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Long Beach, CA

Outside

To Be Here Now, in the Great Belly of the Beast

I am listening to a baseball game, one of the more refined pleasures of this lingering American century
And sure, the radio is also a handheld genie with more computing power than the ship that put men on the moon
But
Sitting in Central Park while spring tries to spring, before the sun soaks up the
wet grass and wears shades and smiles (like the suns of 1,001 children’s books),
it is warm enough to enjoy the smell of hot dogs and someone’s fine tobacco
(It may be cheap, but what do I know? And who cares?)

And I become aware of timelessness here
On these leaves upon which so many derrières have sat
The day that Armstrong waddled down the ladder, perhaps, 
Onto that great white orb, now circling with endless speed this green sphere, 
And perhaps ten thousand other days, where souls have sat enjoying the little grattitudes of life, 
Of eating, of smoking, of pushing pain away 

My dad taught me how to sit and do nothing, which is the greatest excellence of a man, and one at which I still struggle lop-sidedly, an artist still at crayons,
But after the final out, while my wife sleeps on a sprawling rock untouched by centuries of metal teeth or the sharp whirr of the bulldozer,
I practice the art of being here
Now
And become aware of my breath
And let my mind wander down its spiral staircase for a waking nap
So that everything can become just sense, 
Of green and sun, of earthy smells
Which makes my soul shudder, at how large this park is, and how small, like squirrels, we are in this great belly of city
And how still, that seems good and right: a sensation of dangling
And how it’s better to have some sense of falling
Than a false sense of being held
Or worse, the addiction of avoidance that is our endless rushing around, 
Trying to be everywhere 

 

The Cow Turned Its Head (So Wait on Life)

Around the bend, while we chased sunlight
I will remember always the last pasture  
Where three cows sat unaware of anything much spectacular in this dark world
Certainly not, by God, the burning down of earth and sky
Like hope collapsing to endless density, cold and quiet

I waved my camera, quick as I could, fixing its fixtures to take in the world, frame and shutters ready
But it would not work, despite the perfection of orange above me, because  
The damn cow closest us was content at eating grass
And there’s nothing sweet about a bovine ass  
(It’s a cheap rhyme, but there, I’ve said it, I couldn’t let it pass) 
In the center of the frame  
And the other two so far turned, were helpless to help me, as the sky turned dark and the seconds burned  

But, 
at the last moment, that cow most close to us—who knows why, God alone— 
Turned its head, sighing or eyeing me, 
I believe he flipped his tail, too, as if to say, “Yeah, I see you" 
And that image of his face made everything else take its place, stand ready, and say “Cheese!”—the sky, the trees, the holy grace  
As not three cow hides but rather three beautiful beasts  
Filled the center of the frame, and one, a perfect quiz upon his face, was an angel to all the rest, as I clicked away 

He, my new friend, quick as cows can move,  
Settled back down to herb and plate, all done
But the sky was through, anyway, as things need to find their boring, brooding pace again

I knew, though, for that moment, that his turning seemed to say, “Be present, wait on life, things will look your way" 
And I could not have loved him more
So grateful for the photo, which sits framed now, on my desk,
And much more for the metaphor  

 

Escape from LA

I made a home where the sun always shines
With freeways and palm trees and traffic signs
A home where you rest your wearied feet
Though you’ve walked not a mile, and stepped not a beat
But pedaled through madness, through crowds, and through heat
In gray lanes, in metros, and urban retreats
And neon, and smiles, and meet-cutes-and-greets

Through refrains of headaches, the seasons are concrete
And tulips and roses are burned out by heat
So asphalt’s the flavor that floats on the breeze
And car horns the sonnets that play through the trees
The song of the autumn is trucks in their straining
In merging lane-changings with no thank you waving
As they swagger and stomp with their impolite feet
And bleat down the freeway like overstuffed sheep

But now I’m bound for somewhere far
I feel the burning, I’ll answer the call
Of land where sea is rolling in green
Where summer is gentle and winter is mean
And we’ll forget interchanges and pages and frets
From smog alerts and the hundreds of texts
Beeping like peace-seeking missiles directed
At a man’s sense of quiet and silence and feeling
Without which a man can’t make rest with his being

We’re bound and we’re leaving, we’re going afar
We’ll search through the bogs, barbaric and wild,
That thaw when the springtime’s passion’s enthralled
We’ll find them, we’ll walk them, we’ll sit on their logs
We'll battle the brooding of mist and of fog
As the geese and the mallard honk on the breeze
As windstorm and headwinds sing through the trees
And the bog echoes back with the croak of its frogs  

We’ll ride to the north woods,
We’ll hunt for the birch
We’ll hike through the forest
We’ll wipe off the dirt
Where magpies and skylarks and puffins are perched
Where the November storms promise battle has come
And we’ll grip and we’ll feel the roll in the stern
When the aft tips downward and sails are a-fly
And the spray of the sea puts salt in your eye

Yes, we’ll sail to the lands where the flags are a-buckled
And windstorms and raindrops send curtains a-ruffle
And the wind in your hair sends your backbone a-tingle
With the promise behind it of storm and of winter
And we’ll laugh and we’ll relish the flight and the fear
And will earn every draught of the sun and the clear

We’ll know that out here a man will be drowned
And we’ll revel that mystery still can be found
Far from the mouse ears and freeways and sounds
And the asphalt that blankets and covers the ground

We’ll start a new baseline, with shadows and fears
We’ll learn to tremble at the roar of the tears
Of the vast-speckled autumn, melting the year
Till winter, so naked and barren and sparse,
Reminds us that life is a poem not a farce
Of sun and of surgery, highways and cars
But a battle for living that must leave its scars

