Scouting Party of One


Note: This is from five years ago. A lot has happened since, and the woman I was talking to here has died. We were together for 50 years, and my life is a stranger to me now. But I’m back in a similar frame of mind. Perhaps this is just me, needing the solitude of exploration and the wild mountains from time to time. Actually, there is no “perhaps” about it.

Image
Painting by William Tylee Ranney: “Trapper Crossing the Mountains”

Remember this: I still love you.

I still love you, but there are times, like now, I bleed inside, realize I’ve forgotten myself,
Or left chunks behind, or sold pieces of my soul
Too cheaply and must go and find and buy back,
No matter how sad and worn they are now.

I feel like the Tin Man with joints rusted in the rain;
The Cowardly Lion tired of being afraid;
The Scarecrow wanting to burn the bureaucratic straw
That’s stuffed in my head instead of brains.
Weary of those around of shocking dreariness,
Shallow people obsessed with silly things, fearful drones.

I still love you, but want to be alone sometimes;
I still love you, but I wonder these days what I’ve missed,
What one thing I can still do well.

I still love you, yet want to beat my wings against the cage of comfort
And embrace everything, and everyone, and taste each moment.
I still love you, yet know you’ll never share why I am drenched
In awe by the terrible beauty of deep space, of Shakespeare, of solitude.

I still love you, despite things you don’t understand, because
You are still there, loving me as you have forever.
We know each other deeply, truthfully, with
Forgiveness and amusement and tolerance and passion.
But that makes me uneasy, too. Guilty. Resentful. I don’t know why.
Comfort is a trap, sometimes;

Resistance is the Enemy.

Not you. Not ever you.

I still love you, even though I may move on ahead for a while, out of sight, through the mountains.

Away.

Alone.

I still love you, though I need to know that who I am exists without constant validation.
It isn’t always good, and can be a distraction like the song of any

Of the Muses, sung at the wrong time.

I still love you,
So do not be sad.

I may be lost at times, and I will stumble
And happen onto strange and beautiful things.

I will return.

But I must go.

And…

I still love you.

© Hemmingplay 2014.

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Memories Over a Glass of Wine


I Want To Dance with You_Kiku Xue

You weren’t my first summer girl—
But were the first one to take me over
Body and soul (and OK, I admit, it wasn’t all that hard to do)
But you are the one from the early days I remember

With only a few sharp regrets, since softened by time.

But also rises in me a wistful toast
To our being so young and eager, so serious, so clumsy,
So lost in hormones and music on the radio
Sitting on the lawn under a black sky sprinkled with stars,
Fumbling, clutching, giddy with freedom, while
Bullfrogs’ song charged the humid darkness with need.
I could always find your lips in the dark, ready, curious, eager,
As glad as mine were to find yours
And we both bubbled with happiness at this secret joy we’d found.

The years have not all been easy, for either of us,
And our paths have never crossed again.
I wonder about you sometimes,
Hope you remember, a little,
The same summer nights, and imagine that you raise a glass
With a smile, and think kindly of me, as I do you,
My summer girl, in the last days of our childhood.

Umwelt


Some days it’s all about limitations,
And while it’s no use complaining,
That’s never stopped me before.

I feel like a blind man living inside a kaleidoscope;
A glutton with but one taste bud left;
A monk who’s forgotten what he knew of God;
A tin-eared drunk waking up just as angels
burst across the heavens in song.
I’m a coma patient wrapped in wool,
strapped in a closet in a blackened room
in the back of the basement. Continue reading “Umwelt”

Folding Power


Pillars of Creation: interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born
“Pillars of Creation”: Hubble photo of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born

I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.

The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.

Continue reading “Folding Power”

Upstream is a Dream


Time… a deep river with a fast current,

the past always upstream.

You can try to go back,

try to swim against the flow,

but it’s no use. The current is too strong.

Oh, you might taste a memory,

But are soon worn out, and,

forced to tend to immediate problems.

Eventually just let the water

carry you along. It’s much easier.

There are shouts and cries of others.

The banks are near and sharp.

The past is out of sight and

mist hides everything ahead and behind.

The water is turbulent and dark.

You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re

right on them.

Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.

Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.

Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.

But always the flow pushes ever down,

through unseen dangers, into the future.

Another Complaint About Marketers


I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.

I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.

What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?

Just once?

Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.

(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel. 
Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. .  

Still, this just proves that any good thing can be 
ruined by the venal machinations of marketers–
the modern source of most human misery
now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)

And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

 

The Cork’s Dilemma


I’m torn.
Spring is so fast, so eager.
Changes come before I’ve absorbed yesterday’s.
A minute ago, the maple was nearly bare,
thousands of tiny spinners fallen on my windshield
like sawdust under a table saw.
This morning, new leaves dance in the breeze,
awkward teenagers already, swaying to their own music,
turning the bright sunshine green.

Have I missed something important?
I wish the world had a rewind button, or at least a pause option.
But sadly, we drift along like a cork in a stream,
never knowing what’s down below, never staying anywhere.
Only able to see a blurred impression of the scene whizzing by.

So, yes, I’m torn between the ineffable beauty of now
and endless wonders around the each bend of the stream.
That makes any cork an unreliable partner.

I cannot slow the stream, but
I’ll pause on my own, breathe deeply, still my mind.
When I eat, I will really taste the food; savor the wine.
Miss no opportunity to be kind.
See the joy in another’s eyes.

I’ll watch the young leaves dance and try to
imagine the shape of the wind, feel the fingers of the invisible ocean.
And when I laugh, it will be from the soles of my feet,
and when I’m sad, I’ll not be afraid to plumb the depths.
And when I love, I will hold nothing back, even
When, as is inevitable, there is pain.

I intend to be fully alive, to observe more and better.
That’s all I can do.
That’s all any of us can do.
After all, we’ll be dead soon enough.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

On the Verge


I’m on the verge of doing something.
You just wait and see if I don’t.
I was young, once, but excavated him recently
and found some things to admire.
He was a naive, quirky dreamer,
Not really cowed by what he didn’t know,
Below average in almost everything.
And so had to learn how to deal with frequent failure.
And endless, vast, gaping, gnawing caverns of ignorance.
But he also harbored a core of wonder, and stubbornness.
And that made all the difference.

