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Dec 2021 · 352
The Wing Bed
John Van Dyke Dec 2021
He carved a headboard out of pine
And shaped it til’ a bird-shaped thing
Emerged. And then, he thought,
‘One could do worse
Than sleep beneath an angel’s wing’

‘Perhaps this wing will keep me safe
When darkness comes, when lights are dim
I’ll think of Psalms and sleep’, he said
But little did he know
What Heaven had in store for him

Until the day his daughter came
And with  her  daughter, rested there
And then he knew a miracle
Had waited patiently to come
In answer to his wooden prayer
Heaven sent my daughter, Elizabeth.
John Van Dyke Sep 2021
“One of us should say grace”.
“I will”, I said, and then:
“Thank…you” but the “you”
got tangled up in a sob.
And I couldn’t continue.

Like Joseph’s turning away
To hide his tears,
I cleared my throat
Disguising, belying:
A thousand gazes at the soy bean field,

Opening the drawer a thousand times
to see your card: “I love you”,
Taccota played a thousand times,
A thousand silent prayers
that I didn’t know were prayers.

Until you came
And looking through wet eyes,
I watched you sitting there
Amazed that almost everything
That mattered in the world, for me

Could be contained,
In this smiling girl
A sunflower placed
On the mantel In a glass vase
“Thank you”, I prayed.
Apr 2021 · 132
My Fear
John Van Dyke Apr 2021
The darkness and the quiet
Are less frightening than before.
Even, as in the world of Poe,
The shroud, the pall, the tomb
Are looming truths in store,

The thing I fear the most
Is not the end, the sad goodbyes,
Tears, or labored breaths.
It’s not eternity or judgement,
Or even sweet oblivion.

There’s a larger tragedy,
A greater loss to me:
It haunts me even now
While death’s still off a ways,
Waiting patiently.

That you might spend your life,
Your family grown,
Now gray and stooped,
Career complete,
With loved ones of your own

And, looking back, see an empty place
Where other’s lives were full
And feel you weren’t enough,
Arms stretched, Innocent,
Reaching out, a little girl.

I fear your life will pass
Not knowing, or believing
You were cared for, celebrated,
Your young life
The greatest source of joy to me.

In you I saw a thing
I hadn’t seen before.
It touched my heart, and brought
A peaceful inner feeling
Whenever you were near.  

Clumsily, I overstepped
My deeds and words
And gifts, and more...
Felt right, but came out wrong
I failed, you left, and that is that.

My old fool’s error
(I’ve made my share)
Was what I said and did for sure.
Though what was in my heart
Was bright and clean, and pure.

My fear’s that you won’t know
(Or care to know) the joy you brought,
The calm I felt, priceless, but free
But most of all:
That you were loved- by me.
For Jillian
Apr 2021 · 124
Floating
John Van Dyke Apr 2021
I can’t get the pieces to work,
there’s one part missing,
Without it, I am lost.

Everything swims,
A flotilla of parts,
Swirling around and around.

I reach for one, hoping,
then another,
I put each back.

I cannot settle down.
This bed of despair
Is not a place to grow from.

Determined, I reach,
grasping, letting go.
It must look strange.

I’ll sleep.
In my dreaming you’ll be there.
And I can breathe for a while.
May 2020 · 89
Sunday Morning
John Van Dyke May 2020
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil. “
      But I am afraid.
This Sunday morning,
Our world is breaking,
And we’re each alone.
We’ve seen a fellow man
Crying for his mother.
      But I can’t breathe!
Friends talk at a distance,
Searching for meaning
In just the eyes.
A mask conceals a smile-
Or despair.
      But I can’t tell.
Cities burn.
Flames silhouette a form
With outstretched hands
Reaching for justice.
       But there is no justice.
People ask:”Where is our leader?”
But the leader says,
“...the shooting starts!”
And sows to the wind.
Even while we reap the whirlwind,
He sows to the wind.
       But there is no repentance.
This is the wrath of God,
Not for sacrilege of crosses,
Or flags, or creeds, or scripture,
But for hardening of the heart,
For looking away.
        And I am afraid


John Van ****
George Floyd
Dec 2019 · 145
Two Old Men, Crying
John Van Dyke Dec 2019
A full century ago
Our mothers played church
Up on the hay-wagon.
They sang hymns
And took turns being preacher.
I can hear her telling me

And tonight one sister’s son
Will stand up tall and weave
A tapestry of notes
So beautiful ...
A heart, or two, or more
Will feel a touch
Much deeper than
Shining brass, the rustling of winter clothes, or applause

The other sister’s son, well...
He’ll shuffle to the porch,
Look up and turn his head
To see if he can hear
The long arc of a single note.
The silver cord,
Grandpap used to sing about.

And then he’ll cry.
Cause this is real.
It is no game.
A passing cloud, each song,
a bird, even bread.
Is held a little longer.
Clasped and pondered,
like a letter
Before it is sent away.

It took this long,
and this much loss and gain.
Things held tight and then let go.
Reluctantly
To learn
This life is good,
And why old men
Can cry so easily
Cousin Richard is giving a concert and I can hear him 600 miles away
Jul 2019 · 249
It’s a Good Thing
John Van Dyke Jul 2019
It’s a good thing
We all left when we did
Or I’d of spilled the beans.

