Scouting Party of One


Note: This is from five years ago. A lot has happened since, and the woman I was talking to here has died. We were together for 50 years, and my life is a stranger to me now. But I’m back in a similar frame of mind. Perhaps this is just me, needing the solitude of exploration and the wild mountains from time to time. Actually, there is no “perhaps” about it.

Image
Painting by William Tylee Ranney: “Trapper Crossing the Mountains”

Remember this: I still love you.

I still love you, but there are times, like now, I bleed inside, realize I’ve forgotten myself,
Or left chunks behind, or sold pieces of my soul
Too cheaply and must go and find and buy back,
No matter how sad and worn they are now.

I feel like the Tin Man with joints rusted in the rain;
The Cowardly Lion tired of being afraid;
The Scarecrow wanting to burn the bureaucratic straw
That’s stuffed in my head instead of brains.
Weary of those around of shocking dreariness,
Shallow people obsessed with silly things, fearful drones.

I still love you, but want to be alone sometimes;
I still love you, but I wonder these days what I’ve missed,
What one thing I can still do well.

I still love you, yet want to beat my wings against the cage of comfort
And embrace everything, and everyone, and taste each moment.
I still love you, yet know you’ll never share why I am drenched
In awe by the terrible beauty of deep space, of Shakespeare, of solitude.

I still love you, despite things you don’t understand, because
You are still there, loving me as you have forever.
We know each other deeply, truthfully, with
Forgiveness and amusement and tolerance and passion.
But that makes me uneasy, too. Guilty. Resentful. I don’t know why.
Comfort is a trap, sometimes;

Resistance is the Enemy.

Not you. Not ever you.

I still love you, even though I may move on ahead for a while, out of sight, through the mountains.

Away.

Alone.

I still love you, though I need to know that who I am exists without constant validation.
It isn’t always good, and can be a distraction like the song of any

Of the Muses, sung at the wrong time.

I still love you,
So do not be sad.

I may be lost at times, and I will stumble
And happen onto strange and beautiful things.

I will return.

But I must go.

And…

I still love you.

© Hemmingplay 2014.

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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”

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”

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

 

Sailing to Byzantium


W. B. Yeats

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

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

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

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

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

Now


Dancers_Sergey Sukhovey

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

The meadowlarks have returned, singing.

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

______

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

Vacation


With Audio: Accepted into the Telepoem program

IMG_2251

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

Continue reading “Vacation”

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.

As Sun Sets


sitar

(Posting again. I think this is the third time….)

“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned.
Tune us the Sitar neither high nor low,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
But the string too tight breaks, and the music dies.
The string too slack has no sound, and the music dies.

There is a middle way.
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.
And we will dance away the hearts of men.”

—Sir Edwin Arnold, “The Light of Asia” (often misattributed to a saying of Buddha)

Death of the King of Terrors


Good to remember this again now…

“Death is nothing at all.

It does not count.

I have only slipped away into the next room.

Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me. Let my name be the household word that it always was. Let my name be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolutely unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is past, nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before, only better; infinitely happier and forever.”

Continue reading “Death of the King of Terrors”

Walking Alone in Late Winter


How long the winter has lasted—like a Mahler
symphony, or an hour in the dentist’s chair.
In the fields the grasses are matted
and gray, making me think of June, when hay
and vetch burgeon in the heat, and warm rain
swells the globed buds of the peony.
Ice on the pond breaks into huge planes. One
sticks like a barge gone awry at the neck
of the bridge….The reeds
Continue reading “Walking Alone in Late Winter”

Helen and the Swan*


Photo by Richard Calmes
Photo by Richard Calme

The night of the full moon
calls her to the water,
this daughter of Leda and Zeus.
She feels it in her neck and belly,
and in the prickles on her back
where the wings hide
under her skin.

Long ago, her mother
sheltered a swan fleeing an eagle.
It was that lecherous old liar, Zeus,
In disguise and guile.
He devised a ruse to
Force himself on her.

Continue reading “Helen and the Swan*”

Dokkōdō: The Way of Walking Alone


Japanese

Stumbling around waiting for the coffee to kick in, I somehow came across the Japanese word “Dokkōdō“. Then… I wondered… If we got the news we had a week to live, what would we do with that?  While this isn’t all part of my personal belief system, there are some good ideas here and it’s not too different from several traditions in Western religion.

