Sunday, December 8, 2013

Advent (for nelson mandela)

It seems unlikely to me, this season of Advent,
a story of an unwed Mother journeying far,
for reasons unclear, to a filthy manger,
to give birth to the Child - covered in blood -
in a pile of hay. And Joseph, a seemingly mute witness,
watching the story unfold, sensing
the grief that will one day enfold them.

Then there was a Star and three Wise Men.
From the East they came,
to the Mother and Child. Kneeling,
they brought gifts that he already knew then
he would need later. Reconciliation not being an
easy affair.

When Mandela was born, there was no Star, but
the Wise came to him eventually, if reluctantly,
and only much later. And Gifts?
I imagine freeing the oppressed counts.
He was not nailed to a Cross, but he carried one
for twenty-seven years
in a small cell and alone.

A man who forgave the enemies that tortured him,
imprisoned him, spat on him. A man who reconciled
an entire nation exacting no retribution.
And in this season of Advent,
Mandela has gone, called by the Child.
How long the people of South Africa waited
to follow their Star out of the wilderness.
How they must now grieve.

Listening to the news,
how foolish I feel in this season of shopping,
as I straighten the star on the top of my plastic tree,
take the dusty, sanitized manger yet again
from its old cardboard box,
and wrap gifts that are not wise at all
for people who know not what they do.

- r. russeth

Saturday, August 3, 2013

dark matter

One day we shall together write an epitaph across an alien sky,
Where an as yet unborn race will struggle
To understand that which holds together everything.

They will argue the nature of the gods,
Fight wars over liturgies and covenants,
As they build their first ship,
And journey to one of their three moons.

Their planet will suddenly seem very small
As one moon slides over their home world
Like a six fingered hand. Hiding it from their astronauts, who, humbled,
Will weep without tears.

But by then we will be long of that which holds together everything.
Our ashes making a slow journey of return
Through the sleep of galaxies;
While our revelations, written on photons,
Leap ahead.

And on a certain night,
Untold but as yet unborn children,
Will hear their mothers 
Calling them home at dusk
From their games with rules
Nothing like ours.

Called to bedtime,
Without perhaps seeing that one star
In that one night – with its untold trillions of revelations -
Flash brilliantly for a blink of an eye
For anyone bothering to turn an eye or three

To the small space between two
Of the three rising moons,
Before turning off the porch light,
And latching the screen door.

Brilliant unread epitaph,
Filling the night with all we never needed to know,
Before fading to everything
That mattered.

-        richard russeth

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

metaphorically speaking

Flying to Phoenix,
I picture myself leaping from this plane
high over the dreaming desert,
just to find out, once and for all,
if metaphor
can trump literal.
But, of course, I don't leap.

The pen may be mightier
than the sword, but, in the end,
I know gravity always wins.
Mountains turn to plains,
fire turns to ash,
life itself

falls to earth.

As the rising sun
sets free the night,
the pilot tells us
to prepare for landing.
The plane shudders
as its wheels come down.
No one speaks.

I always think of landing
as a kind of birth,
but I can feel the people around me
wondering what their
eulogies would be. Who
would speak for them?

How I envy the pilot staring out
at the fast approaching tarmac,
soothing control tower voices
in his head, the end of the
journey known with GPS precision.

My runway is so hard to see,
if it is there at all,
metaphors being such difficult things
upon which to land.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


in your body

light through your veins

each cell pregnant

with your future

no rage

can change

the fading 

the way water


in the flower bed



today, the sun was an hour hand;
the moon was Monday.
while dusk crept like a tide into our small church,
we remembered the dead by reading the litany of saints;
the dead heard us and smiled.
a siren went by on its way to save someone.
a child set prayer wheels spinning in Katmandu.
an old woman counted the veins on her hands.
we wrote prayers on small pieces of paper with pencil stubs.
streetlights went green. yellow. red.
a nun’s hands sang the rosary in Vatican City.
thousands swirled around the Kaaba in Mecca.
the bread and wine blessed our hands and mouths.
somewhere tequila was drunk.
we read each prayer aloud since the dead can no longer read.
a Sufi spun in mystic trance in Senegal.
in London, the DJs whirled and the crowds surged.
a murder was committed on a blameless victim in New Orleans.
deadheads twirled round and round their universe.
a drug user was found dead by a general’s statue in a park.
we exchanged a sign of peace between ourselves.
buddhist monks felt the dharma wheel turn in san francisco.
the poor are still with us when the service ends.
our prayers wind their way along their paths,
while the world spins quietly through the night.