Joshua Sutherland Allen

Joshua Sutherland Allen

Monday, August 31, 2015


Three tadpoles inhabit my front stoop,
Tenants of a flower vase from my mother’s house;
She scooped them up and put them there
One day while keeping my daughter.

It was a project they started together:
“We’ll watch and see how they grow,” they said.
Grandmother and girl caught the creatures,
Gave them their glassy home,

And then forgot about them.
And so they are mine to keep,
And mine to feed –
A little dried cabbage every few days or so.

The water is mine to aerate,
And the vase is mine to clean,
And switch out for a shallower pan someday,
So that the tadpoles can jump out when they have legs.

Flicking tails the tiny amphibians swim,
Ever curious about the giant that gives them cabbage
And stirs their water every day or two,
Breaking up the shadows where they hide and play.

They swim and grow, almost twice as big now
As they were the day they brought them home.
Soon their legs will emerge and tails disappear,
And I watch and wonder,

If someday they may be eating size.
Is it that kind of frog?  I cannot say,
But when I see them now, I envision
Those young, new legs fried on a plate.

Perhaps I am more like a frog
Than I would care to admit:
I can marvel at the mysteries of new life,
But in the end my appetite wins.

I do hunger and thirst for righteousness,
Also for knowledge and wisdom,
But most days these are easily conquered
By hunger for comfort, good food, good drink.

I like to think that I am good in my career,
That I make some difference in the lives
Of the students I teach; that I am
Something positive in my community.

But most days, I am like a frog:
Swimming to and fro,
Aimless and darting,
Trying not to be eaten.

I know, from them, the crucial truth,
That however big or great you may become,
There's always something, or even someone,
Who will eat you:

For each Achilles there is a heel,
A harpoon for each great whale.
Every Caesar has a Cassius,
And every Lincoln a Booth.

So when I go home this afternoon,
I plan to salute my little friends –
My fellow pilgrims through this world.
And give them some extra cabbage.

This I plan, that is,
Unless the cat has gotten in,
And in her scheming mischief,
Has eaten them before I arrive.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Each day we complete a banal and sacred ritual,
A domestic compline in our homely chapel:
A bath, not baptism, but holy cleansing,
A Eucharistic meal of fruit and water,
Sacred readings not of Gospel or Quran,
But of Dr. Seuss and Chicken Little,
And a divine touch more solemn
Than that by which the hemorrhaging woman
Brushed the garment of Christ
And became whole.
A small hand, innocent of worldly ugliness,
Pure and unblemished by wrinkles,
Yet gnarled and chafed
From over-zealous nail biting:
I take it in mine, and I am complete,
I know love, and I comprehend grace.
Sitting by my child’s bed at night,
Reading her a story,
Listening outside her door as she finishes her bath,
Holding her hand as she falls asleep,
We enact a holy rite.

Chafed hands and bitten nails
Are a strange sort of sacrament,
Not unlike baptism in uncomfortably cold water,
A wedding where the cake never arrives,
Or the Body of Christ present in stale bread:
Divine mysteries manifest in fallible, human constructs.
But I like things that are human;
I’m happy with the marred and incomplete.
The sacred liturgies, even the Holy Gospel itself,
Set forth the way I learned it as a child,
With its flawless, Elizabethan cadence
And its majestic prose,
Is not quite so awesome
As my child’s small voice, reading to me about Rover.
Light-filled corridors infused with incense and statuary,
Are not quite as sacred
As my child’s rickety bedside.
When Thomas touched the hands and side of his Lord,
He could not have been more inspired
Than I am, when I hold my child’s slight hands in mine.
I cannot know if God or heaven are real,
But Paradise is in the gentle touch
She and I share each night.
There is no need for transcendent glory
When we perceive the immanent splendor
Of sacred touch
And mundane rites of human life.