Church Flowers

The poinsettias at the Southview Baptist Church
looked so alive they seemed fake,
the crepe paper red of the upper leaves
startled the eye, the deep green leaves
absorbed so much light you’d think they were velvet.
Does Texas grow them more wild, more vividly
than elsewhere? They had a lot of sass,
Shining out glory in the dusty halfdark.
After the tent revival music,
after the tearful had been called to the altar
and everyone had been greeted
in the name of the Lord,
I crept timidly to the front. I had to feel it
with my fingertips to satisfy my mind.
I wanted to know if they were real.


strung together

to each of you: know that

you are the stones that sit in the river of my heart

and not the water rushing around them,

you are the trees that grow along its banks

and not the leaves on the trees,

you are the beaten tracks that girdle those old hills

and not the pilgrims.

because you are not the leaves, the water, or the wanderers,

I can say your names without malice or hurt

merely tracing the landscape of this soft place,

my habits and my hurts.

power line

eleven sparrows

wait in line behind the house,

eyeshiningly still.


if we hold our breath,

no one will see us, not much,

but we can see them.


the flocked dam of birds

bursts wide when I glance upward

each dawn by the gate.


running between rails,

a small strip of unmolested snow.

don’t let them take it away from you

this ribbon shining and blank

perhaps the only continuous, innocent line

in the whole filthy city

kindred to the scraps of purity

gathered on the tops of the streetlights

on the windowsill where any moment

a pigeon may light with its foul claws

and leave some defilement

along the brims of officer caps

before they turn in from the night beat

to drip themselves dry.


the moon glares fiercely on this town tonight.

next door the uninhabited stack house bears it sullenly,

with her skirts gathered close around her

against the pale fire of snows in league with the light.

what does it matter how gathered in or self-contained she seems,

when two days from now her roof will suddenly give up the ghost,

when a month from now the city will attempt to locate

the owner, believed to be living elsewhere, someplace south,

when a year from now a demolition crew will raze it

and the snows will come again with nothing upon which to settle

but the dead grass, the dozer tracks and a bent beer can,

when tonight a man lays down with a woman

in a heap of blankets in what used to be the dining room

the air around them shimmering with shared knowledge

and unspoken alliance against the unknown.