I Came From A Place of Fireflies


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I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
Where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.

Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.

I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.

I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at  yet another mystery.

I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;

There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.

I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are  now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.

It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.

For Posterity
Origin Story
Memory

Childhood

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Sunsets on Mars


“Not again,” He saw the ignition begin behind her eyes. 

“God’s an amazing artist,” she said, 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. It’s unworthy of you.” Continue reading “Sunsets on Mars”

One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World


ARCHANGEL_MICHAEL__by_masiani

I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.

It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.

I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.

All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.

Continue reading “One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World”

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”

Shirt


Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967

I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.

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

Waiting


A pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation,
wait while I, as usual, wait to see
what will happen today.

These things of mine,
Hopeful of attention,
Not expecting much.
It is as though I and these
things are sitting behind a card table
on Jackson Square in
New Orleans, Saturday morning,
while Jock, Buffalo and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
just over there in the next patch of shade.

Lovely and dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus, on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, with hair held back
by a leather band, plays guitar.
A guitar case is open on the worn
stones and a few coins and bills
are slowly collecting, never enough
to do more than buy one or two meals,
a share of a dive to sleep in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.

They all look like they’re barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each floated to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
at first for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to make tips from tourists,
getting thinner and gradually
realizing that love alone will
not feed the bulldog.

But oh, there are times, just
like this morning, as tourists
walk by and glance at my books
without buying, that Michelle
calls forth the soul of an angel
lost and crying to heaven,
and I feel a touch of the holy,
just for a minute, and my
heart remembers what it waits for.

I Hear America Singing


For Memorial Day….

Walt Whitman, 18191892

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the
deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench,
the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the
morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at
work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

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.

Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

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

Continue reading “Vacation”

On Acatenango


Eruption and snowfall, April, 2017. Acatenango, Guatemala.

Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.

I awoke early.  Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see.
Continue reading “On Acatenango”

At the Dig


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

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

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

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

Hometown Heroes


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

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

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

Ticks


awesome-clocks-wallpaper-computer-816

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

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

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

 

Talismans In The Wind


 

daro-darosyndy
Photo by DARO @darosyndy

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

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

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

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.

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”

Dreams


tiantanbuddha

 

I dreamt once I traveled to the little village
in Ohio where I was born, this time.
Everyone was glad to see me, and I them.
I went from house to house and visited people
who had been dead for 50 years. I was a happy 85,
and realized I could only see them because I must be dead, too.
It dawned on me just before I woke that I had been given
a glimpse of something and I should pay attention,
that my span of years on this earth this time is to be
eight and one-half decades, no more, no less.
And it made me smile. I could live with that.

I also dreamt once of a place very distant in years and geography,
and surprised to see I was a young girl
just at the threshold of adulthood, bare-breasted,
racing many others through an Indian jungle.
And I realized when I awoke that
I had been given a glimpse of something
I should pay attention to, so I wrote it down.

But in the dream I ran and ran, heart thrilling to the race.
I ran until I came to a plateau, trees stretching high above,
and there was a massive statue of the Buddha looming.
I lay a hand on the ancient, cool, damp, moss-covered base as I passed, and
felt an energy flowing through it, slow and deep and with the ache of eternity.
A strange monk sat with me later, while I ate a bowl of rice, and told me
the only things that mattered in life were effort and simplicity.

Then there was another dream
of a life I’d lived in the 1890s as a sod-buster on the
Nebraska prairie. Fought the land and the weather,
had children, buried some there,
and it came to me that my bones still lie in the
black earth, deep under the grasses on a little rise
above where my earthen home once stood, but of which
there is no longer any trace, except in
that one, fleeting dream, like most of us.

Then last night I dreamt I was in Montana,
in the middle of a group of men arguing about
whether to drill for oil in a particular spot.
On one hand were serious dangers, on the other vast wealth,
the two main things, other than a woman, that men will kill for.
I remember feeling in a moment of absolute clarity
That I had the perfect solution, and knew it
would prevent the bloodshed that was coming.
But I woke up, breathing hard, unable to go back.
I wonder if I could have made a difference?

