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Of Time and the River

I love the way the river rollicks here,
and how it sluices headlong down the hill
to hurtle through these spruces in a thrill
of spray. Up-slope, beneath the glacier’s sheer
façade, this melt of snow that fell the year
the earth was made emerges as a rill;
then, far downstream, it scours the rocks until
they granulate, dissolve and disappear.

But in this place, we see how fine a mill
has been at work, imparting its severe
but sure perfection to the stones that fill
its bed. And so it is with us, my dear”
two cobbles, tumbled in the stream, to cheer
the heart of Him who polishes us still.

Bill Daugherty

The Prodigal’s Father

I husbanded my flocks and fields with care,
attentive to the details, great and small:
from hundredfold increase to sparrow’s fall.
Perhaps I seemed neglectful to my heir,
my younger son. Though piqued by his demands,
I held my peace, not mentioning the rule
that sudden riches will destroy a fool,
and meekly parceled out his goods and lands,
and sent him on his way. I could preempt
a greater loss releasing him: among
my people, such temerities of the young
have provoked their elder brothers’ fierce contempt.
Cain’s toward Abel grew to wrath; should I,
like Adam, lose both sons? Heaven forbid.
Better, I thought, to sacrifice a kid
and trust that, in seraglio or in sty,
grace would find and keep him. By my beard,
he was pigheaded. But I prayed and watched
until I saw him, starving and debauched,
a long way off where he had disappeared.
Thanks be to God! I rose at once and sped
to welcome him. So much unsaid, undone;
and now, a second chance to love my son
as though we both had risen from the dead!

Bill Daugherty

Greener Grasses

So heed me now, though all my quondam whispers rise
From darknesses and little deaths You did despise
Or seemed to. Your tremendous volte-face preyed each year
Upon my gullibility to bend Your ear
And racked this ruined soul with frames of phantom guilt.
Your accidental turning broke the barns I built
To store, unrealized, the mildewed fruit I bore.
I listened and ran bleating to Your closing door.
But when You turned I never saw Your fabled smile
But wept upon Your thorny brow, to lose my guile
Where rivulets of blood do still obscure Your eyes
And gather where my hopes and weathered dreaming dies.
But here I lie, and ever did I, catlike, do.
For once, I now remember, where the olives grew
With mists between the small hills and dawn on the felled
Ancient castellations of the marches, You held
My eyes and opened them on glimpses of Your face.
And have You changed? Is this why now there is no trace?
But now I think I mind a moonlit path I walked
Where all the trees were dancing with Your voice and talked
Between themselves and lifted their long-fingered praise.
And You stopped me like a traveller with Your gaze
And bade me lift this old, old burden from my back.
You have not changed. But surely I must learn my lack.
Then other places where Your love drew near, precious
And strong, or weeping and long, like milestones, conscious
Of me, spread along these dusts. I pine in my sleep,
Now. Now Your mercies crowd upon me from some deep
And dead forgotten cavern of my wayward heart.
I am the lost sheep. But no sooner do we start
Back on the pasture than I stray among the rocks
Or bandy words with, here, a wolf or, there, a fox.
Brand my hide with Your blood-red love, sacred shepherd.
Teach me the strong timbre of Your speech that, once heard,
Will ever be obeyed. And lead me, lead me now,
To grasses greener, sweeter than the heart knows how.

Sean O’neill