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.

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”

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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

 

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, ancient spirits lurch.
I’ve had to make allowances.

All through the night unlit by moon or stars, I sensed movement all around, a rustling of hurrying things. As though the trees of the forest were on the move, striding and jostling without words, just the sounds… creak and flex of branches, and the whisper of air through leaves.

When I arrived at the designated place, they were already silently in place, and the air breathed with expectation.

I was just eager to find out what  all the excitement was about. What would make the forest walk?

I’ve told the story before, so will be brief.

It was some years from now. I was at a certain age.  The gathering was of people in my childhood home town, most long gone, but now just as I remembered them. They expected me, and gave a warm welcome.

You may wish to make something psychological of the imagery. Be my guest. I would be tempted, too. I don’t mind.

But in this case, something is different and I can’t shake the feeling. I choose to believe that this was simply a moment of grace. I was given a glimpse into the future, given to know in advance how long I have. And it seemed quite a generous figure.

The joke could be on me, of course, and Jung and Freud could have a field day with the plentiful neuroses they could find in the symbols.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

However, I’ve always worked better under deadline. No truer term could there be, but it is soothing, somehow. That’s part of who I am.

It may just be as simple as that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I must get back to the work.

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.

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


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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)


5424911
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.

IMG_1308

Tunes of Life


WomanCello

All those years ago
And I remember the first time,
In the moonlight,
When you stood before me
Shy, uncertain, serene,
While I tried to start breathing,
Soaking in the sight of you
With your gown fallen, body free.

All these years, as you leaned in
Asking me to find the music,
To clumsily compose songs of our life,
Teaching me how it should go,
With you as the instrument upon which
Our song would be played.

Pleasure

Effort, Simplicity


cropped-558072_3480085997155_1121455111_3390389_500343742_n.jpg

“The only things that matter in this life are effort and simplicity,” the monk told me. We sat a short distance apart on an ancient wall made of massive, moss-covered hand-shaped block of stone as big as coffee tables.

At least, I seemed to be me.

I was different. Completely different, but still me. Dreams are like that. Dreams from another lifetime. I didn’t seem to care. I knew. And I gladly sank into the world of long ago.

I was eating the only meal I’d had that day. There was a deep pool of clear water beside the wall. I could see to the bottom, where, a foot or two under the still surface, two hand tools someone had lost, or discarded lay. I reached down with water up to my shoulder and retrieved one and set it dripping on the flat top of the wall. It seemed important to pull it out and let it dry. Someone might need it. That’s when he came to sit beside me.

I was exhausted, but exhilarated more. Whatever rice and sauce I was eating was hot and good. I shoveled it into my mouth with my fingers.

The day had begun far away, hours earlier. I had been in a race of a sort, with what seemed like hundreds —certainly many dozens— of people. That part seemed kind of changeable. Some looked like Westerners, Continue reading “Effort, Simplicity”

Old Air


mohenjo-daro
Mohenjo-daro, Sindh

The air grows older as it drains through the passages and doorways of
These ruins, where history stopped, where people leaked
Into the sand, were forgot.
If there is no memory left, did it ever really happen?
The stones feel the air drain past, patient, and say “yes, it did”.

The aged breezes surround, inhabit—an oozing, firesome force. They scorch crumbling brick, Caress the sleepers, curious if any faint dreams still stir,
In the soft, reddish dry light,
Under the changeless sunsets of forty wretched centuries.

mohenjo skeletonsThe air entwines legs, hair, imagination,
The whispers of spirits long gone, their bones still sprawled nearby, call.
Questions, asked like thought from just over the shoulder.
Faded sighs and cries from a room buried and forgotten, born only on the wind.

 

6/3/16

Memory

 

 

Divine Losers


Art of War by Akira Enzeru

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player”

Darlin’, doesn’t it seem we’re just divine losers

“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. “

who will ultimately fail…at something,
but that doesn’t matter?
Then trying again, knowing we’ll fail: that matters.
God is in that, in us. We keep getting up.

The world, society,
will just move on right over us
in any case
and brush us aside.

It’s really the natural way of things, to come and go.
Everything has its time to be,
To bloom, to rut and to spread itself
And soak up the sun … for a while.
But it all becomes loam
on the forest floor eventually
Food for next year’s bloom.
And every special snowflake
Melts in the sun.

