The Exposed Nest


Robert Frost

By Robert Frost

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

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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”

A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness


I’m racing the inevitable,
my only weapon an
optimistic fantasy
of permanent youthfulness.

The 1970s are to blame.
My generation is to blame.
We started this crap,
pretending we could play
where, before,
only teenagers and children could.

In my head, I’m still about 32,
on a stone patio of
a casino in Saint Tropez, in sandals,
skimpy swimming trunks,
Continue reading “A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness”

A Perfect Kennedy Moment


Somehow, I seem to have

awakened a couple of decades late.

OK, OK. It’s been longer than that… 

The point is,

I missed my perfect Kennedy moment,

That one where we get

to die when we still look fantastic

and are always remembered that way,

while the rest of the gang

gets old and wrinkly and smells bad.

So long, Camelot.

I hardly knew ye.

Borrowed Dust*


This body’s nothing but
borrowed dust
Animated—somehow.

Flitting from who knows
what to who
knows where.

I like how we
guess about our
destination, though.
It shows optimism.
We’re nothing if not plucky.

My own guess
is that the truths
are greater than anything
we’ve dreamt
from fear and need.
I could be wrong.

But we’re here.
That’s all we know
for sure.
Until Nature washes us away.
Or not.
Wait with me,
be brave…
we’ll find out.

The Voice of Things


Thomas Hardy 1840-1928

by Thomas Hardy

Forty years—aye, and several more—ago,
When I paced the headlands loosed from dull employ,
The waves huzza’d like a multitude below,
In the sway of an all-including joy
Without cloy.

Blankly I walked there a double decade after,
When thwarts had flung their toils in front of me,
And I heard the waters wagging in a long ironic laughter
At the lot of men, and all the vapoury
Things that be.

Wheeling change has set me again standing where
Once I heard the waves huzza at Lammas-tide;
But they supplicate now—like a congregation there
Who murmur the Confession—I outside,
Prayer denied.

25,000 days


I’ve managed to make it through almost 25,000 days

by accidentally avoiding fatal incidents.

The first 23,756 (or so) I was rushing from one to the next,

believing, without evidence, that my presence was required.

But lately, I’ve been wondering what all the hurry was for.

At my age, I’ve become convinced that time needs to be slowed down,

and that the cheapest way to do that is to pretend

the clocks and calendars are all wrong.

The alternative — that I’m largely irrelevant, or just a mild irritant — is

too unpleasant–to consider.

My dog’s strategy is to sleep over there, twitching, dreaming,

reliving the exciting chase of a squirrel this morning.

She seldom catches one in these dreams. Neither do I.

Packing For The Trip


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When the sun comes up tomorrow,
it still won’t care about our little passions,
but we’ll look up, hopeful as puppies, and think it does.

Whatever the size of our apartment or tent or mansion,
we fill the available closets like we’re packing
for a long, long trip and will need all that debris.

I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite, knowing I’ll exit as
naked as the day I arrived, but cling to
my comforts and sense of ownership anyway.

My boys will someday go through what’s left,
hold up broken reading glasses or
socks with no mates, raise an eyebrow:
“Why did that crazy old man keep this?”

“I don’t know,” I’ll say from the ceiling,
already starting to dissolve from the solid world,
“But I thought I might need them someday.”

 

Let Me Go


by Christina Georgina Rossetti

When I come to the end of the road
and the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
and not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
and each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
a step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.

When I am dead my dearest
sing no sad songs for me
plant thou no roses at my head
nor shady cypress tree
be the green grass above me
with showers and dewdrops wet
and if thou wilt remember
and if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not fear the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
sing on as if in pain;
and dreaming through the twilight
that doth not rise nor set,
haply I may remember,
and haply may forget.

Endings


Pronounced ‘Gnosti you autvn’ , σεαυτόν γνῶθι, carved into the temple of Apollo at Delphi. In Latin, it is ‘Nosce the ipsum’. The message is the same: “Know Thyself”.

Is it possible, can a young person understand what real loss feels like?

It takes the heartbreak of puppy love; a betrayal of trust once…. or twice…or thrice; the death of a beloved grandparent, a classmate ripped from this world by being in the wrong place at the wrong time on a Friday night. Personal failure and the recovery of confidence. Or not.

If we’re not too self-centered, an awareness grows that the world is a complicated place, that people are not all good– or bad.

Time teaches the hard lessons. Losses accumulate like a negative balance in the account books, offset by the joys and happiness that are piling up, too. Life is a double-entry balance sheet. The numbers seldom lie as much as we do.

