Resolution for the New Year

Just breathe
in the sharp ice air
that stings the hollows of my nose
and mingles with the blood that flows
to each hair follicle,
through each artery, each vein,
fueling my stops and starts toward home,
warming my wind-whipped skin,
sinking deep into the marrow of each bone.

Just breathe
out the warm mist
that somersaults from my lips
and dances, dips,
disappears into sky and soil
or is caught by the spindly fingers of winter trees
who hold it until spring
when it will burst into leaves . . .

In this new,
this bright and bleak
this beckoning year
I will breathe.
Just breathe.


Sestina for Dad

Today is your birthday–
or was. I don’t know
what it is now that you
are dead–just a shadow
to remind us that last year
we gave you tickets

to a KU game–tickets
for you and Matt to celebrate the day;
a festive end to a pretty good year.
We didn’t know
how near to valley of the shadow
we were. “Happy birthday to you!”

Without a hint of foreboding we sang: “Happy birthday to you!”
and were proud of the tickets
we presented. Oblivious to the shadows
gathering. I was the sick one that day,
and I let everyone know
how unfair it was that I had to start the new year

with the stomach flu–give up my once-a-year
romantic getaway reservations to you
and Mom. “Who knows,”
I moaned, “when I will ever get away.” So KU tickets
and a little vacation–not a bad birthday.
Please know that the shadow

of resentment I felt then–that shadow
of disappointment at missing a yearly
pleasure–burst into light and tears the day
I realized that you
and Matt would not use any tickets,
you and Mom would not visit any bed and breakfasts together again. I know

this realization was as cliche as it was heartbreaking. I know
this day–your birthday–will always be shadow:
like Christmas, anniversaries, KU basketball tickets,
like every New Year–
just three days from the day you
were born; just seventy days from the day

you–well, you know–
from the day you quit caring about any tickets,
from the day that began these years of glorious shadow.


Why the Silence

IMG_0040As some of you know from Facebook, as some of you may have guessed through my recent silence, my dad passed away last week. On Thursday, March 7. In a hospice room at St. Francis hospital in Wichita. With the sun shining and the Hallelujah Chorus playing on my brother’s ipad. Facing his bride of 42 years. (They celebrated their anniversary in the hospital on February 27); holding the hands of his granddaughters; being touched and loved into the next world by his son, his daughter, his son-in-law, his daughter-in-law.

We found out just last Tuesday that he had aggressive natural killer cell leukemia/lymphoma. (In case you can’t tell by the name, you do not want to get this disease.) As a former hospice chaplain, my dad weighed his treatment options (horrifying and ultimately unsuccessful) with the care he knew he would receive on the hospice floor. He could not wait to get up to his hospice room.

If he had been 98 instead of 68, I would say it was a perfect death. Peaceful. Mercifully quick. Full of love. Infused with the holy.

But he wasn’t 98, he was 68. And he wasn’t done being a grandpa–or a dad–or a husband. And so his death wasn’t perfect. It was, and is, agonizing.

It’s too soon for me to draw out profound insights on life and death and God as related to Dad’s death. I just want you to know about this bit of my life.

And I want to share with you the poem I wrote for Dad’s funeral. (When your dad asks you, on his deathbed, to write a poem for his funeral, the answer is “yes.”) My dad was so peace-filled throughout his entire hospitalization (11 days), I couldn’t help but think of the contrast with the sentiment in Dylan Thomas’ poem for his dying father,”Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.” Ultimately, I needed a strict form like the villanelle to help me start the poem–and to help me stop. The cycling, the repetition of this form echoes the swimming timelessness of these past two weeks.


Villanelle for Dad

You died the way you lived, with love and grace,
The Hallelujah chorus in the air,
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

Disease so sudden we could scarcely brace,
Yet you accepted, took the load to bear.
You died the way you lived, with love and grace.

Unhinged we cried and questioned, wept and paced;
Sustained somehow by holy words and prayer,
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

They say that slow and steady wins the race.
We wish you’d gone more slowly toward death’s glare.
You died the way you lived, with love and grace.

A pastor to the end, you made your case:
You said, “If you’re in God, know I am there.”
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

And you, my dad, whose sacred life I trace,
I thank you for this final gift you share:
You died the way you lived, with love and grace,
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

Post-Easter Sestina

Reading the Bible and writing poetry in a quiet house.  Life is good today.

