Poem shaped like a garden trowel

This is a poem that didn’t make it into the chapbook (There Are No Small Moments) because it was too long to fit on a single page and the publisher didn’t want to break it up and so destroy its shape—which is integral to the poem—particularly in light of its title. It’s entirely possible that without the title, the trowel may be overlooked. And of course, this may not have any significant import, except to myself. In any case, I agreed and we scrapped it.

Still, it’s a “shape” poem I’m kind of fond of, if one is allowed to be fond of one’s own poem, which admittedly, is a glance toward the vainglory, and would not be tolerated in any shade, shape or form in the Baptist church of my boyhood. Which brings me to the content of the poem.

The allusions are there: the church of my boyhood, with its mural on the wall behind the pulpit, the gesticulating pastor, the Edenic fall that was drilled into febrile minds, and those rabid revival meetings. How easy it was to tune all that out (or was it in fact a catalyst?) and enter a soft sun-dripping scene and find how near sexuality is to spirituality.

Well, I hope you find something more than this in the poem…but yeah, go ahead, tell me you’ve never daydreamed about sex while sitting in church!


Poem shaped like a garden trowel

Here where the Holy Bible,
stately as Gideon,
stands gilded on fleecy clouds,
smooth hands rise and fall,
tracing a trident sermon:
Snake cunning.
Eve prostrate.
Church militant.
And the faithful rise
to hurl mountains into seas,
and the newborn righteous
rattle verses over the heads
of the condemned, who
come fiercely forward,
confessing bright nights
and lazy afternoons
and morning erections
of craven monuments.

And you sit in your pew,
your irresolute head turned to the window
and recall the way your woman wears
her jeans to bed and nothing else
enlists your concupiscent mind,
but for the sun’s light falling
outside, on a half-open leaf,
and her watercolour hand,
holding a garden trowel,
palm up, fingers curled
loose and lingering,
the way she bends
at the waist over
tomato plants.
And you feel
the smile
of God.


  1. On this very cold but brilliant late autumn day, when I am stuck inside grading to meet some deadlines, I appreciate having some poetry shoveled in as a temporary distraction. Thanks for these reflections and beautiful words and shapes, especially today.

  2. Yes, when attention wanders from fire and brimstone sexuality is near to spirituality – shared ecstasy in church or away from church becomes sacramental. The title is necessary or a phallic image occurs!!

  3. Can that handle – made up of the gospel of sin management (I forget where I say that phrase) – really wield the spade – made up of the gospel of grace?

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