The Time It Takes to Decide

I left a homeless man across town

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time and I didn’t have any other ideas for him

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time and I didn’t have any other ideas for him and I gave him bus fare in case he needed to get back

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time and I didn’t have any other ideas for him and I gave him bus fare in case he needed to get back and a small red umbrella because it
started
to
rain.

The Truth

Midweek I sat
fingering purple plastic
prayer beads strung
by the faithful
for those passing
through a hospital
chapel, who slip
them in a
coat pocket so
as to find
them by touch –

sitting in a
county courtroom populated
by shackled black
men in faded
prison stripes –
irony feasting on
the wall portrait
framing an old
white man in
his impeccable regimental
striped tie and
gleaming cufflinks –

A repeat felon,
facing new charges,
urged to plea
lest he face
mandatory life without
parole –

“No, your honor,
I ain’t going
to plead to
nothing
I
didn’t
do.”

But the moment
that makes us
all bow our
heads –

the young blonde
prosecutor clears her
throat,
hesitates,
before explaining that
no, they can’t
reschedule for Monday
for a man
trying to keep
his job because
it’s the
Jefferson Davis
holiday.

One-Time Shot Logic

death
smells like poisonous gas
feels like fire from
bombs dropped
between busy hours
of laundry,
bathing children,
signatures on significant
documents,
dollars trading
hands for bread,
medicine,
safety,
a promise.

death
tastes like Flint’s water
scalding the skin
mirage of clean
burned to bone
thirst quenched by
dangerous illusions
sounds like self-checkout registers
turning jobs
into vapor

death
looks like hell,
run by callous men
But really –
You know death
when you see it.

Communion, Room 304

“Are you my sister?”
asked the white-haired
woman stretched out
in bed as I
stepped
from the harsh
light of the noisy
hallway to
her side.

Blinds drawn tight.
A pair of highback
wheelchairs parked
on hard tile
against the doors
of dark
wooden
closets,
set as out
of the way
as they
could be.

“No ma’am
I’m from
the church.
I came
to visit.”

She smiled then
returned to
some distress
I could
not see.

Moving a chair
beside her bed
I tried to
reassure.

We spoke of the
sleeping woman
in the
bed next to
her own.

“Maybe she’s
my sister.”

“Maybe
I want
something
to eat.”

“I brought
communion but
that might not
be enough?
We’ll see
I guess.”

I dipped the
dry wafer in
the juice and
placed it in
her mouth.

She chewed
silently for one
moment, then
another.

“How about we pray?”
I asked.

She touched
my hand.
“Your hands
are cold”
she said.

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“So cold. Let me
warm them.”

She took
my hands
and cradled
them in
hers.

That
was
our
prayer.

if it’s always darkest just before the dawn, we ought to have one hell of a sunrise

If only every child could flee to Egypt
could go another way
when evil
creeps astride or
breaks the glass or
holds out its arms.

Bullets in babies
strangled boys huddled by their beds
girls who went to gather firewood and water
and instead found death.

School children and more
school children.

Though Herod got it wrong
the massacre of innocents has become
a daily feast of bloodshed.

 

 

 


* this was written a while back, but today I’ll add a dedication to the memory of Tamir Rice

 

Among Us

A quick story for a busy week –

Running late
as usual
one block
after leaving
my house
traffic stopped.
A man
stood in
the street
asking each
passing car
for some
unknown need.

I started
to cross
to the
other side
But then
saw his
body turn
toward me.

Ah hell,
I’m late.
I don’t
have time –
“What do
you need,
my brother?”

“A lugwrench.
Please. We
got a
flat right
up there.”

Sure enough
in the
worst bend
of the
road sat
a red
car, tire
flat, and

another man
with a
Falcons cap.

Oddly easy
to help
once it’s
decided. One
quick reach
behind my
Jeep seat
and with
rare flourish
I could
help this
time, this
one clear
time.

“You
drink beer?”
the first
fellow asked,
an offer
to repay,
a trade,
as I,
barely slowing,
could not
wait for
the wrench.

“Yeah, man,
but no
worries. I’m
good.”

