Saturday, May 28, 2011

Texas, 1995

The Texas landscape
extends for three days
in any direction,
an improbable aberration
of time and space.
I drive through this and
distant objects creep
marginally closer,
so that we begin to
long for even the
simplest of markers in
this spare horizon;
the barn,
the dilapidated gas station
still clutching its faded
Sinclair sign, an
immeasurably long fence,
this intersection where
I consider the likelihood
that turning in any direction
will take us precisely
to where we are going.

-Martin A. Bartels

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rain In the Garden of Faith

This is your healing, then: To kneel in our garden, filter dirt through
your fingers and loosen roots of young plants so they might take

desperate hold of the earth below, oblivious to their own miracle,
and I cannot help but think you are the plant for a moment, the

gardener’s labors an ironic counterpoint to the thrust of our own lives.
We will, ourselves, one day return to earth. You are oblivious to the

gentle rain that begins to fall, your posture of obeisance leaves me
momentarily speechless. I am of a memory of the ruins of Tikal, Guatemala,

where rainforest both hides and consumes the lost city of the ancient
Mayans, cilantro grows tall as trees, and cottony, plate-sized leaves of an

unfamiliar plant once served as toilet paper—or so I was told by the
guide who studied botany at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala.

Cutter ants march in mile-long single-file bearing portions of leaves
carried like rudders on their collective journey. Above: mammals and

birds that the gods may not have intended for human viewing, or maybe
gods themselves. These pyramids do not apparently evoke the mystical.

They are instead tablets upon which are written the language of
eternity in the fingerprints of ghosts. From the base of the temple one

can smell the memory of incense, the bark of the copal tree burning,
in its thick smoke the dirt of our souls offered in rituals no one comprehends.

Here the impossibly dense, gnarled roots of great mahogany trees grow
sideways and exposed, certainly the force that holds the world in place.

I am in need of such roots. I staggered into 50 predictably unprepared to
confront the weight of years lived, to confront the face in the mirror with

as much forgiveness as is given, truly, to others. In my heart I groan
Paul’s groan in his letter to the Corinthians, the gutted anguish of the

repentant who yet faces, bending, the unrelenting indignity of each day.
I ache with the guilt of everything I have not accomplished and every

hurt done. The weight of years lived. To confront the face in the
mirror with such forgiveness as is demanded defeats me, not because

I have done anything truly unforgivable but because I am unworthy.
Forgive me, but I just realized that the source of endurance and, perhaps,

salvation itself lies in the knowledge that we are worthy, even in the
grasp of mortality and the knee-buckling humility we must finally swallow.

This is your healing, then, your skin and your soul both cleansed by
rain in this garden, your garden of faith, where we are all penitents.

--Martin A. Bartels, May 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Great Divide

There is an eastern continental
divide in North America,
announced mostly by signs 
along the highways that cross it,
a modest cousin to its
western counterpart.

To have stood at the crest
of each is an unexpected 
and finally imponderable
bookend that carries less
weight than it should. 

It was the roads between that mattered.

Epic histories were invented
when the interstates
were laid, engineers ensuring
all paths would one day cross.

It rarely fails to amaze
that you can awaken
one morning in Chicago
and the next in Denver
if you drive straight through
and avoid the temptation
to stop for sweet corn in West Point
or see the sandhill cranes
outside Kearney.

Poetic engineers built
curves in long, straight roads
to help prevent drivers
from falling asleep—
compelling evidence
that straight lines and boredom
are occasionally fatal.

--Martin A. Bartels