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Long Beach, CA



What God Wants (Pear Cycle III)

What God wanted for all those medieval kings and peasants and all peoples of the earth
Was the ripeness of a perfect pear 
Or a tomato redolent in red 
Or an apple whose good skin when cracked was temptation unto besetting sin 
So close to holy love is carnal lust, when it cloys our deepest sense

But you and I just ate better than any medieval king, my love
Or Senator of ancient Rome
With wine unmarked by bitter earth 
And fruit unfettered by assaulting herbs

And as sure as moon pulls at the earth, you’re my sea of deepest mirth
My far away journey, my return to home
Your lips, your laugh, your smile, your breasts,
You kiss of God’s bright love, 
You crown my head which is always shaking in wonder
This ecstasy before us could be chalky dust:
If you don’t have love, the food of gods is not enough

Sitting across from you, how high the moon shines down
And how deep the swallow dives into our cups
As we sit so close to what God’s own self wants 
And is always giving endlessly 

Whose alchemy turns the gifts of earth 
To gold, of so much dust and dirt

Before I Go, to All the Books I’ve Read

I believe on the day I die all the books I’ve read will rise 
To thank me, and I them
We’ll shake hands in a long line, and spend a quiet time wide-eyed, with lips pursed to hold down all that is inside us
And before some of them I’ll pause, a sad and knowing smile on my face, and I’ll touch their spine, 
For some, that will be enough, but to others I’ll whisper something just loud enough for them alone to hear
They’ll laugh and cry in that sacred mix of powerlessness and love and letting go
And each will hand to me a stem of fruit in different shapes
Pears and apples, oranges and grapes
Before I come down to the ocean water and the waves which will take me home

I will try to screw my tears down then, but if they come, so be it
Then I’ll nod my head and look up the beach
And perhaps, a unicorn or stag will appear, breaking up the sand as it runs towards it freedom—and it may all be real, for by then I’ll be seeing clear through to the other side

But before I go, of course, I’ll walk the fruit back to that fabled tree and place it on the branches
The tree will receive it, suckling it back onto its breast to hang there 
Until someone soon after me plucks it and drink its juice down to their young roots

Then, I’ll swim into those clear cold waters, my breath leaving me, and all the words and worlds will fade behind, as I come to the place beyond them, 
Where there is only sight and sound and once again, like a babe new born in the bright blue world, all is light 
To this place where all the books—when they stumbled into truth—were pointing us:
This place so full of You 
With ears now opened and the song of my eyes quiet, filled and full,
With all I never knew

I Cried During a Superhero Movie

I cried during a superhero movie, and then I smiled, because on the screen a green giant stood by a talking tree
Kudos—they had denied the fantasy and defied that part of me that keeps its guard up
And it is marvelous, truly:
The many forms of human imagination that grace us in these strange days
As we project outside us, on screens, all the things inside us
In forms which dance and prance for us so that we can see without being sighted
Which, sure, is why I go to movies—to partake in the clash of light and dark
Safely and without a scratch  

I suppose I could drive home from the theatre on the freeway at 95 miles per hour and pretend I had some epic deed to attend to, but
It’s lying beside you 
And the smiling faces that will greet us, pure as sunlight and unscathed by this hard life, 
So full of so much love, 
Which bathes everything in a flood of light
And sets the scene for this script of meaning, as if we’re filmed on every side 
(Maybe angels watch us, just as we watch movies)

The hope of tomorrow invites me to walk deliberately— 
As if some bit of eternity depends on me, and some small universe to save 
One as dear to me as any
Their faces and yours I hold ever before me
And I can only hope, as I mind my speed,
That all these small steps lead to a destiny and form the orchestra of a great symphony
A soundtrack not heard by many ears nor adulated crowds 
But heard by theirs and yours
As it echoes now across our world
And into some future place where our galaxy, indeed, is saved
A place full of light, and leave the capes
What graces us is a long embrace— 

