In the Center


An end comes, eventually.

I struggle with that. Don’t you?

But hear me out.

I dreamt once of my age, at my ending.

Not too close, still closer than it used to be.

Later, when a terrible loss tore me in two,

It also reminded me that,

Even as to the most exquisite flower,

death will come.

Without an ending, in the race

To leave something of note behind,

Living has little meaning.

Time is precious, time is short.

From my center this made a

Great fountain spring forth,

Sometimes clear and cold,

Sometimes bitter like the Dead Sea,

Sometimes deep endless blue, like the Pacific,

It is a lash; it is a comfort.

It is a river for the journey.

It makes a shore to walk along,

measured by the waves.

Mere weeping makes less the

Depth of grief, yet

Time is a nurse and the bringer of all good.

All the while, in the center, a wellspring

Lives. For a while longer.

Lifting Stones


This is an odd occupation.

Lift a stone to see what’s beneath,

Write a few heavy words,

Stare at the

Damp past,

Watch secrets scuttle,

Blinking in unwelcome light.

Lift the words, too, that want to

Dawn with each day

And pile them in a cairn, mark the

Trail and keep on.

No idea if another solitary pilgrim will chance past,

Maybe years from now,

Pause a moment, then

Reveal their own hidden things, share,

Lift a stone,

Add to the record.

Move on.

Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

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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

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
6,000 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.

Early in my seventh 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 had cancer 6 times and
is gone,
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.

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.

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.

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.

Hitting the High Notes


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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 encounter many me’s
in various stages of becoming.

It’s as though I enter
a Greek amphitheater
in ancient Corinth,
my many selves sit on the old
blocks of stone, twitching.
I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.
Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”

We all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.

Waters


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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.

Dissolving one thing to patiently build another.

Day upon day upon day.

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,

You feel the breezes more,

Everything moves on,

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.

Blind Luck


Galaxy copy

Most of what we are is due to blind luck. Who our DNA donors were, where we were born. We’re all like trout fingerlings hauled in tanker trucks to the cold stream water running from the mountains to the sea. We’re dumped in the running water, slapped on the ass and told, “There, now go find the ocean.”

We get our hair color and complexions from the primordial soup of couplings beyond counting back thousands and thousands of years. Sex. All the way to Africa. That nose? You’re third great-great grandfather had that nose—not that anyone remembers now, of course. Except you’re carrying it around like a fleshy legacy of an anonymous donor. And you don’t know that he pointed that nose north, into Indian country, and followed it to some good land in the Ohio Territory. He built a cabin and planted corn, and raised 8 children out of 12 that were born. He got that nose from a great-grandmother, a woman who’s ancestors had once lived in castles and worn silk, until some damned fool backed the wrong duke or earl and lost it all.

And then her grandfather listened to a preacher who said all that finery was an illusion, that God was calling down a different path. He listened. He thought. He looked around and saw that all was not right with the affairs of man, and stepped out onto that path. Everything changed after that. Except for the nose.

The world is full of people who claim to have the final answers, and will kill you if you disagree.

But life is an irony, and a glorious river of possibilities, like the stars of the Milky Way marching across the night sky. It’s all blind luck. An accident of birth puts each of us in a specific place and time, with a unique mixture of enzymes and proteins and potentials. Any of us could just as easily been born a Hindu or Apache, a pauper or a king; the mother of nations or a servant girl. A Chinese peasant in 640 BC. or Alexander the Flippin’ Monster. But we weren’t. We were born us. All the same. All different.

The randomness bothers some people. And it should. Because underneath it all is a vast, unplanned future. That’s scary. We’re just poor little fish dumped into a cold stream, learning as we go, trying to follow our noses back to the oceans of our beginnings.

If you want to explore more strangeness: https://hemmingplay.com/2015/11/02/the-egg

For Posterity
Three Coins in the Fountain

The Sound of Silence


Admiring the Silence_by Serban Bogdan

One step into the powder,
The air glints with drifting crystal, the trees silent.

Two steps into the powder, then three, then more.
I stop, still my breathing.

My ears strain to find a sound in the
Presence, the white silence
That shrouds the world.

Frozen trees dusted in white, dark underneath,
Mark my passing not at all.

But these are my tracks in the powder,
Drawn deeper into the empty frozen silence,
The swishing sound of my boots in the powder
Sink into the drifts.

 

 

Hard Lives


Life is hard. I’ve always heard that,
But thought it had to be cinematic to be true.
You know, like it had to have a music score by John Williams  and play on the big screen.

A friend decided this week to separate from her husband;
They have two small children and a house to sell.
Its winter, and the market is soft.
So, they’ll be living together there for a while, knowing
The marriage is over but unable to move on.
The screaming matches have evaporated from mutual exhaustion,
The warring parties withdraw to separate bedrooms to
Wait for Spring, for the lawyers, for a miracle.

Another’s wife had abdominal surgery,
another’s daughter is struggling with a devastating cosmetic disease,
another’s child is drifting through life, and her mother worries.

A week ago, a 96-year-old woman went through the last chapter and scenes of her life:
A stroke, a fall, pain, sedation, confusion, fear, loneliness;
Her daughter shoulders a burden she has carried before, four times,

With her husband, husband’s parents (both with dementia and in separate rooms in the nursing home) and an aunt.

Walking with them in their last ghastly hours. Sacrifice without complaint.
Then, when life seemed to offer a little
Love for her, that was taken away, too.
She found him in his home
When he failed to show up for dinner.
Life is hard.
She seemed to shrink after that.
What’s the use, her body said.

A distant acquaintance gets the flu and, through a series of
Freak accidents, breaks several toes while throwing up.
Then loses her job, just before finding out that her husband
Has been unfaithful with a teller at the local bank and it all comes pouring out,
How much he hates her. She never knew.

Months later, before the divorce is final, the last is that she learns he’s given her a little bug for a present.

Another friend  is dropped during a community theater rehearsal while being carried offstage
and shatters several bones in one leg. Months of recovery and rehab and dreariness ensue.

Healing takes so much longer now.
Life. So hard.

A friend watches yet again as disease erodes the spirit of
His mate and best friend of decades.
Long nights in the darkness, wondering if her breathing
will stop this time… or this time… or this time…
He falls asleep, finally, and wakes at dawn in a panic.
Her chest is moving up and down. This day, like the others,
Will be hard. Nothing to do but get through it. Weeks need to pass.
He lays his head back on the pillow and stares at the ceiling.
Feels his advancing age and
Fears his own decay, he wants to quit, to leave.
He think about the restorative power of new love, could he have it?
But he cannot abandon his first when she needs him most.
There is no one to comfort him, no one to care for the caregiver.
No one likes a whiner. He is silent.
A shower. Helping her to the bathroom. Helping her dress. Holding her. Going to work.

These are the scenes of quiet desperation in ordinary lives. Not cinematic, not grand, not all that unusual.
These are our lives, We’re busy with our lives. Our regular lives.

Full of pain and delusion and quiet courage, full of sorrows and sins and weaknesses, too.
And if any pollster wants to check the country’s mood,
They need to find a way to measure the kind of courage it takes
To face every dawn and keep going. Meanwhile, it’s fine for us to
tell the pundits and pollsters and politicians and other vermin like them,
You need to
Simply.
Go.
Away.

We’re busy with important things.