(Painting by Vincent Van Gogh.
Poem based on
the visia divina exercises
in Henri Nouwen’s book
the gnarled, twisted arm of the long-
overgrown tree; the rigid, knotted muscles
of the one providing shade and rest.
the Christ hung on the smooth-scarred planks
of a tree that once shaded the Roman soldier
or perhaps a pair of Jewish lovers
acting out Solomon’s song.
under the weary tree, ancient,
its bark wrinkles under the pressure of time
and earthly formation. countless hours
providing shade has made it an expert
in blocking the scorching heat.
some days nobody would come for a silent respite.
three times Jesus asked his disciples to pray.
some days no lovers would grow their marriage
under its bows.
only the mother and a prostitute came to visit the grave.
under the weary tree, rested a stone bench,
the rock older than the tree
formed at the foundation of the world.
it was fashioned, man-made for contemplation,
prayer, and sitting.
i stare into Van Gogh’s painting,
the Bench at Saint-Remy, and in the trees waiting
the rock springs to life as its gnarled umbrella dies.
there i come to understand life-long prayer.