Friday, February 19, 2010

Instead of Sleeping

When I woke up my head filled with an old and jagged story. A night spawned phantasm of a forgotten school friend-a short boy who often got caught reaching for the high-shelved honey, a boy who later became red-faced and chubby, squeezed into snug slacks with lint at the pockets.

The unsettled piece came one day when he lied to protect me after my theft from the corner store. I gave him over without flinching- Quick and painless. He was just the fat kid. We did not speak again. It was done, I thought.

Last night, instead of sleeping, I dream-chased him down, twisting the story, adding a deleting words to soften the ending. To bend consequence, to step out of time- to adjust impact with adverbs and passive voice. No trick of language could staunch truth's red flow.

That I was a traitor to that forgotten friend, that he must have forgotten me as well and if not, had he forgiven? Oh, please, please, this was years ago. I paid my dues and I am not that cowardly boy from decades ago who once sold his nobility for convenience! But the old lie bit hard.

I dipped in and out of fitful sleep and unsuccessful re-considerations. Each bend opened onto more unresolved ebbs and tributaries and these sought a bigger river of action linked to reaction and of truce coming in the calm of black solitude. Even in surrender I hugged my pillow close and let the river flow as it would.

February 19, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Rhyme of Little Slights

Tall lean boy faces off against the smaller-
Grabbing his shoulders and pushing him down.
Small pink surrender, collapsing, kneeling-
Winner flashing big teeth and sucking in air.
The first boy runs off with his hot breath steaming.
The smaller boy sits on the ground in his dust
Then rises, brushes off, and turns away.

Marcus peels off his filthy white tank top.
His skinny black frame shakes, lips spitting
As he swears in wails of what he will do
When he catches the boy who just tagged him raw.
Kill you, your mother, and your sister, three times -
He stands still, gripping with one hand his sagging blue jeans
Other hand wiping down his ashy streaked face.

Andrew, always it, out, chosen last, every day-
Smacked from the start or whenever he plays-
His blue eyes turn in his rash-blotched head
As three girls jump close to taunt and then flee.
He shouts out then that he's got the plague
And says that it’s catching with one single touch.
Jumped in by jumping out he maps out a plan
To choose ‘out’ as an ‘in’ and to keep it that way.

Angela, fattest girl, sits red faced, puffing.
Playing no more with three girls who laugh
At her the from tire swing and pointing
And calling out slings about her big pink thighs.
She sits on the bench and watches them circle
Watching, watching, counting time, and waiting.
Would she ask for a day for her chance to ride?

You are a stick and I, the stone.
A child throws names that cut to the bone.
Mighty one slaps his little friends down
Points  fingers right back with nothing to own.
Rise up this morning to sweet tin rhymes,
Of Jack and Jill tumbling in cuts of time.
One child cries and a second one bleeds.
Even small seeds can grow up to be trees.

February 15, 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2010


One of your photographs leans back on tripod display in the front of the church. In that picture, you wear a safari hat and stand in front of a building heavy with roof snow, before an unnamed mountain lodge cut against a stand of Douglas fir. You look on to a point beyond the picture. Your hand is raised to your brow as if in salute and a glint in your eyes hints at adventure pending, an expectation, an inside joke.
I can remember the priest putting his hand on your shoulder before mass started. He looked over your head to the vestments that hung in the sacristy. He asked for your help. You stepped on a stool so that you could lift the fabric onto his stooped shoulders. Both of you moved in silence. I filled the cruets with water and wine until you, with a nod, signaled that mass would begin.
Afternoon sunlight comes through wood smoked skies to warm the white painted fa├žade of this church. I stop before going in to take my seat. In my front pocket, I have an old bit of scrawl on some note paper – a piece of a letter you wrote to me when you traveled as a boy, asking me to write you back. I have no proof that I ever did. I hear my own breathing, and watch my hands, as if from far away, fold your note, returning it to my pocket.
If there comes a next time, made through the calculus of life after living, I want to believe that I will find a way to remember you, feel your imprint in that next life as I feel it now, and that the fact of your journey will be with me though I may not remember your name.  I reach to touch what I can't know for certain. Who am I beyond my body and does the answer to that question come in words?
I feel the bite of a rule that says everything must go and that all even the sweetest things will be left behind. Is that the truth? Is that the truth?

