If you see me
ing, my fingers
seen object, a
silver ring, a
rubber band, a
let of dried glue,
ask me what’s wrong.
thing’s wrong. My
fingers are searching
for a fix.
If you see me
ing, my fingers
seen object, a
silver ring, a
rubber band, a
let of dried glue,
ask me what’s wrong.
thing’s wrong. My
fingers are searching
for a fix.
Time is an effective filter for art. The stories and manifestos that mean so much on the day of their release wash away. The artifacts that somehow sneak their way from box to box, dorm room to apartment to house, from hard drive to hard drive blossom with new meaning.
One of the cool things about getting old are the bands that survive. They’ve made their money and are doing their best, unencumbered, trying to impress no one, work. They possess both the “fuck it” attitude of youth, and the polished skills that come with years of experience. And, they’re back to playing small venues where you can see them cheap enough to still buy a t-shirt, surrounded by devotees who love the stuff from their new album.
I’m not sure how I kept Counting Crows. I didn’t care much for them when their radio single mega-hits hit, no more than I did for Mr. Big or Hole. But every album since there were two or three songs, what we grown folks call B-sides, that would transcend what DJ’s could find. Every three or four years a new album. Every three or four years a few diamonds.
I’m not sure how I started teaching writing. I am one for taking the scenic route, bypassing the highway of a career in just about anything. Somewhere along the way I went from sitting in workshops to leading them, from taking classes to teaching them. And somewhere I came to realize, in teaching them, that the nouns matter.
Anna Begins is an early track. It’s from those sessions that happen before the band hits, that block of songs that come from coffee houses and scratching on napkins. It’s super personal and shrouded in mystery, based on something the artist is not yet ready to name.
Washington Square comes later, fifteen years in, and Counting Crows have found a way to be clear, artistic, articulate, simple, and deep. It’s no longer the artist searching, or trying to protect someone’s identity. It’s Picasso in two strokes drawing a bull. It’s the craftsman just… saying.
What separates these skill sets are the nouns.
Nouns come in at least two varieties, concrete and abstract. Some you use to name a vague idea and some you hit with a hammer. And pronouns, good lord, the worst of writing is littered with pronouns. When you don’t want to name the person, or narrow it down enough for them to be noticeable, then the drama comes between me and she and him and them.
What abstract nouns don’t give you is the ability to set yourself down in a time and place, and sit face to face with the artist, with their creations. What concrete nouns give you are the particulars, a chair, a table, a waitress named Bonnie with bright red hair and a tattoo on her left wrist.
Anna Begins begins with, “My friend assures me it’s all or nothing. I am not worried. I am not overly concerned. My friend implores me for one time only, make an exception. I am not worried.”
Washington Square starts, “Sold my piano. It couldn’t come with me. I locked up my bedroom, and I walked out into the air. Nothing I needed was left there behind me, just memories of walking through Washington Square.”
In the first I am left to wonder what’s going on and where is my place in the story. The imaginative leaps I must make are in the particulars. I must bring with me a situation, maybe with a friend of mine, where it has been all or nothing, and yet I was not overly concerned. What would that be? I have had people tell me, with confidence, that this song is about senseless sex, or rape, or suicide, or being too drunk to care.
In the second I am right there. And although I have never owned or sold a piano, I can make the leap to understand a piano both as a gateway to music and as a symbol of a weighty life that makes it difficult to move, something beautiful, but with heft and gravity.
I hear young writers arguing for the value in leaving things vague, leaving space for the reader to insert their own life. But that’s not how life works, it’s not how the art that stays stays. I know that from age. Feelings and impressions burn away. But I remember the strands of hair being pushed thoughtlessly behind an ear, the drops of sweat that fall from being close with another person and intense, the journals we used to carry, the boots we used to wear.
The stuff that holds lies in the particulars. At this age I can make those imaginative leaps. I can guess what a thief stealing a silver spoon means. But I have no space or care to fill in the faces and scents of blank people mired in angst for some unknown reason. I think of the great ending of Stanley Kunitz’s poem The Portrait, telling a story about his mother slapping him as a child. “In my sixty-fourth year / I can feel my cheek / still burning.”
That’s concrete. That’s a well-aged artist saying big things simply. That is why Washington Square outshines Anna Begins.
Some late summer days
in the fresh pale evening
your garage door snapped shut
fillets chopped into chocolate chili
you realize you’ve never lived
in a world with Janis Joplin.
Some late summer days
this lapse is okay, call it
poor timing, each lover
lost in some other year.
Some late summer days
this pain is the keenest tragedy.
I could leap about the room howling,
spinning into storms of exuberance,
a hurricane laughing. Though I’d rather
remind you “It’s raining,” just outside
our window, a light dew on the lawn
like tears. Softly. Gently. Cool nourishment
invisible like breathing. You. Safe, out
on a limb, in a nest, curled in my arms.
The rain constant as the love you keep,
as the love you keep despite leaving.
Back east the day starts out mired in cloud-like blankets,
as if it spent the night twisting itself in thunderclouds
and great huge swabs of rain. But there is hope
that by afternoon when the sun has burned
the tops of its biscuits, some clarity
and fresh air will break through.
Out west, in the land of Triathlon,
the opposite is true, morning rises easy
from a dry, and hot, and starless night. Cool.
