Sometimes Parts of Us Need to Die

questions once plaguing me
begging me for answers
tumble into their own abyss
following what they seek
like stampeded buffalo off a cliff

it used to matter
everything did
it doesn’t any more
because it all mattered
for the wrong reasons

it’s not about me
or you
what we said
or even did
there’s so much more
beyond our words
and actions
things that really matter

just this morning
two thick dark clouds blocked the sunrise
my heart cursed the darkness
like an old man reviles his last years
filled with intolerable pain

then a funny thing happened
a piece of me died suddenly
something once mattering a great deal
now that it’s gone
it’s clear to me
it should never have been born

gone are those questions
attached to that piece of me
following their answers
into the abyss
birthing them in the first place

Tell Me One More Time

Tell me, one more time
I can’t fall in love with you
Let me, once again
Hold you like I do
Say you won’t forget me
and how we used to be
Tell me, one more time
I can’t fall in love with you.

So long ago, when we’d dance
our love seemed so true
Remember how we always were
you as me and me as you
In each other’s eyes
the world, grew and grew
Tell me, one more time
I can’t fall in love with you

Sometimes I think I can’t go on
knowing you are gone
The memories leave me empty
ain’t no life, without you
Give our love one last chance
that’s the least you can do
Tell me, just one more time
I can’t fall in love with you

Written in Tucson, Spring 1971.
Thought I wanted to be a songwriter
back then.

Don’t Leave Me Baby

Well past two, we danced last night
Legs out stretched, in paradise
Swillin’ beer, almost blind
Still see your face, oh so fine
Held you close, three slow numbers we danced
Circling earth, time we chanced
Wanted you, to swallow me
Give me lovin’, set me free
With hair drippin’, we said goodbye
My heart’s trippin’, you’re the one I cry
Your perfume lingers, like sweet butterflies
Don’t leave me baby, share your surprise
Just you and me, sleepin’ in till noon
School can wait, mornin’ comes too soon
A thing or two, I could learn from you
You break my heart right in two
Drivin’ home, you were all I could see
Light my fire, set me free.
Tomorrow’s Friday, let’s dance all night
In my arms, I’ll hold ya tight

Note: Written in 1971 by Don Iannone, in
Tucson, Arizona, soon after the release of
Lee Michaels’ single, “Do You Know What I Mean?”

Without Deviation, Ain’t No Progress: A Poem Dedicated to Frank Zappa

Call us deviants
See if we care
Lost sons, wayward daughters
playin’ with ourselves in the streets
while war boys march through stubborn tall grass
and presidential pardons leave us bare

You can’t see for lookin’
To really start seein’
spin around
there you’ll find
nothing but
autumn rainbows
dancin’ on the two-horned unicorn’s back

Ralin’ electric guitar strings
all red, white and blue
pukin’ Brown Shoes Don’t Make It music
on constipated conformists
searching
for what they call the truth

In my hallucinating mind
no truth to be found anywhere
just hot poop plastic people
pushin’ soft-sell conclusions
all day long

Take your clothes off when you dance
Light up three fat joints
like Fourth O’ July sparklers
Put one between your teeth
sittin’ in the mouth
I’d like to kiss of your face
Second goes in your right ear
deadening it to the incessant flappin’
of your fuck-in’ right wing
Last not least goes up your ass
which you only seem to use
as a place to store your head

Don’t you realize
we’re the mothers of invention?
AND without deviation
there ain’t no fuck-in’ progress

