Daily Archives: October 11, 2018

The Peonies

Originally written in 1999.

In the year I turned thirty nine
the peonies did not die
quite the same way
as the peonies always had before 

In the year I was thirty-eight
the fragile man I was then
looked at the peonies
in the backyard

The progress of the year 
seemed so fast 
I thought about how quickly
those pink and white heads

would droop and drop their petals
fade and decay
I feared that if the year of thirty-eight 
continued this pace into

my years of forty forty-one forty-two and beyond
every thing I had learned
by putting myself together 
would come undone

But then in the year
I was thirty nine
I learned that in remembering
the scent of peony

the heat of their pink
the regal ice of their white
in all these memories
there was enough of youth to make

my mortality irrelevant
I learned that thirty nine was an opening and not
an end and I realized the sweetness
of the peony was the product of youth spent lavishly

secure in the knowledge that not only
would the dark strength of the leaves and roots last
the cool shade below the leaves would last and refresh
and their roots that hold so lightly to the earth

would leave their legacy anyway after the year’s efforts
were spent and dried and gone
In the year I was thirty-nine
the peonies died but did not die as they had before

and I rejoiced at how
once the blooms and the leaves were gone
and the grey strong winter had buried their bones
the actual plants in the fullness of their beings

always rose again
from the poor soil
along the garage
It was the year that I opened my eyes

my nose and my throat to the world
the year I passed through fear
to let my seams bulge and stretch
the year my senses saved me from falling apart


Vespers

Originally written 1999.

One, two, three,
five, seven, nine, eleven
dark brothers at sunset:
wet-suited surfers
off the beach at Del Mar,
while the bell for Vespers tolls
from the sea-cliff mission
and two
parallel acolytes
in F-14 Tomcats
arc south toward
San Diego. 

What is it about
the brotherhoods
that men form
that makes me watch them
for hours and hours?
I pose that question

to Angela, houseless plain-talker
from the Encinitas streets,
while we sit in a booth
and mull over her fabulous life
in this bar called
“The Saloon”.

Two hours pass 
and I’m no closer
to my answer

but I have heard
all of hers
about men and their missions.

She’s told me that once
she was a clerk typist
and then she was an engineer
but the boys at the Atlas-Titan plant
made it so hard for her
to hold a job
that she walked away
(it’s been a while
so she doubts  the job is still there)
so now instead of gliding toward the stars with the boys
she lives with a man who’s a hundred years old
and tonight she’ll be damned if she’s going home again
because he is so
damned
angry
all the time.

In the booth across the aisle
two women are kissing.
Angela flashes a smile
full of surprisingly white
wild woman teeth
at the bartender, who is watching them
and squirming.

“It’s right,” she says.
“It’s right. Leave them alone.
Couples in love ought to kiss.
Everyone here is just fine. 
Everyone ought to do just
what they like.”

I get up to leave and ask her if I
can take her somewhere.
She thanks me but says she never
gets into a car with a strange man.

Back in Rancho Santa Fe, in my
expense account movie star’s
hotel room, I open the window to let
the night breeze bring me
the scent of camellias.

Downstairs,
other businessmen are
drinking Scotch
and pounding veranda tables
for emphasis.
Somewhere
an angry old man 
waits for dinner.
Pilots’ cheeks flatten 
in the force of the turn
and monks fall off 
to profane dreams
while engineers stew 
before flatscreen blue fire —

as elsewhere,
ecstatic Angela
builds a new world
around our ears,
challenging nervous bartenders
and refusing to be with anyone.
In starry dark she walks the beach
just as she likes, learning to be free
of strange men.