So now I’m a burden on everyone,
cashing that Social Security check, living the dream.
I might use all this free time to
write the untold history of the doorknob, or
invent the inexpensive, irreplaceable solution to all your problems.

Oh, yes. That.
I’d make millions, billions, and buy a Greek island
Full of sun, ruins, waterfalls and nubile goddesses,
and do something really great, then.
So great.
You just watch and see if I don’t.

Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

IMG_2251

After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.

Continue reading “Vacation”

Time Traveler


You know the bit about the butterfly:
It flaps it’s wings on a Wednesday just after lunch and
the dinosaurs all die.

And the other bit, where you go back in time
and accidentally bump off grandpa
and POOF! You never existed.

Or just like yesterday, and you woke up,
decided on grapefruit instead of your usual vodka,
and you felt good enough to go out instead.

You time traveler, you. You did it again.
What might have happened, didn’t.
What if you eating grapefruit killed a butterfly, though?

We play a game with babies: cover and reveal.
“Where’s daddy?” Then whip away the cloth and he’s back.
Things exist that we cannot see.

We imagine we move through time because
Our brains record memories
And recall them “later”.

But that’s because we’re used to seeing
from inside the action,
where things don’t happen all at once.

In the mind of God, outside of all of this,
In the realm of pure thought,
Everything has already happened.

Past, future, now have no meaning,
nothing changes because everything all-when is,
change mere illusion depending on where you stand and watch.

Weird, isn’t it? A world where butterflies can kill dinosaurs,
Where what you see depends on where you stand,
And where traveling through time is what we all do, every day.

The Work


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.

And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.

It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.

These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.

The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.

This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)

The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.

And so I write it down.

Implacable Indifference


I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.

I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.

Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear,  I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.

I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:

No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.

Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.

Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.

Then give someone else the credit for it.

This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.

Bits ‘n Pieces: 6 Dogs


He often thinks about the
six dogs who ran alongside
for a time, and then were gone.
All those afternoons of
poking noses together into
interesting places, and
not having to explain why.
These honored companions
deserve to be cast in bronze and
mounted facing the wind on
granite pedestals, on a river bank
beneath old trees,
Nodding, ‘ah, yes, these were noble friends.’
Let’s honor them like Civil War heroes
on the field at Gettysburg.
Each cemented tight to the heart of things that were important,
Things that only dogs and children understand.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Bringing In The Tide


Peaceful inside this tube, quiet, rolling gently side to side, as smooth as the hips of a woman strolling to dinner on the boardwalk on a hot July evening,

Thin fabric stretched just right over just-so curves.

Making him wait,

Liking the feeling she gets from the way she walks, knowing she just made a guy crash into a rack of postcards.

Her rhythms are as old as the ocean, in time with the waves out in the musky duskiness of another hot day, Both bringing more good things to shore.

The seagulls cry overhead and the crowds of tourists part as she passes.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Waiting In The Dark


Just after sundown,
past the North Carolina border,
our passenger train stops to let
a freight whiz by in the dark.
We’re not as profitable per pound,
and complain when the ride’s too rough.
And, really, just look at us; so flabby and soft.
So we must wait.
It’s good to know your value in
Man’s world.

But the delay has already been factored in, and
for the first time in my life I’m
comfortable waiting, in the dark.

Innocence


Everyone but God, if you believe, is
Innocent of tomorrow.
Caesar, full of swagger, innocent of the daggers of friends,
Mary innocent she’d see a son murdered, slowly, while she watched.
Me, innocent about everything, including
whether a satellite will fall on me, or
I’ll get a certified letter that
immortality, six virgins and a chocolate cake
will be delivered on Saturday by 10 a.m..
I struggle to reconcile ignorance and innocence.
Do I care about what I can’t, don’t know?
Do I need more than this one, infinite moment?
Meanwhile, they say the snow will stop soon.
In a world of white, quiet and cold,
finches empty the bird feeder
and wait for more.
I am still innocent of Spring.

At the Dig


kmctdsd

Some poems make me an archaeologist.
I roll back the stone from the tomb of some
long-buried memory and analyze artifacts.
It seems more and more important to
look for what I can, to catalogue
it and make sure contexts are in order.

I can clearly see a soft brush
moving in my hand, delicately
clearing the dust from that time I was six or seven,
and we were at recess, in the monkey bars at
an old, old school building now
torn down 20 years ago.

The day was warm and bright,
glowing in that special benign October sun,
the girls squealing and running
just fast enough to get
caught before everyone got tired—
as the boys chased them around and around.
Learning the rules of the mating game.

The lemon-yellow maple and bright-red oak
leaves in the sloping park just off the playground
were down in wind-shaped drifts. Farm kids all,
we simply asked a teacher for the rake
which she got for us, and we
made piles, big crunchy soft piles,
and jumped in them while Mrs. Fish looked on,
her arms crossed, sharing the moment,
stretching recess a few minutes because she knew
moments like this would end soon enough
and we would grow up and be gone…
and of course she was right.

Ghazal*: The Water


In Mystery

I was a relentless swimmer as a child, more at home
under water, popping up only for air, wishing for gills.

In the pond’s murky realm a few feet down, the big bass, motionless,
eyes swiveling, waited for someone’s last mistake.

In the muddy shallows, the sun warmed the water most,
small things hatched, safe from mouths in the deep water.

Forests of fronds and grasses stretched toward the light,
and died, becoming the black ooze where biting things lived.

I lost it along the way, that simple way a child observes in wonder,
accepting in wisdom, the heavenly song of the world everywhere.

My job these days is to be the archeologist of my life, diving
over and over and staying down, wishing for gills and more time.

On soft summers’ nights, lovesick bullfrogs boomed at the edges.
A muskrat swam in the moonlight, wake effortlessly symmetrical.

_____________
*An attempt…. About the Ghazal form:

The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.

Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.

Hometown Heroes


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All around town, on lampposts, hang
banners memorializing
hometown heroes.

