Through the valley of the shadow of death…

GraveA Psalm 23

When my mother died
I said nothing, I had
no words – me, her boy
who didn’t shut up,
couldn’t, it seemed,
and would talk her ear
off, or so she claimed,
but I don’t recall her
ever telling me to
stop, unless I missed it,
quieter but not silent;
so where were the words
now – they’re not in
the dictionary she
said she wasn’t when
asked how to spell;
so I had to borrow the
lyrics she taught me
by her own mother’s grave,
about how to see the
valley of the shadow,
and fear no evil,
trusting the Lord
was her shepherd also.

Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 2)

When nobody knows anybody (or is it ‘When anybody knows nobody’?), life is what we call normal. If that bothers you as much as it does me, then you might enjoy this…

Humanized Anonymity
It has come to my attention
that doctors have a 100% failure rate,
if life is what they preserve,
and I’ve never seen one attend a funeral
unless it’s theirs, of course,
so I propose they be required to show
last respects for all their patients,
by law they must be there, embarrassing
as it will be, and apologize
along with everyone else saying ‘I’m sorry’
in the line winding around
the casket, and they will be one of the
only ones who truly mean it;
while I’m at it, I propose that
historians be forced to stand in public
at regular intervals, reciting
the names and a brief paragraph about
the millions and millions
they gladly ignore or anonymously label
when writing their big books
of sweeping, majestic generalizations
while a mother’s baby failed
to thrive and died in her arms yesterday,
a stupid boy, so unloved,
thought nothing of shooting a neighbor
so he might belong to a family
he’d never had before, or the paranoid,
wrinkled woman named Lucy
who spied out of her drawn drapes
at her new neighbors because
they didn’t belong in her neighborhood;
with funerals well attended
and public recitations going on daily,
we’ll be quite entertained but
probably not concern ourselves as we
go about ignoring important things
until we see our doctors dressed to mourn
or hear our name recited; and,
doctors would be so busy with funerals
that they’ll be unable to save lives,
and the writing of history books would
suddenly include observations
of the practice of public recitations and
how this is just a concession
to a silly and meaningless public clamor,
for meaning for humanized anonymity
that they’re happy to supply.

For rent… only for rent…

rent_to_own

A Psalm 23
When my mother died
I said nothing, I had
no words – me, her boy
who didn’t shut up,
couldn’t, it seemed,
and would talk her ear
off, or so she claimed,
but she died with both
intact; I don’t recall her
ever telling me to
stop, unless I missed it,
quieter but not silent;
so where were the words
now – they’re not in
the dictionary she
said she wasn’t when
asked how to spell;
so I had to borrow the
lyrics she taught me
by her own mother’s grave,
about how to see the
valley of the shadow,
fearing no evil and
trusting the Lord
was her shepherd also,
and I was just renting
her comfort today.

 

Renting, Just Renting
I am a tenant
but with roots,
a wanderer
but with reason,
a renter
but with gladness.
This was not always so,
the pleasure
of residing nowhere long,
the inconvenience
of constantly forwarding,
the uncertainty
of where to lay my head.
I was raised in a house
and moved just once
taught to buy, not rent,
to earn and possess,
to save, store and spend
only what was saved,
that credit was a debt.
But somewhere
along the path I chose
I became a lost man,
never to be found;
somewhere became
nowhere and that
was fine, just fine.
This earth is my home
but my addresses
are only where I’m found
at one moment or day;
and since I cannot
be found
I must never be lost.
I am home
wherever I am
a friend
to all who wander
a companion
to all who dream.
I am a renter.

June 28 will always be June 28…

IMG_6114

William Blyer Callahan, 1941 – just 30 years before June 28, 1971

It was a Monday back in 1971 – a steamy, lazy summer’s Monday. My clock read 11:28 AM when I finally stirred to life, and I was left to sleep, I learned, because I would never awaken this way again.

That morning my father died down the hall from my bedroom. Mother, sister and brothers had all been quickly included in the whirlwind of emergency, hopelessness and death, and I turned on my bed like a door turns on its hinges.

So it took me some time to come to grips with the story – twenty, thirty or forty years to put together what had fallen apart, irreparably, that Monday morning, June 28, 1971.

I missed the moment – slept through it literally, like so much of my life it seems. Maybe sleepwalking through life is my best way of coping, maybe it’s just by chance that I was the only one not ‘there’ and maybe my penance is this writing.