It took a while, a long while for me to see.
I used to think of goals,
But found they were but mileposts,
incentives to keep going.
To where, exactly, I didn’t really know….
little accomplishments that marked
the turning of pages of chapters
in a book that will
probably be forgotten.
No. It will be forgotten.

And now? Like The Dear Departed Harrison,
I have found that I like grit in myself, in others
taking a punch and moving anyway.
That’s what endures. Endurance.
I prefer to think on love and death,
dealing with real things, big things,
not simulated sex and violence on TV.

And more, I find I and drawn to sentiment,
because real people are sentimental
and they like to tell their stories, and hear others’.
That’s part of the sweep of things, too,
so why the hell not?

So Darlin’, I believe we divine losers, you and me…we know the score,
And we sure as hell don’t need hipster irony any more.

Barking. Remembering.


 December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016
Jim Harrison December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016

“Barking”

by Jim Harrison
The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn’t die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there’s no chain.

 

Now For A Message From Our Past


Excellent piece. Among other disabilities, I am a history nut. I’ve been especially fascinated my whole life by slavery and the Civil War, which culturally continues through today’s political campaigns. I’ve visited Monticello 4-5 times, Mount Vernon, Madison’s little shack, and every battlefield of note between Virginia and New Orleans (with the exception of Vicksburg). I used to live in Williamsburg (long story, but we moved there when I was 9 and stayed in a guest house owned by William and Mary, where my dad taught for a year; I took a bath in what had been Jefferson’s office at one time.) I have vacationed in the South dozens of times over the years, and usually took in the places and stories wherever I am. I revere the Enlightenment and it’s ideas. This piece summarizes what I, a white guy, finally came to believe. I can barely stand to visit those places anymore, both because of all of the neo-confederate denialism that still bubbles up down south, and because I finally saw beneath the surface into the lives of the anonymous people that built everything. Every single nail and clapboard on the houses of their masters.

I know my reaction is unfair to the majority of Southerners who have to live with and live down all the legacy. But I’m reminded of my Muslim friends who get painted with the same brush when one of their nutcases blows up an airport. It’s not fair to the vast majority, either, but deep down in both there’s one kernel of truth: the South has a legacy problem it still hasn’t completely expunged. Neither has Islam, as both have the same buried, shameful, reflexive tolerance for the old hatreds.

Dear Ms. Sherman, When I read your reflection in The American Conservative I was so sorry to hear that you had mistaken the museum at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello for a monument to the Declaration of Independence. This mistake clearly caused much despair to you, and I suspect, to your unwitting children, who later found themselves flung […]

via An open letter to White people who tire of hearing about slavery when they visit slave plantations: especially Suzanne Sherman. — The Negro Subversive

The Cat, the Hayloft and the Boy


Memory

image
Yes, I know this isn’t a calico cat. Work with me here.

The old calico cat came in from the fields whenever her belly was full of kittens again. She’d lumber to the boy’s house, hang around by the door and mooch a meal, then head to the barn. To the hayloft where she was born, as generations of hers had. It was the way things were.

Mountains of the older-style, small bales from the summer’s haying season made the perfect place to make a nest. Warm. Dry. Quiet. Mice were plentiful, and water was in stock tanks down below.

The boy learned the meanings of her fertility. He witnessed the births of several litters. Watched her as she cleaned them, nudged them to rows of nipple, stretched out and let them feed. It was just the way things were on a farm. Birth and death.

She knew him, and let him come close to her babies, as long as he was quiet. Then, later, she looked on benignly as they climbed and frolicked fiercely around and over him. Twice a year, usually. Once in the spring when the fields were greening, and again in the fall, when the land exhaled and prepared for sleep.

The boy visited and watched. He would open the small door made of weathered old wood, painted red, in the giant set of doors where the tractors would back wagons groaning with hay in once or twice a year.

At harvest times, if there had been enough rain to have more than one cutting of alfalfa, his father and uncle and cousins would swing the bales from the wagon, onto the conveyor, and stack them in walls of fragrance fresh from June’s fields, and August’s. Later on, he would join them and learn the joy of hard labor, together. The teasing. The camaraderie of men. Of family.

But when very young, he just made sure the cat and her kittens were out of the way. Then, after supper, he would spend time among the skyscrapers of summer hay. He watched the cat feed the current litter of miniature tigers, wash them, and curl her body around them while they slept. Season after season, until the kittens eventually grew and left the barn for a life of foraging and danger on their own. The barn seemed empty and more lonely after they were gone.

