Altar and Offering


Through November’s 
arterial horizon 
traffic flickers. 
Mountain bare

but for a bent cloud 
clipping the ridge. 
What would it mean 
to see clearly—

to know
nothing’s there 
other than what is.


A clearing
between scrub
and birches peeling

(white sheets flagging) 
where sunset sparks.

And those hollow tones: 
geese gathered at the river’s 
gravel bank.

They’re not singing; 
they’re sounding out

a sequence of notes 
describing the color 
and shape of the cold.


The poem begins without a word 
while I walk through sideways snow.

Snow barbed by a gone season.

There’s joy in the unsaid and how it accumulates.
This god-vacant pain, the run-on days, disrupted.


The day before 
the longest night

of the year, 
December sun

snags runoff 
from last week’s

a silver cord binding

my eyes to asphalt, 
traffic, dead leaf

floating in the flash. 
Overnight rain

the mountain:

white to red, 
faint red

under russet.

Blinded again, 
I’m rooted

to a world 
without me.

Wordless prayer 
—this vacancy

where the new life begins.


suspends hail 
in a sepia orb.

The fricative hiss 
as stripped trees 
sift it. I hear it

as language 
to become speech.

A circular breath 
the familiar.


Open the blinds
to snowlight—
that bright, particular pain.

There, in the shock, 
locate the real

before it sinks 
into synesthesia.

This is how winter 
makes itself useful:

it tricks the body

to trick
the mind still.


Up late listening 
to rain run ice

into mud. 
Does the room 
contain sound

or does sound 
contain the room?

Walls dissolve
in the dark—
a locked door opens.


I covet the cold,

how it punctures 

and dislodges 
the rot. When

is enough—

harsh enough—
to smother thought.


by snow fog

a snowed-over 

makes it 


After the snow squall
sun mutes
what snow remains
in my vision, and the figure

on the other side of the crosswalk 

too bright to say

walking toward 
or away from me.


A few days lost 
to a false spring. 
Black slush caged 
by bolts of light.

My mind, jolted, 
turned jagged; 
but last night
the cold returned

and when I woke 
morning was a window 
in the shape of a field 
draped in frozen fog.


A vulture circles
a shotgun’s echo, carving

into cloudless sky
the shape of the field below.

The air alone
both altar and offering.

Joseph Massey

Joseph Massey is the author of A New Silence and he lives in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.

'Altar and Offering' has no comments

Be the first to comment this post!

Would you like to share your thoughts?

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

(c) 2024 North American Anglican