lost.

to be shocked to tears by a glimpse;

the clear shade of light and

the dark blurring of shadow not

the paint-by-numbers of human hands

and soak it in as if this place of near-hue could possibly flood all the gray corners of dead space

to know the trueness of a scent;

the realness of color and

the piquancy of reality not

the bitter tang of chemical mockery

and gasp for it as if you can only breathe one more time and this last taste is what you choose

to hold a piece of former things;

the tracery of forgotten touch and

the ownership of your own fingerprints not

the betrayal of misplaced memories

and clutch it again and find that your hands are not small enough for this to feel the same

to chase down lanes of new life;

the cresting hill of new memories and

the worn grooves of your own footprints not

the treacherous cobblestones of old lifetimes

and look for known lands through the refracted haze of dust and ghosts

to hear the strains of yesterday’s loves;

the wistful line of once begotten and

the thumping echo of heart songs not

the muffled clatter of foreign feet

and lean towards the light-spun notes that can neither be held nor heard again

to reach for another’s touch;

the honest smiles of welcome and

the generous hearts of selfessless not

the choking grip of needy arms

and find new callouses and listless hands and familiar lines composing a stranger’s face

to be placeless.

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Unfinished

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I fight?

***

Who is this God who was when there was not?

Who is this God who breathed life into dust and formed kinship from bones?

Who is this God who walked with His creation in the garden?

Who is this God who clothed those who hid from His face?

Who is this God who heard the cry of wrongful death?

Who is this God who passed through fire and covenant blood?

Who is this God who promised faithfulness to the faithless?

Who is this God who called forth and sent out and was with to the galaxy of generations?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I plead?

***

Who is this God who heralded himself with trumpets and a chorus of angels?

Who is this God who announced himself with a baby’s cry?

Who is this God who clothed his glory in human skin?

Who is this God who spoke to the outcast and lifted the face of the least of these?

Who is this God who wore the nakedness of emperors and the scorn of sinners?

Who is this God who stretched out his arms before the world?

Who is this God who could not be contained by tombs and rags?

Who is this God who goes to prepare a home for me?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God with whom I strive?

***
Who is this God who draws near to me?

Who is this God who draws me near to him?

Who is this God who said to Jacob: “Let me go”?

Who is this God who will never leave?

Who is this God who plagues with blood and darkness?

Who is this God who restores the years of the locusts?

Who is this God who grants weeping in the night?

Who is this God who sings the lullabies of heaven?

Who is this God who teaches His children to walk?

Who is this God who allows them to stumble yet again?

Who is this God who collects these precious tears?

Who is this God who will wipe them away?

***
Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God to whom I cry?

***
Who are you, God?

***

Who are you, God, who walk before and behind and hold all the earth even as it is under your feet?

Who are you, God, who hold back the floodgates of destruction yet send the rain on the just and the unjust?

Who are you, God, who listens to us cry and weeps with us over this world that is not as it should be?

Who are you, God, who heals the sick, gives rest to the weary, and carries the lambs who cannot walk?

Who are you, God, who does not heal me?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God for whom I yearn?

***
Who are you, God, that I should grapple with you and grip your promises with bloodstained hands?

Who are you, God, that these hands should be cleansed by the lifeblood of the Lamb?

Who are you, God, that you rename us and place us in new families of grace upon grace?

Who are you, God, that you should make yourself known in human skin and holy presence?

Who are you, God, that you give yourself again in bread and wine for those who hunger and thirst?

Who are you, God, that you should listen and long for and leave the ninety-nine to answer the pleading of the one who is lost?

Who are you, God, that you delight to be asked?

***

Who is this God with whom I wrestle?

Who is this God in whom I live?

***

“I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the LORD.” Hosea 2:20

cardboard lives

I made him when I was a child

bits and pieces of paper and string

the misshapen trunk of a dryer hose

a cardboard box with a knee-shaped dent and a torn flap

tape and glue and silver threads of imagination

with googly eyes set to rattle around

always askew

I called him Mr. Robot.

*

I played with him when I was a child

concocting mud and gravel pies

stirred in with the pine needles and juniper berries

gold and blue and storm-grey gravel

he gave me a crooked sharpie smile

and an eye tumbled into the gritty stew

I scolded and fished it out and taped it back on his bucket head

still awry

I told him to eat his soup.

*

I talked to him when I was a child

sitting on the prickly ground of fir and elm

touching the bristly edge of glossy leaves

I gave him mittens for the hands he didn’t have

so he could touch it too

and could know why I liked it

and we found the place where the wind blew best

shushing a gentle storm around the pines

but never quite threading through the needles to us

in the eye of the hurricane

I told him everything.

*

I made him keep a secret

and his coiled neck crumpled and his head titled sideways

of course he could keep a secret

we were quieter than the hushing wind

and we decided we would run away someday

away from the scrubby yellow grass that pricked our feet

away from frowning trees that encroached the house

and away from the loud places

where we lived

I swore him to secrecy.

