From: Poems for the American Brother
“The Mason Jar”
I sat at the kitchen table writing
until Christmas lights formed around my eyelashes.
With that burning feeling
in and around me again,
I repented for what I had not been able to do.
Setting aside my notepad,
I burrowed down to the fruit cellar,
buried my hands in its cool soil
and found your jar of letters.
Taking your words in my hands, trekking
out to the old black walnut tree, I sat
and read the lines you had sewn.
You were 27 then, and in green waters,
with a full-grown grizzly beard
the color of the tail feathers of a hawk.
In your letters, songs fused from words
that once tripped off your living lips;
but in those words, the coded message
that soon your blood would be gone.
Beneath the tree I gained
strength when reading your lines,
like the nourishment a frail infant takes
from a warm and bountiful breast.
Sealing the lid on the mason jar, I walked on
into our clear pasture
where things were milky white and golden at my feet,
where the sky was gracefully dying from the birth of night,
and I planted myself again.
I lay supine and watched the blackening sky
become salted with stars
and reached for that unanswering source that is God.
And again I summoned the words you had written,
your blue-crystal eyes,
the red beard Jesus that you were –
your skin, brown like the soil,
those crowing veins sticking out on your arms and legs
like lines on a road map.
Where are you, man?
Since God is not here, my savior is my brother:
he walked in the water and his feet always sank to the bottom,
his laughter and saving voice
almost clear to me – almost –
like the sound of a banjo
through the warped wooded slots of an abandoned barn.
When the sun begins to bleed into day
I will trek back and bury your jar in the fruit cellar,
find the empty seat at the table,
get my black coffee rolling,
and keep your words with me, fresh,
to live a life of freedom with brotherly, heavenly ease.
Credit: First appeared in the New Mexico Review Issue 5.