These messages seemed different than the
run-of-the-mill dances of the mind in sleep.
These carried some sense of import and meaning.
So after each I lay staring at the ceiling
as dawn slowly restores the room to sight,
and I ponder them and try to pay attention.

“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

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.

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)

A Ghostling, in Training


Republished for Halloween. 

Ghost

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

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

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

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.

 

I Knew An Old Man, Once


Working hands-1509

I knew an old man once who’d been around,

Who was young, once, and strong and made things.

He worked on the railroad, laying rails and timber

Until a machine came along that could do it faster.

Then he worked in a factory that made cars.

He stood in one spot and hung doors on Fords,

Just the passenger side for a week. Then the other side for a week.

And he started to dream about Ford doors chasing him,

Continue reading “I Knew An Old Man, Once”

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”

My Luck 


I love this one. Part of my “quotes from better writers” group.
by Joyce Sutphen

When I was five, my father,
who loved me, ran me over
with a medium-sized farm tractor.

I was lucky though; I tripped
and slipped into a small depression,
which caused the wheels to tread

lightly on my leg, which had already
been broken (when I was three)
by a big dog, who liked to play rough,

and when I was nine, I fell
from the second-floor balcony
onto the cement by the back steps,

and as I went down I saw my life go by
and thought: “This is exactly how
Wiley Coyote feels, every time!”

Luckily, I mostly landed on my feet,
and only had to go on crutches
for a few months in the fifth grade—

and shortly after that, my father,
against his better judgment,
bought the horse I’d wanted for so long.

All the rest of my luck has to do
with highways and ice—things that
could have happened, but didn’t.

“My Luck” by Joyce Sutphen from First Words. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2010. (buy now)

Cruising with the Beach Boys


by Dana Gioia

Dana Goia
Dana Goia

So strange to hear that song again tonight
Traveling on business in a rented car
Miles from anywhere I’ve been before.
And now a tune I haven’t heard for years
Probably not since it last left the charts
Back in L.A. in 1969.
I can’t believe I know the words by heart
And can’t think of a girl to blame them on.

Every lovesick summer has its song,
And this one I pretended to despise,
But if I was alone when it came on,
I turned it up full-blast to sing along —
A primal scream in croaky baritone,
The notes all flat, the lyrics mostly slurred.
No wonder I spent so much time alone
Making the rounds in Dad’s old Thunderbird.

Some nights I drove down to the beach to park
And walk along the railings of the pier.
The water down below was cold and dark,
The waves monotonous against the shore.
The darkness and the mist, the sea,
The flickering lights reflected from the city —
A perfect setting for a boy like me,
The Cecil B. DeMille of my self-pity.

I thought by now I’d left those nights behind,
Lost like the girls that I could never get,
Gone with the years, junked with the old T-Bird.
But one old song, a stretch of empty road,
Can open up a door and let them fall
Tumbling like boxes from a dusty shelf,
Tightening my throat for no reason at all,
Bringing on tears shed only for myself.
“Cruising with the Beach Boys” by Dana Gioia from 99 Poems. © Graywolf Press, 2016.

The Empty Spaces


brassring

The dry times they predicted are here,

The clouds are scarce and carry no water.

In drought out West, the red cliffs turn black in the moonlight

the way blood does when cooling under reflected light.

You won’t understand, of course, but I’m empty today.

empty of the thing I need,

empty …  and likely to stay that way.

‘I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o’ the dead walk again.’

Just when enough time has passed, or should have,

a memory will wake the misery spirit to scour around my ribs

in sticky places where the emptiness still hides

like black blood in the cool, blue light of the moon.

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”

You Know Exactly What To Do


Happened across this this morning. Isn’t this exactly how young love feels? Yeah.