February 13, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

In the Hills

We drove up the hill a bit faster in the older kid’s car as he passed around smoke that took us to the not-know as in do-not-know-what-to-expect – pressed tight with new friends piled arm on arm, hip on hip, front and back seat on a black ribbon pass that split into hills stacked up at the top of our town - banking left then right, making up jokes that matched the motion.

He pulled off the road and skidded in dust until we stopped and hopped out following him where he led us through this run-off tube that cut about 30 feet through the side of a hill, popping out on the shaded side into a river bed long before chopped off when they cut this highway between these old brown-black mountains.

We stood in the dry river sand and I could see how the dryness made things stretch here as they waited for water that might blast through once a year if even, and it was here that we stood in a circle letting it come on and looking back and forth across the distance at faces, young like ours, looking back, letting go enough to start a journey that this kind of freedom provides – we were blessed.

I never said thank you but I know a gift now and can remember the sequence like a brain carving: coming down from the hill with my hand out the window picking up the wind like a wing that came into my body and blew back the hair on my arm – the same arm that slipped under the short white sleeve of my t-shirt and flew with living light over and under the granite, sage, and blue that popped among the dwindling hills.

We wound down black paved road, traveling maybe 10 or 15 per, six or more of us in this small car, side by side and the word I heard was peace as in the peace that precedes an explosion or that comes just before fusion – a kind of edge, empty as in the present- paused as in vignette – we could have dissolved into a full crotched approach of bruises and kisses with mouths wide open.

I could see in my mind the lightening of naked-on-naked and hear bending waves that twisted our tongues as we spun out speaking in erratic non-sequitors of the surprise of the present, the discovery in eye-contact jumbled with some long-off kenning telling us we are not new, that we do not survive (no one does)– that all of these awakenings would roll into a sunrise that would, unflinching, come.

February 11, 2010

Thursday, February 4, 2010


When I say hero, I know what I do not mean:
A horse rider, a loud noise, gallant bastard,
Public servant, honored and seen.
Not the man who leans to snatch
Small child from crocodile’s mouth,
And not the soldier stepping before
A small Iraqi woman to block
The off-throw of an improvised blast.

The hero I call up rises each morning,
To the talk in his head shouting him down,
Crosses wood planks of worn floor
To face a small mirror for the first encounter.
He is older by a day and full of his lists
Of must-does and the-thousand-tasks
Met by a chorus of silence,
He contends with the invisible:

Advance of the virus,
A slight loss of sight greater than yesterday,
A capacity to stand under bright light
Accompanied by no back-fill of strings,
Not one volunteer to listen
To the tedious litany
Except for the plentiful paid ears
In the ubiquitous 50 minute show and tell.

Persistence makes its case for bravery.
Action, absent acknowledgment, adds up
To a sequence of steps taken
Without the comfort of plot or the assurance
Of a receiving line to greet you with a "well done."
See the child then add the years and stand as witness
To a tenacity that sustains him all on his own.

February 4, 2010

About Being Afraid

I waited, holding the strap on the bus,
Steady, smooth skinned, hair back -
Then a sharpness rose to scratch me
And I heard a single sentence - a message.

“You are afraid of just about everything
And you are afraid almost all of the time.”

For example, afraid that the house will be robbed,
That the people who love me will leave,
That the boss will call me in to share
That it’s not working out. . .I could go on.

“It could all be taken away,couldn’t it?”
Said the voice just before I said shut up.

In present tense a dear friend asks
How these fears and taunts, self generated,
Given that they are not based
In objective fact or observable evidence.

Years ago, my father would raise two fingers,
A stump of a bludgeon aimed
At a place between my eyes asking
What are you thinking?

I am thinking that it will all fall apart
That flight will amount to curtailed wing spread -
That I will contend with assaults without defense -
That I will never have answers for the "Then what?"

My fear is:

Pervasive in its smell and sensation -
Penetrating, going deep in the way of vapors-
Persistent, staying for hours following contact -
Putrid, held as it was in darkness for years.
With an index finger
Placed over tight closed lips.
I ask for there to be an end
Sparked by a crucial discovery
That leads to silence.

February 4, 2010