The unseen future after the credits crawl
The hardest work of all, the work of peace when there’s no grand battle to distract us 
The work of tending frail and fragile human hearts
The work of feeding heroes, who grow into giants, like trees and gods,
With strong hearts, full of love, that guard us all

The Week After Christmas

There are still cars rushing about the streets, but for this week
We can pretend the world is resting with us
It’s not a holy hush—we’re no longer naive enough for that
But there is something holy in it, sure
Like Mary after labor and Joseph, sore from the road and from so much hope (for hope is so very hard to hold):
Before grazing in the fields of dream, they gaze content as the baby sleeps
They pause and breathe

And here we are nestled in a tiny corner of calendar, good for breathing, 
Where everyone at last says, “Good view, but that was a hard climb”
We nod our heads without saying a word
We all know it’s hard, and no one expects we should move on too soon, 
With time to remove pebbles from our shoes, we sit and rest,
Sensing this is what life should always be—
Time to move slowly, which means time to see 

Or we walk, with no place in view
And find, down by the theater, beneath the neon that bathes us in simpler times, 
That the sun is a perfect haze of sunset, orange and blue and gray 

It’s a metaphor, perhaps, that all will merge back into one:
The earth will be reborn in fire, without divisions of moon and earth and sky 
You'll open the door, then, on that day, and the whole sky will pour into you, and every color, for the sea, too, has passed away, and every pretense with it,
As evening succumbs to day

I felt some of that when you opened the door—
The air was cold and cool and perfect, as the earth tilts now on its axis, indifferent for this long moment, lending us time to take stock
I oblige him:
I take stock of your figure and your frame
The aspect of your face, 
Your head-shaking smile, fixing my soul in faith
And I know as I know my own name that somehow, in that future place, all these glories are preserved, too, by God’s good grace

After all, it is this night, just past heaven’s first appearing
That we’ll remember fifty years from now
Not the morning of Christ’s birth— 
No, I will remember how we held each other and found rest for the next good climb
As angels kept singing, “Peace on earth”

The Orbit of You

When you passed me, as the party petered out into its sad drunkenness, like a meteor losing light,
I was caught in the wondrous orbit of your yellow dress, with that fringe of red to match the auburn of your hair, and the smile that was only friendliness opening worlds within me

Time and space became nothing in my brain 
A thin fog, an oozing sense of electricity, as if I were the first to reach up and touch the mystery  
I wanted the moment to never unhand me
To stretch on into blind eternity
To shake me down for every coin and piece of lint inside my sad pockets 

But these moments pass, and so you passed into the kitchen carrying that unwieldly tray of marzipan, exiting like a Greek goddess, the door swinging swung shut to sew in the glory of you (and the perfect lines of your long waist) 
In the dust of ordinary life, at an ordinary time—such are all theophanies

But I have not been able to pass through any space purely
Always breaking the newel post or the last rung of the fence, 
Dropping mud into a clean tankard of champagne
My soiled hands, much as I've tried to keep them clean,
Mussing up the dearest dreams of me
And breaking things along the way

I feel hope at the perfect kindness of your lines, your eyes, and that sweet smile, 
Hope in second birth
In a cleaning, down by the river side
Of desire finally finding the star that guides it true
And pulls up from the earth of me the best parts, that God has long been so patient with,
As stars are patient with the earth

Driving with My Daughter, at Sunset, in a New Place

The sky is a saddle on the horizon
And my daughter is fighting sleep in the back seat as we drive through hills formed so long ago that you just have to ignore how small we are in the expanse of things
That we are kings, rather—now glad explorers newly finding this ring of road,
Blazing trails on pavement

The stars blink on, revealing the void always there, the never-ending night
The ocean we always sail, the sky,
As we chase the purple clouds of sunset,
The orange leather of last light

She is new to this world (give or take four years), pure and perfect
She doesn’t have the words yet, even in waking day,
To say full what she thinks (of course, what year ever grants us that, complete?)
And what she feels is still a churning sea, a geyser, a quiet lake
Always being discovered, sometimes surprising her
All this water in the world, around and in and through us

