poetry


PXL_20211102_212444491

Necessities accomplished,

in stillness I sit down and read.

I find the place where I left off,

backtracking a bit to find

headwaters of the stream

spilled out by the author.

I row among the words a while,

their black debris floating

on a sheen of white.

There is much worth netting,

remembering, collecting.

Five pages in, my eyes,

winched at first to thought

and concentration,

   slowly

       uncouple,

          skittering

        across

    the

  lines,

    nothing

       understood.

           They

                       close,

            and

 the

            snow

                           of

     slumber

                           softly

 falls.

Clouds empty

inadvertent blessing

on the earth.





It is summer yet, but barely—
some days already suitable for sweaters.
Light’s vast expanse is shrunk, 
tailored ever tighter, as if the year
became obese but has been dieting
and will with winter shrink 
to skeletal. 

After eight, my dog and I go out 
and find the yard is deep in darkness.
I thought to take a flashlight
to help us find our way, but discovered 
that the scant rags of light left over
from the day’s rich finery 
are enough for us. 

Wendell Berry writes about a hunter
so exasperated by his temperamental
lantern that he tossed it down a hollow,
then proceeded better than before. 

Perhaps I’ve huddled
close to lamps and lanterns overmuch. 
The darkness has more light 
than I imagined, and in it 
I can see the stars. 
Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

When I go out, I usually have an agenda that usually takes priority over the strangers I’m walking past. Occasionally there’s an exception, though. This poem describes a time I put my agenda aside and made connection.

A young man sat cross-legged on the sidewalk,
not looking up, playing his guitar, 
the only sign that he was panhandling was a sign:
“Homeless traveler, please help.”

I passed him easily the first time 
and went beyond two steps when coming back
before becoming gum-footed.
I had a few spare dollars and a few spare minutes,
so why not offer both? I turned around.

We talked a bit.
He was passing through, 
he liked the town but found it hard 
to be among the homeless here,
so he was leaving soon. 

Then he volleyed this:
“Would you like to hear a poem?”
He had been writing one about the friends
that heroin had stolen. I said yes,
so he flipped a battered notebook open. 

I remember words of sorrow, pain, and anger,
but most of all determination to express all this.
There must be many more like him—
heads down but eager to be heard.

I thanked him and he smiled, 
glued his palms together, 
and bent down in a bow.

It was a fifties family trip, and we had stopped for ice cream.
I was only three, so to choose a flavor wasn’t easy.
I went back and forth, one and then the other.
Finally I picked,
and was handed a delicious treat.
It wasn’t what I wanted!
Dismayed by this great injustice, chocolate having staged a coup
unseating dear vanilla and sitting smugly on the cone,
I threw it on the ground.
Hustled in the backseat by embarrassed parents,
I sobbed out my unmet desire.

Choice is curse and blessing.
What is it that I know I truly want?
Who do I want to be?
With whom do I want to spend my life?
What purpose do I want to animate my days?
Asked that way, there are far too many choices,
a multitude of flavors I have trouble even understanding.

Better to remember I’m already on a path
that I decided I would follow long ago,
or, even more, that chose me
back before I first drew breath.

I want the gain but not the loss,
the excitement, not the boredom,
the joy but not the shame,
bliss without the bitterness,
connections, not the separations,
but life doesn’t offer ice cream
free of fat and sticky fingers.

So, don’t ask me what I want;
Ask instead if today I have
sufficient light to see my path
and sense enough to follow it.

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

The sun inhabits Lent’s lengthened days.
Snow sheets first were dappled
like metal pounded lightly by a hammer.
The melt then crept down roads,
disappearing into drains.
Eventually snow skirts pulled back
from houses’ knees.
Now there’s just a snowplowed pile or two,
memories of disappeared abundance.

The uncovered ground still sleeps,
her dreams not even tickled yet by daffodils.
Unbudded trees hope dauntlessly for leaves.

Seasons pass away;
there must always be a death
before a resurrection.

The spectral grave clothes are gone
and sunray fingers knead dirt,
the heart’s about to beat again.

