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Long Beach, CA

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Poetry Blog

All Very Much the Same

Brandon Cook

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 

I Cried During a Superhero Movie

Brandon Cook

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 Goths at Disneyland

Brandon Cook

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

Brandon Cook

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

Though 
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
But
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

Brandon Cook

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 

Even the Gods Are Mortal

Brandon Cook

There is a moment when the new slugger walks into the clubhouse—
That great god of the diamond
That Adonis on red dirt and grass 
Trumpeted in black and white lines, all over the country
A hero, a divinity, meant to inflame hope and remind us
There is glory left to play for
That whatever fell dead surround us—the carcasses of spring’s fool dreams— 
A summer trade springs hope, and springs eternal

There is a moment—and just a moment, blink and you’ll miss it—
When he quivers inside
Shudders as he never would before a curveball or an inside heater
And he doubts
An ash tree falling like timber inside him

He recovers quickly, give him that
He smiles with a grimace, gripping his bat
And then puts the swagger back on his face
To meet his teammates
Like a jaguar claiming his spots
He adopts what he has become
Larger than life
He just slips that on

And they are all too awed to catch much more of the moment than that
And perhaps, too,
The resplendence of his suit
Which is soon to be replaced by the white robe that is his uniform 
And he a priest of fly balls and long drives 

But one or two, they saw it, breaking through
That look of uncertainty
That human question, living in the heart of gods—do I have a place?
It makes its inexorable way into their midst
A serpent always being born in flame
As smiles and swagger seek to extinguish it 

The Old Gods Who Make it Through

Brandon Cook

The kind old man who scanned my carbon copied rental agreement and let me loose on the freeway
He might be Hercules, humbled and forgotten, cast down a long chain of shame
And landed here, a broken god, shunned and stumbled from Olympus 

He who now sits with the cap of a local baseball team sitting unbroken on his tired head, 
He who has no sense of style save that which is not-having-time-to-care-what-people- think (and we all shun that freedom until there’s no strength left for slavery)
He is a fading god, fierce and sad 

But I bet in robust youth he played football and walked the halls with a glint in his eyes that made knees quiver
The way he chewed his gum as he took my papers and the twang in his old voice told me
That his power once flowed like spring itself
That he was young and all was pear-ripe before him
And he a vice that never stopped its squeezing 

I’d bet that when he goes home, he does his best to be kind
Feeds some fearful cat that will only sit in his lap, and no one else’s,  
And unwinds alone, drinking and cursing and watching baseball 
Just above the sorrow that is so clearly pushed down inside him
Which he did not know in the days when he loped around town
With no notion of strength’s long day becoming night 
No notion that life would pile on and keep piling on until he cries uncle
(Since we all cry uncle)

He could still pin me at arm wrestling
Flipping the bird to my young years and laughing
The strength bringing back the best memories
Of love and sex and lust and youth 

So our handing off of papers became, for me, a sort of prayer:
May we all be graced in our youth with a long ignorance
And then carry our strength into the fade with a tip of a baseball hat sitting sideways on our white hair, and a nod of the head, and a wry smile that says, “I’m ready”

May we become kind as we prepare to hit the highway 
With some glint in our eye that still remembers, without undue regret, 
The value of time well-spent, and proper sorrow for what we wasted
Before we’re released to the road ahead

Then we will all be very blessed, even as we hold regret
And we will rise like gods through golden halls, having spurned the snare of pride,
Ready to waste no time
Ready to rise and rise and rise

Hours Before Finishing a Sermon

Brandon Cook

Tonight I will have to beat this sermon into shape
I will sit at my desk like a blacksmith at his anvil 
And each stroke will make fall into place
The space for speaking and breathing 
A canal through which I’ll push some hope, a weary bark
On words hot enough to move the soul, and cool enough to not get fired 
(It’s no wonder Jesus built things, then for three years didn’t have a job)

But first I enjoy the jumble this afternoon of ideas which do not have to land
They are birds that race each other, gracing unthinking skies 
It is no pride for lilies to exalt in their grandeur
And no sin to sit here without sorting, just letting the wind from glad wings beat and beat
The line between procrastination and delight is a thin thing
And all these breezes are echoes of the future, when kites will stay afloat without the wind

I feel the longing for that place
And the pain as something is lost in each pounding of the hammer
Something lost when what could be becomes, instead, what is
And it’s good, what’s left in my hands
It has thick weight, like a metal sheaf of paper
But all the bright woodland birds which flitted about me are gone
And I am bereft at the loss of such good darlings 

This, though, is simple human fate: learn to live in loss
Enjoy the sparks and even dross that glow then fade away
And still hold on to what could be, while tending to what is
In this balance is nature’s secret:
Of trees and birds, bee and breeze,
All with such different lives—of moments, of centuries
All engaging, joyfully, the art of ever becoming 
Which gives us hope for what yet might be
A time and place when little birds will never land 
Yet never lose their strength

To Simply Climb

Brandon Cook

They hired Swiss guides to teach Canadians how to climb
Or just to lead them to some patch where they could play, 
To make some wild wooded part of mountain enough of a playground, like saddling a tiger, teetering in the seasons between avalanches 

Before there were selfies or livestreams to show it 
The thing itself was what you lived for
A snowflake that would melt, but you held it just the same
The precious reality of something you cannot save 
Becomes the very thing that points the way 
In a time when you just breathed in and hoped to remember the warm feel of sunlight 
The memory a sunbeam in the brain, kept through the long decades 

Can you imagine opening a land to sport, as they called your name and paid you to teach survival on a mountain pass? 
And you thrilled with the thought of buxom blondes steamed over to this new land, 
To be one of those first few to stand on the summit of Rundle or some other peak which promised escape, above it all?

