Thursday, January 8, 2009


Billy Ray Barnwell here, I feel this thing winding down, I really do, I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but as Mama used to say, “if wishes were horses then beggars would ride,” I’m telling you, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Daddy would say “wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which you get the most of” only sometimes he wouldn’t say spit, the word he said did rhyme with spit however, but before I throw in the towel, before I call it quits and walk off into the sunset, before I say “and good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are” like the great comedian Jimmy Durante, I thought I would share a few more poems with you that I have written over the years and just stuck in a desk drawer, some of them go way back, my poems I mean, not my desk drawers, and the reason I’m going to share them with you is I may never write another book, I mean I never intended to write this one, it just sort of happened, bird by bird like Anne Lamott said, five hundred words here, five hundred words there, sometimes more, sometimes less, bit by bit, day by day, it turned out that sitting in front of a computer was more habit-forming than I ever dreamed it would be, when I said in the beginning I could learn to like this I had no idea, so along with all this new stuff I have churned out I don’t want the old stuff to go to waste, not that anything ever really goes to waste if you believe Mr. Albert Einstein, E equals m c squared and all that, I have no idea if what I just said is true, the part about nothing ever really going to waste I mean, not the E equals m c squared part, I presume that that is true although I don’t know how you could ever prove it, I guess that’s why it’s called the THEORY of relativity, because no one can prove it, physics was my worst subject back at Not Grapevine High School, all I remember is something about levers and fulcrums, the rest went in one ear and out the other and never settled down in my gray matter, of course it didn’t help that the physics teacher also sang high tenor in a Southern gospel quartet on weekends, he didn’t know a glissando from a hemidemisemiquaver but still tried to teach us to read shaped notes like the Sacred Harp crowd does, that’s another Southern tradition that prolly causes you Northern readers to scratch your heads, I won’t go into shaped notes or Sacred Harp, both of them are just too bizarre, you have to remember what a diamond and a square and a kettle and different kinds of triangles mean and you have to sing fa sol la fa sol la sol fa, you talk about strange, I prefer A to take my fa sol las with do re mis at the beginning and a ti do at the end like any normal person would and B to look at round notes, well to be honest they’re actually elliptical, oval, ovoid, whatever, and C to remember F-A-C-E and Every Good Boy Does Fine for the spaces and lines in the treble clef and All Cars Eat Gas or All Cows Eat Grass and Good Boys Do Fine Always for the spaces and lines in the bass clef instead, mnemonic devices are an interesting phenomenon in themselves, there are acronyms like COMOS to help you remember the five tribes of the Iroquois nation only I think I remember reading there were six and there’s TULIPS to help you remember the six tenets of Calvinism only I think I remember reading there were five, and there are phrases like Gentiles Eat Pork Chops and General Electric Power Company to help you remember the order of some of St. Paul’s letters in the New Testament, people tell me all the time I should try to get on Jeopardy and the truth is I did, try I mean, not get on, I went one bright spring morning in April of 2003 to the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Atlanta to their auditions, they were in town for three days, Jeopardy I mean, not the Marriott Marquis Hotel, and I was one of four people who passed the written test in my particular session, there were about sixty people in this big room and some of them had come from as far away as Pensacola Florida and Greenville South Carolina and Knoxville Tennessee and after the other fifty-six had been dismissed the four of us who were left played some sample games of Jeopardy complete with those little buzzer dooma-flotchies right there in the Marriott Marquis, and after the games we filled out some forms and they took Polaroid pictures of the four of us, individually I mean, not together, and said they would keep us in their files for fourteen months but unfortunately I never heard another word from the folks at Jeopardy, it kind of hurt my feelings, I don’t know about the other three, but I eventually got over it, and let me just state for the record here that I don’t study trivia, I don’t like the game Trivial Pursuit at all, things just enter my mind through my eye gates and my ear gates and they stay there except of course anything having to do with physics or chemistry, for example I learned years ago A that comedienne Carol Burnett had a younger sister named Christine who was married to an actor named Will Hutchins who starred in a TV western series called Sugarfoot and B that the wife of Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban was the sister of Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young and C that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were names somebody in Hollywood invented for two people named Leonard Franklin Slye and Francis Octavia Smith and I just never forgot those facts, one doesn’t try to explain these things, one just suffers in silence for the most part, and when some fact comes out of your mouth, which it inevitably will, people think you are showing off when you’re not, someone wrote a love song once called “You’re Easy To Remember, And So Hard To Forget,” well that describes my malady pretty well, maybe it’s not a malady, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, I remember being at a computer conference in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania back in 1969 and some of us were having dinner in the hotel with some colleagues from Sweden who were attending the conference and one of the Swedes said something about kviksilver and everyone’s face had a blank expression except mine, I said, oh, we have that word in our language, you’re talking about mercury, an old name for mercury in English is quicksilver, not quick as in fast but quick as in living, quick as in the phrase the quick and the dead in the Apostles’ Creed which means the living and the dead, quick as in quickening which is what they used to call it when a pregnant woman first knows the baby inside her is alive because she feels it moving, plus mercury looks alive as it rolls around in little balls which you would know if you have ever broken a thermometer, but it might could mean fast silver also because Mercury is of course the messenger of the gods and he is always pictured with wings on his helmet and on his heels because he is so swift, I believe he is also the symbol of the Florists Telegraph Delivery Service but I may be wrong, or maybe the whole thing is just a big linguistic coincidence, of course you do have to be living to be fast, dead people just lie there and don’t move at all, it all came out in a torrent like it had been dammed up for a long time and Lars-Gustav Halverson kind of harrumphed and said “trivia” and Sue Levy from our office, bless her heart, leaped to my defense, well she didn’t actually leap because we were all seated around the dinner table, what she actually did was she said to Lars-Gustav which is pronounced Larsh GOO-stawf, “What’s trivia, anything you’re not interested in?” and she became one of my heroes at that moment and all of these years later I still remember that evening, boy I would like to see them try to make a movie out of this book, Hollywood I mean, not Sue Levy and Lars-Gustav Halverson, and maybe in the next one, if there is a next one, book I mean, not movie, I will be able to set aside all the trivia and tell you about the people who are really important in my life, for instance there’s A Eleanor, my wife of, lo, these many years, and B our two great sons and their wives and C our wonderful daughter and her husband, and D our six absolutely magnificent grandchildren, two were born in Marietta Georgia and two were born in Birmingham Alabama and two were born in St. Petersburg Florida, but before I could even begin to tell you about them I need to clear my mind of all this clutter, well I guess the time has come to say it one last time, this is Billy Ray, oops, I almost forgot about the poems.

