In remembrance of Phil Gebhardt

Our friend Phil died this week, after several years of exhausting physical struggles. He had a quiet wisdom and humor, and a deep mystical understanding of the presence of the sacred in things which spring from dirt.

During the time we shared, he inspired me, as in this poem, which I originally wrote in 2019. May his spirit rejoice in transformation.


by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

Our cemetery guide explained

that the shining white obelisks

dwindling into the sky

signify our journey toward God.

When doing it right

we disappear at the very tip

when stone ends

and God begins.


He drove on,

slowing our bus disguised as a trolley

to show us

a fruit-heavy paw paw tree

then stopping so we could glean.


A friend from our war-torn church

named Phil

led the way, and I followed.


Phil planted a garden

in our church yard

beneath a spire

which signifies our journey toward God.


It's messy, that garden

with zinnias and bursting tomatoes

dying cucumber vines

and sprawling overgrown greens

which may be weeds

or sweet potatoes

or the most gorgeous fall blooms

waiting to surprise us

if we resist the urge

to tame the tumult.


The murmurers inside don't like it

overgrown and frowzy

too full of life and chaos

too free with invitation

for people who are not them

to come

to pluck

to be filled.


Phil led the way

toward the paw paw steeple

which signifies a tree's journey toward God.

I followed, bending to step beneath

low branches

fruit scattered on the ground

in messy abundance

some overripe and rotting

some eaten by those who were not invited

     those who dared forage on sacred ground

     dared stare up at edifices of stone

     dared taste the sweetness growing there

without permission.


We gathered the fruit which

had not yet grown soft and brown

had not been ravaged

by the hungry teeth of rodents

of vermin

of other.


We gathered until our hands were full

and then boarded the trolley

which wasn't.


We handed the fruit

to whoever wanted a taste

of what grows so close to death

the sweetness side by side

with sorrow

our journey toward God not up

into the sky

but in the fecund earth

and the faces of the people

reaching to taste.