With the same gentleness that she would handle an infant, she folded the baby clothes and set them on the shelf. She was kneeling in the back of the store as I pushed by with my cart. I looked back over my shoulder to see if she was a customer or an employee. She wore beige pants and a blouse, but no store vest. Someone had been rifling through the new clothes, that were no bigger than both her hands, and left them that way for the other customers. I watched her hold up each onesie, high, fold the shoulders back, and with a gentle flip, hold the bottom behind the other half, and set them down on the shelf –carefully, one after another, as though she were organizing the dresser drawers in her own nursery. My shopping cart had almost come to a full stop, but I decided it best to move on and stop staring over my shoulder. I couldn’t tell if she was an expectant mom, but what I could see of her shape made me doubt it. She clearly had her own kids, or maybe this extreme care was part of her lifelong wish for them. Maybe she’d lost a baby at some point, or maybe she was shopping for her daughter or her son with the gentle daydreams of a future grandmother–though she didn’t look the age. Whatever brought out her care, I could feel her heart in the way she handled these clothes that some day soon would be worn by babies she’d never know. That kind of gentleness has become nearly extinct, particularly for strangers. None of the mom’s who made their way to this section of this department store would realize the deliberate love she showed in this simple act. Instead, they would find everything neat and in order, this woman’s silent and anonymous contribution to new souls arriving in our world.
I have in me a little angel, with a faint voice, who always speaks from his heart. But I also have in me a roaring devil who screams daily—and nightly—up through the trees and into the blue and black skies. I have in my possession a little book, heavy, but no bigger than my hand, that contains all life’s truths, and maybe some insights on the afterlife. I keep on my bedside table, or on the carpet next to bed, or sometimes in bed with me, under and pillow or on the blanket. I seldom read it, though. The answers are there but they are not the ones I’m looking for. They seem to easy and they ruin the surprise that comes from flailing about and gaining wisdom form my own mistakes. My angel inside cries out louder to roll over and open the book. It feels like it would take all my energy to move, to shift my weight, and put that little book on
my chest. The angel—he gets drowned out—when the demons are screaming, seeping into me with their temptations. I can’t pick up the book. Especially not then. Lying next to me, it sits, the faux letter cover mocks me. Why defile it by opening its pages? Why ruin the ending? Who wants to reveal their own plot? The angel inside me does, and one day, when I’m through making mistakes, he’ll win out. He’ll silence the demons. I’ll lie in bed turning the glowing pages, my face lit up, my soul saved—if it isn’t too late.
From my lips the prayer is released.
I watch it go up on something like angel wings
riding wherever the wind takes it,
but always climbing,
rising through a patch of clouds
and up into thin, cold air
through the blue
until the blue turns black
entering a fiery barricade and finally passing out into the glare of stars
giving way to darkness
until suddenly everything turns bright
into … a presence
gathered around a throne
attending to the source
then over them
where it enters the creator
where he weighs my supplication
and decides whether to grant it blessing
or in its denial, lead me to deeper surrender.
My prayer released from these lips
all the way to His hearing.
Pilate told his soldiers to make the tomb as secure as they could. I’m sure they followed orders, sealing it off with a barrier no man could ever defy. And yet, on this morning, they found the stone … rolled away. The man who was spit on, beaten and nailed to the cross was gone. His followers and his captors stared at the tomb in wonderment. The Son of God could’ve walked right through the massive stone—leaving the grave sealed. Or, if he wanted, he could have lifted the rock up in the air and smashed it to the ground in a million pieces. But he didn’t. He simply rolled it open and left his burial clothes as a sign. Jesus is risen. And no grave we make for ourselves is ever too great for him to undo.
I wonder sometimes what those three days must have been like. After watching him pierced and humiliated came the endless hours and sleepless nights without a Lord and Savior in the world. (Millions of people live like this everyday. I did, for a time.) Before sunrise on Sunday, the Lord kept his promise … he always does. He finished it. Death. Life as a slave to sin. If you aren’t following him, he can end it for you—give you a new life. One worth living. And a heart that causes you to love even the one or ones who pierced you deepest.
In the gospel written by Luke (a physician), he mentions that Jesus was in such anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” I imagine every time Jesus prayed, it was fervent prayer—a moment to reconnect with his father. But this night (tonight) he knew all he was going to suffer the next day. Death, Satan himself, and maybe worse than that, the rejection, hatred and betrayal of the very people he came to redeem. Remember that in your prayers tonight. Remember that … whenever you pray.
Of course, it depends on the woman. But generally speaking, it’s not looks or money or anything material. The desire isn’t a certain lifestyle or destination, the aptitude or potential of a man. The longing is for one different than the others. Who knows what no other man knows. She wants a man willing to exchange souls: a man stripped down to his core. Keeping no secrets, dedicated to her heart. And when she finally finds it, she passes her soul on—to the man whose window light clears her morning fog. He hears her. Available and near her. This all runs contrary to what a man is. The brute at his core who savages. Collects bodies. Conquers prey. We were devised this way. Both, one born from his rib. A Creator’s hands shaped us and we set ourselves at odds. But when the impossible aligns and souls go floating, the perfection He intended cannot be broken by any man, especially the commoner.
Better than a padlock
or security alarm
is the garbled handwriting
with which I keep my journals.
Printed in faint pencil lead,
the words go
from margin to margin,
to the edge
of the notebook page.
Front and back,
the hard-pressed words
to the other side
of the paper.
My dreams lean
on blue lines.
tells a fantasy.
arranged by date.
You are welcome
to come read
You are welcome
to make them out.
But you can’t.
They are hand-written
A soul poured out
yet still cannot be read.
Any decent writer knows:
you give it all away,
day after day.
But there is that one bit
no one can get at.
No one can reach.
You keep it for yourself,
whether it is worth something
Ahead, a car flinches as its brake lights slam red.
From nowhere, a hawk comes gliding across the country highway.
First, the two northbound lanes.
Then, the median of dead grass.
Then, the southbound lanes.
And finally, over to the bare tree branches at the edge of the wood.
The branches bend under its weight as it flutters its wings closed and finds its perch.
In a moment, the ruckus is over and the traffic immediately resumes its rush.
I drive on, my mind still in the tree branches and open air with the hawk,
looking down on the strange flow of machines.
Unbridled by laws, by lanes, by time.
Wild and free from the rest of us animals.
On the drive down to Wichita:
The last dead days of February beginning to blossom.
Rolling prairie and mounded hills ready to green.
The surviving winter birds and the first of spring circle over bare trees.
Road going on and on, the entire countryside fenced into fine squares.
So many times I’m drawn to pull over and walk into it all.
Sun-covered hills and not a soul in sight.
Just passing cars and diesels and trucks, going and going to someplace.
I think about Ginsberg and his poetry reading in Wichita.
Pass the home of William Allen White.
The prairie is full of great poets.
The words are riding on the clouds and thick in dusty wind gusts.
I roll down my window and let them glide through my fingers.
No one wants to read anything real anymore.
No one wants to read truth.
In comes the arm and up goes the window.
I have caught enough words.
The last poet on the plains.