I’m happy to announce that Hemmingplay’s alter-ego has published a collection of poems under the title “I Came From A Place of Fireflies.” It is available on Amazon and a Kindle version will be available by March 1, if not sooner. Buying the paperback version entitles that person to download the Kindle version for free.
It would not have been possible to get this far without the support of everyone here. Even when the pieces weren’t very good, you still gave encouragement. I am grateful for you all.
It is 74 F at the moment, and
Still the third week of February.
An early spring is pressing
against things still groggy
and surprised by the heat.
Every stick and bush gives off
the air of anxious confusion,
like the boss has just
popped in for a surprise inspection.
Crocus and daffodils hurry things along,
foolish optimists that they are.
Trees fire up the boilers
to get buds ready early,
happily ignorant of
a Nor’easter that
could be lurking off the coast
in the early days of March.
The time was, we thought we had a handle on time,
but our time here is so short that there’s no
time to really understand what time is–
or even if we ever will.
There just isn’t enough of it for anything.
The pharaohs sat their fat asses
firmly on a people who could not
remember a time before this curious arrangement…
Before there were these arrogant
bastards who thought they knew best,
who thought the world worked best
as a pyramid with them at the top.
In the times of the pharaohs,
time had a different meaning…there
in the dull, slow heat of the desert
in between floods and plagues and
the brief, beautiful springtime.
After a while, the parasites tricked the people,
who were bored and out of work
and likely to cause trouble,
into piling millions of
blocks of rocks in magnificent piles as if
to say to the gods, “See, we can
build mountains, too!”
It also proved the Pharaoh
had the right to be in charge
since no one wanted to go to the trouble
of tearing all those rocks down.
But where are the pharaohs now?
Like real mountains, their piles of rocks will
end up as grains of sand,
blowing across the expanse of eternity
until they drift up against the
base of some other fool’s monument.
I once had an uneasy relationship
with time, in the person of clocks.
I couldn’t wake with the sun, or sleep when
it got dark, and my soul was always
out of sorts, and anxious.
But at least everything didn’t happen
all at the same time…
They say time-keeping changed when
railroad people needed to make things work
across vast distances. For commerce.
Speed made organization and precision necessary.
Then factories needed everyone to begin
making things all at the same…. time.
There’s that word again.
I don’t worry as much about clocks any more.
I let the computers keep track for me
and watch time rush past as if
in a hurry to join its siblings in the distant past
where it can get away from clocks.
There it can sink back into the black
cloud of being, where everything has already happened.
I woke up this morning from a dreamy grey half-sleep
with the February rain dripping off the eaves.
A memory floated by that in a previous life
I was a horse. No question.
A big, brown horse with
soft, knowing eyes. I had been abandoned
out in the high desert by someone,
but didn’t care about them at all.
I knew once how to be free,
and would just do that again. I wondered
about finding water and something to eat,
but horses don’t waste a lot of time worrying.
We’re afraid of things that move,
and afraid of things that don’t.
But we know enough to pick a
direction where it smells more like
water than not, and begin again.
Time and memories intertwine
like a ball of earthworms.
It’s hard to know where one starts
and the other ends.
They say we cannot remember things
before a certain age. The wiring is still not right for it.
We may see pictures and know
we were alive earlier, but that’s just
the picture album version of life;
the real switch in us is still not on.
Mine came on when I was two-something years old.
My parents tore down the old chicken house.
It was in the afternoon of a slightly cloudy day.
I had a coat on, so it must have been
still early in the year. Late March, maybe.
The grass was the vivid, exciting green of spring.
Old boards stained with decades of manure
ended in a pile that would be burned.
Dust and old feathers liberated from hiding places.
A fixture in my world changed.
We can change things,
Even old things.
That was my first memory.
It’s funny, but I cannot remember
my parents that day. Just the scene in front of me.
My dog guarded me, stayed by my side until
the demolition exposed a rat’s nest.
She attacked with a speed and ferocity
that was both thrilling and scary.
There was a brief, violent battle
just feet from me, with screaming, then silence.
She came and sat beside me again.
I felt safe with her there.
And knew the difference
between life and death.
The switch was on.
And I knew why the grass was so green.
My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?
“The idea of a king is to be a protector of the rich against unjust treatment and a protector of the people against insult and oppression.”