You can see the look on her face when she has no words
Like tensile hands just learning to touch
Trying to pick a grain of sand from dust

Before the end of this day’s world, and before words,
In the embrace of a hilltop on which we pause, as on a crest of wave,
Before speeding gladly down into the bottom, where the night is formed more fully—
More sure the dark there, and pure
Together, we have no words, just wonder
As the next hill looms before us like a great, breaking wave
Of perfect quiet


No Poems Today I

I have no poem in me today

I’m aware it’s either ironic or lying that I’m writing
But sometimes the soul just needs to say, "I’ve got nothing,"
And learn that it’s okay

The sun will come up again tomorrow
And lean into us with rays, like words, that warm
To help us realize, it’s never much about us, anyway
Just the dance of light jumping between every living being
And, come to it, every rock and dust and slumbered thing
Which still write a few words, in their quiet, and throws them, like paper into flames,
Into the dance of fire
Where what’s burned, crossing through, is refined, reproved, renewed
And stands there, across the river, a fully formed Phoenix
In the world to come

No Poems Today II

I guess the fear is we know someday, it won’t
The sun, I mean—come up and all that

But for now, my friend has left town, and my birthday's gone,
And I spent so much energy running around, my soul has pooped out and said, “enough”
Like a jalopy on route 66
We are like circles which, running into happiness, running into sorrow, grow tired and
have to sit once again before the great silence

But then, "Don’t try to wring from me any words," my soul said,
Your brain will judge them all as trite, if you try
And you know the drill:  
You’ll think what you find is never true, that your young energy just deceives you

I don’t have a poem in me, though they remain all around,
I must simply sit and say, "the waves come in, the waves come out
Let’s hope a new tide rolls about"
(See, that rhymed
...I tried)

No Poems Today III

A good substitute for truth is rhythm and a line in time and two words
That stare at each other, from across a line
But this moment won’t yield to cheap tricks

After all, I had a moment which now I can’t remember
Can’t recall with rhymes, like a magician calling a hidden card forth,
But it was poetry

If I can just find and pull the string of it, like a line of hankies from my sleeve,
I could write a poem
But all I can remember is, it was something about how you laughed and smiled
And shook your head while you read your book, a world being born inside your brain,
And me standing in the doorway, an unseen shadow, shaking my head and smiling in my turn
A world turning, like a kaleidoscope, inside me 


Hard Candy

I bought six boxes of my favorite candies—
Hard coffee toffee that tastes like Christmas and childhood
Figuring that their presence,
There in the basket by the pantry,
Would fancy my delight after each hard daylight

Men used to come home and curse Kennedy or Nixon and pour a Scotch
It’s something close to that
To take the edge off|
But they just sat there, untouched
As calendar pages dropped one by one in a long film noir montage, through the seasons

When I came back to them, they had soured, gone soft
And I ended up trying to freeze them back to life before throwing them out
All rubbish

Then, at Christmas,
My sweet wife got me a small package of the same, nestled into the toe-nook of my stocking
And like a Phoenix rising,
They tasted, one by one, like bliss incarnate, bedeviling senses
A bite-sized shell of soul-song

I don’t know what it all means, but I’m quite sure there’s a parable or a poem somewhere inside this story, like a soft caramel center

Storehouses don’t always please the soul
It’s not the having, it’s the letting go
Delight is a dish best served slow


A Girl I Once Knew

There was a girl, lived just up this road
Pumphouse, named to hearken back a century,
Before so much iron made things spin,
And they used instead the wood and water of this forest
Which hides, now, the long path to her house
Or, more likely, where she used to live—  

For surely a new family lives there, and she’s moved on
And that is part of the mystery of changing rooms like we change days
The residue, though…that’s always the same
The filmy wash of love and longing, and so much pain
On hearts and windows

We never dated, never touched, but
Dear my, the lust of those brown eyes
“Chestnut," “mahogany," “coffee" and such
If they were written in rhyme
On some love-note inscribed
"Dark eyes piercing their own mysteries
and piercing mine" 
The tall longing to be known, a sunflower breaching sky
And strawberries, her skin
Grown warm in our Alabama sun

