He ran the cosmos
of a thousand acres
from a pick up truck,
mucking through mire
thicker than hell,
subduing snakes with our shovels.
smell of Kool menthol smoke
lacing the slow drenching rain of sweat
and that farm truck,
now a million miles away,
only oasis in sight
with its freon mirage
and overheating motor
come sit in my cab.
Drink the water
of my false refuge.
That’s when the speech would come,
as though from the mouth of Adam himself,
that very first farmer to know the toil of dust
“Son, you can’t pick your jobs.
This has to be done.”
Speaking sternly into the cacophony of my complaints,
“John David, I don’t mind hard work.
I never have.” and those words
wore me like a cross
“Dammit! My soul would say.
Like a curse that is the cure
running like chemo in my veins.
That speech heals me
And The balmy fellowship
Of the farmer’s suffering
What I wouldn’t give to hear it again.
John David Walt
Ash Wednesday 2012
It happens somewhere between
that ninth and tenth month;
hardly takes a year
if its gonna happen at all.
A rite of belonging past the
informalities of friendship
into the kind of intimacy between
a kid and the walking stick he’s whittling on;
still plenty of coarseness to go around,
but there’s that smooth place, the handle,
exposed like velveteen,
stripped back to the place where the stick
first became wood.
That’s when it happens.
You get named beyond bloodline
deeper than water baptism
into the rarified realm of being owned yet not possessed
named in a way initiating you
into a lineage of Spirit
where deep touches deep
in the shallows of a word.
I think that’s what Sam
was getting at when he asked me,
“Is Jesus God’s nickname?”
jd walt. christmas 2011
The end of the last harvest
Finally pours out of the truck
Tipped up toward the Heavens
I fight back tears of sadness
As the seed disappears into the ground
brims full new capacity
life breaking bread
that friendship may dine
Fresh Bread, New Wine
sketching the future
unleashing The Memory
unveiling The Wedding
Eternity in Time.
Waiting in an empty parking lot
for the dough-nut shop to open,
I anticipate the sweet satisfaction of sugared bread,
craving the bitter black water’s acidic bite,
watching old men arrive with habitual precision.
I sit alone
in the car’s pre-dawn silence
peeling away night’s crusty blindness
to see a violet horizon give birth to the violent flame.
This is what writing a poem is like.
We loved rifling through those drawers
in the dresser between the twin beds,
each with their night lamps
borrowed from another era
the whole room preserved
like a Smithsonian exhibit.
Only the signs said, “Touch everything.”
One hundred photos
covered the walls
narrating the vintage story of those brothers,
our Fathers, at every stage.
Their treasures our discoveries;
their journey framed us.
In those pictures
we discovered our lives,
in their youth
and in dresser drawers
filled with pocket knives, shot gun shells, army stripes
and money clips
stuffed with million dollar memories.
john david walt, jr.
I see me in that boat
Tired, scared, weary on the insides
Frustrated with having gotten myself into this place
Where there seems to be no way out
It is a moment of resignation that seeks for relinquishment
A soul gasping of sorts
I know how the story ends
But the anxiety of not knowing how it gets from this
Messy unresolved and unresolvable place makes me too tired
To go forward any more.
Every day brings more nails.
Every day brings more omissions and deficits of gratitude or care or even recognition
I imagine escaping into some easy place of relief
It’s a mirage and almost feels like a betrayal of the call to relinquish
For this notion of relinquishment
Doesn’t mean actually going anywhere or doing anything.
It is a letting go, a renunciation according to the dictionary.
Perhaps the boat metaphor is best because there is nowhere to run
Relinquishment precludes running away—its more like dying.
john david walt
A Poem in celebration of my Poet-Sensai, David Harrity.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. Isaiah 61
My friend, a poet of Hebraic proportions
Found out he was a Jew, a new Jew
A serendipity of biblical magnitude
Now he knows why he’s wailed
At the wall of lament for so long
Smelling those tiny crumpled
Up prayers stuffed in the mortar like cigarette butts.
Now he understands why he hears
The howls of holocaust
On otherwise peaceful nights
Phantom coyotes of doom.
Now he gets it.
That’s why he’s read Scripture with such dissatisfaction
Like its in a language long since divorced from her tongue
Explains what happened
at the traveling Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in the Rupp Arena sports complex
They caught him curled up in the corner
Cradling something like a baby
Only it was an original parchment
From the scroll of Isaiah
Speaking to him of the Messiah
He dreamed of
My friend, he touched the text, stroking the script
As though it were the hem of his robe
But you will never believe what happened next.
There he sat in the corner cradling
Isaiah in the manger of his arms.
It gets better.
The surveillance cameras, high def no less, Recorded it all.
My friend tore off a piece of the scroll, yes, the Dead Sea Scroll
And yes, to the surprise of the not-watching-at-the-time security guards
He ate it, the first seven verses of the 61st chapter,
Said it smelled like money and tasted like honey.
