Questions


Photo by Dmitry Rogozhkin

What do I want?

The patience of Old Testament Jøb‎ 
the vision of a Steve Jobs…

Good eyes and ears,
Strong heart and lungs
Not too many aches and pains,
not too many pills.
The ability to 
stay in shape without 
exercise. 

And a quick end. 

And I’d like
Striking women to smile and say ‘hi’

And those precious, luscious few–
I hope you’re out there–
Confident enough
To permit that faint, wet stirring
And dare to pause, question,
First silently, then aloud:
“Hello. I’ve never done this… but
Is there a chance we might
Find a good way to spend 
the afternoon?”

And I’d be in favor of some more surviving,
(Without getting hung up about it.)
I’m one day older than yesterday…
One younger than tomorrow,
But– having never been strong in math–
I will n’t count days
Letting them come as they will.

Aside from all that… 

What Do I wish?

Good sleep several times a week.
And a warm body curved
Contented into me,
A person hunting for
the true in herself.
Always looking. 

I wish for the wisdom
I’ve paid for with
so many dumb mistakes,

And I wish the stamina of my 60s
flows into my 70s
I’m grateful for
The satisfactions of my 50s and 60s
The energy of my 40s;
The happiness of my 30s;
The libido of my teens and 20s.
If only I knew then how to 
Be unselfish. I wish I’d known… 

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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

Some Work of Noble Note, May Yet Be Done


 

Quotes from better writers

Ulysses

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

“…I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought….”
“…’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Cry


*Part of the “Saying Goodbye” collection to be published soon. 

Do you remember our babies’
crying through the night
with colic, red-faced, kicking,
little fists clenched, punching the air?
We took turns with
futile soothings,
new at this baby thing,
desperate to comfort, to
silence that infernal noise
so we could go to work
in a few hours and not
fall asleep in the elevator.

They didn’t seem to want
comfort, did they?
Continue reading “Cry”

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.

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”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


Dylan Thomas

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

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.

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”

I Want


I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
Bobby Kennedy.
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Or Carl.
Mysteries that can’t be explained.

Continue reading “I Want”

A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness


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

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

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

Why Won’t They?


saint-michael-statue-back-PT-8567

“Why won’t the saints look at us?”

“Even saints need a break sometimes, Honey.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Yeah. It is. But try a long walk. They’re saints. They’ll be back.”

“I hope so. I’m not sure I would.”

“Me, neither. There’s always a first time, I suppose. Try not to think about that. ….

That path through the woods to the lake is your best shot. You’d better take your time.”

–From Aug. 2016, revised

Primitive


 

By Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds

 

I have heard about the civilized,
the marriages run on talk, elegant and
honest, rational. But you and I are
savages. You come in with a bag,
hold it out to me in silence.
I know Moo Shu Pork when I smell it
and understand the message: I have
pleased you greatly last night. We sit
quietly, side by side, to eat
the long pancakes dangling and spilling,
fragrant sauce dripping out,
and glance at each other askance, wordless,
the corners of our eyes clear as spear points
laid along the sill to show
a friend sits with a friend here.

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

A Song on the End of the World


CZESLAW MILOSZ

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

“Encounter”


Czeslaw Milosz, 1911–2004

A new (to me) poet:

by Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn
A red wing rose in the darkness
And suddenly a hare ran across the road
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago
Today neither of them is alive
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going?
the flash of hand, streak of movement,
rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Racing the Sun to Kankakee


Dawn just south of Kankakee, ILL. On the City of New Orleans, headed north to Chicago.
Dawn just south of Kankakee, ILL. On the City of New Orleans, headed north to Chicago.

Missing NOLA, so a rerun

The City of New Orleans pulls out of downtown,
setting the ground rumbling, gaining speed,
steel nose pointed hard north,
toward the coming night.

Like a thousand times before,
she finds the scent of the line away from the party,
leaving street-corner musicians,
Heavenly beignets and chicory coffee….And joy.

Leaving Joy, behind—despite misery under freeway overpasses;
Falling away in the rear window down parallel bands of steel
The party goes on, the music getting
fainter, but stuck in my skin like a vaccination scar,
in my ear like an old love song playing soft.
Despite the worst that could happen, the People endure.
God bless the People.
The train rolls north, but carries the place with it.
The passengers carry the place with us.

Old Bourbon St., Canal St. with it’s clackety trolleys;
flood-stained Poydras, Gravier,  Decatur streets.
The bars and the shops and the throngs of
sun worshipers on Jackson Square
who lounge and dance to a saxophone player
and drop coins and bills in his open case on the sidewalk.

