A Woman Taking A Picture of Brilliant Yellow #9 by Jo Baer

I recently took a trip to Chicago and visited the Art Institute. This is a poem, a reflection, of a moment I had in the contemporary art section.

brilliant yellow number 9photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/_jwong/8385878632


A Woman Taking A Picture of Brilliant Yellow #9 by Jo Baer

The painting but a slab of white
bordered by a yellow line
she sees it through her lit up screen
and captures what is thought sublime

I watch the woman watching lights
transmitting white and nothingness
I pause with sadness and delight
unsure of who was watching what

Two floors down to Renaissance
I blush before El Greco’s queen
towering in her innocence
assuming more from the current scene


Fourth Sunday of Advent: Love

Merry Christmas! This is a poem I wrote for the fourth Sunday of Advent, which this year was Christmas Eve too. I hope to post a Christmas Eve and Christmas Day sonnet soon, but for now enjoy this poem, inspired by the many walks I have taken with my (very!) pregnant wife. Enjoy the beauty of this day. God is with us!


Fourth Sunday of Advent: Love

Love is walking by my side, the oldest force
to wreck the pride of men: a woman with child.
She calms my pace, pulls me back on course—
who can resist a power as pure or wild?
Old Joseph, you were stronger than most men,
urging Mary on to Bethlehem. What tears
were shed along that road of sin?
What arguments or silence stilled the air?
Love has overlooked my coward’s heart,
in grace endured my anxious laugh,
ignored my tendency to fall apart,
and taught me wisdom weakness on the path.
She carries me, and stops a while to rest.
Love slows us down to show us we are blessed.

Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

This Sunday I preached about John the Baptist leaping for joy at the presence of Jesus. In the same way, I have seen my son leaping in the womb. What better image of expectation can there be? And what better posture for Christians in the Advent season, as we long with John to meet our Lord.


Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

My son leaps like John from the womb, his feet
pressing, stretching out to the music. The fading
glow of voices and their shadows, the glory of his
awakening eyes: all lights dancing toward the coming day.
My hand upon the mother’s skin, but now he’s steady,
a coy withdrawal into mystery or heaven.
Any day now. My fingers block his muted sun,
poking shadows into his floating world, temporary
yet pleasant in its dreams, true in its imaginations.
Like ours, your world is everything—and incomplete.
Expanding, contracting, groaning with the rhythms
of love and pain, moaning with the masses: to what end?
What motion prods us from the coming day?
What child, what pain, what joy is on its way?

Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

I wrote this poem to reflect what the peace of the Christ child might mean for this world so flooded with news of death and destruction. In this Advent season, I hope that you can look to Christ as the actual, living, present hope to every suffering person in this world.

With all the saints we pray in this season: Come Lord Jesus!


Second Sunday of Advent: Peace

The forests of the west are burning. These days
a cutting wind sweeps over us—I am burning
and you are burning. The heat of war, the whipping
lash of lies, the shrapnel of senseless words
pierces every living soul. I am tired
and waiting for a son. What is this falling world,
this furious gift? Who counts the flames,
who rests easy when any laughter mingles
with the cries of Ivan’s children*—how many
Joan of Arcs, child soldiers, are become ashes,
forgotten for a cease fire we mistake as peace?
What voices drew them to mankind’s fire?
Our only hope a child from the coals:
Born a babe to die and make us whole.





*This is a reference to Ivan Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov. This is what Ivan says, in his doubts about God’s goodness:  “For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me,please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution, too; but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their fathers’ crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension.”

Advent: First Sunday

This Advent season, I am hoping to write a series of sonnets, about the dual longing for Christ’s birth and for the birth of my own son, who is due to be born somewhere around January 2. I hope you enjoy them as a way of reflection upon this season of longing, anticipation, and expectation of how new life is breaking into this world.