“Whereas a tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, but only to his private ends; his aim is pleasure, the aim of a king, honour. Wherefore also in their desires they differ; the tyrant is desirous of riches, the king, of what brings honour. And the guards of a king are citizens, but of a tyrant mercenaries.”
Thinking that small evils don’t matter only means that, when you finally realize how much they’ve grown– and they will grow–it’s too late.
In contrast, thinking that small kindnesses don’t matter and failing to indulge at every opportunity, means that they eventually wither and fade away.
And as writers, we’re meant to risk looking into the truth of this. To wade into these to make sure others can see clearly what the stakes are. We’re meant to sacrifice for this.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one… . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil… . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?
Republishing with rewrite and reading audio added.
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.
Without fail, monthly, the full moon sheds
her inky cloak of night and stars
and slips a leg and then the rest into the lake,
her cool fire subtracted from the sky.
She leaves the nights more lonely, barren.
But her life is not extinguished,
merely hidden, recovering, re-energizing.
She must withdraw from sight,
make herself desirable, let her belly be lush and fertile again
so she may breath passions onto the world, be
drunk with the reckless, raucous, ribald dance of life. Continue reading “Song of the Hidden Moon”→
Einstein lit a cigarette
and watched the violet and pastel afterglow
of the first bomb
fade over the desert, inhaled
a bit of radioactive dust,
and wondered if God was
capable of having second thoughts.
Got a little bit of good news this week. One of the editors of the 25th Anniversary Anthology Edition of the Austin TX. Poetry Festival reached out to me a few months ago after seeing some pieces I published here and invited me to submit some work for inclusion. In the end, they included six poems, starting on page 111.
“When Time and Space Conspire” is the title. Charles wrote this morning to let me know that the first printing is in his office and he’s starting to send out copies. I’m hoping to get my own chapbook published this year, but this is nice as a first print appearance of my verse. The anthology is available on Amazon@
I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.
But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.
I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.
I need the grace of solid things
some days—wood, glass, stone;
I need to see below the surface,
with my other, equally blind eyes.
I need to feel for each unique song composed
and locked away long ago by water, earth and fire.
What I can conjure, sometimes,
free-floating and insubstantial as air
from the squishy gelatin
of this fragile and yielding flesh,
needs the balance of solid things
that give up their compositions
only on their own terms.
Solid things that come alive
when plucked by a humble hand.
Life presents so many impossibles
that some days I lose my ‘can-do’ spirit
and adopt a “can’t do it, won’t do it” sneer.
I’m then like one of those people who
Drives 53 MPH in the fast lane and
refuses to move over,
wrapped in stubborn, brittle virtue.
There’s a bird feeder outside the window,
itself a can-do attempt to
thwart the thieving squirrels. Continue reading “Impossibles”→
I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man: A calendar with tricky bits.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future. The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice. History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon. …
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers. It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.
Then I would fold a map of earth upon itself
again and again, touch this place with Nebraska,
with California, or Istanbul, Melbourne–wherever you are.
Just touch two dots together and be there— no jet-lag.
Or I would take my super-power-star-chart and fold
this place with one halfway across the
galaxy, or another galaxy, or Jupiter
or a planet with an atmosphere of pure joy.
I’d pause to take in the light show
of the Pillars of Creation, 7,000 light years away,
birthplace of stars, then fold again,
take a left at the first star and go on
until morning, maybe to
Never-Never Land, find the Lost Boys,
buzz Captain Hook, share a joint with
Tinker Bell and pray I find my way back.
I may look normal, but I’m not normal, whatever that means. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head. It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….
“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.
“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”
We spend our lives
collecting things our kids
will sell in the auction.
In drawers and closets,
in dusty attics with
useless tax returns from 1992
and unused but sentimental
We store bits of their lives, too:
Talismans. Medicine bags. Memories
Of age 8, of high school.
It is we who can’t let go.
That rock collection,
the medals and ribbons and
papers with grades on them
high on a closet shelf
in a spare bedroom,
where we turn the heat off
in the winter because
no child sleeps there any more.
Talismans of our lives.
Little flames to light
our way for a time,
and hold back the darkness.
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.
I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.
But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.
It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.
But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.
You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.
I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you will.
I’ve been reading some of yours…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.
So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.
The ambulance driver told me in a bar
about the car accident–Elsa’s head torn off
and her eyes stayed open.
I went to the site with a bouquet of flowers.