It marked the passing of time, and taught him the rhythms of things. The natural order of the way things were supposed to be.

When he was still small, he imagined himself curled up safe and warm, looked after, soothed to sleep with the mellow comfort of mama’s purrs.

When it was dark outside, the boy crept out of the small door and shut it tight, to keep the coldness out, and walked the long lane to the house. No one seemed to be looking for him. It was expected that he would learn to take care of himself. He knew that the calico would let him sleep in the quiet of the hay with her kittens, if he turned back.

Maybe tomorrow. It was just the way things were.

400


Celebrities are exiting the stage right and left lately, it seems. I feel like I should, but just can’t share in the outpouring of second-hand grief. Part of me thinks it’s all too self-regarding. Our celebrity worship seems such an empty thing. This one reminds us of our childhood’s passing. And that one. And that other one was singing when I got laid for the first time. As though in the age of the selfie our personal mundane saga should somehow seem unique among the billions on earth. I don’t quite get it. But I don’t quite get a lot of things…. And the list seems to be getting longer.

But today’s the anniversary of another celebrity’s death. 400 years ago. I wonder if they’ll still be quoting Prince in four centuries? Somehow, I doubt it.

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

Straddling the Wind


sailing

Pushed hard to starboard,

Her gunn’l kisses the vast wet,

Shuddering in orgasmic fervor

Along her keel, thrumming into the deep,

Bow digging in, shaking it off, spray flying.

She’s a thoroughbred running for the joy of it

Heart of teak and sail aching for the horizon.

Blue-green foam hisses past her hull,

Tackle creaks and groans,

Pushed taut and dangerous by a hectoring,

Keening wind rising on our stern quarter.

The rudder bucks but holds true to sou’-southeast and home.

She rises on the nearside swell and swoops down the backside of

Waves stirred and provoked to 20 feet by a restless air.

She’s caught a scent of

Something dark and thrilling in the lowering clouds ahead,

And I either ride her or die.

©Hemmingplay 2016

Voyage

I Did Not Die Young


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I could have, of course.
We all could.
The random indifference of this world will
Drive you nuts if you think about it too much.
It’s why we try so hard to be in control.
Because we know in our bones
That this, of all things,
Is impossible.
Yet we try, because we can’t quite believe
That we are not the answer the world
Has waited for.

But I did not die young.
If I had, I would not have seen
The sun come up on this particular day,
Somehow different from the 24,503 that came before.

I would not have seen the way it
Stirred the air and made the buds of the lilac
Dance in little, subdued circles,
Waiting for the last snows to melt.

Venice Moments


Venice  by Evgeny Lushpin
Venice
by Evgeny Lushpin

Sometimes a picture will ping a part of me,  and capture a feeling I didn’t know I had. As I get older, I realize that most of what passed for desire or ambition or striving earlier in life has left little trace. Maybe it was necessary to go through it all, to raise a family, to satisfy whatever seemed to be the urgency of the day, but I can’t remember most of it now. It just seems not to matter. I do remember feeling that it did, once, but some mysterious process of living has worn it all away. It’s like reading a story about a battle in the Boer War. I know it all happened, but I don’t recognize the people and cannot touch their lives any longer.

Thank God.

Now, what seems most important is to find spots like this, in the gathering night with people who matter, and focus on the moment. To listen to the waters bubbling past, savor the way candles glow in the windows, and watch how the flickering light plays over the face of loved ones, leaned in to taste the food, leaned back to sip the wine and laughing. Those moments have an immortality that means more with each passing, precious day. Why did I not see this before?

 

Nora


larger
Nora Ephron, 1941-2012

“Getting old isn’t good. It doesn’t have to be bad, but you know deep down that it’s going to be at some point.

“So, you do have to know what you should eat for your last meal before the issue comes up. I know mine. My last meal will be a Nate and Al’s hot dog.”

–Nora Ephron

Long Road


the adventure_ByMojebory

I do not trust myself to be completely honest. About anything. Not completely. Does anyone ever become the wave sweeping across the ocean, or sink into the Ground of Being?

I just don’t know enough. Nor do I know whether it is possible to learn or understand enough.

IMG_1207All I can do is keep looking, learning, failing, hoping, healing, moving… and know the journey will probably never be finished.

On Giving It All


img_1308_stylized

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.

– Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum.

 

 

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.

