The deafening quiet…

It’s always been my aspiration – a dream of my better self – to

sit quietly and let nothing happen (or not happen), usually

early, early in the morning before everyone else is up and

moving and doing and being important – I’d find my meaning

in this solitary act of contemplation and satisfaction and

it never happened… not once in a lifetime of trying, never

accomplishing let alone advancing toward the elusive

dream of quietude (you see, there’s even a word so special

for this state – a word we don’t use for anything ordinary,

and that also contributed to my frustration and failure), and

when I speak of my embarrassing failure to others they tell

me I’m trying too hard, or maybe I’m not a morning person,

or the quieting of the mind is the quieting of the spirit and

it is just not something one is born with but must be acquired

but my daily failures are apparently not enough to pay the

price of realizing a dream of dreamless consciousness, so

instead, I write this and offer it as a prayer for loud spirits.

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On not being a poet…

I simply have no idea

what silver wisteria is…

beautiful or poisonous

or both

and I couldn’t tell juniper

from jasmine

if my life depended on it,

which, apparently

a poet’s does.

So my career certainly

Isn’t in obscure

flower or fauna,

however common,

however simple

however much

I try to be a poet

I’m just not.

What are you supposed to look at…

When singing a song in church and you know the words

where are you supposed to look? At the back of another’s head

bent to follow strange marks across the page and keep time

or up toward heaven (or the dirty ceiling tiles) and wonder

if cleaning is next to godliness. The woman just in front

of me has a hat on – she’s from ‘that’ generation apparently,

a small child to my right stares at the man next to me who

isn’t singing but appears to be reading the hymn book

and just then I catch the pastor’s eye and she’s not singing

no, she’s reviewing her notes before the sermon and

the child starts picking its nose, the hat slips to one side

ahead of me and I decide to look down at my hymn book.

Break the stick

The story goes like this – once a Master

said to his Student: If you tell me the stick

is real, I will beat you with it. If you tell me

there is no stick, I will beat you with it.

If you say nothing, I will beat you with it.

The Student reached out, took the stick

from the Master and broke the stick.

But you are no Student, so the stick

we are beaten with daily we do not doubt,

it is our geography, our politics, our family,

for we prefer to be beaten with a stick

to daring to break it – no matter how we

acknowledge and study sticks, deny our stick

is real, or say nothing hoping it will end

if we only hope against hope quietly, and

we mock those who dare to do what we can’t.

On reading for work…

My neighbor dragged himself to his door one fine summer’s day

as I sat sunning and sipping a cool drink, reading a biography of

Cleanth Brooks through dark sunglasses – occasionally making

a notation of importance and he was sure I must be on vacation.

 

I was not – for once upon a time I was paid to read books and

write things and teach things no one else would consider

worth their time – even while on vacation – and this pioneer

of poetry’s pedagogy was an exciting day of work for me.

 

My labored neighbor, in contrast, was a painter and today he

had painted indeed – walls and corners in the basement of an

academic building where decisions about people like me

were the talk of budgets and tenure but never justifications.

 

And soon enough I returned to my continued labors

while he emerged to enjoy his lounging, cool drink in hands

stained and knuckles torn raw clutching a tome, which

I assumed was worth his time while I avoided paper cuts.

 

So who is that Brooks guy? he chatted and I launched into

a happy story of the rise of New Criticism and fallacies

and poetry and The Well Wrought Urn, and my neighbor

seized on that to intone, Yeah, I’ve painted an urn or two.

He liked to play with words…

The legend is about Hemingway

and therefore it takes place in a bar

over drinks (always plural) and a bet

whether he could write a story in six

words, six words, no more, no less.

This is Hemingway, for godsake

of narrow minds, narrower streets!

Mr. write drunk; edit sober himself;

making economy and understatement

economical and understated.

Six word might be two too many,

as in “To hell with luck.”

or just the one if he goes with

“Courage is grace under pressure.”

But ‘You’re beautiful, like a may fly’

meets the expectation, just barely,

and I can imagine its usefulness

if fishing with Hemingway for instance.

No one knows how many drinks

it took to come up with the winner:

‘For sale, baby shoes, never used’

and damn if it doesn’t make me cry.

A cold opening day of hunting season…

I found an old knife in an old box in the basement of an old house
all mine and all forgotten until demanding attention, like today
when too much rain for too long found it too easy to seep into
places it’s never found before – but instead of congratulating the
moisture’s success, I cursed my dampened sock, but just the one
and spent more than a moment contemplating whether it was
really necessary to change both for the sake of the one.

Well, the upward, insidious creep of the Magellan-like moisture
quickly showed it’s proud self on the dusty corrugatedness of
a box ready to be discovered as well – and there it was hidden,
there I had forgotten a knife I received from a friend now gone,
a knife with a story of my first deer and my last – so I inspected
it for signs of it’s story but they were all washed away like
everything is but the memory of a cold Iowa opening day.

Living a fictional life…

Make no mistake,

I am not real, I am

but a fictional character,

and any resemblance

to actual persons,

living in real places,

doing true and

meaningful things,

whether living or dead,

is entirely coincidental;

for I am a work of

creative imagination

for whom words,

locales, events such as

expressions of affection,

comforting words,

apologies, and even

promises,

are the products

literary prose

for the purpose of

entertainment

and resemblances

to real live

are to be construed

fictiously.

Heraclitus and his wet feet…

That stream – the one that’s never

the same stepped-in twice,

at the same bend, with the same

sameness – will not refuse my dabbling

toe; she will yield to me, and I to her,

not out of pity or sheer desire,

but because we have

agreed not to continue the charade

of indeterminate, transient mockery

that idles youth, corrupts good

and haunts the aged.

There are nouns after all – persons,

places, things – that are, not because

of forms but in sentences which are

like streams with dabbling toes

and bubbling eddies, shapely bends;

so inviting and seducing, calling

with her come hither of comeliness.

Yes, the waters flow, the bed and silt

are stirred and is upset by every touch

of my foot but I step into the flux

and flow nonetheless, I stoop to

cup her cool waters and sip contentedly

for she yields to me and I to her,

but unhurried, unchasing motion

in symbiosis as we move together

in rhythm – our panta rei –

joined freely in flow.

Let those who scold and chide

these many, many years continue

their fluxing prater of fuel and flame,

for we, my stream and I, have come to

an understanding and will agree to

agree that this day we are the one;

her cool waters are as real as

my weary step – sensations rippling

in her as much as me,

as tangible as the rush and tingle which

tickle my limb and stir her bed in swirls

of sediment twisted awake from slumber

dancing along current and wake we have

made together in our covenant today.