Here’s a sampling of my published poems and essays — in descending chronological order. Publication credits listed after each entry. Reminder: This blog, poems, and all contents are © copyrighted.
Seraphim in Snow
Neither starshine nor moonlight.
Instead, snow shine wraps me
in diamond dust at midnight’s hour.
Clouds cling to the earth, yet
a thousand celestial luminaria
light this solstice night. In the yard
a host of snow angels pressed
everywhere. No sounds, no footfalls.
No crinkle of crenelated wings.
© Published in Destiny Manifested, the 2018 winning chapbook of ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ from North Dakota State University Press
Shuttle to Rockport by the Sea
after Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Moose”
As the plane taxis into Portland’s terminal
I’m giddy for a Norman Rockwell ride
northward along Maine’s serrated seacoast
far from my landlocked Great Plains
I’ve spent all day leaving
My instructions say the shuttle driver
will meet me by the baggage carousel
and there he stands holding a placard
flashing my name as if I am some dignitary
Grab your bag, Dear, and I’ll get the van
I’ll be drivin’ a gray Honda Odyssey
As we head up Highway 1 my vision
to drift in soft focus fades in a clatter
of his chatter and a touchy transmission
Wistfully I watch a 400-year-old shipyard
dissolve out the rearview mirror as forests
thicken and sugar maples saunter by
We rumble past foreign-looking
New England farmhouses awash
in timeworn shades of the tides
We thread through seaside villages
with church steeples piercing their heaven
and I lose count of lobster shacks beside
inlets with furry river fog rising
A gray odyssey indeed as I watch for dusk
to filter through primeval pines hoping
for a moose to meander onto the road
so we might pause in her magnificence
(c) Published in Destiny Manifested, the 2018 winning chapbook of ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ from North Dakota State University Press.
fog seeps in
sweet mist cocoons
brain words from headlines
dew pearls each leaf
protects synapse from syntax
Burlington Northern rumbles
over Missouri River bridge
a remote trumpet in harmony
with mourning dove coos
the gray-winged arrival
(c)~Published in Pasque Petals Fall 2017 a journal of the South Dakota State Poetry Society and Destiny Manifested, the 2018 winning chapbook of ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ from North Dakota State University Press
From Keystones to Keystrokes
“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
While pausing to reflect on the evolution of religious art and architecture, let’s consider not only their physical forms but also their function in the past and future. Before the masses could read and write, texts were manually copied by candlelight in places like monastic scriptoriums. Books were highly prized and reserved for study by clergy or the intelligentsia. Stained-glass windows and icons were more than works of art, they were used as teaching tools and were visual symbols of faith to less educated followers. Histories, customs and moral traditions were passed down through didactic storytelling and rote memorization was an essential practice. In modern times, the advent of printing presses and wide-spread literacy have made sacred texts readily available to the general populous and revolutionized both private and communal prayer.
Fast forward to a mere quarter-century ago. None of us could have imagined how the internet and ubiquitous smartphone would change how we worship. Today’s Muslims use their GPS function to accurately turn to Mecca. Some Orthodox Jews are scandalized by fellow congregants, who are otherwise observant, yet access prayer apps on the Sabbath. Flat screens are replacing hymnals and the Book of Common Prayer while clergy upload podcasts to send by blast email. Who could have predicted lighting and sound technicians would become essential personnel on worship teams.
Without a doubt, these 21st century advances are radical in form and jarring to some, including this writer, but we are also reminded that religious practices have always evolved—as they must to thrive and be relevant. Architects, who design and renovate religious facilities, are eager to include the latest technologies and hopefully make them unobtrusive without sacrificing traditional elements. Like those who have gone before them, religious leaders, in partnership with designers, are obligated to respect artistic traditions while seeking innovative ways to instruct and inspire their flocks. If, as Louis Sullivan said, “form ever follows function,” then we must adapt—while being patient with a generation of us who may never warm to jumbotrons in the sanctuary.
Lesson in the Wine Cellar
Tucked in a cool corner
of the Abbey’s foundation
among the rough-hewn stones
Father Robert offers a taste
of vintage cabernet
Explaining the need to purge
oxygen from the bottle
to keep the wine from turning
He said purging has lots of uses
in the wine business
Once in a while
it’s good for people too
~Acknowledgement: This article originally appeared in Faith & Form, Vol. 50 No. 1, 2017(faithandform.com) and is reprinted here with permission and my gratitude.
Landscape as Poetic and Sacred Architecture
Maybe seeing the Plains is like seeing an icon: what seems stern and almost empty is merely open, a door into some simple and holy state.
~Dakota a Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris
Eons ago, a retreating glacial blade gouged a region through the center of North America known as the Great Plains. It left a vast and rugged beauty, an endless sky, and from it came peoples that are also enduring, pragmatic and spare.
