Tag Archives: meditations

Not Again

They again have asked me
to return to the persona
I once lived behind
and recite the words
I used to swear by

but I can’t go back. Not because
I’m appalled at what I used to be,
but because I can’t put on
that costume again: can’t
wear that mask that doesn’t fit

my face that’s changed enough
that I believe the bones within
would push through and break
the old facade; the combination
of who I was and who I am

would render the antique words 
so suspect and superficial 
that folks would turn away
laughing or shaking their heads.
They would be right to do so:

I can barely think
of my face back then
or read the words
and mouth them in my head
without wanting to do the same.


Middle

I scribbled, I scratched, I scrambled;
sought toeholds in extended
metaphors, did average work
that was never enough to lift me
up the face of my chosen cliff.

So I’ve ended up clinging.
Do you see me up here?
I thought not. I’m tiny.
If I fall I won’t make much
of a splash. If I succeed

I’ll have to face the climb
down. Is there a trail
to follow after you get there?
Or do you jump and hope to float
back to the valley in one piece?

Once there you look around
for another nasty ascent.
Some peak worthy of both your fear
and your need to not only
live on the edge, but to keep so close to it

that you lose your sense of danger;
one day the most ridiculous
and simple reach fails you, and you 
die in the middle of the big climb.
So they tell me, anyway. But now

I’m losing grip
and I’m suddenly aware
that the fall I thought
would surely slay is small. 
I’ll surely live

if I hit the ground, 
might not even break a bone.
I made this whole grand adventure up.

I’m caught at last between a rock
and a self-delusion.
But I can’t let go. Not yet.


Suppose

Suppose we allow
for the likelihood
of a single God. 
Suppose we say
to deny the possibility
is to be arrogant
on behalf of
our own total agency.

Suppose we say
one and only one
can be real. Suppose
we ask ourselves to 
choose among the 
many faces we’ve assigned
the One. Suppose
we cannot decide. 
Suppose we revisit 
the initial thrust of
the argument and say,
maybe more, maybe none,
but something. Suppose
we agree it matters
not — one, many, none —
until something confirms
one, none, many
to such a degree that
all of us agree to hold 
no grudge against it
if there are many, none,
one. Suppose we leave
the density of the arguments
behind that day. Suppose 
we find other reasons 
to be as we have always been.
Suppose it matters not at all
if there is none or one
and the only thing that ends up
being of importance is
what we are: many or one,
or soon enough none:

what then?


Epitaphs

1.
It’s not like 
I made a good mark,
but more of a scuff — a sign
of clumsiness, accidental
reminder of my passage,
just squeaking through.

2.
Here lies (blank)…
if you are reading this,
clearly I am not
for if I could 
I’d be editing frantically
to keep you from seeing
such a paltry representation
of who I am.

3.
This plot holds
a parcel no longer full of lies,
a bone-box stripped
of spirit. It’s not worth
your time.  Nothing to see,
nothing to hear.

If you do see 
or hear anything, rest assured
it’s nothing. 

4.
If I had become wind
and you were still you,

I’d choose to be here.

If I’d become sun
and you were still you. 
I’d choose to be here.

I’ve become dead. I am here, 
but not by choice —

unlike you. I thank you for it.


Black Snake

To wake up
is to unwind the black snake
from my chest.

To stand up 
is to set the black snake aside
and see it race away.

To walk to the living room
from the bedroom
is to step past the black snake.

To leave the living room
for the world
is to sing the black snake to sleep.

To return to the house
when the world has pressed upon me
is to lift the black snake to my chest.

To sleep in the house
with the black snake upon me
is to become the black snake.

To dream of the black snake
is to dream of myself pressing upon my heart
until it enters utter stillness. Suddenly

I am
the black snake,

racing away.


Three Rituals

Two older poems, one (Washing Dishes) new. I saw a series and pulled it together.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Washing Dishes

It doesn’t matter if there are
few or many: I do the dishes
in the morning, every morning.

My hands stinging from the hot water,
I sigh inside when there are many,
rejoicing impatiently even if there’s one

and only one because I’ve set myself
a parameter that no coffee can be poured
until the sink is clear. The drainer

can be full, the silverware basket
overfull, but until the last item’s
clean and set aside to dry 

I am unable to move on. The first thing
I do, every morning, is cleanse
from the day before.

Why not do the dishes
before bed? Start the day
with nothing waiting?

That would seem dishonest to me,
to be fair. It seems a lie
to pretend upon waking that

the day before never happened
and that all I’ve got before me
is new and untouched.

