Window feeder birds

My window feeder birds wait out the night
on hidden branches of nearby shrubs and pines
where writhing winter winds can’t reach them quite
the way they would along the power lines.
My window feeder birds retard the cold
with shivers in a frantic, desperate haste—
they burn themselves, beneath their down to hold
the heat, to save themselves from frigid waste.
My window feeder birds resist the wind,
though not by strength of grip or force of will:
The touch of inner balance keeps them pinned
to perch, to life, despite the gusts and chill.
We seek the balance when the night blows stark
and shiver as we hold on through the dark.

A winter’s dream

He lived the worsted winter months, content
and warm, beside his glowing coals.  His walls
protected him from prairie winds that would,
if wild, leave waning hearts in withered hides
of all who stood exposed.  But here, beneath
the wind, away from stinging snows, in close
to his own fire, he sang a song of thanks.
He pressed his hands against the earth to feel
its quiet force, to touch the womb of his
own strength, to suck the scent of this, his home.

A dawn arrived so crisp and clear the light
beyond his walls crept in and kissed his eyes
awake.  The sun caressed his face and drew
him out, it seemed, with whispers soft and new.
The light was unlike any he had seen:
so brilliant, pure and sure it hurt his eyes;
so beautiful and strong he could not look
away.  He stretched his arms toward the sun
as if he meant to hold it close, embrace
the heat and press the light against his breast.

“I waited long for you.  I saw you in
my dreams.  I knew I’d love you when you came.”
He closed his eyes.  “And now that you are here,
I know you will not stay with me.  Your walk
along my path is short; your journey’s pace
is swift.  I know that you have danced across
the mountain tops, that you have run untamed
with horses on the distant plains, that you
have heard the secret songs of streams unknown.
I know you long for them again, so go.”

He bowed his head and smiled. “In dreams, I’ve held
you near a hundred times and not been burned.
Before you came, I touched your flame, embraced
your fire and felt the life that flows from you.”
He raised his face toward the sky again.
“I know it cannot be.  Your touch would mean
the end of me.”  He shook his head.  “I have
no want for life to live a dream or dreams
to come to life: to see your light today
is sweeter even than the dream.  Enough.”

He lived the worsted winter months, content
and warm, beside his glowing coals.  His walls
protected him from prairie winds that would,
if wild, leave waning hearts in withered hides
of all who stood exposed.  But here, beneath
the wind, away from stinging snows, in close
to his own fire, his heart was full of thanks.
His fingers wrapped around his flute and lips
blew happy songs of love: for light, for heat,
for hints of spring that dance within a dream.

Our tradition

We like these woods the best in snow.

We’re brought here by the season though,

to cut our family Christmas tree.

Which one is right, the kids will know.

They run the rows, the better to see

atop which pine our star should be–

“It’s this one! This one! This one here!”

–until on one we all agree.

We linger in these woods so dear

to feel the warmth of Christmas cheer,

and then our silent oath declare

to this tradition we revere.

The woods feel like a living prayer,

but there’s a feast we must prepare,

…. and hours of love that we must share.

…. And hours of love that we must share.

The hunt

The snow that hid between furrowed rows

collected somber whispers of early light

and lifted just enough of nighttime’s shroud

to make the going there a thing a man

could do.

……….. He stood a while, confused, unsure

of where to take a step.  “I’ve lost my way,”

He thought, “I’ve got to get a grip.”  He moved

his hands along the rifle stock to shift

the weight and ease the load.


………………………………………. “I’m here.”

He heard his father’s voice again, still soft,

“I’m here.”


Then, from the gray, a form emerged

and walked ahead as if to lead the way.

He knew this form from years of watching it:

The heavy shoulders and hunting coat of red

and black; the heavy boots that marked a gait

as sure as it was long; the easy smile;

the eyes of welcome warmth; the air of grace.


“I’m lost,” he said aloud.  “And I’m afraid.”


The form, familiar, stood atop a rise

and turned to him.  “You’re where you’re meant to be.

You’re mine: You’re strong.  We’ll hunt this land for years

to come.   I’m just across this other side,

down out of sight, but you’ll still know I’m here.

