Letter Box On Line (LBOL) Files #4
Section D: .................................................................. June11, 1997
Boulder Creek, CA
I wrote this poem for a friend on his 70th.
High in the mountains a blade of grass
holds droplets of water
that come from the sky on their way to the ocean.
The water leaves
returning as rain but often snow
that crushes the blade of grass
so that it can emerge to the sun's warmth.
But the day comes when the pattern tires
the blade of glass.
It is time to leave.
In the twilight of an autumn day it enters
the body of the great elk
who wanders from the high meadow
to the grasslands below.
The hunter brings the elk to feed his family.
The hunter's child is not special but like all the others
beautiful, curious, wanting and giving love.
One day the child meets a stranger whose calm manner
blends with eyes in which the fires burn, the ocean waves crest,
the winds run, the great forest stand, and the storms rage
You have a blade of grass that belongs to me,
someday you must return it.
As you read this poem, Voyager 1 is about 5.79 billion miles from Earth and traveling away from us at the speed of 38,976 miles per hour.
We can measure, record and imagine,
but we can't experience cold like that:
icehouse blackness inducing
the final primal scream
were Voyager at all human.
Instead, the lone dutiful robot
turning in a slow dream tumble
the only relative detectable motion.
Ranging in an eternity hurtling,
faithful, functioning on a forever course
until our sun is but another
---------------in a blizzard
Faithful, long after humanity
has vanished, loyally recording
then sending data from a past
it is commanded to speed into.
Ever in the present, ever into the past,
bearing a humanly hopeful record
of who and what we were:
among the voices of Earth,
Chuck Berry singing,
"So long Cherie,
we've got to go now,
this little segment
GOD AS PASSIONATE LOVER
God came, a Princeton graduate:
tap dancing, bowtie,
dark flannel jokes.
God, a lonely pie-faced woman
eating a sundae
in a resurrected Five-and-Dime.
A longing and looking
out over Notions.
God, a Brahmin girl:
finger cymbals, sidesaddle looks,
supple brown bare midriff.
Her eyes told me
I could not seduce Him
but She me.
God, an old blackman
has seen everything
in a reverie
in an empty ghetto lot.
offers all a paperbag
at a going by.
So many birds in a field feeding:
on a signal they rise together,
turn in a slow tornado,
confetti pieces of night:
only to please,
one of them is God,
a redwing blackbird.
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Section C: .................................................................. May 15, 1997
Here is another parental loss poem. This one is for a friend who just lost her father.
HAVING LOST YOUR FATHER
It probably feels delicious
and somewhat empty
as though there is much to do
but you can't remember what.
As though many people are calling,
arms reaching through thick air
and time folding around you
like your father's arms.
Sit gazing out the window
at wind ruffling the pond.
Trace lines in the dust
on the furniture.
Walk familiar floors.
Let them brush your bare feet
This is a fun one that just came out... I like it. Quiet, sensuous, earthy, nice...
ONE THING NEEDFUL
The hay needs stacking,
cows fed and hens
bedded for the night,
but the moon is rising.
I cast aside chores,
race with bare feet
to the waters edge,
the quiet pond.
The moon is rising,
casting millennial light
into the heart of silence.
Lotus petals close.
Frogs take up their chorus.
Skitter bugs race
while deep down fish
rise for feeding.
I alone feast on moonlight.
Others greet it
with ordinary behaviors.
I swallow it into my heart
where it grows until
I am illuminated,
until I am the sounds
of the night.
Each of us
has a packrat memory
we can't explain
why it gnaws gently
on the wainscoting
of our lives
For me it is driving
in a car in Trenton
thirty some years ago
Sullen summer heat
deep green lawn
a man sitting under a willow
relaxed against the trunk
From a clapboard house
a blonde woman strides
screendoor slapping behind her
carrying a tray
of sandwiches and beer
The man sees her
and they smile 'you know'
out of sight behind me
until in a susurrus
brings them again
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Section B: .................................................................. April 15, 1997
Here is a drawing (#19) from my Medal series.
WHEN WORDS WON'T WORK
The wastebasket overflows
with yellow lined fits and starts,
spent ammo that missed the target.
Some with one word, a line,
even a stanza, and one full sheet,
47 lines, stillborn.
Sometimes a heart in shadow
a tight one, hard one, one
without form, dark caverns forgotten,
places for memories to hide.
Stored records of being mugged
and confusion while being hugged.
Dates lost, scars covered, times,
places, and eyes clouded.
Stored like tired plutonium
radiating demons with half-lives
that will outlast a lifetime.
Wait a minute! That's too long!
Tear the doors off the cage.
Take out your chair and whip.
Get in the ring, outlast their growls,
tantrums and beady eyes.
