No hourglass, more like a windswept dune, blazing sun and footing that shifts
just before I step. Seemed solid, now I fall, again, and look back at the
hollow traces of my scrambling, as if to read my mistake, to learn
something, anything, from these bruises. Heat shimmers at the
horizon tempt me to change course, again, knowing their
promise will lead to nothing but more sand falling away
at each step. I refocus on the IV drip, the drool
from my father’s mouth and his clear
blue eyes, hoping to find some
clarity of mind behind them.
Last week it was hospice,
this, the hospital,
and next, a
the faint mirage
of full recovery dazzling
his event horizon. How can I
center amidst the ups and downs of
diagnoses and prognoses and expectations?
Grains of sand slip through the impossible narrowness,
to find a resting place among their comrades, at least until the
inevitable upheaval and another scramble for stability, like his brain
trying to absorb the blood of three falls. Will healing prevail this time,
or must a place be made at the oasis for its opposite? Luck and resilience
run out with age, systems fade, and truly undiscovered territory awaits. I offer
a hand, shape the sand for his steps, put a straw to his lips and wipe the dribble.
Just as I accept this downturn
he zings a one liner and laughs –
it ain’t over until Kate Smith sings “God Bless America.”
The wind billows his battered flag in my backyard,
and I pray he can salute it with what remains of his eyes,
and not from a cellphone photo.
I brush the sand from my eye
to let my tears bless the ground –
no ashes for you yet.
I will light candles this Christmas;
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Howard Thurman (1899 – 1981)
25 years ago today, I woke up at the beautiful Asilomar Center on Monterey peninsula, sat up in bed and wondered if I had a birthday poem in me. This mindset was inspired by a man at the conference named Roy Jordan, who enthusiastically recited his poems at any moment, especially in the dining hall. The emergence of this poem opened a creative door I did not know I had, which still opens up sometimes – that unique, personal challenge of whether this feeling is asking me to let it flow, or wrestle it down, into words.
BLAZE OF PASSION
I throb with the very stuff of Life,
pulse racing with the magic of the Universe.
My heart muscle tightens and releases
to ebb and flow with the miracle of now.
My eyes pierce the void with unshuttered brightness,
tossing sparks upon the tinder of my existence.
Visions of passions yet unknown
dance sinuously without a veil.
I propel myself into the fire of risk,
redefined with each hot breath.
Lungs fill with the Light of God,
exploding in spectrums of colors yet unseen.
My skin tingles with joy,
each pore grateful for the ecstasy of touch.
Ears capture the gentlest hum
of Love resounding in your heart.
Vibrations pure and soft and loud
call me out to play.
Music chameleons from sweet to strong,
ever dancing towards release.
I whirl with joy to all these tunes,
letting feet pound out
the rapture of me.
Journey with me if you dare,
your unique self
as One with mine,
and let us go forth
to spark the infinite
with the blaze of passion.
though students can
be dismissed any time
they can never go home
and again they try
to master today’s lesson
for totally ingrained
is the grief for today
as it fades
and the fear
of what the new teacher,
will require of us
Blood, rubble, hate, outrage
what hysterical god made
forgiveness and reconciliation
It appears we can never walk together
our words congeal and dissolve on the screen of I
blame assigned as precisely as a misguided missile
as carefully as a spent cartridge on concrete.
Miles and years away we both thresh pain
seeking to express this upwelling
yours or mine
perhaps dance or music
but not the thought-filled one
it must be the empty cup
raised in expectation
that it will be filled
before my arm
crumbles in the wind.
How do we
antidote our histories
to take the next step
arm in arm?
Hot beignet drops from shaking hand,
phosphorescent meteor of confectioners sugar
scatters sweetness to a silent Jackson Square.
The plump fried pastry sparks to life
upon splashdown in a Mississippi colored puddle,
succulent ripples breach the curb,
strut down the sidewalk, lap on doors,
then leap to the humid air,
to penetrate every lacy wrought iron balcony,
to enter the tall windows, the squat ones,
even the closed ones through air conditioner coils,
and rustle sheer faded curtains into a swinging rhythm.
Riverboat horn toots a bass line
walking that New Orleans funk into every parlor,
ceiling fans spin in syncopation,
sugar dust magic finds every snare,
tom-tom, bass drum, djembe, and conga,
and bends streetlights to the groove.
Trumpets fill themselves with urgent breath,
well-oiled trombones slide underneath,
clarinet keys snick awake to filigree atop,
while saxophones growl themselves into the batter,
guitar strings swirl against frets, banjo heads pulse with the drums,
and metal reeds bend deep within harmonica honeycombs.
From Canal Street to Frenchmen,
the entire Quarter is rocking this night song,
and only the deepest sleepers get a waft of this delight,
seasoned just to their taste –
sweet, hot, spicy, cool – swinging hard –
until the street cleaners suck it all back to silence,
punched into the dough of the city,
to later rise towards powdered stardust
of a finger
speeds hot lead
through skin and bone
to burst a heart
life oozing to gray
the burning ricochet
cuts us all down
mockeries of truth
what might have been
Evidence of playing in the Connecticut River on a July day, crossing the bridge from New Hampshire to Vermont
Consider July a smelling salt
to rouse your faint year
startled nostrils finally
snort in this year’s bouquet.
Ponder the steam of August
melting towards September,
yellow school bus dinosaurs
prowl the morning roads
to ingest reluctant morsels,
cool shoes and backpacks
the last whiff of freedom
down institutional hallways.
Daydream out windows
to speed the fall towards winter,
when freshness of balsam
collides with peppermint,
swiftly down to a new year
and another round.
Morning rung to attention by distant train horn
beckoning me like an iron bell to a churchgoer.
Ears pass the call inside, stomach rumbles
for new roads, nose hungry for scraping steel.
My feet’s rhythm quickens,
the louder tones now clear –
five penetrating notes stacked up
in extravagant harmony,
complete yet open, pleasing yet dissonant –
to send the question through flesh
to my itching bones,
Gulping the last of this town’s air,
I reach the platform before she stops,
perfume of steam, embrace of smoke
and glinting wheels capture my soul.
At the top of foot-polished steps
the conductor gives voice
to the now-silent whistle: “Where to?”
“How far West does she go?”
My mother at home in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania
Dust of the coal mines
on the window sill
lightened to gray
by a gentle snow,
our simple clapboard house
also freshened from within
by the exotic smell of oranges,
a seeming miracle
delivered only at the holidays
from some far off land,
an extravagant purchase
that triumphantly shouts
“Christmas” to us kids –
no coal in the stockings this year!