It heats up at pace through lunchtime. Then clouds,
lakes lifted on the back of vacuums, the mountaintops
in dispute with wind and sun. Each comes with a flash flood.
The worst lesson I ever learned came in sixth grade when Mr. Fabiano, trying to help a nerdy kid get beat up less, taught me the word “stoicism”. No, the worst lesson came when Mr. Hansen, in eighth grade biology, taught us about homeostasis. No, the worst lesson might have been in the Tao, the part where it talks about being a pole in the middle of a stormy sea, water churning around you as you stand still, unflinching. Then there is Kristina in college, stopping dead in her tracks at the sight of a sunrise, running towards it with her arms open, as if she could catch it, or imbibe it, or somehow stretch wide enough to embrace its entirety.
This essay is not about that.
It’s not about whether or not to react to the world, whether to engage it or stand stoic and separate. There is no available option for stopping. As Galileo said of the universe on his death bed, “It moves.” All of it. Each of us too. No, this is about the building and the signpost and the ledge we choose to stand on each morning, and what we wake ready to dive into. We welcome this conscious world to prove to us, each morning, what we already believe. The day is an opportunity to prove a philosophy. And for those people who made better choices than myself today, I have envy.
I see one of them each day, awake at the pillow believing this world is a positive place, that the people in it are good and kind, that life is driven by a powerful thrust forward, and that the heart is a deep well of joy that can feed everyone. That annoying happy colleague. That clerk at the grocery store who is way too chipper to be to work by five. The ticket taker at the counter whom I would not have met had I made my first flight. Who is he to be so overjoyed, to be making everyone else smile and laugh so heartily?
And I see the cynics, the ones who are sure this world is made of ore and stone which must be futilely pounded every day. I see the oppositionists, who prove by their living that the world is separated into rich and poor, good and evil, worthless and worthy. I see the defenders, who put up walls around whatever their lives hold, and keep in all in their fort, willing to kill or die for both their nutrition and their garbage. I see the centrists, who never quite bought into the sun being the focus of the solar system, the sun being so far away from them. I see the cause-heads, who have one lens, and wait for the world to show its inherent flaw, its lack of any willingness to fight for this, our most important issue. I see the pushers, who won’t stop until everything is changed, and the consumers, who take, and take. I see the apologists, and the back-stabbers, and the martyrs. And I am more frustrated with myself than by any of them
Just stop. We all need to stop.
For one day. Don’t move.
Don’t buy anything. Don’t sell. Don’t run away. Don’t reboot, refocus, reload, recommit, reinvest, reembellish. Stop. For God’s sake Galileo.
I’m tired of moving, of feeling, of fulfilling everyone’s unproven philosophies. I’m ready to pop. And if the universe keeps filling up, keeps inflating, keeps bursting at the seams, if we keep having more and more to choose from, if I have to carry this all inside any longer, I won’t survive.
The most reliable way to fix a computer is to restart it. This wipes out any running processes. It allows the kernel to start fresh, and for a little while, everything loads smoother.
This world is not inherently flawed. The Buddhists don’t have the answer. You can’t work your way to happiness. Drugs are neither demons nor doorways. Surrender will not save you. We are not the greatest country in the history of the world. Your team is not number one. Science, and the ever expanding library of human knowledge, will neither obliterate us nor offer an escape. We are not better off with or without the seals.
The worst lesson I ever learned was that “the day is an opportunity to prove a philosophy”. I’m not sure where I picked it up, or who taught it, or what Legos I pieced it together from. I can’t stand Mr. Ramsey for putting in my head that life is either a struggle between man and nature, or man and man, or man and himself. I hate that Professor Haffar taught us the concept of false happinesses, that someone who felt joyful, while in actuality being oppressed, should be taught about their oppression.
Somewhere in there I was an open-hearted boy. And the world came easy to me. And when someone made fun of me, or struck me, I cried. And I felt the force behind a waterfall. And the pangs of true love. And the smack of a bumper to a bumper when I forgot to pay attention. And I felt music. And I felt my great grandmother’s ancient, dry hands. And I felt death. And I cared. And I knew it would be over soon. And I couldn’t imagine living past eighteen.
I can’t say this thing. I used to be able to say this thing. But, whatever I woke this morning to prove just won’t seem to come to me.
Here’s the problem, my friend.
You’ve told me everything about what you’ve been up to and the sum total of it seems to be that you… are not happy.
Now I know you can point to many good things in your life, blessings, gifts, scars well-earned.
You tell me how much you love the crowds, and the restaurants, and the oncoming buzz.
But near the end of the evening, when all the slacks and jackets and party dresses have been tossed in the laundry or rehung, you are not filled with the joy that twirls at the center of the world.
You don’t wake up enamored of life, and the morning, and the process of living a day.
You tell me with the suffix of, “I bought a new piece of plastic (or metal, or cloth). One I have been looking for. One that I know will bring me my happiness. I’ve booked a trip to a far off destination. Signed up for classes. Found a new city and am planning to move.”
Your life is so very frenetic.
As if jumping from one lustful passion to another will somehow fill it. But the bucket has no bottom. You’re lighting the gas of your longing with what matches. Yet you seem devout in your sadness. It’s pervasive.
And there’s nothing anyone can do. Do you think about this? This. Right here. Spent some hours listening to the sounds that wander through the rooms of your dwelling, the edifice of your imagination, the cavernous, high ceilinged room of your heart.