No one else can really make us happy. No one else can break us without our help. Things are beginning and ending all the time. The world was before us, and will go on long after we are gone. Even the most famous of us will be forgotten. Do you know the name of the Mongol general who fathered many of the children of conquered Russia from captives who were brought before him–in tears, or fears, or with calculating or admiring eyes–night after night? Even the descendents don’t know him.

Or the name of history’s first real musician?

We are both unique and utterly the same: the first and only us that ever was. But others like us wandered the forests of prehistory, or the markets of medieval Paris, or leapt off Viking boats with flashing steel and a roar, or cowered inside during Roman raids. Generations of our line may have labored anonymously in slavery, or murdered and plundered and raped. Yet some of them had the same nose, the same way funny little laugh as we do. The same aversion to yellow vegetables. The same taste for wine. The same eyes.

Those of us who have spent time on the downslope think about these things. Most of us are fools who haven’t learned a thing, too.

If you are young, how will you write this entry when you are my age? Will you be any wiser?

Be careful how you answer.

Final

Sailing to Byzantium


W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick,
unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Now


Dancers_Sergey Sukhovey

Living in the past leads only to regrets.
Living in the future leads to worry.
Living must be embraced in the now.

The meadowlarks have returned, singing.

I may not be able to leap as high as before,
Nor run as far, or as fast….
But…
Let’s dance.

______

I’ve been away for eye surgery (all better now) and have begun working on new pieces, planning the next book and generally resuming my plan to go exploring for the next 60 years or so. Republishing this one from last year because it taps something that’s still true. 

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”

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: The Comb


 

 

 

A girl combs her grandmother’s hair, while the old woman
tries, suddenly, desperately, to remember her first kiss. The her mind slips a couple more decades back in time.

“It will be wonderful,” she sighs, in anticipation.

Her spirit surges into the past, pausing just an eye blink with the young girl.

Her granddaughter closes her eyes and shudders. She is headed into her future, but there’s something new in her now. The hand with the comb pauses, confused; continues.

Something is different. She sighs.

#nationalpoetrymonth

#amwriting

 

Time


Shameless plug: 

This is a hoot. I just got an email from the Austin International Poetry Foundation that another poem (the one below from last year) was accepted for the “Di-vêrsé-city Anthology” and they invited me to go to the festival in April to read it. (I probably won’t be able to go, unfortunately. Maybe someday.)

But you can still register and make it. Austin in April is nice.
More info: https://www.aipf.org/aipf/default.asp

 

steampunk-hourglass-passing-time-sand-hourglass-d8de33e363e9f38a

I tried skipping in and out of a
stream once
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.

We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.

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.

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.

Deadline


c0tazuexcae4r2d

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”

Talismans In The Wind


 

daro-darosyndy
Photo by DARO @darosyndy

We spend our lives
collecting things our kids
will sell in the auction.

In drawers and closets,
in dusty attics with
useless tax returns from 1992
and unused but sentimental
Christmas ornaments.
We store bits of their lives, too:

Talismans. Medicine bags. Memories
Of age 8, of high school.
It is we who can’t let go.
That rock collection,
the medals and ribbons and
papers with grades on them
high on a closet shelf
in a spare bedroom,
where we turn the heat off
in the winter because
no child sleeps there any more.
Talismans of our lives.
Little flames to light
our way for a time,
to remember,
and hold back the darkness.

Vows


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.

But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.

It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.

But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.

You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.

I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.

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”

Like Each Is Your Last


When the sun comes up like thunder
When the sun comes up like thunder

“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones

Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.

Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.

Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.

Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.

Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).

It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.

And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
must cross.

Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.

When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.

That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.

Broom


454611840
Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough.
en route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind  through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.

From: “Songs of Unreason”, 2013

Tomorrow


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by Jim Harrison

I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.

[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]

Men Improve With The Years


wbyeats

by: W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

I AM worn out with dreams;
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams;
And all day long I look
Upon this lady’s beauty
As though I had found in a book
A pictured beauty,
Pleased to have filled the eyes
Or the discerning ears,
Delighted to be but wise,
For men improve with the years;
And yet, and yet,
Is this my dream, or the truth?
O would that we had met
When I had my burning youth!
But I grow old among dreams,
A weather-worn, marble triton
Among the streams.

Birth is Fatal


Written by dear acquaintance, Dr. Moeen Masood: 

Being a doctor, I see death on a frequent basis. I have been witnessing death since before the clinical rotations of the medical school even started. Often, I would go to the mortuary whenever a dead body was brought in. Death never bothered me. It doesn’t bother me to this day. It is a fact of life. It’s a fact of living.

