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Updated: Feb 6

The hawk sits on the phone wire

like he owns the world.

I call my son over and we watch him from the window

our necks craned up so that we feel small

and he, enormous.

His face is blocked by an

intersection of wires, his cream chest

dappled, puffed out at the top

then sloping inward

close to his feet.

Last summer a hawk was in the middle of the road.

I called my son over then, too

before seeing the grey fluff below his grasp

and desiring for my son to look away.

But why, his look said as I tried to pry him from the window,

not questioning, as children don’t, the necessity

of the natural world.

So I let him watch.

The neighborhood children ran to the bird then and

he flew away, leaving this wretched bunny

pulling itself along the ground. Awful.

I called to my husband to end the horrible

suffering. The children were gawking at the rabbit

as crowds do around a tragedy.

If only they could have known to let the hawk


My husband bent low over the creature and shooed

the children away, who would not understand.

My son watched, I am sure, as his father drew

a crimson line with a hunting knife.

My son and I wonder if this hawk, perching now on the wire

is the same hawk we saw before.

It could be, you never know.

We don’t begrudge him anything

even now.

A cursed creation curses.

Instead I imagine him groaning, thanking God

for his meals

looking sharp-eyed toward the horizon

as if he can already see the goodness

of a new creation.

“I Wake Close to Morning” by Mary Oliver

“Why do people keep asking to see

God’s identity papers

when the darkness opening into morning

is more than enough?

Certainly any god might turn away in disgust.

Think of Sheba approaching

the kingdom of Solomon.

Do you think she had to ask,

“Is this the place?”

Oliver also wrote, “I don’t want to be demure or respectable. / I was that way, asleep, for many years. / That way, you forget too many important things. / How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, / are singing.”


We head East and my man gets a dreamy look. I have seen it every drive home, from our first visit to our last. The look of shrugging on an old flannel, pushing back the seat, grabbing a ball cap.

He promises me the trees are prettier here. “They don’t look like this in Cincinnati,” he says, shakes his head. When the trees along the shoulder stop short and a panoramic vista opens wide, he points, “look.” He means the standing cows and the green grass and the green trees. The sky like a quiet pond. He points out the exit to his Pap’s farm every time we pass it. He knows the grown grasses in the first and second fields of that land are waving. He notes his old elementary school as we cross the state bridge, always anxious I should see it.

Time is not the same everywhere. It does not feel the same or treat us the same in all places. Some places time is slow, like the tide, taking tiny bites out of rock so that it hardly notices until it is smooth. Time is like that in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Cody says the land is theorized to be an outlier of the Scottish Highlands, back when the world was one big continent – Pangea. The hills and rocks have weathered down over time. Mountains have become mounds; the valleys still dip low. The land is wild, same way a stallion is still fierce with a bridle. People sit houses over every peak and ravine and the land bucks at them relentlessly. Abandoned foundations crack in Tetris chunks, portions sliding down the hill while the rest keeps a lop-sided claim on more even sod. And the trees. Lush, thick as fleece. You know a taste of the Scottish Isles in that depth, the way jaunty stone chins jut out proudly over the highways and byways. The way industry makes a home on the water.

Glance sideways and an industrial plant comes into view; glance anyway, someway, and a mill lies along the ground with rusted spines and smoking stacks. No place more than at the bank of the Ohio River. The spider-legged trusses of a rusted brown bridge spread across the water like a Strider, its last appendage, connecting the road to Ohio, long ago severed. From the highway, the startling drop-off hangs high in the sky: a lonely bridge leading to Nowhere. In the night, a warm glow rests its chin over the black hills East of the water. It is hot and muffled, like a sunrise, except it can only be seen in the evening, where the long fire of an industrial plant burns the midnight oil.

There was a steel mill here some time ago. It went down when the higher-ups sold the jobs to China. How many people lost jobs? But now fracking has its deep wells in peoples’ private property, sending them checks in the mail for their families. And the bright blue waterslide of a coal shoot still bends over the side of the West Virginia riverbank, keeping people’s lamps lit.