We’ve known each for a long time and so I can share with you a secret. I can see into your heart. Not just yours, everyone’s. When I meet someone it takes about a minute. Their bodies dissolve and I see instead the inner layer of their skin, the one that has been with them since youth.
It swims between pink and yellow. It has these lovely eddies that curl around your belly when you eat and around your head, like a halo, when you remember lovely things.
But so often you tamp it down, get filled with this grey malice that starts at the surface and pushes, like weight, against these savory colors to your feet, where they pool and quiver.
I think, (and what do I know?), if you just let sat still. Here. Right here.
And listened. And looked. And took in this scene, with no care in the world or plan for anything, you could feel them start to move, to rise up to your knees, overtake your belly, swim in a circle around the flute of your throat.
They’ll fill your eyes. They’ll color how you see the world. They are here, just below your skin, so thin. Your beauty bursting out which requires no paint and no coat. No sales receipt or title.
It’s you. I see. Swirling out wildly.
In the back of my father’s chariot,
Cadillac he toiled to own–
the one he lied an oath through his teeth
(to the Marines, to a wife or two or three) to keep,
the coal-black fenders, tailfins latched to whiteness,
steel smelted from each iota of his Italian heritage,
halo, cross, and cloth thrown off for the kitsch
of a name that stood like a hood ornament;
shield between knotted wings– coiled a cowlicked boy
taught to loathe those on the other end of Church Avenue
who prayed to a God of talc and smoke, to a Pope
who had his grandma known (or been told
he existed) would have sworn
was God’s own love on earth.
Here I am, up again, my friend, up
at some ungodly hour meant more
for dreaming they laying out schemes
of attack on a day for which I will
now be more poorly rested
and therefore less effective.
Here I am, pondering again
without the use of hallucinogens
how one might make time travel
or move space and stay in a place
impossible, the top corner of a room
watching a scene in our history unfolding.
A thousand times, again, hoping in this past
to find the ripple or fold that allows us
to explore what would have been
had you’d been less… or I’d been more…
perched atop the door to kick it closed
hold the knob shut as you twisted it and left.
Here nightly, brightly hunched and painting
in watercolors no one gets to see,
tongue out my left lips, a boy
still spreading stained rainbow
fingers into circles wrapped up
into imaginary rings of gold.
I should sleep. I should let go of
what simply will not be. The past,
a future, another version of the separate
life (lives) we lead. Somewhere
you’re awake, I dream, and listening.
Somehow this love, our love
radiates out from brain-meat to brain-meet,
this busy signal un-hung-up and sung
into ears by crickets in connected meadows
out the back doors and off the porch where
you are whispering and I am whispering.
on the couch
by the window,
in the pre-sunrise.
(and rottens) inside
ensues in chaos,
sharp like pine needles,
ever green (giving up little),
as in the scents of candles.
His penis is a prune,
heart in resin, a knot tied
in his spine. What sense
in ripping off that false S?
In loosening the reins
of the well-taught sniper?
Because It’s full
we won’t use,
buttons to press.
on the nursery,
on the scent of urine,
on the shade of paint
awakening with the sun
ripping at the horizon.
Are you just making yourself feel
Are you just making yourself
Are you just making
Are you just
A yellow sun rises over a yellow house.
A tree impedes the pristine scene growing
from angled eaves. A pair of birds flitter
translucent across the rooftop in the beams.
The reflection of cars warped in a window.
A roof tile loose and peeling. What could be
dust or the body of a moth tugged by gravity.
All of it pixelated through my
window screen. Dirt and uneven shades
and peeling paint around the sill. Squares
bent down into a u or a v. I can’t recall
what I thought
when I knew love
For weeks I’ve been wrestling in my head, with the nature of consciousness, and I want you to understand where I’ve come to. If I started talking out loud I wouldn’t be able to explain it, so I am hoping writing it down can flesh out some of it, and give you a peek into what I believe now about who we are and how we came to be.
I think we humans invent things that are metaphors for a reality we are trying to uncover. The wheel a metaphor for the earth before we knew its shape. The book a metaphor for the mind before we understood its storage. Intuited inventions that point the path towards science we have not yet learned. The greatest invention of the 20th century being the automobile, a metaphor for the human body. Stronger and faster than anything available at the start of the century, better than any horse or burro of biology. But, in constant need of fuel from the earth, temporary, unhealing, always rusting and failing. In constant need of repair, always being reclaimed back to the earth.
At the end of the century though, the great invention, and what I believe to be our next great metaphor became the computer. We talk about this computer metaphor with students. Hardware like the human body. Software like the human brain. Steve Jobs described the computer as, “The most remarkable tool we have ever come up with.” But at the end of the century, we created a third part to this platform, the cloud. We know that the computer has the same problems the car had. It is temporary, things break and fail and are lost. So we have these networked backup systems, where, ideally, those things we want to be permanent can be stored. And we struggle now not with their temporariness, but with their permanence. So what part of us is that permanence?