Thank you for your words for my sestina.  The poem I wrote is below.  If you’ve written one, I’d love to see it!  You can send it to me via the “Contact” page–and let me know if I am allowed to post it.

Of Fish and Fear and Resurrection: A Sestina

The tomb stands there, smelling of flesh,
but the entrance—or exit, I guess, since something obviously left–
is no longer blocked by the stone.
It is clear something fishy
is going on—especially when the glowing men appear
and insist: “Do not be afraid.”

Which is a sure sign that fear
is justified. Goosebumps prickle the women’s flesh,
sweat pours from their palms, and they try to appear
calm as they turn and leave
the graveyard to find the fishermen,
the tax collector, and the rest of the guys to tell them about the stone.

The one supposed to be sealing the tomb. That stone.
The guys are curious and confused and mostly afraid.
Peter and Andrew were really hoping they could get back to fishing
since it turned out Jesus was just flesh
and blood after all; since Jesus was dead now the authorities could leave
them all alone. But apparently

things were not back to normal yet—with the appearance
of these hysterical women and their story of the stone.
Why couldn’t people just leave
well enough alone? Now rumors swirl and the fear
returns. The disciples gather and flesh
out a plan—basically they will lock all the doors and eat their fish

in peace. It works for a few hours, everyone blithely chewing fish
and checking the locks. Then, despite their precautions, Jesus appears
and shows them where the nails ripped into the flesh
of his palms. Jesus is there. They are all stone
cold sober. A new kind of fear
settles in—a nagging sense that won’t leave

them alone. A realization that they must believe.
Only they don’t know what to believe. So they go out to fish.
That’s not going so well and they’re afraid
supper will be meager until a stranger appears
on the shore, just a stone’s
throw away. His friendly greeting makes their flesh

crawl. But they do what he says and fish suddenly appear,
leaving little doubt about who the stranger is as they haul in the net, heavier than the stone.
Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Yet there he stands—in the flesh.

A Poetry Project

I love to play with words–their sounds, their flexibility, their clarity and their ability to obscure.  I suppose this playfulness can get irritating in a preacher.  So I’m going to channel some of that energy into poetry.  Yesterday I re-read and slightly revised a sestina that I wrote during our Lenten Creative Arts Retreat. Sestinas involve the repetition of six end words, and I love the way this form forces you to think of those six words in new ways; the way this form leads you to say things you didn’t know you wanted to say.

So I thought it would be fun to try another sestina. A post-Easter sestina.  Want to play along?

In the comments below, contribute one word that can serve as an end word for a poem on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  You can think about any of the appearances–“doubting” Thomas, the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ questioning of Peter.  This week’s Gospel reading from the lectionary is Luke 24:36-48.

Please share a word in the comments below.  If I have six words, I’ll work on a poem.  And I invite you to do the same. The nitty gritty details of sestinas are available from

Reflection on Baptism and Wilderness

Here is a sestina I wrote as a reflection on my own baptism and on this week’s reading from Mark 1.

Sestina: Baptism

At eight-years-old I gave my life
to Jesus–or at least that’s what I promised
before my dad–our pastor–dunked me in the water.
And up I came–a new
creation, my sins cleaned
away, my spirit wet and wild.

Jesus, still dripping from the Jordan, was driven into the wilderness
where Satan offered him a life
that made sense; a clean-
cut way forward; a promise
of glory and power. I suppose Jesus knew
Satan’s plan would work, in a sense–an easy, watered-

down Messiahship, smooth as still water.
But scripture called Jesus to a wild
denial of the easy and obvious, to a renewed
commitment to life
the way God has given it–not the way Satan promised
it. Jesus chose a life that was hard, but clean.

When I emerged, dripping, they said I was clean,
so I guess the water
had done it’s job. Now my job was to keep a promise
I did not understand and cling to a God too wild
to hold. A lot to ask of an 8-year-old life.
Was I even old enough to be made new?

So Lent calls me back each year to renew
my naive commitments; to spring-clean
my soul and offer again my life;
to immerse myself in the waters
that may be calm or may be wild;
to strengthen my grip on God’s promises.

Lent calls me to clasp the ancient promise
and sweep out whatever shiny new
toys clutter my soul. The wilderness
is empty. It is quiet and clean
and hot and dry. It is after the water,
after the voice and the words of life.

The wilderness is a different kind of life–
holy and new—where I wash without water,
clinging to the Promise that makes me clean.