Boys in uniforms who went to war
in 1941, or ’42 or ’43 or later,
who never came back from that
sunken transport ship, or that
awful night on Iwo,
or who stepped in front of a truck
outside a bar at 1 a.m. in liberated
France, having dodged all the bullets
but not a truck full of supplies.

Maybe it’s that people who live in
mountain towns like this
Just have longer memories than most,
surrounded by the rounded remnants
of a once-great mountain range.
Rocks have long memories.
Or maybe we have a need to hang
onto the deep grief longer than is fashionable
in these throwaway times.

Ticks


awesome-clocks-wallpaper-computer-816

The ticking of a clock is the
sound our invisible blood makes
as it ducks out the back door of today
and takes the bus out of
town to yesterday.

The clock’s mechanism creates
the illusion that everything
is controlled by
even, orderly forces.
But there is always the
last ‘tick’. Then what?

I counted to ten, and
with each count I dropped a
stone in the stream.
The stones all sank
but the memory of each moved on,
evenly spaced,
stone became water, cause-
effect, separated by time.

 

Spring


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Put your ear to the air.

Tune your senses to the long rhythms…

The sun is daily higher,

It knocks harder on grave’s door:

Beneath in the icy ground,

Life warms from near death

Shudders and swells and pushes against

The things that would keep it cold:

Listen….

Tune your senses to the long rhythms,

Close your eyes and see.

Billions of trillions of millions of tiny,

urgent things stir, move,

Grow from nothing to everything.

The shoving and shifting and yearning

Makes a soundless roar we feel through our feet.

The Earth…. She stretches and yawns.

Time and Mountains


russians-climb-pyramids

The time was, we thought we had a handle on time,
but our time here is so short that there’s no
time to really understand what time is–
or even if we ever will.
There just isn’t enough of it for anything.

The pharaohs sat their fat asses
firmly on a people who could not
remember a time before this curious arrangement…
Before there were these arrogant
bastards who thought they knew best,
who thought the world worked best
as a pyramid with them at the top.

In the times of the pharaohs,
time had a different meaning…there
in the dull, slow heat of the desert
in between floods and plagues and
the brief, beautiful springtime.

After a while, the parasites tricked the people,
who were bored and out of work
and likely to cause trouble,
into piling millions of
blocks of rocks in magnificent piles as if
to say to the gods, “See, we can
build mountains, too!”
It also proved the Pharaoh
had the right to be in charge
since no one wanted to go to the trouble
of tearing all those rocks down.

But where are the pharaohs now?
Like real mountains, their piles of rocks will
end up as grains of sand,
blowing across the expanse of eternity
until they drift up against the
base of some other fool’s monument.

I once had an uneasy relationship
with time, in the person of clocks.
I couldn’t wake with the sun, or sleep when
it got dark, and my soul was always
out of sorts, and anxious.
But at least everything didn’t happen
all at the same time…

They say time-keeping changed when
railroad people needed to make things work
across vast distances. For commerce.
Speed made organization and precision necessary.
Then factories needed everyone to begin
making things all at the same…. time.
There’s that word again.

I don’t worry as much about clocks any more.
I let the computers keep track for me
and watch time rush past as if
in a hurry to join its siblings in the distant past
where it can get away from clocks.
There it can sink back into the black
cloud of being, where everything has already happened.

I Was A Horse


cropped-the-leap-into-the-unknown.jpgI woke up this morning from a dreamy grey half-sleep
with the February rain dripping off the eaves.
A memory floated by that in a previous life
I was a horse. No question.
A big, brown horse with
soft, knowing eyes. I had been abandoned
out in the high desert by someone,
but didn’t care about them at all.
I knew once how to be free,
and would just do that again. I wondered
about finding water and something to eat,
but horses don’t waste a lot of time worrying.
We’re afraid of things that move,
and afraid of things that don’t.
But we know enough to pick a
direction where it smells more like
water than not, and begin again.

Time and Memories


image

Time and memories intertwine
like a ball of earthworms.
It’s hard to know where one starts
and the other ends.

They say we cannot remember things
before a certain age. The wiring is still not right for it.
We may see pictures and know
we were alive earlier, but that’s just
the picture album version of life;
the real switch in us is still not on.

Mine came on when I was two-something years old.
My parents tore down the old chicken house.
It was in the afternoon of a slightly cloudy day.
I had a coat on, so it must have been
still early in the year. Late March, maybe.

The grass was the vivid, exciting green of spring.
Old boards stained with decades of manure
ended in a pile that would be burned.
Dust and old feathers liberated from hiding places.
A fixture in my world changed.
Things change.
We can change things,
Even old things.
That was my first memory.

It’s funny, but I cannot remember
my parents that day. Just the scene in front of me.
My dog guarded me, stayed by my side until
the demolition exposed a rat’s nest.
She attacked with a speed and ferocity
that was both thrilling and scary.
There was a brief, violent battle
just feet from me, with screaming, then silence.
She came and sat beside me again.
I felt safe with her there.
And knew the difference
between life and death.
The switch was on.
And I knew why the grass was so green.

Song of the Hidden Moon


night-sky-moon-cloud-sea-ocean
Without fail, monthly, the full moon sheds
her inky cloak of night and stars
and slips a leg and then the rest into the lake,
her cool fire subtracted from the sky.
She leaves the nights more lonely, barren.

But her life is not extinguished,
merely hidden, recovering, re-energizing.
She must withdraw from sight,
make herself desirable, let her belly be lush and fertile again
so she may breath passions onto the world, be
drunk with the reckless, raucous, ribald dance of life. Continue reading “Song of the Hidden Moon”

Deadline


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I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”

Helen and the Swan*


Photo by Richard Calmes
Photo by Richard Calme

The night of the full moon
calls her to the water,
this daughter of Leda and Zeus.
She feels it in her neck and belly,
and in the prickles on her back
where the wings hide
under her skin.

Long ago, her mother
sheltered a swan fleeing an eagle.
It was that lecherous old liar, Zeus,
In disguise and guile.
He devised a ruse to
Force himself on her.

Continue reading “Helen and the Swan*”

Six Six-word Stories*


“Two bullets. Two heads. Two dead.”

