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Long Beach, CA



All Very Much the Same

In the last hour of a good day when, if you’re lucky, you smile at some passing trifle of this life, unwinding yourself towards bed and
The great daily dying, for resurrection in morning light
You sigh your soul alongside the great questions, for just a moment,
You graze the fingers of your soul over the inscrutable rock face
Carved with words you can’t quite make out 
And gaze your sight into the unflinching quiet, where all is night,
Before you close your eyes
And then you fall asleep before them—the questions you could not crack—an old man or woman that will wake again as child, in new light
Bound to blow wind again into the sail of a boat which can’t quite find the sea 

Sleep is our surrender
And in this space, in the last hour of day, all the inequities of history spin away
Until balanced on the same axis we behold each other plainly, if we have the eyes to see
There’s Cleopatra sitting across from me, and Einstein looking plaintively
Peasants, and nameless hordes (and I among them), all seeing our humanity
And nodding, at last judgment free 

Some sit in this holy hour by candlelight, some by campfire,  
Some in the glow of a screen, perhaps spilling all the sacredness like perfume poured profligate on the ground, 
(Though it’s too sacred to be poured out entirely
The vessel refills itself, endlessly)

Wealth or rank possessing decided these things, when and how we sit and stand, but
Wherever we may be, we all step outside our proverbial tent beneath a cobalt desert sky—the stars burning on every side, sighing
As they unwind their own selves slowly, asking the questions that burn within us all,
Undying beacons in the night, ready for sleep themselves, still staring down at us, as if for answers—
We who make up a great constellation, burning here in holy darkness 

The Goths at Disneyland

When the sun becomes too much, the best part of this place is sitting in the shade
and watching the goths mingle among the geeks
and the Greek gods, Kardashian-like, that float among us all

They don’t mingle exactly—they’re still discrete groups which keep a good few feet apart, like high school, except we’re all here because we want to be
Which says something deep:
We are bound and bridged by common hopes and fears and dreams 
And the common screams of joy which assure us we’re feeling something, at least
As we fall in controlled arcs, arms, legs, and feet inside at all times

Where else can you wear all black to ink the world out, and yet still reveal there’s some bright hope within you? 
And, thank God, black Mickey ears to match your eyeshadow?
You’re just a kid, with all of us, despite the dark bangs
And kids need playgrounds—there’s no shame 

I remember when Ben, our quarterback, started crying and didn’t care
That was our eleventh grade year, and everyone stopped and stared
That’s just like being here:
The masks are still there, but lowered;
We’re all admitting we need a break and tired,
And still, full of bright longing for a tomorrow land 
Which binds, though sure, not quite hand-to-hand 

I confess gladly, in my flannel,
With you, the goths, and the soccer moms with strollers,
Bound by that drive to have no pretense:
We all grasp for that golden land 
Like old men able again to kick-the-can
A world with peace on earth, 
And no masks needed to hide the inner man 
While we say, “that was a really long line” and sigh and smile 

If it’s a make-believe mouse that makes it happen, whose hands all our children wish to hold, why not?
Somehow, in this good place, there’s grace, and the world is not so hard to understand 
As wolves lie down with lambs

A Falling Clod of Dust, in the Reijksmuseum

Everyone standing before The Night Watchgot their phone out to take pictures
(What a world we now have)
As if to prove that they were here
I guess it was just too much to be there 
And we all needed something else to do

When suddenly—because everything is sudden, from a certain point of view—
A piece of dust fell from the top of the frame and began a long, slow promenade
There was the holiest hum as it hung before the throngs and made its way, inexorably down,
Yes, the holy murmur of the crowd gazing at the light on those staid faces, looking every which way, as if they surveyed us,
Did not falter, nor those painted faces blink at the dust

I almost turned to the person next to me, as if I’d say, “My God, and we were here for it”
Before realizing: it was just dust
And at least once a week or month some such thing must happen 
The accumulation too much, it rolls off, a glad clod, 
It touches holy ground

At length, as I walked away from that glad gallery, a young woman—I was young like her once—said, “That is so cool”
(The painting, not the dust)
And indeed it was
The light of that magical canvas its own symphony, sad, stark, serene

In the next room was a painting far less grand that I liked almost as much
A drunken man
A festooned merchant with scabbard in a golden band
A mendicant friar somehow playing poker
And a man’s hand, desperately copping a feel of his girlfriend’s breast
It seemed more true, or just as much
As The Night Watch 
More, for that matter, like the dust

Despite all the light we crave, you end up playing a sighing game of poker on a hazy afternoon
And it all goes so fast, this life, and our golden aspirations for light 
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust
At least we will all have so many pictures to remind us
That we were there
And we will recall, perhaps, how hard it was to stand in holy light 
As we will—on that gray morning—purse our lips and nod our heads
And see at last just how truly grand it all was 

The End of Our Arrangement

I enjoy this conspiracy of conversation, 
Everyone committed to not saying too many words, nor anything too deep,
It’s nice, the polite nods, and the way everyone speaks like dipping their toes in water, never jumping in

I detest small talk, but there are times when such trite niceties are fine, with no surprises to make us flinch 
Everyone on guard, best behavior, best face forward  
We, parents of tee-ballers, thrown together by happenstance—with babies born near the same time —we know how to put on the nice face

