On the Termination of Professor

All the tenured others have a name,
but he had transcended delimiters
and his surname became what was
for others simply a title – Professor.

Such was his reputation, amassed
over years of walks across the quad,
tattered tweed and unkempt, thinning
hair, never so proud so as to style.

His flair was the attentive mind
of the absentminded academic, but
he knew where every scrap of paper,
book, idea, and every word rested.

The office was never neat, swept,
untouched by time even dust shunned,
a couch for naps, chairs for stacks
of papers begun and undone.

Diplomas, awards hung on a wall
hidden behind tassels, programs of
graduations long ago, and three walls
shelve-covered and book burdened.

Office hours maintained sacredly
but scarcely attended but for a few;
puzzling and time passed to most,
sought and honored by only some.

Matter of fact questions earned the
reply of a tale, legend, story to explain
the unexplainable why ; every plea for
a story earned a who-what-when-where.

His time had passed, but he stood still
convinced that learning was progress
granted the guarantee of title his battle
was now one of perceived value.

Once freshman seminar his load,
now only electives and covering
for sabbaticals of the young, restless
who used post- in journal submissions.

Post-tenure review was the remedy
from a utilitarian board in the know,
failing to manage an unsustainable shift
from Professor to professionals.

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Famous Last Words

What if the last thing you ever said
to your father was “I hate you”? Not
‘Good night Dad’ or even ‘I love you’
or the in-between child- and adulthood
‘Thank you’ which shows the first signs
of understanding how much he doesn’t
do that he wants and instead how
many times he did everything for you,
and how much he gave up so
you could have what you thought
was so little and you said those other
three little words, “I hate you,” the
night before he died and that was
more than forty years ago now; what if
that was what you had to live with?
I wish this could be some moralizing
poem by Edgar Guest, or a saying
from some wise Chinaman, but I didn’t
have the luxury of learning secondhand
what mistakes I’d already made like
saying “I hate you” to my Dad one
afternoon and refusing to speak to him
ever again in an eleven-year-old tantrum
because he wouldn’t give me an
advance on my allowance so I could buy
a model car at the toy store that day.
He would take me there after going to
the hardware store on Saturday mornings
where I’d play with the screws and bolts
while he talked to the guys wearing blue
or red vests about hinges or tools and
I’d fidget until he was done and I got
what I wanted and looked at every
model car, plane and ship available.
He was teaching me the value of a
dollar and the meaning of credit and
debt and I was learning he could buy
anything he wanted but he didn’t want
what I wanted and so I taught him
how hateful an eleven-year-old could
be, and I meant it, I really did. Until
I woke up the next morning, that June
Morning, with guests crowding my home
and my Mom sat me down and told
me that Daddy had died and I cried,
mostly because that was what everyone
else was doing and ever since that day
because I couldn’t take back the very
last words I ever wanted to speak to him,
and I’ve been sorry for a long time now,
Dad; really sorry.

In a Good Story…

In every good story someone dies
(sometimes, but more frequently,
in bad ones as well); not always
tragically or poignantly, not always
sadly or in a timely fashion, usually
importantly a death is required.

It may be that it’s a way to make
tales more authentic, but it ironically
renders death’s severity a mere ploy
in the hands of desperate dramatists
longing for gravitas yet in failure;
simply turn dust back to dust.

Occasionally it’s accidently but
unexpectedly; and if the desire is
manipulative – the death of a child,
boy or girl, either will do – to tweak
the emotions of even the hardened
with an appeal to the weak.

Now multiple deaths are a waste
to an author and thus school bus
fatalities (a kindergarten field trip
tragedy) are typically avoided
and mass murders’ victims aren’t
the story in the first place.

Too many tales are funereal,
too many yarns come undone
and too many wakes begin stories
of too many things gone wrong;
dramas of dads and mamas
until death do everyone part.

Narrators, of course, play God
knowing, seeing all, all at once
what’s in heads, hiding from light
but telling us only part of a story;
this or that reason for lost life,
providing knowledge we lack.

The human story’s author
has wasted over a hundred billion
anonymous deaths littering lands,
mocking prophet amidst dry bones;
the deity’s wonderful plan for life
trumps all novelist’s narratives.

Da Yu

Yu-the-Great_proj-copy-700x420

This is the story of Da Yu, who we saw walking along a roadside on the early evening of one Sunday – Easter Sunday of all Sundays – and a child asked “What’s that man’s story?”

So this is Da’s story.

Yu the Great was the founder of the Xia Dynasty over four thousand years ago. Yu’s father attempted to control a great flood that threatened land and life. He built dikes and damns of soil and rock to hold back and contain the waters. He failed.