William Blyer Callahan (d. June 28, 1971)

Not So Long Ago It Seems

I was just a boy, eleven,
and in so many ways I lost
my innocence that day;
rising after eleven
on my summer vacation
to a house filled
with crying friends
and family hiding their
tears from the boy in
his terrycloth bathrobe;
greeted by my Mom
as all eyes were on us,
on stage, every chin tucked
against chest, every arm
folded, all quiet until
interrupted by the gasp
of a sob; two chairs were
where they never were so
all could see her say that
Daddy was gone, and
I cried because I thought
she was going to say it
was Nana, but it wasn’t
and I didn’t even cry
about the right thing
at first; there were no
more words that I recall
or want to, just dry toast
and weak tea as my first
meal of the rest of my life
without him and I hate
that menu still; it was so
long ago and just like it
happened today because
it did and I’ve never tried to
do anything but remember
this anniversary but
I still don’t know how
to cry about it; I don’t.

Obituaries

It’s called ‘bonus’ or at least is should
because this wasn’t expected, nor
should have been; I’m Irish and male,
for the sake of Saint Patrick, and
I should be dead by now but I’m not
and that makes this a true bonus;
I’ve outlived my own father who
saintedly passed before fifty years,
and all his friends it seems, or so
I read in the obituaries in Sunday’s
Chicago Tribune as I scan the pages
in a sobering ritual of paying homage;
now it’s only a matter of what to do
with these extra days and years.

The Human Race

It’s been a long, long time
since I’ve heard the expression,
‘the human race’ like I once
did from my father who
invoked it in the ‘60’s
vernacular of our one,
global world, nations
united and east and west
divided so clearly
all was known, though
all wasn’t safe. In his own
way I was chided to
behave civilly and not
gad about as an unevolved
Neanderthal  breathing
through his mouth;
the future of the human
race depended upon my
sitting erect, listening
politely in a play at
détente, opening doors
for all types of women,
regardless, and not wasting
food because children
were starving elsewhere.
And there was, apparently,
a membership card to
this human race than
I was continually in
danger of forfeiting
through my mostly slovenly,
sometimes disrespectful,
manners which fell to
my father to supervise
as his role in bettering
said human race
inasmuch as he was able
and I was pliable.

Pennies, nobodies, and parents…

coppy-penny-investing111If you like pennies, nobodies, and/or parents (or at least your own mother and/or father), here are a few for you…


Pennies, Pennies Everywhere

Honest Abe is hiding in plain sight,
too insignificant to bother with,
ubiquitous to a fault, a commodity
of commonness and plain speech;
he is become a decimal of taxation
and useless beyond being ignored,
unless discovered heads-up, then
he might be a token of good luck,
but fleeting in the day he’s found;
trying to double-down I’ve tossed
him into a fountain and wished,
collected hundreds and hundreds
in a Mason jar for my life savings
that never amounted to much,
tucked him in my new Bass loafers
purely for decoration, I believe, and
slipped one under the folded hands
of my casketed father back in 1971
and prayed a pure prayer for a
miracle that I’m still waiting on.

 

On This Day

On this day in history
absolutely nothing of consequence
happened, to anyone, anywhere;
no ships sailed, no princes born,
discoveries in science, medicine
just didn’t happen on this day,
yesterday and tomorrow are
filled with life-changing people,
events, battles that turned great
wars into peace, even the subtle
alterations to the fabric of everyday
life made by once anonymous people
which reverberated into time and
made history; remarkable things,
great consequences, overwhelming
tragedies and brave exploits
all happened on other days, just
not today; of course some were born
on this day, babies loved, wanted,
even prepared for, but they remain
nameless to all but their mothers,
unknown to school books and
will never fill-in-the-blank’s of
literacy exams for they just were
and are no more; and the closest thing
to notoriety they’ll enjoy is that on
this day in history they’ve been
written about, sort of.

 

Stories worth telling

doctorshistoriansThe complete absence of medical doctors at their patients’ funerals is shocking, obvious, and upsetting. Yet, no one seems to care.

Their task – their one task – is to preserve life. And they fail. Every time. I know, I know… they don’t see it this way. They do keep people alive longer than they’d live if it wasn’t for their life-saving work (never mind that this longer life is lived in the waiting room before another doctor’s appointment). And this explanation satisfies everyone it seems. (If I had a 100% failure rate, I’d come up with a good explanation too.)

The other, obvious, god-like, grand and detached profession which contributes to life is called ‘the historian.’ Not just history, as in what’s happened, but the profession assigning meaning to all the crap that’s happened as if it had to happen – that’s the task of the historian.

