Faster and faster…

When I am young I will not slow down;
I will continue the breakneck pace without apology
for the day will come and the curse of my biology
will leave me unable to get around town.

Flowers are scented still and the days as long;
we know the only variable is the pace of the pace
whether contemplated or ignored, it’s no disgrace
animating steps to the dance of the song.

Tolerate censure from those who’ve never sped
as one shows deference to the traditional ways,
bear patiently while others opine from their chaise,
for living this alacrity alleviates all known dread.

Too bad I’m from Indiana…

If I were born in Iowa I should have
become an author,
which is very different from a writer
or even a poet;
for the long winters would force
dark, ever-more
complicated plots descending
down snow banked, gloomy ways
with just flashes of light
passing so quickly they first blind,
then force you to wonder if they
were real at all;
Iowa doesn’t beget writers, for their
ways are hurried,
whiplashed barrages of shallow
persons with ironic twists
turning into ever more ironic
turns in the helter-skelter ways of
cities like Chicago which has more than
its share of such people – writers as well
as persons too busy
complaining about what is
considered normal in Iowa that
it is become their sport;
now a Minnesota birth would surely
encourage poetry, but usually
the kind that rhymes with
everyday life,
because, let’s face it,
in the confines of cabins those
tight circles of rhymes
come easily as a neighbor
with a hot dish
ringing the door chime, or,
maybe, it would be of
birds on fences, cows a-lowing
in a nativity
outside the Twin Cities,
the wisdom of matches
cobbled from life’s woods near
Emo, or how quiet
farmers are the salt of
the earth, no doubt in part due
to the pickled herring;
yes, it’s easy to see what I
would be if born in Iowa or
Minnesota, so it’s
too bad I’m from Indiana.

Northwest Illinois…

I drove through the rows and rows of

look-alike domiciles, with alternating

sprawling industrial parks and ponds

retaining run-off from acres of blacktopped

lots, ribbon striped but vacant – hopeful

 

for business; hopeful for money to upgrade

to a bigger, better look-alike because won’t

that make everything better. Through

Rockford and beyond, past Winnebago

where I know people but never stopped

myself; and along the bypass around Freeport

 

where we used to stop for soft-serve, dipped,

by the roadside but not anymore; that

makes me sad and it closed down like so

many businesses bypassed. The story is that

a woman named Elizabeth was so wealthy and

 

generous she gave free portage to those

seeking a better life – any life – in the Illinois

gold rush of the nineteen hundreds and the

next town earned her name; there was such

a thing – the Illinois gold rush – that drew

immigrants of all colors and flavors, and some

 

settled and dug and died and are buried in

Lutheran and Catholic cemeteries (because

Consecrated ground matters in death just like

in life) all along the ridge known as Terrapin

toward Galena and they’re still buried there

today. I drove slowly through Woodbine

 

because it’s a speed trap and more slowly

through Elizabeth – it’s always been only seven

hundred people living there because so many

born and raised there don’t stay there and

that might make some mothers sad but I’m

sure some are happy; a couple pick-ups slow

 

and turn off into farms with porch lights lit,

with fences needing mending, calves in a nearby

pen and an Oldsmobile on the front lawn with

a For Sale sign on the window, and they’re

asking for Best Offer. The road slopes and

 

turns over and around the most variegated

terrain of Illinois; two lanes in the binary

back-and-forth of this driving life where

west is sometimes north or at least northwest

and no compass tells you more than the

highway, passing by the homes of real

people happy and sad at the same time

 

with two hundred channels of cable of all

the world out there but not here. I drove

this road through the lives of so many who

knew exactly where they were and I knew

 

nothing more than the wheel in my hand,

the mirrors showing the fast fading of what

I’d passed, and what’s next hidden beyond

the next ridge; and so I drove on, and on…

Outliving life…

They’re wrong – there are no soft winds that

blow anymore, no gentle breezes which refresh,

although the sun does, at times, warm old bones;

those moonlit nights all blur together in darkness

racing cataracts into dullness, and no calming

sunrise greets me after a sleepless night as I stand

in the kitchen facing the east window wondering

why every day is more difficult than the last and if

this coffee at five am will keep me up tonight; so

romanticize and wax on eloquently as I eat my

oatmeal without sugar or butter and wonder if

living longer than my savings is such a better thing.

Subtle caveats…

It is well known, and beyond any doubt

that gifts I receive are not received well;

I refuse my occasions whatever they’re about

making ordinary gratitude into a living hell.

 

I love well enough, and give well enough too,

remembering generously beloveds’ occasions

but can’t stand to be told, “This one’s for you!”

and eagerly I seek out all types of evasions.

 

Theories abound regarding this my sour

disproved one and all by my joyous ardor

toward others’ occasions of celebratory hour

yet refused personally when pressed the harder.

 

The Apostle said God loves a cheerful donor

but ’tis also more blessed to give than receive;

for my part I’ve chosen to be the more owner

as difficult as it is for my friends to believe.

 

Holidays and the anniversaries of my birth

are hardly worthy of expense and sanctification

just because I continue to draw air on earth

does not require my beloveds’ acclamation.

 

Return all those useless trinkets and baubles,

unneeded ties, shirts, belts and ill-fitting hats

and do so with understanding, eschewing squabbles

since my cause is beyond all subtle caveats.

It just can’t be…

Can it be, truly, what is deserved

by a four year old child? The cells

distorted and deteriorating inside,

from inside her bones still soft in

youth, but fragile from birth, some

signal isn’t working, white cells

that won’t mature, too full and

crowding life from within; the

word everyone uses is ‘acute’ – a

bad and unwelcome thing with

too many synonyms to count, all

bad and unwelcome things with

a mysterious origin that no one

knows so there’s no one to blame,

except God; she only has strength

to smile through dry, cracked lips,

her skin is taunt over diminishing

features and only her cheeks show

her adolescence, while adults are

masked to protect her from what’s

always worse, more tiring, more

frightening; it hardly seems right

she is unafraid and just needs to

rest, while everyone around her

is just terrified and can’t.