The great flood continued. Yu was conscripted to do what his father could not. Instead of restraining the great flood, Yu dredged deeper channels in rivers and valleys to carry the great flood to distant rivers and distant seas.

He opened waterways, unearthed damns and removed dikes with hard labor in long days. He was covered with the same dirt and mud his father struggled to amass, but Yu was washed clean in the rushing flood he did not resist. Yu succeeded in the task his father failed, and he was given the name Yu the Great – Da Yu.

Today Da wears his suit. The blue one He has just the one and he’s only ever had just the one. So, Da wears it. As dusk begins to cover this late April afternoon, along a road he’d built, Da Yu walks in his blue suit and white shirt – his shirt as white as his full head of thick hair – he walks home, alone.

As a young man Da Yu was pushed in one direction and pulled in another – he didn’t want what his father demanded for him and yet would not refuse what he must do.

Mr. Yu – Da’s father – insisted, “You will not be like me.” The hard life of manual labor had strengthened the father’s back and his resolve as well, and he was determined that his son would not live such a hard life because he didn’t have to live like his father had to: “I work so you can learn to do better work; not so hard work, and you will be happy and not tired like me.”

On his eighteenth birthday Da received just one gift from his parents – a blue suit. It was as expensive for Mr. Yu as it was important, “You will wear a suit and not dungarees.”

But this changed the day Mr. Yu came home lame.

Mr. Yu would not cry in front of his wife and son – he would yell and stomp and curse, but Da knew his father cried when Da was forced to give up on his father’s plans and dreams. The boss of the road crew Mr. Yu worked said that Da could have the work until Mr. Yu was healthy. Mr. Yu barked “Never!” but he never was healthy again. As a man of hard labor, he withered each day he was lame, and willed from his bed – fighting back the inevitable – the victory that eluded him. Mr. Yu never worked again and Da worked every day for forty years from that day.

Not long after Da wore the suit to his father’s funeral.

He wore it when he asked a sweet girl named Sarah to marry him, and he wore it when they married in her church.

He wore it when his boy Sun was christened for Sarah’s sake, and he wore it the Sunday he went to church each year on Easter. She didn’t ask much and he knew this was to please Sarah’s family because they were concerned about Da, and that Sarah was settling for a man who lacked dreams; a man who did not fight back, a man who simply nodded. All this Da knew but it was never spoken of – there was nothing to be gained and little that would change if he protested. He would work his hard work and wear his dungaree, and save his blue suit for special days to be remembered.

In his first years, Da’s skin became tanned and leathery from summers and winters, the cold, rain and heat of long, hard days. His hair was black and thick and covered his head, and a cap only made him sweat so he avoided his. The crew chided Da that he yellowed in the sun. Sarah worried that he worked too many hours, but a was happy to work and he was healthy and would do whatever was asked and he worked hard. When asked he would simply nod; he was glad to work. He did not refuse hard work.

Da didn’t get bigger or fatter or stooped like the others with whom he worked. Younger men took their places and the next generation took up the same lament – work is hard and the best work is no work.

But Da was healthy and quiet and bosses wished they had a dozen Yu’s but hired more of the others instead. Da’s hair did turn white; not gray – white and pure.

When his child, Sun was a young boy he would asked his father what he did, why his skin was so dark and rough, and why his hair was white like snow. Da always answered that he worked in the sun and rain and snow, so his skin showed he worked hard, and his hair just showed outside what was inside. But the boy didn’t understand.

Sarah was kind to Da; gentle and affectionate – she called him Yu-Yu, lovingly, and she was understanding of his labor. What he earned he gave his family and took little for himself. She worked herself when Sun started school, and she’d ask him to take a day to rest, but he’d always refuse, “What would I do if it wasn’t working?” he’d answer.

When they had time they’d take walks together, with Sun in a stroller, then the three on foot; always just walks that took different paths, along different roads and streets and returned them to their small home. It was the home Da’s father and mother had, the home Da had grown up in, the home Sarah and Da moved into after they were married to care for his mother, and the home she died in one night and their home since the day Da wore his suit to his mother’s funeral.

Da didn’t dream dreams of a different life, and he refused the nightmares of his own son’s life. There was only discontent in such dreams, and Da’s way was a nod and not a dream. He never bought Sun a suit – he could afford to, he had the money, but the thought never occurred to him.

When Sun grew, his mother and father helped when they could with clothes and books and papers that proved their modesty, but Sun grew embarrassed. The very things that showed their love were too modest for their son. Soon Sun was off to school, but Da and Sarah didn’t visit their son until his graduation when Da wore his suit and Sarah coughed through commencement. It was a cough that came one day and stayed, keeping her away from work, in bed eventually being cared for in the evenings by Da who stopped taking the walks.

