Tag Archives: meditations

The Holy In-Between

Where will we find
the playing field
where we can triumph?

Where is there
any scoreboard
that shows us ahead?

Where is any pen in hand
scratching a “W”
next to our name?

We are exhausted
and every piece of equipment
we have is secondhand or broken.

We are injured
and our bandages are laden
with toxins and old blood.

We are demoralized
and disorganized, sundowning
and angry and embarrassed.

But I am tired
and demoralized and injured
by refusing to speak in specifics.

I am sidelined
while watching people die
on our streets, in our cages.

I am wounded
and from the edge of the fire
I can feel the heat rising.

If I still had a memory
I might recall a time
when we were winning

but now I only have
the moment, and in the moment
a Hail Mary pass is sinking

from its apogee toward a spot
where no one is waiting
to catch it and run it in to score.

I hate sports metaphors,
to be honest, the two sides
they paint into our lives;

the night and day narrative
that refuses to see the reality of dawn 
and dusk, or the distant existence

of midnight sun in other places
not within their purview; yet I cannot help
but think of winning and losing today,

imagining someone on another team
jackal-grinning as they prepare
to declare the game over, to proclaim

their victory. And then what?
Do they turn from the field
and leave us here to die?

I cannot say what they are thinking
but what I think is this:
where is the playing field

they have long ignored?
Where is the old wisdom
of a game they cannot play?

Where are those
they have never dreamed
of confronting?

We are something else,
something they’ve forgotten,
people they do not know.

They do not know us, the people 
of the dusk, the dawn,
the littoral, the interstitial 

spaces, the neither,
the either, the holy
and resilient in-between;

and what
they cannot fully know,
they cannot ever utterly defeat.


The Rug, The Door, The Ceiling

they pulled the rug from under her feet
just as she stood triumphant preparing to knock on the door
that had always been slammed in her face before
she was certain as she could be that this time things would be different 
and it would be opened to her with a flourish and a fanfare
but instead the rug was yanked and as she fell backward
someone was clearly laughing somewhere behind her 
someone she couldn’t see who might have been
the one who placed the rug before the door in the first place
in just the right spot to facilitate the jerk
and it might have been the same laugh she had heard before
from the other side of the door that nearly crushed her hand
every time it was slammed on her before she could even speak
and as she lay there on the hardwood staring up 
as a ceiling made improbably of opaque glass
(or one-way mirror and who knew who was watching and laughing up there as well)
it hit her at last in a different and better way that after all
whoever was behind all these obvious injuries and cliche assaults
built this place in the first place
built it full of booby traps
built it without her
built it to keep her out

and whoever was behind the door
or above the ceiling
whoever it was
who pulled that rug out from under her

was no one without this structure to protect them
and it was only natural
and long past time
for her to build something else


IF

If. That’s all, really:
if.  It all comes from 
if, comes down to if.

Go sit outside
and look at one last
good sunset.
If you had never
seen one before,
would you feel this same sadness,
would you still ache with its loveliness
and say to yourself,
that’s enough?

There’s your sleeping child.
What if they’d never been born?
If that spot where they sprawl 
on the couch were unfilled,
would you turn so quickly away 
as you do now and go forward
with…with…

You can’t even say
what’s on your mind.
If you could…
would you dare to?
Will you dare to?

Look at the pile of work, the poems
and essays and wrong-directed
manuscripts you long claimed
would be your legacy
if anyone were to find it. Now
that you are afraid they will find it —
if you burned it in the fire pit
out back, if you then drenched 
and stirred the ashes until they were 
dense black mud, if you did all that
would you exist for long afterward
in the minds of the few
who knew your work?

If there were only
a wooden match in the house,

if there were gasoline in the garage,
if only the house was emptier,
if only the night were noisier to hide 
the sound of, the sound of…

In the dark at last, the sunset over,
the child asleep, the firepit full,
you wonder: 

what was the first “if”
that sent you here? What choice
did you make that created 
this moment? 

There isn’t a moment to spare.

Overhead the stars whirl slowly by,
a machine without choice. It is all
as it should be so if you go ahead
and follow through, that will be
the last if, and isn’t that perfect?

Fill your hand with certainty,
and go.


Movement

Anywhere I go
I see movement from 
the edge of sight —
live dark blurs shooting by
across the floor or ground; 

nothing I can ever name
although indoors I sometimes fear
I’m seeing roaches, or mice,
or other beings shamed and shameful
by reputation; outdoors 

I’m less afraid than curious
although that’s ridiculous —
potentially what I’m seeing
fleeing me or speeding by
out here is possibly less familiar

and offers a greater threat.
Perhaps what I’m seeing
regardless of where I am
is something else again,
beings without name trapped here

and running for their lives
to alternate dimensions
where they are kings and queens
and heroes for their bravery
in facing me who for some reason

is privy to all this motion; also
I consider the likelihood
that there is nothing there, that I am
seeing things that don’t exist
and the landscape’s a mythology

of my own making. Maybe
what is moving is within me,
nameless and furtive, scuttling
like the memory of long-ago mistakes 
through my view then disappearing

until such time as I can capture them,
examine them, choose to hold them
or end them or release them.
I should be wary of where I step.
I cannot tell how hard they might bite.