“House for sale: Divorced, discouraged, deleted.”

“Damn! Why are the walls moving?”

Captain: “Y’all ever flown upside down?”

“One sunrise left.”
“Looks like rain.”

“No Trespassing, and no warning shots.”

_______________________________

*These are in response to a prompt using Hemingway’s supposed “shortest short story ever.” As the story goes, he wrote this on a napkin in a bar in response to a friend’s challenge: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Give it a try!

 

Sanctuary


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The poet Rumi advises us to find a place

high in a nearby tree to hide our spirit.

It is so easily bruised and, when hurt,

we cannot hear what it says.

I read this and had a question–

why did I wait so long to do the work?

I didn’t know how to protect my spirit yet,

to shelter it in that old Hemlock tree there,

massive, dark, unmoving, quiet,

and happy to give my spirit sanctuary,

as though it grew all those years for

no other purpose but this.

What It Is Not


dance_portrait_photography_alexander_yakovlev_09

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment…

I’ve been reading some of yours…

So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.

So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.

I’m sorry for your pain.
I am. It’s real.
But you’ll also have more. Lots more.
And you will survive.
Because you’re tougher than you know.
Welcome it. Use it.
Grow from it.

My right leg hurts. Nothing new there.
I need coffee, soulful kisses, and more…so much more….
I’m getting old and that pisses me off.
I’ve loved deeply and lost, have known death,
You will do both, maybe already have.
I’ve held my babies, watched them grow,
I’ve seen mothers lose theirs.
We win and we lose, sometimes more loss than gain.
I’ve been around the track more than once, but in the end
It, writing, boils down to answering this question:
So what?
That’s the question I put to us all.
So fucking what? Everyone has a sad story.
Answer “so what” and make me care. That’s the job. That’s what I want.
That’s the reason for poetry.

I want more than the lazy, the easy;

more than the ordinary,
more than common oatmeal,
(With or without raisins and sprinkles).

I want to know how those oats grew, and where,
What they felt when they were harvested,
I want to know if they screamed, or just magically
Floated into your bowl, mere reflections of your sadness.
I want to see why I should care about your oatmeal.

It isn’t all about you, you see, but about all of us,
And I’d like to know whether you can see beyond–
I want you to show what’s beyond the
Rustling of your jimmies, beyond being sexy,
Beyond, beyond, beyond.

Jesus H.! I want you to stop settling for less.
Less than you can do. Less than you will do.
I want you to get knocked down,

get up, and get to work
Over and over and over.
To show what it meant. Show me the answer: So what?

There’s no time to waste, you know,
Less than you think; no one knows the future.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Which I know now, and pass it along.

Maybe you’ll listen, but if you’re like I was,
You won’t get it and will go on
Thinking the world is here just for you,
Thinking that mere deep feeling is enough.

I have a newsflash from the other side, y’all:
It’s not enough. Not by a country mile.
(And stop rolling your eyes).

I want to feel you turning lead into gold,
I want you to show me– not tell me about– a growing soul,
I want to taste, to see, to feel what you do,
I want you to hunger for something always out of reach
I want you to tap the universal, to move us forward,
I want us all to connect the dots, do the hard work of humanity.

For our own precious humanity,

do the hard work.
do the heavy lifting.
I want you to read the best, then emulate them.
Then be better than them.

Sweat the details, then shine a new light.
Do hard and holy things.

Hard and holy things.
That’s what we signed up for, you know.
Not the ordinary. Fuck the ordinary.

But most of all, right now,
I want coffee.
And depth.
And more.
So much more.

 

 

Hitting the High Notes


the_odeon_of_herodes_atticus

I write younger than I am, but my voice

cracks on the high notes now.

I don’t know how much longer I can fake it.

I wish I had a daughter, who would sit and

listen, and forgive me in the

way only daughters can.

Instead, I sit with my laptop

facing a bank of windows with a

view of a mountain,

snow flurries in the sun.
I’m encountering many me’s, from many times,
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I walk into a Greek amphitheater
in Corinth, and my many selves are sitting on the old blocks
of stone, twitching, and I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”
And we all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.

The First


The leap into the unknown
It was in the fall of seventh grade.
A bunch of us piled into a friend’s car.
I remember lots of laughing, goofing around.
Nearly new teenagers filled with the thrill of being alive.
A girl with jet-black hair I’d known since first grade squeezed in
Next to me and the entire length of her thigh
pressed into mine by the crush of bodies in the back seat.
I fell in love for the first time.
Just like that.

We never dated, and it wasn’t long before my
family moved overseas and our paths never crossed again. .

Continue reading “The First”

Skidding By A Woods On A Snowy Evening*


 

car-overturned-in-snow-583648880-57e9c59d5f9b586c35079f79

 

Whose tracks those are I think I know
His auto’s by trees yonder, though;
He cannot see me skidding past
(His windows buried deep in snow.) 

My Subaru must think it queer
To try to stop in any gear
Trapped ‘tween ditch and looming truck
Whee! First ice storm in this crappy year!

Safety brakes cause wheels to shake
Miss the truck? ‘Tis a grim sweepstake
The only other sound the squeals
Of a useless scream and semi’s brakes.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
And I now wish I’d picked the Jeep,
But tears’ll freeze if now I weep,
But tears’ll freeze if now I weep.

*With apologies to Robert Frost

The Waters


coast_stones_sea_water_sky_mountain_island_ultra_3840x2160_hd-wallpaper-149153

The water rubs the stone

Soft and cool, or fast and hot.

Day upon day.

The stone’s contours shift and soften

Day upon day.

Stone surrenders stone in cautious ways,

To become a mountain in the ocean deep someday.

10 million years is as nothing to the stone,

Or the water, rubbing each other day by day by day.

There is no place on Earth water cannot go

And where water goes, it changes things

There is no place you cannot go.

The sharp edges of the world are always dissolving

Reappearing in new arrangements, new places

Conjured by the patient, soft rubbing of the waters.

Be like the water, rubbing the contours smooth,

Dissolving one thing to patiently build another.

Day upon day upon day.