More recently, German architect Gottfried Semper wrote the book The Four Elements of Architecture (1851) and about that time, the U.S. and Canadian Homestead Acts were passed. Thousands of people, including my ancestors, came to start new lives and prove their land claim. Unknown to those homesteaders, Semper’s four building techniques (the hearth, walling, roofing, and terracing) were essential to more than rudimentary shelter. The principles also applied to establishing communities, building houses of worship, and implanting a culture of respect for a place that was sometimes bountiful and unforgiving.
Long before President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition through this region (1804), fur-traders and indigenous peoples built structures that sustained life. Each preserved sacred sites and held a deep reverence for this area. The natural evolution beyond survival mode brought building designs that reflected vernacular traditions and the practical realities dealt by the harsh extremes of bitter winters and blistering summers.
Now these descendants of homesteaders– like me, whether we live in small towns, big cities, or maybe still live on “the home place,” continue that fierce love of the land and the dome of sky overhead. It has inspired writers and poets like Willa Cather, Tom McGrath, Ted Kooster, Larry Woiwode, and Kathleen Norris. Here, I’m frequently reminded the curvature of the earth is all that stands between me and infinity.
Section Line Communion
The Abbey’s sanctuary
transforms before me. A gravel
road carpets the center aisle.
of sacred relics cloud
around my ankles.
the bread of life ripens
in the pews to my right and left.
form choir stalls lined with monks
praying silently in the shadows.
in pearled vestments
circle their vaulted blessing.
The Profit Mountains
piled on the prairie
offer an altar in the sunrise.
~Acknowledgement: This article originally appeared in Faith & Form, Vol. 49 No. 3, 2016 (faithandform.com) and is reprinted here with permission and my gratitude.
No books, white
walls, no maps, white
tile, no textbooks, white
screen, no dictionary, white
lights, no wastebasket, white
chalk, no pens or pencils, white
fingertips and blue
lips. No crash cart, no Code Blue
Team to revive, save from ice
cold, over conditioned air
quality, warms with iambic
tetrameter, rhyme, close
read. Schaeffer Hall
way to Room 22 with
~Published by the University of Iowa, Iowa Writes–The Daily Palette, April 2016
My Father’s Hands
Strong and rough
Building a cabin
“Hold my hand, Daddy
The curb is high
and I’m afraid of falling.”
under his nails
Never quite clean . . .
no matter the occasion
“Hold my hand, Dad
The world is rough
and I’m afraid of falling.”
Kind and gentle
Showing the way
Caressing my cheek . . .
Never mind his calluses and nicks
“Hold my hand, Bonnie Rae
Getting old is tough
and I’m afraid of falling.”
Shaking and palsied
Wet from drops of drool
Showing the signs of
A lifetime of work . . . now resting
“Hold his hand, God
The way is smooth at last
and no more falling.”
~Published: Parkinson Foundation Report, Summer 2003
Mother and daughter
count the bales
it is a time to talk,
You are uneasy
as you wait
for the appearance
of that first
fresh flow of blood,
While I eagerly watch
for the signs
that mine will cease,
Who is the woman—
who is the child,
Next year we’ll
to give the land
~Published: Woven on the Wind, Houghton Mifflin, 2001 and in Destiny Manifested, the 2018 winning chapbook of ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ from North Dakota State University Press
Must be that I come
from Homestead stock
that makes me such a good shot
Been five, maybe six years
since I picked up that rifle
but Annie Oakley strikes again!
That gopher should’a known
not to mess around on the place
that’s sure to get my dander up
Second shot was the one that pulled
him right up out’a his hole and left him
floppin’ around the yard for a good minute
till he finally gave up and died
Tough ol’ Broad, now ya gotta dispose of the body
so I picked ‘im up by the tail to haul off
shot right through the head, I see
God, I’m good. Or am I?
The fur on its back
had seven precision stripes
with rows of arrowheads all lined up
between each one
What a perfectly painted little creature
Sleek and lean
~Published: Leaning Into the Wind, Houghton Mifflin, 1997) and Destiny Manifested, the 2018 winning chapbook of ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ from North Dakota State University Press
A Sense of Place
Given the choice
I would walk
every measured mile
of the contoured prairie . . .
take up a handful of earth
knowing it’s time to plant
by the smell of the soil . . .
kick gravel stones
along the section line
and startle a meadowlark
off her grass covered nest . . .
count red wings in the cat tails
unearth a Lakota fire ring . . .
and give thanks to the four winds
~Published Leaning Into the Wind, Houghton Mifflin, 1997; and WHERE THE HEART RESIDES: Timeless Wisdom of the American Prairie, William Morrow, 1999 and Destiny Manifested, the 2018 winning chapbook of ‘Voices of the Plains and Prairies Poetry Award’ from North Dakota State University Press