Written by Don Iannone, Fall 1969, Tucson, Arizona

Return to Campus

university of arizona campus
eyes closed, sitting alone with my memories
soaking up warm december sunshine

mind drifting back 38 years
early college days
filled with fun and adventure
carefree times
chasing women
drinkin’
dancin’ like fools all night long

student then, wild hair like frank zappa
student now, george clooney hair, but much grayer
learning then, mostly about balancing life
learning now, still about balancing life
innocent then, about some things
innocent now, about other things
young then, full of myself
not so young now, still full of myself

it’s the same river, but
all the water has changed

Written by Don Iannone, UA Campus, Tucson, Arizona, December 2006

Transforming the Mental Onion

mind, like an onion
growing layer upon layer
each wanting to be peeled
explored
granted a reality
a wish to be more
anything transcending the layers

layers growing inside outward
each subsequent one larger
yet all the same, just layers
ripples on the mind’s surface water
curved lines with no beginning or end
no independent existence
never free of all else

in the end
just swirling circles
atop formless prima materia
seeking to become more
than an onion
in the alchemist’s flask

Note: Toss an onion into an alchemist’s flask and this is what you get. What do you get?

Grandma’s Ball of String

old and new, tied together
like the large ball of string
grandma saved and added to
for more than fifty years

a grandmotherly thing to do
not just save string, but
string together family
otherwise lacking connection

without strings attached
her love brought us together
nurtured and helped us grow
like tender young flowers in her garden

each expression of her love
a thread of hope
spun out to us
just when we needed it

even her unassuming smile
unraveled us, bringing laughter
at times tears
always helping us find ourselves

even after all these years
grandma’s ball of string is still working
sustaining us
connecting us to what matters most

Daily Mountains We Climb

tall mountains all about me
one, each day i climb

some stand for undying hope
others quiet desperation
each a promise, that
from my soul, i shall not hide

with each step, growing stronger
up tall mountains that i climb
circling some, worn trails upward
others, new paths yet to find

no fixed goal or final destination
steadfastly walking, in silent meditation
for there, with my soul i abide

Literally Not True

just words of men, seeking peace and truth
often simple letters, like you’d write a friend
meaning something at the time
to those for whom they were written

held up on high as holy words
by those who heard and thought they knew
words, it seemed, came straight from God

even now, debate the Bible we do
its words, their meaning, and
from whose lips these words first fell

no one answer, for all will work
my guess, not at all literally true

Bumble Bee

plump black and yellow bumble bee
pollinating creature you are
always on the move
never an idle moment in your day

your fuzzy body tickles flowers
uncontrollable laughter it ignites
your hum-like buzzing voice
gently carries in still morning air

drifting through the garden
beauty touches you, all along your way
determinedly moving flower to flower
giving and taking each stop you make

the cat in the window, sitting ever so still
invites you to play some dastardly game
need i say
you dare not partake

watching you makes me wonder
a favorite flower have you
your frequent stops, a clue perhaps
the sprawling shaggy veronicas
might be it, at least today

a wish offered to you and all other bumble bees
may flowers sprout a lifetime
and may summer last an eternity

Lines

lines in life, drawn between this and that
sometimes easy to draw
often hard to erase
once in place, leaving impressions
like those left by a full moon
on a farmer’s resting field
on a biting cold winter’s eve
like those cut by a determined river
following its surging heart to sea
like those etched into our faces
from years of smiling or frowning
and finally
like those in a poem
connecting and separating words
to give meaning

Fourteen

Charlie is all we think about, night and day.
There’s just one job over here: kill Charlie.
Hate is a terrible thing, but
it’s better than being deathly afraid.
Doesn’t take long to realize that.
War: kill or be killed, and that’s it.
Not very complicated, really.

The latest batch of boots just landed.
They’re just kids, with
no fuck-ing idea what’s in store for them.
369 days ago, I was a boot.
Seems like an eternity ago.
Stupid me. I enlisted, thinking
it can’t be all that bad.
What was I fuck-ing thinking?

You’re never ready for this hell.
There’s no easing into war with Charlie.
First impressions stick forever.
When I arrived in-country,
we hovered base camp, waiting
for 14 body bags to be loaded onto a Huey;
ironically the same number of boots on our chopper.
This place makes you superstitious.
14 has been permanently erased from my vocabulary.

