Knowing How To Fall

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“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down –”

I will trace your body with my fingers,

I will kneel before you with cupped hands,

Because that’s what it is to love,

To memorize this moment we inhabit,

To see your chest rise and fall

In mutual breath and beating hearts.

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? 

All those who have passed, there,

beyond the smoke, is the mountain:

Minutes, seconds, days, and months

Turn to years, but always the mountain,

Who recognizes only eternity.

And here, we embrace in its shadow,

Speak words, like living things do.

Comfort, does it comfort you

to hear your name spoken from my lips,

To know, someone will fall down

When you’re gone?

*Italics are verses from, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

A Hideous Brightness

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Drought year,

Everything is dying early.

We realize what is hearty,

And what is not.

Weeds, they multiply,

Even after we spray,

As if they know,

This is their time.

They sink taproots,

And suckle what is left

Of underground aquifers.

We’re breaking heat records in June;

The sweltering, unrelenting sun

Is just getting started.

How many trips to the barn,

Down this cackling road?

The day I saw the barn cat

Kill father Robin–

It was an ominous sign

For the foal.

And then I succumbed

To this hackling cough.

Death is a time for prayer,

Calling out

for whatever hope God can spare.

Cries sent, not into a dark night,

But a hideous brightness.

Listen: Black Lives Matter

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We don’t understand what the birds say,
Or, the horses, who nicker and neigh.
The raven sounds far away, a message,
We think, a harbinger of what will come,
On this path today. A fellow traveler?
A moose, a deer, we can’t know,
But we try to know.
Yet, people cry out to us in real words,
We thought we knew: Black Lives Matter,
Isn’t that true? Isn’t it a simple thing
to say, but you insist it’s wrong:
All lives matter. They do.
But which of us is hurting now, friend?
Which of us feels our lives might end,
Or, be judged for the color of our skin?
Why can’t our words be simple again,
and our hearts open, to a better beginning?

The Difficulty Getting Here

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It’s a wonder I’m here, progeny of lost souls,

orphans, abandoned wives, poverty & places

so uninhabitable, unsustainable—

Yet, I’m here, and the generations beyond me

refuse to wither, too.

When the earth begins to close,

there’s always just enough left

to sustain us. One small patch of grass,

free of weeds, or drought,

and just enough blue sky and sun.

We find that place, and stay long enough

to drag another survivor on.

Blood In the Air

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If air could bleed,

the space between us

would, indeed, pour out.

Hate is a balm

for our hurt,

and the danger

we fear,

becomes anger.

My dear,

Are we beyond healing?

Or, is there yet

a latent spark

of forgiveness?

Remember when

we so easily embraced:

bone against bone,

a crushing lust,

our mutual love.

But now there’s dust,

and if the space between

could bleed,

it would drown us.

A Low Barrier Between Life and Death

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I wonder how many have plunged,

broken bodies against the steep,

unforgiving basalt, to flow far away

from the tether of this rocky outcrop.

There are worse places to die

than underneath a basking ponderosa,

on a glorious day in deep winter,

high, above the earth’s mucosa.

Here is heaven, its gods, the osprey and eagle;

they preside from piney thrones, regal,

and survey with indifferent contemplation;

from their perch, suffering is also celebration.

There are less noble ways to die,

than beneath the wings of geese.

See them glide peacefully

over the rapids of the Spokane,

rage of water in the ears,

shiver of blue sky, full sun.

Yet, if hopeless traveler made the steep climb

to this one, celestial throne:

its blood, a brilliant green moss,

its body, the bare, leafless skeleton of alumroot,

entreating with outstretched arms:

See, the promise of spring.

If they were to navigate loose rock,

on the treacherous path that leads here,

would it be enough to make them cling

to the rock wall in front of me,

this low, precarious barrier between?