Advent: First Sunday

My wife lays next to me; she breathes and rolls
from side to side. The pains of child-growing
and its joys—tossing her in wonder and in awe—
the thunder and the beauty of the night—
we’re both awake and dreaming of the dark,
the luminous shadow: our son, unborn, his face.
The light of morning—sooner than we think.
Yet darkness stays. We stay. We wait.
She rises now to read and sleep alone,
contorting on the couch to find some peace.
I fade away, in fitful anxious sleep,
the kind that never ends. Until it does.
O Mary, what comes after restless nights?
What joy and loss, what cross, what life?

Newtown, A Lament. 12/14/12

I wrote this poem about five years ago, after the Sandy Hook shooting. It’s difficult to process these horrific massacres from a distance, when you see it on a screen or when you read about them on your phone. I am sad because I feel like these past five years have made me numb to the horror of these shootings–they have become normalized, they have become integrated into the fabric of our culture. When a mass shooting happens now, we all know what to do, what sides to take, what to tweet, if or if not to pray, who is right, who has the answers, who can fix things. And I count myself in this, too. I have taken no meaningful action to prevent such horrific acts, and this apathy renders my heart a stone. I hope to discern the violence in my own heart today, as I grieve for what is lost, as I discern how I should act to work toward a more peaceable kingdom on this earth.

As a pastor, I cannot imagine what it is like to have your entire congregation gunned down–people you loved, people that annoyed you, people that changed you, people that made you a better Christian, people you prayed with when their loved ones died, people who poured out their lives to you. All gone in a few minutes, snatched from you by a demon, killed by a terrorist, slaughtered without pity. There is nothing to say about such a thing as that. Texas, we love you, we weep with you, and God forgive us as a people if we continue to do nothing.


Newtown, A Lament. 12/14/12

hold tongues                   it’s a tragedy
balloons bursting yellow                  tape cotton candy
glass melted, the metal burning                  hot

kids fly off                                  into outer space
bullets land on them, chanting
lullabies            rhymes              folk songs
clapping hands            cold fists
blood hands of four score                seven years
pulls them down                 to earth

we are ugly
forgive us for
Hiroshima                          morality

concrete shards ascend                    into the clouds
burning victims dragged down                   into ideologies

o God where are we what                  have we done?

we all are
talking saying mouthing pointing blaming noising chanting singing stomping             shouting                     crushing                     yelling!

turn off the computer,                      turn off my computer!

silence is me inside the school.
stillness is my finger                         on the trigger.
I caused this              my sins
children die because I am a sinner
did      I      cause     this      tragedy      too?
my tears won’t come                                    they won’t save me
lord why can’t I cry over this?

I eat                I am               I see
nothing           nothing
there is             nothing
does life continue
will tomorrow still                 after such madness will there
be any sense of         will we                        move on tomorrow or the
next or will it be                    the next day

                                Eli Eli




*Come, O Lord

Notes for my Unborn Son

My wife and I are due to have a baby boy in January. I don’t know how one prepares for a first child, but as someone who writes poetry, that is how I am doing it (as well as, of course, buying lots of things for his nursery and all). Anyhow, these are just little notes I I’ve been imagining saying to my son: as I’ve seen him coming more alive; as I’ve seen my wife go through this amazing process; as I’ve thought about his life to come and the conversations we will have as he grows and explores this God-given world.


Notes for my Unborn Son




where to begin?
with a handful of dust
and a prayer

I know less than I did
when I started this poem
I have become less
and wild John was right

I must




last week I had a group of college students
staying at our house
their eyes wonder-wide
hungry for the wisdom we call advice
and I gave it
like a fool

but son
we never get there
we never feel sure
we merely cup our frail hands
before the pouring fountain
and pray to our Father:

more, more, more




life is inexpressibly

your mother walks by me
humming to herself in reverie
and again she is an angel, a quiet mystery
floating past in her silken robe—
what words, what feeble cages
could contain even her shadow?