You stay.  Hunt here for now.  Time comes, you follow me.”


The sunlight broke the crest as he watched his father walk away.

Thanksgiving Day

Beyond the steam that gently hung above

the plates of mashed potatoes, yams and corn,

she saw her mother’s face.  The misty veil

could not disguise the sorrow in her eyes

or hide the pain that creased her lips

and set her jaw in rigid, stoic lines.


She whispered, “Mom” and reached to touch

her hand.  “Are you OK?”

……………………………. A tired smile

came slowly in reply, then nothing more.


She took the plate of turkey, passed it through

the steam toward her mother’s empty dish.

She held the offer longer than she thought

she should, then put it down and looked around

the table: all of them were watching her.

Her children looked away.  Her sister wiped

a tear.  Her husband held her gaze – his way,

she knew, to give her strength.  But no one ate.


Her mother said, “It isn’t right,” and turned

toward an empty chair as if to ask

for help remembering the thing that still

was missing – caught herself and shook her head.


She thought she heard her mother sigh, and took

her hand again.  “What is it, Mom?  What’s wrong?”

She drew her breath in hard and asked,

“Is it because he’s gone?”


……………………………. Her mother smiled.

“Oh no – he’s never gone.”  She smiled again

and said,  “He loved this day the best.  And how

he loved this meal!”  She stopped to scan the food

as if to find the thing she thought astray.


She caught her mother’s glance.  “Everything is here.

You’ve made it just the way he liked it, Mom.

Now can we eat?  It is what Dad would want.”


“No, wait!”  Her husband stood and pushed his chair.

“I think I know the missing piece.  Hang on.”

He walked into the living room — a pause –

then came the call:  “The Lions have the ball.”

He sat again and, with a wink, he said,

“The game was always on.  Please pass the rolls.”


Her mother stood and moved toward the door.

She turned, came slowly back, then leaned to kiss

his head.  “I s’pose –” she stopped, then laughed and said,

“you know, I s’pose they’ll lose again this year.”

The view from the grave

The prairie broke in a range of hills with sides

of layered rock and crests as flat as the plains

below.  We left the highway and headed north.

The paved road turned to gravel and, as it wound

its upward course, the gravel turned to dirt,

the dirt road narrowed, the piney forest closed

along the sides and the fading road became

a two-track.  When the two-track ended at

a washout, we stopped the truck, climbed out and walked.

The hillside where the road had ended fell

away and, taking it, we cut across

a valley of cactus flowers growing wild,

ascended the farther slope and found a stand

–a thicker, richer stand–of trees.  The air

was cool and moist among the fragrant boughs,

and pausing to rest and cleanse our throats of dust

we heard the flawless empty spaces sigh

a song of solitude and sweeter days

of untamed dreams and boundless chance.  We thought

aloud how such an open place was as near

to paradise as we had ever seen.  An hour

we walked the quiet hills for nothing more

than feeling them alive beneath our feet.

And then we saw it.

……………………… A tombstone, a modest stone,

with letters nearly lost to the wear of rain

and wind and snow.  My brother read the name.

“It’s Mrs. Otis Tye,” he said.  “She died

in January, 1882.”


“Out here?” I asked.


………………………. “I heard about them once,”

said he.  “The Tyes were settlers.  One winter night,

when Otis was away from home, the team

of horses got away and lost in snow.

Frontier gals being a hearty bunch, Ms. Tye

went out that night to fetch them back alone.”


“You gotta love a woman like that,” I said.


My brother nodded.  “Crying shame they gave

her his name on the stone.  She earned her own.”


“The storm?”


………………. “He found her on this very spot.

The house is standing yet, in part at least,

about a mile from here.”  He waved his arm

toward the east.  “It’s made of rocks from these

same hills.”


……………. We stood alone among the rocks

and swallowed tepid water from our canteens–

a silent toast of sorts–and thought about

the turning of the circle.  Frontier graves

were simple things:  Her wooden box had long

returned to the earth from which it came, and she

was sure to follow close behind.  We knew

the life the hills had given her, the life

that fueled the fire in her eyes, was now the life

that filled these scented grasses, held these trees

against the prairie winds and helped to close

the sacred hoop.  We knew that it was right.