The sorrows of 1910 were still the size of peaks, despite it all
There was loss and death
But, 
It must have been like a poet finding the right word, a gambler floating aces on the river
A sort of escape, as you suited up, slipping your rope up and over your shoulder,
Forsaking the precision of your Swiss watch
Watching shadows instead, playing across the mountain faces

Into the veritable frontier, as you looked up to the slopes ahead, and, forgetting the ones behind
Enjoyed the great pleasure of singular focus and a clear goal
To stay alive
To simply climb

The Week After Christmas

Brandon Cook

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”

A Poem for my Grandchildren

Brandon Cook

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

The Philosopher's Sermon

Brandon Cook

The most serious judgment of all, perhaps, is that we get exactly what we want 
If there is a God, He (I know God doesn’t have a gender, but just go with me) 
He, in love, gives everyone what they choose 
He cannot force any soul along a path  
He is limited by uncoercing nudges 
The wind, the light, a hand on the small of a back 

No one will be in heaven who does not want to be there 
No one in hell who isn’t satisfied, in some way,
And no one will be surprised, either 
It all just extends out, this life, like a ripple from the steps we now walk

If you walk up to someone in hell and say, “Are you happy?”  
“Yes, of course,” they’ll say 
And of course, he said, leaning over his lectern, 
Hell isn’t a place at all  
It’s a state 
A state, perhaps, that many of us have long embraced

Then he stood straight, gathered his papers, and looking up, paused and said, at last, 
“Dismissed, good day”  
His brow furrowed when he looked up, confused as to why we all sat there still, 
Waiting for the next page 

Goofy

Brandon Cook

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

Brandon Cook

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

The Orbit of You

Brandon Cook

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

Still
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

Mr Crowzen’s Yard

Brandon Cook

I never understood why the old man bent down so dutifully above the green
Preening like a crow on the crown of the hill, “Old Man Crowzen’s yard”
Pulling weeds

Sometimes, I guess, he was planting seeds
Then watering with the focus of a sieve 
Always calling forth dense green, incanting some mystery from the earth 

Indeed, he stewed it like a witch’s brew, the blades to hold the dew
Obsessed, he seemed, with that moving stream of water
In his tiny wizard's kingdom
When outside his walls a whole world wasted away for his lack of seducing it
Reducing it, as he did, to a patch of grass

But now, I understand:

If you can make one thing flourish in this strange world
If you can stand and say, I have power, before the sun fades
In this—a little kingdom of green, 
(No matter how small it is, that matters not a thing) 
It stings and stuns the sense we’re fading too fast 
It preserves the words we need to hold in all our unsaid selves

It delays the night with day  
And provides that prize we most covet:
A sense of harmony 

I know this, as I stand in my own yard, watering grass to green it, 
Preening as it lays down and lets me speak to it
Feeling the gentle stream that keeps me here and nowhere else—
Which may be life’s dearest trick
To be here now
And all while calling forth a shade of green
Which is to hold hope close, life’s second trick
Those two tricks the thing
So very close to being king

Sandy Beaches Like False Gold

Brandon Cook

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
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
To be out again upon the sea 

Night of the Hot Tub

Brandon Cook

The most hilarious story of my life, I was not there for
But have heard so many times I feel I was standing to the side of it, in dew drenched grass of a summer night so many years ago, when Bill woke up to the hippies in his hot tub

There had been a long fight about the contraption
Barbara lobbying like a lark, Bill calling it “newfangled," or some such phrase he reclaimed from the hackneyed rubbish bin of his day
And Barbara, exulting when, having won, it was installed in their backyard, while Bill just shook his head, slathered herself with sunscreen and slid into it, while Bill spent the week cutting the hedge

And at the end of that short week, to the sound of splashing, Bill rose and strode through the back door and yelled, “By God, what are you doing out here?”
But they were laughing and/or too high and/or drunk to hear or listen
So he went out into his garage and returned with a chainsaw—just for looks
And stepped right up to the tub and yelled, “Well...”

And then every one turned and scrambled like squirrels, naked to the world
Slipping all over the grass like it was buttered, and screaming
And Bill said no further word but walked back to bed
Where Barbara sat sleeping like the fat cat who caught the canary, dreaming of her hot tub

I wish I had been there (girls streaming from the water aside),
To watch the light in his eyes, and to watch him leverage that crotchety gray style
And beneath it, that wonderful, mischievous smile, glad at last that some things
Can at least remain the same and in their proper order
In this, our always newfangled world

A Reflection on my Trainwreck

Brandon Cook

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 

In the Coffee Shop

Brandon Cook

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