A Pause


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

It has just struck me that I have left my old house
But have forgotten where the new one is.
Inconvenient.
Let me stand here for a moment,
Have a drink and pet the dog. Maybe
It would do me some good to
Listen to the sound of the big creek,
Scraping patiently along the banks
In November when the land is bare,
Not caring where it goes, or why,
Just going along according to it’s nature
Carrying secrets and dreams we toss in
Whispering its own deep ones back at us
Washing the fish and mud and secrets from here to somewhere else.
Maybe, if I listen hard enough, it will tell me
Where–or how– it is I need to be, to be more fully myself.

@Spill_words

Spillwords: “What It Is Not”


It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.

I think you can handle it, though.  (Photo: Pat Mansell)

http://spillwords.com/what-it-is-not/

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-8-27-47-am

 

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…

So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””

A Ghostling, in Training


Republished for Halloween. 

Ghost

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, 
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy….

I didn’t think it would be like this.
I could have been convinced, mind you,
But I was skeptical, in a benign way.
Unmoved except by facts, I said.
“Show me a ghost; I can’t take your word for it.
Continue reading “A Ghostling, in Training”

The Water Cycle


A stream changes things

The soul
Of the Water Cycle
Is in the eternal leveling of
Everything.

Operating in deep time,
Beyond the span of human empires,
A single drop of water spends
3,230 years in the ocean,
Then rises on the winds, floating free
For months, years, until it runs
Into the rain catcher claws of the mountain.
And inch by inch, mile by mile,
Hour by month by years by centuries….
It falls, always seeking
The ocean again,
Pulling the mountain down
With it.

Not Jesus In A Pop-Up Camper, But…


Journey
@Spill_words

It wasn’t Jesus in a popup camper, but it was alright.

I am, in a word, astonished.
I find myself home after 50 years on the road.
I’ve endured, mainly ordinary disappointments,
some worse than that.

But all that is stored in albums on the shelf.
If I had a fireplace, I’d build a fire and sit,
With a big dog I don’t have, and a cat or two,
And flip through the memories again,
Sipping brandy and smoking a pipe I don’t have,
Since I quit smoking.

I have wiped the spider webs from the door
Cleaned the musty rooms
Thrown out that rotten food left in the ‘fridge.
Cleaned the basement and attic of
Things that don’t matter.
(And maybe never did.)
There’s still more to do,
But the old place waited patiently, and now is livable.
I’ve written about all that.

I was away longer than planned,
Living under the perverse and immutable rule of
The Law of Unintended Consequences,
The law of the Universe, as written:

“It shall be impossible to control everything. 
Even if you control almost everything,or 
Nearly everything—more than anyone else ever has,
or ever will—”

There will always be something you miss. 
And just because it’s fun to fuck with you,
This one thing will be the thing that screws you over.
Every time.”

A slow learner, it took most of my life to learn the rule.
The trip? A long, loopy, spastic waking fever-dream,
Out around the sun, slingshot back, coasting through
The cold void, the silence, alone,
To Mars and her moons, and back again,
To the past, to the future, and landing in the present,
Only to cross wilderness and water,
Barren desert and lush mountains.
Guess how much of that was on purpose.

The whole thing was shot through with wanting and
Emptiness and hidden vibrations and distant lights,
Filled with many corners, inevitable surprises around each,
And over and over, I met myself, wanting.
More. Different.
Understanding little at the time but driven by wanting.

The sea moves always, the wind moves always,
I want and I want and there is no end to my wanting.

I spun out and out, and around and around and down,
And, finally, ended where I began.

Now? The forms are all completed, the reports filed.
I am free. One manacle after another has been cut away.
I have nothing useful to do, and none can tell me to do it

I walk the buckled sidewalks of the old neighborhood.
A little hurt that no one asks for my autograph.
They don’t know, or care, about the journey.

But the children and I listen when the birds
Sit in the trees and sing like crystal and soar free,
Wishing we were with them,
Dreaming of soaring, singing high above the Earth.

This will take some adjustment.
I don’t know the lingo any more,
The streets have changed,
The Blankenships next door got old, died,
And the kids living in their house
Don’t care where I’ve been.
Difference is dangerous, they’ve learned.
And even though I know I belong—or did—
They give me wide berth,
Laugh and run away
Shouting in an unknown, yet faintly familiar language.

Inhabiting the skin of my most advanced age yet is
The strangest feeling, sometimes.
Inside I’m still young, curious, horny and wistful.
Still wanting, but not any more sure than
Ever what would satisfy the need.
Then I look in the mirror and see
A stranger with mileage, a certain weariness… but me .

I wish I could grow one magic eye,
Able to see the truth of things,
And yet not despair.
But maybe I found a seed of it on the trip,
And while it needs a little tending,
There is occasionally some magic in it.

And that pleases me.

Everything I’ve done, everything and everyone
I’ve known; the friends, the enemies;
The broken bodies I left in my wake,
All the times I failed to just be kind,
(When it would have cost me nothing),
Or to learn from my mistakes,

If any of it had been different,
Even something small I didn’t notice at the time,
The story would have been entirely different.

So tonight, I’ll live the story I imagine,
By the imaginary fireplace, with
The imaginary brandy and dog and cats,
And flip through the old album, the only thing
That’s real, and let the truth rise.

That’s all I ever really wanted.

 

Breadcrumbs in Rapids


©Doug Stanfield 2014

The sound of a train’s horn somewhere in the valley at night

Creamy thighs flashing under a summer dress, cool and molten at the same time

The smell of coffee when the sun is just over the mountain

A robin hatched by the kitchen door, back in the yard, hunting, says ‘hello’

The look of an old door, the view out a window, an old house that shelters me

Fireflies in June that send me back to a more innocent time

Old places, ancient sorrows, hot winds across a desert far away

The way a tree moves under the hand of an invisible thing

The way the sun sometimes comes up like thunder,

The cacophony of voices– lonely, lusting, lost– thinking they’re the only ones

A dream, impossible, conjures up a past life, of running in the jungle to simplicity

Good times, lifelong loves, the joy of hearts connecting,

Seeing the ordinary for the first time, realizing it is extraordinary…..