To wash the previous day’s dishes
firs thing in the morning, though?
An acknowledgement of past

before the future begins. A statement
that in the present, the past and future
demand attention too. 

The Straight Razor

This deep into my life
I have begun shaving with

a straight razor,

not so much for
the trendiness of the act among
certain smug sectors of the hip population,

but from a lust for sustainability
born from a desire to stop 

disposing of so much good steel.

Also (in the spirit of this
historical moment)

I need solid proof

that with care
I can enter danger daily

and come out clean;

as I do not believe
danger will play fair

in the streets

it is good to know
I can take it on my chosen turf

in at least one small way.

I wet my face and lather up,
set the edge against my skin,

draw it at the proper angle

through the white mask I’ve donned;
think of my grandfathers

as I take care upon the jawline and chin.

If I nick myself I do not stop.
If I see red I do not flinch

but finish and administer stinging care

until I see the face I want before me.
Then comes maintenance of tools.

Cleansing of sink and mirror.

It is a ritual and as such
things must be done well

and precisely from start to finish.

One more thing:
a straight razor

fits well in a boot if need be,

and once you know
what you are doing with one?
That is a fine place to keep it.

Tomatoes

I come home
thinking of fall and 
craving tomatoes.

I go to my backyard beds
and pick whatever’s ripe
for my favorite summer meal:
thick-sliced plum tomatoes,
Gorgonzola cheese,
a few shreds of basil, 
balsamic vinegar,
light on the olive oil.

You once questioned me:
why not traditional Mozzarella?
I said it’s because I feel that 
strong blues make flavors pop
and without strong flavors,
what’s the point?  

You tasted it,
agreed, told me later
you could no longer imagine 
not using a strong blue cheese
in a tomato salad, and I was 
as well pleased as I could be
that we’d fallen once again into 
the same place on something — 

I remember this as I stare into
strong blues and bright reds
in this bowl, stare into oil bubbles, 
a brown slick of vinegar, remember
you weren’t here to help me
plant this year, to plant the beds
scant weeks after your passing;
you weren’t here to help me weed
and toss and water and feed;

realize again, as if for the first time,

that you aren’t here to help me savor
the likely last summer salad of the year,
picked ahead 
of the inevitable 
killing frost.


Looking At My Cereal Bowl, I See Only That (I Swear)

That hairline crack in my favorite bowl
is going to split open one day, either from
an accidental contact in the sink
or the excitation of the microwave.

This is all I am thinking about
right now: a mess yet to come;
the shards in the soapy water
or the oatmeal splattered on the steel walls.

This is all I am thinking about 
right now: dread for the clean up;
the blood in the water when I seize
an edge or a point without seeing it.

This is the only thing I am thinking about:
how much I’ll miss that bowl even though its end
is obviously near; how much nourishment
it has held for me; how short is its remaining time.


Late Night Phone Call

I make a late night call
to one of the last self-confessed
Americans and ask them
if we can talk about
what that identity means when
we are being asphyxiated
with increasingly little regard
for what anyone thinks about it.

“Who is this?” they ask me.
I cannot speak.
They wait for a beat, maybe two,

before hanging up.
I sit there for a long time

unable to answer, quaking
in the chair until I drift into horror sleep,
waking up hours after that
to the phone. It’s them.

What do I say to them? After
they are done speaking,
do I dare ask, as they did, 
“Who is this?”

What do I do if they also
cannot answer?


Televised Hearings

Simple stoneware cup.
Forty-five degree angle shadow.
Cats dreaming of the outdoors.

In a city south of here
they are telling tales of betrayal
and treason. Criminal stories

broadcast to the world.
Less than half
the listening world

believes the thieves
are thieves and nothing
in the story convinces them

so they will continue 
to burn the world into
white ash and bone.

In this house, cats still
fantasizing escape. The empty cup
casts a longer shadow; reminder

that whatever is out there, 
my loved ones, is still just
as unsafe 
as what’s in here.


Shadow As Ink

When using my shadow
as ink, my most difficult task
is choosing the paper.

I have pulped and bleached
so much of myself
that I am blessed or cursed

with an abundance of surface
to write upon, remembering always
that to write upon it is as likely to be

disfigurement as it is decoration. 
I must take such care to choose
what is written, how it is written.

Readers who come to it when I am done
will have to decide
if this is fact or myth, and

must say if it is good and worthy
regardless, and whether the myth
(if it be myth) reflects truth or if the truth 

(if it be true) rises to myth. Even then,
after it is done, my head will be bruised
from the effort to make my own sense if it, 

to understand for myself
whether I’ve committed ruin
or glory in this work, this time —

and then, while staring down at my 
shadow-drenched hands, at all 
I’ve not yet sullied with that dark stain,

I will lean my head over the desk
one more time. Terrified, ecstatic, 
one hand moving, one holding the page

steady for the uncertain result
of the unsure labor of showing who I am
to the yet-unknown next reader.