Nowhere to
keep beer
in a

Jeep. I
hollered into
the wind
where they
could leave
the wrench
if they,
two black
men at
dusk wished
to wander
my labyrinthine
white neighborhood.

No surprise
at no
wrench on
my porch.
(I had
warned of
dogs). but
it’s okay.

The gift
was these
angels on
the corner
with one

flat tire.

Gentry of the Bowery

A true story. Consider it prose with a dose of poetry –

Walking up the Bowery this chilly November afternoon,
we passed a group at the edge of the sidewalk,
seated in old office chairs with wheels and one old wheelchair.

Notable for their laughter and evident pleasure in one another’s company.

Some in this gentrifying area might have called them shabby.

But who dares fault shabby sidewalk joy in the cold sun as shadows grow long?

Halfway up the block, a large ebony-skinned, grey-bearded man in an
old olive Army coat,
separated momentarily from the group by some errand,
turned to face us and stretched his arms wide.

“Hey ladies,” he said with a broad smile.

We received it with a smile of our own as I,
expecting the question to follow,
tried to recall if I had given all my singles to
street musicians along the way.

So busy thinking I almost missed the blessing.

“Ladies, you look courageous,” he said, stretching the words into a
sharp
genuine
mysterious
compliment.

“God bless you,” he added.

I thank the grace of that God for helping me

miss only one beat as I answered “And you too,”
my own smile widening,

miss the shame that left me as soon as it came
because this man meant me joy not shame

not miss the gift
not miss the lesson

of give and take.

As we turned the corner, I asked my daughter if
she felt courageous.

“I do now,” she said.

Rules of the Game

Political pundit on the
news says our wars
work best when we have
skin in the game

Skin in the game,
as if wars happen
any other
way

brown skin
black skin
white skin
bodies of
boys and girls
soldier bodies
breathing and
not

the tight animal
fear of bloody
sleepless nights and
days of
no bread
no school
no work
no sense of
safety
at
all.

Skin in the game.

Bright American lives
women and men
with mad skillz and
dedicated hearts.

Our skin in the game.

Until they return
home to our
indifference, our
distance from
their pain,
the pain they
caused, the pain
they know that
cuts through
every cord of
stable hope,
every shred of
soul’s gentle
desire.

Skin in the game.

Endangered bodies of
other lands trying to live
their daily lives.
Hoping for
clean sheets,
ample meals with a
bit of wine
music lessons
soul-settling worship
a good doctor for a
child ill with some
easy disease,
perhaps pinkeye,
as the worst thing
that happened today.

Their skin in our game.

In our games we play
Risk and Battleship
without popcorn and laughter,
writ large across the
map of black-ink
borders and language.
Minecraft with
real mines
that take off legs
at the knee
at best.

We play them like a game.

But there is – always –
skin in the
game.
That is how war is
played.

For some there can be
no forgetting.

Equilibrium

I learned
to wrap myself in time.
To breathe in the pages of the book
I did not read
before it was due.
To let the juice of the melon
drip to the ground
as I meander in the market,
sampling,
one large chunk
after another
in the shimmering summer heat.
To be satisfied with
dancing steps in the
bread aisle
to the beat of some absurd song
of my young years.
To let a smile that
begins in the eyes
fill my soul as the cardinal pair skims
the wire outside my window
while the light grey clouds bloom into day.
I understand now –
these hours are
born into the
illusion of possession.
My fisted grip
softens.
What before I dreamed
of dictating,
let the blessed moments
control.

Second Chances: Mark 10: 17-31

Jesus has on
ladybug slippers said
sweet Maria, age four
as we discussed the
rich man
squeezed from heaven by the
needle’s eye and his own
love of money.

We agreed cats might be
found within the
Gospel narrative, as I saw
no reason to question that
Jesus would pause to
give the man a chance to
reconsider and while
he waited,
hoping for a
conversion moment to
surpass the weight of
accumulated riches,
there might be cats.

And being Jesus, he could
find them food and would
of course because in this story
no one goes hungry
unless he can’t set
down the
bags of gold to open his
hand to the
real riches
promised
but available only
when we let go and
offer our
unclenched palms to the
sky.