Sunday, October 13, 2013


I was priest to your confession,
though no screen to separate us,
only the restaurant table lain
with tortillas and glasses of rioja,
over which you bared your soul
and told me that I was the object of your desire,
the source of your salvation.

You were my inquisitor,
attempting to break down
the dispassionate screen
that protects me from emotions
and feelings kept bottled and wrapped,
or, as you said, repressed.

Inquisitor and confessor,
you took me to the precipice
where I stood agape,
only to pull back
into platonic embrace.

Published in Free State Review, Issue 2, Summer 2013

Ekphrastic Poem #5: Peasant Woman Digging Up Potatoes

I've started work again on my series of poems based on Van Gogh's paintings.  "Peasant Woman Digging Up Potatoes" was one of the first poems I began drafting, but has taken quite some time to bring to fruition.  I could never quite settle on what I wanted to say in the poem, so I set it aside.  I revisited it today, following the general theme found in "The Potato Eaters"-- potatoes as "earth apples" (aardappel in Dutch; pomme de terre in French), reference to the eating of the apple in Eden, mankind's fall from Paradise, etc.  A little research indicated that potatoes need to be harvested before the first frost, otherwise they might be damaged.  Thoughts of Eden and fields led to Elysian fields and Elysium, where heroes enjoyed the afterlife, engaging in the work that brought pleasure in life.  As I thought about that, however, it occurred to me that for someone who had toiled all their life in backbreaking work, Elysium might not be a wonderful place to spend one's afterlife.

And with that, here's the poem and the painting (courtesy the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp).


After Van Gogh’s painting of the same name

Row after row, bent to her task,
she digs into the waning light.
Before the fall, fields bathed
in sunlight and joy. Now,
engaged against the coming
frost, she toils to the harvest,
though each thrust of her spade
only brings her closer to Elysium.


His goodness is extended to the smallest of the workmanship of his hands;
his gracious care is to the sparrow upon the house-top.

                                      --Mildred Ratcliff, Quaker Minister

How often do we stop and look
at the dish we just washed and dried?
Savor the warmth of clothes
fresh from the dryer?
Admire the patterns made
by the vacuum on the carpet?

When pulling weeds, do we notice
the shapes of their leaves,
the thickness and length of their roots?
Do we really look at the grass
before we cut it; the greenness
of each blade; the length of each;
the way that each blade leans?

Do we see the lines and swirls
of the grain as we cut through a board?
Feel the hardness or softness
as we drive in each nail?

How often do we ignore the sparrow
for the brilliance of a cardinal?

There is goodness in our smallest work;
grace in the most mundane.

Monday, October 7, 2013


Sunday morning.
Woke to a chorus of birds;
flickers tapping rhythm on trees.
In the field beyond the woods,
Canada geese honking;
hound dogs yapping in unison.

I take my coffee and books
to the pier to read and write.
Only one boat on the river.
A fish jumps; there’s activity below.
Slight breeze stirs the windsock tails.
Pleasant morning; supposed to get hot later.
Summer’s last gasp—
not yet ready to leave for the season.