Or listen to the tolling of the cathedral bells.
The steamboat down at the dock breathes
a hot, breathy calliope tune, luring passengers to the
Big Muddy to taste something old, something new
Something borrowed, and some Blues.
The blond woman, on her cast iron balcony above
The traffic and crowds, waters her flowers, looks
Down at me and smiles. It’s OK, Honey, she seems to say,
Life is good. Isn’t this a great place?
It’s New Orleans: Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
Let the good times roll…

So we roll. The horn blasts again and silent
steel wheels start to turn, gathering speed.
Number 58 follows an old steel line up, up,
slowing now and then but
Always up, up, up, past
Metairie, Kenner, New Iberia, the old names.
Hugging the shore of vast
Lake Ponchartrain, goddess destroyer,

Up, up the steel magic carpet ride
In dusk’s gathering, into the
dark memories of Delta country,
Past fields greening with winter wheat,
into the Mississippi night,
A stop at McComb, then Jackson,
then all the way up, up to Memphis by midnight.

And as we sleep, the car rocks unevenly,
the engine horn blows warnings
Into the darkness, the stars move slowly past.

The conductor’s voice comes over the speaker, tinny,
An hour and a half to Chicago.
“Get your things ready. Breakfast is served.”

Dawn comes early in places like this,
A mist covers the fields and coats them out of focus.
At breakfast, a retired doctor traveling with his daughter
Back home to Chicago
Tells about strawberries
(they’re on the menu this morning)
And remembers tending strawberries
on his father’s farm in
New Orleans, and how sweet
they were, and how he hated
Working in the beds, but loved
eating the sweetest berries in the world.
The sweetest in the world… his voice trails off.

Watching him, his eyes gone soft with old memories,
I wondered if their sweetness was more than rich soil,
But rather some small consolation to the People for
Enduring the swamps and fevers and mosquitos and the hurricanes.
The old doctor remembers the flavors
of strawberries on his father’s farm
In the French Quarter, 70 years, a lifetime ago.
He can taste the past again, and smiles.

The miles evaporate under the clicking wheels
as we talk, and eat
And the car rocks and rolls.
The waiter flies up and down the aisle,
Used to the way the car bucks and pitches on rough spots,
Never spilling the coffee.

The eastern horizon begins to glow.
Through fallow fields and past naked trees we fly.
And like the Resurrection, the sun is up and claims the day,
Keeping pace, rising in the east, burning bright, banishing darkness again.

And out the window,
over the frosty stubble
of an Illinois cornfield,
the old promise rises,
runs alongside, keeping pace.

We race the sun to Kankakee,
yet the faint music still plays,
far behind.

South
#
Amtrak

 

Perspectives


We see what was under our noses

only when death’s diamond fingernail

scratches the window pane, asking….

Today?

Not today?

Ok, then. Not today.

But he’s ruined it;

nothing is the same.

We had an orchard when I was a kid,

Macintosh, Granny Smith, pear, peaches.

I hated mowing under the trees.

The fallen fruit was full of hornets,

and the air swarmed with bees.

The air was full of the sweet rottenness

and squadrons of hostile aliens.

We picked the good ones, and

Dad would hand one to me.

I was in my squeamish phase, sure

I’d bite into a worm.

He ate, though, showing me how, eyes closed.

I wish I’d seen this for the gift this was

and taken it more to heart.

I wish he was still around

so I could

apologize.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since,

it is how to eat around the wormholes.

Most of the time .

 

In Translation



Is it just me?
My life
Was difficult at times,
like everyone’s, but
I wonder if that is because these lives
are really like bad translations,
From our original existence?

Sometimes comical, like
Boris muttering
Thick fake Russian at Moose and Squirrel.

Sometimes just disastrous,
like thinking I was asking for
directions to the library and
instead calling his mother a
working girl, and ugly, too,
and having to run for my life.

It is an argument for reincarnation.
And… it makes sense if you think about it.
Not only do we struggle
to train a new, helpless body,
and then navigate the teenage years,
but it was doubly hard,
because a previous stop in this world
I must have been
a clerk in the Ming Dynasty
Ministry of Jade, in 1376,
taking a lunch break
and gossiping in Mandarin
over steamed dumplings.
about who the supervisor
was sleeping with this week.
And… English is hard, man.

Borrowed Dust*


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

Flitting from who knows
what to who
knows where.

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

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

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

Snake


by David Herbert Lawrence

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.
In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before
me.

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,
Silently.

Someone was before me at my water-trough,
And I, like a second comer, waiting.

