Poetry-Picture Poems

Buckle Up Next Million Miles

Armed with a more fuel-efficient hybrid

I allow myself some twitching—

traveling long distances

to see rare birds.

In search of my first sandhill cranes,

I drive from Mechanicsburg to Grove City

on a civil engineer’s idea of the Kingdom—

valleys exalted, hills made low,

and all the rough places plain.

(Given the obstacles and apparent lack of faith,

Pennsylvania seldom makes the crooked straight.

Kansas does, but they have fewer valleys to exalt

and hills to make low—a clear case of cheap grace.)

We like to think our highways free us,

but they also confine us to ribbon-shaped prisons

bordered by walls, fences, and tree-born signs

warning us against unauthorized movement.

The cranes, with innocent disregard,

fly where they want and feed on posted land,

leaving little wonder people are drawn to birds

and drive long distances to see them.

“Buckle up next million miles” is I-80‘s way

of telling people to wear their seat belts.

Truncated Tennyson

Surgeon turns death grip

into a padded embrace,

now just red in tooth.

Even the Mountain

Two old Cape Town men

on Table Mountain for tea

welcome white strangers.

In 1968 Carl Raser and I sailed on the South African Pioneer (a freighter) from New York City to Cape Town, South Africa. While in Cape Town, we climbed Table Mountain and met these two men enjoying their morning cup of tea. Even the mountain was reserved for whites only.

Not This One

Thirty-eight years and eight thousand miles

from Table Mountain, I sit on White Rocks Ridge

on a warm mid-December day enjoying my cup

of tea sweetened with molasses and honey

and mellowed with heart-healthy soy.

Looking up, I notice something new—

someone with a warped sense of humor

has placed a large knife-edged rock

in the crook of a seriously decayed

tree almost directly above me.

I know the chances of it falling on me

are slight, and I know there are many such

threats in the world, more than we’ll every know,

more than we can possibly do anything about,

but I’m not able to put this one out of my mind.

So I stand on my rock, reach up into the tree,

give the guillotine-like rock a hard push, and

watch it fall and split on the boulders below.

I throw the pieces over the edge of the ridge,

except for one small shard which I keep

to remember how I changed the world.

I only wish I had acted more thoughtfully.

With a little more effort, a little more risk,

I might have saved the rock, placed

it beside me, an innocent bystander.


A few years later, the shard still lying on “my rock”,

and the decayed tree, now only a stump.


Advent Cemetery

Prospect Hill Cemetery

Hale, Hardy Cemeteries

Old Fairplay Cemetery

Midway Cemetery

Headstone in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Newville, PA

Acting without Doing

(Waterfall Tao)

Rocks loosely laid,

stream swollen by the night’s rainfall,

and a brilliant morning sun

combine without intention

to bring comfort,




Sometimes I find me in my skin,

sometimes in heart or breath,

and often in between my ears,

but never ever in my bones.

So why this presence when I

find you laid out skull to toe,

loosely wired, brown and worn,

on academic detour to dust?

From where this sense of self

when nothing’s left to be but bone?

From where my need to leave

back-first, if all alone?

Note: Zeke was acquired by Banjamin [sic] Gish (Pennsylvania) and willed in 1908 to Messiah Orphanage to be transferred to Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home when it was formed a year later. The school eventually became Messiah College where the skeleton was passed from prof to prof. At this writing (one hundred years from the donation), the skeleton’s real name was not known. The skeleton was being refurbished in the Oakes Museum at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania, where I was working with their bird egg collection.


Near Cliff Dwellers, Arizona,

in front of a Blanche Russell rock house,

a Korean-American professional photographer

takes a close-up of my sixty-two-year-old face

for possible use in an upcoming show.

How flattering to think there may be

something of interest showing

in my unsmiling,



Antelope Canyon

A slot in bedrock

explodes into golden swirls

of sunlight and earth.


Clark’s Nutcracker

As authorities go, there’s none I trust more than David Sibley,

not to mention the legendary William Clark of the explorer duo.

And then there’s the picture my brother-in-law took in Colorado,

giving me a framed copy after we failed to see you in Washington.

But none of that compares to the five seconds

on October 8, 2008 at 7:15 AM in the Grand Canyon YACC Camp

when you landed on top of a sunlit piñon pine tree

and took some nuts to crack.

Note: YACC stands for “Young Adult Conservation Corp,” a federal program that ended in 1982. The camp where I stayed for three weeks (9/20/08 to 10/10/08) when I volunteered in the Grand Canyon Vegetation Program still bore its name.


When you’re


you can still


in a chair.

You can lean

around the corners,


really high,

drop really fast,

and land gently in the family room.

Then, if you say “again,” you can do it all over

until Grandpa gets tired (which is pretty soon)

or says it’s your brother’s turn.

What We Learned About Horses

Horses don’t understand English;

they have their own language.

“Giddy-up” means


or Go faster.

“Whoa” means


“Neigh-h-h-h” means

hold on tight

‘cause he’s gonna rear.

And nuzzling the sofa means

he’s gonna kick up his hooves

and send you tumbling

onto the blue grass.

Reflection on Children’s Lake

Daybreak on a shuttered house

above a shaded lake

creates reflection

where brick,



and grass

blend like thick pigments

in sun-bleached oil.