The People In Belle Glade

Oh, Burt Reynolds has a ranch in Palm Beach County,
And Jack Nicklaus sells new cars in Delray Beach,
Cubans migrate north from Dade, but the people in Belle Glade
Know that livin’ in the fast lane’s out of reach.

Perry Como owns a mansion in Tequesta,
And Rose Kennedy’s forgotten how to die,
Lots of money down in Boca is derived from leaves of coca,
But the people in Belle Glade go home and cry.

For the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that Daddy won’t get fired,
And they pray that God will keep their Mama strong.

Oh, the snowbirds come and go each spring and autumn,
And Rose Kennedy just turned one hundred five;
And they call their banks from condos while the symphony
....plays rondos,
But in Belle Glade people fight to stay alive.

All the fishing boats go out on Okeechobee,
And the tourists all complain about the heat,
And some citizens of Broward say their congressman’s a coward,
But in Belle Glade there is not enough to eat.

And the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that Daddy won’t get fired,
And they pray that God will keep their Mama strong.

Oh, the honky-tonks are full on Dixie Highway,
And Rose Kennedy’s one hundred seventeen;
Tourists sail on the Atlantic, but in Belle Glade things are frantic,
And it looks like one more year in old blue jeans.

Burt and Loni raise their child in Palm Beach County,
And the Kennedys throw parties all year long,
And the rumor mill is juicy with affairs in Port St. Lucie,
But in Belle Glade people know there’s something wrong.

For the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children cry ‘cause Daddy just got fired,
And they pray that God will make their Mama strong.

On the coast they drive fast cars and chase loose women,
They water ski, play golf, and just have fun;
While the folks on A-1-A just grow richer every day,
Out in Belle Glade seems like work is never done.

So the tourists come and go, Rose lives forever,
And the coca down in Boca is high grade,
But the people that God sees are the ones down on their knees,
And God hears the people praying in Belle Glade.

Yes, the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that one day they’ll be hired,
And they thank the Lord their Mama was so strong.

Sonnets for the Space Age, circa 1976


Technology has shrunk our modern world;
No room today for the miraculous.
In space a big blue marble has been hurled,
And astronauts report the marble's us.
Computers speed man's progress on its way
Without regard to race or sex or creed;
The federal grant's the order of the day
Without regard to truth or cost or need.
So equal opportunities abound
(Minorities don't ever fall from grace);
And new solutions, almost daily found,
Are rushed to cure the ills of Adam's race.
But seldom now does prayer storm Heaven's gates:
Inside, the Lord sits patiently and waits.


There was a time when life was slower-paced
And one could get to know his neighbor well.
Today each moment's precious, none to waste.
Man's much too busy hurrying toward Hell.
And like a lemming, jostled by the crowd,
He thrashes wildly with the drowning men;
He downs his drink and laughs a bit too loud,
And dashes out into the night again.
So helter-skelter, racing madly on,
He wears a mask to try to hide the lies;
His painted smile denies that time is gone,
But something doth betray him 'round the eyes.
Exhausted, spent, he plunges past the goal
To gain the world and lose his sacred soul.


Polaris is a missile and a star,
The one deployed on restless submarine,
The other keeping vigil from afar
While nebulae and comets roam between.
Much nearer Earth, the evanescent moon
Maintains her distance from our planet's face.
Perhaps she senses conflict coming soon,
The Armageddon of the human race.
So warily she orbits overhead.
A quarter-million miles into the void,
She too keeps guard. We talk of peace instead,
Let our guard down. With warheads unemployed,
While newsmen speak of cabinets and kings,
Calamity is waiting in the wings.


Three heavens stretch above Earth's little pond:,
The daylight blue; the midnight's starry host;
Incalculable distances beyond
These two, the one that modern men fear most.
(For if there is a Heaven they should gain,
A Hell to shun the day they pause to die,
Then all their science simply can't explain
How in the merest twinkling of an eye…)
So, flippantly declaring it absurd,
Men laugh until their laughter turns to tears;
But Saul of Tarsus visited that third
And dared not speak of it for fourteen years.
If not till set of sun come out the stars,
Why balk at glories waiting behind Mars?


No sooner had the missiles disappeared
Than waves of bombers rose up in their stead.
When all debris and rubble had been cleared,
We found almost a hundred million dead.
And some who lived were maimed, and some were charred,
And some no longer see, or hear, or walk;
And many, although outwardly unmarred,
No longer smile, no longer even talk.
For laughter is a thing of bygone days
When children played at imitation war.
Today most people stare with hollow gaze
Rememb'ring times, once real, that are no more.
When men cried, "Peace and safety," all was lost.
We were not ready for the holocaust.