A week ago, some bug started
working it’s way through the company.
Nothing brings any relief from the puking and shitting.
It just runs its course in 4 to 5 days,
leaving you limp as a rag.
The honey-dippers burn shit all around the clock.

In basic, you learn lots of stuff, but
they don’t tell you how awful this place smells;
how the odor of burned flesh lingers
for days in your mind, and
how you never get accustomed
to the smell of death.

And, they never tell you that you keep seeing things;
things nobody should ever see, even once.
But boys from Wapakoneta, Ohio, Sandy, Texas,
and other places nobody ever heard of, see things,
like what a claymore mine does to a man, or
what it’s like to see a man’s head explode like a ripe pumpkin
when hit dead-on with fire from a VC AK-47.
And, no amount of training prepares you to watch
a buddy hold another in his arms, rock him gently,
pretending to be the dying soldier’s mother.

Oh yeah, add me to the list of BK amputees.
The docs couldn’t salvage my lower right leg.
Tomorrow, they move me to the 29th Evac Hospital in Can Tho.
Fuck-ing Charlie mortar fire.
But I was lucky.
14 of my buddies went home in pine boxes.

A Day in the Life of a Chipmunk

through the garden she scurried
with overstuffed cheeks, about to explode
she darts without warning into the burrow
next to the tan boulder, midway between
the snapdragons and the delphiniums

her first litter, now grown
and oh yes we saw them
those brown pelted beauties
now likely a second on the way

then, just as late morning sun paints
ivory white streaks on sleeping flowers
mom chipmunk reappears
this time perched atop the boulder
her lookout to the world

a leisurely full-body stretch and
hasty scratch behind the ears
and again she’s off for a refill
from under the feeders at the forest’s edge

Parting Thoughts

Note: This is a fictious poem. It’s empathy poetry
and nothing more. When you think about life, nothing
is more creative than birth and death.

#####

Not sure what I thought dying would be like.
Had some idea from losing Mom, my grandparents,
several aunts and uncles, and some friends.
It’s completely different when it’s you–
when it’s your guts being eaten alive
by the same hideous monster that ate Mom’s.

I never knew how vast a white ceiling could be.
Staring at the one in my room for hours on end
has brought this sense of vastness to mind.
I’m obsessed with this image of total whiteness.
Is this my life epiphany?
Is this what it’s like on the other side?
Why does the ceiling seem so vast and unlimited
when my life feels so small and insignificant?

The pain isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
The drugs keep me from parts of my pain
I don’t want to know.
Because cancer kills you,
you’d think it would hurt more.
Maybe the pain will get worse,
as I get closer to the end.
It’s funny, as long as there’s pain,
I know I am still alive.
I wish I could hold onto my pain forever.
I can’t.

No matter what they do,
I can’t get comfortable…
with the cancer, the fear it ignites, and
not knowing when I take my last breath.
The cancer feels like a foreign object inside me.
It didn’t come from me, and it’s not mine.
When I’m angry,
it feels like a burglar breaking into my house,
stealing my most prized possessions.

The best part about dying is the dreams.
I never thought there would be anything
I’d like about dying.
They’re much more vivid now.
In many ways, more so than my life.
It’s strange, some mornings I wake up,
wanting only to drop back off to sleep
and rejoin my dreams.

When you’re healthy,
you can’t feel your internal organs.
When you’re dying, you know they’re there.
I never thought about my liver, spleen, or pancreas.
When they’re filled with cancer,
you can’t stop thinking about them.

Often I think I want to die a noble death–
one more noble than the life I’ve lived. But
is nobility really significant at a time like this?
Is it supposed to make dying worthwhile?
We never stop wanting life to be
the way we want it to be.
Not even when we’re dying.

The worst part is the waiting.
I never liked waiting for anything.
I hate it, especially now, and
not knowing what waits on the other side.
The waiting gives you plenty of time
to reflect upon your life.
But not in the way I want to.
It’s amazing how feelings of anger, regret, and sadness
haunt everything coming to mind about my life.
Even my happiest times.