I once saw a young man
pluck a tulip from a bed
but for me and God
and the watchful dead
deep in the soil:
he was alone

he walked twenty yards
and tossed it in the trash

I also held hands
with an old woman
dying at the hospital
all of her family
prayed and sang
like cherubs before dark

her fearless eyes glowed
when we saw her glimpse
our veiled future

at times this all may seem
terrible, aimless, futile

but trust me that pain
ends, suffering
transfigures, death
at the close
meets her reflection

and shudders




I am sorry God called me
to this pilgrim
cross-haunted life
I am sorry the world
is the world
I am sorry that I
am not Jesus
I am sorry to drown you
in his waters
to join you
to his sufferings

his costly, narrowing life

I pray I only bury you once

but child
I know of no
other road
that finds




forgive me
for wanting to save
you already

give me time
to trust you to God

a few moments
where your fragility
does not frighten me
but emboldens me
to become strong

I know that someday
I will let you save me—
feed me          nurture me

I will let you sell my home
make all the decisions
even cry like I taught you

more than I ever could

but long before my stone is overgrown
I will lose you to the happiness
of sense and life—I will long
to lose you

I will beg you
to wash me
into the realm of dreams

but for a moment
till that moment
cry and cry away this night

The New River

I wrote this pantoum about and for my father a few years ago, based on a picture I had from a white water rafting trip we took when I was in Scouts, taken right before I got flung into the rapids (I looked terrified). I hope you enjoy it on this Father’s Day. Sorry I couldn’t find the picture it’s based on!


The New River

You will soon ride under the river alone.

The photo was taken offshore, by a professional

waiting to capture my fear before I faced what they call the Hole,

a Class-5 Monster, the Big Dip of the New River.


The photo was taken offshore by a professional.

He caught that stupid yellow duckey, my front tilting up

over the Class-5 Monster, the Big Dip of the New River.

My eyes are wildfire. Father’s stay steady and blue.


The stupid yellow duckey is lopsided,

father anchors into the water, pushes me up.

My eyes are wildfire. His remain steady as blue

waves overwhelm us with the river-white foam.


Father weighs down in the water, but the river will push me out.

The picture shows my oar, halfway out my hands,

waving, overwhelmed by the river-white foam.

I wish I could tell my 8-year-old self: don’t worry


the oar is halfway out my hands,

but father’s will not be moved.

I tell myself even now: do not worry,

my father’s hands are sure. He will not leave me.


My father will not be moved.

He already can see the end of the rapids,

and his hands are sure; he will not leave me.

He will never be ashamed of my fears.


He can already see the end of the rapids,

the rapids that teach me to fear death,

but he will never be ashamed of my fears:

he shares them with me. By his outstretched hand


my father will teach me to fear death, but also

to keep my young eyes still, my new arms strong.

He shares his with me by an outstretched hand.

He looks ahead for me and tells me what is coming:


Keep your eyes open. Your arms strong.

Release your fear as you face what they call the Hole.

I will not always see ahead of you, or know what is coming.

You will soon ride under the river, alone.



They have always been like giants to me

eager to squash and munch and bellow


but as I hush the voices of NPR

and my eyes scan the hills and knobs

of this great winding mess called I-65


as I duck and dodge these monsters

I am struck with wonder:

What’s in all those semis?


I mean, where are they going?

Where is it all coming from?


Tearing through their metal sides

I see their wonderful secrets


one semi is full of piñatas

the shape of crosses

stuffed with expired Easter candy


the other has live monkeys

no cages and no rules


one contains a discothèque

pulsing with the sweat of teenagers

who fall as one at every pothole


another has piles of wax statues

crude, colorful imitations of the Greek masters

all falling short of their god’s glory


one hosts twenty-six princesses, all sitting in front of mirrors

putting on lipstick and wiping it off again

unable to screw their face just right


the other has a single pea under a pillow

blissful and still as he could be


there we all were

rushing off

going somewhere

showing something

hiding most of it


after all that dreaming

I felt so transparent and boring

with my non-tented windows

and my silver 2006 Corolla


I wondered what hidden things

these semis might find in me?

What dreams has the dreamer

failed to see? What dances

under my hood?

What lies asleep in my trunk

coughing and crying

hoping and waiting

even by these monsters

to be seen?