There are greater tribes, of course, bonded together by their love of Orcas and the need to save them
Or by God, 
Or worse, by darker powers,
But we share a bright glimmer of hope in our collective eye, the big world a pop fly to be caught by small hands 
Our hopes and dreams already handed off to their young and grasping grips, which we fit with gloves 
Hoping to give them the best chance
To catch the hard hops
To widen their stance and hit it hard as they can

All this longing which rends our souls in love
Is hidden beneath our conversation, all too holy to acknowledge here, a white glove you dare not brandish in a muddy land, nor with people you hardly know
So, we cover that inner fresco with nicely sanded wood, and lock the church doors for good measure 

We are each others’ captors for this hour, as we laugh at inane jokes between pitches,
though they aren’t funny 
A bit of Stockholm syndrome setting in

But then, half way through the 5th, the wings come off:
Someone makes a jibe about the President, and the man beside me blanches 
A bird lifts from the electric wire behind us, and flies away  
Blood boils and lions scramble as the circus tent comes down
Lovely in its catastrophe, the way the colors float and flit, 
And awful, too, for what’s been lost

A clown has pulled the very thread you do not touch, and it just keeps getting pulled from the great sleeve of awkwardness 
As we sit quietly
Until someone says, “Okay, Ben, give it a rip, give it a rip!” and we all clap, half-heartedly 

A Poem for My Grandchildren

It was the climax and the low point
An apotheosis in a valley
(Maybe history always is)
There were two lanes of the highway, one sending us to the mountains, where we could survey so very much, and one leading to a dark ocean
The problem is, we never knew which lane we were in 
Both, I guess, like feet sprawled over a canyon
A cartoon trying to catch its balance and its breath

There were wars, of course, 
Abroad and in our halls
(Maybe there always are)
Guns and bloodshed, beneath the brilliant stars
So I guess, yes,
Much like every age before

But we were always looking down, addicted to the never ending stream pulsing in our palms
The fruit, like Eve’s, of endless knowing
We became fat, yes,
Yet we were all lithe Alices, fallen through the rabbit hole, trying to make sense of the cacophony of nonsense, knowing real meaning lurked within it

But the more we knew, the less it mattered
The more entertained, with minds grown fatter, the less we cared
Removed from any need for pesky truth
We had so much certainty to soothe us
We’d never had more access to facts, and they’d never mattered less

We were pleased with it—with all our glad knowledge
And the endless act of being captured by the tools designed to distract us,
So many conversations at once, beguiling us
An abundance we came to take for granted, entrancing us
Just as we took for fact the curated images of our lives

And then, so sure that we were certain, we made our certainty into platforms which reached into the sky like Babel, for to throw boulders down on others
Which was the beginning of the long end

The heart constricts, the heart expands
It will take in all it can, for good or ill
All this bloomed beneath the cold stars
As we sat like fat cats, so merry and so sad

Remember then, my children, that abundance is a gift with big eyes
But lean times, too, give us a way of seeing
Of teaching us what’s true
We don’t find too much fat fulfilling
Our hearts are not made for endless skies
But for a green field, fenced in, where, in restraint, we finally find rest

We who languish in the sin of minding the wrong things
Find relief in no more pretense that we are immortal
We find rest in the restraint of quiet borders


My wife and I bought drinks at Disneyland
And the mouse sure knows how to make a Manhattan
As we sat, with our kids asleep in the stroller, on a plush couch

In my periphery, a man walked by our window with such happy zest, my brain balked 
“No one is that happy, he’s hiding something,” I thought, before turning to see
That it was just Goofy 

Literally, a man dressed up as Goofy, 
A character on a stage to assuage, in some way (and not unlike my liquor), the daily pain of life
Creating in his walk enough space for sighing and for smiles

He walked with such purpose in his cartoon rendering, 
No doubt off to bungle a car repair, banging his thumb ’til it throbs,
Though, no worries, a few frames later, it will no more be inflamed,
And even if, while catching fish, he hooks instead his own britches, they will be re-born
without a tear

No wonder he is so happy (I thought without thinking, as I sipped my drink):
In this magic place, Goofy is always marching into the fray for us,
A beautiful dream of what might be
Sore thumbs, torn pants, broken dreams all so easily mended 
A balm to these endless human hearts, with their joy and pain,
And their endless capacity to feel both things

We See As We Are

I saw a man stand near the trash can and throw his wrapper,
Balled up like a sad piece of origami,
Into the trash can
Except he missed, and the malformed swan swam not into its garbage pond
But found instead the cruel, hard ground 

The man’s faced twitch, and he paused before bending down 
Picking up the paper and dropping it in

“A good guy,” I thought

But then I realized he probably wasn’t so concerned about the earth or giving clean berth to the next passerby
He was probably simply sad he missed
Or worse, worried that someone saw him and would judge him if he didn’t drop down
If he knew that no one saw, I reckoned, no doubt he would just walk on, unalarmed   

“What a jerk,” I thought, shaking my head 

And all this happened before I realized that everything we see also speaks something about us:
We see also with our inner eyes 
Not as things are, but as we are
In sizing up others, we ourselves assize 