Prayer For The Early Riser

Allow me the moment
before I open the blinds
for the impatient cats
who are waiting to see
the insistent birds rocking
suet cages back and forth
on their hangers as they work
for their meals.

Allow me the moment 
before the coffee maker kicks on
with bitter waft of flavor
and accompanying gurgle
to tell me that it’s time
and there’s work to be done
that will never be done
but that doesn’t excuse me
from settling in to do what I can.

Allow me the moment
before I realize I needed
more sleep than I got
but I need to stay up
and face the exploding world
with all the words and work
I possess, with every last tool
in my hands, to shore up
whatever might endure the fire
and flood that’s looming.

Allow me this moment
before the next one,
allow me my delusion 
that if I’m lucky or smart or good
on this morning in this life
rushing to conclusion

that what I do next
once I start this day might last beyond
the night that will certainly follow.
It’s what I have, all I have in fact;

Light Outside, allow me this.
Night Ahead, allow me this.
Whatever Offers Such Things, I ask:
allow me just this.


Kilgore

Frank sat in the back of the room
talking to someone named Kilgore.

Kilgore, he said,
you don’t say much.

Come sit and I’ll buy you one,
whatever you want. 

Kilgore, he said, how come
you don’t talk anymore?

There was a time
you couldn’t shut up.

There was a time
we would talk for hours

and who talked more
than you did back then?

Gift, we called it,
gift of gab

and drink would unwrap
the gift even more. 

Kilgore, Frank said,
what happened to us?

I can’t even see you
and no one can hear you.

You must have an opinion,
a piece of advice.

You must know something
you’re not telling me.

It’s Goddamned cold here,
and I can’t face it. Talk to me, Kilgore.

Call me up sometime and tell me
what you used to tell me, soft and low,

all the good things. Or shout it out
the way you used to, the way 

you used to bellow. Kilgore,
talk to me, man. Talk to me.

Frank sat alone
in the back of the room,

at a table by himself
in the stacks. All around him,

books and books
full of unheard words,

and Kilgore nowhere
to be seen.


Meta-Argument

The argument was
about a stone.

Was it a gravestone,
headstone, or tombstone?

It became an argument
about arguing.

An argument about arguing.
How best to proceed?

Continue to 
argue about the arguing,

or get back to the stone
of the moment?

In the interest of wearing
the ground around the burial

to a full circle
of bare packed earth,

we argued about
that — an argument about

arguing about arguing,
and so we roared on,

circling the headstone or
or gravestone

or tombstone or stele.
A marker that showed the world

where something had ended.
Where living had come to an end.


Among Fires

Yesterday,
the breaking moment,
time fractured;
today, the beginning
of the pieces moving
away from each other;
soon enough
the edges will erode
and never come together
cleanly again. As if
they were never 
part of a whole. As if
they were not related.

Yesterday,
the breaking of time;
today, the lighting of fires
on the shifting remains;
blazes and smoldering wrecks;
bonfires underfoot,
ground cracking, smoke
insistently choking off the sun.
As if the sun was not also
a fire. As if heat did not have
both light and dark sides.

Yesterday,
I broke. I looked into
fissures, saw fire,
and broke. I felt
myself being chopped and 
shattered and now the parts
fall away from each other
and the one on which I stand
is so far from where I was.
An explorer floating on 
wreckage, hoping. As if there was
any place, any fragment
where one could land
that would not be on fire.


Whiteout Storm

You learn this early:
at night when you are
driving in a whiteout storm,
you keep your headlights 
low, focused on what’s
directly before you,
the next three yards of road.

If you turn them up,
put on the high beams,
the whiteness becomes
a blinding tunnel and 
whatever lurks ahead becomes
obscure and potentially
hazardous, if not Death itself.

You learn early that
staying safe in the whiteness
is best served by finding
a solid warm home where
you can sleep safely, have as many
or as few lights on as you want:
all you desire or need in full view.

When you wake and have to leave the house
(you will have to wake and leave the house)
you do it in full daylight. Do it
when you can see all the whiteness
for what it is. Everywhere,
the shroud and cold smother.
Hazards clear. Death, obviously there

but in plain view,
easier to fend off
and avoid for now,
if not forever; as time passes,
a promise rising in the air
that somehow,
all of this will be temporary.