Let Life Rhyme Again

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I lost my desire to rhyme

about the same time

plexiglass invaded our stores

and pimply clerks ordered

me to click the bleached pads

of dollars, exchanged for goods–

shoppers, too long locked up

and lonely, a kind of death usurped

a joy, usually reserved for spring,

and retuning things,

but the unknown lacks name,

and there’s no map through,

our hearts were confused

and there were no rhymes,

and no rhythm, because time

ceased to be the count count

of seconds, minutes, hours–

Remember, I said it,

it’s unknown, the future bits,

wrinkled, in those deep wrinkles

a hot iron can’t unwrinkle–

so we resigned ourselves

to the sloppiness of prose,

in uneven meter,

I mean, me,

I resigned myself to getting by,

and now I’m on the other side,

of a vaccine,

MRNA with a spike protein,

and I say inject it in these veins,

so I may return to living again,

a life, with enjambed rhymes,

with slant rhymes, NO, a life

with hard rhymes,

like strife,

and knife,

and happiness.

Promise of a New Start

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“There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.” Robert Frost

Yet, they do fall, and silent, rot

beneath the changing bow.

Birds gather to peck the flesh

making less of loss,

Or perhaps, no loss at all.

You see,

the Universe claims everything

we leave behind.

Our regrets, too,

like spoiled fruit,

eventually fall away

scavenged by the sun.

Seeds are revealed

inside what we took as dead.

Trust me, next spring

there will be a new start.

Hope We’ll Live Through It

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“The hope is that if you live through it, there will be art on the other side.” (Louise Glück)

Two hundred and twenty days,

the sun and sky, still uncaged,

yet, our lives, like flotsam,

float further and further away

from what we knew:

The Fox Theatre sits empty.

And my friend,

how we’ve drifted apart,

you, on your wreckage,

me, on mine, further and further

from the place. Our lives hit

that large rock. The ship

is lost, lost, lost.

Will someone find us,

and salvage what is left?

What is left?

Remind Me

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The final chapter is full of thank yous,
breathing in the mystery of Canada Geese,
whose wings pierce the ravine, the V of it,
gliding inches above the Spokane River–


remind me, I say, remind me; I never want to forget,
and inhale deeply, as if I could take that feeling
into my soul-bones, my image keeper–
a fragile place, for sure, always in need
of being reminded by those who felt it, too.


He told me, you will remember the old things best,
the very old memories, you want to forget.


I say:
We appreciate too late,
the most beautiful things.

It’s sad to think I’ll remember
the one who didn’t love me,
rather than the one holding me now,
holding this memory of the geese.

I think I will write a poem to keep it,
to remind me of what it is to fly,
to love, to pause for a moment
and try to inhale this feeling.


Smoke Taint: 2020 Vintage

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What does fire taste like in the glass,

Our fear, red with hate, the flames

of civil war? The skin, and the smoke,

cannot be divided; they say

it tastes like ash, what is left

when the smoke clears.

We can see the devastation.

Remnants of a vineyard;

what was there, before tragedy

made our eyes cry with anger.

The tree and native grasses

are poured out, consumed together,

while the vine exists in water it stored,

but cannot save its fruit.

Its creation, aging in the hot fog

of dreams. Life was supposed to be

the taste of flowers, plums, currants,

and only hints of tobacco,

swirled in our glass.

Our Once Shared Existence of Earth, and How the Virus Undid Us

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In this season, of triple digit days,

Anger gives way. It withers.

I said, I’m argued out about living,

What it means to be free, and human.

She is right, after all, I’m not an expert.

What do I know about a virus,

Which isn’t informed by the trees,

or clouds, or the way a horse sounds

when it calls to me in the dark?

I can only speak of the heart,

and even that, with authority of one,

my own heart, and how it breaks

To see the growing cries for help. Hate,

A distant thrum, beating, what it means

To be hurt, and hurt back harder.

Is any of this new? Or unique?

But we sought each other anyway,

To stake claim on our opinions;

The lost way, of friendship and loving,

Something which came easy to us, once,

When we valued living over living,

A life we could touch with our hands,

sending our fingers deep into the dark soil;

To be truly clean meant dirt under our nails,

For weeks, for months, dirt under our nails.