The road’s shoulder was short green grass and along
the fence there were primroses and California
poppies. In the field a brown-and-white cow
watched me wander around. I wondered
how long Elsa could see, and what.
I found a patch of blood-crisp grass
where her head must have rested
surrounded by shards of windshield.
She was a fine gardener with a sweet,
I write younger than I am,
but my voice cracks on the high notes now,
and 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.
What is “Dark Matter?”
No one’s ever been able to catch any
in a quart canning jar, as we did as kids
in the summer nights with lightening bugs.
As nearly as my math-less writer’s brain can tell,
it is the power of something unseen, deduced only
by observed gravitational effects on stars, on galaxies.
Something very big, but still a guess, in other words.
Subject to experimentation. Grants. Scholarly papers.
Astrophysicists say this is important, which may be true;
I also suspect sometimes they’ve been smoking weed up
there on the high, cold mountain outside the
telescope house, huddled around campfires,
telling math jokes and giggling, high as fuck.
I tried skipping in and out of a
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.
We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.
I dreamt once I traveled to the little village
in Ohio where I was born, this time.
Everyone was glad to see me, and I them.
I went from house to house and visited people
who had been dead for 50 years. I was a happy 85,
and realized I could only see them because I must be dead, too.
It dawned on me just before I woke that I had been given
a glimpse of something and I should pay attention,
that my span of years on this earth this time is to be
eight and one-half decades, no more, no less.
And it made me smile. I could live with that.
I also dreamt once of a place very distant in years and geography,
and surprised to see I was a young girl
just at the threshold of adulthood, bare-breasted,
racing many others through an Indian jungle.
And I realized when I awoke that
I had been given a glimpse of something
I should pay attention to, so I wrote it down.
But in the dream I ran and ran, heart thrilling to the race.
I ran until I came to a plateau, trees stretching high above,
and there was a massive statue of the Buddha looming.
I lay a hand on the ancient, cool, damp, moss-covered base as I passed, and
felt an energy flowing through it, slow and deep and with the ache of eternity.
A strange monk sat with me later, while I ate a bowl of rice, and told me
the only things that mattered in life were effort and simplicity.
Then there was another dream
of a life I’d lived in the 1890s as a sod-buster on the
Nebraska prairie. Fought the land and the weather,
had children, buried some there,
and it came to me that my bones still lie in the
black earth, deep under the grasses on a little rise
above where my earthen home once stood, but of which
there is no longer any trace, except in
that one, fleeting dream, like most of us.
Then last night I dreamt I was in Montana,
in the middle of a group of men arguing about
whether to drill for oil in a particular spot.
On one hand were serious dangers, on the other vast wealth,
the two main things, other than a woman, that men will kill for.
I remember feeling in a moment of absolute clarity
That I had the perfect solution, and knew it
would prevent the bloodshed that was coming.
But I woke up, breathing hard, unable to go back.
I wonder if I could have made a difference?
These messages seemed different than the
run-of-the-mill dances of the mind in sleep.
These carried some sense of import and meaning.
So after each I lay staring at the ceiling
as dawn slowly restores the room to sight,
and I ponder them and try to pay attention.
It’s difficult to imagine the conversations
between Jesus and Buddha this very moment
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA goes unmentioned.
in “The Shape of the Journey,” 1998. Copper Canyon Press
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.
That was a terrible year, all those years ago, and was in a long string of terrible years. I had thought that was the worst, though. By a shrinking margin, it still is. But this year, and probably the next, are closing fast.
In order for us to learn, it has been true that we have to suffer. Maybe it never ends, the learning.
This speech is one of the most remarkable I’ve heard. Imagine if someone running for president could talk like this today, who had the kind of mind and education to be able to quote someone like Aeschylus from memory. Just imagine. I don’t see anyone who fits the job description.
Not this year.
“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
–Aeschylus of Athens
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
To remember you’re alive
visit the cemetery of your father
at noon after you’ve made love
and are still wrapped in a mammalian
odor that you are forced to cherish.
Under each stone is someone’s inevitable
surprise, the unexpected death
of their biology that struggled hard, as it must.
Now to home without looking back,
enough is enough. en route buy the best wine
you can afford and a dozen stiff brooms.
Have a few swallows then throw the furniture
out the window and begin sweeping.
Sweep until the walls are
bare of paint and at your feet sweep
until the floor disappears. Finish the wine
in this field of air, return to the cemetery
in evening and wind through the stones
a slow dance of your name visible only to birds.