The next time Da wore his suit it was to Sarah’s funeral.

Sun moved away and stayed away, but Da kept working, now less with shovel and more with a sign that read Stop and Slow. And he again walked at the end of each day, retracing the same paths and same roads and streets he’d walked with Sarah and Sun. He lived in the same home but it became more of a house. He washed his clothes, his own dungarees, made his rice and worked only his own hours until they told him he’d worked enough and not to come back tomorrow.

And then he’d wait each day until it was time to take the walk at the day’s end, walking the same paths and same roads and same streets he’d walked with his Sarah and Sun. And on Easter Sunday each year he’d put on his blue suit and leave it on all day, until the day’s end and he’d walk along the street he’d paved.

On learning who I am…

tree falls in the forestI am the tree that fell in the wood
with no one caring to hear,
the one at whom dogs bark
out of hatred instead of fear.
I am the one who spoke loud and clear
with no one knowing I uttered,
the door that is still a door
and not a jar unshuttered.
I am the book written but unread,
with a spine uncracked or bent,
the lure considered but dry,
un-tied, untackled, and unsent.
I am the road often taken and trod
derided in gospel and verse,
the angel that didn’t fit on pin head
in the sophistry that is so perverse.
I am the billions ten times over
who have lived and loved and died,
the everyman ignored or enslaved
and for whom no one has cried.

Can’t eat it on the cob like I used to…

Corn Off the Cob

Before she moved into the home,
before she couldn’t dress herself anymore,
before she stopped writing out prayers
for her children and grandchildren on slips
of paper she tucked into her Bible from
1944 with those colorful plates of Abraham,
Moses, Elijah and Jesus doing amazing
things, and before she stopped eating
altogether, we would bring her dinner
to her in her room – all cut-up in small
bites, except the corn on the cob
she loved most of all, she always said,
and then she said she just couldn’t
and asked me to cut the rows off the cob
for her and I asked if it was now
corn off the cob, and she said it was.

When we need heroes but there are none…

Heroes, Unsung

Finding little worth fighting and little worth life
leaves heroes undiscovered and thus unsung.
Cautionary grace notable amidst strife,
languishes anon with venom stung.

Ignorant to fault, unknown whom;
blithely ashamed, subsist entomb.
Finding little worth life and worth fighting for
leaves idols disguised and easy to ignore.

Whence will they rise and might they appear;
what the occasion and for whom will they ride?
Preferring paladins whom we may revere
charging opportune our reprieve to provide.

Grand their entrance, hastily depart;
hurried the glory, thankless heart.
Whence might they show, when will they arise
whom will they rescue and what the surprise?

Pretenders needn’t apply nor propose a name,
no compensation and not a single holiday.
Reference unnecessary, experience the same,
recompense a single and collective hooray.

Fleeting is glory, blazing abright;
modest the way, countenance contrite.
Pretenders resign and willingly profane;
little appreciated and splendor’s shame.

Grandeur appropriate and fit for these times
must go begging and decline its excellence.
Serving the character of accomplished climes
demands mean customs befitting indulgence.

None the better, all assonant;
shun the single, solely temperate.
Grandeur suitable and easily held
meager in merit and plainly felled.

What is original about sin…

History of Sin

History a tale of fallen’s friends
giving account of what had to be,
fixed by a sovereign who sees the end
saddled with a desire to be free;

lost to be found, but only through Rome
intrude on our lust, our passion, home,
named ex opere – the lusty lie
sprinkle the babies lest they all die;

create the fright, threaten what’s scary
touch our babes, but still necessary,
triumph assured, all wars justified
feelings condemned not capitalized.

Who erred that all are born this way
simply answered, we all come astray,
it’s sin, not hunger, that babies cry,
and not biology why we all must die.

There’s always a comparison…

handHis Arm

The skin thinned as I grew older
and veins were easy to trace
my small finger along as if following
the invisible stream of blood
that must be coursing through them,
bruises and scrapes from
his weekend gardening lingered in
earthy hues of purple fading
into tanned greens into the sun
baked crust remembering
burns and deep cuts from times
before I was me and sitting
close to him mesmerized by the way
something so strong could
become so frail and languid, and I
wondered at the perfect
plumpness and muscle of my own
so ready to remain young.

S L O W down… or else…

To Be Read S L O W L Y

Don’t you hate
being told how to
read, how to enjoy,
how to be; it’s like
being told how to
breath or piss,
both as necessary
and both as problematic,
eventually,
so do try not to hate
being told to do
the things we will all
forget one day soon.