David Bailly, Vanitas. This is an example of the memento mori tradition

The last year spent isolated in response to covid19 has reminded all of us of our mortality. Now that some of us are getting vaccinated, there’s reason to hope for a gradual return to something like normal. Yet there are lessons to remember from this time. Here’s a poem I wrote about a month ago about what we’re going through; after the first couple verses, it is a conversation with death.

The ravages of death abound
in state to state, from town to town
conveyed upon the mist of breath
unholy virus, you are death.

So I avoid the best I can
death’s ravages, its frigid hand
while hundreds daily still fall prey,
be it by foolishness or fate.

My life for now is circumscribed—
lackluster days and quiet nights.
So, do I fear your dire threat?
No, but I offer you respect,

expecting we may meet one day
not battling, but in embrace,
prepared–by having had full life–
to book the journey you provide.

An ending, yes, but not the last,
for, after death mows me like grass
the king will come with trumpet’s shout,
before him death and I will bow.

This poem is a meditation on Psalm 77, a lament that seems suitable for the current moment. At the end I reference Marta C. Gonzalez, an Alzheimer’s patient who still retained a memory of her days as a ballerina. At the bottom of the page I link to a video of her that went viral.

Troubles fill the day
and spill into night.
My unresting hands reach out,
refusing sleep’s deficient comfort.

It’s not me, God, who wants
to prop my eyes ajar,
so it must be you.
I remember my night songs,
doves fluttering with hope,
and wonder where they’ve flown to.

“God, will you always be like this?
Did your unending love
reach its end?
Favor, mercy, sympathy—
have they all been chewed to pieces
by your angry jaws?”

Sometimes, I think it to be so,
but stubbornly my mind
recalls your deeds, the wonders
that my eyes have seen,
my ears have heard.

Even if I forget all else,
may your music and your dance
be so implanted in my heart
that I could be like
Marta C. Gonzalez.

She,
though wheelchaired and demented,
became again a ballerina,
filled with grace and light,
when she heard the song.

“Sermon on the Mount” by Aurel Naray. Image: http://www.hungarianartmastergallery.com

Blessed are the destitute, the desperate,
the bankrupt and impoverished,
the penniless, insolvent and exhausted,
all those who know they lack.

Blessed are those who bleed,
cut by the knives of race and class;
blessed are the aberrant,
eccentric, odd, and offbeat,
peculiar, queer, or freakish.

What, though, of the stiff and solid,
punctilious and diligent,
respected and presentable;
what of those who sit on
straight-backed chairs counting silver,
stashing it in sacks?

Which group will be welcomed
into the coming kingdom of rejoicing seas,
elated fields, and delighted, singing trees?
In the teeter-totter world
where the lowly are uplifted
and the pompous are pushed down,
open my hermetic seal to let
the pressured air of pride hiss out.
In emptiness alone
can I be filled.

In deep autumn
the leaves have flushed
to yellow, orange, and wine;
some drain further
down to muddy brown.
Unlike animals
who add a winter coat,
trees shed their clothes–
leaves scoured away like scales.
Breezes animate leaf flurries
that descend like rainbowed snow.
They tessellate the ground
with muted beauty.

Not so long ago, trees were budding,
twigs proudly swelling
with the green vehemence of new life.
Life writes most gorgeously
in the prologue and the afterward.

Yesterday, I watched home movies
filmed by my father when I was young.
Christmases with gifts,
birthdays with cake,
throwing snowballs,
paddling in the pool
friends and relatives
scattered throughout.

How much life there is
within the space
from Spring to Fall.

Here is a meditation on Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, written after I had been hiking on wooded trails in Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

I walk among the fallen trees
recumbent on a mat of leaves;
no matter that they once reached high,
they’ve yielded life, surrendered pride.

One day I’ll join them, lying down
and, north or south, it’s still the ground
that will receive my tired limbs
consumed by rot, or felled by wind.

Until that day I’ve no complaint;
I’ll watch the clouds, receive the rain
divide my share by spilling seed
to sprout out from the teeming peat.

I’ve cast my bread, and it’s come back
in countless ways; it’s only apt
that God be praised, for it is he
who planted, nurtured, treasured me.

Next Page »