You know…
I can’t bear to mention the people in my life–
those I’m about to leave behind.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t.
For me, that’s the hardest part.

Why does life have to feel so unfinished now–
so incomplete,
like a poem you don’t know how to end?

Kissing Away the Bark from Your Lips

Why does your voice bark anger at the world
while sitting in golden morning sunlight?
What atrocities have your eyes witnessed,
haunting your soul,
causing your every utterance to cloud the sun,
foment the peace lingering in the air, and
rape fledgling flowers of their innocence?

If I could take it all away, I would,
leaving just the hushing waves washing over you,
carrying your hurt and anger far out to sea.
If I could, I’d kiss away the bark from your lips,
leaving only a sweet trusting smile lasting a lifetime.

Zen Poem by Hakuin

The monkey is reaching
For the moon in the water.
Until death overtakes him
He’ll never give up.
If he’d let go the branch and
Disappear in the deep pool,
The whole world would shine
With dazzling pureness.

About Hakuin

Hakuin Ekaku (Hakuin Ekaku or Hakuin Zenji, 1686-1769) was one of the most influential figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism. He transformed the Rinzai school from a declining tradition that lacked rigorous practice into a tradition that focused on arduous meditation and koan practice. Most modern practitioners of Rinzai Zen use some practices directly derived from the teachings of Hakuin.

The most important and influential teaching of Hakuin was his emphasis on koan practice. Hakuin deeply believed that the most effective way for a student to achieve enlightenment was through extensive meditation on a koan. The psychological pressure and doubt that comes when one struggles with a koan is meant to create tension that leads to awakening. Hakuin called this the great doubt, writing, “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully”. Only with incessant investigation of their koan will a student be able to become one with the koan, and attain enlightenment.

Freedom

freedom, is not:
   having the world at will
   being whatever you like
   having everything you want
   going wherever you desire
   sleeping in, while everyone else in working
   staying up as long as you like
   having nothing left to lose
   what your willing to fight and die for
   absence of constraint and determination
   even a completely blank slate to write on
finally, freedom is not your state of being
if you have to think about it

Reality: Not What We Think

reality, conditioned
like a farmer’s field
growing dreams
we feed ourselves and others
mind falling in love with itself
forsakes reality
for maya’s magical spell

faces, only what we see
not what lies beneath them
so sweet, so natural
each sip, intoxicating
each illusion, giving birth to others
each dream spins into the next

then
mastering all forms of illusion
the magician inside us falls prey
to his own tricks
no way out, he dies

everything shifts
the cart topples
we fall out, naked
stripped of illusion
finally reality appears

Note: This poem embodies the concepts of nonduality,
maya (illusion) and spiritual awakening from the Upanishads,
which are ancient Vedic texts, discussing Hindu philosophy
dealing with the nature of the universe and soul.

Rejoice

Rejoice in knowing
your happiness does not depend
upon you knowing anything.

Rejoice in discovering the discoverer
who needn’t search any further
to find himself.

Rejoice in accepting that the moment
is all you have
and all you will ever need.

Rejoice for the sake of rejoicing
for in so doing
you find happiness.

Ecstacy in High Contemplation

By St. John of the Cross

1. I entered into unknowing,
yet when I saw myself there,
without knowing where I was,
I understood great things;
I will not say what I felt
for I remained in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

2. That perfect knowledge
was of peace and holiness
held at no remove
in profound solitude;
it was something so secret
that I was left stammering,
transcending all knowledge.

3. I was so ‘whelmed,
so absorbed and withdrawn,
that my senses were left
deprived of all their sensing,
and my spirit was given
an understanding while not understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

4. He who truly arrives there
cuts free from himself;
all that he knew before
now seems worthless,
and his knowledge so soars
that he is left in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

5. The higher he ascends
the less he understands,
because the cloud is dark
which lit up the night;
whoever knows this
remains always in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.