He lifted his head from his drinking, as cattle do,
And looked at me vaguely, as drinking cattle do,
And flickered his two-forked tongue from his lips, and mused a moment,
And stooped and drank a little more,
Being earth-brown, earth-golden from the burning bowels of the earth
On the day of Sicilian July, with Etna smoking.
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent, the gold are venomous.

And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off.

But must I confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet, to drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of this earth?

Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? Was it humility, to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.

And yet those voices:
If you were not afraid, you would kill him!

And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid, But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.

He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air, so black,
Seeming to lick his lips,
And looked around like a god, unseeing, into the air,
And slowly turned his head,
And slowly, very slowly, as if thrice adream,
Proceeded to draw his slow length curving round
And climb again the broken bank of my wall-face.

And as he put his head into that dreadful hole,
And as he slowly drew up, snake-easing his shoulders, and entered farther,
A sort of horror, a sort of protest against his withdrawing into that horrid black hole,
Deliberately going into the blackness, and slowly drawing himself after,
Overcame me now his back was turned.

I looked round, I put down my pitcher,
I picked up a clumsy log
And threw it at the water-trough with a clatter.

I think it did not hit him,
But suddenly that part of him that was left behind convulsed in undignified haste.
Writhed like lightning, and was gone
Into the black hole, the earth-lipped fissure in the wall-front,
At which, in the intense still noon, I stared with fascination.

And immediately I regretted it.
I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:
A pettiness.

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.

Singing Sands


And still the waves

slip ashore,

whisper their

conspiratorial secrets

into sloping sand.

The wind slides ashore

from dark seas,

from empty spaces,

haunted by silences,

Shockingly cold and clean

like the sharp hum of

a wet finger sliding on

the spotless rim of a

fine crystal glass.

I might… I might

drop dead at any moment.

Sooooo… I look at a

beautiful Siren

and sigh, suddenly young again.

This, and a kiss,

This is what I’ll miss.

Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop


(Hi. I’m still around, just not posting much. My life lately feels like the scene in this poem. I’ve got a manuscript for another book making rounds at publishers, hat in hand. And I’m mulling, reading and writing sketches that could be one of three book ideas. One’s a murder mystery, one’s a time-travel, sci-fi love story, and the third is hard to describe. Maybe it’s a memoir by the alien who makes first contact with humans and barely escapes by nuking the east coast. You know, cheerful stuff.) 

by J.T. Knoll

Speed popping, long haul truckers stretch, yak, and
drink coffee with locals searching for pancakes or bacon
and eggs after a night of drinking, dancing, gambling, and
making whoopee at nightspots like the Tower Ballroom,
Saddlehead Sam’s, the 69 Drive-In, Barto’s Idle Hour
and the VFW. The haggard and the high class together.
No place else open. Roy Orbison belts out Candy Man
from the neon and chrome Wurlitzer. Cigarette smoke
curls around the horseshoe bar beneath a large, stuffed
deer head. Three a.m., crowd gone, fry cook leans over a
newspaper. Waitress rolls a nickel from her tip pocket
into the juke, punches in her selection, slides wearily
into a booth, puts her feet up, and lights a Pall Mall. Elvis
begins to sing. She closes her eyes and mouths the words,
Are you lonesome tonight? Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?

“Graveyard Shift At Ace’s Truck Stop” by J.T. Knoll from Others Like Us. © 39 West Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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.

25,000 days


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

by accidentally avoiding fatal incidents.

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

believing, without evidence, that my presence was required.

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

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

and that the cheapest way to do that is to pretend

the clocks and calendars are all wrong.

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

too unpleasant–to consider.

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

reliving the exciting chase of a squirrel this morning.

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

Packing For The Trip


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

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

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

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

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

 

Upstream is a Dream


Time… a deep river with a fast current,

the past always upstream.

You can try to go back,

try to swim against the flow,

but it’s no use. The current is too strong.

Oh, you might taste a memory,

But are soon worn out, and,

forced to tend to immediate problems.

Eventually just let the water

carry you along. It’s much easier.

There are shouts and cries of others.

The banks are near and sharp.

The past is out of sight and

mist hides everything ahead and behind.

The water is turbulent and dark.

You can’t see the rocks and drowned snags until you’re

right on them.

Then it’s up to luck and leg strength.

Sometimes you miss them, sometimes they get you.

Sometimes the screams you hear are your own.

But always the flow pushes ever down,

through unseen dangers, into the future.

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.

Another Complaint About Marketers


I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.

I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.

What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?

Just once?

Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.

(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel. 
Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. .  