The “Dokkōdō” (Japanese: 独行道) (“The Path of Aloneness”, “The Way to Go Forth Alone”, or “The Way of Walking Alone”), is a short work written by Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵) a week before he died in 1645. list below Continue reading “Dokkōdō: The Way of Walking Alone”

Once Upon a Time


487292_476999889023407_1249195122_n
Art by Jennifer Lommers

Once upon a time,
When women were birds,
There was the simple understanding
That to sing at dawn
And to sing at dusk
Was to heal the world through joy.
The birds still remember what we have forgotten,
That the world is meant to be celebrated.

– Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

Just so you know, we men know this deep down, and treasure you for it. Women make things better. 

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”

Things Before The New Year 2



Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.

But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”

Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.

So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.

Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.

It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂

That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”

Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.

Somewhere I Have Never Traveled


ee cummings
ee cummings

E. E. Cummings1894 – 1962

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

Someone said: to get better, read the best

Life in Our Bubbles


soap bubble
Turbulent and temporary

Bubbles in the bathtub, bubbles in the news,
Bubbles blown from fantasies, others made of blues.

The farmer’s bubble in the field
The bubble of the boy, forgotten
by the girl he can’t forget.
The doctor’s hero bubble that pays for that Corvette.
The bubble of the  longhaul trucker, and
The Mercedes, passing, teasing with a flash of thigh.

The angry white guy’s bubble,
And the angry black guy’s too.
The bubble of a poor girl who wonders which must do.

And over at the Pentagon:
the soldier’s bubble marches, the sailor’s, the Marine’s.
The small-town bubbles of porches and shady streets,
And bubbling battles brewing over things like flu vaccines.
The tribal identity bubbles fought with high school games.
Bubbles of teenagers sleeping rough in the park,
A generation on mental benches, living in the dark.

The city’s bubble, the country’s, the village’s and the farm’s.
Gender’s bubbles mix it up: the myths, desires, the charms
Being sexy’s another bubble, yet you’re never quite sure you are.

The bubble of the man-boys, costumed in beards and plaid,
The laughing girl-herd bubble, strategically underclad.
Pastors in pulpits, Bible bubbles fired into the air,
Sinners in their secret guilt just recite the old Lord’s Prayer.

And all the rich folk’s bubbles… where should I begin?
They keep their teeth past old age,
With gold-plated dental plans.
Then  new cars every year, parked in heated garages.
And vacation cruises in the islands, on floating casino barages.
They hire pricey doctors who lounge in those Corvettes,
And look in every mirror for new bulges in silhouettes.

Of course, all are in the bigger bubble, the one we call delusion,
Which only brings on worser woes, and more confused conclusions.
So look ye to the birds above, who neither reap nor sow,
Who– nearly as any ear can tell–
Choose song and freedom,
not a fake and freakish game show.

Perfect Love


and-now-that-you-dont-have-to-be-perfect-steinbeck

“First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you. Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had. …And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.”

— John Steinbeck, in a letter to his son

Men Improve With The Years


wbyeats

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

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

Maybe It Is Time


aurora-canero_-sculptures-13
Sculpture by Aurora Canero

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Maybe It Is Time”

Spillwords: “What It Is Not”


It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.

I think you can handle it, though.  (Photo: Pat Mansell)

http://spillwords.com/what-it-is-not/

screen-shot-2016-11-01-at-8-27-47-am

 

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…

So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””

I Stopped To Listen


 

feature-e1431163430985
Leonhard Cohen

I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I begain again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams of golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.

–Leonard Cohen
Poem 1 (“I stopped to listen, but he did not come …”) from “Book of Mercy”

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

A Dab of Bly (Robert, That Is)


5424911
Robert Bly, American Poet

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

____________________________

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

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

Humble Brag


The-Tunes-of-Life-spillwords

The nice people at Spillwords (and I know some of you are published there, too) have published “The Tunes of Life”, this morning. The link is below, and a visit and a vote would be awesome! (I’m offering a bucket of half-tone dots in a drawing later–and that will only make sense to those who served time as ink-stained wretches in the past.)

Meanwhile, “The Swan” was voted poem of the month recently, so I’m having a little trouble being my normal humble self. I’m sure I’ll get a flat tire or bounce a check or something today to bring me back to reality any minute now. But at the moment….. 🙂

O, I Got a Zoo, I Got a Menagerie, Inside My Ribs


Because you can never get too much Carl. #Sandburgforpresident

Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg

The Wilderness

BY CARL SANDBURG

 Listen to the poet reading this in 1954. 

“There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go. 