I thought all this to myself without thinking, as I turned to go, 
A good guy into the storm of life

Sandy Beaches Like False Gold

Most men sit around coffee wishing they had more time for it
Nursing a dream to fish, they see themselves setting down their cup or can
Chasing a marlin down the strand  
Or standing on some shore, their toes buried in the sand  
Or, on some perfect climb above it all, the past behind
And this dream for Sabbath (call it “leave” or “another life”) 
Has all the taste of freedom, 
Would be the breathing that their lungs can’t find amid the smoke of so much work 

But the truth is that what wears them down is the race within
Which would still be with them wherever they be found, 
Standing here or on exotic ground
They would not know how to spend the time of freedom, 
Stalked as they are by a sadness through every season, in rain or shine
And after a few weeks, the joy of “somewhere new” would fade
And the unpaid tabs all left behind would find them
And the new bright place take on the shade of whatever sorrow they hadn’t shaken  

The head shaking “damn" always finds us, after all, 
Invades us, pushes deep into the breaches and beaches of our own rocky hearts
Reminds us of the kind, relentless angel, Reckoning, who always seeks to heal us
Whom we run from as much as from the aching angel, Sorrow, 
For both would have us sit with them, at the table of Abraham, 
And wrestle like Jacob, at Bethel, and be born like Jesus, in Bethlehem
And never let us go

Love is like sorrow in that sense

To find peace would mean no more loathing, which means letting go
And no more being master of ourselves, 
And we just don’t bear that kind of being swallowed up, not when it means laying down the dearest illusion, Control
Not when it means accepting that what is laid down for hope’s sake is lifted up in resurrecting love
No, that is a painful way to go  

So, come right to it, 
The vision of some distant beach just serves as a spoonful of sugar, a little extra boost, 
Along with the long caffeine, the extra cup of juice, 
To help them think, to get them through another day,  
Thinking wistfully along the way, how fine it would be
o be out again upon the se 


In the Coffee Shop

To a bird looking in at us through the window
We must look so stern
Our face-the-day hoods snug and firm, about our whole bodies  

But, when they played the hip hop song,
I noticed that the girl across the table started shaking her head
Her hair bouncing with the beat
And later, through my headphones, when my favorite song was spun,
I started miming the words to myself, placing myself before the sun
With metaphorical fist pumping that I will not go gently into any night
Before telling myself to calm down and carry on, head down 

Such are these wellsprings of desire within us
Which we, with unthinking effort, so nimbly conceal,
Like bodies which we do not wonder if we will dress
Avoiding each other’s eyes, smiling politely if we pass by
Because this is life: a calm face of sea, spinning oceans underneath

If we are all actors on a stage, we spend most of the time
Pushing down and getting by and
Hiding all the desire that drives us
Measuring our lives by coffee cups, sure,
But between the sips, holding a firm grip on the mast within us
As we bounce and bound all through the theater of this world
With all its plastered masks all about us, so placid

To stay balanced on the sea, then— 
This is our great trick, and we are all Houdinis
Striding atop the love and rage and pain which is never very far beneath us
A great endless wave always rising to meet us
As we all seek to walk on water
In all the places where it really matters,
Far from the coffee shops where we silently circle each other,
In the moments we reveal what burns inside us


Your Shining Century

After my wife and I paid our exorbitant entrance into the carriage
We passed at last, in the final arc of clop-clop-clop, the Strawberry Fields,
Adjacent to where John Lennon died
(Or, I was reminded, was killed, by some mad eye)

Which made me think of a trip my dad took to Spain, to study art,
After MLK had died (or, I am reminded, was killed, by some hateful heart)
And a Spaniard said to him, disgusted, “What is wrong with you all?”
You all…you Americanos
You who strike down great men
Your presidents and your prophets
(Though, I am reminded, some great men are simply men who prize great prizes and great-sized aspirations)

Even now, I want to defend my father, which is to say, defend him and me and us
What about your shining century? I would say
Your oppression, your rejection of humanity
Your Guernica, your civil war
How convenient you can only afford such a short memory

But I guess throwing rocks only locks us in their grip
And, after all, the clop-clop-clop of Brian (I think that’s our horse’s name)
Reminds me we all ride on the same field, despite these dividing lines which we call nations,
Which give us places to work out, in our own ways, all this pain

It would be better to say to that Spaniard,
Yes, say a prayer for us
Indeed, what is wrong with us, 
as I shake a sad head
And maybe he, confused by my refusal to raise arms,
Would nod his head and say, I understand 
What’s wrong with all of us, eh?
He’d prod my arm in solidarity
And we’d sit thinking about what a fine future there is somewhere, off waiting for us
A fine future just waiting to be built


Rite of Passage in a Small Town

My aunt told me that my cousin, for something fun to do in this small town,
Would ride the square
"What’s that?" I said, as if I were in Rome pointing to a statue
"Ride the square, you know…get in a truck and ride around it" 
Then she laughed, and I was in on the joke 

There are rites of passage which blind the participants
They are drawn inexorably, like the swallows of Capistrano,  
Like those salmon jumping upstream to spawn  
Like me at my high school graduation growing a goatee of eleven hairs, so spare and sparse
I alone, exulting in my strength, was blind to the sad statement I made 