Not too long ago, a wise grey-haired colleague of mine taught me something new. I came out of a patient’s room and sat down on the chair at the doctor’s station with the computer in front of me. Next to me, on another chair, in front of the computer was sitting Tony, the wise grey haired colleague. I was staring at the computer screen, when he asked me what the matter was. I looked at him and told him the sad story of the Continue reading “Birth is Fatal”

Maybe It Is Time


aurora-canero_-sculptures-13
Sculpture by Aurora Canero

Maybe it is time to forgive God
For the hundreds of women
who have rejected me over the years,
Starting in third grade,
(theoretically, of course, 
whether they knew it or not.
And for the one or two who 
didn’t, but should have).

I’ve reached the point in life
too late where I
Would actually be of some
use to them,

Could gently walk forward with them without harm,
And be remembered, I trust, with generosity and a little fondness.
But I have reached the age
of their fathers,
And so, instead, have become,
regrettably, invisible.

And over there on the coasts, maybe it’s time to give hip irony the
last rites and heave-ho,
And just admit that it is as
empty and useless as
Yet another beer or Viagra
marketing campaign.

Continue reading “Maybe It Is Time”

Adolescence


To My Favorite 17-year-old High School Girl
By Billy Collins

Do you realize that if you had started building the Parthenon
on the day you were born,
you would be all done in only one more year?
Of course, you couldn’t have done that all alone.
So never mind;
you’re fine just being yourself.
You’re loved for just being you.

But did you know that at your age
Judy Garland was pulling down 150,000 dollars a picture,
Joan of Arc was leading the French army to victory
and Blaise Pascal had cleaned up his room –
no wait, I mean he had invented the calculator?
Of course, there will be time for all that
later in your life, after you come out of your room
and begin to blossom,
or at least pick up all your socks.
For some reason I keep remembering
that Lady Jane Grey was queen of England
when she was only 15.
But then she was beheaded, so never mind her as a role model.
A few centuries later,
when he was your age,
Franz Schubert was doing the dishes for his family,
but that did not keep him from composing two symphonies, four operas
and two complete masses as a youngster.
But of course, that was in Austria
at the height of Romantic lyricism,
not here in the suburbs of Cleveland.
Frankly, who cares if Annie Oakley was a crack shot at 15
or if Maria Callas debuted as Tosca at 17?
We think you’re special just being you –
playing with your food and staring into space.
By the way, I lied about Schubert doing the dishes,
but that doesn’t mean he never helped out around the house.

 

 

 

A Street


I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for

It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue

Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again

The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

–Leonard Cohen

When You Are Old


All Is Temporary

by William Butler Yeats

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,

wbyeats
W.B. Yeats

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

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.

 

A Dab of Bly (Robert, That Is)


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Robert Bly, American Poet

“I know men who are healthier at fifty than they’ve ever been before, because a lot of their fear is gone.”

____________________________

“Tonight the first fall rain washes away my sly distance.
I have decided to blame no one for my life.
This water falls like a great privacy.
Letters sink into the desk,
The desk sinks away, leaving an intelligence
Slowly learning to talk of its own suffering.
The muttering of thunder is a gift
That reverberates in the roof of the mouth.
Another gift is a child’s face in a dark room
I see as I check the house during the storm.
My life is a blessing, a triumph, a car racing through the rain.

Continue reading “A Dab of Bly (Robert, That Is)”

What If?


Dancer on Dock

What if we weren’t the responsible ones, for a change?

What if we weren’t the ones who let someone else screw up and

Kept on doing the right things?

What if we … could just run away for a while—just for a while—

To some anonymous, peaceful place where email was banned, the phone

Didn’t ring, the air was warm and we were all alone for an afternoon?

Where my heart didn’t ache,

Where there weren’t the old problems and worries,

Where we could be carefree children again, with no grownup cares?

Continue reading “What If?”

This Old House


Front Door

This old house is made of wood and paint and memories, but
Lately, the sense that our time here will end has hovered on my shoulder,
A faint melancholy of knowing that one day I will walk out one last time,
Hand the keys to someone who won’t know any of it.

That spot in the dining room wall where a teenage
Tantrum left a divot in the plaster from a chair tossed in anger.
Where the same child discovered the internet, found a girl
In California and talked up a huge long-distance phone bill.

Where B&B guests gathered from around the world
To chat at the table over Bismarks and sausages and coffee on
Their brief swing through this old house, and our lives.

Continue reading “This Old House”

She Walks in Beauty


Two Beauties
I may be closer to the end than the beginning, but I plan to stay young until I die of old age. I may have seen my last bare young bottom bouncing by for my benefit, but the reaction I have—tinged with a fondness and wistfulness profound– to the sight of the above Essences proves to me that I’m still alive. Oh, and that explains the Byron, too. 🙂

BY LORD BYRON (GEORGE GORDON)

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Standing In The Stream


MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng

Hemmingplay

I am my own worst enemy,

And my only companion.

Running images behind my eyes

Like a manic, runaway film reel.