Fuck the New Normal

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The Clerk

Imagine being nineteen again,
still pimply and awkward,
parroting a script
from behind a plexiglass wall:
Phone number, please, you say,
and imagine her fingers,
typing one in. You hear the click,
clicking of keys on the keypad,
sickening,
music of the dead,
you think, you’re dying.

The Enforcer

You’re maybe a hundred pounds,
just a little thing, whose mask
covers two thirds your fragile face,
and they buried you at the door,
the enforcer, instructed to say—
This door, not that, and arrows,
follow them, follow them,
do like I do, with this cover,
my voice smothered, my soul—

Wrong Way

I’m sure I was just standing there,
leaning over my cart, watching
my daughter shop for cards,
when I heard her voice—
not the enforcer,
but a fellow peruser, like me,
another blank face, masked,
breathless, breathlessly,
you’re going the wrong way,
she said, you’re not following
the arrows, she said,
and her bony, dead finger
pointed down along the ground.
I followed it, and sure enough,
she was right about me:
Rule breaker, careless
spreader of germs.
The shame, the shame,
she would have me feel,
for facing the wrong way,
disobeying.

New Normal

Fuck that. My latest mantra. Fuck that
and fuck that, too.
Even as I do it.
Where’s the humanity in this?
I want to scream.
But who would hear me?
We’re too busy saving lives
by not living, buttressed
as we are behind masks,
She doesn’t even realize I’m not smiling,
Or, does she? Maybe there’s something
of, fuck this shit, in my eyes,
the only part of me she can see,
if she tries to see, but she doesn’t.

The mask isn’t merely the covering
for a mouth, a nose, —
it’s blanket, too, as in a morgue.
Covering the dead. And I know,
my time is coming soon enough,
but I’m not dead yet, covered as I am,
prepared for burial.
Yet, still pounding on coffins,
trying to pull back the heavy veil,
cursing my heart away,

fuck! Someone help us!

–into the emptiness.

That Day the World Promised to Heal Me

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And then the world said,

I will heal you

In ferns, unfurling again,

berries, growing ripe

On the bows of yesterday,

the ones your hands touched,

As you harvested the wild fruit.

This is my great forest of chatter,

it says, in a smattering of late flowers,

a fragrant, maskless breeze,

and trees you can touch with bare hands.

Speak to the sky, it cajoles,

And the sky will answer you back,

With its bold booms, and its wet clouds,

none of this needs viewed

from behind the doom of plexiglass.

The young clerk, who looked down,

and down, and down, faceless,

behind the many layers of protection.

He was humankind, afraid to look up,

afraid to touch, or speak,

or even see one another.

But the world said,

I remain the same, fully open to you.

See me, and I will heal you.

All the Bright Things

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The sun wakes through a morning window,

stretches itself over the horizon, smiles,

says, it will be a good day,

for horses to lay down and dream,

and I walk into its warmth,

almost able to hope, almost.

The sun persists to midday,

wakes the mountain, still white with snow,

and transforms its peak into a picture,

and if I could paint–

but I will, instead, think it,

in memory of last summer’s huckleberries,

picked there, there, half way up–

the sun smiles again

imagining the sweet boughs,

dark blue berries.

That’s what hope is, it says,

all the things you can see,

like memory,

made bright again.

This Pendant World: Passover

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Wasn’t everyone born

thinking

they belong

here forever,

even death,

we hide

behind closed doors

praying it will passover

us,

the ones we love,

cling to,

this earth,

how it swings

on its chain,

from cold days,

to warm—our lives,

like seasons,

which go on and on;

how can it go on

without us?

This Pendant World: Super Moon

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3

Some nights

wearing your shoes

on the wrong feet

feels right

The stars

haven’t changed

the moon is bright

Maybe tomorrow

it’ll be full again

big enough

to swing this chain

rock us back and forth

along this painful tether

to which we cling

Photo credit: NASA / Bill Dunford