Lenten Poems

 Ash Wednesday

Your first night in the desert, Son of God
the stars trembled at every glance
recognizing as no man had
the heart you had disguised as man
but man you were as well, and glad
for silence, for every step
your father showed you by the starlight
you had commanded in heaven
A rock, some even ground
was all you found
following the Spirit where it led
and you lay down, and shut your eyes
as the stars wondered overhead.

Jonah, On The Second Day

I would take a desert
I would take a rock
or just a bit of metal that would cut
into the walls of this black, living cage
not to even to escape,
but let light in
enough to see my own hands again
Two days!
God, you are every fool I thought
tormentor of your friends,
friend of your foes
a king who cannot bring himself to kill
overthrown by mercy, drunk with love

The Children of Israel

Forty years—
the men are gone,
the children men
and the desert seems like our oldest friend
as we stand on the edge of this strange land
our God has brought us to
with his strange hand

What Did You See In Your Dreams, Son of Man?

What did you see in your dreams, Son of Man?
For man you were, and man must eat, or dream.
Was that small desert filled with all your fears,
or did it turn to palms, and reeds, and streams?
Or did the rocks and bushes lose their strength
so you could see beyond to other things?
Did you see Satan flit across the sky?
Could you hear the angels whispering?
Did time bend in your dreams, as in my own
so that things past and things to come collapsed
and up that hill you wore the starry crown
even as the cross dug into your back?
Or did you dream the shape of a new world:
the world your suffering would one day build?

East of Eden

Lord, I know you were hungry
as I am hungry now
none of it is strange to you:
the desert, or the crowds
and maybe this same wilderness
has been home to us all.
But you know hunger, Lord:
you know the angry ache
you know the horror of the night
when you’re the only one awake
I’m lost in this desert: please show me
which way to take.

Morning in the Desert

All night Satan has offered you
grapes and honey made of air
or opened chasms at your feet
that weren’t really there
but then morning breaks
and Satan flies away
and for a moment everything
is as you made it that first day


and sometimes, Lord
it must have been
good to go without
to leave the friends
and streets you knew
to lay your burdens down
and wander in the sweet desert
where nothing makes a sound


forty days or forty years:
the desert won’t tell
a pillar of fire by night
by day a cloud
and back in the city
the helpless crowds
stumble down the dusty streets
following themselves


what were you looking for
that you didn’t have
among the twisted trees
along the stony path
what could a god want
who made everything
the sparrows and the crows
the bottom of the sea
what did you want in that desert
what did you seek?
through the years your voice echoes back
you were looking for me

City Limits

on the edge of the city
a child stands
watching a man in the desert
no one else has seen yet

Time Heals All Things

Eventually, the hunger leaves
and that is even more frightening
you stare into the glassy sky, wondering
which way to take now that you don’t want anything


What did I give up?
Not very much.
The roses by the door
the broken cup
the riverbed
the things we said
the stars above
the light still on
that I called home
it never was enough
so I gave the Lord
a thousand miles
and everything I love


When are you coming back
from the desert?
I know the sand is like a tablet
waiting for your hand.
I know the wind obeys your voice,
but no one stares or laughs.
But here in your city, Lord,
we’re dying every day.
The factories take our lives,
the soldiers take our pay.
We look at the ones we love
and don’t know what to say.
I know why you had to go.
Don’t stay away.

I Kings 19

Jezebel is out for blood,
and she can have it
I’m no better than my father.
Why shouldn’t I die here?
This desert will be my grave,
the broom tree makes a little shade.
I lie down and close my eyes.
Then the angel raises my head.

The Small Voice

How did the spirit lead you?
How did you know
in the trackless desert
where you should go?
How did the spirit lead you?
How will I know
when that small voice whispers
that I should go?

The Devil Is In The Desert

The devil is in the desert
blowing sand, breaking rocks
trying to make them believe
he is what he is not

My Heart Lives In The Desert

Lord, my heart lives in the desert
despite the lights of the city
despite the screaming of the trains
the whispering girls, the rich men singing
and the peddlers selling souls
from suitcases on every street
although I can’t drown them out
I know you hear me

The Lust of the Flesh

If you were God, I thought
you could make these stones bread
and only later realized
hat was what Satan said


Moses lived inside that cloud for forty days
while the Lord showed him the tabernacle:
almond blossoms and blue thread,
and wrote on the tablets with his own hand.
But we were afraid.
Forty days is a season:
a child speaks, spring arrives.
The desert was full of shadows,
the mountain was high.
Had we been fools?
Had he brought us here to die?
We made a calf from necklaces,
we ate and drank.
And while we were still singing,
down the mountain he came,
and dropped the tablets so they broke
and we would never know
the sight of those characters
from the hand of the Lord.
He raged at us, but he would not let us go.
He ground the calf to dust,
mixed it and made us drink,
and then went up to the mountain again.
For forty days, he carved
the stone tablets with his own hand,
and told the Lord: these are your people. 
Kill me if you kill them.

The Word of God

How do we live on every  word
that issues from the mouth of God?
Words crumble in our hands,
they break and bend.
How could they feed a starving man?
But when all that we eat turns to ash
and still hunger rages on inside
perhaps this is what our fainting spirits ask:
that you, Lord, would be our bread and wine.