Nothing complete, nothing but bits and confounding distractions,

Nothing but hints, rushing by, hurried and then gone,

A fucked up flurry of emotions,

Stabbing me with images, sadness, beauty and pain,

Courage and struggle and triumph.

“What is that”? “Who is she”? “What can it all mean?”

Constant frustration, knowing that I cannot

Capture a fraction of it all, standing in the gush of a stream

As salmon leap and surge all around in an orgy of

Need and creation.

And the clock keeps ticking.

The surprised wonder at some unknown beauty or distant galaxy, exploding,

Twisted sandstone canyons, galaxies found in

A young woman’s eyes.

One minute depressed, the next filled with unqualified love, desire, longing, certainty.

Then doubt.

If I were to be able to just list this passing parade,

You might turn away, embarrassed or repulsed.

You might hear an echo of your own madnesses and flittering fantasy parade,

Drawn to it, curious to know that you aren’t the only one.

But am I?

One More Time


MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng
“My soul is in the sky.” ― William Shakespeare

The signs are all around me,
The storm is raging still.
The wind brings sounds of battle,
From that far distant hill.

I thought this all was over,
I thought my race was run.
But just as I was resting,
My peaceful life’s undone.

Now one final trial:
My guts recoil in fear.
He’s coming soon, despite me,
I feel him drawing near.

 Comes weary resignation,
And anger pushing blood,
Determined to leave honor,
Where once foul evil stood.

My Happiest Time


first_landing_state_park-596x300

Someone asked today if I remembered
My happiest time.
I thought of the usual ones you’re supposed to say:
The birth of children, First love.
All happy times, and each different.

But this time the question brought back a different memory.
Forty-six years ago yesterday, it was.
Two poor college students, we married in a year of great turmoil,
Packed an old van and headed to the ocean.

This was the year the Beatles broke up,
And Janis and Jimmy died.
The year Ohio National Guard troops killed four students at  Kent State.
The year Gabriel García Márquez published One Hundred Years of Solitude,
And a U.S. stamp cost six cents.
The year Nixon invaded Cambodia.

We hardly planned anything, and were lucky we
Remembered to pack the tent and sleeping bags.
We were into winging it, letting the flat side drag in those days.
But we did have a tent and bedding. And what little I remembered
Of survival from growing up hunting and fishing on a farm,
And being a Boy Scout, which I still am, I suppose.
I told my new bride I knew enough.
It was the first time I felt like a man, like a husband,
The first time I felt responsible.
It would be fun, I said, hoping I wasn’t lying.
What a honeymoon. But it was just fine with us. We didn’t want more.

She’d never seen the ocean.
I got to show it to her as my wedding gift.
We got sunburn floating on rubber inflatable mattresses in the surf, and
Fished for crabs with chicken necks on string and a net,
We cooked them on the beach with Sterno and a dented camp pot.
She got sick at the sight of the crab guts, and doubted my supposed skills.
But we passed the days together, free as children,
Brand-new adults, wondering at our good luck.

We didn’t starve, learned how to
Cook on an open fire,
And stayed in the shade of the campground’s
Tall, dry pines and rhododendron bushes,
Falling asleep to the sound of the surf
That hissed and fretted just over the dunes.
Fooling the heat and humidity by not moving more than necessary.
Ducking into the little tent when it rained.

We were in that tent a lot that trip.
And all we had was a deck of cards and each other.
There in that little tent.

Forty-six years ago yesterday.
That was my happiest time.

We made love often, with no where else to go,
No limits on our imaginations,
Getting sand everywhere and
Working around it with determination,
We talked until dawn sometimes,
Made love when we ran out of words,
Strolled the beach at first light.
It rained every day, sometimes for hours.
And there we were, hoping for rain,
Thinking about getting back in that tent.
God, we were young.

We laughed like kids who broke into the candy store, and thought that
None of the other campers knew what were were getting up to
In that little tent,
in the rain,
in the heat and mosquitoes
In Virginia.

Companion

All is Temporary


Al otro lado del espejo

I’m nearly old, she said… to no one,
Before the mirror,
Tracing a line down her cheek
With a fingertip,
Lost in memory.

She sighs.
A chill; her soul shivers .

This is the face that boys
Longed to kiss, she remembers,
Remembering the power of it.
Yet now the boys are men, although not as many.

The face that felt the chubby caress of
Her children’s hands,
The face she could depend upon.

A breeze ruffles the curtains,
Touches the flower beside the mirror.
Her eye caresses the exquisite
Design of it,
Built for
A moment
Of perfect purpose.

“You are nearly old, too,” she says, tracing the line of the
Petal with her finger.

She smiles, newly aware…

All things must pass.
All things are temporary.

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