We’ll respect the black ebony of December’s floorings
When winter at last has slipped from her moorings
And then as the snow casts its pall on the land
We’ll laugh and we’ll revel and grab at its hand
And go skipping down hillsides and dales and down glens
We’ll run through the meadow and skate oe’r the fens

And when winter has locked the land up in its grasp
And no man can stir, not a moose nor a mouse
We’ll curl by the fire and look through the glass
Where snowflakes are falling and coming down fast
We’ll look and we’ll know that preparing is past
That now is the time to batten the hatch
And that fire is friend and our strength and our life
We’ll laugh and we’ll rest in the joy and the strife

And all will be quiet and silent and holy
We’ll wake with the morn and go to sleep slowly
To hear every noise of the wood off its feet
Slumbering through cold, the snow and the sleet

And when springtime so dappled revives all the trees
And the birdsong returns on the meadows and lees
When summer comes golden, with wheat in its hands
No one will find us nor know where we stand
We’ve gone out a-roaming and roving the land

 

Yellow

I am only writing this to remember that I was not looking for a sign
And only realized hours later, as I turned the lever and felt the rush of untested water which caught my breath, the surprise even worse than the cold blast on opening a shower door (such are the pains of all sudden absences)
That the yellow-breasted bird sat like a needle in the haystack of that brown, mottled wood
A coy reminder of something too quiet for words
A prophet whispering wordlessly, “yes, and keep moving forward”

 

Socks

My clean socks smell of fields brought into order
Dirt, tamed by cotton
And cotton claimed by the long hands of workers who sewed the stitches
As faithful as a conductor's watch
As faithful as the baton of Brahms

Oh, I know they were made by machines
But the touches of those long needles moving tirelessly, like the axis of earth,
Always follow the hands of man, which first break the ice that we pass through
All things made and crafted, for our quickly-passing-through

So that young feet growing old, like mine,
Can find purchase, warm and dry, in one eternal moment
In all the wonder, treading the scent of mud and rock and so much green,
And the longing just above the next rise
And the next one, not so very far behind

 

Blasphemy to Minnesotans

There is no winter here, but if I am diligent
I can cobble together some semblance of it

It does get cold in the night
And if I wake up early, the mist will just reminisce of frost
Or, when we’re lucky, real crystals crunch on the blades

If I go out early with one layer, I need to pull my jacket tight
To keep the air out
And can more easily remember places where survival was at stake
Beside the lake
The night you grazed by me and I wondered
If the weight of your shoulder against my arm was intentional
In the land where all speaking was sent sideways
And we never looked too long in anyone’s eyes

I have realized
This is the sort of thing that winter holds for me
Memories that will not let go
The crisp dawn, the smell of smoke
The feeling that we are free-wheeling over water
While bare limbs bounce on winter wind
Beneath a bright full moon

 

Pastoral I: Los Angeles

Sometimes through the concrete, you get a glimpse of how grand the land was
Before condo and apartment swept down over it, covering it
You get a sense of Indians who stood on the shore and looked up at the mountains and fell down, because the Great Spirit knew nothing of boardwalks or billboards or roadside dinosaurs

Sometimes, early in the morning, late at night, you can hear the earth breathing, sleeping, the mountains creaking, unaware of all the late-night blankets now draped over it

It’s all glitter, ready to be shaken off, like a dog shakes off bath-water before it takes a nap

The earth will rise and, like the dog, tremble, unaware of itself, lost in some hypnagogic nod, before stretching its paws and curling up again in a tight, unknowing ball

 

Pastoral II: England

The thing about England is how beautifully worn down the land is

It’s like some monarch whose crown, long since taken, stubbornly stands
His stature taken by so many days, sure,
But still, he’s more dignified in old age than any upstart, yet to be worn by life’s long reign

There's nothing rugged about it now except the moors, where the cold rain pelts down and pours
But even that water runs down into gentler slopes--
There are no Alpine inclines--
Just gentle hills that gather everything until it’s still
And drop the water into quiet pools
Upon which leaves and acorns drop

And by them, in the woodlands
Moles and toads forage and hide
And water rats glide
Upon unassuming waters

And a soul can find the unpretentious shade
Untouched by mountain glory
A place to rest and consider the story
Of all one’s simple days
Knowing there is nothing half so good
As messing about in quiet woods

 

Pastoral III: Alabma

The old growth is all but gone
Cut down to make
Backyard altars for the autumn
Decks on which pork is sacrificed
And pigskins worshipped

But good God, the green

Flying in from the desert, it leaps up to smother you
Like heat
You can sit still in it and hear
The ever-warbling whippoorwill
The bullfrog, the cricket
The cacophony
That makes you believe
Life does not stop at death
Some symphony
Some force,
Some work greater than mystery,
Overcomes the earth, and our dead bones

I can see it:
The earth re-claiming, without a noise
The toothpicks built upon it
Like Gulliver snapping silly cords,
The earth will pull the ramparts down
Without malice or a sound
While spirits soar and take up bodies
And walk the earth once more,
With no need for shelter

So each new pine, planted to replace the old
Is vanguard

Come to proclaim
That the dead will rise again
Even if the wait is far and tarries
Long after each of us is gone


 

The Week Before He Moves Away

She ripped her new stockings
Running across the cotton fields
Laughing in big gulps, like swigging soda

The twittering,
Like drunken larks tumbling flightless
Across the ground
Almost woke the dogs and cats

But…they didn’t
And “almost, but no”
That’s youth’s good luck
Beneath a harvest moon
In summer’s final swoon