An Amplified Catharsis

Uncontrollably (ungoverned, not hindered),
.....unbidden (unplanned, spontaneously),
.....rivulets of salty tears ran down her cheeks trenches (gullies, arroyos, canyons)
of pain.

Later (subsequently, eventually, after a time),
.....when the tears had subsided (lessened, abated, returned their banks), she emerged from the dark cavern of
.....herself to find (perceive, discover, learn) in the

that although her inner wound (injury, hurt, pain, agony),
.....which she tried (attempted, endeavored) to hide (conceal,
.....suppress) from her companion (partner, significant other),
.....had been lessened (diminished, shrunken, made smaller,

her soul (mind, intellect, ego, inner self) was enlarged
.....(increased, expanded, made greater than before) the experience, but not necessarily cleansed;
.....a truly surprising (unforeseen, unexpected, serendipitous)

An Afternoon Encounter

The winter sun is tangled in an oak
And, white with rage, she struggles to break free.
His icy boughs clutch tightly, try to choke
This one who strayed too near, this enemy.
How fortunate the oak to trap this prize!
What luck just now to catch so rare a prey!
How unexpectedly his victim lies
Imprisoned in his snare at close of day!
But blushing now, embarrassed at her plight,
And fighting on, the sun at last is freed.
Disheveled, she limps homeward for the night
To nurse her wounds. One wound begins to bleed.
The sun, retreating, leaves a crimson stain
And wraps herself in clouds to ease the pain.

And All The While The Far Hyena Laughter

And all the while the far hyena laughter
...Reverberates against the unturned sod
......As senseless, faceless hordes of men come after
.........To plough the earth and shake their fists at God.

All serpentine, the river rages southward
...And bears the silt of ages to the sea;
......All ravenous, with morsels lifted mouthward,
.........Rebellious sons refuse to bow the knee.

For few men seem to sense that day approaching
...When all shall bow, confess with mortal tongue;
......The world, the flesh, the devil, now encroaching,
.........Till then will glorify a heap of dung.

But here and there, amid the hollow laughter,
...The sneers, the rotting flesh, the empty mirth,
......Expectant souls await One coming after,
.........And so preserve a faith upon the earth.

Beyond the hills, the far hyena laughter;
...Beyond the stars, the seraphim rejoice;
......Beyond the whirlwind, earthquakes soon come after;
.........Beyond the fire, a sudden still small voice.

Be Still And Know

Somebody told him, or maybe
he read it in a book,
“God speaks in silences,”
but he, a creature of noise
living in a land of achievement,
filled his days and nights
with meaningless activities
because he had no time
for silence.

He rushed to obtain
the prize that dangled before him,
he pushed every obstacle out of the path,
he devoted his energy to running the race;
he was nearly trampled in the stampede.

He sought the spotlights and the applause,
public acclaim and celebrity,
but the gods he worshiped were fickle deities
who soon tired of him and
turned their attention
to other contestants.

Shaken, abandoned,
brushing the dust from his clothes,
he left the arena unnoticed
with the voice of the ringmaster,
the one who had urged him on,
ringing in his ears.

He turned to curse the ringmaster,
the one responsible for
all of his miseries,
but the curse died in his throat
as he saw with a shock
that the ringmaster’s face
was his own.

After a very long time,
after the unmistakable
laughter of demons
finally stopped,

there came
a silence,


He tried to convince himself
that the silence was empty,
that nothing was there,
but after another very long time
he realized with
another shock
that something
indeed was there,
no, Someone
was most definitely there


Finally he admitted
to the deep, penetrating sky
that he needed help,
that he could not do it on his own,
that he did not even know
what it was he was supposed to be doing,
and most important of all,
that he was not in charge.

At last,
he begin to hear,
though not with ears,
faint at first
but growing stronger,
the undeniable
singing of angels,
the irresistible
voice of God.

Canute (994?-1035)

I, King of all the Britons, and Denmark mine as well!
My star approaches zenith! In Caesar’s train I dwell!
More kingdoms to be conquered! And all shall be laid low!
And feudal lords shall bear me liege wherever I may go!

And shall I stop at kingdoms? Nay, tarry here and see!
The winds and waves shall hearken, and both bow down to me!
No more shall raging ocean erode this harried shore!
But it shall do my bidding, as Christ’s in days of yore!

No more shall sea advance upon the gray and shifting sand!
Now cease your endless churning! Subside at my command!
It is Divinely ordered! You must obey my will!
In God’s name I command you! Hear and hearken: “Peace!
.... Be still!”

But can I be mistaken? And can I be denied?
My words have no effect! Still onward comes the tide!
The swirling eddy rises! The tide attacks my knees!
It hears commands more regal than this lowly creature’s pleas!

God’s kingdom is eternal, mine but of measured span!
What foolishness emerges from the haughty heart of man!
I am but mortal monarch! O, hear my fool’s heart cry!
‘Tis chastened by the deafness of a greater king than I!


Gloom, hanging heavy
like a drapery of velvet,
separates the sunlight
.....from the soul.

Despair, entering quietly
with the lengthening shadows,
darkens the windows
.....of the mind.

Foul odors rise
from hidden places; the room,
growing quiet, gathers

Grief, moving
into striking position,
creeps in stealthily, vermin.

The sinister moon, hoping
to bathe the scene in a ghastly glow,
waits patiently in the
.....afternoon sky.

At the window,
a light breeze moans softly;
beyond it, the willow still.

In a distant place,
an angel choir rehearses;
the director calls out suddenly,
.....“Places, everybody.”

December, 1972

Peace on earth, good will toward men.
They’re bombing North Vietnam again --
B-52’s lost this week total ten --
Peace on earth, good will toward men.