Snap! Crack! Snap!
They'll shape up and sit--
and live words will
break out and dance.
A note from a teacher
and I began to sob. It's true.
He appreciated my insights
and my poem, was excited for me,
my recent discoveries.
Words! Short, fast, hard,
soft, long, and slow
that dress in different
meanings and dance
together in ballets.
In my life words were
like bar-codes in a market,
specific. In poetry so many
locked doors to keep me out.
I kick and scream and
do not run away. There is no
place else to go. Hooked
in short steps, black and white,
in the distance, music.
I enter the hall, watch,
feel my body move
and words take me by hand
to places strange and new
for the first time.
WE JUST KEEP ROLLING ALONG
A yellow bus prowls back roads,
stops traffic with flashing red lights
and scoops up unsuspecting recruits
to be taught how to fill sand bags.
Yellow bus windows with little heads,
like "peanuts", bobbing up and down.
Of forty kids on that bus ten
will drop out for work or babies. Four
may finish college and one
may become a teacher.
In twenty-five years twenty
will be single parents, Twenty five
may never read a book and fifteen
will attend alcohol or drug programs. Five
will abuse spouses or children.Ten
may vote in elections.
And the good news!
The ones with kids
will put them on a yellow bus.
Out of every fifty buses
there might escape---one poet.
I would like to share my first poem.
Sometimes grace bounds into your life
like a lost dog returning home.
Sometimes grace eases into your consciousness
like pancake batter seeking the edge of the skillet.
Sometimes it take a grateful note to smell it.
It takes welcoming skin to feel it.
It takes a surprised tongue to taste it.
Grace can come unnoticed,
Grace can come, be noticed,
and fill you life forever.
Grace will receive your tears
and bless them.
Grace will fill you home
Your grace-filled heart will soften.
Your grace-filled mind will open.
Your grace-touched hand will reach out.
TALKING ABOUT THIS AND THAT
The two trees were not the trees
or even those trees--
they were This tree and That tree.
They stood at the bottom of a garden.
Their shade mingled This and That.
The trees were named by a boy.
"This," he told his father, "is That tree,
that is This tree. This is always That,
that is always This and sometimes
it's the other way around."
The boy would stand on the roots
then hug the trees with all of his body.
He would hug and feel the thickness alive.
The yard, their house, the sky, swayed.
"I love you," he would whisper
and took the swaying to mean
that This and That loved him.
The boy sprawled in the branches
and felt first This and then That
move wonderfully under him.
At school or running to something,
for no reason at all,
he would feel them down to the roots.
Especially between sleep and wake,
in bed, he would feel them move.
They were called poplars,
but the boy didn't care. He knew
they were many things besides trees.
"That is This, at the same time,
this is That and this is This,"
he would chant high in the trees.
One day he came home from school
to find blue air where the trees had been.
"They were trees. Now they're firewood,"
the father explained, "And that is that."
The boy looked at the empty air
then the dismembered trees
then felt something he had never known--
the feeling made him not look at his father;
the feeling made him help
stack the firewood
in a reverent careful way.
He knew he knew something,
also knew he wouldn't know it
once it was admitted known.
He stacked the wood knowing
when winter came This would be light,
That would give off warmth,
both would be one in smoke;
the smoke would be air,
the air would be wind,
the wind would blow leaves
and seeds, the seeds would
be trees and he would breathe
and know he was This.
That was him as well.
Everything was and would be
a sway inside him This way and That.
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Section A: .................................................................. March 15, 1997
Bognor Regis, United Kingdom
I'm new to the net and excited about it's potential for exchange of creative ideas. I found your web page and decided to respond to your invitation to submit something. I'm an Anglican Priest working in a Baptist Church in England. I wrote the poem in the summer of last year. I woke in the night because I was restless and somewhat agitated about a relationship with a friend and colleague. The night was so electric as I gazed out of my bedroom window into space. I saw myself in my multidimensional context. Awestruck by the night sky, drawn to the sensual intimacy of my sleeping wife and deeply aware of my craving to articulate the feelings of my inner self. I was suddenly gripped by the image of my tears being jewels which made them precious and gave me a sense of well-being. I slept well after writing the poem without working on it at all. It's one of my favorites.
THE NIGHT IS TREMENDOUS BLUE
The night is tremendous blue,
and you lie still,
your body like a warm pool
ripples at my touch.
I weep my weary prayer
the words weave themselves
into golden globes
jeweled with tears
hanging from the ears of God.
