The Vine and the Branches

by David Henson

The summer heat waved at us
from the yard in need of mowing,
or maybe it was a frantic warning
to stop pruning Grandmother's
prized wisteria, lavender waterfalls
we pretended were grapes,
to quit pinching all the honeysuckle
just to strip a bullet of sugar from a pistil.
The irresistible destruction
of childhood in spring
believing nothing could really suffer,
that we had nothing to learn
by leaving things alone
and the gifts from dirt were ours
to take or taste or give or mold.
Broken limbs we tore and twisted
into precarious tents,
shelters forever collapsing.
Twigs and vine we braided
into crowning beauty,
wilting and fading by suppertime.
Boughs we bent into guns and swords
leaving behind thin red lines,
stockpiled weeks of welted memories.
The eternal tragedy:
branches, green and flowering,
when taken from the vine
only last when made
into weapons.

Called Back


Since that day,
my beggarly eyes open
too much to the light.
Even the soft dawn makes me weep.
Still nothing is ever enough.
My eyes still hunger for what they saw
during the days of my death.
They are also the reason
the neighbors stopped coming.
With well-intentioned visits, they tried
to dip their grief-stained curiosity
into the inkwells of my eyes,
asking if maybe I’d come across a soul
whose face they longed to see.
But they looked too long
into my darkness not knowing
it was a search for light.
So the neighbors never returned.
There is no muscle memory of what to bring,
no script to follow of what to say
for the grief when someone rises rather than dies.
So avoiding the watery squint of daylight
I live shaded from them, sidestepping lamplit windows
and their tidy snares of light.
Now, they see me only
in the nocturnal half-glances and haunted dreams
of young mothers who wake
at timeless intervals to feed hungry babies,
of old men unable to sleep
with aching joints and empty beds,
of the town baker, waking
when morning is not yet sunrise.

I spent one life trying to live in the light
and having seen it in death,
I live my second in darkness;
It is my last chance,
so now I belong to the night.
I see its secrets, its logic, its wisdom—
the forbidden lovers who steal away
to the foreign places of each other’s bodies and pain,
the convulsing loneliness of widows,
and the shadow of death that feasts on the young,
sweeps away the old, harvests the healthy,
leaves survivors to waste away
like wheat cut, but uncollected.
Delicate offerings and forbidden sacrifices
that would wither the town were they to unfold
in the self-righteous light of day
instead fall like comets in the dark,
lodging in the sky and sand.
The constellations of sin and suffering,
glittering at night, are absolved by morning light.
But what happens under the blackened sky
holds our shattered pieces together by day
veiling the desolation and sorrow
that gnaw like wet rats at the bones of the world.

Why must I die,

I was called back
by the jagged edges of my name,
but the plucked string of my soul
still reverberates with echoes of the other side.

David Henson is an Episcopal priest who lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina, with his spouse and two children. He writes poetry in between writing homilies.