. But in truth, I cleaned bathrooms. Lots of other work too. Dusting under stained glass windows. Polishing hundred year old timber. Lightly mopping myself out of the sanctuary. I took the trash. The church was massive and historic. Built in the late eighteen hundreds. Episcopalian. On paper, high church. And it takes a lot of work to hold that title. I was only there a week. But I had just finished spending two and a half months principally living in the woods.

My first day off trail, I held the keys to a century old building.

The tick tock of hard heeled boots on marble floors. Bowed in iron floor grates that would take deep spooky breaths ever so often. Seeing stained glass scenes at different times of day. Not just mornings. It was early November, upstate New York. The space was warming. In every way I needed. Empty churches have always felt like home. Growing up the middle son of a Lutheran Pastor, whose ministry crossed several churches and state lines in the course of my childhood. We’d spend a lot of time at a place most people see only once a week. I remember playing hide and seek in graveyards. I think of it now, but in no way back then did I even question for a second if what we were doing was wrong. Proximity. And creativity. The blinders all children see the world within. And here I was again, alone in an intentionally intimidating, hollowed-out space. Empty enough to fill with echoes even of slight gestures. A no whisper space. A better not start unwrapping that cough drop until the hymn starts up again space. And I had it all to myself. Keys in my hand. And a list of chores my credibility was attached to. It was an interesting overlapping of experiences to say the least.

I have known many church janitors, or sextons rather, in my lifetime. Never thought twice about any one of them. Didn’t really process that it was a real job. Definitely refused to recognize a church’s dependence on that position, almost as much as a pastor even. I saw it done to perfection. I saw it taken advantage of. You never could have convinced me to believe I’d be one one day. That guy with the keys dangling from a belt loop. Trust. Access. Responsibility. Fifteen an hour. Fifteen hours. Ornate, immaculate linens with real wax candles in gold colored holders. Dripping. Rafters forty feet, I don’t know, felt like a hundred, maybe somewhere in between, dark stained support beam skeleton and light yellow white painted spaces. Altars etched with latin words. No crucifix. All crosses and cups full with grapes and stained glass scenes with farm animals and children.

The organ made you move with or without making music. A true to form pipe organ. Powerful, to say the very least. A mountain range of volatile motion capable of capturing the most experienced hiker in an off trail outward bound mouth hung down might be drooling a little as I stare off into space mind racing while an organ erases anything that may have previously fulfilled the expectations I had for a word like powerful, to say the most. Boxy boxed off section of pews for the choir. Two pulpits. Or one pulpit, one podium. I believe they corrected me on that too. One of them was an eagle, wings outspread legs arched forward the instant before a strike. A larger than life Holy Bible invitingly spread wide open on its back. Air conditioning screaming up from the basement. Intricate black trails of sediment locked in ancient white sheets of carved up ground smooth granite. The weddings, white dresses starkly contrasted against dark stained wood. Line of men standing shoulder to shoulder nervously smiling and poking each other with elbows to deal with the anxiety. A room full of people. Breathing. Whispering. Passing hard candy down from grandma. Twisting spinal columns to see if the Narthex was loaded, safety off, bride in the chamber, groom sat out a hundred yards like a target. Wavering in the wind of childlike anticipation.

Churches are vessels for memories. God, not so regularly. You get to the afterlife looking for a house of worship, you’ll probably be handed a hammer and nails. We have no evidence whatsoever to believe a divine current running throughout the universe has much if any interest in our buildings. I had just walked eight hundred miles across four states, I spent a little time in the whole east coast’s backyard. Trees blurred together into forests before me, mountains overlapping ranges like skyscraping waves far out in the ocean. Three walls and a tin roof made me feel like royalty. A fire, all alone, out in the woods, kept me in lively company. All my needs fit in tiny waterproof sacks stuffed in a bag on my back. Worship is experience. Church is a hostel. A place for the traveler to find some reprieve. Reflection. Catch your breath. Invest it into a little friendly conversation. But God isn’t like us. It has its own ideas about architecture. Besides, time, nature, weather, inevitability is constantly trying to diminish and tear these places down. There is a literal team of hard fought individuals who show up, clock in, grind gears, push pens, stack paper, answer phones, clean bathrooms, dust windows, shut off the alarm when the new rector accidentally sets it off. Rector. Another word for pastor. And congregation, a word for a herd of fresh shorn, darty eyed, collar throated, had too much corn with a touch of bloat, sheep. Also, God can’t take credit for sheep. Or any domesticated thing. Even feral, untouched by man, there’s a good argument to be had that we can’t rightfully credit a possible creator of the entire universe with the detailed shapes and design of anything we find here on earth. But possibility. Potential. Different. Of this sort of metaphysical work, there is evidence. And one could put up a decent argument that churches operate as modes of restriction imposed on chaos. A roof to block out earth’s roof. Windows that can’t be seen through. Doors that open so wide but with copper locks buried inside intended to keep them closed.