Scenario

for the end 
we took with us
what we had
even if it was not
what we needed.
we walked or crawled
toward light, or toward
darkness. some went
alone, some carried
another, some were
carried. we suspected
that once we got there
it would be a bad place
but we pretended
it would be heaven
in order to hold
the desire to keep 
moving and not meet
the end in the same place
we came from. such a failure
would tell volumes 
to those few who might
come upon us after.
what a waste, they’d say.
it is as if they never lived at all
or even tried to survive.
did they think they were
stones that would not break,
would just continue being
after the end had come? 
to have others think
such a thing of us
would be unbearable
so we gathered
what little we had
and moved for the end
as if it might offer a new start
or at least amnesia.
we moved, thinking
at least what we left behind

would speak well of us.
our legacy would be
that when we knew
the end was near

we moved toward something
though it was too late
and had been too late for years.
thinking that in
the best case scenario

maybe no one at all will be left
to speak ill of us.


Legendary Animal

I once was
a legendary animal
without reservation. Could
savage a body
to a near-mythic level,
offer fierce
teeth to my enemies,
feed on the weak
till I burst open;
you don’t know
who I used to be

once upon a time,
back before I woke up
my inner humanity
and turned away from that

so long ago
that although I need
my animal back
to face what is ahead,
i cannot call it up;

my left hand
can’t feel anymore,
the right one
can’t close enough
to grip a hilt or throat.
I admit to atrophy
of the fighting heart.
I confess 
to aged weakness
and, at last, 
to fear.

I want what I once was,
long to have the teeth
and claws I once had,
but I am old, and sick;
and now can feel other animals
closing in upon my bed,
can smell their drool and 
my own sweat and piss —

let them come
by dark or night.

I will die but I swear
they will not walk away
unchanged.


Not Over

This isn’t over
although it appears to be
almost beyond repair.

It is not over
although the bears
are falling into pits
and not rising up.
Not over although
an eagle dropping from the sky
misses the intended target and 
seizes a scrap of human
instead. Not over although
smoke is filling eyes
and lungs and discourse.

It’s not over
because this morning 
someone stepped out
groggy from heat and 
lack of sleep and 
filled the feeders before
making coffee,

and then waited to see
who would arrive first,

and recognized 
the usual downy woodpecker
and said good morning to her
as he turned from her perched
on the log full of suet plugs
hanging not three feet away,

the nonchalance of the bird
in his presence suggesting
for once, the possibility of
a future, offering a chance
at small, tentative relief
that maybe it’s not over,
not yet.


My Lesser Self

In a small retreat
from all my clutter
I chose to leave
my best self at home
and take my lesser self
to a rock I climbed often
as a child.

While my best self
took care of business and
swept my dusty floors
the weaker self and I sat
on cold granite and did not care
how dirty we became
as we scuffed our knees 
climbing down

to step in stinking black mud,
stumbling along the banks
of the river once full of 
live dyes from the mills
that still holds toxins enough
that no one would dare drink 
or eat from there, 
though there were
fishers who must have hoped
for catch and release;

in the distance I could see
my childhood home, 
a place I would not take
my lesser self to see:
no need, that’s where
we both were born

and then it was time
to go home, put my lesser self
to bed and let it sleep
without dreams of all this
while my better self and I
sat together and pretended
none of that day had happened.


Toward Oakham

North of Worcester
driving toward storms
through mad copper dusklight

in state park woods 
sheltering beauty, demons,
Revolutionary legends, witch shadows:

those old settler myths
die hard. Upon reaching 
a curtain of rain,

that light softens,
tinges toward silver; then
comes a voice chasing

a spark in the clouds.
Anything under the trees
that wants to cause harm

will have to wait its turn.
Then again perhaps nothing
is malicious out here

and all the danger’s
in the head of
a beholder

who just wants
to get home
after a long day

and leave
all this history and
his personal ghosts behind

to dissipate
in the last silver light
under the colonized trees.


Vine Borer

Was any of the work
or expense worth it
for this:

plants destroyed
before the full harvest
by something foreseeable
and preventable?

Staring down
at what was salvaged
in the moment
and knowing it is also
likely doomed as this
has happened before,

all my Work appears to me
like this pile of mush
and cankers, yet I keep 
planting again and again.

It’s a reflex now:

every morning, a reflex;
each seed, a reflex;
any tearing down, a reflex;
recriminations, a reflex;
rationalizations, a reflex;

detached leg still twitching;
one bloom holding on 

as dead tissues 
fall slack.


