Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: September, 2016

Once You Were Gone

There were questions
I had never thought to ask
while you were here,
questions of ontology and teleology
I do not know how to answer.
Why must I wash my supper plate
in soap and hot water when to the naked eye
a wipe and cold rinse suffices no less well?
Why must I make the bed
when I have slept only on my side
and left yours undisturbed and will sleep again
in the same little hollowed nest
tonight and tomorrow night and the night after?
Why must I dry the shower walls
with that raveling towel you threw
for the purpose over the glass door
if tomorrow I will wet them once again,
and mold is no less a living thing than I?

I searched for answers
in all the standard reference works:
the photos on the mantle,
your dresses hanging in the closet,
the way you stacked the pots and pans
in the cabinet beside the stove.
For a moment, I thought I’d found them
behind the dog’s brown eyes
when he put his paw on my knee
while I was sitting in your chair,
but he was only wondering
when dinner would be served, and afterward
lay down on the rug across from the door
that leads to the garage, his nose pointed
in the direction of your anticipated arrival,
where he proposes to remain
in case you return.

The Wall

Distant January in a nameless hotel room.
Lying sleepless yet again and wondering why.

Moaning filtered through the stucco’ed wall.
Such agony, I thought, and too well known,

overheard the way you cannot help but hear
some pounding rap or furious Beethoven

through closed car windows from the next lane over,
as though I were worthy party to his pain.

Thin walls, I thought annoyed, and yet still curious,
listened on, until it seemed that I was hearing

keening of a different sort, a stranger music,
the kind that only lovers make. More insistent,

he began to build a slow crescendo…
with silence for a coda… and then another sound,

this one open-throated, higher in the register
as though the urgent theme were taken up

by another voice. Hers a freshened melody,
she called his name again…again…again…

his only counterpoint was silence until
at last the two began to sing together,

wordless duet, the ancient song our race
has always sung. The wall began to thump

with the headboard’s rhythm. I could feel
percussion now, and my own heartbeat

fell into the pace, matched their accelerando
as we strained toward the climax, all cries

and yearning, until the pinnacle was gained…
cries waned to denouement… and then to silence.

I held my breath, but nothing more:
the buzz of random voices down the hall,

and a thickening sadness in the dark
rising like a fog inside my soul.

Why has it lingered all these years, this grief
in every hotel room, at every bedtime?

I realized my knees were shaking—and
I was standing—and my ear was burning;

had I pressed it so long against the wall?
My hand trembled as I lifted to my lips

my now-cold cup of coffee, a nightcap tinctured
with the salty savor of my tears.


Blood runs in the streets.
Where shall we place the blame
when blood is blood, and death is death?
We descend into the flame.

“Abandon hope, ye who enter.”
We did that long ago, it seems.
Lucifer is our landlord;
we mortgage our bedraggled dreams.

Rage is our handmaiden
and violence our chosen part.
We know these paths; the weary way
from Ferguson to Charlotte

and on, God help us, on and on
to killing fields as yet unknown.
Shoot first and question later
is the moral of the gun.

When we look into each other’s eyes
and see their hate or fear,
is it not our own reflection
that seems to us most clear?