What if what is permanent, what is aware, what is creative, what is conscious, what is more permanant is not the animal, not the body, but the cloud, the air? I first heard this from KRS-One and thought it was a cool idea, but I didn’t consider the science behind it. This is not the eternal soul (or is it?), but perhaps a feat of physics and electricity. What if, way back in the days of pre-life primordial soup, the binding action that pulled together some inanimate objects and built the first proteins was a bolt of lightning? Mary Shelley intuited this with how one would bring life to Frankenstein. Star Trek intuited this on many episodes, this idea of conscious creatures in the clouds who sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t need to inhabit a body. What if that which is permanent (as permanent as the air) is in the air? Air which has no plural (oneness), and which is one cloud above us all (heaven).
This gives us a third part of life. There is the physical body, the mental brain, and then consciousness, that which is creative, imaginative, and aware. In this idea, the brain is a prism. Light (awareness) goes in one side as one cohent, invisible thing and comes out the other side separated out into something that looks very different. The human body is there to keep the human brain alive. The human brain is there to focus electricity and to give body, breath and language to awareness, to consciousness. The brain is a lens, a series of optics.
What about other animals? They are obviously alive, but are they aware? To some extent yes. But, what the human mind has on them is that it is a better lens, a better set of optics, more megapixels (again, the metaphor of inventions). If you are an awareness, born from the physics of electricity, pure light/air in a cloud and choose to pass through the prism of life to develop (like an old photo) into something, you are going to choose the best optics you can afford. And maybe that has always been, that consciousness chooses the best optics. Maybe, at some point, the amoeba held that consciousness, the hawk held consciousness, the dinosaur, and for now, the human. Thus King Arthur’s legends about Merlin making him a bird. Thus Q’s comment on Star Trek that “I traveled the road many times, sat on the porch, played the games, been the dog, everything! I was even the scarecrow for a while.”
I was running the other day, looking up into the air, into the clouds, thinking about this. Am I electrified air breathed into flesh, wailing the first time my lungs were inflated? Are you? And if so, why? What are our impulses in this flesh? One is invention. One is flight. One is space travel. Would aware entities want to travel away from their place of birth? Yes. If I could invent a way for my consciousness “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Yes. And maybe for a long time simply jumping from evolving brain (lens) to evolving brain was progress, until we got to these tool builders. These who are somehow different than other creatures. Now we may not need to wait another million years for the next jump in evolution. If we can keep building better tools, and do so without destroying the car (species) we are in, perhaps we can find a shortcut. Space travel being one driving force. But maybe another.
If consciousness moves from most evolved to most evolved, to the best optics, perhaps inside this species of tool builders, we could build a better container than this temporary body with it’s current mexapixeled lens. Perhaps our next great invention will be Frankenstein, Commander Data, or Q. Some focuser of consciousness that is exceptionally better than what natural selection can naturally select. And maybe we can build it over a thousand years, rather than it growing organically over millions. And these bodies can go back to being primates. And we consciousness can continue on.
Heaven is up, and when we die, our last breath out, that which is permanent goes back into the oneness, into the air, which really is a life in the clouds. Hell is down, a fiery pit in the ground where the meat of all of our beings is headed, an eternity of damnation. And here we are in between, meat animated. A prism. The cover of dark side of the moon album. The ephemeral focused through flesh. A body, an evolved brain, consciousness. Hardware, software, cloud. Inventors, tool builders, imaginations. Limited by biology, which Buddhism says could never, on its own, produce awareness. Limited by our senses and our perceptions to seeing only certain bands of light and radiation, a poor, but best ever camera. Frail, temporary, failing. But with imagination, intuition, creativity. Those things that have allowed us to make our thoughts into words, our words sticky and semi-permanent, to increase that level of stickiness, and to imagine, in the stories we tell each other (write down, type, zip around the world, make permanent on the web), greater and further horizons. We drive toward invention, so we can go beyond the atmosphere that holds us, the bodies that limit us, one and separate. Breathing. In all meditation, focus on your breathing. Why? What if it is to know who we are?
The Good Men Project has published a dearly loved poem of mine, Sunday Night in my Thirties.
Please go read the poem at http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/chb-sunday-night-in-my-thirties/
Leave a comment, share with a friend.
Even bone sculptures become howling
and dust. Oceans hold eons-old pirate gold
but no one mines the treasures of arid seas
until the rains come. Till husks from holds
break open, flint and swords, blood and flesh,
rusty plugs and oar-locks. Until bundles of hooks
on snapped lines reach for soil and light.
Coyotes cowered while gopher preachers
bucketed out flooded pulpits. All we needed
was salt-smell and hope, a molecule or two
of what binds sand and light.
one thing, just, from becoming a prairie
………………………………………………..full of life.
It’s as if, swimming upstream, I carried with me
not just his bushy eyebrows and yellow toenails,
but a belt and pair of crooked spectacles, cock-
eyed view of the world. Raised too sophisticated
to give voice to his dogs and hoses, the martinis
and subtle winks he aped from Bogart movies.
His urge to hop a plane and escape, fantasy
without responsibility, family, to create anew
in stories, unburdened by more than pulp
L’amour. My conception molten like metal
cooling into an impression. No matter what
my edge reflects, the bank’s a bowl of stones.
What you’ve handed me are seeds.
What I want from you are trees:
whole groves of oranges, fruit hung
plump and bruised from bent limbs.
Better yet, hand me these same husks
dug up and cut open, oozing
with all these possibilities.
I have tried to write this essay several times. I have failed using flowery language, academic speak, spiritual overtones, and psycho-babble. But it never came out the way I wanted. And that is the point of it. Want.
