How Divine
{An Umbrella Special Feature}

Tim Hawkins

has been writing poems and sharing them with friends for over twenty years, but only recently began to submit them for publication.

Following graduation from the University of Michigan he worked as a journalist at weekly and daily newspapers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a career that was interrupted by a period of protracted wandering that took him from Alaska to Mexico in search of the perfect free-lance story. Following that quest, much of the next thirteen years was spent in Southeast Asia and Central America where, in addition to immersing himself in the study of Mandarin Chinese and Spanish and acquiring a master’s degree in education, he worked as an editorial consultant, technical writer, teacher in international schools, and once, memorably, as a nose-hair clipper model.

He returned to the U.S. in 2005 and recently moved to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he lives with his wife Ilsy and their three children and works in communications in the region’s burgeoning life sciences industry.

—Back to Extra Contents/Issue Links—

The Perfect Spiral

Throwing a football with my son
who’s just getting old enough to catch and throw
a tight spiral, in the gathering dusk,
under a street lamp, hazy
with the smoke of burning leaves,
as the bone-chilling cold of late November
collides with the pleasure of these things.

I’m reminded of those same November evenings
of my youth, when we played in such a fever
that we could somehow see the ball
long after dark, without feeling the cold,
without hearing the voices
that called us home to that other
brightly-lit world of expectation.

Tonight, a family of evangelical missionaries—
a father and mother, with two shivering
ill-suited boys in tow,
puts a temporary halt to our game,
the father preaching gloomy, eternal life
with an exhortation, a warning of sorts
that I must be born again.

For the sake of the boys, or perhaps
because I already feel November-born again,
I refrain from the easy sarcasm that
has become my stock, first-down play.
I long to show them, instead, the sacred gift
of night vision, and the flashes of eternity
that inhere like slow motion
in a moment of artful concentration.

I offer him my own invitation, of sorts,
by tossing him the ball without a word.
We could achieve miracles here in the dark,
leading one another just enough
out past the clothesline, making leaping grabs
by feel, each a hero to our boys
amid cheers and shouts echoing through the night,
with no talk of damnation
or angelic hosts on high.

But he has become a man and
has put away childish things, so he
flips me the ball with a shake of the head,
then leads the family away on their
eternal rounds through the gloom,
shivering and groping blindly toward the light.

We, the damned, have slipped through their grasp
and return easily to our perfect spirals
and death-defying grabs,
while ignoring the cold,
and the dark, faceless silhouette
that has magically appeared
in a burst of light at the window
to beckon us home for the night.


Out into the Fields

The sharp cries of cold and hungry mouths give way
to the lighting of the morning fires
to a season of blank and empty stares
in the faces of the living, like those of the dead
that gave up everything before they froze.

Within this hovel patched with clay,
daubed with ash, and smudged with soot
amid the clatter of endless chores,
the rituals of the chamber pot
and the chafing of stiff and unwashed clothes

a winter of mute, unutterable griefs
that he has known like his own furrowed skin
that likewise fit, and are his lot,
drive him out into the fields.

He is rooted like no other kind of man
to a defining time and place,
seasoned by the smell of the land.
But our idea of him is not,

and so he strides across a snow-filled plain
to make his lone entreaties
to almighty, lonely god or goddess,
to spirits of earth and sky,
to the kindliness of his sacred kin,
to purify himself, his tribe, his race,
the frozen land and what it yields,

to verify, in this, his longest year,
false signs and hopes of spring.

Alone, but for some stoic horses
trembling in the fields, alone, head bowed,
or kneeling prostrate on the crusted snow,
this sojourn is one of few without
the woman working at his side,

for on this morning she fears his gaze,
then frets all day that he might choose
to lie among the dead and brittle stalks,
a broken supplicant in fields of maize
beneath the windblown shadow of a crow.

But a vision gives signs the land will not provide,
so he rises, shivering, but homebound and assured
that there remains a journey on such a day
that will loose the ritual moorings of the stones
as when spring sets free a northern stream,
and he will set off again, this time in praise

out into the fields
with a husky voice that cracks and breaks,
that echoes the thaw in the ice-choked lake
with a few stark and trembling words of thanks

that stand alone
but for their sharp and insistent connotations,

like forty-two springs of grief and joy

like any farmer of any epoch or nation
just before he steps with the sun full in his face
out into the soft and yielding fields
with the first day of planting close at hand

with the help of a good and loyal woman
and his lone surviving boy.