All….

Breadcrumbs cast out on a moving stream, shining for a moment, floating on…

 

 

The Hanging Road


The Hanging Road, the path in the sky the owls follow from the world to the Camp of the Dead
The Hanging Road in Cheyenne belief is the path that owls (see, this idea is not from Harry Potter!) follow to carry messages back and forth from the Land of the Living  to the Camp of the Dead

The rider and horse moved onto the narrow path into the wilderness, to Cloud Peak,
In the mountains of the Big Horn sheep, to where the Old Ones hold council.

Her hooves were sure–More sure than his heart. This
She sensed, so the big brown mare gave him loan of hers.

Her breath blew in gusts as the path steepened and the air thinned.
The shadows of the pines grew darker, the air chilled.

The day sank into the west behind the peaks, hour on hour, step by step,
Into the camp of tomorrows, into the undiscovered country.

Continue reading “The Hanging Road”

Summer Sounds


 

10334420_477963595736461_9042973705824638941_nCicadas, and the birds that hunt them.

A neighbor’s lawnmower.

The whisper of the maple leaves in a cool morning breeze.

A dog, barking for show somewhere over there.

A catch in the air, ever so faint, a momentary pause.

News of the first real cold front coming down out of Canada.

The fat rump of late summer has settled in, humid and hot.

But if you listen–and if you tend to see the rain cloud in every silver lining, like me,

You sip your morning coffee and listen harder, feel the breezes more,

Because we know in our bones that everything moves on,

That only a fool would have lived his life in hard pursuits

Without realizing that all those moments, like this fleeting one,

Only come once and are gone, as surely as heavy ol’ Summer

Will rise one day soon and move on south, making room

For other precious and holy moments that need attention, as this one does.

Hope


Sometimes there’s nothing to go on but hope.

No proof, no guarantees. No winning lottery ticket. No rescue in the nick of time. No heroes to fix everything in a perfect 42-minute format, just after the last commercial.

Just hope. Just the kind of desperate courage that comes from nothing left to lose.

Maybe it’s the days in late winter when it begins to feel like nothing is going to thaw. Something quickens despite all the evidence, Despite all the weight of cold experience. Something feels the long rhythms, Something stirs in the depths of cold nights. Something that has been asleep, but shivers awake, when the moment is right.

Hope. That’s all there is. That’s all there’s ever been. Foolish, delusional, ridiculous, irrational. Just hope. Something no one can steal. When everything else is stripped away, When everything is gone, and you don’t even have a psychic quarter left to make a phone call (and there aren’t even any pay phones left, anyway.)
But there’s something…. something down there.

Do you feel it, too?

Maybe. Just maybe.

We’ve Done What Was Asked


sailboat

 

Jib sweeps the horizon, wake’s a long bubbling flow,
Storms uncounted I’ve weathered, bleak terrors I’ve known.
My passage, I see, leaves no trace at all.
What good is’t to linger, then the words: “Let it go.”

The ship sluices onward, destination unknown,
Taut cables weave ’round me, they sing, snap and moan,
Mast bends, prow plunges, new gusts arrive,
The water’s hiss climbs, the sea knows her own.

Through the darkness she takes me, my eyes crusted blind,
Brine’s coated me, it seems, for three times out of mind.
I pray for the sight of rare stars thru mist,
And dream fitfully of old friends left behind.

Each dawn brings the thought, despite what is past,
We’ll find calm water and fair shore at long last.
Still, my body is one with the ship ‘neath my hand,
Both battered and worn, we’ve done what was asked.

©Hemmingplay 2015

 

Voyage

Yes


MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng

Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.

Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.

Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length

Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.

Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in  song.

*inspired by
https://erinsandlin0.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/the-adventure-in-a-little-yes/

The Gods Must Change


lost-city-of-heracleion-egypt-franck-goddio-1
Photograph by Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation / Christoph Gerigk 1,200 years ago the ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion disappeared beneath the Mediterranean. Founded around 8th century BC, well before the foundation of Alexandria in 331 BC, it is believed Heracleion served as the obligatory port of entry to Egypt for all ships coming from the Greek world.

“One day things will change. One day men will change. But first, Alexander, the gods much change.”

 

Ordinary Things


empty-cardboard-boxes-871284454700h9dU

Ordinary things be time machines,
Containing important futures.
Surprising links to before-times.

A cardboard box that held a cheap microwave,
This morning.
Taking scissors to slice along the seam of the bottom,
Pulling to break the hold the staples had,

Breaking it down…

I was 16 again, back in the storeroom
Of the S&H Green Stamps store in my hometown,
Along Main Street. There were trees along all the streets.
My first real job.
I unloaded semi-loads of stuff, boxes of stuff,
Stuff frugal people would order from catalogues,
Or walk into the store to buy with their
Carefully saved booklets of stamps.

Choosing, pushing the booklets forward like money,
Walking out with a toaster or a toolkit or a set of sheets.

So, I unloaded trucks, unpacked these things and
Put them on warehouse shelves
On the days when the trucks made deliveries
In the alley behind the store. I learned what the backsides of ordinary things looked like.

My boss taught me where things went,
(And you have a dirty mind. It was nothing like that—
Although it would have been nice to be guided
Into manhood by an older woman who cared.)

She told me what it meant to work, be there on time,
Tolerated my teenage awkwardness, trained me bit by bit,
Was firm when I failed, gentle when I tried, smiled when I needed encouragement,
Showed me how a business ran.

Talked to me about important things when things were slow,
Let me know that adults had problems, too,
Told me stories about lessons she’d learned, about
Marriage, about living. I still remember one thing,
That helped me later on. I knew it was important then, and
Held onto it somehow.

“No matter who you marry, and how much in love you are,
There will be days when you look at that person and wonder
‘what in the world did I see in them?’
The important thing is what you do next,” she said. And
Chuckled with a hint of sadness.

She did that from time to time, and laughed, at herself, at life.
Shaking her head, and getting back to work.
That’s where I learned life was in the living, moving through it.