There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me . . . a snout and a belly . . . a machinery for eating and grunting . . . a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me . . . I know I came from salt-blue water-gates . . . I scurried with shoals of herring . . . I blew waterspouts with porpoises . . . before land was . . . before the water went down . . . before Noah . . . before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me . . . clambering-clawed . . . dog-faced . . . yawping a galoot’s hunger . . . hairy under the armpits . . . here are the hawk-eyed hankering men . . . here are the blonde and blue-eyed women . . . here they hide curled asleep waiting . . . ready to snarl and kill . . . ready to sing and give milk . . . waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird . . . and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want . . . and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief


 

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by Maxine Kumin

Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
the passengers.

Wherever we’re going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we’re coming from
is Mother’s lap.
On the cloud-pack above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:

my children’s children’s
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather.

“Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief” by Maxine Kumin from Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief. © Penguin, 1989.

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Standing In The Stream


MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng

Hemmingplay

I am my own worst enemy,

And my only companion.

Running images behind my eyes

Like a manic, runaway film reel.

Nothing complete, nothing but bits and confounding distractions,

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

A fucked up flurry of emotions,

Stabbing me with images, sadness, beauty and pain,

Courage and struggle and triumph.

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

Constant frustration, knowing that I cannot

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

As salmon leap and surge all around in an orgy of

Need and creation.

And the clock keeps ticking.

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

Twisted sandstone canyons, galaxies found in

A young woman’s eyes.

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

Then doubt.

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

You might turn away, embarrassed or repulsed.

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

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

But am I?

One More Time


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

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

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

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

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

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.

My Happiest Time


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companion

All is Temporary


Al otro lado del espejo

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

She sighs.
A chill; her soul shivers .

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

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

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

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

She smiles, newly aware…

All things must pass.
All things are temporary.

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Tunes of Life


WomanCello

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

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

Pleasure

Effort, Simplicity


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“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)

When My Heart is Dry


It rained in the mountains last night.
The forest came alive, from the laurels and ferns
To the tops of oaks and maples 60 feet above.
And through it all, the whispering chatter of the stream,
Full of itself, full of energy, falls endlessly over
mossy rocks on its long journey to the sea.

You can feel the eagerness of everything, sense the tree
Roots grabbing harder, drinking deep, their tops waving the news in the wind.
Sunlight finds its way down through gaps
And flares on dancing leaves as it glints, sings silently
Of the joy of life reborn, of thirst quenched, of balance restored.

Seven kinds of birds sound their challenges,
Race through the canopy harvesting food
For pinfeathered chicks urgently waiting in shadows.
I come here when my heart is dry, to feel the moment.
I come here after the rain to sink my roots in, too,
And soak up the voices of the Earth, of the birds, of the sun and wind singing.
Earth
Mountain

Mermaids, Anyone?


Childhood
Cover
“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,”

Just as I was going to bed last night, my iPhone dinged. (Yes, I’m one of those.) I checked and saw an email from iTunes Connect.

It took me by surprise. I didn’t recall right away what ITC was, and almost deleted the email as spam. But at the bottom was a note that a payment to my old bank had been returned, and had the name of an account I closed recently.

Then it came back to me. Two years ago, I published a children’s book as a favor to a friend with two adorable young girls. I learned a lot about the E-publishing world, which was my ulterior motive. I learned the creative phase is a lot easier than the marketing. I also learned a lot about the nature of the book business these days. Wowsers. (Did you know, for instance, that a ‘best seller’ on Amazon these days is one that sells one book a day? A friend who self-publishes told me this today.)

“Mermaid Sisters: First Dive,” was going to be the first in a series if it attracted any interest. It was designed for the iPad, or can be viewed in iBooks on a Mac. I realize now that this was, while fun to do, a mistake from a marketing perspective. Too limited.

I’ve sold six copies in two years, four of which were bought by long-suffering family members. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but  yeah, I’m a force to be reckoned with in this brave new world, obviously. But hey, Apple wants to send me $6.20, so who am I to complain? I’m getting paid for a BOOK! Woo Hoo!

If you have daughters, granddaughters or friends with daughters who are at that age when mermaids have an appeal, I hope you’ll check this out. Maybe I’ll be able to sell six more copies in the next two years! (And the kids will love it. My focus group told me so. 🙂 )

Here’s the link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mermaid-sisters-first-dive/id776995608?mt=11

 

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

 

 

Not Naked on the Bed 


surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora
surreal-self-portraits-blended-with-landscape-photos-by-antonio-mora

by Timothy Young

Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.

