Oh, Hell I Guess…

dante-inferno
Dante has his seven circles
Homer his Hades, Isaiah his Sheol,
Jesus a Gehenna of unquenchable fires,
Muhammad a threatening Jahannam,
and John a Lake of sulfuric Fire
for a Disney Land of torturous pain
too much for old-school ameliorists
just wishing for annihilation or the
Great Nothing which means so much
more nothing when capitalized, and
it’s Joseph who gives us two hells – one
temporary for pain and anguish in-between
and romantically tolerable like another
purgatory, but the other a serious forever
of outer darkness for Saints gone astray
or souls beyond their reach or anyone’s;

we have nothing of the kind today,
no gnashing of teeth, unquenchable fire
to torment the wicked and straighten
our ways today by some pragmatic and
self-audited karma of paying it forward
to match the bitch of being paid back,
or peril of judgment tomorrow or
the childhood threat of Santa keeping lists,
instead we have dreams of nothing
like falling asleep – a long rest
or life simply not being so complicated,
a benign-ness beyond feeling, even a light
that everyone wants to walk toward
all met by the certainty of some
that the world is ever-worse
because hell is no more and you’ll see;

but what if – and this is what sticks – what if
even a hint is true of the unknowable,
that’s Pascal’s wager I guess because that’s
all it can be – a guess of what I should
or ought or must do today
while Joseph’s haunting outer darkness
makes me wonder of an even more
lost and irredeemable wilderness,
something beyond the imagination
and that’s what keeps me wanting,
guessing, believing there is more to
believing than believing in hell.

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Every time I look at the moon…

Now we lay them down to sleep
with soft words and
warm water to wash away their day’s
fun and soil, and our toil;
and pray as if to
capture what shouldn’t
be washed away – the day full
of family and friends,
walks and flowers, breezes
and sun, falls and laughs and food,
with gratitude – always – we
each begin: ‘Thank you, Lord Jesus
for everything,’
and everything we rehearse,
is good, in detail,
as if the Almighty
was enjoying this as much
as we; the sun
has retreated slowly and
warmly, the moon
is rising outside the window
and we all need to see
it waxing or waning and
tell each other to look, ‘The moon!’
we each say
as if it’s always special,
and somehow it always is.

A Perfect House this is…

It’s hard to imagine one more perfectly perfect
in every imaginable, house-like way,
neatly groomed all around, trees sufficiently matured
framing the stately gray-tones of paint-swatch variety,
picture-book beauty, garage and fence to match,
patio just visible achieving inviting serenity
where you just know you’d linger meaningfully,
an oasis to rival all pretenders,
this is what realtors call curb-appeal and
you know it when you see it they say,
it all fits, it all is just right outside it seems,
but there’s a drape askew in one window
as if resting unfortunately on the couch back
just enough to introduce disquieting dissonance
hinting at a hurried life inside hiding so much
that all is not as perfectly perfect as imagined
in this house someone must call a home.

The Fork

Tucked in the drawer crammed with a potato peeler,
can opener with that spot of insistent rust I rub away,
three different thermometers that I can’t remember
ever using, and so many oddly shaped and hardly used
utensils that only but don’t really fit here is the fork;
it’s heavy and strong enough to lift a bowling ball
or a roast or whole turkey if I were strong enough to
lift such things, and it’s used just once or twice a year
when all my kids somehow wander back home for
Thanksgiving or Christmas (but not both these days);
but this isn’t November or December, the can opener
has a replacement but sits here as a backup just in case
and, no, I won’t throw it away even though it rusts
because we’ll all be thankful when it’s needed and
the kids come home and I get to use the fork again.

Learning how to handle this time thing…

Everyone needs time that’s
quiet to think or not,
just time without, not
simply unconnected, not
simply quiet, but time enough;
I’ve seen it done and done
well; my Dad would stand on
the front steps in almost any
weather at the end of each day
and do nothing – not sit
or shuffle or hum or sing;
it was his time enough;
when I’d open the door
he wouldn’t react, he
would still have his time
enough; and I could stay
with him as long as
I said nothing, did nothing;
never, not once, was I
asked by Mom to go get
Daddy, ask Daddy, tell him
a single, solitary thing
while he was on the front
steps; it was his time, and
I learned this is how the
time thing works: you just go
stand somewhere and do
nothing but that, without
trying even, and especially,
if I don’t seem to have time
enough, and I my only fight
is to wonder if I’m doing it right
or not.

