Capitol Hill this morning

I carry my skillfully rosetted soy latte outside, resting cup and saucer on a small wrought iron table. Truckers puff their compression brakes and incrementally ascend Olive Way. Diesel smells like 5-dollar bills bursting into flame. A reptilian tattoo coils neckward from under a cotton tank. An English Bulldog saunters beside a similarly jowled septuagenarian. My eyes rise along locust trees and higher to tiny verandas; one is completely filled by an unfinished Adirondack chair. I return to my coffee. Colors on salvaged barn-siding slowly coalesce into the faded shape of a girl. Swirled calligraphy sorts into sense. "I will always love the false image I had of you.”


love the questions

"...be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and... try to love the questions themselves..."

Rainer Maria Rilke


Pastor Miller

I remember Pastor Miller preaching at Barclay Heights Community Church. We met in the lodge of an old YMCA camp on Esopus Creek near Glenerie Falls. When the lodge became our permanent home, we changed the name of the church to Glenerie Chapel.

I remember Pastor Miller praying; his opening prayers were nearly the equal of his sermons. These were not pithy, punchy, sound-bited perfunctories; his prayers were ten minutes of engagement with God on matters of the day, from local to global.

I remember Pastor Miller’s velvet singing voice. It reminded me of a baritone Andy Williams with a bit of Mel Torme. From where I sat, singing seemed to be pure pleasure for him.

I remember Pastor Miller telling us about Christ’s Passion during a springtime Sunday night service thirty-some years ago. One of the other teens ran out of the lodge, weeping – overtaken by the description of what Jesus had endured for him. I ran after him and listened to his story.

I remember Pastor Miller’s Christianity including humanness. He didn’t try to portray himself as saintly; he wasn’t aloof from his congregation. He wasn’t afraid to laugh.

I don’t remember when Pastor Miller invited me to call him “Bob”. The truth is I never really got used to it. He was simply “Pastor” to me.

I remember Pastor Miller saying he thought I’d become a pastor someday. I didn’t like that, and I fought it for a long time. But over the years, his was among a small number of voices through which God conferred that calling to me. I don’t wear it as comfortably as he did but I try to be true to my legacy.

Today, I’m remembering to remember because it’s the day of Pastor’s memorial service. I wish I could be present. He and his family are very much on my mind. I’m praying they feel the support of their communities as they find their way forward. I’m praying they know they’re not carrying his memory alone. And I’m praying they find grace today to celebrate him with all their might.


suburbia re-animated

Yanking trail shoes over socks is enough. Indy hears from three rooms away; I may as well have said walk in his ear. He muzzles me and sings his petition. I rev him, Where’s your leash? Now his croon is resolute.

Indiana Jones is a Yakima Farmdog, a blend of Red Heeler, Husky, and Shepherd. These are guesses, of course, since he bears no pedigree. We rescued him from a vagabond lifestyle that wasn’t working out well.

Deep-chested and athletic, Indy’s the sort of dog that looks good in a bandanna, racing the surf’s curled edge. His medium-length hair is colored caramel, white, and black from tapered snout to crescent tail. Our house is snowed with fur whenever his undercoat blows.

It’s January, dark and clear; a near-full moon makes the chill visible. We push uphill out of our neighborhood and find walking rhythm. I coax my breath to cooperate. Last-minute, I divert onto a side trail; Indy is pleasantly surprised. Trees consume the moonlight and leave us none. It’s easy to picture nocturnal predators, biding, strung for violence. I switch on my Coleman flashlight and script implausible scenarios for Indy and me, repelling a cougar with cinematic panache.

We emerge onto the Tolt Pipeline Trail. The eastern sky is starry, silverscreen-indigo; the flashlight is unneeded under a big moon. Walking westward, an unlikely shade of teal tints the gloaming horizon. This kind of blueness is pilfered from summer and captivatingly out of place – like a full-throated baritone holding one last note.

Indy is suddenly on alert, ears up, white chest flaring. He fixes silently on a shadowed shape barely moonlit. Rabbit? (Good thing I kept him leashed.) I aim, slide the light on. The Coleman’s tight circle tags a figure: untamed, adaptive, gorgeous coyote. I hold my beam on him and he holds his eyes on me, exiting... more like a bird than a dog, ground-flying… more like a ghost than me, vanishing.

I’m a strip of celluloid pulled from the cutting room floor, spliced into someone else’s movie. I look over my shoulder. He wouldn’t follow, would he? He’d keep to the shadows anyway. Indy knows he’s gone and relaxes. Another glance back: two planes fly oppositely, miming stars. Orion bows low to Luna. Cold clearness, so beautiful; suburbia re-animated.


Telling Time

Telling time with watches
Telling time with clocks
Telling time with fossils
And the carbon in the rocks

Telling time to slow down
Telling time to wait
Telling time I’m right behind
But telling time too late

© 1983, 2007 Scott Burnett


The Dispatcher

Five days a week he got home at 7:30 in the morning. He was a dispatcher for the town police department. After a night of disrespect from younger coworkers it was good to get back within the familiar dirty walls of home. He’d been a U.S. Marine, a Justice of the Peace, and a “gentleman farmer” but now he took minimum wage.

The dented door of his Wagoneer creaked open and then reluctantly clunked shut with a shove. Dew on unmowed grass wet his cuffs as he walked to the door.

He didn’t glance toward the Lincoln. It’d been brand new such a short pair of decades ago. Now it seemed to be trying to sink into the thinly graveled driveway. Unrepaired after a minor wreck a few years back, it had faded from luxury to junk.

In the house she had coffee ready for him. She handed him a cup, kissed him goodbye and left for work. She was a longtime teller at the bank. It wasn’t much fun anymore. These days it seemed like there was always a new system being implemented and a learning curve to go with it.

He was so tired. The October sunshine was too loud for sleeping. All he could think about was how tired he was. He had a couple of hours before he had to be at his other job. He was also a part-time security guard. Leaves needed to be raked. Not today. He picked up the newspaper and wondered if he could justify mixing himself a highball at this time of day.


more about crayon scribbles

It’s easy enough to slip into the faulty logic that if we haven’t gotten it all right then we’ve gotten it all wrong. The crayon-scribble metaphor helps me a lot. When a child creates a portrait of a parent, accuracy is not the point. The stirring thing is the impulse to symbolically depict a seeing/knowing event. The parent might not be universally recognizable in the child’s crayon scribbles but that diminishes neither the presence of the parent nor the perception of the child, nor the relationship between them.

Furthermore, the parent delights in these imperfect portraits and posts them proudly on the refrigerator.