“Not Naked on the Bed” by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water. © The Thousands Press, 2003.  (buy now)

Breathe Briefly


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We breathe so briefly of Life,
Of Spring days and Summer rains,
And winters’ nights, too quickly gone.

Our years fly away like ash
From a dying campfire,
Lost in the darkness
Fluttering up to the stars.

Yet our days let us
Feel and think and wonder,
Love, and grieve loves lost,
Enfold our children in our arms
Until they fly.

The flames and embers of the fire
Are alive, dancing, shifting,
Filling my mind with
Thoughts of eternity.
I lean in, looking for signs
And warmth.

Connected

Bad Dreams


babe in a wood

 Dream

The Night

It’s 4 a.m.
Again.
The world is asleep and I’m not.

Again.
The dream woke me. Yes, again. I was struggling to breathe, and that always makes for interesting dreams. As usual, I have no idea what it means.

In it, I had returned to a bad neighborhood in a city. Returned. I didn’t know when I had been there, but knew that I had. There was humiliation in the past, something to be faced and overcome.

I returned to a house that was in a faded old neighborhood and where a gang of violent people lived, and from which they preyed on others. The memory surfaced slowly. I had been there before, earlier, and had somehow handed over some money to the worst of them, someone who made me very afraid.

So I was back, and this time I had a big, silver, WWII-style officer’s .45 caliber pistol with me. I didn’t know how to use it, but I went in the house and was just vaguely thinking I had to get my money and property back, and maybe stop the threat. I don’t know.

On a downstairs couch a young man was sleeping, one of the gang. One of the nastier ones, but not the one in charge. I put the gun softly to his head and the cold touch of the cannon woke him up. I told him to give me the money back.

He just laughed and sneered and coughed out threats and scorn and defiance. A gun appeared in his hand from somewhere–a .38, I think. I remember seeing it clearly, seeing the nickel plating and the snubby barrel and the dark walnut handle, and at the same second being amazed that it was there at all.

We struggled. He was screaming curses and so was I. Somehow, the other gun disappeared. But all the noise had awakened the other guy, the leader, upstairs. I heard his footsteps in the hall, and then on the stairs.

He appeared in the doorway. He was skinny and young, but I knew who, and what, he was. The officer’s pistol in my hand seemed so heavy. I felt the fear again, like a wet cat in my chest.

But I raised the weapon anyway, against all of the pull of the earth, and shot him in the heart. The ..45 slug is slow, but massive, and we were just a few feet apart. I couldn’t miss, and didn’t. This sort of gun can do a lot of damage to a man, can open his back up with a hole you could stick your foot in.

The roar ripped the air and the room filled with smoke. His chest bloomed red and he flew backwards a foot or two and went down like a suit of clothes that have been thrown on the floor. The suddeness of death always surprises me; one minute a thing is alive, and the next it simply isn’t.

The underling I’d been struggling with stopped moving, and I put the barrel against his temple. Smoke curled out of it, and I smelled the blood and cordite, and everything seemed to be moving very slowly as it mixed with his light brown hair.

“Where’s my money now,” I said.

___________________
Then I woke up.
Two hours before dawn, and I was churned up from the struggle to breathe and the dream.

This time of day has it’s own familiar frame.

The neighbors are all asleep, it seems. The quiet is absolute, and even the drunks are finally off the roads.

I have the usual debate with myself: do I drink some warm milk or take a sleeping pill, or do I just give up and warm up some old coffee that’s still in the pot.

I don’t know yet. I think I’ll go out on the deck and have a cigarette and think about it, and enjoy the still cool morning that I have all to myself.

The air is still. Fall is coming. The crickets are the only noise. There must be some clouds up there, because I can’t see any stars. I light a cigarette and pull the smoke into my lungs, and feel it scraping the tissues inside and put a bitter taste in my mouth. There’s a small, bright light in the sky, and I wonder if it’s a planet. But it moves between the leaves of the redbud tree beside the deck and I realize it must be a satellite.

I think about my wife of 40 years asleep upstairs, and remember how I worked on the bathroom remodeling earlier in the evening and how that must have reassured her. She’s sick again, and she knows I’ve been unhappy. I know how that worries her. I think of my son, and how I must give them both a feeling of calm and safety as much as I can.

We went to bed together just a few hours ago. As we settled in to sleep, she turned toward me and I put my hand between her thighs, and felt the smoothness and warmth of her skin. She sighed and relaxed and put her hand on my side, sliding it up under my shirt and touched my skin. I felt the stir of desire, and in her, too, but we didn’t do anything about it as we were both tired and it was late.