Little birds, you see, do not despise their strength
And we all flex whatever muscles we have 

"So they just ride and…what?" 
"Stare at each other, mostly" 
I nodded

Another rite of passage, saying
"Stare at me and dare me to prove I’m something"
This makes sense to me
With so much mad fear in the world that "I’m nothing,”  
It’s better to punch something and prove you're there
Better to feel pain than insane fear 

Not so bad, this rite of passage in a small town  
And really, pretty much the same as anywhere and everywhere, and anytime
The world one great town square, around which we ride with wary eyes


On the Grabbing of the Check

I was startled and started at the slamming palm of the gentleman—
Well given the context, perhaps I should just say man—
As he grabbed the check, and his friend said, “Damn,” and smiled
The friend’s cup still settling, disheveled by the tremor of the man's masculinity
His chest pushed out just an inch further now, beneath his grin
His virility in hand, not a carcass brought back to camp,
But a piece of paper, which still signifies some strength 

The Maori, to show their virility, dance the kapa haka
Pounding the ground with such fierce testosterone
The frenzy of energy is a behemoth charging through all the channels of heart,
So desperate, like all of us, to put this power and prowess somewhere
To stand beneath the bright stars and defy our dusty lot
And the awful incongruity of so much longing and so much strength
Destined for a long, slow fade
Which, in our youth, it always seems, we can outrun, or outplay 

I thought, too, sitting across from my friend, above my Eggs Benedict,
Of the Masai drinking milk and cow’s blood and alcohol, before dancing and being circumcised
And later, on my computer, I discovered Vanuatu land diving
And all the ways to prove that we are men

But first, I sat across from another,
At about the distance of Doc and Wyatt at the O.K. Corral
As the nice waitress with the plastered smile said, “Anything else?”
And we said no, wondering who was more the warrior, and who was fastest on the draw 


Now a Car Hurtles Through Space

What about this car in space thing? 
My wife said to me as I read poetry and we both procrastinated on putting our minds to sleep
And it’s true, I guess: a billionaire put a car into space, heading to Mars with a mannequin clutching at the wheel, hell-bent upon the deep
No shotgun rider needed, either, the great vacuum enough protection for the race 

Oh yes, I heard about that, I said, intent on figuring out what on earth this poem is about
Though, somewhere above me, an electric car is hurtling through the atoms, 
And in Tokyo, a man is slamming down his empty whiskey glass, trying to drown out how very insensible all this desire is, burning under cold, unseeing stars which, it really seems, should see and do something about it 

His palm slamming down is like the ignition of a rocket, which sends a payload into space
Then an unmanned car becomes a jester’s grin, sailing above the world
And two fingers, metaphorically lifting from the wheel, flip two birds into the void 

I sense all this, inchoately, with words that will only come later, as I am sitting trying to figure out what on earth this poem is about
But for the moment, I lay next to a beautiful woman, with no energy even to do what comes naturally
Energy only to take all this in stride, and marvel that there is no strength to be amazed
After all, after a while you realize, there are miracles everywhere
And we are kids at a zoo who, by sunset, have seen enough, for there will be more miracles tomorrow
Like the perfect comfort of this cold pillow, and cold hands on a warm back, 
As we all hurtle through empty space 


A Spider in the Shower

I did not see the spider in the shower until I turned and faced the wall
I saw him, then, scrambling up the tile, like waiting for a shoe to fall

He was a doomed bystander,
A pedestrian running from the wave, in some midnight B-movie disaster, screaming without a sound
A step ahead of the steam and heat, on gangly feet

He was a thin thing, too, and awkward
Running on such spindly legs, he betrayed physics, like a cartoon whose scampering feet never touch the ground

Not a Daddy Long Legs, but hopefully carrying some such silly name,
(Or a scientist somewhere should be hanged)
Not, to the point, one of those inky, hairy, thickened things, with mandibles to maim
Which, I confess, have made me scream
(A man-like scream, but nonetheless a scream)

And so I had pity, thinking what a miracle he is
And all these creatures beneath our feet
And this one, finding a corner of the shower to hole up and hide in
Praying Godzilla will pass him by

A decent rendering of ourselves, in scale, come to it
Ourselves in point, just one step ahead—
Always scrambling from some wave, some heat, some steam
Wondering about the great giant of pain, crashing dumbly about us, singing a stupid song
As we scramble for some safe place
To rest our weary feet


The Strange Truths of Last Hours

The whir and beep of the machines will go on
Transferred to some other room, newly washed and dressed,
They will walk on, mindlessly,
Insentient of their duty,
While the sun, too, keeps shining
And the grass outside the window is postcard perfect

Everything about the noise and the bright light of this day is paradox
Comforting torment
Laborious rest
Natural life prolonged artificially, 
As death stands windswept by the windows

I stood to the side as he squeezed his son’s hand and told him,
“Don’t be angry with God”
I kept a poker face, like the machines beeping, pretending
They aren’t the slow countdown, after which,
They will stretch, wash, take a smoke, and start again

But my breath caught and I almost laughed
Not because it was funny, of course
It’s just that, when everything’s absurd—our longing for life betrayed—
Truth is a cold glass of water poured over hot souls
And the steam is so strange
Through it, there’s some indictment of what we’re holding dear