Want is a disease, a psychosis. It is an error of the mind and of the body. It is the flaw in how many of us live. We obsess over what we want for years. We make great art based on our want. It is the barrier to enjoyment and happiness. And not just in big ways.
It is easy to still pine for the person you wanted to kiss when you were sixteen. That small wish may hover inside your mind like a micro-tumor, but it is probably benign. What hurts us more is the want of the moment.
You are sitting in a long line of cars wanting a light to turn green. It turns and only one car gets through. And you want it to be different. The person you share your life with cannot read your mind, cannot do, seemingly, anything right, and you want them to be different.
Want distances you from this moment. It allows you to hide inside another, imaginary, more ideal reality. It suggests you should hold this life up against that ideal one and compare the two, a pageant which this moment will always lose. I want to be taller, want shorter, want skinnier, want stronger.
But let’s separate want from action. There is a moment not yet lived that you can choose into. The future must be shaped, and we can use it to reach towards an ideal. We can work for change. But that is not want, that is taking action.
I am lying in bed, in the middle of the night. I wake with my mouth open and bone-dry. I can ease myself out of bed, walk to the sink and have a glass of water. In the morning I can purchase a humidifier. Next month I can move to a coast or a rainforest.
Or I can sit here in want, hating this arid moment, imagining my imaginary ease. The distance in time between a felt need and the action to answer that need is want. And it is killing us. Every moment in want is a moment wasted, a moment of this life, right here, now, gone.
Each moment is far bigger than you can inhabit, larger than you can imagine. If you envision now throughout the whole globe, and know you could live on almost any inch of that, you start to see now. If you imagine how tiny the earth is to the universe, you start to sense the size of now.
Each moment offers you something to hate, something to love, something to act on, something to want. Worse than loving or hating, wanting means you do not inhabit this moment. It steals here and now from you. It makes our conscious life fly by us, miniscule and quick.
I want to exercise more, compared to exercising. I want to forgive someone, compared to actively forgiving. I want to write is worse than awful writing. I want to focus on my family. I want to eat better. I want to let go. I want to feel love. I want to live, before I want to die.
In little ways and big we are handing over this, here, now, to our imagination. Not for the sake of a deeper contemplative life, but simply to fill a compost heap with moments, one that rots as soon as it hits the here-air. We are wasting our lives in wanting, trashing this opportunity at being.
In the story of the Christ child, today is not the day to think about what happens at the end of the book, but at the beginning. A child is born surrounded by love and prophecy and mysticism. Look around you today and seek that which appears to be the tiniest, the most weak, the most frail, the most powerless. There is glory and grace there, and potential.
In the story of the Christmas star, a light is laid out which points to greatness and divinity. Set your goals today, find that tiny prick of unreachable light and head towards it, across desert and mountain, across time and space. The light left that place thousands of years ago and finds you now, walk towards it (no, actually, run).
In the story of the Christmas tree, the life in nature is brought inside and decorated. Go now and find that life. Get outside today, away from plastic and wrapping, away from bells and whistles. Go out and commune with that which is alive, even in the darkest part of the year. Look out your windows, visit your neighbors. There are trees somewhere nearby. They love and miss you. Decorate them with your love.
Merry Christmas. I love you.
Memory littered with lust from our twenties
when the right beverage could spark
a conversation, neck rub
to relieve tension,
an understanding of struggle. Then,
beyond our ego and separation, we knew
someone was waiting
at a table, sent there
by forces greater, having an innocuous latte,
shaking sugar packets, fidgeting with a zipper,
hoping to be known, to get laid,
for life to change.
Play me backwards to capture
the slurs unspoken by non-voices
who scream insults and prevent me
from seeing and seeing me.
Dust and scratches on the surface
of the mirror I use to get ready
to keep the compliments coming
from strangers I can not incorporate.
Buy therapy. Buy a different outfit
to fit in. Lament my car and color
of my housing. Buy certain foods,
buy into pop-ideas. Cry: bye-bye.
Play me seriously and play quietly.
Listen to the voice that’s spoken for
a foot down and a mile deep
the soft earth of me in which to dig.
As the adolescent creek reached a plateau,
we were thrown together, where we played
like children, assuming the old spiritual
theatre of sex and unemployment, we
had invented. Notes we grew up hearing
in our separate minds, come together
in this tin can band, thawed from ice,
tumbling over falls, picked and strummed
along each smoothed stone. We tripped,
fell and broke, cracked off-key till the land
or factory or fire bid us rise. Then we sang
our giddy, addled, laughing good-byes.
Some stand sure-footed on the hard dry edge, bank
on its uneroded topsoil as a platform from which
they can dip a toe, safely dangle a leg, place
one foot, then two up to the ankles, stand
in the fast running rapids of reality, icy
stream whipping round their feet.
Some ease in to their necks, hope
the rush of danger cracks their heads
or heart, that shock deafens them to our
landlocked existence. Why not dive deep?
Breathe back our gills. Test the white lie of oxygen
that claims we’re just red lungs, veins and capillaries.
You go through life screaming,
lingo to gather votes on the promise
with your tonic
gets a hearing.
I opt out of that logic, coiling, instead
like a snake, or
a glass of pinot,
insistent like a hangnail.
You ride first class for the optics.
I’m the GPS
and the horizon,
You hang, fretfully unaware, in mid-air
to nothing. I know
where we’re landing.