It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
Yellow-skinned children huddle in fear
Against the wind and the cold
And wonder what new horror
Will the midnight blackness bring,
And the whole earth gives back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Has Johnny talked to Santa Claus?
They’re talking about a bombing pause.
Inaugural plans are proceeding well;
Pat will wear yellow. War is hell.
Do you think man has an immortal soul?
Do you think they’ll blackout the Super Bowl?

Silent night, holy night,
Napalm gives a lovely light;
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
How does it feel to destroy a child?

Peace on earth, good will toward men.
They’re bombing North Vietnam again --
B-52’s lost this week total ten --
Peace on earth, good will toward men.


No Byron, I, and yet the thought still lingers,
Will-o’-the-wisp, upon my fevered brow;
Elephantine, its moving, grasping fingers;
Lady Macbeth, and do you haunt me now?

Ramifications swell in deep contrition;
Oceans recede, but in their sunset glow,
Farther away than ever life’s ambition;
Kennedy-like, the newly fallen snow.

Brandishing swords, the ballerina tiptoes;
Duchess of Windsor, grieving at her loss;
Scalpel in hand, the purple eucalyptus;
Garden of Eden; Christ upon the cross.

Mountains volcanic, carousels spinning brightly;
Feeding the turtles, innocent, childlike, pure;
Mother of God, why do you visit nightly?
Pity my state, and pray they find a cure.


We was standin’ on the corner with a couple of the guys,
Sizin’ up the passin’ girls and tradin’ baldfaced lies;
One liar in particular, a fellow name of Pete,
Hitched up his pants and rubbed his hands and spit into the street.
This glassy look come in his eyes, beat all I’d ever saw,
Then he commenced to tremblin’ and a-quiverin’ in the jaw.
He all at once throwed back his head and let out one long scream;
He started in to talkin’, but he gurgled like a stream.
The voice a-comin’ outa Pete, it weren’t like him at all,
More like a dozen voices bouncin’ round some empty hall.
And some of us begun to laugh, and one begun to cuss,
But I begun to fear for what was happenin’ to us.
He said he was a prophet and a prophet’s son as well;
He said our destination was the outer banks of Hell
Where men like us are shipwrecked in the mists that never clear,
Said we’d be always haunted by a dark and nameless fear.
He called hisself Ezekiel and smiled the queerest smile;
He ranted on some more like that, but then, after a while,
He kinda come back to hisself and fell limp on the ground.
We looked at one another, but nobody made no sound.
We took him to the doctor, and we told him how Pete did,
Excep’ about the things he said; that part alone we hid.
They’d think we all was crazy if we told a thing like that,
So we agreed amongst ourselves to keep it ‘neath our hat.
Now Pete don’t ‘member nothin’ ‘bout that eerie afternoon,
And sure ain’t none of us’ll be a-tellin’ no time soon.
Doc said Pete’s eptilectic, said we shouldn’t be afraid,
But now and then I get a chill like tombstones bein’ laid.

Glossolalia, or The Gift of Tongues

Not like a finely crafted poem of old
with much attention paid to rhythm and rhyme,
precision sought within a rigid frame,
and fourteen lines to do the will of God;

More like an explosion of heat that whooshes into the room
so quickly that it takes your breath away,
shattering the cold silence of December,
a sudden Presence where none was before;

More like a young girl bursting into the house
with news of great importance, unexpected and unplanned,
but completely welcome,
because she is
.....Yes Yes


In Crowded Elevators, Silent Men

In crowded elevators, silent men
Are crushed together in the daily race
For wealth and fame. Like lions in a den,
They wait to stalk their prey, resume the chase.

In silent elevators, busy men
Avert their eyes from one another’s face
And no one speaks. Doors open now and then
To let them disappear without a trace.

In busy elevators, weary men
Preparing to pursue the killing pace
Deceive themselves, deny what might have been,
Embrace a world of works, devoid of grace.

In weary elevators, empty men
Appraise the riders sharing the cramped space;
They judge them fools, then leave the cattle pen
And march with pride into the slaughter place.

In empty elevators, phantom men
Wait patiently for flesh to take their place;
Descending to their own abode again,
They shine their ruler’s scepter, orb, and mace.


Sitting in bleachers at the high school gymnasium,
.....surrounded by parents and other fanatics,

Standing at curbside with other mute strangers,
.....waiting obediently in wind-battered silence resume separate journeys soon as the traffic light
.....grants its permission,

Lying on blankets of uncertain vintage
(the color of armies) near the brook in the park,
.....watching the desperate joggers
.....race incessantly in cool autumn sunshine
.....only to be passed their afternoon shadows,

Circling in airplanes over night-fondled cities
(pinpricks of light, reflection of stars),
.....emerging unscathed from
.....mazes of concourses strangely familiar,
.....detained once again reluctant luggage,
.....rage a world
.....going mad.


What has become of my darling –
(She of the flaxen hair
Who climbed in my lap of an evening
And beamed with a radiance fair)?

What has become of my daughter –
(She of the ruby lips
Who smothered my cheeks with wet kisses,
My cheeks and my fingertips)?

..........She has gone, gone away for a season
..........Like the last faded October leaf;
..........But no one can give me a reason,
..........And none can assuage my grief.

What has become of my sweetheart –
(She of the green-gold eyes
Who melted my heart with her glances
And made each new day a surprise)?

What has become of my baby –
(She of the velvet skin
Who conquered so quickly with laughter
And toppled my whole world in)?

..........And autumn has now turned to winter,
..........And after the winter, what then?
..........Do I dare trust in God to send springtime?
..........Will I see my dead daughter again?


The white gulls fly out seaward
.....To greet the golden dawn;
The naked earth, arising,
.....Puts robes of morning on;
The sun, leaving her chambers
.....To start another day,
Now pauses for a moment
.....And kneels at sea to pray.

