613 / Jesse K. Butler

A winter night in Ottawa is monstrous.
The wind shrieks down between these empty towers
abandoned by the bureaucrats now safe
and warm at home. My fingers, cold and stiff,
are fumbling for my phone. In these bleak hours,
I’ve made some desperate calls. Here, no one answers.

We’re lost beneath this restless regulation.

Near Parliament, at Wellington and Bank,
I tap out six-one-three, our area code,
then pause, uncertain, till my phone goes blank.


Some old Rabbinic scholars, analyzing
the Torah, counted out its laws. The number
by most accounts: six hundred and thirteen.
To me, the whole attempt feels small and thin –
so focused on the gold that plates the altar,
you fail to see the fiery pillar rising.

It’s not so simple, though. The Psalmist knew:

The law has life. It’s more than normative.
It is a gateway, opening to offer
a wide abundant space in which to live.


The snow plows pile the stubborn winter rubble
up off the road. The city’s raw and worn.
I tried to leave, but lost my only chance.
So here I stay, in vague obedience.
Yet spring is seeping. Water drips. I turn
to feel warm light through mounds of ice and gravel.

They slowly soften, in the sun’s repentance.

And I will grow to thank the living law
which forced my will, and held me here to glimpse
this inward-spreading spring: the heart’s slow thaw.

The Poet

Jesse K. Butler lives with his wife and two children in Ottawa, Ontario. He recently completed a PhD in Education, which led to his current work in the Canadian civil service. His eclectic education has also included an MA in English Language and Literature and a BA in Liberal Arts. His lifelong exploration of poetic form is grounded in his experience of the life of faith: a guiding structure that opens up new possibilities for freedom.

613: Copyright 2021 by Jesse K. Butler. All rights reserved.

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