It indicted me, anyway
And I laughed because it’s so odd and pure and good
That the one dying should so easily let go
While I stand by with fists clenched, beside so many bedsides


The Chinese Women Talking on the Benches

When my family and I pass the Chinese women
They who sit eternally on the benches by the gate of the nature center
I can’t understand a word, but I get the gist:
There’s laughter, there’s mirth, there’s merriment

And there’s the just hushed rush of gossip
Which tone must be universal, across cultures
Coupled as it is with raised eyebrows
As if we are truly scandalized and not satisfied

Age is relative, but they are old enough…sixty, sixty-five?
And what strikes me as we walk by—
My four-year-old throwing rocks and running like a squirrel when she sees the ducks—
Is how passionate, how enthralled they are
As their laughter rolls down to the valley of sighs

There are still things to talk about, then
We do not exhaust each languorous hall
We are visitors to a museum, who never see it all


Young Cashier at the Hardware Store

The cashier put down my bag of keys
With a false “yea,” and a flourish of her hand
That was sarcasm’s twin, but not unkind,
Before she told me, "four twenty-nine"

It was just a small trumpeting—an irony, a rhyme
An encomium to how mundane all this is
Both this transaction and, so it seems, her life

Which is strange, because she is so young
And it’s a shame to feel stuck when, as the cliché goes,
The whole world is at your feet

But I found it, also, almost brave, like spitting into wind
And I thanked her sincerely for her help
Grateful to be let in to an honest sigh,
Which is far better than a “Thank you, sir, please come again" 



His name was Ed, but I can’t remember or I never knew his last name
He was just Ed,
A walking whirlwind, rail-thin, with tired eyes and cheeks that dropped like wet socks, his face
worn haggard like rock long exposed, his life worn by some sorrow too deep to name,
But he rode the pain like that cowboy rode the bomb in Dr. Strangelove, waving his hat in the air,
running one step ahead of the train, downhill, mouth open, hands off the handlebars

One night not long after I met him,
By chance we stood, before our shift, looking out over the Blue Ridge from the careening hotel porch
Me, bright-eyed and moving on come fall (it’s easy to enjoy adventure when you know it’s only temporary, after all)
He, a careerist, traveling the resort circuit to snow in Utah, to sun somewhere in summer
He quickly, and with the ease of a gambler, divulged his desire to hit the new waitress hard
As he pumped his fist rhythmically, dissolving my confusion

He was a poet of the vulgar, a magician making innuendo disappear beneath a never- ending handkerchief of description
It was so strange and silly, though he used words I can’t write here, that my body floated out above the hills,
Finding no words to rejoin him, awkward like a musician who can’t find the beat, I just nodded and pursed my lips as if to say, “Alright, then”

Late that summer, the sun already honeyed by an early autumn, I woke up to hear
“You goddamn piece of shit!” ringing near my ear and
Scrambling to the window like the man in the cap, tearing open the sash,
Awake from my nap I watched Bruce, the bearded and burly owner of that mountain retreat, man-haul not presents down a chimney, but Ed himself, out of his sheets and out the door, whimpering like a dog-cussed pup, unable to muster a “Stop it!”
Just “Okay!” and “Jesus” and “Okay” again

I never knew the transgression
Perhaps, drunk, he’d missed his shift
Perhaps he’d grabbed the new waitress’s rear, as he’d so often promised, in much more florid terms
Probably some deeper sin long brewing between the two of them
Though I don’t know how a proprietor could saloon-slug an employee beyond the fear of a lawsuit
Some things just pass before men in a place beyond, with its own laws and understanding

When it was all over, Ed sat in the dirt, listless,
In the long sadness of life, he had found a metaphor, a picture of the sadness always hiding behind his eyes
And I sat there, debating if I should go to him,
But before I moved, he disappeared into the woods, a shame-faced mouse skittering away, though the shadow of the owl had passed

I remember, equally, from that good summer, another surprise:
The subtle manipulation of niceness
How the hosts and servers would lay hospitality on the table, then dog-cuss the guests as soon as the swinging doors closed behind us,
Concealing hidden truths behind closed panels
Unaware that all the things we hide come home to roost
And life always has some Bruce knocking on the door, to throw us for our loop
Which was why I didn’t laugh at Ed, or shake my head,
And lay in bed, as if crossing myself
Wondering what lay ahead in this strange, sad world 


The Rite of Spring

I remember the ritual
Like an explorer from the brush I stumbled into it
Or around it, approximating an angle of approach not too close to the circle that surrounded them
My eyes wide but feigning calm

They were locked in a ceremony I had never seen
We are all, at some point, adventurers discovering rites and tribes, and at first our own and our own self
But strangely I already understood it, and I could feel it coursing through me
We all felt it moving through us like current

David stood on the blacktop with Laura
Circled by a crowd so anxious and so full of energy, you could see their own longing bound up in expectation, their own necks on the line, sheep to be slaughtered who cannot look away

It was a warm day, warm enough for us to return outside, and the blood flowed like sap, just before the summer, when
We would fill our days with growing into all the expectations just stirring in our bodies

I craned my neck above the circle
Fully emerged from the brush and hushed, in wonder, holding my own heart
As someone yelled, “Ask her!”
And the ancient chorus rose, waiting for the letting go