The white gulls hang suspended,
.....The east wind holds her breath,
And men in warm beds waken
.....From dreams of love and death;
The sun now turns from praying,
.....Her intercession done;
The white gulls circle softly:
.....A new day has begun.

Meditation for Christmas Eve

“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, it will avail thee naught, save He be born in thee.”
................................... -–Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

The wise men came to Bethlehem and worshiped you,
Before a newborn king they knelt in awe.
The shepherds came and knelt in adoration too,
Still wond’ring at the things they heard and saw.
The virgin mother smiled and kissed her baby’s face,
Rememb’ring words an angel came to tell;
Jehovah God would come to save the human race,
And here You are, with us, Immanuel.

And the night was filled with angel song, heralding Your birth.
Still their message echoes loud and strong of joy and peace on!
Your star still shines, a beacon burning bright!
Jesus, I worship You, be born in me this night.
You are sinless, holy, worthy of all praise;
Lord, I love You, adore You, I’ll serve You all my days!
You changed my life, I’ll never be the same.
Jesus, I worship You and magnify your name.

I worship You, Creator of all time and space;
I worship You, Redeemer of my soul.
You spoke in pow’r and all the stars were hung in place,
You spoke in peace and made my spirit whole.
I worship You, O Holy One of Israel;
I worship You, Who’ll die upon a tree.
By Your own blood You’ll break the pow’r of Satan’s spell!
You’ll conquer death and set this captive free!

You are Savior, Healer, You’ll cause blind eyes to see;
You are mighty, holy, merciful to me!
You changed my life, I’ll never be the same!
>Jesus, I worship You and magnify Your name!
On a rugged hill called Calvary, You’ll give your life for me,
From the grave You’ll rise on Easter morn, from sin and death
....I’m free!
You changed my life, I’ll never be the same!
Jesus, I worship You and magnify Your name,
Your precious Name,
Your holy,

Nebuchadnezzar To His Astrologers

Last night, in dream or vision (I know not which),
I saw a splendor rise before me.
Awe filled my soul, and beholding, I grew dumb,
Wondering at its meaning.
Resplendent it was, and marvelous,
Too wonderful to view.

This morning is my soul stirred,
And I desire from you
What the gods conveyed to me,
For the dream has left me.
The vision has fled with the
Warming rays of the sun.

I know not what I saw,
Nor what now troubles me.
But work your work, ply your craft,
Can you not divine it?
Surely I would tell you,
Could I but recall it.

Answer now,
Your king is

On Being Shown a Photograph of an Ancestor

Those things speak most that never say a word,
Like eyes that meet on streets when strangers pass;
The loudest cries so often go unheard,
Like silent prayers reflected in a glass.
Though never have we spoken, there’s a bond
That shatters my veneer, my thin disguise;
You look beneath the surface and beyond,
And all of time is frozen in your eyes.
Departed generations in between,
Like links of chain from viewer to the viewed,
Peer over Heaven’s edge, survey the scene,
Hold their collective breaths, and don’t intrude.
While thoughts of love, and death, and DNA
Swirl through my brain, they bow their heads and pray.

On Viewing a Medieval Bridal Chamber

Half a morning’s measure,
.....Stripped of veil and train,
Here, in languid leisure,
.....Maids with men have lain,
Off’ring up their treasure,
.....Off’ring sweat and stain,
Little gasps of pleasure,
.....Little cries of pain.

In their sweet uncladness,
.....Still all lovers cling,
Thinking, in their madness,
.....Lusty flesh is king;
What now gives them gladness
.....All too soon shall bring
Little sighs of sadness,
.....Little tears that sting.

October 25, 2004

Our friend Carolyn came over for lunch
And as we finished at the table
Someone said, “Let’s go for a ride!”
So into the car we piled,
Like children giddy with anticipation,
Not knowing where we were headed
But eager to be having an adventure;
And someone said, “Where shall we go?”
And we said, “We don’t know!”
And someone else said, “Name a direction!”
And because the fall thus far at home
Had been drab and disappointing,
We headed north toward the mountains, laughing.

Five hours later we returned,
Tired but invigorated,
Having been to Helen and Unicoi Gap
And Hiawassee and Lake Chatuge,
Making all of the hairpin turns
And ascending, always ascending, until
We crested and began to descend
Through another set of hairpin turns,
And all the while we oohed and ahhed
And said how glad we were that we had come,
Drinking in the brilliant reds, the dazzling yellows,
The shocking oranges of autumn, the mountains ablaze
Against a clear blue sky.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit In The Twenty-first Century

Take a good idea involving
two sets of neighbors,
two days,
a thousand dollars,
put it on television,

change production companies
after the first season,
fire the doe-eyed host,
get a perky one,
a simple girl
with Broadway experience,

add new designers,
take some away,
have them put
feathers on walls,
put moss and rust
and cardboard,
put hay,

spice it up
with giggling jiggling blondes
and guys in leather pants,
call yellow by
a thousand different names,

run it into the ground
with versions for kids,
families, paying off
somebody’s mortgage,

make your millions,
and laugh all the way
to the bank.

Poem, Untitled

The page is blank, like my life.
All sorts of subjects flit through my mind
On the way to somewhere else
But not one settles down, makes itself
Comfortable, takes root, or starts to grow
Upward toward the light that arches
High above, beckoning all things to
Itself, not a single one.

The page is empty, like my brain.
I want to write a poem
But nothing comes to mind,
Only a formless maelstrom,
Swirling like one of the
Hundred million galaxies
Out there in the cosmos,
Moving toward the light.