I Don’t Understand How I Got Here


Identity
Dance2
I’m still not sure how I got here,
I would really like to know how I got here.
It feels as though all of my life so far,
66-going-on-67 years,
Has just been practice for ….what comes next.

I want things to be harder,
I want to push beyond what I thought was possible.
I want to be astonished, over and over.
I want to feel the aches and pains and get mad,
And ignore them like the bastards they are.
I don’t know if I’ll be successful, but no longer
Give two fucks in a velvet bag about that.

What happens next needs to be a mystery,
A surprise. I like surprises.
It might be a heart attack, I suppose,
But that’s really not a surprise.. more a cliche, really.
I just hope I’ll find a few things I didn’t know,
Somethings, really, each more wonderful, elegant, sublime,
Than the last.
What more to life could there be?
Well, maybe one thing: I hope some lovely dark beauty
Young enough to be my granddaughter looks twice and thinks,
I’ll take a piece of that!
And I’ll still want to oblige.

No Map


Foggy morning in the park. Aug. 1, 2014
Into the Mist by Hemmingplay

by Stephen Dobyns

How close the clouds press this October first
and the rain-a gray scarf across the sky.
In separate hospitals my father and a dear friend
lie waiting for their respective operations,
hours on a table as surgeons crack their chests.
They were so brave when I talked to them last
as they spoke of the good times we would share
in the future. To neither did I say how much
I loved them, nor express the extent of my fear.
Their bodies are delicate glass boxes
at which the world begins to fling its stones.
Is this the day their long cry will be released?
How can I live in this place without them?
But today is also my son’s birthday.
He is eight and beginning his difficult march.
To him the sky is welcoming, the road straight.
Far from my house he will open his presents-
a book, a Swiss army knife, some music. Where
is his manual of instructions? Where is his map
showing the dark places and how to escape them?

“No Map” by Stephen Dobyns from Velocities. © Penguin, 1994.  (buy now)

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.

On Retirement


Monday’s the official last day of work. At this job.

Twenty-six years, four months and 21 days in one place. I’ve hated it for 10 years and some odd number of months. (I’m not sure when that started; it sort of sneaks up on you and you only realize it long after it’s happened.)

I’m working on some things that are part of processing this, but the party’s Saturday night. A gang is coming, including two of our oldest friends who are coming in from the West and the Far Northwest (Cheyenne, Wy, and Sequim, WA, respectively). Just for this. I’m assembling a playlist and a slideshow to have up on the screen, and have been trying to find songs that hold some meaning. This is one:

Expensive Mistakes


1196551361_f

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.

Reflections: Dancer 5


IMG_1435

I see her beauty and am charmed, utterly, but then something makes me look ahead in her life. What will she be like in 10 years? In 20? In 50?

All I know now is that it is a long journey she is on, and nothing stays the same. Everything changes, many times. We each roll the dice and play the game, whether we know the rules or not. We roll up the faces of chance, with whatever faith we have. In the end, the ways and honesty with which we love and have been loved is all that matters. And I refuse to believe that something so good, even if it does not last, can ever be bad.

We change as we grow older, become a different person, over and over, but always the same person, too. The things that happen to us do that, but whatever they are, they’re just part of life. Nothing need be wasted unless we stop squeezing meaning from everything, even the disasters. The living of it is the point. And that is what gives up its sweetness to us to taste, and to remember.

So I see her beauty and am charmed, utterly. She is youth, and life, and promise and potential. She makes me remember many things, good things, and some things that still sting.

And, for just the briefest of moments in the grand sweep of changing moments, life is just a little sweeter, a little more good.

–Inspired by the BBC production of “Every Human Heart,” Try it on Amazon. 

Abandoned Farmhouse


Life, no matter how sweet, is still  temporary
Life, no matter how sweet, is still temporary

Sharing words by others….

by Ted Kooser
He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;

a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.

Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.

It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.
Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.

And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm-a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

“Abandoned Farmhouse” by Ted Kooser from Flying at Night. © University of Pittsburgh 1985
(buy now)

Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree


Obstacles

This was going to be just an anniversary rerun, happily marking one year today since my stroke. And I apologize for the need to make this a little darker than I’d intended. But I think you’ll see why.

I’m doing well, happier than ever, tapping deeper into the craft I love, and enjoying new friends —you— as never before. I’m living much more healthily, have lost 23-pounds on the way to 35 or more, and the satisfactions of this blog alone has reduced stress. I want to be around for a while, tasting the sweetness and bitterness of life in equal measure. I’ve never felt so alive. And so I thought to put up a simple marker to a very interesting and rewarding year.

