Sunsets on Mars


 

“Not again,” He saw the unholy spark start to glow behind her eyes and decided this time, this time he would stop her. 

“God’s an amazing artist,” she said, ignoring the warning signs in his face, gathering her righteous energies to spring into the “do you know Jesus? speech”.  

“I just said I’d seen a sunset as though it were for the first time. Don’t make this all about you.”

“But.. “

“No. Just don’t. I was trying to tell you something, and you were about to use my pain to evangelize. It’s selfish. And full of pride.”

“I don’t under…. “

“What I was trying to share with you was that I had gone out for the first time since she died, two months. It hit me that this was the first time on my own. As though I’d just been released from the hospital after a car crash where I’d almost died. And it was just to get a simple haircut! 

“But the whole time I was out, when I parked, walked to the salon, I felt as though I’d never done any of it before. I’d passed that corner hundreds of times when I was working, but it was suddenly totally new. I felt shaky and anxious, exposed. It felt like the sidewalk was tilted and I might slide into the street and I had to resist the impulse to hang onto a building for safety.“

“It was the first time I’d been out among humans on my own. Since the morning she died. It’s ok to say that now. It wasn’t, for the longest time. I felt as though I was a stranger in my own brain. Or that I’d been turned inside out, like an old sock in the wash, and all the lint and seams were showing. But I got through it, and actually had a good time talking with the hair stylist. She was easy to talk to, and we talked about her father dying and her mother coping.  It let me feel human again. I’d forgotten how. 

“That’s all that I was trying to share.    

“There was only one person in this whole world I’d allowed to have a real say in how I lived my life. She was my left lung. My legs. My eyes. She was not perfect—anything but, nor was I— but she was the beating of my heart. My best friend. And she’s gone. I’m a stranger to myself. I went out to get a haircut and saw a painted sunset and it seemed alien, as though it were on Mars. The only person I had always shared sunsets with, and children and a life of haircuts and feeling strange and asking how things seemed to them, was gone. I had no one to ask any more. Each day, that thought slammed with a wet thud, like a bag of concrete dropped from a great height at my feet, and the impact comes up through my feet to my hair. 

 “It’s not that everything’s gone, though. I have all of the years stored up here,” tapping his temple. “But the ongoing parts, the dependability of that.. well, I have to learn a new way to breathe, and walk. And see.  

“And, well…. Right now I just don’t know how I should feel about sunsets. It’s a start. “And”– he said, walking away and saying over his shoulder–” I’m sure Jesus understands.”

Survivor’s Scars


(Note: written several months ago as part of the recovery process.) 

Hissing down Highway 1
in the rain,
Baltimore in the rear view.

Brushing against old pain
repressed for 20 years,
but suddenly bleeding
through my chest,
three grey hours ahead.

I wasn’t the one
who was sick, I said.
Not the one who died.
I was just the supporting cast
the nameless crew member
in the red tunic.
Disposable. Unimportant to the plot.
Everyone saw the patient,
Not the one holding the bedpan.

So it didn’t matter, I said,
Pretending to believe it. 

I told myself
I didn’t matter—

So keep quiet.
Keep it quiet.
Be the good soldier.
Be strong.
Zip it.
Do what you must.
Twenty years.
Six times, the same refrain.

You’re not the one who got sick,
the sneering voice said.
You’re not the one who died.
How can you think
you
deserve
anything?

But I did. I do.
The habit I fell into,
of automatically deferring,
balancing the demands of justice, 
on the point of need,
took deep hold.

Justice parses, examines,
denies and diminishes,
clarifies…
but never tells the full truth.

Life has to be about
more than just surviving…

Doesn’t it? 

Does it?

It does. At last.

Standing


daro.jpg
And oh, my dear,
what joy
to hear the robin’s call,
the cardinal’s challenge,
the excited chatter
of all the returning
migrants, full of stories
about tropical fruits
and sunny days and
nights among the
trumpet vines and
camellia blooms
on the Gulf of Mexico.

And Oh, my dear,
I’m a changing
mixture of contentment,
worry, sadness,
happiness and power.
With every day you’re
both further away and near.
Like water, I find
my level.

I’ve let the shovel handle fill
my hand, and bent
my back to the bloody work
you left for me,
stabbing deep in
pain’s dark soil
’til the blisters broke,
again and again.

I am here. Standing.
And oh, my dear, look:
Spring has come again
after all.

That Morning*


I do remember certain things,
how it was a Sunday in
April, and the daffodils were late,
How the spring sun was out and
poured through the bay windows
happy and warm,
as though nothing was wrong…
as though everything was normal.