An anguish I could not explain
.....Awakened me at dawn;
A heavy sigh escaped me as I
.....Pulled my trousers on;
Unbidden tears coursed down my cheeks
.....And later in the day
I found myself, astonished,
.....Kneeling in a church to pray.

I cannot name what troubled me,
.....What filled me with such dread;
I can’t identify the fears
.....That raised me from my bed;
I cannot place the sudden chill
.....Enveloping me now,
Nor do I know the reason
.....That this sweat pours down my brow.

I hesitate to speak these things
.....(You may think me deranged),
But this I know: I’m different;
.....I’ve been profoundly changed.
I move ahead with confidence
.....Into the growing night;
While others walk in darkness,
.....All I see is brilliant light.

Table Grace With Musings Afterward

“God is great, God is good;
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed.
Thank you, Lord for daily bread. Amen.”
Okay, everybody, dig in!

.....God is deaf, God is blind
.....To the ills of humankind;
.....While we struggle here below,
.....Seraphim fly to and fro before his throne
.....Crying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.
.....Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
.....Glory be to Thee, O Lord, Most High.”


.....Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
.....Secula seculorum,
.....World without end,

Please pass the butter.

.....And the angel said, “Hail, Mary, full of grace,
.....The Lord is with thee.”
.....(Closer than your next breath,
.....Nearer than a heartbeat.
.....With thee With thee WITH thee WITH thee...)

More coffee, anyone?

.....How is it
.....That a God so pure, so holy that He
.....Cannot look upon sin,
.....A God so high, so lifted up that His train alone
.....Filled an ancient temple,
.....Has turned from His headlong march in the opposite direction
.....And looked upon me?
..........(I believe in the Holy Spirit…)

.....How is it
.....That His single gaze pierced through
.....My carefully constructed armor?
..........(The holy catholic Church…)

.....And how, finally, is it
.....That His eyes, aflame like
.....Hot coals from an altar, yet filled with
.....Indescribable tenderness,
.....Can see everything and still, in the seeing,
..........(The communion of saints…)

Cream and sugar?

.....It is not for us to know the times and seasons…
..........(The forgiveness of sins…)
...............Credo in unum Deum.

.....Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face…
..........(The resurrection of the body…)
...............Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine.

.....Then we shall know even as we are known…
..........(And the life everlasting.)
...............Deum verum de Deo vero.

.....Neither do I condemn thee: Go and sin no more...
..........He knows. He loves. He forgives.
...............It is enough to know for the present.

Does anyone want dessert?

The Thing About His Poetry Is

The thing about his poetry is
it just lies there, flat as the proverbial
pancake, it doesn’t lift off the page
like a rocket bound for some distant
world, it doesn’t make your brain want to
soar into the blue. The herons are

never flying in his poetry and no stars
are ever mentioned; he wouldn’t recognize
a constellation if one hit him square
in the face. Your heart with rapture
never fills, there are no fields of
daffodils with which it can dance, in fact

dancing itself is pretty much
frowned upon in his economy,
it’s all business with him, cut and dried.
If his poetry were the financial section
of the newspaper there would always be
a bear market without the slightest hint

of hope, and in spite of all this
the public can’t get enough of him,
his books are all best sellers and
he’s making money hand over fist
even though the thing about his poetry is
it just lies there, flat as the proverbial


Nancy Reagan

When Spring comes, I shall walk the fields again
And watch the earth take on a greener hue.
Your heart and mine will be united then,
Though this time I shall walk them without you.
And I shall miss your love, your soft caress,
The sweetness of your kiss, your gentle breath,
Your quiet touch, your looks of tenderness,
With me atop the earth and you beneath.
Despite the awful absence of your hand,
Despite the empty aching in my loins,
This truth shall journey with me o’er the land:
“What Death divides, it once again rejoins.”
And in my heart, truth’s promise I shall keep;
When Spring comes, I shall walk and you shall sleep.

Oz Redux

Somewhere over someone’s pretty rainbow
Pterodactyls lick their chops and hover,
Judy Garland’s dead, O.D.’d, we miss her,
Toto, rabid stray, has run for cover.
Rusting tin men fall apart in junkyards,
Scarecrows never have the urge to talk,
Broomsticks are for sweeping, not for flying,
Wicked witches take a bus or walk.
Child molesters prey on little munchkins,
Auntie Em was in her youth a whore,
One thing, though, is constant, one thing certain:
Folks, we’re not in Kansas any more.

Six Six Six

A mark in the forehead or one in the hand –-
A great tribulation is stalking the land.
If no one is selling, then no one can buy;
Though many have vanished, I can’t seem to die.

If no one is buying, then no one can sell;
If none can earn Heaven, we’ve surely found Hell.
But who can find answers when no one explains?
And peace now is passing, but torment remains.

Byzantine Christ

Naught else consumes me, naught but the prize,
Naught but the flicker of love in your eyes.
All else I flee from, all else abhor,
All else excoriate, all else deplore.

This is my one goal, this is my quest,
This my one hope, and away with the rest.
All else is vanity, all I despise;
Say me a silent Well done with your eyes.

Thy Brother’s Blood

A poet (I forget his name) spoke
at the second inauguration
of little Billy Blythe of Hope, Arkansas,
whom the world knows as William Jefferson Clinton,
and let me just state here for the record
in this year of our Lord two thousand four
that many people would like to forget
the name William Jefferson Clinton,
many people wish his smiling face
would disappear from our national consciousness
or, to be more accurate,
that it had never appeared there in the first place,
but thanks to the wonders of modern technology
and the incessant, arrogant media,
the relentless, pontificating media,
who know with perfect knowledge
what products we should buy
and what entertainments we should enjoy
and whom we should admire
and what thoughts we should think
and do not hesitate to tell us at every opportunity,
we cannot, we are stuck with him
and his power-hungry wife,
but I digress.

