Week Two

Poems for the second Sunday in Advent
And the Shrill Shall Lead the Blind
Prepare the Way
Wilderness in Two Parts



Year A: Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12

And the Shrill Shall Lead the Blind


“Snake-occupied screech owl nests produce more
and healthier fledglings than do snake-free nests.”

National Wildlife magazine


When the mouse lies down with you, you’ve already
maimed him. The songbird, still warm but without

her voice, has a place in your burrow, borrowed
from the woodpecker who no longer needs it.

Your realm, eastern screech owl, is bloody
survival. It’s a headless meal dangling

from a mother’s grasp, death brought close.
But a nest lined with what feeds soon festers.

What of your hatchlings’ gaping hunger
when parasites quiver your walls? Enter

the snake, blind and coiled alive around the beak
that bears it. Slippery deliverer, she’ll devour

the maggots that threaten your young,
unaware of the kingdom they’ve been born to,

the rules they break when the serpent beds down
with a raptor’s nestlings, and both creatures thrive.



Year B: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8


Prepare the Way


I will howl at the moon for blazing and howl
at birds as they wake, their notes
piercing the night. Too bright! Too early
for singing! Those poor stars

cannot abide such shrill distraction. They
have been given one grim task:
guiding souls through night’s fissures
to its bleary end. I am the one

called to keep the darkness
from cracking. I am the one
who keeps watch, the voice crying out:
In the neighborhood, prepare! Oh stars,

cradles of light in the wilderness!
How can birds know all this, their bird brains
filled with chatter, gossip
of the night and of each star’s reason for fading?


In my dream I comfort the dog
who’s been left out all night,
take him a dish of water.
There now, I say, stroking his ears,
scratching behind them. I leave him
to drink, to sleep then if he is able,
as I continue to the next yard, unlatch
the gate, greet the next dog with the same
soft consolations. All the neighborhood mutts
await me, the quencher of thirsts.
Piece by piece their dissonant chorus
diminishes, dawn
fills with the cacophony of bird-song,
and in the gathering light
the dogs return to their dreams.
The whole rescued world sleeps.



Year C: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Wilderness in Two Parts


In my family, the story is legend:
A child of four wanders from the campsite,
certain she knows her way. Sometime later
a family friend follows a muddy trail
of small bootprints, finds the child sitting
on a log, scoops her up and carries her
to safety. I remember being lost
more than I remember being found.

You were right to stay put, they told me.
But I didn’t—not at first. Not until I’d wandered
what seemed hours in a wilderness
too vast to be knowable. Not until fear
stunned me motionless. I gave up hope,
sat down on a mossy log, and lifted
my face to a sliver of sky just visible
through the evergreen canopy
in something like prayer.

At nineteen, I was desperate as a seed
splitting open to unfurl itself, shocked
by the oxygen and sudden light. My only chance
against loneliness was to start again, to seek
the deepest of lakes, unfamiliar mountains close
as my own breath. I chose a trail
obliterated by snow, crusted and fragile.
Breaking through to my shins and heading, generally,
in the right direction, I decided anything resembling
my destination was good enough. That’s how I learned
there’s no safe pathway. When I reached the jagged ravine
and the log beam spanning it, I simply kept
walking, and my boots refused to let me slip.


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