Logos Interruptus and other inconveniences…

Stop-Signs_iStockHurrying to meet an impatient teen barely surviving
the wait of five minutes,
avoiding pedestrians
assuming the right of way, and ignoring repeated texts
of ‘Where are you?’
‘Are you close?’
and ‘Are you ever coming to get me?’
I was forced to pause by the declarative instruction
of the octagonal signage
and there he was,
plopped down on a grassy patch, bag allowed to spill,
hunched and rounded shoulders,
chin tucked, head tilting and tracking
as if joined to his hurried penmanship
marking a tattered notebook,
the disconnect of head and heart healed in is hand,
scratching out something so important
it interrupts everything,
and I don’t think I’ve ever come close to
this level of distraction
overwhelmed with words, or by words,
a devotion disturbing my occasionally thoughtful ways;
but I wish it would happen to me,
and if this urge has tried
but I was too stubborn to yield,
I pray for just one more chance to feel the words
that can stop me like this,
and just then another text arrives
urging the rapid rescue of my dear teen
and that compulsion overwhelms me,
I must leave my hero
to the stares of others who notice and avoid
the brilliance of
such devotion and I reply to my teen, ‘I’m on my way’
and ‘Almost there’ and ‘I had to stop
for the Stop signs.’

Sourdough toast and life… my life…

I’m fond of sourdough toast buttered generously,
it’s an indulgence, and rare, but thoroughly enjoyable;
like children laughing where they shouldn’t be;
smiles from strangers who have no reason to notice;
kind compliments from those who care and say so;
these are all nice things, to be sure, and just as rare;
crisp autumn days as fine, and the warmth of spring,
still summer nights too, but little in winter, for me;
and that strange feeling of uncontrollable emotion
when you see something beautiful, something small
which no one else notices until they see you cry;
but mostly I enjoy sourdough toast buttered generously.

 

Not as brave as Socrates, with good reason…

Of all the things to be frightened by – spiders and snakes,
the dark, those higher than high heights, and what’s
under the bed at night to a child or the dark of a closet,
and spiders and snakes, I’ve learned of two which I fear
and will never be anything but: the fear of missing out
is the first – they call it FOMO, but the cute acronym
doesn’t make it less fearful; it’s still the paranoia of
an ideal life which must be out there and we’re missing it,
always missing it, the greener grass, the rose colored glasses
ruining life; the second is the double unknown – not knowing
what I don’t know – is worse than can be imagined;
some will think it’s what the oracle of Delphi said
about Socrates being the wisest of Greeks, just because
he knew he didn’t know everything, but he knew
and he was confident enough to die, but not me;
Socrates said he knew nothing, I wish to know what
cannot be known and therefore I’ll never be ready to die,
never happy to sleep, never unafraid enough to
enjoy being frightened by spiders and snakes.

Burning leaves is prohibited…

We Can’t Burn Leaves Anymore

Just last week the leaves clung
to their boughs
though heavy and sweetening,
glowing in October’s
blinding noonday sun
with its
hint of warmth still;
dancing in the stir of a breeze
soon to be bitter wind,
but mild still causing all to
inhale deeply, slowly
in a final, seasonal mindfulness
of fleeting comfort;
but November brought a change
of heavy rain
and the verdures no longer clung,
they yielded
and fell underfoot, waterlogged,
soon to rot,
staining the sidewalks if not
raked and swept
to be discarded in bags for burial,
no longer afforded
the final aromatic triumph of
autumnal cremation
stinging the eyes of dancing children
and rake-braced adults
gathered round in funereal muse.

One of the things that scares me about Texas…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rattlesnake Roundup

There’s a small town in Texas
where everyone gathers for an annual
rattlesnake festival called a Roundup;

I don’t want to go, but not just
because of the snakes,
even though I’m afraid of snakes – and not just rattlers;
it’s not because some think it cruel to cull thousands
and thousands of them and dump every last one
in pits to sort, milk, skin and cook in contests
as a form of Texas pest control like we spray for ants
or hide mousetraps behind the couch;

the thing that bothers me is that it’s just ‘an’
and not ‘the’ roundup because
apparently and surprisingly folks do this wherever
the snakes are and they’re everywhere,
and it’s one of the best parts about
living in these everywhere’s which is what
scares me because
I might wind up living in a place like this someday;

well, that, and the rattlesnake beauty contest
in which the winners behead and skin rattlers,
then leave their bloody hand prints on the wall
as absolutely everyone cheers them on and
that frightens me as well because I have daughters.