Memory. Not creation. Canon fired, for fear of allowing any more genesis to take place. Heels echoing against hundred year old paint still streaked with the brush strokes of hands upheld sixty feet up a ladder now buried in the ground. A brass lettered placard in the Narthex tells the church’s story, lists crucial dates, responsible parties. Behind the altar, a musky sacristy. Silver orbs on silver chains to swing burning sage. Choir robes. A refrigerator full of holy wine. Crackers in the cabinet. Crackers on the cross. Crackers in the pews. I was never a fan of that point of view. Can’t get comfortable in an audience. Felt fine polishing where they sit though. Sweeping off where their feet had been. Mopping away the winter boot prints. Running a bleach soaked rag over their toilet seats, where their naked bodies had touched down, where the holy leftovers of water were graciously offered, stagnate in the corner of the stall. Wondering if they realize there is wine in there. The wine in our urine. The blood in the wine. The wafer. The meal heard round the world, still got deposited down the side of some tree, or planted into empty space beneath an overturned boulder.

“We are called to the table,” I spoke out loud, my deepest booming voice directly into the cold embrace of this massive historic church’s hollow breast. “Later on, we’ll be called to the bathroom.” The rounded trailing sounds of once-words fizzle and fuse into the wood grain, the three inch thick stained glass window panes, down, into imperceptible spaces in pristine, glass-faced marble, inhaled by raspy high heel hungry grates embedded in the floor up front.

“We are called to this table, to eat, drink, and prepare to be called away from this table.”

I am standing as upright as I possibly can behind the widespread wings of a golden eagle, heavy book on its back like a turtle shell. All alone in a titanically empty room. The keys that unlock it are in my pocket. I was thin. Hardened. Incorrigible. Feeling invincible. Called. Walked to the very hostel I’ve spent my entire life arguing with and running away from. Not to talk, or lecture, or give a sermon, or even edit one. But to sweep. Mop. Clean bathrooms. I remember thinking as I worked one day in the sanctuary, how every person who pursues a pastoral ministry, should start by cleaning a church, head to toe. From the altar, to the restroom. Body of Christ, indeed.

“The point was not so we could come here and be given the tiniest proportion of bread and wine to take a little slack off our worried minds about where we go when we die. The point was, we’re already dying. Hunger is your daily reminder. Thirst, a warning sign. It’s unavoidable. We all extend out and can be traced back to the table like a vine. We are mutually severed. Every time.”

Lights turn on in the hallway. Doors that enter from the back of the giant room are suddenly traced by bright rectangles.

“This place. This is the hostel. At the base of the mountain. It is not the mountain top. We’ve taken a hiking, walking, working person’s philosophy, as a reason to stop. Rest. Reprieve. Take in the view. If you like it well enough, you never have to leave.”

The light go off. That side of the sanctuary returns to dark. I lean a little forward, both fists resting on the pages of a tremendous bible, on the back of a golden eagle. The light is fading from the darkest stained glass first, the reds have gone brown, the purple and royal blue now black, only yellow and white still allow the light of a quickly setting sun to pass.

“The point was not to forsake knowledge in pursuit of belief. Jesus, of all people, knew you’d be hungry again tomorrow. And the next day. If we’re lucky, there will always be more work to do. This place is a hostel, a temporary relief along a journey. Church is something you carry with you. Into the world. Over the mountains.”

“Worship is simply a quieted, hollowed-out space inside yourself.
Where the doors are forever-open and bear no locks.”

My Window

Lake all pukey green.

