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Long Beach, CA

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Poetry Blog

Huntington Gardens

Brandon Cook

The old man who tends the gardens has such deep regret
I know because of how he holds the hoe and his head and because he would not look at me as I said “hello"
Though my daughter did get him to crack a smile

Some old men are like boats that settle into the ocean’s swell, even if the swell is sorrow, for miles 
And somehow I know that hoeing these rows is his penance (though his sin I’ll never know)
As he earns enough to sit with cold beer on his warm porch and watch the sun go down, before treading back to these demanding plods of dirt, like divas which will sing for you but, should you forsake them, will let themselves go

I do not know if his redemption lies in the simple furrows
But over many seasons they do make a sort of poetry which is sent out into the world like hope
We watch it grow

And I hope he knows
That picking weeds is a way of setting our world right again
And his posture a fixture of faithfulness which shows us all how to be in the work of any good thing
By simply leaning in, again and again, until the end 

This winter is clad in cold colors, gray and brown
And no one will make a startled sound until the rose bushes blush
And we all fawn for the beauty, as the birds sing

I hope then, as the crowds stamp these grounds,
That the sad man will lean his weight on his tall tools and stop and sigh 
And, if he’s lucky, smile, 
Underneath a warm, blue sky 

God's Own Poems, Like Sparrows in the World

Brandon Cook

The rhythm of these little birds—sparrows, I think, or finches
Lands like God’s poetry on the branches

They are nervous, these birds, like unsettled fingers, 
Startled, perhaps, by the beauty of the bright world

But then they fly in uncomprehending grace, quickly heedless of any beauty or the forested space of green which leans in to befriend their tiny frames 

Since each beat of the wing is driven by hunger, they have no time or thought or feeling for anything other
than beating wings and the daily hunt to quench the sting 
(How things change depending on our perspective and our place)

Like all living things, they are driven forward first by the beauty, then by the hunger of the world 
With inscrutable, searching eyes, they pine, they dive 
But still, beauty can divert their eyes, and surprise them

Just as poems must be sent out, like Noah’s dove,
To take in the world from above
And keep things in perspective
Some bright, right thing to find
So God’s own self is always sent hungry into the world
Like a poem, a word, a dove

Since God needs to take wing and remember
What dirt and dust taste like
And the joy of alighting on supple springtime branches
As hunger, for a sunlit moment, recedes, and we hover—with God and the spring-bound birds—above the fray 

White Pink Morning

Brandon Cook

I believe, as I read the poet this morning, that the bluebird and the white pink morning of which she sings (both the poet and the bluebird) were specific things
Or moments, at least

But removed as I am from her pen and memory, the specific things I cannot see 
Which ends up far better for me: 
Sitting on my couch, for just a moment I am lifted through my mind to every place ever graced by a pink
morning
To Albuquerque, perhaps, or Maine 

I cannot see all the names, shrouded as they are in secrets
As if around us some reality is waiting to come crashing down on top of us
Beautifully, like the heaving of a waterfall, which will not reveal all 
Still, we feel its water certainly inside us

But maybe, too, she had no place in view when she wrote those words
Maybe there was no white pink morning and no bluebird and just an inner eye seeing and beating with the hidden heart of the world

I do not know
But I feel we are heading downstream together, still
To a bright pink morning 
As long as we don’t get bogged down with too many things 
Or even with our own healing
When the bright blue world and its pink mornings are an endless springtime balm 
So willing to hold and sooth and calm us all
As we rise like the sun, not quite sure where we are
As the long day of knowing finally dawns

Today's Metaphor is Rain

Brandon Cook

Maybe that cloud is today’s metaphor for God
Always rising as it is, over the eastern ridge, but somehow never drawing near,
And fanned at its penumbra with burnt smoke 
Fire and clouds and God, all hot with the taste of forest and always changing shape

I’m sure I see the face of some Grace in the shapeless longing to cool the scorched earth with sweet spring rain, though 
As we lay in our tent, struck by the rumble and ruckus of the thunder
In a dark night with no moon to illuminate the steps of any living thing
We waited beneath the tarp for the flicking fingers to begin
And we just went on waiting, until sleep carried us away 

The raindrops never graced us with their presence
And we woke to a dry patch of grass, though, 
Across the meadow, the stream was thicker and more alive with spring
And we tasted second-hand the gift, as grateful bands of animals came and drank
Which became its own picture of mercy, and grand in its way
Though we had wanted water to wet our own hands 
To steady and stay us for the day 

Leaving us the strange shape of how things stand, as we make our way through the thicket of forest
Rain, like mercy, comes in such strange fits and starts
Amid the thirst of so much hungry land
And the hot patches of thirsty ground
Where beauty’s all around 
But the fullness is falling just further down, along the range
As a dark cloud rises, just one ridgeline away 

What God Wants (Pear Cycle III)

Brandon Cook

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
Because
This ecstasy before us could be chalky dust:
If you don’t have love, the food of gods is not enough

But
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 

Love 
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

Brandon Cook

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

Apples Should Be Heard (Pear Cycle II)  

Brandon Cook

I tried to eat quietly, but the lady next to me turned her eyes and smiled
And I grimaced apologetically, slowly removing the offending apple from my mouth, mouse-like,
A child whose secret has been spied out
She said, “That’s alright…a pear should be silent but an apple should be heard,”
Then she turned back to her magazine as if she’s bandaged a knee and healed the world 
And I nodded, wondering at her marvelous words
A pear should be silent; an apple should be heard 

Then
Visions of a sun-drenched farm filled my head, and children chasing dogs and geese
down to a pond, by an orchard, where perfect pears drop down, so full of life they want to burst, weighing branches with redolent mirth, until a child smiles and plucks one, and when he bites into it, the whole world goes quiet

The dog perks its ears and shuts its mouth before its tongue comes lolling out, and a hawk wheels about the blue sky and away from the earth with shrieks of worship, 
While,
Thousands of miles away, the arms of Venus de Milo are restored to their proper home 
And the cantors at St. Peter’s in Rome, find their voices strangely and suddenly lush, while congregants hush 
And the Great Barrier Reef flourishes in deep hues, the ocean floor rejoicing

I am afraid, however, that the next pear I find will be one of those rude varieties, hard and cold like stars 
It will turn its back on me and belch when I try to take a bite of it, longitude ripping in two as the world spins catawampus down the stairwell of stars, while everyone turns and stares, throwing soggy apples at my head, some of which thump soundlessly on the hard ground
Don’t you know, you villain, they all yell: “a pear should be silent but an apple should be heard!”

I nod my heard, for they’re dead to right 
As we all long for a world where things find their proper place and spring is an immortal sprite
Sitting in the stands while Babe Ruth steps to the place
Ready to take a loud crack at the bat
As a ball flies in its most efficient arc, before the longest day of summer, warm and cool and perfect

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