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Long Beach, CA

Tradition and today are always crashing together, but we are the new tradition.jpg


A Reflection on my Trainwreck

I spoke to a room full of people, and I suppose I’m writing this to address the anatomy
of my glorious meltdown  

First, in rising mania I moved before the mic, saying things like, “Right?  I mean, right, guys?” Palms raised pleadingly for comprehension, I looked around the room for some nodding eye or mind to anchor the panic of not knowing what I was saying

Second, I soared out of my body, asking myself what on God’s green earth I was talking about, and wondering, not unlike a lamb being sheared, when it would all be over 

Third, three times, I opened my mouth, like a leap off a clip, literally without words to say, and not a pool to land in
I only found a place by making up a thought, no matter how incongruent, how grand the non-sequitur
And the wreckage was profound

Fourth, by the end, I just admitted, “I know this wasn’t very clear,” by which I meant, “I know this was a total trainwreck, and I’m really sorry,” and people got my meaning because they came up to me afterwards to “thank me” 

So they said, but, 
I’ve been around the track enough to tell the difference between gratitude and compassion from sweet souls—the kind of people who take home strays or leave milk out for tomcats
And saw how in need I was of a warm place to spend the night 

I told my wife, two days later, that it had stirred up my soul, like vinegar in a vat, settling into the bowl of my stomach, where I hold the best of my anxiety
It chewed up the sediment that holds down the river bottom—the waters of ego I scramble like an engineer to hold back, 
I, always an unwitting builder of a sandbag dam within me, holding back
Pebbles of performance
Earth layers of ego
Fissures of fear 

But three days of sitting in the dark is enough time
For my soul to enter that v-shaped resurrection I’ve come to know will hold me
You hit your low and then you know
That God never sees the pretense anyway, or sees past it, right as rain
And if all pain opens the soul, it’s better to learn to laugh and let it go
Sometimes, like the models in those old Westerns, the train just needs to go off the bridge
So you can learn it’s perfectly okay
And that the best lessons are the ones that shake you whole, so you can learn to let them go 


On Clichés Becoming True

On my math teacher’s desk in junior high there was a postcard standing sentry to remind us that “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” the first in a long kick-line of clichés we learned to dismiss along with all the veracity of romance novels
Either so clearly false (unenchanted wands waved to produce one last bit of sleep for us, the awakening ones)
Or truths so true they became trees to the proverbial forest of our heart’s unseeing wilderness

“Aim for the moon, if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”
“Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you”
(until you start therapy, twenty years from now, and find they are all still inside you)
“God will never give you more than you can handle”
(no wonder so many people hate God)

Even with the true ones, you don’t know the truth until it’s true for you
And familiarity breeds contempt, so we overlook the closest truths to hand
Until we stumble into them and remember we read them on a poster back in high school

As when I cleaned my yard this afternoon and saw all the unscrupulous pieces of dirt,
Returned after last week’s good brooming
And the leaves fallen once again, the vines re-claiming aimless space,  
And I knew, as of a sudden seeing,
There will be no place in my life, no space in my yard, where it’s done
My backyard has become the metaphor I’ve denied, the cliché I’ve hid away, the fact revealed:
There is only journey

Yes, I feel it now in my bones, moving up my stomach with sobering sight, this revelation,
That I will not arrive
There is no destination except deeper down and real, where God is—
The arrival of letting go

And somehow, without wondering what else I could be doing or where else I could be besides here,
I put my hands on the rough-catching handle of the rake
The bristled top-hat of the broom (with its flakes of paint falling in a great irony, to be swept away)
And move the dirt that’s always returning, holding the rake with steady breaths, at peace, while another sort of irony snakes back upon itself
Finding me mindful for a moment, that  

The journey is an always-becoming-destination
A train station merging always with the tracks
A process so very close to place 


The Self is Like a Paper Cup

They had in my dad’s office one of those glass jugs of water and,
Beneath it,
The coned paper cups which were good enough
For a drink or two, maybe three
Before we crumpled them into the can
Wiping our lips with our long sleeves and sighing

All this I remember because they would tear so easily
Like our own souls
Into which God is always pouring water

Return to London

The day was crisp when I came here, a young man,
To London
To Bill and Blake and the Bulldog
The whole world on the threshold of my hostel
A new flannel shirt to keep me from the cold
The leave-less trees of London stirring in Atlantic wind
And on my face, the indomitable grin of youth
Bouncing like a blown-up punching clown
As my footfalls echoed down Baker street
Despite my awkwardness
My inability to negotiate the tube

I went three stops too far on the wrong line
Before realizing I was headed far afield of Covent Garden
I swept into people’s way on the street
I asked for a pint of Bombardier, rhyming it with Perrier,
(The barkeep placed it down and said,
“That’s Bombardier, mate…like dropping bombs, eh?”)

Now, I walk more secure, either more mastered
Or more mature at masking
Aware of how to hail a cab and flow through crowds
But something is lost in the exchange
The world more behind me now
The thrill over each hill a bit dampened

Good God the crisp air by the Thames as I paid my ticket
Scrambling to figure out how much each coin was worth
Then striding down to the Beefeaters and the great glorious Tower
Real as brick

At Oxford, I said something that offended my tour guide,
But here I had the good sense to keep my mouth shut,
The faces of the past welling up like Trafalgar on the tide
As the cold wind swept tears into my eyes
(Or from them, who can tell?)
And the great city opened all the past
And all my future flowed before my anxious feet
Like the Thames rolling to the sea


A Constant

Sometimes it seems the constant in my lank life,
Flickering forward through memory,
Bringing me back to myself,
Pinching me
Is the sound of a jet on the afternoon
Its whine limping forward in undulating pitch
Its lips
Just barely touching,
Sounding an Fff or Zzz in the key of C

Then suddenly the day is still
And I hear, breaking through my work

The dust falling on the grass outside
The children playing trains down the street
Their voices choo-chooing across the yards
And somewhere a street away, bricks being unloaded in a steady
Scrape and clink, the weight of worlds being re-made
And the laughter of the workers over (I imagine) some lewd joke
That breaks through the sweat with smiles

While above me, the drone begins to fall away
The last ember glow and smoke of firework
As lives buzz through the skies
And a man with his eyes closed, sighs
Feels the plane shimmer all around him
The sounds of the earth so far below



When we stepped from the train
And smelled that green
Felt that heat on our skin
Saw the distance shimmer and wave
In springtime heat
All covered in the morning’s sheen

All the possible, all the hopes
Were held there, in that pause
Standing on the platform
As we breathed in greens and blues  
With pleated breaths,
Folded neatly within our chests
Measured, each, to give us time
To see the steps ahead

I said, “Let’s go”
And fumbled with the awkward weight
Of trunked up things

You can’t risk standing still
Too long in that sacred place
Where hopes and morning meet