Blithering on
in my drunken state,
You’d of learned it all

How sad I am
That making love
is only history

A withered fool
whose only dreams
are memories

Of indiscretions,
shameful then,
but blissful now

Slurred words tumbling out
would’ve told of
My ‘non-conforming’ love,

So powerful
but misconstrued,
that when she said she loved me

I stumbled to the piano
singing “ thine is the kingdom,
and the power,

And the glory”
(Oh, thank you, thank you)
“For...ev..er!  A..a...men!”

Thanking a God
Whose address I misplaced
with words I forgot (till then).

An abomination
Long suppressed by force of will
Might’ve stung your ears,

Thank God I kept
My mouth barely shut
But poised

To betray the little storm
Wreaking havoc in my *****
But not yet my demise

Had I gone on.
But, No.
Good sense prevailed.

Dignity still intact,
I gathered up this twisted history,
This love, this brokenness,

Like so many rags,
trailing on the ground,
And tottered to my car

My dignity’s unscathed.
Oh, it’s a good thing, I suppose,
But, next time, stick around.
One more gin and tonic and it’d be a permanent assignment of shame
Jun 2019 · 654
She told him
John Van Dyke Jun 2019
“I love you,”
she told him.
At last!
Instead of breaking down,
crying with relief and joy,
as he thought he would,
he whispered back:
(because...
all but a whisper
was drained out of him)
“I love you, too.”

And, in a moment,
the very words
he had waited for,
longed for,
imagined,
became his tether,
a warm vest,
a peculiar fold in the blanket,
one holds through the night.

He repeated them like a mantra.
He pictured them in the ceiling tiles above the bone scan machine.
He heard them in the rhythm of the doctor’s voice,
He saw their outline in the branches beyond the window,

And they were the very last sound,
softly tumbling through his mind
when he slipped away.
A daughter’s words sustain
Jun 2019 · 190
A Robin at the Cemetery
John Van Dyke Jun 2019
Today I saw a Robin,
first one this year.
And part way up
the grassy hill, the cedar tree,
my mother’s grave.

Here it is halfway through March.
I hadn’t even looked
To find the first.
Hopping, flying just above the ground.
But, more than that, to hear it sing.

Robins were a thing we shared:
“I saw one.” ,
“But are you sure?”,  
“Oh, yes, no mistaking that!”
Conviction in our voices making fact.

This winter’s roguery
Took me down a peg
Created pause,  a looking-back in me.
When robins came
My mind was somewhere else.
Instead of running out,
I held back and sought security:

The bird stood still.
I wondered: Could it be?
Is that her way of telling me?
I try to resurrect her voice:
“It must be Spring!”
But gone ‘s that part in me
that rises up with joy,
at birds, and early leaves
It’s gone  and buried there with her,
beside the cedar tree.“
May 2019 · 910
The Sandwich
John Van Dyke May 2019
After a neat little bite
She slid his sandwich into its baggie
And smiled,
Never tiring of her little joke.

“See, it’s alright. Im here with you, having a little fun!”

After the bell he peered into the bag.
And there it was
And a note:
“I love you, Aaron. “

This morning’s mixture of boredom and fear punctuated by her love

Then he daydreamed of helping with the clothespins,

Sheets snapping in the wind
The greatest love is delivered in small portions.
May 2019 · 272
Ezra Pound and the Grosbeak
John Van Dyke May 2019
On this day, which seems a portal to the rest of life,
A pair of Rose breasted Grosbeaks come to the feeder
Under powerful white beaks, their throats are brilliant red.  
And Pound’s words: “What thou lov’st well” come to mind.
“What thou lov’st well”
Words I recited to Janey when her husband died.
To myself when I lost my house,
And that job, thirty years ago.
When mother’s white hair signaled her mortality
Now, this beautiful bird
And coffee
And taking breaths
An oriole in the apple tree
Picking nectar out of May blossoms...
“What thou lovest well remains,

the rest is dross

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage”
I always wondered: Is this true? So far, it has been.
May 2019 · 165
For Jillian
John Van Dyke May 2019
There will come a day
When you will pause
And wonder at the tightness in your throat
The unexplained tears
At just a simple thing,
a bird,
some bread,
that curve in the road

Then you’ll know:
Your heart, too,
Has become porous in time
And though you were unaware,
All along, it was filling up
Each smile,
A small rebuke,
Kneeling down
(The way you did
To help me with my shoe)
Filling up, until...

The day you cry
at the sound of a robin,
An old blanket,
New growth on the tip of evergreens.
The young deer (I saw this morning).

And you’ll be the old fool with watery eyes,
Who cries at the drop of a hat
Your heart’s awkward overflow
Will reveal it’s inability to hold
All you cherish and have loved
As mine reveals
An old, filled-up heart
That overflows
with love
for you.
May 2019 · 122
May 1953
John Van Dyke May 2019
I remember that day,
the washing machine in the yard
and the deep blue sky
There may have been a breeze
Me on the grass
and my mother standing there
threading clothes through the ringer,
and bleach

And there must have been a yellow bird
Who, flying by, twittered:
“All the pain you will ever feel,
And fear,
Even standing by the road,
Watching headlights come closer
Despair as each drives by
The heartache of your son struggling  to get the water right
And all the Joy;
a family, singing in the meadow
Of love,
a cotton dress and brown eyes,
Of salvation,
kneeling at the folding chair,
All these were you,
trying to get back,
here...
to this morning,
in the grass
by the washing machine
May
1953”

— The End —