Who is scorched worse,
the one who dives to take the bullet,
the one who shoots,
or the woman spared?
Take Ruby Sales, for example—
how she and Jonathan Daniels,
thirsty from heat and the Hayneville jail
stop for a cold soda on their way out of town.
Deputy Tom Coleman is angry, is ready;
he aims his gun pointblank at Ruby.
Daniels sees it coming, pushes Ruby over
throws his body in bullet’s path.
Editor's note: Sales, founder of the SpiritHouse Project, is a nationally recognized human rights activist and public theologian. Coleman was acquitted of the death of Jonathan Daniels by an all-white jury and died in 1997.
Lorenzo was mortar for the church
he built, gathering wild birds
for the rafters and fruited trees
for their food. He carted stone
and hoisted, he pestled, he block-
by Valerian and about to be
arrested, Lorenzo goat-herded
the church’s wealth, distributed it
to the poor. He paid the unmade
orphans, clothed the lepers
in money. He sold the sacred
vessels, the varied trestles.
If we believe nature will mend,
it will replenish what has been taken and,
answering the wild call of urban space,
dolphins will return to Venetian canals,
elephants will drowsy dream in Chinese tea gardens,
humans will shed their fear and guilt to hope and taste
the terror of responsibility
the terroir of ourselves
the terra ignota of a paradise where
Keep your eyes on your work. Looking
at a dogwood does not make you blossom.
Nor can a bridge of sighs span an ocean
of despair. For that, you need oars
and strong arms. Labor as long
as it is still called today. Yes, Faith
could have worn other metaphors,
but instead it rose from the dead
and asked questions: Why are you
crying? Who are you looking for?
Do not fear. Answer. The Risen One
speaks your language.
Crossing a river in Africa the spider
shooting her blacksmith’s thread
of melted-down swords and armor
the world’s molten madness bridging
dangling over the water
The creature moves frantically
and to an observer miraculously
like some stressed-out downtown commuter
levitating to work
surely this is a phantasmagorical
outpouring of mighty engineering
Golden Gate sprung from a thimble
that you would never believe
if it hadn’t bored you in second grade
like the kindness of Jesus Christ
I rub my hand across the stone font
Where Jon Meacham took on the water
Of baptism and signed on to the cross
In an olive oil signature made for words.
The empty sanctuary now quiet for prayer echoes
With last night’s lecture on the future of democracy.
Light pours through the stained glass window
With a narrative of Saul, struck down blind
We shudder at the inhumanity,
the crafted cruelness of that sickening show:
the stripped humiliation, blasphemy
of beaten flesh, death’s agonies stretched slow
by fellow men created in God’s image,
turned terrorists, enslaved to sin’s strange fruit.
How could they mock the marred and lifeless visage
of God’s own child? His axe is at the root!
The later it gets, the more nothing.
—Woman at the register
Yeah, we’re open ’til midnight,
but few customers come after 9:00.
I like when it’s slow and quiet—
just me and the store lights.
I don’t like the sirens
racing along Main Street.
I always worry it’s my kid hurt
or my best girlfriend with another
black eye or busted rib.
When I’m here by myself, I draw
dress patterns for my daughter.
(“Oh I’ll leap up. Who pulls me down?”—
“Doctor Faustus,” by Christopher Marlowe)
Now can I join this dance?
See, I am thinner than vacuum.
I can kneel toward the sun
at the very angle of prayer
and feel the counterpoint
pulse through my veins.
Some mornings I drive to the duck pond
instead of writing poems. I can’t remember
how to keep words coupled to the truth.
So much lying has torn words loose
from what they stood for. Remember,
back when we agreed on their meanings?
I’d say honey for instance, and you could
taste it. Once you said freedom
and I saw doves rising from your shoulders.
We shared language so we were not alone.
We both loved words as if we could see them:
like ducks bobbing on a pond, dipping,
scooping, swabbing insects from the air.
I can tell from the way
they are staring at shadows on the ground
that the voice-bearers have come
from that place where
trees are not life-giving.
Two nights ago, One was here with them
Whose longing, love, and pain woke my soul,
which sleeps through winter,
He is not here with them now.
1. I knew, but didn’t know—extent, sprawl,
continent-wide bird with great shadow-wings
hovering over a whole nation’s knife-opened birth—
talons and curved-hook raptor’s beak coming
for my heart, which is history,
which shields itself and hungers
as though truth were a flock of season-following geese
from whom I choose how many to bag,
how many a season requires. So many
moments sound like gun-shot—
sound cracking the ear with its own hammer,
pummeling some dark priest-hole in every mind,
fists on doors, slammed hatches on ships,
iron coming down so hard on a deck it loses its clang,
a skull punched against echoing wood, snapped branches,
snap of a jaw-trap around leg bone.
An eagle cannot feed its young its young.
I am the border agent who looks
the other way. I am the one
who leaves bottled water in caches
in the harsh borderlands I patrol.
I am the one who doesn’t shoot.
I let the people assemble,
with their flickering candles a shimmering
river in the dark. “Let them pray,”
I tell my comrades. “What harm
can come of that?” We holster
our guns and open a bottle to share.