Doctors and historians – can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

Humanized Anonymity

It has come to my attention
that doctors have a 100% failure rate,
if life is what they preserve,
and I’ve never seen one attend a funeral
unless it’s theirs, of course,
so I propose they be required to show
last respects for all their patients,
by law they must be there, embarrassing
as it will be, and apologize
along with everyone else saying ‘I’m sorry’
in the line winding around
the casket, and they will be one of the
only ones who truly mean it;

while I’m at it, I propose that
historians be forced to stand in public
at regular intervals, reciting
the names and a brief paragraph about
the millions and millions
they gladly ignore or anonymously label
when writing their big books
of sweeping, majestic generalizations
while a mother’s baby failed
to thrive and died in her arms yesterday,
a stupid boy, so unloved,
thought nothing of shooting a neighbor
so he might belong to a family
he’d never had before, or the paranoid,
wrinkled woman named Lucy

who spied out of her drawn drapes
at her new neighbors because
they didn’t belong in her neighborhood;

with funerals well attended
and public recitations going on daily,
we’ll be quite entertained but
probably not concern ourselves as we
go about ignoring important things
until we see our doctors dressed to mourn
or hear our name recited; and,
doctors would be so busy with funerals
that they’ll be unable to save lives,
and the writing of history books would
suddenly include observations
of the practice of public recitations and
how this is just a concession
to a silly and meaningless public clamor,
for meaning for humanized anonymity
that they’re happy to supply.

 

Stories Worth Telling

There was only one Charlemagne,
and thankfully so; one Genghis Khan,
Alexander the Great, and one wishes for
at least another Sojourner Truth, George
Washington, or Eleanor Roosevelt,
and
 on and on my books tell me about
this great thing 
called history and how
billions of lives 
twist and turn, begin
and end, are 
rich and poor as the earth’s axis
is made to turn on the life of just one,
usually male, usually violent with
mothers’ babies, usually loved
and hated simultaneously, and usually
infatuated with himself,
while we try kindness and hope,
recite ‘there but for the grace of God’
as consolation or cautionary tale,
dream and cry our way through days
all to be forgotten – dust to dust
in the unhistorical metamorphosis,
and the best one can hope is to be
a victim of a great man it seems,
or his see him once, or better yet
to be unseen by god-makers – historians
who don’t know our names and study
so as to not care or have to plainly say
we just don’t matter, he was
a perverse soul, another was brave
with words, a child afraid, and another
never knowing love or kindness
except for a sibling uniquely private,
one generous even in her poverty,
another loved her baby who failed
to thrive through no fault of hers
and lived with the loving guilt of a wish
for just one life among the billions;
all ignored, and necessarily so, for
there isn’t room on my bookshelf
for every story worth telling.

It’s Spring so let’s think about death…

Daylight-Saving-TimFinally. Daylight Savings Time has arrived (right on schedule), and it has an officially recognized moniker – DST. We’ve all lost an hour of sleep we could ill afford, and so, of course, my thoughts turn to death, dying and all things funereal. (Yes, that’s a word – a very good word used of the mournful and somber character befitting funeral pageantry.)

A friend named Pat – a good Irishman if there ever was one – died one Spring day a few years ago. He was supposed to die three or four times before he actually did, but that doesn’t matter when it finally, finally happens. I visited him like a pastor would (should) visit someone like Pat, until there were no more visits.

He Died Today

It’s been years, too many,
far removed from laughs
and tears of caretaking and
taking care of a flock that
was never mine but minded
me; to hear that he’s gone
after starting his last fight
so long ago and doing it
right by undoing petty things
with gentleness; my friend’s
heart has stopped and
started, fits and fought
but not for naught he
gained a decade of life
he made surviving an art
from that first Eve’s eve
night, fighting off death
with tears of Irish fears;
and today, a message left
that death’s theft took
Pat leaving me wondering
that this is all I have to
say because another part
of me died today.

Have you ever noticed the carpeting at funeral homes? I have. The typical pattern is named Afshan Disperse in the funeral homes I’ve visited.

Afshan Disperse

After the greetings,
hugs and handshakes and embraces;
after the waiting and viewing and that
moment (not too short or too long)
of silent, somber lingering or kneeling,
and turning once again to the living
for that awkward ‘Good to see you’
but not under these circumstances
and gather once again with someone,
anyone you might know or should,
you find your way to a seat to wait
in the quiet. What do you notice?
Well I look down
to the carpeting and take careful note
of the patterns or designs and colors;
because I’ve seen at least a hundred
funeral home carpets and more to come,
either arboreal and muted, turkman calm
arabesque faded, even bushy but mild,
never geometrical and never simple
but if one looks carefully and follows
there is always repetition in some feature;
it’s not plain or textured or bright or bold,
but able to hide blemishes.
Head bowed in sulking
not in prayer or pollyannaish thoughts;
even as an adult I compare all these carpets
with the first I saw in my eleventh summer
when I spent two days in tears and scared
with my dad in the casket, adults weeping;
sick of weak tea and toast and shrugs,
promises of comfort that were never fulfilled;
it was an afshan disperse, blue and ecru
random scatter of motifs unrepeated,
disconnected and I searched for order
and patterns in hope but I found none.
and I searched for order and connections
patterns and hope but I found none.