I saw him squint toward the muffled calls

of far-off turkeys.  “Want to go?” I asked.


He shook his head and turned his face to feel

the arid winds that blew across the plains

and rose against the rocks.  “Let’s stay a while,”

he said, then smiled.  “The air’s so clean, so clear,

it is amazing what I see from here.”

In the end

Oh sacred, final morning still,
Your frosted breath has chilled the air.
The hints of light above the hill
Evoke this humble, solemn prayer:
Enchant our hearts with unhurried pace,
Impede the rise of morning’s glow;
In mercy, allow a moment’s grace,
And pass the hours of this day slow.
Create a pause for whispers soft,
For those who need a last embrace,
For those who send their sighs aloft,
For those who love this weary face.
Oh sacred, final morning calm,
Delay the truth we know must come
Provide a modest healing balm,
For their sakes—slow, ‘til the day is done.

The river

The water starts so fast it tears the womb,
the Earth, from which it bubbles free and runs.
It cuts the soil from banks so sharp they trick
the feet and make the going there unsure.
It rolls the pebbles hard and pushes them
toward ideal, so smooth and clean and bright
they shine as gems so long as they are wet.
The river then is beautiful and fierce
and all that tries to turn its course is swept
away and torn apart and left as waste.
The water slows and widens soon, too soon.
The banks are gentle, firm, and rich with growth,
and walking, sitting, dreaming there bring joys
so sweet you think you’ll stay and never leave.
The river does not stem its flow for love.
It carries forward, growing broader, more
reflective in its gently rippled face.
At last the river’s winding course is done.
The river joins the greater body, lake,
or sea and is a single thing no more.
I’m going out to walk the river’s shore;
I’ll only stop to fish a meal or two
(and wade the shallows for a while, I may):
I know I won’t be gone long–you come too.

A porch light on

The long, hard road concedes no place for rest,

and cold, dark winds allow no time to pause,

so on, headlong, we plunge toward the west.

The sharp turns, slick with ice, extend their claws

to rake the highway free of we who yearn

too much to see the miles between us fade.

The dreary hours cause sleepy eyes to burn

and weary minds to conjure thoughts half made.

But through the mist you shine, the way torch-

lit towers called the sea-tossed ships to shore,

the way uneasy parents leave the porch

light on to greet their children at the door.

…. Seen through our hearts, you are a beacon bright,

…. a welcome home, a refuge from the night.

Baptism and benediction on the Brule

The trout ran strong and swift, the stream ran cold

and clear, and both ran past a pair of felt-

soled boots.  The angler in the boots stood long

alone and watched the water rushing by.

The hair beneath his hat was graying, but

the hands that held his pole were still as thick and

hard as when they guided softer hands

and smaller boots down muddy banks to take

that first enchanting step on mossy rocks.

He turned and looked at tiny, gleaming drops

of sunlight dancing upstream where the boy

had caught a rainbow on a fly he’d tied

himself.  Around the bend, a little way

beyond where he could see, was where the boy

had caught his first and found his private joy.

He watched the water, waiting, aching to see

the colored pebbles that were not what they

seem rise through swaying shafts of light and hold

near ripples, glitter-capped and quick, until

they tap the surface, take a bite and flash

away.  He watched the Mayflies lift and fall

on gossamer wings that fluttered helplessly

against the breeze until they failed.  The frail

and floating insects, their genetic task

complete, returned the river’s gift.  He looked

across to where the boy and he had sat

to wait for countless suns to sink and call

the trout to rise.  There, in the cool of grass

still soft, still moist, still shaded by the trees,

the words were easy.  Fears had fallen there

and drowned beneath the current.  Dreams were born

and carried high on summer winds.  So sweet

was one, it swept away the dreamer–yet

no sweeter than the one that brought, and kept,

the other here.  The angler bowed his head

toward the stream and, smiling, waded in.