to begin a day


leave the bed
ten steps to the kitchen
fill the red kettle
turn on the burner
rinse the French press
slice an orange
steep the coffee
sit at the crossroads
wait for the timpani of sun
wait for brush strokes of rain
pray in the only way you know how
wait for light   and if not light   wait for a day to begin again


When you know you can’t see your friend again

— there is a grim loneliness in a coffee shop on a November afternoon:  two doing crossword puzzles, their wheeled-walkers stationed by their table;  a sullen girl in the corner with headphones, screen casting up a tin glare on her glasses;  a moustachioed man reading a paper—ads ripe with recrimination, news always old—and all of us in these grey sweaters with our empty cups waiting for the bright release of night.

When you know you can’t see your friend again — there is a bottomless loneliness in everything beautiful:  a low swollen sun shimmering a path on the sea to the cones of your eyes;  raindrops caught and clinging to a bare alder branch, then diamonding light connie&jeffas they fall;  the sounds of piano and flute silvering soft percussive arpeggios—and you see her hands;  and her smile, a smile of greeting, always in greeting—and laughter, especially laughter.

When you know you can’t see your friend again — there is a crushing loneliness in things that remain:  in a river running through a city, a path by the river, shoes waiting by the door;  in a blue tarp staked to the side of a green hill, a secreted bottle of wine, days of song, emancipating song;  in prairie grass, valiant grass and verdant, bent by storms, too many storms, bent by time, too short the time;  and in wind passing over a fallen flower, such a flower.

Connie, you left us far too soon. But you left us rich in knowing the heart you always left exposed.

Jeff, and all the family, we ache for you.

Desiring mercy in the wake of an election of retribution


In the ten-plus years I’ve scribbled about “desiring mercy not sacrifice”—that seemingly cryptic thing that Jesus said, which is at the heart of human survival, well-being and peace—there’s never been a clearer example of “sacrifice”, and there’s never been a clearer example of what is necessary for healing.

Sacrifice, here, is that ancient mode of creating and maintaining group cohesion through any form of scapegoating violence, sacrificial violence, redemptive violence—from the ritual slaughtering of animals on alters to the exiling or lynching, actually or figuratively, of some supposed identifiable guilty party, coterie, company, or community; more concretely: anything from the schoolyard or office-clique shunning of one who doesn’t quite fit, to the pogroms of the old Russian Empire.

The election south of us was won through a relentless and monstrous application of this kind of “sacrifice”, this scapegoating mechanism. Scapegoated were: Mexicans, Muslims, LGBTQ people, people of colour, women, and of course the elitist establishment and its overlord.

On the other side were the avant-garde-cloaked vilifiers of the Vilifier. And with them, an entire industry setup to smear the “basket of deplorables”—the name given to the supporters of the Scapegoater, from, well, another scapegoater.

In the meantime, ordinarily better people found their baser bents and were swept up in the fascination of the old sacred. And all the cultist flare was there: the neo-nationalist chants of “Build that wall!”; the allegiance to an imagined past and the promised kingdom of future greatness; solidarity within the new salvific circle, against all those real or imagined fiends who’ve made life hell; and the mantle of a new and purer identity, gained through the expulsion of all that contaminates and opposes the good and the white. 

Not that there weren’t deep legitimate grievances, there certainly were, enough to give traction to what seemed an unthinkable result, for what seemed an unthinkable candidate.

Unfortunately, tragically, there were and are real victims, and now the potential is great for many more. Already the election has given licence to a growing fringe, resulting in a surge of abuses, slurs, and physical violence toward all those targeted minorities.

And yet, yesterday, thousands of people showed up at “Love Still Trumps Hate” marches across the USA. There is hope.

As naïve and seemingly facile as it sounds, mercy is the only path to healing, peace and learning love. Mercy is a dynamic that allows us to see our own inner-basement, our culpability, our susceptibility to the mechanism, and turn away from any kind of reciprocal violence.

While sacrificial violence always requires more violence, always feeds violence, mercy relaxes us into kindness and love, releases us to desire the well-being and joy of our neighbour here, and across the borders.

The choice, perhaps, has never been clearer—mercy or sacrifice: sacrificial violence will finally collapse on its inherent escalation, taking us with it. Mercy will bring us to the garden.

My friend is dying and things aren’t right

-posted with permission

My friend is dying and I can’t get things right, can’t get emotion right, can’t get grief right, the duration right, the proximity right, can’t get my mind right.

My friend is dying and I write nonsense about my religious upbringing because occasionally her and I enjoyed skewering our common religious upbringing.

Or I write dark notes to myself looking to squelch any sign of hope in a line just to prove life is a nihilistic walk on nails, which is to say, just to prove that life without my friend is a mistake.

I want to say transcendence is real, meaning God is real, meaning kindness is real, meaning purpose is real, meaning nothing is wasted, but can’t grasp the exact slant of inflection that would make it sound anything better than a bromide.

Which reminds me that my friend knows at cell level that truth and kindness are a package, and I recall how she showed those around her that truth was not only about reality but about timing and intent.

Which reminds me that my friend already knows, past my stumbling, the depth and height of what I mean to say, which is to say, she knows about friendship.

You see, her gift, given freely, is empathy—willing always to bend, lift, walk with others, bearing steel beams of pain and sorrow—and while it cost her greatly, there is in her no regret. And how high that banner now flies, how bright her light that adds to the human shining.

That’s why I want to preserve everything about our friendship, make it available, open crocks full in the middle of the coming winters, fill glasses, share it around.

So I make petitions at the foot of the universe, not to stay or delay death, but to beat it down, nullify it with the beauty and the bounty of her life, the life she offered and shared with her kids, her husband, her friends.

So I light candles down at the old Anglican church, little votive candles, that like all of our lives shine thinly and waver in uncertain air. (And as I write this line I feel she will like it, which makes me happy and deeply sad, for she could write lines to make you weep.)

And I speak to waves—the lively waves that reach over the rocks—and I listen to these pools full of delicate botanical mystery breathe out that her heart was too full, which made her vulnerable, which made her beautiful, which made her who she is.

Now I wake early in the monochrome mornings to check the sky for colour, check for the sun’s good fire, for birds flying and singing, for white clouds with smiling tigers, for glowing crescents of bright yellow light from a big swinging lantern, for the face of my friend.


A favourite picture: my friend Connie, centre, with my wife Deb to the side.