I Kings 19 II

I thought I was the only one
who still knew his name
remembered how the sea parted
the cloud, and the flame
so I traveled in the desert
forty nights and forty days
to reach the mountain
where wind roared and fire blazed.
But the Lord spoke in a whisper
not the earthquake:
“You are not alone,” he said,
and I saw seven thousand more
of my countrymen in that desert
still true to the Lord.


What could we have brought to you
even if we had known
to which part of your desert
you had gone?
You were a God
and so your heart was strong
but your flesh must have suffered
as the days ran on.
Of course, we didn’t see it yet:
we thought you were just a man.
And when we began to suspect,
we killed him.

The Pride of Life

God is not a magician
who catches bullets in his teeth
or sends angels to break your fall
at the end of the scene
but if in foolishness or rage
you throw yourself from the temple’s ledge
God, who made your heart and bones
can make them new again

The Desert of Sin

How could we have imagined
that the Lord was not with us?
The cloud hung low, the fire burned;
the manna fell like petals
But we wanted something else:
that day, we called it water.
In other days, it would take
other shapes and colors:
that little bit we reserve
in some dark corner
to prove to ourselves
that we own something.
Why should the Lord own all the earth?
Why does he grudge us our small crumbs?
Why do we wander this desert
when his angels could carry us?
We asked, is the Lord with us or not?
What we wanted to know was:
Why won’t he do our bidding,
like a dog that comes when called?

The Desert Is Like The Ocean

The desert is like the ocean:
they seem to have no end
always another wave or trough
always another mile of sand
without a bird or ship or tree
to break the perfect horizon.
But each ocean has a shore
and each desert dies in shade
like the love we can’t imagine,
despite the tricks our mind has played.

This Life Is A Desert

This life is a desert
and it is the town
it is the mountaintop
and the rocks falling down
and the devil always whispers
promises and threats
as if the world was his to give
as if we could forget
the words the Lord burned on our hearts
before we were born yet


Lord, does the city fade
after so many days
the lights wink out in your memory
the towers lose their shape?
Or does it grow in your heart
every day that you’re apart
each night, the lights shining
a little brighter in the dark?


Forty days and forty nights of rain
and when it stops
your ship is all that’s left
surrounded by water
and you wonder
what you were saved for
now that the world is gone
and as you ask the Lord
the hull settles on the mountain.

The Lust of the Eyes

All of this can be yours
and for such a small price:
what man ever really wanted
eternal life?
This life is joke, or trick
or a punishment
unless you can get the things
that make it worth living
Take the Roman gold,
or the Egyptian tombs
the American forests
waiting for history to bloom;
fill your pockets with the towers
other men stare at in awe
robe yourself in skins and feathers
take the stars, take it all.
All I ask in return
is a small consideration:
a favor so small
it hardly  bears mention:
bend your knee, worship me—
and what can worship be worth
compared with all the jewels
and mysteries of this earth?

Away From Me, Satan!

Away from me, Satan!
I have read the book
I have seen the end of time
I know that you
are not even a puff of air
not even a single word
just an accusing voice
we will forget we ever heard.

The Devil Vanished From the Desert

That was all it took:
a handful of words
the devil vanished from the desert
the world was pure

And Angels Came And Attended Him

What did the angels bring you?
A sip of wine, a crust of bread
a bowl of water for your feet
rich cloth to shade your head?
But this was not the miracle:
the miracle was you,
who made the angels and the earth
submitting to need as we do.

Turning Toward Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Jerusalem
where all the prophets die at last
I long to gather you in
even as I turn toward my own death.

The Fortieth Day

After forty days, maybe
the desert felt like home
and the city on the hill
seemed strange and foreign
but the Spirit that drove you out
led you back again
along the stony path
between the brambles
back to the road again
that led up to Jerusalem
into the heart of the city
where the soldiers and crowds waited.

The Temple Cleansed

You knew what was in a man
you could see our hearts
and that within a day
the palm branches would be ground to dust
but still you rode that humble beast
through the gates of your city
and in the temple, broke the cages
of the birds, and set them free.

The Pearl of Great Price

Mary, you perfume his head
you anoint his feet
and wipe them clean with your own hair
not knowing why you weep

and the widow drops her mite
and listens to it ring
for a moment before her heart
reminds her it is hungry

the men spoke in riddles
arguments, and dreams
but the women understood
you were worth everything

Judas and the Elders

Judas stands in the street
turning a coin in his hand
for just a moment longer
before he goes in

Death at the Oasis

You had been hungry
but now you eat
the final meal
at the end of history

The desert couldn’t kill you
or the devil tempt
but in the garden
you give yourself up
into the hands of men

The Harrowing of Hell

Where did your spirit go
after you gave it up?
To that other desert,
at the heart of the earth?
Where each of us waited,
weeping from the heat
for you to overpower the guard
and take his keys.


Who will roll the stone away
from our hearts?
they are hungry graves
fiery and dark
but inside of each
glows the same light
that lit the belly of the whale
that went before the Israelites
and if we can’t move the stone
neither can we snuff that flame
which burns until you come,
to break the stones
and rend the veil.