In cardboard boxes and shelving and in the company
Of older, kinder, competent people.
I wish I could remember her name.
She was not as old as my mother, with brown hair and kind but shrewd eyes,
She taught me how to do a job, made me better, scoffed at my bullshit,
Was real and practical and beautiful.

So when the trucks came on Wednesdays,
I unloaded them, trucked boxes inside, unpacked and stocked the shelves,
But the last thing on those hard days was to take a knife,
Slice them apart and change them into flat things,
Ready to be removed, their function served.
No longer holding someone’s precious

New microwave, or tool kit or sheets made of Egyptian cotton,
Ordinary again. But so much more.

 

Serenity? If Only


If only...
If only…

It is beautiful, is it not?
Utterly calm, soothing, serene.
If only I felt that way,
Or knew what it was like.

I float for a moment,
Feeling the calm,
If only I could have the Grace
To leave it at that.

Instead, my brain is churning
Wondering why something
Built for movement, for air and sea,
Is alone and still
Like some discarded refrigerator.

If only that made sense…

My nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses;

The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite—the beatific vision—God—I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life—it’s like a passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have— it is the actual spring of life within me.
—B. Russell

 

 

 

Desire’s Illusions


IMG_1723

Chase we, all,
Things that glitter and shimmer,
Things that slither up against us,
Like a lovely someone in a short skirt on a street corner,
Smelling of perfume and friendly virtue.

Yet even when our desires are met
We are unfulfilled, more hollowed than before.
Phantoms dissolve, mocking
Such foolish mortals as we.

Such an old, old story.

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood,
And by taking the one most traveled by,
Can we ever
Retrace our steps, and take that other path.
The truer one,
The one that could make all the difference?

Invisible Travelers


1019-HOFO-UMIGRATE
Birds against a Supermoon. Sergei Grits/AP

Early morning is the best time  to see the distant, busy world come awake.
Before dawn, with the sun finding them before he finds the world,
The criss-crossed ribbons of smoke five miles above
Are turned to neon ice from behind
While we drink our coffee, sit on the step and smoke,
Looking to the east. To the coming brilliance of another dawn.
At the dozens of contrails already streaking the sky, turning reddish and pink and
Changing shades of pastel fire.

Contrails

In one of the busiest flyways anywhere, all the overcrowded metal tubes
Leaving Newark, Philadelphia, La Guardia, Kennedy, Boston for
Tokyo, San Francisco, Seattle, Beijing and LA. pass silently overhead, and are soon gone.

But sometimes sleep won’t come, and I also sit on that step in the quiet hours.
The day’s high travelers are still somewhere else, and the sky is serene,
The crescent moon is already nearly set, the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades wink
In their cold, virginal nunnery, wanting to pull a cloak around themselves for warmth.
Orion is in its winter place, militant, telling me the cold months are coming soon,
As if the bite in the air weren’t enough.

But sometimes this time of year, an hour or two past midnight, when the trucks
On the distant interstate are finally silent, the hum and puzzle of restless
Humanity staggers into fitful, resentful sleep,
I can just make out, faintly, tweets and calls, carried on the cold air
From hundreds, or maybe a couple of thousand feet overhead.
Some nights there are none, but some nights there is a steady feeling of
A dark river moving above, and, sometimes,
The noise is clear enough to tell that
Last night, it was a flight of Canada Geese ploughing the air to the south,
To winter feeding ponds in Louisiana,
In the rich mangrove swamps of Florida,
Near the Sea Islands of coastal Georgia.

I don’t know all the calls, and at night there aren’t a lot of them.
It’s a serious business, after all. Nothing to sing about, flying on
Through the night, thousands of miles.
But there is some calling and response. Just enough to make sure that
The flock is nearby, and safe, that you’re safe,
Headed in the right direction.
Save the energy for the trip.
Do nothing more to let a lone human–
Sitting in the dark far below, looking up past you at the stars,
Wondering what one has to do to get some sleep–
Even notice, most of the time, that thousands of you are passing.

But I imagine buntings and Baltimore orioles, scores of streaky brown
Song sparrows, and dozens of jewel-toned warblers–
Northern parulas, black-throated greens, magnolias, and all the rest.
I’ve learned that songbirds migrate at night, in great rivers,
But they do not sing. Not then. Singing comes later.
But for now, they’re leaving us, heading to warmer waters,
Plentiful food, easier living and rest.

Singing is better on a branch in the warm sun of the tropics, sipping the
Sweet juices of some overripe papaya, or tasting the white meat of a succulent nut,
Feeling the thrill of life, the search for a mate, the joy that bubbles up unbidden
When wheeling above a sun-splashed sparkle of blue and green.

I can sense them flowing past, tonight, and it saddens me.
There aren’t as many as there were a few short weeks ago.
I know what’s coming, and there’s no changing that.
But they’ll be back, full of tales of adventures,
They will sing the story of the great Wheel of life, of the turning
Of the seasons, of renewal that comes after a testing.

I will be waiting. I hope it’s not too long.

Γνώθι σεαυτὸν


Those words,

Γνώθι σεαυτὸν

were carved more than 2500 years ago on the temple of Apollo at Delphi (Only the columns are left). But it must have been important. Those old Greeks didn’t γαμώ around about with what they carved on temples, especially at Delphi. 

1024px-Columns_of_the_Temple_of_Apollo_at_Delphi,_Greece
“Columns of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, Greece” by Patar knight – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Columns_of_the_Temple_of_Apollo_at_Delphi,_Greece.jpeg#/media/File:Columns_of_the_Temple_of_Apollo_at_Delphi,_Greece.jpeg

The Romans noticed and translated the Greek to the Latin phrase, “Nosce te ipsum”

Six hundred years or so ago, a family adopted the Latin version as a motto for its coat of arms, which is also a commandment for future generations.

0100photo

I heard the stories when very young, and looked around …

She had been a beauty, but her life was marked by a broken home and some dark secrets—

Still she was deep, iron-willed, smart.

He, sprung of a king’s bastard somewhere in the misty mists, was shaped by unending work in the fields, and laughter, and curiosity—

Brilliant, a passion to be an artist, a teacher, a thinker, a prankster.