Now I’ve shot a man, so to speak, and can’t sleep. Another day is coming, and I’m all alone in a dark house, on a dark street, in a dark world that will soon be light. The neighbors will start stirring before long.

I know this time of day too well. It is as though I am the only one to see it, and see it too often.

Sins Of The Deadly Kind


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People have always been immoral, shiftless, and self-gratifying. It’s one of the most consistent themes in the human history of the world. It’s easy to look around and conclude there’s plenty of evidence that nothing much has changed since the days when our ancestors stole the Neanderthals’ lunch, caves, iPhones and women. In fact, the tendencies are, if anything, accelerating. You know, the internet….

My own opinion is that this is both true (that things really are as bad as they seem), but also self-limiting. The current level of world-class sinning, like a prairie fire, will burn fast but will eventually run out of fuel. The question is what will be left? The implications are that these attitudes and behaviors are ultimately self-destructive, and that sooner or later we humans tend to pull back at the edge of the moral abyss.

So, since I’m as susceptible as you are to any or all of these old standards, I looked them up again.

Pride:
Excessive belief in one’s own abilities, that interferes with the individual’s recognition of the grace of God. Pride has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity.

Envy:
The desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation.

Gluttony:
 an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.

Lust:
 an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body.

Anger:
is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. It is also known as Wrath. This is seen most often on internet comment sections and on the campaign trail.

Greed:
is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. It is also called Avarice or Covetousness.

Sloth:
(todays personal failing here) Is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. Lust would be a lot more fun, but I’m just not up to it.

The Undiscovered Country


If you want cheerful, you might want to move past this one. I’m not feeling morbid, just in the mood to sink into some things that will lead to other things. Maybe it’s this string of rainy days. I’m like the person who hasn’t had enough sleep for days, but had to keep moving and now am a little crazy.

We’ve all known those sleepless dark hours, where “I have counted my own fears, like carved beads on the string of the night.” 

Hamlet is contemplating suicide (below), and it’s not hard to understand why. He’s been spurned in love, and that feels like being hit by a thousand ‘slings and arrows.’ Then he’s feeling betrayed by his mother, who marries another so soon after his father’s murder. And, she marries the murderer, no less.

Jeeze, Mom.

The phrase that jumps out at me the most, though, is the “…undiscovered country.” Aside from being used in a Star Trek movie title, he’s trying to decide if we shouldn’t just put up with all of the terrible things that happen in life, just because we don’t know, really, what’s next. What’s over that barrier between life and death, the uncertainty of the ‘undiscovered country’ we journey to when we die.

I don’t know if this is the bravest thing in the world, but it’s certainly very human and understandable. Who doesn’t want the sure thing instead of a big gamble?

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would these Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.

Darkness

Meditation: Fear Makes the Slave


black_slave_shackles_138056705_fullwidth
My own fears make me their slave

My biggest shackle is the fear of letting go of my fears—and of not knowing what comes next.

Fear of the unknown. I choose this, not someone else.

I must name them, first. To know the fears. Their source.

Naming is owning. Owning is freedom.

But…

Freedom with humility. Humility because fears always come back.

We are always vulnerable.

And fears live behind walls. Fears drive us to create walls. For them.

Walls make fears stronger. A spiral to utter failure.

Fear that. Not the unknown.

Fears make me their slave.

Humility and courage breaks the shackles

So I, we, can face whatever comes, every day.

It is never finished.

The Cat, the Hayloft and the Boy


Memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe tomorrow. It was just the way things were.

Fill the Cup of Spring


Omar_Khayyam_Profile
Omar Khayyam

…Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter-and the Bird is on the Wing.

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

From The Rubaiyat,
Omar Khayyam

 

Straddling the Wind


sailing

Pushed hard to starboard,

Her gunn’l kisses the vast wet,

Shuddering in orgasmic fervor

Along her keel, thrumming into the deep,

Bow digging in, shaking it off, spray flying.

She’s a thoroughbred running for the joy of it

Heart of teak and sail aching for the horizon.

Blue-green foam hisses past her hull,

Tackle creaks and groans,

Pushed taut and dangerous by a hectoring,

Keening wind rising on our stern quarter.

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

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

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

She’s caught a scent of

Something dark and thrilling in the lowering clouds ahead,

And I either ride her or die.

©Hemmingplay 2016

Voyage

Venice Moments


Venice  by Evgeny Lushpin
Venice
by Evgeny Lushpin

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

Thank God.