I remember the poet’s name: Miller Williams.
He mentioned “the anonymous dead”
and I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling,
I did not get all cheery and hopeful,
I did not feel the way I felt when Maya Angelou,
the unforgettable Maya Angelou, urged us all
four years earlier to say, with hope,
“Good morning,”
I did not feel that way at all.

I have seen the skulls and skeletons
beneath the subways of Paris,
there in the catacombs, piles and piles
of anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous),
photographed in living color
and published in Smithsonian magazine;

I have read of the mass graves
in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia;
I have read of Sudan and Rwanda,
where they didn’t even bother to dig graves;
I have read of the Mekong Delta and the Hanoi Hilton;
I have read of Chosin Reservoir and Pork Chop Hill;
I have seen old newsreel footage,
black and white and grainy,
of soldiers standing before the opened oven doors
at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Treblinka;
I have seen the charred and broken remains
of what once were human bodies
(and they are not anonymous);
I have read of the Bulge and the beaches of Normandy,
Utah and Omaha and Pointe-du-Hoc,
I have read of Okinawa and Guadalcanal;
I have read of Iwo Jima and the death march on Bataan;
I have read of the Marne and the Argonne Forest;
I have read of Gettysburg and Antietam,
of Shiloh and Chickamauga;
I have read of Valley Forge;
I have walked through rows and rows of graves
at Arlington National Cemetery;
and one sunny September morning
in the year of our Lord two thousand one
I watched with my own eyes
on live television
as the second plane
hit the second tower;
I watched both buildings fall.

Make no mistake,
these common, ordinary people,
these so-called anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous)
who have come to include
office workers in lower Manhattan
and commuters on trains in Madrid
and schoolchildren in Chechnya,
and millions upon millions
of aborted American babies,
they are not anonymous,
and they are not silent.

To Lukewarm In Laodicea

Were every bush a burning bush
.....And every leaf a clue,
You’d see the cleansing hand of God
.....In every fiery hue;
You’d know the strong Refiner’s touch
.....Can pierce a soul clean through,
Were every bush a burning bush
.....Then any bush would do.

Were every tongue an unknown tongue
.....And every sigh a psalm,
You’d speak the oracles of God
.....To those in need of balm;
You’d tell of healing virtue and
.....Of saving power too;
Were every tongue an unknown tongue
.....Then even yours would do.

Were every tomb an empty tomb
.....Like that near Calv’ry’s hill
And every boulder rolled away
.....That keeps you from God’s will,
You’d know the Lord as risen Lord
.....Whose pow’r makes all things new;
Were every tomb an empty tomb
.....Then yours might empty too.

A Hummingbird Came To Our Patio

A hummingbird came to our patio
to sample the pink blossoms
that glistened with dew
in the strawberry pots the wrought iron chair.

She darted and hovered, darted and hovered,
and we held our breaths, transfixed,
and dared not look at one another,
and we listened as our beating hearts
.....tried to match the flutter of her wings.

She was gone as quickly as she came,
and we exhaled in a kind of thanksgiving
and looked into each other’s eyes
with no little disappointment
.....that the shared moment, so perfect, was so brief.

Two hours later, eight miles away,
we saw another hummingbird,
outside the kitchen window of a friend,
.....twice in one day, a very special gift.


Near the mill, in the mist of a morning,
Where the dew was an emerald sea,
There was brilliance aplenty adorning
When angels came walking to me.

For they came with a glorious splendor;
They approached with a jubilant psalm;
And the song that they sang did engender
Magnificent, infinite calm.

Oh, I cannot remember their faces
(Though the music was jubilant psalm),
But a Light filled my hiddenmost places
And healed them with Gilead’s balm.

They passed by without seeming to see me
As they joyously went on their way,
But their jubilant singing did free me
As the Light turned gross darkness to day.

And the glory that shone was resplendent,
And the triumphant sound of their song
That had made one brief moment transcendent
Shall stay with me all my life long.

For the mill was in mist on that morning,
And the dew was an emerald sea
When, with brilliance aplenty adorning,
The angels came walking to me.

Florabelle Oxley (1918-2007)

Born Florabelle Stillwater, part
Choctaw Indian, or maybe it was Cherokee,
in a little town in Central Texas;
she married Bud Oxley, a nice enough guy
who owned his own plumbing business
in another little town
and who also drank
maybe a little too much
a little too often;
she had two sisters, one in
North Las Vegas, Nevada,
and one in Tulare, California.

Florabelle raised Poland China hogs on
a forty-acre farm she and Bud owned
two miles north of town;
she also raised a
son named Jimmy Wayne who
didn’t do well in school
but loved to hunt squirrels, loved
to drive a tractor, loved to
swim in the pond where the hogs
and a small herd of cattle
came often to drink,
loved most of all to fish
in the selfsame pond,
and after leaving home
he became a fishing guide
somewhere down in
East Texas.

We could hear Florabelle
calling her hogs
every afternoon at four-thirty,
regular as clockwork,
sooooooey, sooooooey,
suey, suey, suey,
sooooooey, sooooooey,
a siren beckoning to Ulysses,
or Circe wooing Ulysses’ men
in from the fields to be
slopped and penned up for the night,
fattening them up for the kill
but not before winning prizes at
the annual Livestock Exposition and
Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.