Still, this just proves that any good thing can be 
ruined by the venal machinations of marketers–
the modern source of most human misery
now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)

And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

 

The Cork’s Dilemma


I’m torn.
Spring is so fast, so eager.
Changes come before I’ve absorbed yesterday’s.
A minute ago, the maple was nearly bare,
thousands of tiny spinners fallen on my windshield
like sawdust under a table saw.
This morning, new leaves dance in the breeze,
awkward teenagers already, swaying to their own music,
turning the bright sunshine green.

Have I missed something important?
I wish the world had a rewind button, or at least a pause option.
But sadly, we drift along like a cork in a stream,
never knowing what’s down below, never staying anywhere.
Only able to see a blurred impression of the scene whizzing by.

So, yes, I’m torn between the ineffable beauty of now
and endless wonders around the each bend of the stream.
That makes any cork an unreliable partner.

I cannot slow the stream, but
I’ll pause on my own, breathe deeply, still my mind.
When I eat, I will really taste the food; savor the wine.
Miss no opportunity to be kind.
See the joy in another’s eyes.

I’ll watch the young leaves dance and try to
imagine the shape of the wind, feel the fingers of the invisible ocean.
And when I laugh, it will be from the soles of my feet,
and when I’m sad, I’ll not be afraid to plumb the depths.
And when I love, I will hold nothing back, even
When, as is inevitable, there is pain.

I intend to be fully alive, to observe more and better.
That’s all I can do.
That’s all any of us can do.
After all, we’ll be dead soon enough.

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

Let Me Go


by Christina Georgina Rossetti

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endings


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

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

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

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

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

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

Or the name of history’s first real musician?

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

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

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

Be careful how you answer.

Final

On the Verge


I’m on the verge of doing something.
You just wait and see if I don’t.
I was young, once, but excavated him recently
and found some things to admire.
He was a naive, quirky dreamer,
Not really cowed by what he didn’t know,
Below average in almost everything.
And so had to learn how to deal with frequent failure.
And endless, vast, gaping, gnawing caverns of ignorance.
But he also harbored a core of wonder, and stubbornness.
And that made all the difference.

So now I’m a burden on everyone,
cashing that Social Security check, living the dream.
I might use all this free time to
write the untold history of the doorknob, or
invent the inexpensive, irreplaceable solution to all your problems.

Oh, yes. That.
I’d make millions, billions, and buy a Greek island
Full of sun, ruins, waterfalls and nubile goddesses,
and do something really great, then.
So great.
You just watch and see if I don’t.

Now


Dancers_Sergey Sukhovey

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

The meadowlarks have returned, singing.

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

______

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

Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

IMG_2251

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

Continue reading “Vacation”

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”

Making A Bed


 

Unmade-Bed

I know how to make a bed
While still lying in it, and
Slip out of an imaginary hole
As if I were squeezed out of a tube:
Tug, smooth—the bed is made.
And if resurrections are this easy,
Why then I believe in all of them:
Lazarus rising from his tomb,
Elijah at the vertical—
Though death, I think, has more than clever
Household hints in mind and wants
The bed made, once, and for good.

“Making a Bed” by Howard Moss from New Selected Poems. © Athenaeum, 1985.

Jam


by Charles Bukowski
1920-94

That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
area –

I mean it can simply become
unbelievable.

last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
movement
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
evening air
engines overheated
and there was the smell of a clutch
burning out
somewhere
– it seemed to come from ahead of
me –
from that long
slow rise of
freeway

where the cars were working
from first gear
to neutral
again and again
and from neutral back to first
gear.

on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
times

I was well versed
in world
affairs.

the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
music

the classical stations
refused to come in
clearly
and when they did
it was a stale
repetition of
standard and tiresome
works.

I turned the radio
off.
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
clock-wise
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
and around
again.

I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
mad?
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
arms folded.
then I would slide down to a sitting
position
putting my head between my
legs.
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
stop
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
against their
compulsions as I
did?

then the car ahead of
me
MOVED
a foot
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
BUT
we had moved from 7 to ten
feet.

hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
worse
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
the headrest
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
whose clutch
was burning out?
we were like some
last
vast
final
dinosaur
crawling feebly home
somewhere
somehow
maybe
to
die.

The Work


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.

I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.

And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,200 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.

It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.

These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.

The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.

This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)

The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.

And so I write it down.

Implacable Indifference


I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.

I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.

Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear,  I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.

I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:

No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.

Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.

Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.

Then give someone else the credit for it.

This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.

Unending Love



by Rabindranath Tagore

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that springs from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another,
We have played along side millions of lovers,
Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,
the distressful tears of farewell,
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

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