6. This knowledge in unknowing
is so overwhelming
that wise men disputing
can never overthrow it,
for their knowledge does not reach
to the understanding of not
understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

7. And this supreme knowledge
is so exalted
that no power of man or learning
can grasp it;
he who masters himself
will, with knowledge in
unknowing,
always be transcending.

8. And if you should want to hear:
this highest knowledge lies
in the loftiest sense
of the essence of God;
this is a work of his mercy,
to leave one without
understanding,
transcending all knowledge.

Note on St. John of the Cross: Saint John of the Cross (San Juan de la Cruz) (June 24, 1542 – December 14, 1591) was a major figure in the Catholic Reformation, a Spanish mystic and Carmelite friar born at Fontiveros, a small village near Ávila. He is renowned for his cooperation with Saint Teresa of Avila in the reformation of the Carmelite order, and for his writings; both his poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul (in the Christian sense of detachment from creatures and attachment to God) are considered the summit of mystical Spanish literature and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature. He is one of the thirty-three Doctors of the Church.

Venus on a Clear April Eve

Brilliant beacon Venus glowing bright,
as the shiny gold coin she is.

Wedded perfectly to the sun,
never straying from his side,
and together they waltz
across the April night sky.

With ever-adoring eyes
gazing down on earth,
who, like some blue-green cat’s eye,
returns her stare.

More bright than the brightest star,
casting her mesmerizing light for all to see,
like some astroid-showering soul off to Heaven.

A wandering star to many she seems.
Those knowing her best will attest
her enigmatic family ties.

And helpless am I,
where in her midst I stray.
For in her shadow
my heart hangs deep.
Dangling there for eternity.

Facing Our Anonymity (Revised)

Not wanting to be known to others,
sometimes we choose to be anonymous.
Stripped of our identity by others,
we’re rendered at times anonymous.
At times , life’s pressures are too great
we can’t bear identify with the pain
life creates within us, and
we slip into anonymity.
Sometimes we remain behind our masks-
they are all we know
we cannot escape them.
Then there are times, when
without provocation,
we wake up one morning,
no longer liking who or what we are,
and enter the world nameless and faceless.

Cumberland Island

You appear as a thin dark green finger
along the jagged Georgia coast,
Wildness speaks to us in many familiar and foreign voices
as we penetrate your gentle harbor,
Muscular wild horses lazily munch grass at the water’s edge
and flick pesky horseflies with their tails,
Their hides shimmer in the mid-morning sunlight,
reminding me of bright copper pennies and gun metal gray clouds,
The main road greets us like an luminous dark tunnel
through the mossy green forest,
beckoning us to explore it with our feet
and discover the island’s many secrets,
Eagerness gathers in our hearts,
We sense there is something exceptionally powerful
to experience here on Cumberland Island,
Dungeness House, now in ruins, is unimaginable,
unless you were there to see what is left of it,
The mansion’s thick broken walls, red brick chimney, and
black wrought iron fence are snared in a thick green
tapestry of twisted vines and foreboding weeds,
Venomous snakes now slither where industrial robber barons
and their curious wives once danced,
The music is the same,
transfixing and intoxicatingly sweet to the soul,
Old things abound inviting spirits to come forth,
They are everywhere on the island,
not just in the old weedy family cemeteries,
You could feel them jealously watching you
as you savor the same gems that called
the Carnegie family and others to Cumberland
in the late 19th Century,
Orange rusted skeletons of old cars,
Model T’s and the like,
line a stretch of the dusty road behind the barn,
The old tin lizzies remind us of life’s paradoxical ways,
Things we wouldn’t imagine, like finding model T’s
on this thin green finger off the Georgia coast,
In a distant field, near the white sandy dunes,
there is a watercolor cream foal, surrounded by
its protective mother and stately father,
Our hearts spring open, like new rose blossoms
in an English garden, at the sight of the newborn,
The island’s velvet-soft north beach makes us feel like
beautiful white shells and sand dollars,
We feel conjoined with the soul of this magical place,
As we board the boat for our return,
five gargantuan manatees linger and play in the shallow
brackish waters of the tranquil sound,
All this in one mesmerizing afternoon stroll
across Cumberland Island.