Somewhere, my love
I could love you like it’s 1953
again, or at least like the ’53
I imagine, a colorized version
of Black and White America
where I’m a diligent worker
in the middle-management
of a family-owned factory, fretting
about helping our neighbors
without enough money.
I could love you with a kiss
at the door and a compliment
on the smell of your roast,
and try to think very little
about meaningful things;
the Constitution, war,
or sociology. I could love you
before TV, once a week, on
my birthday. And putter through
that existence. But I’d rather
struggle through business,
bills, roles, religions, equality.
It’s faster than a heartbeat
when you look at me,
faster than a blink,
than my fingers
pounding out a text
as I drift down retail streets.
We should have this out
in the same city. You should be
howling. Me claiming innocence,
you overreacting. Instead
the snow’s piling up,
each flake attacking. Capitals
can’t relay my anger.
Exclamations. The river
is frozen. I want
my nights back. I want
your days. And your finger.
And your head. We should
be falling, accumulating,
I once thought
A measure of sexy
That I am you
And you me
Before our first date
That I know your soul
Before your name
How you tip me
If we never speak
In our soul-scape
On clean sheets
Measure of nothing
You, you only
We never date
I miss your soul
Forget your name
You spoken for
Our soul escapes
And clean sheets
In a house of five, allegiances are born
and die as quickly as the evening meal
is thawed and cooked and eaten. Toys
lie black and blue about the floor, love
is being offered, on loan, and ignored.
In a house of five, someone lays in wait
for a party or a date, for a secret kept
to be leaked, and for the next shushing,
for vengeance to be the call of the day,
for diagrams to be drawn to call the play.
In a house of five, the stairs are byways
of clicking sneers, of breath through teeth
and “Don’t. Touch. Me.” There’s not room
enough for space to think, for time-out
with a good book, or a moment’s peace.
Four offers a chance for balance, three
a tight alliance, two, a buddy-cop movie.
At six we could field and coach a team.
We grew up in a palace, in a maelstrom,
in an inner ring of the defense department.
What we trained for remains sealed.
What we learned later confirms rumors.
Fifty years after the last of us have died
the files will be unclassifed, the dust
and scores and cracked walls all settled.
The brush does not move, nor the canvas,
nor the wrist of the artist
but the sea rippling along the shore of Italy
where my great-great Grandmother stands, ankle deep
waiting for the pescatori
to return home to shore
dinghies bobbing along the horizon,
her husband, her sons
weighted down with work, made dark by the globe
diving behind the island.
She squints, and a lens snaps the landscape
long before Kodak,
developing itself through the palm on her belly,
which moves, and kicks, and swells
dashing ruddy hues cross the generations’
Can anyone tell which door we used to get into this room, cause
I can’t seem to recall and the walls appear polished seamlessly
to a high sheen, the floor and ceiling incomprehensibly far away?
I can’t imagine we fell from a great height and survived, nor
that we jumped on our own into this ballroom. The question
may seem esoteric, but I’d like to find the exit, in case
I need to head outside for a smoke or if I’m done, simply,
with this party. I’m not being antisocial, the food here is more
than passable, company of the highest order, the guest speakers
fascinating. It’s just I might like to sit quietly without all this laughing,
all these false approvals of achievement, filth diminishing
as the machines keep shrinking, smiles spread across faces
while the bombs keep falling.
Mom said “Today,
we bake a cake.”
I was eight, and a boy,
and my toys
were plastic cast
teaching me to hate,
and cars teaching
me to escape. She
showed me spoons,
and cups, and eggs,
round bottomed things.
Taught me to measure,
and the pleasure it takes
The batter thickened.
Oil so it would not stick.
I licked the bowl.
The whole thing
took half the day.
The toys are filling
land in a trash heap.
is a lemon memory.
Mom? We don’t talk
the whole thing up.
Sons who move
away. Old women
She never wore
an apron. I’ve never
let a lover in. I sit still
quietly in the morning
in my imagination,
in realities where I’m
the maker of destiny,
before I must follow
all day filling out forms
with the heat inside
me rising slowly,
so I can bake
the world like batter,
rather than fire
like an engine,
like a high
or like a furnace
To impress no one, we run
to the store for an onion, for salt
from the sea, for Kleenex
in a box of paisley.
We unlocked door to butt-
in on a simple question, how
one and a half
baths become a studio?
To impress no one, we set
the table with a vase
of carnations, telling no one
what a trying day; trying.
We reach for the door, check
the lock and the peep
before killing the light
in hopes we can sleep.
To impress no one, we wake
the neighbors with our banging,
hanging black and white
photos of fruit.
At our office door we greet
each person with a smile, neat,
and an anecdote from the weekend
“… spent it with friends.”
To impress no one, we end
our stories with a flourish,
garnish their slow-cooked ingredients,
and scour the china, thoroughly, clean.
I’ve heard it said, by fellows
in tunics and scientist eggheads,
that we, meaning all things that aren’t
nothing, no things, are made up
of subatomic, quantum, finely-tuned
strings vibrating, as in a well-
translated koan, our unmeaning
brought over coherently.
If that’s true, then we, a metaphor
for four billion years of tuning turn
out to be this table, chair, air,
organ, skin, and also a melody
each, lines, drawn-in notes,
or instruments, timpani,
tuba, blowing beats
in a distinct symphony.