They were children of a different time, and products, too, of hunger and fear; children of the last century, proud, tough.

Long memories of family, faith, war, terrible losses, sacrifice, duty and honor.

And “Know Thyself” was in the air, always, floating up in the corner near the ceiling.

Myths. Major myths. What family doesn’t have ’em?

 

Dancer #6: Going All Blue


Dancer 7 Blue Exlosion
Photo: Alexander Yakovlev. (I took some liberties with the blue filter in Photoshop)

Like an explosion of elemental particles,
Thrusting up with grace and power;
With arms cocked and balanced, ready to strain to Heaven;
Tender curves coiled, tensed, aligned, ready to fill the void with creation.
The eye pulls my spirit into the fertile chaos of life.
Courage, at last.
I step out into the fog, put the first foot on the dusty road, lightly, risking everything.

 

Alley Time


tedHouse

I walked the dog at dusk down the alley behind our house last night. It was just after the sun had slid behind the mountain and the light shifted to that peculiar deep shade where daytime things start fading into the shadows.

The growing gloom entices the frightened from their burrows, and we hear the quick shuffling of the leaves as a critter darts, stops, listens, darts, stops, eats, listens for sudden death. The dog hears other things I cannot, and strains against the leash, blood rushing to her ears, hunter’s heart quickening. If I let her loose, she would visit swift destruction on anything too slow to escape. It is her nature.

I sympathize, but keep her tethered, sympathizing with those potential victims more.

The wide, quiet back yards exude an air of solidity and age, guarded by huge oaks and elms and Copper Beech and towering, dour Hemlocks. They show a different face than the fronts do. Back here, there is less grooming, less concern with status and social norms. Here, tools are left leaning against sheds to rust by older residents no longer able to care. Here, the grass isn’t cut quite as often, and Nature has more of a presence.

Old carriage house doors sag against rusting hinges, grass and weeds grow in some yards, and you can read the signs.

There is one place with a brick barbecue pit that is covered by vines and wild bushes, with roots growing through mortar joints weakened by rain and too many winter nights. It has been 40 years since the kids and their cousins and friends grew up there, give or take a decade. The grandkids are already away at college or playing in a rock band, or married and living in Baltimore or California. They don’t visit the old people any more.

They did, once. They spent summers there learning about themselves, exploring the same back yard their parent(s) had, basking in the tolerant love of grandparents who learned lessons the hard way. But the visits gradually slowed until they stopped altogether, and the laughter of children stopped.

The grandparents have grown old, and maybe one has died, but the vines and wild overgrowth says they no longer believe in parties in the yard in the summer night, when children’s excited cries bounced off neighbors’  houses from a game of hide-and-seek in a pretend jungle full of scary possibilities.

The adults in that remembered, lost time sat in a circle of chairs with drinks in their hands, talking about football and schools and trips and heartbreaks and that cousin or sister everyone thinks is crazy. Those nights when a picnic table was loaded with food everyone has brought, flickering torches made shadows dance on the canopy of leaves overhead, on the lilac bush by the corner of the house. The scene could have been from an ancient campfire on the Mongolian plain, or in the forests of Europe 10,000 years ago, and only the clothes would be different.

The smoke from the bricked fire, the smell of roasting steaks and hotdogs and hamburgers and sweetcorn kept some bugs away and drew others to the feast, and made the children hungry enough to come in from the game, complaining about someone who cheated, and scratching at mosquito bites.

I stopped last night by the ruins , felt the passage of time, and savored the way life’s sweetest times are so fleeting, and all the sweeter for that, in that relentless, broad, slow flow of the River of the Present into the future.

The dog wants to follow a scent into the underbrush, but I tug on the leash and she gives up and trots down the alley ahead, head down, looking for something to chase. It is her nature.

Hedgehog’s Dilemma


Igel01

What a prickle of hedgehogs we are,
Ultimately alone, denying the brutal reality of that,
Compulsively looking for love,
For warmth and deep tenderness,
For a touch that says “Come to me. I see you as you are.”
For a look that says
“Let’s mix it up but good, buster!
Let’s leave the sheets damp, the room smoldering and the neighbors jealous.”
All the while bristly with defenses: automatic, deadly.

When we are close enough, and when the sheets have dried;
When we’re drinking coffee and cursing traffic jams;
When silences grow; when the unknowns press against the window,
There come in under the door the sounds of small clawed feet,
Snuffling old things, blind and dangerous things.
Things we’d rather keep hidden.
From ourselves.
From each other.

What a prickle of hedgehogs we are,
Driven together, driven apart, dancing on the points
And finding a way.

 

Expensive Mistakes


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An old printer has sat in the dark
In my oldest’s neglected closet
For seven years,

Broken
Barely usable for a year
Before it was replaced.

$400 was the cost. I remember things like that,
Which tells you something…
Mainly that my parents survived
The Great Depression and WWII,
And it was “waste not, want not,”
Every damned day.

If I were to throw that printer out,
It would mean admitting that I spent

Unwisely.
I can hear the disapproval even now.
Expensive mistakes have taught even me, finally.

A printer isn’t the worst of it, as much as
Falling hard for the wrong person,
(And who hasn’t done that?);
Or falling for the right person at the wrong time,
Or failing to see moments of joy inside pain;
Or not learning that true courage means acting despite great fear.

Or living too much on the surface of things;
And choosing blindness to the gift that is each day;
Or letting life make me ever smaller inside,
Instead of choosing the wisdom of wide arms,
Embracing the passing parade while it lasts.

The printer in the closet needs to go,
Because even expensive mistakes
Must be forgiven.

Last Answers


Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg

by Carl Sandburg

 I wrote a poem on the mist
And a woman asked me what I meant by it.
I had thought till then only of the beauty of the mist,
 how pearl and gray of it mix and reel,
And change the drab shanties with lighted lamps at evening
 into points of mystery quivering with color.

 I answered:
The whole world was mist once long ago and some day
 it will all go back to mist,
Our skulls and lungs are more water than bone and
 tissue
And all poets love dust and mist because all the last
 answers
Go running back to dust and mist.