I can’t feel it now–the exhaustion
of that awful last night–
blessed by how the brain
softens things with time.

Then I remember
the Hospice nurse coming at dawn,
to relieve me.
I stumbled downstairs,
leaned against the kitchen counter
beyond my limits,
glad to escape the sound.

Time was short, now.
The nurse said “She’s leaving us.”
Two hours passed, and the
nurse called down
so I could
be there at the end.
She gave us time together.
And then, with sudden stillness
it was over.

TOD: 8:24 a.m.

I opened the curtains to let
more sun in, confused by
a world outside that

didn’t seem to notice.
I touched her cold lips,
amazed at the quiet
and stillness the soul leaves behind.

*Moments like this are rare, now, nine months later. But they do rise up without warning sometimes. If you have known loss, you know this. If you know someone who’s had a loss, don’t hurry them along. Let them know you will listen. Grief is a river you cannot push.

Come With Me, I Said, And No One Knew (VII)


Pablo Neruda

Come with me, I said, and no one knew
where, or how my pain throbbed,
no carnations or barcaroles for me,
only a wound that love had opened.

I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into the silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!

That is why when I heard your voice repeat
Come with me, it was as if you had let loose
the grief, the love, the fury of a cork-trapped wine

the geysers flooding from deep in its vault:
in my mouth I felt the taste of fire again,
of blood and carnations, of rock and scald.

Secrets


When the sands
of our deeper selves
shift, slide, scald
at 3 a.m.,
when buried grief
slithers out again,
the night holds its
breath a moment,
exhales and the Eastern
sky brightens.
Safe again, we wake.

Strange things stir,
unknowns,
mazes, links, leaps
of magic and yearning,
primitive emotions,
undisguised by
convention, rise.
There is no passion so pure
as when it springs
uncensored,
from the loins of
an ancient earth, from the night.

Secrets lurk between
every second on the clock,
there, then gone, then back…
neither light nor shadow,
but mere potential.
Hiding in plain sight.
shifting with the sand,
teasing us to pull
them into the light,
poisoning us until
we do.

It Is Something To Have Been


Karma-New-Orleans-Louisiana-USA-4
“Karma,” New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. An impressive sculpture is located in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is found at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is made by Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

I am well past my 20s,
that golden time
when I only saw a little—and even that
with optimistic eyes.

I’m past the days of cheap
apartments with friends and wine and roaches,
lentils and rice for breakfast,
or leftover cold pizza.

I’m beyond learning of
war and death and pestilence.
The visitations of grief
have marked me, too.

Gone is the luxury of
happy, uninformed innocence,
the blind and smug assurance
that comes with youth.

Continue reading “It Is Something To Have Been”

Traveling Light


 

by Leonard Cohen

I’m traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do

Good night, good night, my fallen star
I guess you’re right, you always are
I know you’re right about the blues
You live some life you’d never choose
I’m just a fool, a dreamer who forgot to dream of the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do

Traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do

But if the road leads back to you
Must I forget the things I knew
When I was friends with one or two
Traveling light like we used to do
I’m traveling light

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.

The Best of Us


water drop in water

 

Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come out of that old man’s mouth…In a hospital room he probably wasn’t walking out of…late on a February Sunday afternoon. We waited, though. And then he just started, with no preamble.

“I just like them. I just like women. Well, some. I have preferences. Who doesn’t?

“And I just let them see the admiration and respect. And some, a few of them, like me back, like they’re surprised, you know. Grateful in a way… for the honesty, I guess, although that’s not in my mind, like a tactic. It wouldn’t be honest that way, would it? So, no games. They’re tired of the games and bullshit, too. I had to practice that, though.

But, if there’s not that mutual ‘liking’, no spontaneous shudder, you just back up a step, be polite and move on. Have a little dignity.

“And sometimes they show me some appreciation in tangible ways, too. They look after me for a while, making sure I’m appreciated, and that doesn’t mean sex at all. Just liking and wanting to do for. Boys, there’s no one who can take care of you like a grateful, honest woman. And it’s nice to be treated well.

“There’s some of the other kind of appreciation, of course, and if it happens it happens.

“It’s my favorite thing, but you have to let nature take its course or it’s not as good. That’s what you young guys don’t understand. Too big a hurry so that you miss the main show.

“The best thing is when you have the sudden shudders but also respect. And that means nobody’s a superior person, like a boss to the other. When you are equal in some ways and content to let the other’s talents shine when they need to. No false pride.