But the Universe has a perverted sense of humor. Within the week, other news reminded us that there is bad with the good, and that what builds us up can tear us down, too. A meeting with a surgeon today told us what comes next for her.

Cancer. Again. Breast. Third time. Fourth diagnosis overall. The good part, if there is a good part, is that they caught it so early that it’s still at Stage Zero. Some more consultations are to come, of course. And ultimately, a major surgery. But, no chemo this time. We must be content with such small gratitude as this. But it is enough.

It seems that one can have one of two reactions to something like this. We can feel the close brush of the thing we will all eventually face, and be driven inward, fearful. Or, we can realize that Fate comes at a time of her own choosing, and none of us knows the day or the hour. The choice is always between fear and shriveling down, or doing what must be done in spite of the fear.

Life will break you if you let it.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

______________________________

April 24, 2014 ….

On Thursday morning, I woke up feeling funny, my right side partially paralyzed. After waiting far too long, I went to the ER and learned that sometime overnight a tiny blood vessel near the center of my brain on the left side, about the level of my eyes and near the hypothalamus, had been blocked by something. The loss of blood to a tiny, tiny area deep in my brain has made things I took for granted now difficult.

I went to bed feeling normal, woke up a stroke victim.

But, it’s turned out as well as could be expected. I’m home, the symptoms are fading away, and the docs think I should recover completely. I was extremely lucky.

It talking with someone else today I was reminded of this song by Johnny Cash, on the last album he recorded “The Man Comes Around.” The phrase– “whirlwind in the thorn tree –in it sums up the last couple of days, how events can take over and we’re whipped around and wounded, feeling out of control.

Hands


(revised)

Working hands-1509What can you tell from a person’s hands?

He’s been gone for 32 years, but some of the earliest memories I have of my father were of his hands.

Easily able to engulf my little paw in his, my outstretched fingers couldn’t span much more than his palm.

He had a doctorate., and an office job during the week, but when he got home to the little farm he and my mother bought just before I was born, he reverted to his true self.

The white shirt and suit, the thin dark ties, the polished dress shoes all went into the closet, hung and ready, and he’d put on work boots, leather gloves, khaki pants and a shredded work shirt. He’d head out to the garden, or the barn, or to fix a stretch of fencing, or to tend to the sheep. He was at heart a son of the soil, and needed to keep his hands in it to feel alive, connected. It fed him and let him touch real things after days of politics, effort spent massaging egos, and playing with words. It reminded him who he came from, and where he was going to end up.

workgloves

In truth, everyone I grew up around had hands like these, battered and worn, but full of self-respect and strength. When they shook your hand, you felt the horny calluses, and the grip was like iron, and the eyes looked into yours to see who you really were.

 It’s a legacy I do not apologize for. People who grew up in cities and suburbs may not understand, or much respect those whose hands wore the marks of heavy use, when if you wanted something, you had to build it, or fix it, or wrestle it into submission, or do without. He tried to show me the honor of hard work, and I confess I did not learn the lesson while he was alive. It must have disappointed him. I avoided work, and missed out on time I could have spent with him. My loss.

I learned later, though. I tried to show my sons the same lessons, and they treated me the way I had treated him. It made me smile a little.

img_5556x

Toward That Far Shore


change

The past month has been one shaky step after another across a river full of undertow and old, unhealed wounds. But each step has led me away from the comfortable, known, safe, stupid and dull, toward the unknown, risky and exciting; toward the resurrection of a sense of mystery, of the smell of a new place at dawn, of winds out of the north with hints of Spring or Canada, and the distant call of wild things hunting in the night.

I know that doesn’t tell you the facts. Not the external ones, anyway. But, it’s all I’ll say for now. I suspect, though, that these are the most important things.

But every moment means taking a step into growth, or a step back into safety. I’m learning that all over again. And you know what? It feels good. Scary good.

The Third Twenty Years


Courtesy Deviant Art
Pablo Casals, Courtesy Deviant Art

Pablo Casals had this to say about age and excellence: “The first twenty years you learn. The second twenty years you practice. The third twenty years you perform. And the fourth twenty years you play.”

I’m realizing I have a few more performances to go yet, and am looking forward to the play time. Every day starts with the thought “time to quit screwing around.”