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

 

A Note of Appreciation


12670450_10204241569398928_9054415565795523486_n
*When God created woman he was working late on the 6th day…….
An angel came by and asked.” Why spend so much time on her?”
The lord answered. “Have you seen all the specifications I have to meet to shape her?”
She must function on all kinds of situations,
She must be able to embrace several kids at the same time,
Have a hug that can heal anything from a bruised knee to a broken heart,
She must do all this with only two hands,”She cures herself when sick and can work 18 hours a day”
THE ANGEL was impressed “Just two hands…..impossible!
And this is the standard model?”
The Angel came closer and touched the woman
“But you have made her so soft, Lord”.
“She is soft”, said the Lord,
“But I have made her strong. You can’t imagine what she can endure and overcome.”
“Can she think?” The Angel asked…
The Lord answered. “Not only can she think, she can reason and negotiate.”
The Angel touched her cheeks….
“Lord, it seems this creation is leaking! You have put too many burdens on her”

“She is not leaking…it is a tear” The Lord corrected the Angel…
“What’s it for?” Asked the Angel….. .
The Lord said. “Tears are her way of expressing her grief, her doubts, her love, her loneliness, her suffering and her pride.”…
This made a big impression on the Angel,
“Lord, you are a genius. You thought of everything.
A woman is indeed marvellous”

Lord said.”Indeed she is.
She has strength that amazes a man.
She can handle trouble and carry heavy burdens.
She holds happiness, love and opinions.
She smiles when she feels like screaming.
She sings when she feels like crying, cries when happy and laughs when afraid.
She fights for what she believes in.
Her love is unconditional.
Her heart is broken when a next-of-kin or a friend dies but she finds strength to get on with life”
The Angel asked: “So she is a perfect being?”
The lord replied: “No. She has just one drawback
She often forgets what she is worth.”

*As is often the case with the InterWebs, this was posted to Facebook by someone and no author was credited. It’s not my writing, although it is something men ought to tell women more often.

On Giving It All


img_1308_stylized

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

– Louise Erdrich, from The Painted Drum.

 

 

A Different Kind of Time


NO_looking south

Morning dawned in New Orleans bright and cold. Not Pennsylvania cold (where it’s in the 20s this morning), but a brisk 54. I’m halfway through the trip from LA to home via the train. Nine days to go, nine marked off on the calendar.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around all of it. Traveling by train for this long is a completely different experience than driving or flying. Someone else is driving, obviously. And it doesn’t have the soulless coldness of the airline experience. It’s slower and steady, and you have time to look at the country rolling past in all its vasty dryness in the Southwest. And to think.

I’m headed out later into a great city that has come a long way back from Katrina, when that scene above was much different, under two feet of ocean and all pretense blown to hell. It’s been a few years now, but the vibe is different than I expected so far. There’s an air of friendliness and joy here that comes out easily. And maybe that’s because they took the worst of God’s fury, and found they were tough enough to embrace life. Can’t wait to see more.

St. Hallmark’s Day


wind

Every year it happens.
We’re awash in forced romance, urged to buy cards and chocolates
For the one we should be doing this for every day.
Never mind, we say again. It’s not for us.

After 47 years together we look at each other
And shake our heads, like we do every year.
We made a pact, decades ago, to ignore this phony “holiday.”

Instead, we tend to go quiet as we remember what it really
Took to be able to still look at one another with
Respect and deep affection and a simple gratitude that
It wasn’t any harder than it was.
We feel like those who’ve been through combat do,
Stripped of all illusions and gauzy sentiments.
We’ve survived the testing of souls, when so many haven’t,
And still treasure a deep, seasoned, clear-eyed love.

God knows
How hard it was…
“For better or worse,” and there was plenty of “worse”.
We don’t have any secret solution,
Just a fundamental comfort in still being able to look
Across the room at the other and say
“At least she’s not like that friend of hers from college,
The one I almost ended up with, the one that exuded
Sex from every pore. Who danced naked at a concert once and became a Scientologist
And took too many tabs of LSD. Who, after three husbands
And two women partners, is living alone with her ghosts in a one-bedroom
Mobile home on a scrubby street in California,
Just in those trees, over there, behind the tire store,
Feeding her 7 cats and talking to Jim Morrison and a
Retired blackjack dealer two doors down.

That’s not very romantic, but after all this time,
After all the things life throws at you,
It’s something to still be able to look across the room
And say “Yes. This has been good.”