“That doesn’t mean everything’s smooth, either. You can be terribly lonely or angry sometimes, when things aren’t working and you know it. That’s when someone else can look good. But with luck, you don’t break the bond between you two who click.It’s so easy to.

“But two people like that? That’s sweet.”

He laughed and coughed a little.

“And however you express that between you–and even if it doesn’t go on forever–nobody gets hurt. Not at all. Just the opposite. It’s a permanent special thing. And some people only have the memory of it to live on, but at least they have that.”

Our father had a coughing fit and lay back in the hospital bed exhausted, but with a slight smile and a distant look at the hazy hill a couple of miles away. We looked at each other.

An electronic chime sounded in the hall. A recorded voice announced the end of visiting hours. We hated to leave, as tomorrow wasn’t a guarantee.

“You know what, though?” he said, turning back to us. “I just realized something. About that second kind of appreciation…

Here it came. We caught each other’s eyes. Raised an eyebrow like Spock.

“It just dawned on me that despite a number of opportunities, I only really found that exact thing with one person. I’m pretty sure I could have found more, but I didn’t see the point. I’m a lazy man, and that sounded like too much work. But in any case… I stopped at the first one. The one that clicked like that…

He suddenly realized the night was closing in. He wanted to see one more dawn with Mom. It showed.

“She’ll be back in a minute. No need to tell your mother what I said about her. OK? She’s stressed enough. And if I say something too nice now, the shock might kill her.

“We like to watch sunrises together.”

There was that thin smile again. A little sad around the corners. Tired from the chemo and the pain. He looked at us, waiting.

We nodded our old conspirator smiles.

We’d heard this routine before, making us promise not to tell mom something.

We would ignore this one, too.

He knows we will.

He’s counting on it.

 

 

#internationalwomensday

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.

A Small Death in the Afternoon


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From memory triggered back to life by this poem by Jim Harrison.

The newsroom’s police scanner squawked around 3:30 one afternoon and my editor sent me out with camera and notebook.

It was a cloudy day in early Spring, the roadside grass was fresh and green, the
baby wheat plants covered the fields on either side in a fuzzy carpet.

The scene was very ordinary-looking at first, and it confused me. This was my first fatal accident as a reporter and I didn’t know what to expect.

A sheriff’s department cruiser was off the road with lights flashing behind a family wagon, Continue reading “A Small Death in the Afternoon”

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.

“Pain That Cannot Forget”


That was a terrible year, all those years ago, and was in a long string of terrible years. I had thought that was the worst, though. By a shrinking margin, it still is. But this year, and probably the next, are closing fast.

In order for us to learn, it has been true that we have to suffer. Maybe it never ends, the learning.

This speech is one of the most remarkable I’ve heard. Imagine if someone running for president could talk like this today, who had the kind of mind and education to be able to quote someone like Aeschylus from memory. Just imagine. I don’t see anyone who fits the job description.

Not this year.

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
–Aeschylus of Athens

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

“A Fearful Gift”


quote-melancholy-is-a-fearful-gift-what-is-it-but-the-telescope-of-truth-lord-byron-384430

From “The Dream”

“…And this the world calls frenzy; but the wise
Have a far deeper madness, and the glance
Of melancholy is a fearful gift;
What is it but the telescope of truth?
Which strips the distance of its fantasies,
And brings life near in utter nakedness,
Making the cold reality too real!…”

Lincoln’s Great Depression: 
“…In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln’s melancholy began to yield fruit. When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril. Continue reading ““A Fearful Gift””

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”

Ray At 14


Dorianne Laux
Dorianne Laux

by Dorianne Laux

Bless this boy, born with the strong face
of my older brother, the one I loved most,
who jumped with me from the roof
of the playhouse, my hand in his hand.
On Friday nights we watched Twilight Zone
and he let me hold the bowl of popcorn,
a blanket draped over our shoulders,
saying, Don’t be afraid. I was never afraid
when I was with my big brother
who let me touch the baseball-size muscles
living in his arms, who carried me on his back
through the lonely neighborhood,
held tight to the fender of my bike
until I made him let go.
The year he was fourteen
he looked just like Ray, and when he died
at twenty-two on a roadside in Germany
I thought he was gone forever.
But Ray runs into the kitchen: dirty T-shirt,
torn jeans, pushes back his sleeve.
He says, Feel my muscle, and I do.

“Ray at 14” by Dorianne Laux from Smoke. © Dorianne Laux, 2000.
www.boaeditions.org. (buy now)

Lake of Grief


“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are

Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy (1945-2016)

forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”
― Pat ConroyBeach Music