*

I asked him never to tell

his crooked eye drooped

and he reminded me he didn’t have feet

so he would always be with me

but I hadn’t asked him not to leave

just to keep my secrets

I knew people who left because of their unsaid lives

he said secrets shared were like little threads

keeping us able to grow up together

but people are most honest with their bodies

in the end

I thought maybe he was right.

*

I shook his hand in promise

and the mitten dropped from my fingers

clinging to dust-brown pine needles and old leaves

instead of to me

and the wind shifted and the bucket clanged

empty and cold when he looked away from me

the cardboard grew limp with fingerprints

and he was left under the porch because

we couldn’t have bugs in the house

or silently seeing eyes

I set him outside.

*

I didn’t recognize him

tipped over in the dirt

with one eye askance and a smeared mud mouth

the silver neck was crumpled

and there were no mittens

the neighbor’s dog had a new chew toy

and Mr. Robot went away with my secrets

or I left.

In Absentia

coins for currency

(euro or zloty?)

grocery store translations

(bezglutenowe)

kilometres and °c

(military hours)

rain jackets and backpacks

(gray on gray)

locked and gated wc

(check for tissues)

curtainless shower tubs

(less spray this time)

light switches outside rooms

(occupancy)

crackers and Tesco and day up

(still looking)

windows that tilt

(handles and magic)

duvet covers

(sleep under colored dreams)

kinder eggs

(loved and left)

traffic circles

(slow or fast or straight through)

flora and fauna

(new names for old beauty)

stick shift and motorcycles

(always someday)

little cars and scuffed bumpers

(Citroën Renault Peugeot Škoda Dacia)

signs and symbols

(true in any language)

embassy flags

(look look breathe)

life in a suitcase

(what else?)

living room couches

(hotel sheets and hostel berths)

sweeter sleep than elsewhere

(even the airport floor)

bungled words and baffled English

(laughter in failure)

choosing to be here

(hunger and ache)

wishing to stay

(why?)

things that feel like home

(surrogates in absentia)

I Come to the Garden

I can name so few flowers. This is why
I’m not a better poet. Shakespeare knew
oxlip and gillyvor and eglantine,
while I, beyond camellia, violet, rose,
and lily, am reduced to saying, “There,
those crinkly yellow things!” Out on a walk
with mad John Clare, I’d learn a dozen names
for plants, and bless the wonders underfoot.
“More servants wait on man,” George Herbert said,
“than he’ll take notice of.” I know it’s true,
although I’ve never had observant eyes.
Would I care more if my heart’s soil were deep
enough for herbs and loves to take firm root?
Mine is a gravel garden, where the rake
does all the cultivation I can take.

“I Come to the Garden” by Gail White

Published in First Things, April 2012

Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1650-1683

The Testing Tree

“The Testing Tree” by Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006

1

On my way home from school
up tribal Providence Hill
past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
I scuffed in the drainage ditch
among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
rolled out of glacial time
into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
split on my magic Keds
from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
with my flying skin
as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
over that stretch of road,
with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
that on the given course
I was the world’s fastest human.

2

Around the bend
that tried to loop me home
dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
riddled with rabbit-life
where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
and a stringy old lilac
more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
remembered a door in the
long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
brushing the stickseed off,
wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
spotting the print of the deer
and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
to an umbrageous trail
thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
gave me right of passage
as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
soundlessly heel-and-toe
practicing my Indian walk.

3

Past the abandoned quarry
where the pale sun bobbed
in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
where the ferns gave foothold,
I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
with the stones in my pocket
changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
to the slightest leaf-stir.
I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
at fifty measured paces,
of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
Jehovah of acorns,
watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
in its annulated core
under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
I have only three throws
bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
while the air flowed saffron,
I played my game for keeps–
for love, for poetry,
and for eternal life–
after the trials of summer.

4

In the recurring dream
my mother stands
in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
she is wearing an owl’s face
and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
I pass through the cardboard doorway
askew in the field
and peer down a well
where an albino walrus huffs.
He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
staining the water yellow,
why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
That single Model A
sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
where the tanks maneuver,
revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
Where is my testing-tree?
Give me back my stones!

Kindred

I do not crave you

I do not hope and wait and seek you

I do not haunt your hours and stalk your times of solitude

I do not covet your looks and longings, the heady rush of crush and scent

I do not seek your passionate soul that does not know what way it bends

I do not yearn for a quest for me

And yet

Yet I crave the quiet fellowship

Yet I hope and wait and give the gentle words of cheer and challenge

Yet I hold and freely join the laughter of late nights and the joyful and fierce voices of life lived among others

Yet I covet and carefully bestow the hug of greeting, the look of anticipation, the touch that speaks what we cannot, the hand that holds what we do not always understand

Yet I seek the steady pace of life together

Yet I yearn for the grip of faith, the abundant joy of life as one

Yet I crave the love of another, the call to die and be undone, the astonishment of one accord, the profundity of fellowship that seeks not itself

Yet I crave us

And yet

I crave You