Fennis wolf is a story I heard in the mountains of Northern California, used to encourage children to carry in firewood. The story was effective. With a few nights traveling on the 'information highway' I have been able to track the myth from Scandinavia to Germany and (perhaps) even Ireland. The Myth concerns the giant wolf Fenis, Fennis, Fenris, Fenrir who was prophesied to run wild in Ragnorok (the twighlight of the god's) in the 'Fimbulvetr' (the winter without end) and devour Odin, the king of the god's (Norse variety). I no longer have any doubt how we were motivated to bring in the firewood. I amuse myself in the winter trying to learn more about poetry. This is an attempt to convey a child's dread.
Fenris (or Wolf's Winter)
It was a time when the snows did not stop. The wheat stores were short. The women had little for their mills. The children grew hungry and their fathers' hollow-eyed. Thieves were killed without mercy, for mercy was as scarce as the bread in that season. In the chill of dawn, the wolves came down. It was not bad at first, but in the harshest time, the big wolf, the wolf of stories, the wolf of tears, was sighted. His eyes were red, not unlike the fire, and his breath stank of flesh... man flesh. It was then the old woman came forward and said in an aside, "It is the Fenris Wolf, the wolf, I fear, and so should you." It runs through the forest, yet no man can see it, until it is upon him. My dears, if he is running; it is his winter. Hold your children close, be kind to your husband. Should Fenris claim this winter, the gods will lay asunder all you hold dear, save your fear. Beware, if he closes.
How large is the wolf, mother?
I've heard it said
his great paws spread
beyond our furthest border
What's become of my brother?
We both felled wood
yesterday... yet this day...
please tell me, mother
where is my brother?
Granddad's sword is drawn
Did father say
where the old folks lay
the bones are gnawn
and gone this day
Has no one seen my brother?
The spears are set
fierce points long
black iron strong
What color is the dawn?
Grandma said what we can't see
could be the things that set us free
does the cold wind howl
or the great wolf growl
I hope not
The fire feels warm,
just answer me
my mind set free
Has no one seen my brother?
Near the end of 1993 I almost died. Spent most all of 1994 recovering. Back in 1986 I joined MCAP--Monterey County AIDS Project. I can and have told many stories why I joined. All of them containing some grain of truth. However, reaching into my spirit, I don't really know why I did what I did. I obeyed some deep impulse. Once involved, I became drenched with death. Sat and watched men and women die, was present when some died. Those experiences nearly a decade ago and my own near-death gave me a perspective that is best expressed in a poem I wrote titled Dying by Inches.
Watching the number of people die from AIDS, my experience was that we all die as we have lived----up to a point. That point is when decay takes over and it was never pretty or edifying to me.
DYING BY INCHES
Everyone's counting, measuring, recording,
life being long lists and statistics.
By accident I turned, I turned
into a driveway, an accidental turning,
ninety degrees, turning my life.
Seeking a friend's home I found
instead my doctor's house among things,
he measures heart beats, blood pressure,
blood sugar, and fatigues. I am exhausted.
We met accidentally for moments,
in which he looks, head cocking to a side.
"How are you feeling?" An appointment was made.
The inching already begun became noticeable.
Some say there are no accidental turnings,
all turns return measured in mortality.
It became a time of machines testing, defining.
It became a time of great tentacled, tabled, tracked machines.
Machines that towered mute above me
or else crouched gurney-side winking digital,
operated by technicians and doctors that seemed,
at moments, to be no more than jolly extensions
of closed circuit probings and measured evaluations.
The machines at peace in compassion and wisdom;
compassion, in that they serve all equally;
wisdom, in that they know their limited use.
A heavy metal table where I huddled, my loins shivering scuddy,
subject to technicians administering an enema
Barium enema Great Barium Reef, I think,
hysterical for humor and denial of condition.
An x-ray vision on a black and white monitor,
watching my colon, an old curled caterpillar,
slowly fill with night spewed slow motion.
The cavity filled, x-rays taken with me
in desperate beefcake poses, only moving inches,
holding my breath as told then being told to breathe.
Then holding my breath then turning just an inch again.
A shadow, something darker than night is seen
could be scar tissue, a tumor, could be anything:
such as death in residence in an intestine.
Another measuring procedure, a sigmoidoscopy.
Another room, another table, another huddling,
obeying, moving slightly thus and so,
staring at a monitor, this in peacock color,
feeling, ignominiously, a tube inserted up my anus,
the meat red glistening walls a Disney sci-fi set
"That's normal," the technician-doctor voice,
"That's normal," and, "That," stopping our exploration,
taking pictures after careful focusing, "That is not normal."
"That?" I ask, with no voice, a thin white breath voice,
"That's it," he says matter-of-factly.
I stare at a malevolent rosebudding.
I may be looking at my monitor death.
After, dressed, stunned, sitting gingerly,
conscious that I've moved, that there is
a line, a separation of space between me and others:
I try my last hope in an effort to move back.
"What are the chances it is benign?"
