From “Stations”



We have been here before
and failed, bringing creation
about our ears. Why
can we not be taught 
there is no hill beyond this one
we roll our minds to the top
of, not to take off into
empty space, nor to be cast back down
where we began, but to hold the position
assigned to us, long as time
lasts, somewhere half-way
up between earth and heaven.

R.S. Thomas


From “Angelus Dubiosus”


Because faith is the twin of doubt
Because doubting is the meditation of the world
Because we are all on steep paths, on fire, full of hope
Because we are all angels kneeling, drinking, unfinished and dubious, wavering in the glare between worlds

-Keith Ratzlaff

From “Church Going”


A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

-Philip Larkin

From “The Summer Day”


I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver

Driving to the oil patch

First two flames, one on each side of the road, like sentinels. Bright, 10 or 100 times brighter than any streetlight and wavering like a living thing. You feel naked and speed past hoping to escape notice.

Then fog. White soup fog so thick you can only see the center yellow dashed line right against your front tire if you squint. So thick you wonder if it will ever let up, if you will never make it out, run off the road or hit another person before you even see them. So thick you almost pull over but think of the danger from passing cars and think surely it can’t last much longer. Right?

Twenty, 30, 40 miles later you are justified and the white soup fades to patches, a veil of gauze on the world. Then it is gone altogether, leaving pitch black. No streetlights in western North Dakota. Then the lights again, bright, sputtering orange lights silhouetting the rolling prairie where there should be no light. Naked again, you speed on.

Sixty miles out the hotels start to speed past, neon light after neon light spelling “NO vacancy.” No vacancy in rural North Dakota, population none.

And then, over a crest, there it is. Mud-covered (from what? There was no mud – unless it was in the air, permeating everything to remind you why you’re really here) and breathless from brushes with death in the form of California, Alaska and Tennessee drivers, you see it. Destination: Oil Patch.

Destination: American Dream?

Famine politics

Image“There is no end to politicians who pursue, at the cost of all compassion and paying the price of human flesh, their denials, dogmas and ideologies. … In Ethiopia and in many food crises of the present and recent past, it is oppression, war and ‘civic mayhem’ that have been the main reasons for famine mortality.”

I just finished Thomas Keneally’s book “Three Famines,” which documents some history of the Irish potato famine, a WWII-era famine in Burma and more recent famines in the 1970s and 80s in Ethiopia.  In general, the book sort of outlines what I hear from talking with aid workers on the policy level and on the ground in hungry countries; food shortage is a key instigator of famine, but the problem is much, much more complex than just not having enough food to feed people in a country. In some cases, food is even shipped out of a country while people in the country starve because they don’t have enough – I was told this happened in Niger during recent food shortages. And even when there is enough food in the country, lower levels of food reserves drives up prices so the poorest people can’t afford enough to sustain themselves.

This book is rather confusingly organized and poorly written, and missing most citations that would give the author a lot more credibility, but still gives a good look at the politics of famine and the government policies and structures that elevate a food shortage or drought to famine proportions. Keneally provides a good reminder that just pouring money or food into a starving country isn’t necessarily a complete or entirely effective solution to a problem that is much broader than poor crop yield.