Call It Painted Trillium


Our Father, as you know,

Clinton Highway is not your most glorious work.

640 and 275 cleave not-quite clover-like,

an overhead span of concrete and asphalt

wholly unremarkable where I was

ferried underneath each Sunday night

from birth to 12, returning from visits

to my papaw, my father at the wheel,

my eyes slowly closing,

the safest and most secure I will ever feel.



My father, at 70, shows me the photos

from his hike.  His retirement overflows

with wildflowers – spring beauty, bloodroot,

false Solomon’s seal, painted trillium.

He says in the mountains he is happy

because he feels so small.  He is in heaven.



My father is named after his father.

My son is named after them both.

Papaw used his middle name,

my father and son use different, shortened forms

of their first.  Three names in one name,

answerable to those they love.



The best times were lazy

after Sunday lunch, hours stretching out

like spring sunlight.  Papaw talked and talked about

a late-night miniseries he had seen.

He couldn’t remember the name,

and he’d half-drifted off at times,

but he thought spiders had taken over the world.

You shoulda seen them spiders.  It was like a kingdom of spiders.

He said it was frightening, and terrible,

and he watched all 3 nights of it.


On earth, my mamaw died too young,

too slowly and too quickly, at cancer’s insistent claim,

my father’s prayers unanswered.

On earth, during a study of Joshua,

the holy wars became a pile of rubble

my father couldn’t clear away.

On earth, we started leaving early some Sundays

when Papaw pressed the question

of why we weren’t in service.


Papaw, who never cleaned the kitchen,

was the best cook I ever knew.  Fried chicken,

mustard greens with vinegar, fatback strips on the side,

and chocolate pie with meringue so thick he called it calf slobber.

It is hard to remember, with a stomach so full,

that hunger even exists.  Before you know it,

you’re grumbling again.


How many agnostics does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

I don’t know.  I mean, I know the light’s there

but who are we to specify where it comes from?

How many fundamentalists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

The Bible doesn’t say anything about lightbulbs.



Papaw’s pastor tells him he honestly believes that when we get to heaven the first question God will ask is if we protested on the opening night of Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.  Papaw solemnly nods in agreement.

My father scoffs at a person who survived a car wreck with serious injuries and says, “God was looking out for me.”  He thinks, “If only God had been looking out for you one minute earlier.”

I, at a relaxed taco night, drunkenly mock a close friend for believing in a dead man.  Years later, as a Christian, I sincerely pity the closemindedness of a Zen Master.

My pride is better than your pride.



One night in 1989, during In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley,

Papaw leaned forward from the sofa and rested

his forehead on the coffee table, forever.

He is gone.  My father is not yet gone but will be

one day, each day less days ahead and more behind.  I know

on the average Thursday we don’t believe in evil,

but then here comes death, crafting a person-shaped keyhole

in the world and slinking away with the key.

Call that what you will, but it isn’t good.


And here is another day, cracked open like a chrysalis.

You can just have it.  Really.

But it doesn’t belong to you.  And here

are people, who you will never own,

but who will let you claim them,

who will name and shape you.

So off you go now, numbering and honoring,

forever, whatever, clueless and awed,

call it painted trillium, call it God,

old and full of days, gathered, grieving,

cloven, leaving, loving, cleaving.