Soft waves of wind and water

paint quick, sure strokes,

daring us believe

life is no less sound

or beautiful

for its squiggly lines.

The house lands on its feet

with tin roof, trees, and sky mingled

like best friends, not knowing

where one ends

and the other begins—

the kind of friendship

we live for.

Distant Relatives

When you see Yellowstone,

Little Bighorn, and the Grand Tetons

without setting foot on unpaved earth,

when you ride the Oregon Trail in a box

that jostles over rocks and ruts

by hydraulic suspension,

when the wildlife you see

is in paintings, photographs, and sculptures

and through the windows of a bus,

then you know

you’re distant cousins,

once more removed.

Being Callie

If I couldn’t speak

or write

or tap out my meaning,

words would pile up inside

like cars on a freeway

with no exit, no place to go,

rattling about,


But if there were no words,

no thoughts—just unwrapped feelings

and uncoded observations,

then meowing might be enough,

along with purring,




and rubbing,

not to mention

the dance

of my tail,

movable ears,

no-nonsense eyes,

and that California rake*

look of desire.

                  *According to Low Rider magazine and a car-buff friend of mine, “California rake” is a term

                   used to describe the practice of lowering the front suspension of a car to give it a fast look.





Yin Yang


sculptures are defined

as much by what’s removed

as what remains,


some of Crazy Horse

came home with us

from South Dakota.


I’m defined

as much by what I’m not

as what I am,


the universe

and I

are one.


Surfing Now

(So righteous, Dude!)

Carving the Pipeline,

hanging ten in the barrel

of the universe.

Jesuit Center, Wernersville, PA

Greek Mythology

Only two monks left,

relics of a worn-out myth,

tired and grumpy.

Inspired by a visit to Panagia Tourliani, a Greek Orthodox monastery, Ano Mera, Mykonos, Greece.

Photo by Harriet Bicksler.

Courting Fortuna

Call her what you will—providence,

lady luck, or what the Romans did—

you may as well learn to appreciate her,

‘cause you certainly can’t live without her.

So welcome her crazy gifts—

what you consider good, bad, or indifferent—

mine her, woo her, hold her, love her,

be ravished by her random offerings.

Sure, she has a mind of her own,

but she’ll take you in, amalgamate,

surprise, please, and satisfy

with lavish acts of grace.

Take, for example, for confirmation,

our universe, the earth, you and me,

all come together unceremoniously

in this unexpected moment.

Blue-poppy Pathos

In a conservatory full of lilies,

hibiscus, bell flowers, and orchids,

why am I drawn to these has-been,

pathetic-looking blue-poppies?

Why am I bored with all the perfect flowers,

returning again and again to a few Alaskan blues

that have lost most of their wilted petals

and stand alone, paper-thin in the sun?

Can it be that I see myself in these flowers,

inexorably aging, ultimately alone,

yet surprisingly, inordinately,

beguilingly beautiful?


(Susan Getty: OH OH OH!!!! Love the tulips!!! radiant...)

When you find someone

who sees tulips as you do,

your heart leaps for joy.

Original Sin


Paintings are illusions.

Photographs are illusions.

Every piece of music is an illusion.

(If Vivaldi’s “Spring” were literally so,

I’d be playing it from January to mid-March.)

Everything we see, hear, and touch

is not what it seems to be.


Figures of speech frolic in the land of illusion—

metaphors pretend to be what they’re not;

hyperboles appear larger than they are;

personification wants to be human.

In fact, every word is an illusion—

“the word is not the thing”.


Some think illusions should be avoided,

but they weave the very tapestries of our lives.

We wouldn’t be human without art, music, theater,

mathematics, science, history, philosophy,

literature, religion and most of all

our sense of self.


But if we’re not content

with the illusory nature of our lives,

if we demand to be substantial and eternal,

if we insist on eating the indigestible fruit of knowing,

then we must also invent gods who are real enough

to inform us, save us, protect us, and preserve us;

and we must defend those gods at all costs.


Why spoil the universe’s consummate gift

by demanding that our illusions be real?

Isn’t it better to enjoy the wild ride

through our hall of mirrors?

Isn’t it more fun to revel

in the playground

of illusion?



The quote in stanza two is from Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski.


The boy and girl in my photo are the children of my barber in Choma, Zambia. We were exploring the ruins of a mica factory.

The Spacious Art of Dying

When our young pilot cut the engine

and our seaplane glided into Prince William Sound,
the music on our headsets slowly faded, almost imperceptibly,

until nothing remained but the sound of the wind and the splashdown.

How Firm a Foundation


a place to stand

is always our


What Can I Say?


you’re not


you’re not seeing

the world

as it




and now...and now...

alone at the point of extrusion,

at the very source of creation

where conditioning dies

and innocence

is reborn.

Lucy and William

On the day your mother went into labor,

a juvenile wood stork appeared at Wildwood Park

in Harrisburg, the first to be seen there since the 1890s,

the fourteenth ever recorded in Pennsylvania.

On the next morning, June 25, the morning of your births—

Lucy first at 6:11 AM and then Will seven minutes later—

I was taking pictures of your assigned wood stork

when I was called to come to the hospital.

The next day the wood stork was gone,

no longer seen at Wildwood Park.

I guess his job was done.

Thank you, stork.


Poetry copyrighted by Dale Bicksler, 2017                                  Poetry Themes