CLICK!


tumblr_mm3wyfBtHY1qb4acho1_500

There are these moments every January
Like the one that hit at 4:42 PM
East Coast time today,
Usually after a string of crappy, cold,
Grey days with a Nor-easter in the forecast.

>Click!<

On the weather channel,
They’re having impressive,
Technology-enhanced, porn-film-quality
Fully clothed group orgasms, apparently stimulated by
A couple of winter storms…
Doing what storms do.
(You can check if you want to.
Their stamina is truly amazing.)

Meh.

>Click!<

Now to an electrician working outside—
It’s a “This Old House” segment,
Where a guy is Putting in a new outside light pole—

That flipped a switch in my head.
I kind of got emotional after that.
T-shirts, tool belts. Jeans, warm weather work gear.
Fixing stuff....Green grass, trees swaying in a breeze.

>Click<

It was the sunlight—I felt the warmth—
That hit with a surprising flash of longing.
And the shadows, too.
The shadows jumping and playing across
Everyone and everything, transmitting the dance
Of  Maple leaves in the warm breezes,
Of another, distant July in New England.

The shadows danced over the scene in that
Careless way the world’s wonders do.
They perform effortlessly for us, for free,
And we don’t see them at the time,
Focused as we are on
Getting the job done.

Yes


MilkyWay_Java_justin Ng

Yes to the unknown, the tears, the sweat.
Yes to the ‘morrow-rise and sunset.
Yes to the voices, young and strong,
Yes to the children learning right from wrong.

Yes to the starlight, high and cold,
Yes to the mists, and the mysteries they hold.
Yes to the hard road, traveled alone,
Yes to the love that reaches the bone.

Yes to the losses that each must bear,
Yes to the life sources, sea and air,
Yes to the pains that teach us strength,
Yes to the spirit that wins at length

Yes to the people, yes to their backs,
Yes to their yokes and labor and acts.
Yes to the toilers, loafers and apes,
Yes to the tillers of history’s landscapes.

Yes to the dawn, arms spread wide,
Yes to the rains and winds and tide,
Yes to the future, right or wrong,
Yes to the others, who rise in  song.

*inspired by
https://erinsandlin0.wordpress.com/2016/01/21/the-adventure-in-a-little-yes/

I Don’t Understand How I Got Here


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

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

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

Serenity? If Only


If only...
If only…

It is beautiful, is it not?
Utterly calm, soothing, serene.
If only I felt that way,
Or knew what it was like.

I float for a moment,
Feeling the calm,
If only I could have the Grace
To leave it at that.

Instead, my brain is churning
Wondering why something
Built for movement, for air and sea,
Is alone and still
Like some discarded refrigerator.

If only that made sense…

My nature is hopelessly complicated; a mass of contradictory impulses;

The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain—a curious wild pain—a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite—the beatific vision—God—I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found—but the love of it is my life—it’s like a passionate love for a ghost. At times it fills me with rage, at times with wild despair, it is the source of gentleness and cruelty and work, it fills every passion that I have— it is the actual spring of life within me.
—B. Russell

 

 

 

Desire’s Illusions


IMG_1723

Chase we, all,
Things that glitter and shimmer,
Things that slither up against us,
Like a lovely someone in a short skirt on a street corner,
Smelling of perfume and friendly virtue.

Yet even when our desires are met
We are unfulfilled, more hollowed than before.
Phantoms dissolve, mocking
Such foolish mortals as we.

Such an old, old story.

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood,
And by taking the one most traveled by,
Can we ever
Retrace our steps, and take that other path.
The truer one,
The one that could make all the difference?

Shapes, Shades and Shadows


IMG_1750
Her room.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in her room lately, up at the top of the house. There’s a finished room with plaster walls on the third floor, 40 feet off the ground, and the house sits on a tall limestone ridge. I can see for miles when the air is clear. It’s a quiet and peaceful place.

When this old money pit was new, a nameless young woman slept here. Nameless to me, anyway. A poor girl, making her way.

It’s been fixed up. I’m sure the floors then were bare boards only, with maybe a threadbare area rug.

The plaster walls were unpainted, probably. No money spent on servants. A metal bed with rough ropes for springs. An old, scratched bedside table and chair. A shallow closet with wire hooks held one or two of her things. There may have been a simple dresser, hand-made.

She must have gazed out that window—dreaming of another life when the work was done.

I’ve tried to imagine what it was like up here then.

