October 2008

In churches across the country and the world
believers are mourning the torture and death
of a man whose divinity they celebrate—
who they believe suffered and died centuries ago,
then rose undecayed from the grave, proclaiming
that those who believed in him could do likewise.

If in our time we could defy the laws of nature
we might believe that those who have suffered or died
at the hands of our country’s wars or its agents,
whether in our own land or hidden elsewhere,
could rise from their secret graves of mind or body
to proclaim that after all these centuries, we can do better.

©2008 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf


In my dying, I insist on music.
Brahms, Poulenc, Borodin, and Durufle,
sprinkled occasionally with Bach chorales,
spiced with Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms,
laced with Schubert, Richard Strauss, and Wagner,
mixed with Debussy’s “Demoiselle Eleu,”
Mozart, Verdi and Berlioz Requiems,
and—at last!—The Internationale.
I want to go out in style.

No rites, ceremonies or funerals.
Just say that I have made some difference
in this world of my brief habitation,
however fleeting or temporary.
Refresh my memory with tales of joy
and all our adventures through the years—
successful or not, it was the journey
that gave life meaning from start to finish.
I want to go without tears.

If you must, begin your brief festivities soberly
with the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth;
say whatever you will—or not—
but leave skipping, accompanied by
Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide.”

And as I slip forever into darkness,
I want my departure to be accompanied
by the “Agnes Dei” from the Faure Requiem,
and think of me as that lilting violin obbligato
vanishing into a final, beautiful silence.

©2007 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

The way there was not the way back.
We walked a graveled path through the woods
sometimes uphill, sometimes down
and sometimes clambering over rocks,
small streams, and fallen trees in our path.

I went as far as I could with him
but then he had to go on alone,
his destination uncertain.
We said goodbye and parted
and I began to make my way back.

I followed the path we had taken
sometimes downhill, sometimes up,
past the trees, the streams, the rocks.
When I came to the end of the path
I was not where we had started out.

It was not the open field we had left
but a town where I had never been.
On the street people stood watching
as a building burned on the other side
and collapsed into dust and rubble.

I drew no glances from the crowd
as I made my way to the street,
looking for a sign, a name, a place,
anything to tell me where I was.
I asked, but got no answer.

I turned and retraced my steps
and found the path we had taken.
It was the same—I had not strayed from it,
not taken a wrong turning or lost my way.
But it had not brought me home.

Nor would that path take me back
to the place where he and I had gone
on that final walk together.
But with that brief farewell,
the landscape of my life was changed forever.

©2007 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

They say that when the angel came to the field
on that cold winter night, the shepherds were afraid
of the brilliant burst of light and the thunderous roar
made by the rushing of the angel’s wings.
But the first words the angel uttered were,
“Do not be afraid.” And then they understood
it meant them no harm:  they were not doomed,
despite the sudden presence of that awesome being.

On the eve of Christmas in this dreadful year,
when so many of my fellow humans suffer
from cold, starvation, disease, and constant fear,
from all the tortures of the soul and body,
and thousands more have died in senseless wars
while others, with their terrible wounds
that will never heal, pray for an end to pain,
I lift my voice with theirs to that great silence.

O spirit of the divine, be you one or many,
guiding force or forces of the universe, I pray
that when you send the angel of death for us
its first words will be, “Do not be afraid.”

©2007 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf


Dreams travel with the speed of light
as I sit facing the sun, weaving and
waiting, always waiting, for your return.
I have grown old with longing.


And did you think you were the only one
adventuring around the world’s dark edges?
I too have traveled across the seas
sailing into the terrifying unknown.

Without map, compass, chart or crew
I wandered throughout the vast spaces
and over the fearsome oceans
searching, always searching, for you.


And when I found you at last, there you were,
hiding behind my reflection in the mirror.
You told me you had always been there,
but the shadow of my hair obscured your face.

Now, with grey hair, I see more clearly.
My own dear love, lost or dead or dying,
I will always see your face again
when I look beyond my image in the mirror.

©2007 Dorothy Miller Gutenkauf

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