Het (fence): part 8 in The Red Letters

Het is often misimagined.
It invites concepts of enclosure,
and wild west, hand hewn
beam and post wood,
splintered and weathered.

Something to do with
cowboys. Splintered
and weathered are, at least,
accurate measures – I
imagine it roughly gouged,

disfigured and grotesque,
suitable only
for martyrs and thieves –
but its bounds
are not so dimensional.

It doesn’t mark territory. It
stakes no mundane claims, nor
prevents our fierce,
determined wanderlust.
The Pharisees saw it this way:

surrounding, keeping in,
hedging and fortifying.
For them, it codified
spiritual condition
into absolutes.

Certain strictures
became their indicators, and,
in the place of God,
they made exclusions
and determinations

based on what pasture
you were grazing in.
But Het is really at
center. It draws,
not contains. Not selects,

simplifies. For where
that beam and post
cross, there, written
into those scars,
are only two questions:

What direction are you facing?
Are you moving?


Zayin (sword): part 7 of The Red Letters

Two edged and twice sharp,
this enterprise of piercing,
dividing is unstilled, unchecked,
and often unsought,
but invades the softened
parts where piercing hurts
most, a siege of the ground
we humanly marked holy,
roped off narrowly, and built
Jericho-like walls around.
We occupy spaces between
controversies and settle
into unstirred, creek-bed
sediment, resisting a flow
toward glory because of
the familiarity, the static
comfort and staid satisfaction,
we would otherwise
leave behind. Piercing
is division, in the right hands
skillfully separating the stagnant
from living flesh until
we are cleft painfully
into resemblance of you.
You show no mercy
in pruning fruitless parts,
invested solely in us and not
what we have made ourselves.
Toward this end, you cut
away excess, even where we
see necessity, until we are
beautifully soft and naked,
as Eustace stripped of all
his scales. You haunt
the distinction of
joints and marrow, filling
the void between our structures
and the underlying life,
roaring subtly in
indistinguishable whispers
out of the one and
into the other.

Vav (nail): part 6 of The Red Letters

Vav is sharp.
It has a way
of pointing out
and pidgeon-holing.

Vav moves
in a linear way
and pushes off
obstructions: wood-grain,
fabric, flesh. It bites

and illuminates;
the face grasps
a momentum,
tallies messengers,
recounts the mission,

and resurgence
dims a little,
like lights falling
in a church.

Vav contrives a welcome
force, bears a grunt.

It is a wheel churning
in deeper, pouring a hole
as reaction thrusts
away the ping
and connection
makes a breach,

headlighting the way
home, through the dusk
of veins and tissues.

He (window): part 5 of The Red Letters

I call it perspective.
Everything is clearer
through this glass
refined by fire.
Like looking through
stained-glass, the world
is colored at every turn,
and I see,
as with other eyes,
the way illuminated
before me.
My blindness cures
my perception, for
if I could see,
this lens would blur
the vivid hues,
the lines of contrast
between black and white,
the clarity.

Dalet (door): part 4 of The Red Letters

The door is open and the lantern lit;
the light that issues out is soft,
alive and licking about my ankles

like mist off early morning.
Like home, the smell of bread
settles into me and rises.

Etched deep in the cedar doorjamb
the inscription “Come” in red beckons
inward, homeward, so sweetly

the word is solid, piercing the ear
if I turn to the left or the right,
and the voice so familiar I hear

its silence. From that word emerge lines
of text that uncoil in clips and phrases,
great breaths distinct and measured,

connected only in their succession.
The words, I can tell, are meant
for me, and as they score the wood

they cut into me, too, leaving
beautiful scars. As I enter,
the sense of arrival churns

excitement, and breathes for me
a breath I had forgotten.

Gimel (bridge): part 3 of The Red Letters

Gimel spans
the man-made
ditch cutting
across our path.
Its stone
looks sturdy,
safely leading
across this gorge
of flesh and bones,
where no smooth
word, no soft
cheek, no victorious
strength, kind eye
or honored promise
can. Some inch
out, toe by toe,
slowly accepting
its support. A few
blindly run,
their clopping
echoing up the chasm.
Inevitably, halfway,
they all stop to peer
over the edge
and panic at
the great distance.
For some time,
they refuse to move
but eventually
they continue and
reach the other side,
where they join
the throng saying,
“Oh you of little
faith. Why
did you doubt?”

Bet (house): part 2 of The Red Letters

Within these walls are many rooms,
more than can be lived in.
Some have never been seen,
some cannot be, lacking a door.

Others have been abandoned.
In one room, the artifacts of work
are lined along the wall, all that
is needed to dig, trim, plant, clean.

Beyond that is the dining room
where a great feast is always
ready, an abundance of bread
and meat and the purest milk.

In the center of one room
a great fireplace burns,
providing heat to the whole house
and, in the middle of the house,

a natural spring, the often-sought
fountain of life, bleeds
its nutrients into aqueducts
that reach each arm of the house.

From the fountain’s coolness
a garden grows brilliantly green
with fruit for every season and,
in an open and circular area,

a mustard tree under which
many birds nest in shade.

Aleph (bull): part 1 of The Red Letters

Aleph is quick to pull a load;
it spears a wound, gouges, gores,
leaves a gash across the skin.

Aleph can plow a hard row,
its legs churn, its shoulders roar,
its hooves pound out a rhythm.

It heaves and pitches, muscles taut
like knotted rope. In its blood
redemption courses, and its bones

are all unbroken. Its nerves are hot
with pain. It’s not afraid of mud.
It could tow away a large stone,

a slab across an empty tomb,
and on the third day, newly bloom.


A Thousand Times Sparticus

Verse 1:
Your linen sheets are stiff and clean
and silence fills the cancer wing.
The chemo's left your frail and weak,
but don't give up tonight.

The IV drips as music plays,
and there aren't any words to say,
but we will speak another day.
Just don't give up tonight

Verse 2:
The woman in the other bed
falls asleep goodnight unsaid,
but we will stay awake instead
and not give up tonight.

The nurses bring your medicine
as prescribed by your LPN.
Though we don't know how this will end,
we won't give up tonight.

Your hospital gown isn't
quite the same as your Sunday dress,
but I swear you have never
looked more beautiful than now.

Chorus 1:
I would bear that pain a thousand times
I would bear that pain a thousand times
I would bear that pain a thousand times
To save you now.

Chorus 2:
If the roman soldiers called your name,
I would gladly give myself to them
to fill your stead and take the pain
to save you now.
I would bear that pain a thousand times
to save you one time crucified.
I would offer myself life for life
to save you now.