A Poem by Malcolm Guite

January 31st, 2017


My friend (and master of the sonnet form), Malcolm Guite, published the collection in which this poem appears in 2012. Inhospitality to strangers is nothing new. It may help to remember that “xenos,” the Greek word from which English derives “xenophobia,” and “hospes,” the Latin word from which it derives “hospitality,””hospital, and “hospitable,” can mean, in their respective languages, “stranger,””guest,” and “host.” They derive, in turn, from the Indo-European root, “ghos-ti,” “someone with whom one has reciprocal duties of hospitality.” Whether the United States welcomes strangers or not is a matter of policy that has varied wildly over its history. Jews and Christians (and Muslims, though I speak of Islam with far less knowledge) have a religious duty to welcome the stranger. I am frequently reminded by others that “religious”” reasoning has no place in “secular” decision-making. Given the currently accepted constructs of “the religious” and “the secular,” that’s likely to be true. Reinhold Niebuhr, Barack Obama’s “favorite philosopher” and “favorite theologian,” came to see society as so tainted with sin that the nation-state could not and should not live by Christian ethics. Again, that may very well be true. Christians, however, must reckon with Matthew 5 through 7 and Matthew 25:31-46. “Xenophobia,” it turns out, is not so much fear of the stranger as it is fear of being the host. I trust we shall be judged accordingly.

Christ the King

Mathew 25: 31-46

Our King is calling from the hungry furrows
Whilst we are cruising through the aisles of plenty,
Our hoardings screen us from the man of sorrows,
Our soundtracks drown his murmur: ‘I am thirsty’.
He stands in line to sign in as a stranger
And seek a welcome from the world he made,
We see him only as a threat, a danger,
He asks for clothes, we strip-search him instead.
And if he should fall sick then we take care
That he does not infect our private health,
We lock him in the prisons of our fear
Lest he unlock the prison of our wealth.
But still on Sunday we shall stand and sing
The praises of our hidden Lord and King.

Splinters of Light We Choose Not to See

December 5th, 2016
Sun light spectrum reflection on the wall

Sun light spectrum reflection on the wall

I am an interested follower of US politics, and though I occasionally make provisional judgments on certain issues, I hope I’m not partisan in any conventional sense. The narrow and one-dimensional liberal-conservative spectrum so dominant in US political discourse oversimplifies and distorts what we know of reality, as if one could understand everything about electromagnetism by acknowledging no more than the tiny spectrum of light visible to human eyes. In the long, lamentable story of US relations with indigenous peoples, however, there’s more than enough bad behavior to encompass the liberal-conservative spectrum and beyond. It might be good to recall some splintered fragments of that history. Read the rest of this entry »

Another interview and a book promotion contest

August 31st, 2016


Listen to another interview about Attending Others. This one is from The Last Word on KSFR, Santa Fe Public Radio.

And for all book-lovers,
an old fashioned promotion:

Whatever you think about Amazon.com, the number and content of customer book reviews on the Amazon website makes a difference. To encourage readers to submit reviews of my memoir, Attending Others, I’m announcing an old-fashioned promotion. Anyone who posts a book review on Amazon.com by 11:59pm (EST), October 1, 2016 will automatically be entered. Three names drawn at random from the pool of entrants will each win a $25 e-gift card from the winner’s choice of the following on-line booksellers: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, or Eighth Day Books in Wichita, KS. Here’s what you need to do:

1) If you’ve read (and preferably if you liked) Attending Others, go to the Amazon web page for the book , scroll down to the Customer Review section, and click on the “Write a customer review” button.

2) Write a review. Anything from “I liked it!” to a lyric essay will do. Choose how many stars you think the book deserves. When you submit the review, there will be a short delay before it’s approved by the Amazon folks and appears on the website.

3) Send me an email or Facebook message informing me of your review and supplying some way of contacting you if you win. If I have no contact information for you, an alternate winner may be chosen in your place.

Good reading and good luck. In the mean time, check out the editorial reviews on the Amazon page, now with an endorsement from Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health and subject of the best selling book, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

The Memoir is Finally Here!

August 1st, 2016




The thing itself, to hold in your hand and read!

Read an excerpt posted on the IMAGE blog, Good Letters.

And here’s an interview about the book, courtesy of WVXU.

A Poem for Advent

December 9th, 2014




Listen to the poem here.




For my Mother at Advent

I shall teach my children as you taught me:
through patient example, gentle conduct,
and shared symbols, gravid with mystery
and grace. I recall how in Advents of
my youth, you taught us to make small mangers,
simply fashioned of paper and cardboard,
and to lay within them, each night at prayer,
a single piece of straw for every act
of kindness we had given Christ that day,
“So that,” you said, “He might have one soft place
in this harsh world on which to lay his head.”

Such memories illuminate my way
even now, although the time when others
attended to my happiness is gone.
Yet only now I understand the gift
you gave us in such homely traditions,
for when I come to rest at night, having
kissed the foreheads of my sleeping children,
I lay down not only on this, my bed,
but on a great cushion of softest straw
which, through acts of kindness more numerous
than I can recall, you have made for me.

Flesh Becomes Word Live!

June 5th, 2014

I’ll be reading from Flesh Becomes Word Wednesday evening, June 25, at 7 pm at the BonBonerie Cafe in the O’Bryonville neighborhood of Cincinnati. I hope to have some of John’s art available, too.

More info from Dos Madres Press.

A poem for May

May 14th, 2014

The dog days are now! Listen here.

Why dogs are better than people

Because they are.

Because they are not cats.

Because they have no theories,
and never weary me
with talk of rights, self-
esteem, or some such
metaphysical crap.

Because they like the way things smell
and never pretend they don’t.

Because, for dogs,
every moment,
even this one,
is their favorite,

and when told
not to bark,

they still do.

One More Before National Poetry Month Ends

April 26th, 2014


CLICK HERE TO LISTEN Read the rest of this entry »

A Poem for April

April 19th, 2014

Having Crossed the Sea Image

Having Crossed the Sea
(Exodus 15)

I have seen them, dead along the shore,
their bloated faces still ripe with hate.
And there was one I stopped at to kick—
kick him fiercely and hard in the face
the way they kicked my now dead husband
who wept at making bricks without straw—
but I found no joy in what I did.

Yesterday, we had cause to rejoice,
seeing Israel’s enemies crushed
between walls of leveling water
cast on them by our great God’s right hand.
But as we sang praises to heaven
in sight of their still floating corpses,
the cloud column swelled, grew darker, and
the rain fell: softly at first, and then
in great salt drops, so like tears, I wept
to learn one might mourn enemy dead
who were, after all, God’s children, too.

From Flesh Becomes Word, illustration by John Volck

A Poem for March

March 11th, 2014

Listen to a reading of this poem here


Sorrel Soup

Snip two handsful
of spring-burst acid leaves,
sorrow-weary hearts
green as mossy headstones.
Slice them thin as
battered hope.
Confetti these ribbons
in simmering water
not so salty as tears,
where earthy vegetables –
softened to the tooth –
and herbs at hand
await the sudden flush
of green.

Salt and pepper to taste.
Savor, not heat,
warms the snow-
stiff body here:
sour-apple acid at
winter’s wake
brimming hungry
flesh with unlooked-for
stillness, as in
great loss
recalled from safety.

Sourness, so tendered
in early spring,
awakens dreams,
we’re told,
to warm sap-
raising nights
with harvest scents,
while seeds sleep on,
blind worms till
the darkness,
and autumn-graved bulbs
silently unfurl.