I watched in stunned awe
as he chewed that ancient sheep skin
preserved intact for a thousand years
surviving flood and famine, earthquakes,
genocides, eluding a thousand grave robbers
tucked away in a cave, a treasure hidden for posterity
Now that scroll, it’s somewhere in a sewer
Floating among feces in a flood of urine
Like a Messianic Messenger descending
From heaven to hell
Eaten, digested and crapped out by my friend,
Making its way to a non descript water treatment plant
Where it will be purified, filtered and rise up to that water tower in the sky
Where it will be on tap to refresh an entire city
And to think some catholic kid
On a school field trip finked him out.
Now my friend, the new Jew
Spends most of his time pondering the meaning
Of those words he ate that day
The sweet taste of Jubilee and
The unbelievable price I paid for him to have it.
I should tell you, this friend,
he’s my brother, my twin brother, my identical twin brother
which makes me a new Jew too, sort of, at least a true one
I see him every Tuesday now between 1 and 3
Visiting hours at the state penitentiary
I now call home.
john david walt, jr.
Light from Light called forth to shine
rending chaos deaf and blind
revealing creation’s Holy Mind
Crashing waves cascade the sand
stirred up by an unseen hand
saying separate and their was land
Life abounding everywhere
filling sea and earth with prayer
Breath of Glory inhabiting air
Thin line called Infinity
ceases all the eye can see
hiding the crease of Eternity
john david walt
What qualifies someone
who’s studied the scrolls
as a scientist
to shape souls;
hands undirtied by
soil of human suffering
not their own;
of authorship and manuscript
to cancer and porn,
only to have their classes
jailed in binders
in a thousand cellars
of the future.
john david walt
Those April mornings
half the time
couldn’t decide whether
to roll out of the covers
or hit the snooze bar
like March did so many times.
Same with farm hands,
early on the shop yard
layered like winter beds
long johns, shirts, jackets, cover-alls
stoking the furnace of oil cans, cardboard
and scrap lumber, burning its slow way
through the steel of a 55 gallon drum,
hands hovering above the sunrise fire.
Their foggy exhale of Easter’s tide
lilts upwards yet clings to Lent
breath of life disappearing into the smoke of garbage
dissipating, comingling with the black, billowy plumes
of diesel, rising to cense the sky
unmistakable melody of tractor song
squelching out the birds
singing to the fields
awakening the farm
in us all.
john david walt
My children built a Roman Road today
in a cake pan.
Mary K., junior-mom, rehearsed the recipe:
3 thick strips of freshly degrounded grass
to line the shoulders.
23 shiny white glittering rocks
(no doubt snuck from some neighbor’s flower bed)
to pave the surface
just below came 6 cups of pea pebbles;
under that spread 23 square inches of gravel
(of the non-descript grey variety)
then 5 to 8 more cups of pea pebbles.
all of this overtop a thick foundation,
10 cups (or 9 depending on the consistency)
of transplanted sandbox, still wet from winter.
Then smash it down, impressing the layered cake
into the clay mold of the earth (or pan as the case may be).
That sheetcake in his hands
shimmering brilliance, whispering war.
The ancient recipe
unmarking boundaries of Caesar’s chariot
and the narrow route of David’s dream.
Lifiting a glitteriing rock from the road,
to my ear like a seashell
The stone, now speaking, crying out,
“Must civilized paths run Suffering’s way
mapquesting armies of progress and power
marching up the hill of passion
only to flank the One
who alone can drink their cup?
Calling himself “The Way?”
As David holds the cake pan
bursting with kingly ambition,
“Dad! Can we build one of these as a path
through our garden?”
john david walt
I’d never heard it before
today on the 15th row
of the Main Street church.
As we gathered at the river, so to speak,
waters of baptism
thickening blood of birth.
Then a voice cried out
noone seemed to hear;
he or she I could not tell
so loud- piercing, penetrating.
In the resonance of that tone
lived every voice that ever loved;
a pleasing, deafening, unending crying out,
like in a gladiatorial arena
so loud you can’t hear anyone
as a single voice.
Then I saw it
two small forms,
boy and girl, hand in hand
walked to the altar
peered through it like a window
and climbed straight through.
Gone! into the pregnant air!
just like that!
And then a glimpse
the arena of the sky
teaming with people
Polycarp and Perpetua
slapping high fives
about to fall out of their
tricked out luxury sky-box
and I wondered… .
why didn’t I shout?
(on the occasion of the baptism of Morgan and Athan)
Those dumb books
aisle after aisle
shelf atop shelf
volume on volume on volume
holding a million words
and can’t make a sound.
Penned to parchment and page
imprisoned, their bindings silently shout,
Once written a word dies
loses its tone and nerve
So open wide and eat all you can
drink from the well of remembrance
John David Walt