That twist…

It took another one of those long, drawn-out movies,

filled with context and back-story and pathos (whatever

that is, I’m not sure but people say I should feel it

even if I don’t know what counts as pathos or I’m

dead emotionally) to reach the plot twist – the cliche

moment when the grass is not actually greener,

the road easier, or happiness happier for those we

were told to envy or blame, and I’ve lost another

two or three hours to unlearn and relearn what

everyone worships about worshiping creativity

because it helps us escape from escaping reality.

Living Lincoln’s story…

They say that for a famous man
it is unusual to know so little about his youth,
what it was like in Hodgenville,
when did he grow so tall and gangly
and did other children mock him and
why he was so fond of the axe,
and what of the rusticness of his birth
in a log cabin, or the sadness of his heart
when his mother died when he
was just nine years old,
and what he learned in just one year
of schooling that made him think
he could just show up one day
in New Salem and make it the land of Lincoln;
I tell my children they aren’t this lucky
because we wrote down everything
they did and said and photographed
their first and every step
with such duty that they can’t
escape their past
so they shouldn’t even try.

It might have been God…

I never knew the name of the man in the red vest,

dirtied with iron dust from sorting through the nails,

clipping lengths of rope or showing a man how-to

just about everything there is to-do that drove them

to the hardware store early on a Saturday morning,

every Saturday morning with my father who looks

and carefully lingers, picking through nuts and bolts

waiting for our turn to ask about the broken part

dirtying my Dad’s palm and me wondering why

my Father who knew everything didn’t know this;

I stared at the man’s boots that looked like

they were never new, his navy blue pants with a

bottom inch turned-up into a cuff holding sawdust

as he told, then showed my Dad the how-to to-do

and I nodded along with them like I understood it all;

I never knew his name, but it might have been God.

Seven…

“Death cancels everything but truth.” – William Hazlitt

Wedding or funeral—which would we rather attend?

That’s an easy one, right?

Wrong.

Something else Solomon said was that it’s better to be at a funeral than a wedding.

Why? Three reasons (and none of them are jokes about marriage, like the either/or question: Are you married or happy?). First, everyone dies—it’s when, not if. Second, it’s wise to admit the first reason and foolishness to laugh when it’s time to mourn. And third, the outcome of honest mourning will lead to a better way of living.

Instead of ignoring death, we’re to become comfortable with it. With what death means.

Death means we’re alive.

To paraphrase Descartes, We die therefore we’re alive.

But there’s a difference between death and dying. Dying is often horrible and painful and harmful to those around—its’ agonizing and impoverishing. While death is closure.

It’s the denial of death that’s debilitating. It’s a form of fear that accentuates itself – it feeds off itself. Avoiding death reinforces the fearfulness of death. When we think about happy things to crowd out the sadness of death those happy thoughts become linked with the refusal of death.

And when we refuse death we’re refusing the opportunity to live.

Refusing death is like attempting to stop time. That’s how we lose life.

We lose life by disregarding the experience of time.

But holding death loosely—a loved one’s or our own inevitably—seems to trivialize the value of life. So we grasp at everything and anything representing life, whether personally in extreme emotional or physical stimulation or vague, symbolic representations we associate with life. Birth. Youth. Energy and vitality. We fear loss.

And depression. We fear depression.

According to common wisdom the ‘red flag’ of depression is thoughts of death. Actually the refusal of death is leads us to the either/or of ignorance or suicide, literally, when taking one’s own life is the honest option of the two. It’s a new martyrdom.

Suicide is a resignation to the future being worse than the past, often because of the past. And the present is regarded as worse than what is unchangeably the future.

But is the future inevitable?

The most unfortunate determinism of life is the inevitable experience of abuse (an extreme illustration of the ordinary). Ironically and predictably nine-out-of-ten who experience some form of abuse in childhood reproduce abusive behaviors in adulthood. The abused continue in abuse.

It’s not time for the inevitable; it’s time to question it.

The past isn’t altered but it’s open to a different reading. Most of what has happened, happens to us. Accidents of birth—when, to whom and in what circumstances; female, male, black, white, brown; rich, poor. We don’t choose these things. That’s the truer truth.

We didn’t choose these things, and we can’t change these things.

Why, then, is guilt our typical response to things unchangeable? Guilt is supposed to show humility, but this humility for being born a human isn’t humility. It’s

The alternative? Living without apology.

Is there another way to tell our story? Another way to account for what’s happened to us and what we’ve done with our lives?

Narrating our story differently, narrating our tales with an eye on what’s next, is a good practice. Instead of an unchangeable past leading to an unalterable future we can find an alternative.

This is our alternative. It’s time to become better interpreters of our own life, and of time.

By its very nature the moment, this moment, is transient. It cannot be grasped. It always dances between past and what’s next. It’s timeless.

And it’s also what’s next. It’s not the future, it’s what’s next.

There is no simple, direct, uninterrupted line between past, present and future. Calling that’s next ‘the future’ gives it a singular, closed and inevitable meaning. It cannot be changed. The only human response becomes resignation to it, and passive aggressiveness as a lifestyle.

An unchangeable past leads to regret (when married to guilt) but an unchangeable future invites worry and inevitable failure.

It’s time, not simply to change the future, live in the moment, or even accept the past.

There is an alternative. There is an option.

It’s time for the truer truth.