Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: October, 2015


Laetoli, Tanzania, 3.7 million years ago
Genesis 19
The Syrian-Lebanese border, summer 2015

Fleeing for her life: the mountain
vomits fire and smoke,
cloud of ash become an angry rain
burning mud beneath her feet.
They say she turned, perhaps to take
a longing homeward look, catch
a choking, wheezing breath, seek
the child devoured and gone in acrid fog,
then walked on, uncomprehending.
Captured in the mire,
her steps beat out grief’s millions-year-old rhythm,
eternal footprints graved in primal rock
beneath the falling skies of Olduvai.

Fleeing for her life: rapine fingers
clawing at the dark, lusting for
her daughters’ clothes and flesh; do not look back,
do not cling to what is torn away.
They say she turned, perhaps to glimpse
the strong door that once held at bay
an angry world now fiery, falling
in smoke and sulfurous stone.
Captured by the sight,
she froze, a salted stele,
eternal monument to the heartache
of leaving house and home in Sodom.

Fleeing for her life: the only haven
safe from falling bomb and cloud of gas
a border in the desert sand
two staggering thirsty weeks away.
They say she turned, though pulled at last
by stronger hands, reached back for hearth
and house where she had learned to cook and clean
and make the things that make a home.
Captured by the lens,
she is frozen on the berm, memorialized,
eternal refugee without the heart
to cross the border into Lebanon.

Hard Rain

A hard rain on dry ground,
grief in torrents, whelms and washes
away all hopes and heart’s desires,
artifacts of another life,
closetful of useless treasures.

That may not be the worst.
Seemingly insidious, it
sinks and saturates deep places,
buried strata, bone and spirit,
eroding granite character.

Yet here is the wonder:
time distills, darkness purifies.
In some unthought-of aquifer,
rivering beneath barren rock,
it runs its course and waits its day

‘til someone drills a well,
and suddenly it surges up
to irrigate a garden, slake
a thirst, wash away the tearstains,
or, poured into the empty font,

baptize the newly born.

When It Isn’t There

October 2015

It’s what the bees are busy with, hive-deep,
where no light reaches and the constant drone
of action serves to make the sweetness
those whose labor makes it never taste.

It’s what the land that flows with milk and—
flows with, even if more desire than dish,
a morsel in the mouths of weary wanderers
who yet taste it only in their dreams.

It’s the name I call you when not thinking
of your name but who you are or what you mean
or more likely what reward I’m yearning
to taste when we are done with conversation.

It’s what remains on my lips after our kiss
in the dark, the light at last extinguished
and the dog now settled, sighing, in the corner
and I wait to taste the respite of shared sleep.

Is it not a wonder, how life’s sweetness
is sweetest not handled, owned, or held
but hoped for or perhaps remembered,
not on the tongue, but when it isn’t there?

[PKH note: This poem had is birth in a dare. A friend challenged me write a poem about on a subject of her choosing. I wonder if you can guess what the subject was. This is the mess we get in when you dare me to do something.]