Florabelle had a heart of gold,
telling my parents, “So sorry
about your well,
of course you can get water
from the spigot and hose on the
side of my house,” which we did
for three long years,
or rather I did,
I, carrying drinking water
in buckets across the pasture
between our houses every other day,
I, pulling an old Red Flyer wagon
with a large aluminum garbage can,
shiny and new
and filled with water,
balanced on top
across the same pasture
twice a week,
I, hauling water so we could
bathe and wash dishes
and have clean pots and pans,
I, whose mother had earned
a teaching certificate from
West Chester State College in
Pennsylvania but
died of cancer anyway
in October of my senior year,
I, whose father never finished
high school and didn’t intend
to part with good money
just to dig a new well or
install indoor plumbing
for a sick wife,
I, who did quite well at school
and became valedictorian
of my class,
dependent on a country woman
with little education
who raised hogs
and had a son who
didn’t do well in school
didn’t do well
at all.

After fifty-three years of
living with Bud, Florabelle
became a widow and lived
thirteen more years
to the ripe old age of
eighty-eight; she was
confined to a wheelchair
for the last three years of her life,
but that didn’t slow her down much
because Bud’s niece, Jolene,
his sister Gaye’s youngest daughter
whose father had been mayor of the town,
Jolene, who as a teenager thought
dancing was a sin and told us all
she was going to become a
Southern Baptist missionary,
Jolene, who instead became
a registered nurse and
a three-time divorcee,
and decided to learn how to
square dance when she was
in her fifties,
Jolene, who fell in love
for a fourth time with
David, a Mormon guy from Utah,
and told him, “If you agree
to learn to square dance for me,
I’ll become a Mormon for you,”
and he did, and she did,
and they lived happily ever after,
that Jolene, at the age of sixty-three
assumed full responsibility
for Florabelle who was eighty-five
and confined to a wheelchair and
needed help getting dressed
and into and out of bed and couldn’t even
go to the bathroom by herself
and had a touch of the
to boot,
assumed responsibility for her aunt
because Jimmy Wayne was still
somewhere down in East Texas
helping all those city people
catch fish on weekends;
she and David, her fourth husband,
toted Florabelle all around the country,
driving all the way to North
Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tulare, California,
and back east to North Carolina
to visit Jolene’s sister, Bernice,
and all the way up to Washington state
where they flew kites on a beach
by the Pacific Ocean and took
photographs to prove it,
and out to Kaysville, Utah,
several times each year
to visit David’s children
and Jolene still found time
to produce and distribute
a quarterly newsletter complete with
scanned photographs
on her laptop computer
for her old classmates.

On the night all forty-six members
of the class of 1958
marched across the football field
and sang “Moments To Remember”
as sung by The Four Lads to the crowd
assembled in the stadium seats
and I gave my valedictory address
and we graduated from high school,
Jolene was my date, although date
is the wrong word because I
didn’t know how to drive yet
so we sat in the back seat
of my Dad’s car while he and
my soon-to-be-stepmother
took us somewhere to eat
and drove us around for a
couple of hours, pretending to
have a good time
when they probably wanted to
be somewhere else;
it was Florabelle who had quietly
suggested one afternoon
that it would be nice
if I asked her niece
to go out
after graduation.

A couple of years ago
Florabelle, Jolene, and David
spent a Saturday night with us
in North Georgia
on their way back to Texas
from North Carolina;
Florabelle didn’t know
who we were or where she was
but she did remember
Ruth, Ted, and Billy,
her old neighbors from
fifty-some years ago, and she
flirted shamelessly with David
at the dinner table,
and they all attended Easter service
with us the next day because
Jolene wanted to hear me
play the piano once again,
and Jolene seemed to enjoy our church
even though Florabelle said
the service was too long
and David said it was
more exuberant than he was used to,
and before they left
to get back on the road
Jolene snapped some pictures
and scanned some photographs
to use in a future newsletter.

Last week Florabelle died. I sent
flowers to the funeral home and
signed the online guest book
that was provided by the
obituary department of the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram;
I left a note saying what a
good neighbor she had been,
always ready with a laugh or a tear,
whichever fit the occasion,
and that Mama and Florabelle
were neighbors once again;
the next evening
one of the class officers
called and said “I went
to a funeral today and
your name came up; it was
mentioned from the pulpit.”

According to the Bible,
love covers a multitude of sins;
I would simply add that
love lets your neighbors have water
when they have none,
love makes you more than happy to
rearrange your life
to care for an elderly relative
who can no longer care for herself;
love doesn’t mind all the equipment
you have to lug around or
all the trouble it is
to produce a quarterly newsletter
for your classmates.

Dancing is not a sin;
being divorced three times is not a sin;
drinking maybe a little too much
is not a sin;
wanting to be a fishing guide
is not a sin;
not having enough money to be able to
afford to have a new well dug
is not a sin.

Sin is that which causes you,
upon receiving a brand new
telephone directory, to look at
your own name and address first;
it is loving yourself
to the exclusion of others,
it is concentrating on your own needs
and ignoring anyone else’s;
it is the complete self-centeredness
that makes you secretly pleased
to hear that your name
was mentioned from the pulpit;
it is trying to write a poem
to honor a neighbor or a friend
and ending up making it about yourself;
it is the missing of the mark altogether,
the coming short of the glory of God,
the glory in which, I hasten to add,
Mama and Florabelle now reside.

..................................The Writer

....................With words alone, he paints
....................from the palette of his mind,
.........................hues and tints
....................until he sees the exact shade
....................he wants.

....................With words alone, she chips away
....................rough edges of meaning,
..............................the solid rock
....................until the long-sought shape

....................With words alone, she pins and drapes
....................original ideas
....................over the naked manikin page,
.........................tucking in a bit of material,
....................snipping off
....................a dangling thread
....................dropping thoughts easily as hemlines.

....................With words alone, he composes
....................irresistible music,
.........................seducing the ear,
.........................searching for a particular chord,
....................the one right sound his words must make
....................for echoes linger.

and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

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