Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Month: May, 2018

Blue-eyed Snake

What in the world is a blue-eyed snake?
A sign that things are surely changing,
that what is old is sloughing off,
not yet replaced by something new.
It’s hard to know just where you’re going
when you can’t see just where you are.

Snakes shed their skin. It’s how things are.
It must be hard to be a snake:
about the time you get things going
your eyes grow dim and things start changing.
You have no choice: you face the new
blind as a bat. The first thing off

is eyelid skin—before it’s off
it turns opaque, and your eyes are
useless and blue, like a new-
born. Don’t see blue eyes in snakes—
unlike with us, though ours keep changing,
a sign of how things may be going.

I can’t help wondering if what’s going
on with us is not far off
from snakes whose skin is always changing.
How vulnerable it seems we are
to fear of change. Like a snake
reflexively we hiss at new

threats perceived though unseen, new
apparitions in the fog, going
past us in the dark. A snake
will strike at you to warn you off.
I have a sense that’s how things are
with us when life is always changing—

new people keep arriving, changing
settled ways, insist on new
accommodations in how we are
used to speaking, used to going
about our days. Something’s off,
and we have learned to strike like snakes.

We’re holed up like a blue-eyed snake
blind and changing. But always off
ahead the new is where we’re going.

Days and Times – Purchase information!

As promised, here is the information about how to order copies of my poetry collection, Days and Times: Poems from the Liturgy of Living. Go to, go to “Resource Publications” on the “imprints” menu, and select my book from the “new publications” list. The web purchase price is a discount from the retail.

I’m told that if you purchase 1000 or more, the discount is even more substantial. Jus’ sayin’.

Overdose (A Minor Ballad)

Brumbly Bob and the sweet BittyBoo
tussled all day with the toodle-dee-doo
It was never quite false and never quite true,
but that was the problem: nobody knew.

They hummeled and bummeled with all of their might;
‘twas the best they could do in the stars’ frosty light.
They were never quite wrong and never quite right,
as they lay on the sand in the dark of the night.

Said Bob to the ‘Boo: I think I have found
a way we can fly with our feet on the ground.
If we’re in for a penny, we’re in for a pound.
We’ll get clean away and we won’t make a sound.

“Here in my hand, by the dark of the moon,
is a serving of bliss in the bowl of a spoon.
If we aren’t too late and we aren’t too soon
we’ll mix up some magic in the lee of the dune.”

Said the ‘Boo in a while: “I’m floating on air
with the stars in my eyes and the wind in my hair.
I’m not really here, but I’m not really there.
If I never come down, will anyone care?”

It’s hard to predict what meanings emerge
when you fall through the fog and land on the verge.
And it’s partly fandango and partly a dirge
that the dark waves dance in the green ocean surge.

Uniformed eyes make their keen observations.
The obvious doesn’t require explanation.
They can neither confirm nor deny allegations,
but pack up their kits and go back to the station.

The waves swell and, cresting, return to their bed
in the sea, never resting but swelling instead.
It’s never quite secret but never quite said
how the living make room for the lingering dead.

So Brumbly Bob and the sweet BittyBoo
have finally mastered the toodle-dee-doo.
And it’s not up to me and it’s not up to you.
They’re gone now. What can anyone do?


For the 2018 Graduating Class of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

“…but I have called you friends…”
John 15:15

Three hundred fifty million years ago
an urge so deep no tongue may shape its name
congregated continents together—
Pangaea, as we call it—and the land
was one, and rivers ran and mountains rose,
caressed the sky, and sang the songs of home.

Two hundred twenty million years ago
Pangaea broke apart, or so they say.
The great rift valleys tore the lands asunder;
they drifted to the corners of the wind,
and came to rest in distant far-flung places,
sang other songs, were known by other names.

And soon enough the time will come for leaving.
New continents will know you by new names,
new waters shape new waves upon your shores.
These moments we believe to be eternal
are but songs we’re given for a while;
they drift away, and other songs begin.

But pause, and recollect what brought you here—
an urge that even now you cannot name,
that gathered you together in this place
and gave you voice to sing. Even now
it drones beneath the distant mountains, rivers,
and waits the day when all are one again.


Friends of this blog;

I am in print! It is with joy and a profoundly sinful pride that I announce the publication of Days and Times:Poems from the Liturgy of Living, my first published collection of poems, from Resource Publications (an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishing, Eugene OR).

Readers of this blog will be familiar with many of the poems in this collection. I have used this space as a sort of test lab for my efforts, and many of you have responded with support, encouragement, and the occasional and much-appreciated word of constructive critique. I am deeply grateful.

I anticipate have publication details (date, price, ordering information) in about two weeks, and I will share that here as soon as I have it.

In the meantime, please keep following and reading this blog. I will continue to use it as a sort of poetic proving ground, and I truly enjoy our engagement around these words. So stay tuned: there is more to come.

— Paul