Her mother died and there was tragedy
She might as well be a maiden or her lady’s waiting maid
From some sod-trodden century now romanticized
The hardship of rock and mud forgotten

It’s all the same, after all—the same longing, whatever the time
And whoever owns the skin that contains within it
The taste of strawberry
Its scent wafting on the wind, still
Wading through so many years


A Circus Memory

I remembered, when my son came to my bed
Still stumbling up from his nap, just awake
That you took me to a circus

I don’t know why
I haven’t thought of it in years and was, in fact, surprised to find any memory of it,
Let alone something so pristine and clear, like a photograph dusted off, but
There it was, a file suddenly found

I was focused on the subtlety and smallness of his breaths, minutely filling the minutes,
When suddenly I saw the great green hall of the civic center,
The concrete once swept clean now filling with popcorn and peanuts and sunflower seeds
And in my hand a yellow fan they’d handed out, advertising a dealership, cross town,
As children bounded in and sat down in the delicious dark, waiting for the start

It had been raining—a good storm, too
So we were wet, which was part of the fun:
To step from storm into a place where the soul heaves away from sad shores,
For just a moment even, to remove itself,
To be restored in those tents
And in the centuries of trains traveling cross country, long before the show was contained in the big rigs which rumble now, with such melancholy, into town

I don’t know why I remember it, except perhaps that you loved me in it
In-between the crazy of our family and the broken glass of pain,
The ruthless love was there, rooting me
And I stand amazed—or sit or lie, as the case may be—at how deep and strong the love goes, covering (as they say) a multitude of misses,
Like ink which colors the whole pot of water

And my son, my son
His face without lines,
His life the very meaning of miracle
With such a heart to hold so much love:
Wordlessly he crawled up the sheets and lay down, smiling sleepily to find me here
And I tried not to move, still as a lion
As he slid beneath the big tent of my arms

Arms poised to hold, and also aware, already
Of letting go
Because that’s how love goes—
The tender breath of it so subtle
Though it builds worlds and holds us, through the storm



Love is like a child folding origami
Always for the first time

She discovers, slowly,
Crease by create,
The paper 

Animals at the Door

I can't untangle my daughter’s necklace, so I stand
Hidden in the hall
Before the door,
While they wait for me,
The honking of the horn imminent as a charge of bulls

First I must wrestle it from my headphones
Like a huntsman prying open the mouth of a bear

A small bear, but bear is bear
And the hunter is flooded with frustration that flags his agile fingers:
He wasn’t expecting anything but a bright orange sunrise on his way to the day’s work

It’s not urgent; I could just lay it down ‘til evening
But as I think of my daughter’s face
It just seems like such an important catch
A fisherman hauling in the day’s first big prize


A Birthday Poem, For My Wife

Words are such wonderful things
Winging all around us
Giving us shapes to play in
To put our thoughts and hearts in
To make worlds that spin in infinity

How strange then
They can fail so fast
Falling, utterly helpless
Shrugging and sighing
Dropping the box they were carrying
And calling it a day

They’ve seen the writing on the wall,
Poor things
Set such a labor
They have no friends or well-dressed cousins
Could describe your air
The sunlight on your hair
The way you hold those you love
The way you grieve and weep and care
And return, always, with such hope

No, I can’t blame them
I join with them
I sit with them and sigh
And watch the long, slow slant of sunlight
Catch your silhouette
And marvel at how apt the silence lays
So still across the yard


I Love the Spectacular Song of Your Heart

I love the spectacular song of your heart,
My love
And still, there is some music it hurts too much to hear in full
So sometimes I turn away from you
And take the melody in small bursts that, all the more, make be breathless
And in this way there's some feeling
That I won't be swept away, like sand

I’m like a child stealing the song of a seashell for the first time
Over and over
I pull it in close and hear the sound then, marveling,
Pull it away
And give myself to time and wonder and to awe
Before pulling it close again