When I see someone doing something cool or amazing or difficult I have an urge to try that. The urge rises up inside me. I’m inspired. But soon enough that urge fades away. Sometimes I have the urge to go hang-gliding, or to swim/bike/run an Ironman, or to find a racetrack and drive a NASCAR. We all have urges. They are born in the gut and in the bowels and can be quelled, held back, or ignored in a matter oF minutes. The word, urge, is the sound that the stomach and intestines make as they are digesting our food. Listen. Put your head on someone’s belly. Urge. Uuuurrrrrggggeeeee.
Will, however, has two meanings. One is “I intend to do this in the future tense,” as in, “I will call you.” The other, and the one I would suggest you mean whenever you use the word is, “The sustained power of intention over the inertia of present truth.” As in, “She succeeded by sheer force of will.” I suggest you use the second as your meaning whenever you use the word. Go back to that phone call. When you merely intend to do something in the future tense it does not make into reality. When you use the force of your being to overcome inertia, you pull the future toward you and shape it.
The other thing about will, besides its misplaced double meanings, is that we write it wrong. Those of us using Germanic/Romantic languages write our words from left to right. So “will” looks like just another word. But will is actually a hieroglyph, a pictograph, a word made up of pictures, and it is most appropriately written top to bottom, like this:
At the top of will is the crown. W. A crown is placed on top of the head of a king or queen, a person anointed by God to lead. In order to properly use your will you must understand that your voice, your power, your action is about letting the creative/destructive (constructive), power of nature flow through you. To enjoin your will you must crown yourself with that great big W.
And you must place that crown on top of your head. The crown Chakra is your connection to the divine, to all living things. The head Chakra is your connection to the reason and logic and how you conceptualize and shape the world around you. Having the will to do something, without knowing what that thing is leaves you running around screaming at the top of your lungs. And while, a five year old is full of energy and fun to watch, their will spewing out all over the place, until they have a head on their shoulders, i, they are not going to save the world.
So now you have your crown and have placed it firmly on your intention, idea, ideation. Now you need action. Thankfully, you have evolved to have two strong legs, meeting the ground at two strong feet.
The trees do not have these. All there great ideas can do is sprout leaves, which last a season and fall to earth simply to tell of what they have seen. But you can carry your ideas to fruition, to action. You have the will to shape your dreams, hands to mold them, arms to protect them, legs and feel to make them move, a mind to mold and shape and reshape them, the crown to anoint them into reality. The will, the
to turn an improbable and unborn future into a very present tangible reality. You will.
Sung last night, when we pulled curtains tight
and blocked each bulb of light from streaking
our window. We sang in darkness thick, of sweet lyrics,
of wit. This morning late slept so when the rope broke
the sun was miles above the horizon, overwhelmed
by love strung bright as sweat seeping between clouds.
I came to you in pieces, in sheets, like notes in a pale.
You picked me up, hung me on a staff, and on a sail.
We loved quick-hot and deep-long. I plucked
at you like a string. You came on like a song.
If any control befell us we might first give up
the sneeze, it’s strike-like explosion where
breath and impulse mix in an inch of choice
we seem unlikely to inhabit. We might first
give up the in-breath that escapes
when a (wo)man well-made up in our head
walks, alive and real, in and we prove ourselves
to our lust eternally powerless. We might
give up our fear, when the plane drops too quick,
our dreams, which overcome us while we lie
unable, for hours at a time, to plot the moral.
We might. We might, give up flashes of anger
with those whom we share stories.
We might give up our blood
pouring into nascent capillaries
or the pump that ceaseless pours.
We might then, minds right, find ourselves
solved and saved and in possession
of not one good excuse for our sorrow,
nor our misery, nor our giddy tingling.
Harkin had the worst handwriting and specs as thick as
the haze hormones lay on the brain
so it came as an epiphany when we discovered he was
the delinquent behind the graffiti monsters
whose growls were so beautiful our
grandparents pooled their trusts to purchase the building
and leave it to us untouched except for that day in June when
the wealthy and the august alike
meet with bristles and buckets to redefine what weather has
tried every day to wind and rain away..
God’s graffiti: Harkin,
the monsters, the old and monied,
the bricks and
June and us
We thought we knew– in the womb, tied
into the heartbeat, tied
into the grumble of a belly, tied
into muffled voices– the totality of love and being.
We thought we knew– after the first fall, first
cut of skin and blood, first
tumble down stairs, when our parents
picked us up for hugs– the totality of love and being.
We thought we knew– when, with hormones
coursing through our veins
some young thing looked into us
with such longing– the totality of love and being.
We thought we knew when touched, in prayer, by God,
in first meditation, in Cathedral, between tears
of impossible life-long promise, in the wiggle
in the eyes of our offspring.
The heart keeps alighting, igniting,
then opening up to larger truths, to possibilities,
to newer and newer peace, to others, to each.
(And we thought we knew).