The doctor looks at me stamped, open,
an inevitable face
"It is not benign," he states, "I'll risk my
professional standing, it is not benign.
You will need major surgery. It is not benign."
I am numb, something wild in me growing to my doom.
It becomes a time of havoc, of balefires,
of battlement shoutings, of half-hidden figures
withdrawing around dark corners, of limited
sight and sense, of sensible suggestions,
of insinuating fear: I am to be cut,
portions of me to be removed, analyzed,
then burned: something of me is to be smoke.
A time of awakening late at night
to whisper, say, hear the words: I have cancer,
I have cancer of the colon cancer I have cancer,
said breathy and quick over and over.
There is so much to read and sign, so much
to hear and try to comprehend, so many acts
that may be final; I want to say to my wife:
no matter what I'll find you. I don't. I smile.
The day rushes at me, at us, I am prepped-
shaved and sterilized. I am in a tiled hall
hearing sounds, seeing lights, lying on a gurney.
Alone, I breathe, no two breaths alike.
They say they are ready, my breath is short, shallow.
The operating room is brilliant metal and tile.
It seems so cold, the staff so friendly and informal,
busy about their jobs it is just a work place
for them, I think a fateful place for me.
The surgeon is shy, tall, courtly, quiet.
I want to say something memorable. I can't.
I am afraid. Someone is jabbing my arm,
having difficulty finding a vein. I want to be
of assistance that is the last thing I remember.
Then a moment when my faith, confidence, and resolve break
In the Recovery Room which I did not recognize
more a metallic cold hell with fires turned
to an awful achieving light that burns into my flesh
as a generous unforgiving pain; pain and voices
telling me in patient enunciation to breathe,
that I was not breathing hear me, Donald?-
My head turns too easily, I have no axis,
my head lolls through time,
through civilizations of pain.
My head rolls slowly toward death. Breathe. To know
the ultimate question is so tempting; breathe,
take a good breath, Donald, that's it. My head
moves an inch to see a woman with a wonderful smile.
She is by my ear, leaning on an elbow. In first seeing,
I know her life.
To know and know I know.
I breathe. It so aches,
My wife is suddenly there, talking of breathing;
her hands, her nails, clean and trim, making me think
of Amish women in bonnets doing good breathing.
I giggle and drift with Amish nails. Breathe.
I clutch her simple gift fingers hearing breathe.
I am taken to a room and left with night lights.
I lie awake drug-dreaming. I throb.
Nurses and aides come and go.
I am amazed at their everyday beauty,
at the life curves and planes.
I throb, the pain leisurely spreading. I am alive,
I will live, I will know. I will be afraid.
Finally, dawn coming, first day of cancer recovery,
first day of not knowing.
Finally the fear is not that I'll die,
but live, live with the illumination of a shadow self;
self that hides behind the knowing and the deed.
I inch up a ladder of pain to sit giddy,
look out a window to see
the tragic elegant reach of a cypress;
In a sepia dawn light, a bird, a thrush,
Swainson's or Hermit, hops outside my window.
We look at one another, wonder in the air.
The thrush poses atop a mini-boulder, stands
in subdued beauty for a long time, staring.
I breathe shallow and watch. We both are so still.
Away, catching the first morning sun, so slanting,
a sprinkler starts stuttering,
arcing long jets of crinkling tinfoil.
Is everything so electric, so unbearably beautiful?
Slowly, staring, breathing, listening, I recover.
Like a shaft of delicate glass, I begin walking.
I practice daily, becoming stronger, an end in mind.
There is a place I know I want to go.
A mountain meadow full of tall grass.
Harding grass Phalaris Aquatica, native to Europe.
I want to go there and take everyone.
Everyone I've ever seen or known or loved.
Everyone, all of them, and we'll take our time.
The hike is steep and long and the young
and the impatient will wait for the old and for me.
The dead will be carried tenderly in memory.
We will hike, we will get to that meadow
where the grass is awned waist high.
I will wade, a dot, one for so many.
I will wade legless to a knoll, the grass making
an important crunch sound underfoot,
then whispering whips around my thighs
as I move slowly to find a spot to stand.
The grass has a sun blasted beige color
tinged with a subtle mauve seen far off.
There I will stand and watch the wind.
I want to watch it coming across,
bending the tall grass in a sheen.
I want to watch it approach near,
scattering awn in a promise,
I want to see it be with me
then turn and watch it disappear.
I want to watch it, I want to watch it,
I want to watch it by the inches.
Thank you for your creative offerings!
I invite readers to share their own creative works (poems, stories, images, comment, etc.) in Letter Box On Line (LBOL). I look for work and comments I feel support understanding and encouragement of the creative process, and hence, the process of life.