Minou Minou

Fifty thousand cats
owned by twenty thousand grandmothers
in my hometown and
every last one of those cats
was named Minou

That should tell you 
everything you need to know
about my hometown
but if that’s not enough
you need to know

that naming a cat Minou is in French
the same as in English naming it Kitty
We all knew at once what to call 
any random cat we ran across
so every Minou belonged to all of us

Fifty thousand cats we shared
with the twenty thousand grandmothers
who shared us among themselves
All those eyes in windows felt at times
like care and at others like fear

In the evenings when the streetlights went on
twenty thousand voices calling “Minou Minou”
as well as “get yourselves home it’s dark”
and who were they calling out to 
but cats and kids eager to play in the night

We knew the kindly nature of those
who watched us as we tried to live and grow
all the replaceable cats and kids
with the interchangeable names 
long lines of us stretching back to Quebec

from where the ancestors came 
with armloads of cats
all named Minou
and kids with names
that varied little until only recently 

If they still call the cats Minou 
back in my hometown where I do not go
because of how hard it was
to play in the dark when I was young
then I have no need to go back

In my new dark home I take comfort
in my own cats who are not named Minou
far from twenty thousand pairs of eyes
working to make sure I’d end up exactly like 
all who’d come before me

It would have killed me
to end up there listening every night
to voices calling Minou Minou
taking little notice
of which cats showed up


Wisteria

Originally posted, 2010; revised, 2014; revised again 2019.

i called her wisteria.
wisteria,
in its short bloom.

thought of her as warm days
and cold nights 
in mud season
when grass blades 

start their rise from the soil.

she was remarkable.

she left me, i was lost,
though it was a night

and a day and a night again
before i could cry

for her, a long numb sweep
of hours in succession.

i wept in the privacy of the bedroom
that was newly empty.

i emptied myself.

i cried more as the walls inside me melted
and i sweated them out.
i was paper thin afterward.

light passed through me
and from within i was lit.

this is grief, i said, and it is a cold wind. 
this is unseasonable weather.  
the flowers on the early vines shriveling.  
this is her doing, i told myself.  

i said, i have been illuminated by her.
because of her, i shine.  

she was much more than my purpose.
so much more than i had ever thought to say of her,
sun of a distant unglimpsed sky over a world i hadn’t explored.

not only wisteria, 
but forsythia; violets;
thistles, oaks, redwoods, fig vines.

she was the very bones of spring and beyond.
cut her down with my small interpretation.

she was a sun i will not see again.

here in a twilight of weeping 
i indulge the urge
to endlessly recreate the moment 
when i lost my chance
to stop and listen to her
and let her expand within me 
as i should have. 

what a fool. 

the moment of loss is deep weather, 
a season of interruption
when the simplest answers go unnoticed.  

i should have been motionless
and perhaps
i could have held her here,

or perhaps not. perhaps

it was because i thought of her as
wisteria, delicate and frail,
that when she heard me
she was gone.

i still shine with her still within me
but try as i might
i still light nothing beyond me.


Friday Night Guitar Poem

On a Friday night
I have a date with 
my guitar
a bundle of weed
and all my insecurity

because in the afternoon
I was bound by frail family
to their service
and in the morning I felt
every twinge of my chronic diseases

I need to get back to the doctor
but I can’t make myself go
because of what they might tell me
and I can’t let my family go
because of what they might call me

while we’re at it
I am only surreptitiously fighting the beasts
who are owning the world right now

I ought to buy a gun
to kill a fascist 

but I know
my hands make me a terrible shot
unless the gun is pressed 
against my head

I do the research 
compile names
addresses and hatreds
but who is going to care
among my gentle friends 
who are sure that love will conquer all
once they are bulldozed 
into the poisoned earth
I need to seize the guitar
the way I used to hold my pen
before I stopped writing poems
in favor of playing guitars
with these broken hands
full of dead nerves that hate me
as I have grown to hate so much

all I want is one good touch
all I want to love is one good person

but instead I fear the voice inside saying
fuck black brown white
center left and right
America
and the rest of the world
(the dolphins too)
and all the love the great unknown holds tight
instead of letting it flow

I want to hold my guitar
and play it loud
drown out the butchers
claiming my dying ears
for their own

singing me hemorrhage songs
drawing me into their arms

I’m tired of you if you think this is
remotely a good poem
remotely a prayer
can’t see this is a wound opening with a hiss
once cherished blood
(yours and mine) flowing out
on a Friday night

you ought to
thank God for this guitar
in my hands
which is not at all a gun


Assuming Forever

By assuming “forever”
is our future,
we lose our past
in its mist.

We step into 
fog and forget
what clarity
we had,

what we stepped 
away from to find
this. We assume
forever,

then are swallowed
by coming dark.
All the signs
of ending might be

right behind us,
might have been
in plain sight, might even
have been discussed

incessantly 
and we’d still
never see their like
in forever’s fog,

the haze that covers
our imminent end.
Whenever we claim
forever for a future

we assure that there will be
no such thing. It’s
too good a myth
for us to deny.


That Scent

Scent: 
grand trigger,
concealed weapon, 
unexpected clue.

Standing on
a corner, watching
pale people 
walk by:
some solo and
others in pairs
crushing tight
under umbrellas
in light rain.

I smell them
going by. I
smell their fear,

can almost understand
if not sympathize — 

yet thereafter
step out

unprotected:
less than concerned
with my own imminent
drenching

as I’m too familiar
with that
to fear it;
no concern for 
whatever future bullet
that smell might foretell;

those pale folks
don’t have a clue
what a deluge
feels like, 

while I’ve lived under one
my whole life.