I wonder what she saw out these windows? What she thought in the coldest days of winter, with no insulation in the walls? Or when the room roasted in the summer? None of us have known a life like this.

Lincoln had been dead for 17 years. Things were changing, but not everything. Men in their 30s and 40s, missing legs, arms, eyes—sanity, in some cases—sat on benches on the courthouse lawn and reminisced the days away. The cannon that had mowed down Virginians and Alabamians at Gettysburg 20 years before dotted the grass, helped them remember other times.

She walked past them every day to and from visits to her mother in the worker’s houses on the other side of downtown, or when she ran errands to the shops downtown. The crippled, damaged men told the old stories over and over, of youth and glory and horror in the great struggle. Their eyes spoke more, though, things they could not speak aloud.

But the girl heard their stories. She also overheard all the talk in the dry goods store when the other servant girls chatted and gossiped about people and things they’d overheard their betters discussing over the morning paper. There were political arguments made out in public, and six partisan weeklies shouting at each other.

The owner of the mansion next door had been an officer at Gettysburg, Chancellorsville and several others. He lost a leg in battle near the end of the war, a general by the time he came home. Later on, a governor of Pennsylvania.

Another girl like her worked for him. His home loomed up outside one of her windows, a different world of wealth and power and privilege. His carriage crunched down the gravel lane between the houses to the carriage house in back. On warm days, she saw him sitting in a wheelchair on his porch, reading, or walking on crutches, or on his wooden leg. She saw distinguished guests step down from carriages he’d sent to the train station for them. She knew he was an important man, and hurried past him on the street with a quick, shy greeting.

Sitting Bull had surrendered the previous July, at Fort Buford in Montana.
President Garfield had been shot the summer before her mistress had moved into the house. The news and gossip was full of nothing else for a while. Mark Twain published “The Prince and the Pauper.” And, oh, Bob Ford had killed Jesse James in April.

She probably couldn’t read the papers, though. She made an X for her name.
She was an immigrant, maybe Irish. Or German. Or Italian. Or from Bohemia. One of the floods of wretched that came in after the war for the jobs, the lands out west. Her family was here, too, but she was farmed out as a ladies maid/cook/char woman/nurse…(Whatever they called her, she probably did it all.)

Her father was a quarry worker, breaking the limestone into blocks and powder with a sledge hammer and muscle. A teenaged brother worked at an iron foundry in town. Another in an iron mine owned by her mistress’s in-laws. Her mother had two babies on the hip, the twins. There was another sister, too young to work for cash yet.

The young woman took care of a wealthy widow in a house on the hill. The old woman’s daughters had married mine and iron foundry and stamping mill owners, second-generation Irish and English, Quakers, movers and shakers making the stuff of railroads. Bridges. Guns.

I imagine her young. Unmarried. A heavy brogue, perhaps. Up before dawn every day to light the fireplaces, make the breakfast, empty the bedpans, clean the house, trim candle and lantern wicks, clean the glass chimneys. Before that, though she would take medicine and comfort  to the old woman, who was not well. The old Quaker was stern, but could be kind. She was teaching the girl to read. It was only practical, she would say. The only way to rise above being a wage slave for the rest of her life.

Annie was the old woman’s name, and she would live less than a year. After that (and the girl knew it was coming), she hoped she could get another job, unless the spinster daughter of the house kept her on. The money she earned was needed at home. Maybe she would meet a boy and get married, and start having children like her mother had.

WomansSilhouetteBut on spring nights, when the air was soft and the incredible perfume of the blooms of a Black Locust at the corner of the house filled her room, she pulled a single wooden stool over by the window to watch the moon rise over the mountain. She allowed herself to dream of something better. She may have picked up an old McGuffey primer and labored over the pictures and strange shapes of words, lighting a kerosene lamp when it got dark

And now I use her room to write. Sometimes, I can almost see  her sitting by the window, looking off into the distance. I wonder whether she ever found that boy, and whether she learned to read.

The Egg


Eye of wonder

By Andy Weir

You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An into lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

Thunder-rise


giphy-1

After the nights, a week, a month—sometimes longer—

I flirt with despairs with loneliness and questions.

It happens. It’s part of the deal.

I need to stop, start over, cut out the bull and put my ear to the ground again.

But after all this time I know that I

must only ride out the nonsense, embrace the nothingness, hug it tight

As the other half of meaning.

The only way around it is through it.

For just as quickly, despite the trivia and side trips,

A dawn will burst up like thunder,

The noisier the better.

I aim my face in a new day, and see the road ahead again.