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“Between us and heaven or hell is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.”.

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The human heart

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”

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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

 

Clear Vision


Carl Jung, 1875-1961
Carl Jung, 1875-1961

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

– Carl Jung

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”

Solid Things


Working hands-1509

I need to find the grace of solid things,

wood, glass, stone;

to go below the surface,

for a unique song

locked away long ago by

water, earth or fire.

What the mind conjures,

free-floating and insubstantial,

needs balanced by solid things

that share their compositions

only when seduced by humility.

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”

Dog Days


montana-dog-days

Guest post

like dogs, summers come 
young and exuberant
grow old and lazy and sweet
die too soon
eventually, we’ll get another one
but there will be a little less room, in us,
for it

–by John Stanfield

Reprinted with permission…

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

Give One Yielding Hour


Give one yielding hour,

All forgot in the moment.

Pretend to care not, if you must.

But you may be believed not.

Yet be.

In that hour, completely.

Then turn away,

Step again onto the twisting path.

Choice is loss.

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.

Branches and Roots


image

Maybe you are searching among the branches, for what only appears in the roots.

~ Rumi

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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Eyes


Image

“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world.”

― William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

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.

I Listen for Stories


Aaaaaalllllmosssst.....

I listen for stories.
That’s what I do.

There was this old Black woman, see.
We met when I was in college.
During my vaguely spiritual phase.
(It was Zen Buddhism next, but I digress.)

She was a neighborhood fortune teller,
Worked out of her living room.
Maggie the fortune teller.

Continue reading “I Listen for Stories”

My Happiest Time


first_landing_state_park-596x300

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Companion

All is Temporary


Al otro lado del espejo

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

She sighs.
A chill; her soul shivers .

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

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

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

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

She smiles, newly aware…

All things must pass.
All things are temporary.

IMG_1308

Tunes of Life


WomanCello

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

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

Pleasure

Effort, Simplicity


cropped-558072_3480085997155_1121455111_3390389_500343742_n.jpg

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

At least, I seemed to be me.

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

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

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

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

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


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.

Heaven-Haven


gerard-manley-hopkins

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

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