Some were dancing, literally unable to contain the tension
The boys and girls intermingled, rippling as one as if a god’s spirit poured over us in libation, in frenzy
As David held up his hand, an effort at nonchalance, a priest officiating his own sacrifice

“Will you go with me?” he said
And the vulnerable way he said it, a question on so many levels, the last far more profound than the first

Someone, I swear, leapt into the air at the release when she said “yes”
The beast confronted, for all of us,
So that we were safe to pass into that reality that holds all atoms together
The universe, held by that one question

Love is always a release, a fledgling question hanging above a blacktop and the cries and screams of so much longing, and so much hope 


Christmas Morning at the Church I

Some years Christmas falls on Sunday
So I am at the church early, unlocking doors today
When all the world is cinnamon and slumber

It’s supposed to feel like work, but it doesn’t
There’s too much joy in the quiet of the building
The way it echoes when I’m alone, flipping lights
And too much interruption of the normal way of things
Not to feel somehow sublime, the mind climbing out of ruts

But I feel the work of unlocking doors, I do
Mostly because I couldn’t find my keys
And left the damn annoying things in some pocket

This thought then interrupts my reverie: that we still need keys
This, despite Christ’s coming
Keys, to protect our things
We who are waiting for the liberation of all things
Peace on earth, good news to men
And let it ring and ring and ring

But practical enough, wise as serpents still,
To know that we are waiting
And still bearing that weight that precaution claims on souls--
The weight of waiting
For gates without a portcullis
A town square without stocks
A Jerusalem without locks


If This Were a Movie

If this were a movie we would have looked, both of us, at each other, at the exact same moment
But as it was
I looked, and you were looking out the window

I was laughing because the man on the radio was so absurd
On film, we would have turned towards each other like dancers in rhyme
And time would have been split open like a piece of fruit for us to chew on

Instead, I looked back at the road, smiling something which quickly faded to a sigh
Thinking about how much of life is timing

Poems about Poetry


I used to think that poems about poetry were the lamest
Like writing a song about singing, but worse

Now I realize those poets weren’t writing about writing
They were talking about how life finds us
And how we learn to abide it--
The no-more-hiding
The being lost, then being found by what matters
And the way our soul stands stilled and stranded, surrounded by it
Afraid to look full at it


Which reminds me of something I heard recently:
That good thoughts--
Of love and mirth and family--
Are like Teflon butterflies bouncing off our brains
And that grungies are like Velcro, latching on like coffee stains
(Beautiful thoughts elusive, like hackneyed butterflies
Now, that makes sense to me)

If you want to be a bowl for beauty
You have to pause and warm up your circuits a bit
You have to stand and stare at the beauty around you
Fifteen seconds, that’s the length of it
And the butterflies become a balm, to cover and smother your sighs

It’s not unlike how I stand in my driveway
Staring through the cold of my breath each morning
As my scooter whines its way to life, ready to ride

I stand there and let the motor oil up
And, in the waiting, through my deep breaths I see again
The leaves, bouncing in a dance line,
And the little line of clouds along the hill-rise
And I call to mind the verse about God riding the sky


We are blessed
Or, rather, the blessing finds us
When what needs finding finds us
Comes to us as truth which will become its lesser self, as we handle it:
A poem,
A thought reduced to page and pen and line or rhyme
The great big void of perfect sky and sea which,
On the page,
Becomes a key-hole
Opening to the great hallway of beyond


So, of course there are poems about poetry
As sure as sight finds a blind man who, for a moment, sees


The Heroes in Black and White I

They, too, were surrounded by all the sad weight of afternoon sunlight
When you can't quite engage the gears of your heart or mind
Or be the person you want to be
And so instead you just keep running towards the night

We look back at how cool they were, their strong arms loping over the fence,
Staring slant-eyed at the camera, all cool
A cigarette dangling, restrained by soft hands, manicured

That’s what we want
To bear it all like Atlas, this weight of us
And play chicken with it, unblinking

But after the shoot they also went home and felt all the places they could not go
The person they could not be
And the charade of themselves in which they were now encased

All the life happening around them on highways they could not drive
Lined with houses and “normal people” living lives
Who adored and extolled them
And weren’t any different,
Grinding their infinite desire on finite stones
Trying to put some fine point on it

No wonder so many of them went crazy--
Drowned in a bottle or a pool
When you’re supposed to have it all and can’t make sense of it
You’re the greater fool

And when money only proves to gorge but never fill you
And regrets pile up day by day by day
As you discover how far the image is from something strong and real
That you could have a seat and rest upon--
It’s all fool’s gold

All any of us want is so simple, really
A hand to hold that holds us, not because of the sheen or shine of us
Or a diamond resting entwined on us
But the beautiful mess so near to us, which has real weight
And can truly hold and kiss and make love

They were heroes, yes, perhaps,
But not how we thought
They, the martyred ones, sacrificed
Like pyres burning, warning us to take a different path
Or at the least, to walk wisely, discerning glitter from gold  

Though we all line up, still
And drop a bill to watch their progeny on the screen
For a moment, to feel that thrill
The wise know all the while
That life’s weight is mostly held unheralded
And very rarely are they filmed or screened--
The unseen heroes of this world  