Wendy Cope
Wendy Cope

“From June to December Summer Villanelle”
by Wendy Cope

You know exactly what to do—
Your kiss, your fingers on my thigh—
I think of little else but you.

It’s bliss to have a lover who,
Touching one shoulder, makes me sigh—
You know exactly what to do.

You make me happy through and through,
The way the sun lights up the sky—
1 think of little else but you.

I hardly sleep-an hour or two;
I can’t eat much and this is why—
You know exactly what to do.

The movie in my mind is blue—
As June runs into warm July
I think of little else but you.

But is it love? And is it true?
Who cares? This much I can’t deny:
You know exactly what to do;
I think of little else but you.

“From June to December Summer Villanelle” by Wendy Cope from Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. © Faber & Faber, 1986.  (buy now)

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

 

 

Birds Make Holes in Heaven


1019-HOFO-UMIGRATE

Birds are here to make holes in Heaven
Through which our souls may fly.

This morning mine fluttered and flapped,
Struggled to gain altitude against
The anchors of memory and attitude.

The dog thinks it time to take me
Out to the forest again
So I can watch and learn, see her lose herself
In the Mountain Laurel and streams,
Yet emerge in happiness in her true self.

I’ll walk behind her to where
I’m going and stand still, like the Blue Heron,
Who misses nothing in the stream, yet waiting for
A passing uplifting breeze.

 

Fear and The Light


terror
Who knows when fear arrives for us…
Perhaps the first is in the egg’s big moment,
When she, plump and frisky and motivated,
Feels the urgent “hey, baby, open up!” of a thousand horny
Sperm poking and stroking all sides of her
Like desperate sales clerks
After three slow months
And she’s the one customer with cash.

My first remembered brush with darkness
Was a nameless thing, because I could not yet form words.
I left my family in the living room and wandered around the corner.
I  remember seeing the half-dark kitchen,
All shadows of familiar things turned strange In the gloom.
And toddled onward, lurching over to a corner.
Who knows what I was looking for.

I saw a mark on the linoleum
(I think my creepy brother had told me it was a bug, earlier, and I
was somehow drawn back to it)
There it was, but in the gloom, alone,
It seemed alive and growing, reaching for me.

I froze. And screamed. And fled.
I think that was the first time I’d felt totally alone,
Separate. Safety was gone, and that spot
Was everything that aloneness meant.
The bottom dropped out of my world
And sheer panic made my feet move,
Back toward the light, my parents
Sure something malevolent was following.

I remember hysterics—mine;
Unable to talk yet, I could only babble desperate sounds,
Trying to name a
Terror that no one could understand.
My father took my hand and let me stand in the door
While he turned on the kitchen light
Beckoned me over, and asked what I’d seen.
He was probably expecting a rat.

In the light, the terror, the prehensile primal fear
That had wrapped a tentacle around my chest
Uncoiled. Bit by bit.
It was just a bug-shaped stain on the floor.
I remember approaching it slowly,
Touching it with my toe.
“Go ahead, touch it with your finger,” he said, mildly
Ignoring my brother’s laughter from the other room

The monster shrank from the light, shriveled
And went back into nothing.
A remnant of a splotch of something dropped long ago.

But to this day, I believe that evil is real and
That it cannot
Live for long in the light.

Memory    Obstacles

Secrecy and Freedom


#amwriting
c180d01388aa254aa1a74c65d27db4e4And so we must ask ourselves:
What is freedom?
Do we decide when to wake?
When to sleep?

Do not authorities order our
Waking
Sleeping?
Or our partners do?
Our parents?
“You have to get up early!”
“Why do you stay up so late?”

Order belongs to the day,
Unordered things, the night.
Nakedness emerges in the night…
Bodies come together, touch, in the night.
What is put aside during the day
And only implied at dinner, or the theater
Finally takes place in the secrecy of the dark.

We trade freedom for order in the hours of light.
We reclaim our freedom in secret, in the night.

Raison D’être