On a thick pub tabletop we’ve crammed in
as many empty glasses as can fit, as many
stories as can fit, drinking to the years since
we were sure about what color hair love
must have, what dollars and what frames
we’d work for. On the gravel outside
a four-door sedan by a mini-van. In it
we clutch our boxes and our wrappers,
in the back there’s a factory designed
to entertain the wee. Remember backseat
cushions pressed against perfume,
and fogged windows offered the privacy
of a hotel room. Sometimes you come
to the light with an old tune playing too low,
no one else at the intersection. Your hair
grows, and your voice crackles, and the pedal
longs for sneakers, and you spin, till the sign
reminds you of 45 and of the wealth of this
life. When it’s all gone I hope we can return,
off-stage, without carpeting, tile, stone
sidewalks and long highways. I want
to tell you how much love I have, how much
envy, how much time with you meant to me.
The Buddha was born to privilege
and died beneath
the lotus tree.
We were raised in green lush
forests of ignorance,
on political issues taking into account
neither far off
nor near history,
the world outside our palace,
down by the river,
in the Ozarks.
Buddha was born the day he embraced
the world of suffering,
curiosity for a way
to live in concert hardened his back and broke
through easily fed
desires of the flesh,
his strength from the song of the bazaar, from steel
in sun. We stand mute
knowing we’ll never go, in this flesh, to that prison,
having been cursed or blessed
with a belly full
and the right of fully realized potential,
a hard heart, blind eyes,
and a deathless life.
a pond shines –
in a hollow inside
my brain, besides a hill
and lawn – silverly with
black carp sucking at
sun they cannot
The slights and lack of light embossed on a first grade face
are too deep
to be placed
by just the snarl
of a bully
casting out by a girl who won’t enjoy kissing for another decade
some souls are born
under-built for this world
as if an appendage
failed to grow in
some spend years cleaving chunks of meat their soul has yet to embody
and some take scores
to fill-in suit sleeves
dragging on the floor
thighs bunched up to the feet
the S on their cape deflated well into their forties (and still longer to fly)
The final verdict handed down in court today,
said death must be administered swift, without delay.
“But he’s so old,” his lawyers begged for some mercy,
called his client fat and weak and unsexy.
With all the bandwidth suckled up by video,
the TV sets don’t even play the songs no more.
And radio’s just morphed into this other thing,
living happily in a box beside the video games.
And so the judge decided something so severe,
the court reporter screamed at what she heard.
He said, “Kill them both, and kill the MP3.
Music wasn’t meant to play inside a screen.”
So now we have to wait until the festival,
to watch our favorite acts put earwigs in our skulls.
And in the meantime, we have met our spouse today,
and all our children just went back outside to play.
In the deep blood
oxygen deprived morning,
blue like a bruise
beneath skin, knowing
Ptoelmy’s hot body,
this world, of which we are
just sex, nothing but
a fungus filled with seeds
of consciousness absorbed
by the stomach’s inner lining, I
feels still, like the sun
rolls back in, always,
in a day, or a month,
that universal uterus
ending in a prick of light.
I dream days away,
devoted, in a deep chill,
to the idea that I must offer
something unique to this world
with these gold flecked eyes.
In the jungle
a muggy umbrella
slumps above the canopy,
in its soggy blur
and each gene.
to stay separate
from the embers of a forest,
his sleep daily
deprived by the bugler’s
jeer of Reveille.
with a dank mist
that merges clams
The dew of our lungs,
bungles flint locks
All things into all things.
My father stripped the forest
so’s he could stay dry,
though I’ll admit
he never burned for me.
I loved her lips, honestly,
of senses swearing
sitting atop organs
opened an entryway
into other dominions.
I’ve sworn since
that I sense energy
in the mannerisms
of mystics migrating
by, though my cortex
claims plainly this
is prejudice playing.
The cliffs are distant,
as is the kitchen
as is the third grade
and old age,
and any level
outside of understanding.
in rythmic spinning.
The basement of your brain
Muscles twitch to assure
you that you loved her, more
than just her lips.
We love the teenager’s earnest first album, unfettered
by the lilt of a head at a concert off campus,
the flirting curves of possibility.
Their flawless lust and heartfelt promise, before
the prick of success and nights indulged in rooms
they should never lie down in.
We love the braggadocio of a world-view cradled
in a journal by everything we know they can’t
yet know, the scrawls of innocence.
Oily face and awkward fingers pluck a guitar string,
shouting, without a doubt, chords, they’re assured
can change a mind, change everything.
Mama would remind to scrub behind
ears, as if saying some corners
you won’t remember
need to be cleaned.
Papa would decry the Democrats and the Japs,
and the schools these days with their coddling ways
and the new fangled math.
siege at the top of the world
Mama would warn not to talk to strangers,
to the police or an adult, hinting
there are no good
Papa would leave early, return late, fly off
on trips where he was always away,
come home tired, sleep all day.
Mama wanted to raise safe
ecstatic children, alive
and off in their element,
dodging the specter of foul things.
Papa wanted only to break, someplace
to sit in pieces, unbothered, a corner
in which to lament his fate.
don’t you wish you were here
Joe wants to know
how old I am (coworker
banter). This year
I’m three feet and sixty
pounds turning in circles
of grass stained dungarees.
Or sixteen and freed
for the next hundred miles
by five gallons of gasoline.
I’m simple, sun-faced,
and happy. This year,
I contain the first few
moments inside a woman,
my fortieth birthday, too many
Sundays flailing in ecstasy
cheering for a miracle catch
on TV. I’m every gap in memory,
each darkness, all the nights
I’d take back, the lost transit
from this city to that.
The traffic to work,
all the curses. Older
than my father before
my birth. I’m uncharted.