The Heroes in Black and White II

We read the stories and know reality
That these are often children taking the stage

It would be hard for any of us, with so much gold in the holds of our ships,
To expand outward towards horizons beyond our shore of self

Are they conceited? 
But with so many adoring, it would take a great soul to know there’s anything more--
It comes so close, after all
To being known
Such a strong narcotic to feel the drip of so much drug
Almost like a hug, just barely falling short of close enough

But then they create
Like a dragon, the genius is unleashed
And it’s poetry and symphony

Suddenly they are their best selves, drawn out without pretense,
A phoenix
Participating in something so much bigger
And burning bright as light and right

The music is not something they make
But something that makes them,
They just dance in it
It came before and will endure after

So for a glorious golden moment,
Like a child in a toy store, playing
They are truly free
In harmonies, they discover the line by which we all dangle
During our long fall

They are great, after all
These poets who burn a trail of freedom
Our collective better selves, whose songs we sing 


Finishing a Book

The last pages
The last page
The pang and sting and the sitting 

And then I feel the holy hush of the morning rumbling
In the air outside the window
Holding its own weight with such delicate balance
A hippo on one foot on a high-wire
Like you’d see in one of my children’s books
The sun the stars, the moonlight and galaxies pressing down on the morning
While the faint freeway hum moves through the ether like a serpent
Reminding me the world does not stop
The world keeps rolling and the trucks and the longing roll along with it

But this room has become its own holy place
The bush burning one more moment
And another
And another
As long as I will not turn the page
As long as I can sit and feel the pain
And the ecstasy that is almost touching the place
Where broken shards become one whole piece again 

I sit like Moses holding his staff against the seas
Holding it
Holding it to keep the waters at bay

Then shutting and standing
And the sound of many waters rush back in
And inside me
This density of human person and the weight
Of stars burning, longing to burn free
And the great mystery that we will walk around today
Poets all, who have no time to set in pen
All this longing
Even the writers unable to write the best of them
For having to make things work
Having to make it all work, before the end

Inside us, these tomes and poems, written in blood and bone
Which we will each hide away, to do our work
Sitting implacably pale and placid
Fierce and furious, on the freeway


Overheard I

It wasn’t the names or dates that fascinated me
Chalk all that up to the dumbing down of history
The need for lame testing
You have to get beyond the headline story
To where it gets gory
To the humanity
The beauty and the insanity

It was the dark plots that captured me
How evil embodies itself in each era, mirthlessly
Leaving crumbs that we brush away
Between the boards of a selective, glorified story
But they remain, floating in bygone time and space

You’ve heard of H.H. Holmes?
Killed dozens in his home
Built it to terrorize, with secret compartments and vents
This was 100 years ago

He had that same inward curve
That shows up every few generations
Like a black hole
It sucks in light itself

Is what happens when you despair of hope
And give in
To the need for endless self-comfort
And become your own god
Since gods are justified to do whatever the hell they want
Power the end all;
Mere mortals beware

Well, it happens in every era,
That’s my point
This humanity
This darkness
Hitler had the keys to it
But other Hitlers go on unheralded, trust me

We look back on history and we remember
The good bits, sweetened like wine--
You know, people kissing on V-J Day and all that

It’s nice

But beneath it, there’s the dark current
The desperation of human hearts
That can slip their moorings
And fall apart

I don’t know how God sees it and allows it all and is crucified by it
Over and over again
And still holds everything together


Overheard II

Do you know how, if you go to a vacation at the beach—
Even if you never go to the beach
Say, if you spend all your time at the pool or the outlets—
There’s still this thing:
You could go to the beach?
At any moment, you could get up and go

The beach is there
And this makes everything you do more beautiful
Because you're choosing it when you could be in the water

(Honestly, though, who would do that?  I can’t stand salt
And I detest sand sticking in sunscreen)
But you could
You could walk the two hundred feet to the beach

You don’t, though
You sit and smiled, consoled—comforted, isn’t that what that means?
Because you’re convinced this moment is more perfect
Because of every choice you’re not taking

Choices, yes, that’s what I’m getting at
Choices make everything seem something greater
Makes the grass greener where you are
Makes the desert a garden
When, if there was nothing to compare this to that,
This hand to that hand,
All you’d feel is sand


Overheard III

I don’t know how to thank God for it,
But I know that eventually, I’ll thank God for it, you know?

I mean, with a little perspective, we always see that things--
They have their shape

But…everything?  Her friend asked, interrupting
Unable to believe the sentimentality
I mean, Auschwitz?  I think you’re forgetting
The children
Like that Russian, Ivan, that--
Always forget, starts with a D—
What about the children?

I know, but yes, everything, or none of it has mercy in it
It’s all or nothing, right?
But the thing is, the only thing that makes anything make sense
Is God suffering with it
With all of it
With us
That’s why you can thank God
Not because the horrible is somehow beautiful
It’s not
But because he flips it all over like a dirty mat that’s clean on the other side
And he’s already been dragged through the dirt and mud of it

Her friend murmured, stirring her coffee, unconvinced
The warm all about them broken into pieces by the wind

Anyway…how was your day?