Many unkind things have happened here. Happen still.

I am no West Virginian and do not know much about these things, only brushing shoulders with stories. What I do know is that no matter the season, warm round lights hang above the coal mill like strings of Christmas lights, reflecting off the black water. The old bridges look strong over the river; they are imbued with dignity, standing, still standing, after Time has tried her hand at sweeping out their feet. Much like the people who live here.

The stones lining the river floor are singing. Have been for some time. Loud as ever belting songs, though not all can hear them. The open sky shouts praise. Trees make harmony. Rocks a chorus of jubilance, stomping their feet. A holy Fingerprint lingers on.

What a land, what a land, my husband’s West Virginia. And also, what a song.

When I write, I have the propensity to dither a long time over what to say and how to say it. This is mostly for your benefit, dear reader, but it is also a kind of protection for myself. What I want to do, if I can notice where my own two feet are standing more often, is write of the ordinary in-between moments that slip past me while I am wiping globs of dried banana off the floor and kissing sweet baby cheeks. These moments feel very menial in the present but in reflection are the substance of what it is I am doing with my life. Perhaps that is not very interesting of late. I am home ninety percent of the time and traveling between friends and the grocery store the other ten. But, I am realizing, I have a lingering grief that I have settled into rhythm with, like my friend Dickinson’s Death, rumbling alongside her in a carriage. It isn’t disconcerting. In fact I do feel like that old Death has really come to me “kindly,” and “because I could not stop for Death” in the first place.

Cody and I just finished watching the Lord of the Rings series. It drove me to the books, because I knew Tolkien would say things better. There is a scene at the tail end of The Return of the King, after Sam realizes that Frodo is taking him on one last journey before sailing with the Elves across the sea. Tolkien writes, “But Sam was sorrowful at heart, and it seemed to him that if the parting would be bitter, more grievous still would be the long road home alone.” What Sam doesn’t realize, and finds out only moments later, is that Gandalf has foreseen this intimate sorrow. Soon after Gandalf joins the party of travelers, Pippin and Merry arrive. Gandalf tells the loyal Sam, “it will be better to ride back three together than one alone.”


“Grief isn’t linear” is one of those completely true clichés. I see it everywhere now, in the same way you see a million Chrysler Towne and Counties passing you on the highway after you buy one. I’ve somehow been surprised that this saying is true. This is because you get to a certain point in your grief and you think, not that you’ve moved on, but that you’re okay now. You are most of the time, so this seems plausible. You have his picture on the fridge; you catch his eye while turning around, and you don’t cry. You don’t even feel like crying. You feel a little flat but you feel okay. But then you think of him another day and you just feel totally sure that he is still in Florida, in his room, saying something sarcastic and witty to his friends on his headset. For a millisecond you’re living in a parallel universe. And then there’s this tiny shock of grief again. Like slipping into sleep and being jolted awake. Your throat gets thick and your nose refuses to allow you to breathe and, totally without your permission, you are crying.

My first Sunday back to church after my cousin died, the guitar was pumping and the drums were beating and the lyrics were “death has been defeated.” I felt insulted. Not an angry kind of insulted, either at God or man, but the kind of insulted that has witnessed a car crash only to be told, “well actually you didn’t.” I had just seen the whisper of my cousin’s body lying foreign on his bed, a stranger to his own family as soon as a long breath carried him away.

Death will be defeated. Though it will be the very last enemy to be defeated, it will itself be destroyed. This is truth just the perfect size for my grief. It is God acknowledging the wreckage and saying to the stunned woman who saw it, “sit in the car for a while, and warm yourself. I’ll take care of the rest.”

I get daily quotes from Plough, and this was today’s fitting word from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait.… Not all can wait – certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they live in the best of all possible worlds! Those who learn to wait are uneasy about their way of life, but yet have seen a vision of greatness in the world of the future and are patiently expecting its fulfillment. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger.”

And of course, God, the conquering King Jesus. Those of us who grieve are blessed with expectation. And also, which we may take delight in, we are those who will be comforted.

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