Poems for Wanderers: Part 2

Benjamin Morris’ compilation of pilgrimage-themed poetry continues.

Cristina Molina, Mother Mist, 2015. Pigment Print. Courtesy the artist and MASS Gallery, Austin.

John Freeman


Call it what you will, there is a pain
whose name is not in your language. A crow flying
the gold rim of dusk cries out in the tongue
of the blood your mind cannot translate. You long
to hold the last of the light, the sound fading.

Or even in things not seen for many years.
The image in your mind of driving west
along the Arkansas between the dark,
labial ridges of the Ouachitas
and the Ozarks, the narrow valley floor
matted with broom straw, sunlight rippling the water,
you were riding a trough between waves you hoped
would never break, and now you’re in love again.
If you could only be there one more time…

The world knows infinite ways to express your hunger.
Alone in the woods at dawn, a pregnancy swelling
in gourds along a river bank, the sun
rising damp and red on the mudflats…
or hiking on back roads, the misty threads
of rain, meandering in an easy wind,
softer on your face than feminine hands….
You are drawn toward the hurt like being in love
with someone to whom you remain a stranger.


There has always been an instinct hiding out
in the inaccessible terrain of the genes—
your childhood intuition of a world
more valid than the place to which you returned
from fantasies. You cannot find it by looking.

As you cross familiar fields it breaks through
in rising voices of the wind proclaiming
what you almost understand, or it may flare
in sudden brightness when the sun passes
between banks of clouds—this ground you’ve walked
so many times is altered, briefly, forever…
Then everything is once more as it always was,
stranding you in a field to watch a flight
of geese calling in a dialect
only your blood can know.

“Emmaus Mornings”
Peter Cooley

Sometimes, in autumn, there comes that perfect day
midway to winter, when the world stands still,
every leaf as I approach it, turned to me.
I am going nowhere in particular,
just down the street to walk with the miraculous,
neither of us in the blue dark exactly awake yet.
These leaves: here in the Gulf South they are not
the luscious palette I would have them. But no matter.
Green has its permutations, too, in radiance
seen through the vision of the One who walks beside me,
my eyes His, these mornings of Emmaus on my street.
Lord, You are here most when I seek least.
How calm I am, now after years of prayer,
nights my lifelines were lifted to You, my desperate hours.

from Divine Margins (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2009)

“I’m Going to Start Living Like a Mystic”
Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

“Living Will Love Note”
Douglas Ray

When I die, turn the music up and forget
the unwashed wine glasses. Pack a bag,

each shoe, scarf, bottle, pill tucked in
on the down beat. When full, perfume

everything with bergamot, white pear.
Think of truffle oil on french fries, eggs

over medium on a hamburger. Call
an old love with complex eyes that fill

silences with green and say, “I’ll see you
in an hour; pack a bag.” Fold into

each syllable a prayer of thanks.
When you see him walk up, outlined

in light, remember the morning’s music.
Then, as you study his eyes, smitten

again, think on where you want to go:
Paris, the wine country, a river, bed.

Be there, wholly there and cut into the egg’s yolk,
watch the yellow soak flavor into everything.


Brenda Shaughnessy

Other weddings are so shrewd on the sofa, short
and baffled, bassett-legged. All things

knuckled, I have no winter left, in my sore rememory,
to melt down for drinking water. Shrunk down.

Your wedding slides the way wiry dark hairs do, down
a swimming pool drain. So I am drained.

Sincerely. I wish you every chapped bird on this
pilgrimage to hold your hem up from the dust.

Dust is plural: infinite dust. I will sink in the sun,
I will crawl towards the heavy drawing

and design the curtains in the room
of never marrying you. Because it is a sinking,

because today’s perfect weather is a later life’s
smut. This soiled future unplans love.

I keep unplanning the same Sunday. Leg
and flower, breeze and terrier, I have no garden

and couldn’t be happier. Please, don’t lose me
here. I am sorry my clutch is all

tendon and no discipline: the heart is a severed
kind of muscle and alone.

I can hear yours in your room. I hear mine
in another room. In another’s.

Mark Yakich

Just shy of the surface, fish rise and die
Gleaming more beautifully when belly up.

The sun has its ass kissed by the moon
God sees to it. Loneliness, my dear son,

Isn’t so big after all. Take faithful Job:
In the end, he got back a wife and children,

Just not the same wife and children
He began with. Don’t worry, nothing’s

Too wrong or right. Go ahead, hold
Your breath as long as you can.

Once the rose petals fall off,
All metaphor is disgusting

Blessing the Boats
Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

from Blessing the Boats (BOA Editions Ltd, 2000)

Editor's Note

For the first half of the poems selected by Benjamin Morris and his introduction, visit Part 1.


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