Overheard IV

I used to beat myself up for it, but then I realized dysfunction always finds the weakest place, like rain finds the valley
It’s like pressure finding the broken bolt in a ship, folding the entire metal sheet, boom!
“We’re done, your trip is through!”

It was inevitable
And it was a gift really that things blew apart
We had so much of it--
The pressure, I mean

He had such chaos growing up
Then all that stuff is still within and you try to meld to someone but at some point it’s going to find it’s way out
It always does

Anger becomes depression
Or numbness
Or addiction
(He buys thing,
I drank a bottle of wine a night)

The sex was good, but you could feel the desperation beneath it
Like, my God, are we going to keep choosing this? 
Can we trust that?
And beneath it, all this sadness

He was like a deer always rushing to stay one step ahead of the hunter
It’s always sadness beneath it, driving everything
The next purchase, the next drink, the next wild bout of making up
Trying to stay just one step ahead of the hunter

Does this…?

I know?


To Sit Like a God and Create I

I will sit like a god and create, all afternoon
Drinking a cocktail, sitting in the silence that is never silent
The warble of the bird
The bend of grass
The slow sliding of glass
Within the window frame

Through which light will pour
Telling me
The holy hour is come
And I will feel, like God must,
That whatever violence there is
And pain and lust in this dark world
There is still something we must judge fair
And too lovely for words

The breeze pushing the curtains
Scraping the room soundlessly
Remains such a perfection
I’d blush with joy
Were I not a fool
And tired
Drunk with sorrow and confused
Staring down at a blank piece of paper
Wondering how worlds are made


To Sit Like a God and Create II

In this rented room
Fifty miles from the chaos and consuming consternation
That I call my life
My life on fire
My life on fire, free-wheeling like a drunk gypsy,
Careening like a careless comet
There is such soothing comfort in:

The sorting of wayward papers
Receipts and notes and numbers
Stuffed into my pocket
Now thrown away
Or filed into my wallet

The slow unzipping of my suitcase
Clothes unrolled
From neat corners, tight folds
Placed at perfect angles

The finding of a place for everything
Until I can sigh contentedly
That everything goes where it’s meant to go

I stand a triumphant creator
Ex nihilo
Ordo Ab Chao
Over three feet square of carpet
Which is just enough

In the hurricane, an eye
Through which, I know
Everything will be alright


To Sit Like a God and Create III

 On the way here, to this mountain
I stopped and snapped photos
Like a poet feeling the frustration of words that can never capture
The perfect frustration of heart
The lens is a pitiful genie
Granting not even half a wish

But soon I will sit in the afternoon light,
Like a god,
I will read and take in knowledge
Like sipping from an ocean
And I will put into some symmetry a thought on paper
And marvel
At how so much longing can be commanded into shape

That we can create worlds
Before the long night comes
Can unpack and order a suitcase
Can order the spaces between letters
To make words
To try to shape into form
The love inside us
So that everything finds its place
Before it slips away
Wondering how it is that the night can silence the bird’s warble
Wondering how such feeble gods hold such longing
While the horizon looks for a lantern moving through the woods
Feet coming through a dark forest with good news
And light that says all is well
And all will be very well


Circle of Life

Wherever you go, in this sun-blessed land
It’s hard to slip from the grip of highway
That droning sound
Crescendos with the sun, on either side,
Then dips down, but never slides completely,
Into sweet silence

You forget about it
The brain is adept at hearing
Only what it wants to hear
(Unless it’s the toll of water dripping,
But the pipes are good here)

At night, the jackals come
There are no fences that can hold them
And, like devils,
They know the time for feeding
“So you make sure you take your cat inside,” The Barsches said, when we moved in
Bringing us delicious pie
And of course, their own cat had died
And how Mrs. Barsch must have cried

We’re not that much more civilized than they are—
The jackals, not the Barsches--
But they still eat
Whatever’s meet to feed on
And disappear into the sky

So while the highway clings to earth
And cars cling with rubber teeth
To their lanes, within their yellow lines,
Blocks away the jackals come
On silent feet
To prey

And the girl next door
Opens her window
Glossed up, pristine
Young and sure
And slips into the darkness
Clutching at her purse
Some bright hope to pursue

I see her, in the oddest stroke of timing,
As I’m getting water from the tap
Sleepy eyed
In the hour of the jackals
At the low tide of the highway
At the hour of our clearest longing


The Heart Makes Its Own Heavy

The heart makes its own heavy
Doesn’t matter how deep you’re cut
It’s enough
It’s all enough

And if some small squall comes
The heart makes of it a hurricane
It needs some storm to see through
To make sense of life and pain

So it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from
Or the weight you’ve had to hold
The heart makes it’s own heavy
Until you’re old

Life supplies some circumstance of birth
Which might make the sting of pain and death
The worse
With loss and woe
But find a heart that doesn’t groan--
That can’t be done
The heart makes it’s own heavy
‘Til life is done

We grapple against our own selves
It’s not circumstance or happenstance
That shapes us
The heart can’t feel without revealing
How empty the feeling is
Of wanting more
But that’s what a heart is: the endless longing
Bending ever beyond
For more

My boring hometown is your Rome
Your home is the race to get away
The heart makes its own heavy
And its own unknown