Be Careful What You Wish For


life

I posted this in June, during recovery. I apologize for the repeat, but this is one of two things I’m adding today in honor of the New Year. I don’t usually wish a Happy New Year, since nothing really is predictable. But I do hope that we all get some wishes answered, and pray you all wish well.

When I was younger, I desperately wanted to see my future, to know what was to be. In my arrogance, I thought I knew everything, and as it turns out, I know next to nothing.  Less than nothing sometimes. My ignorance grows with age.

Now, looking back at what things litter the path of my personal journey, the triumphs and the broken bodies, I’m thankful that I didn’t know what was to come. Even the good things, but most certainly the bad. It would have been too much. It would have destroyed me, and, I suspect, it would destroy most of us.

I don’t know much, but think this much is true. We’re here to get through it somehow, and to learn what we can, but only one day at a time. Or, sometimes, just one hour at a time. That, and it’s important to learn how to be kind.

More knowing would fill us with grief and fear and tear us apart. We just aren’t strong enough to handle it.

Let the young believe that they know everything, though. We need their optimism and energy. Life will teach them too. It always does. But we should not wish to see the future. We should wish to live each day to the hilt, we should hope we have the courage to face what comes, and the future will take care of itself.

From a scene in “The Passenger”, directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Jack Nicholson as reporter named Locke:

Locke repeatedly asks the girl, as she looks out the window, “what can you see? what can you see now?”
And he tells her this story:
“I knew a man who was blind. When he was nearly 40 years old he had an operation and regained his sight….At first he was elated, really high—faces, colors, landscapes. But then everything began to change. The world was much poorer than he had imagined. No one had ever told him how much dirt there was, how much ugliness. He noticed ugliness everywhere. When he was blind, he used to cross the street alone with a stick. After he regained his sight, he became afraid, he began to live in darkness, he never left his room.
After three years he killed himself.”

Regrets: A Dream from Long Ago


great-pulteney-street-at-night

Regrets and sorrow rise at night, old ghosts of half-remembered sin accuse with phantom fingers, jabbing from the shadows.

A promise broken, the hopes of others unfulfilled, choices made for all the wrong reasons… fear and ignorance behind most.

Rising, in a dream, is a vision of Uncle Willie’s death. Alone, on pavement at night with steam rising from a grate. Clutching a threadbare cast-off coat that once jumped from cabs and hung in coatrooms of offices on Wall Street. Uncle Willie, cast-off, with one hand reaching out. For no one.  Anyone.  Everyone.

And he fell. In the night. Alone.

On the streets. With steam rising from an iron grate icking his dirty white hair with hot indifference. In the night, on a littered street slick with greasy rain.

Mocha skin reflects in trickles of fallen rain congealing on asphalt, streaks of light stretching off, away.  Eyes open, rubbery face melting away as he dies. “What did I ever do? Why?”

Eyes open to the end, but not seeing the answer. There is no answer. We have no answer. Pain and death come to us alone, always.

But some remembered Uncle Willie when the story of finding him hit the paper. Mourned him again when he was found and lost in the same moment. Hand to mouth… “Oh, Uncle Willie!” Tears, and the same pain of that awful question with no answer.

Why?

_____________________________
From 2010

Old Blue


1965_Chevrolet_Corvette_Roadster_Survivor_For_Sale_Front_resize

Old Blue

by William Stafford

Some day I’ll crank up that Corvette, let it
mumble those marvelous oil-swimming gears
and speak its authority. I’ll rock its big wheels
till they roll free onto the drive. Nobody can
stop us then: loaded with everything, we’ll pick up
momentum for the hill north of town. Mona,
you didn’t value me and it’s too late now.
Steve, remember your refusal to go along on
those deals when you all opposed me?—you had
your chance. Goodby, you squealers and grubbies;
goodby, old house that begins to leak, neighbors
gone stodgy, days that lean casually grunting
and snoring together. For anyone who ever needs
the person they slighted, this is my address: “Gone.”

“Old Blue” by William Stafford from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems. © Graywolf Press, 1999. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

*DISCLAIMER: I don’t own a Corvette, I don’t harbor resentments against anyone named “Steve”, and don’t know anyone named Mona (but you’re better off without her, buddy). But who among us hasn’t had the urge to take off one day, say goodbye to the squealers and grubbies and days that grunt and snore together. The day’s coming…. I can almost hear the the crunch of big wheels on gravel, the burbling, throaty rumble of an old ‘Vette… Ah, yesssss.