Once white teeth stained yellow by its acidic churning.

Sour-looking. Running the wrong way. This lake.

Is a mask set on top of a river. By the TVA.

This lake cost a lot of people their homes.

Dented ridges climb the other side then taper down into Damascus.

America is a crapshoot for naming things.

White can be seen through trees against mountain scalp like dandruff.

Undisturbed beneath thinning hair. Itchy-looking.

Dry cold makes a wet nose and specks of dust out of falling snow.

Virginia. Old girl. I have decided not to say it.

Wind. Sucking at the windowsill. Battling doors.

Carrying the recyclables all across the yard.

Bombastic voices on the television warn us ‘stay indoors’.

Polar Vortex. Man wears a rolex. Catches light

point out Saltville. Bristol. Then Wytheville.

Only flurries, near Hillsville. Blue eyes pierce.

Stared into camera two.

May as well give his ‘back to you’.

She. Muted. Tells about lost and found children.

Geese bowl over one another down by green water.

White birds stalk yellow waves. Winter wind.

Pushes the river the wrong way. Backward.

Black birds beat wings against the weather.

Took them ten minutes to clear my window.

TV Guide

Television. Documentary. Playboy Mansion. Coffee cup. Canadian whiskey.
My taste in liquor is better than a mirror at showing me who I really am.
TV shows so much. Everything. Commercial in the middle.
How am I supposed to know what to do with this.
Man selling leggings. Woman in a dress.
Hair pulled back in ponytails behind the heads of girls.
Boys in blue shirts and buzz cuts and thick rimmed black plastic glasses.
Reptiles encased in clear plastic.
Foal colt hesitant to nurse.
Exotic animals at eight.

I am sure a game is on.
I don’t have the remotest idea what station, or the remote.
Don’t care enough to fetch it. Syndicated programming on repeat.
Eyes closed dog curled up on my feet. Cat occupied hip dent.
The room I am in. Television. Channel in the three hundreds.
Actually. Two hundred and sixty four. Fiance snores.
Heat clicks on and sings through slat-wood vents.
Food they want me to buy.
Coffee they’d like me to drink.
Pizza.

More nutritional information on dog food commercials.
Cold medicine. New show. Fat actor. Black doctor.
Dodge the Ram. Spoil the lamb. Jail time. Kelsey Grammar.
Each rule obeyed. Expectation betrays.
Animal shows make us cry.
We lost the foal.
No one said why.
The words I write keep being spoken on the television.
No lie.
I must have the vision.

Call me the TV guide.

I see things yet to happen. Same as you.
With eyes bright and wide.
In the television room.

Happy birthday to an incredible woman, and the love of my life

Still laughs like a little girl

Where comets come from. Yes, you are brighter than any star in the sky
and you have a magnificent tail. But I’d love to know where you dwell.
Should you choose to take me there. Until then, I know you’re a sign.
Of something. Beautiful. And terrible. All by your lonesome.
You’re a volatile couple. Ashley. Americanized Cinderella.
Do I know how you hate that. But we love you for it. Honey.
I need you. More than I have ever let you know.
This has all been for you.
In hopes you’d give some back to us. You’re American.
You’re British. You’re Scottish. And gypsy. And arrogant.
You are America.
You are the cloth high up on the mast that catches new wind first.
Before the sails that push the ship even.

You move your own direction. Respect.
Head nod. Eye contact. Embrace. Stoic face.
As streams rain down and embers soar, sparks fly.
Celebrate. Nothing more. Than more light in the sky.
Sulfur smelling air. No care.
Dressed eighteen hundreds.
Beaming in red bursts with white gold finish.
Disappeared.

Smiling steady in sporadic flashes of darkness.

Dry Hill – new poetry book – INTRO

Don’t read these words like you actually know me. No. Pretend I’m a stranger. Make believe these are pages you found bound together on the street. Please. I am lowkey begging you. Give me that grace. I’m asking for it, even though I know it can’t be given. An impossibility. Grace just is. By no work or deed of your own. The hated are loved. The weight of full hearts breaks others.

I just want to write my way from beginning to end, birth to death. Things I can own and those stubbed toes and stumbled steps I might in the long run rather omit. I am going to write it down. For myself. For you. Though I recognize you didn’t ask me to do it. For my son. For Ashley. For the kids two thousand years from now, for when they fight through the fray. When they ask, I don’t need to articulate what. Just, when they ask.

Is why I write.

 

 

Blue Mountains

The mountains are two dimensional.
And blue. And minuscule.
Rock mounds bound behind clouds.
Sound. Muffled in a muffled room.
Ends too soon.

Almost didn’t start.
I might not be smart.

Mountains might actually be massive.
Clouds could be vapor. Lighter than air.
Ridges more red-white than blue.
Who knew. Clear as a bell windows.
Still aren’t see through.
No matter what lies on the other side.

You see a window too.

There are no such things as mountains that are blue.

You’re Home

So. What can I call you now. Jeremiah? Jeremy?
I hope hey you will do. Hey. You.

Aren’t you ready to wake the fuck up just yet?

Take a breath. If you can exhale it away, don’t waste any more of our time writing it.
Settle. I know the coffee isn’t helpful. Wake up, little brother. Arise, newborn father.
Come back to earth planetary lover. And be where you are. Here. In the now.
How is it we can be so sole defined by what comes out of our mouths
and disregard what we feed into them? Do not trust that definition.
Or any that tells you the one that wins is the only side of the coin.

Yes. We all know you write, Jeremiah. We recognize your loud voice and broody
demeanor make you want to be an actor. We see you farm a little on the side.
How nice. But you eat like shit. You drink too much, and not the good stuff.
Your money goes into piss. You lack discipline of any kind, let alone your lonely mind.
And you can be quite a dick, especially to those you love. Who have known you.
Shared in what you call home. You treat them like they found your favorite hiding place.
And now you’re it. My turn to go out looking for people who do not want to be found.

What a game. This life. And Jeremiah. You are too often in your head.
Too dependent on your voice, when your choices should speak for you instead.
But that is hard, isn’t it. To outperform and outshine before there is an audience.
No one around to cheer and look out proud and clap their hands.

But absence of a sound is not the same as silence.
Being alone is not synonymous with loneliness.
And Jeremy, my friend, you are neither.
You are not. And will never be. Alone.

So. Stop hiding place to place.
Hey. You.

You’re home.

By the shovelful

A letter to friends. First things first. Snow.

There really is no clearer demonstration of how rare it is to call something beautiful
that isn’t also dangerous. One of those unique instances nowadays
that’s impossible to argue with. I mean, look up. It’s that same cluttered,
pupil-shrinking prism for all of us. Weather.
And we fall under it.
What does that tell us?
The tilt of our wonderfully imperfect earth. The pull of the moon, pulled like a rib
from the belly of our world. The storied soil we work on and eat from and take on
yet cry and bemoan any opportunity or demand to give back. Which is inevitable.

It disrespects the dead to fear death this much.

That’s what winter is for. Every year, for a month, or a few, our planet tries to bury us.
Freeze us out. Toughen us up. Shed old leaves and dream and make plans for spring
staring longingly into fires as we listen for kettles to whistle
more eager than dogs do for dinner bells.

Wheels are not really ideal for snow.

Clothing becomes a form of shelter. As much home as one can carry worn like armor.
It can be the difference between a good day and that one day. Extra gloves. Dry socks.
Nature Valley bar. Lukewarm coffee.
It really is the little things that separate being outdoors from hell on earth.
Come equipped. Be stubborn about it. Dress in layers. Prepare for change.

A good nickname for winter. Change. Different.
Roll with the punches off a rolling earth.
Be buried up in ice and frozen rain and dig a way out.
By the shovelful. Claw with bare hands if you have to.

Show up.

A pretty titanic lesson that’s been working on me over the past year.
Which events of life am I truly willing to let deter me. Cold? Rain? Snow?
Were these elements not in the forecast when I set my plans. My intentions.
Yes. Of course they were.
These seasons have been forecast for millennia.
Put your boots on and play in them. Shovel out the drive and go adventuring.
Leave some tracks in something that was pristine when you first got there.
Perfect. Clean. And powder. Like paper. Put a story in it.
The greatest form of flattery is imitation.
So show winter it is not the only one of us who is willing to change.

Say to the earth, this is how I roll.
I, like you, stop for nothing.