#####
Previously published in Stilling the Waters:
Poems about Finding Peace and Meaning
in Everyday Life
, By Donald T. Iannone,
(Medicine Wheel Publishing, 2005)

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Poetry

Introduction

As part of an ongoing research project on spiritual poets and seers, I have taken a long hard look at the poetic works of Rainer Maria Rilke. I would be interested in hearing what others interested in poetry have to say about his work.

Rilke the Poet and His Influence

Rilke, as many of you may know, is one of the German language’s greatest 20th century poets. His, at times, haunting images focus on our implicit difficulty in communing with the ineffable—a theme that has positioned Rilke as a transitional figure between the traditional and the modernist poets.

Rilke created the “object poem” as an attempt to describe with great clarity physical objects, the “silence of their concentrated reality.” His philosophical leanings (see below) expose themselves in many of his poems. I would definitely consider Rilke to be a mystical poet, but he seemingly transitioned to being more of a “witness” in his poetry, almost as a painter might do.

For Rilke, real life was ultimately within. As he said in his Seventh Elegy: “Nowhere, Beloved, will world be but within us. Our life passes in transformation. And the external wanes ever smaller.” Rilke was influenced greatly by Russian mysticism. His work also reflects the ideas embedded in the 19th/20th century German Phenomenological School (Husserl, Heidegger, others).

Rilke on Religion and Death

What of Rilke’s views on religion? William Gass wrote in 1996 that Rilke was venomous about organized religion, yet there are more Virgin Marys, Saints and Angels in his work than in many cathedrals.

Source: “Purely a Poet,” The Nation, 4/1/96.

I’ve noted this as well in Rilke’s work, which leads me to wonder if he used these symbols because of his own need to resolve his feelings toward organized religion, especially Christianity. I think Rilke’s poetry expresses his own personal spiritual yearnings; those uprisings in the soul that inhabit and overtake us at the least expected moments in our lives.

Rilke wrote often about death; a topic some would rather not dwell upon. Here are three insightful quotes drawn from his work:
“There is an element of death in life, and I am astonished that one pretends to ignore it: death, whose unpitying presence we experience in each turn of fortune we survive because we must learn how to die slowly. We must learn to die: all of life is in that.”

“…so deeply does death lie within the nature of love that death contradicts love at no point;…where else, finally, but into the heart itself may death thrust the unutterable things we bear in our hearts.”

“I reproach all modern religions for having presented to their faithful the consolations and extenuations of death, instead of giving their souls the means of getting along with death and coming to an understanding of death, with its complete and unmasked cruelty.”

Source: Selected Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

A Few Rilke Spiritual Poems

Here are a few of Rilke’s spiritual poems that I like very much.

Here is a beauty from Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus works:

The Sonnets to Orpheus: XXIII

Call to me to the one among your moments
that stands against you, ineluctably:
intimate as a dog’s imploring glance
but, again, forever, turned away
when you think you’ve captured it at last.
What seems so far from you is most your own.
We are already free, and were dismissed
where we thought we soon would be at home.
Anxious, we keep longing for a foothold-
we, at times too young for what is old
and too old for what has never been;
doing justice only where we praise,
because we are the branch, the iron blade,
and sweet danger, ripening from within.

Note: Translated by Stephen Mitchell

And then, there is this simply gorgeous piece:

The Unicorn

The saintly hermit, midway through his prayers
stopped suddenly, and raised his eyes to witness
the unbelievable: for there before him stood
the legendary creature, startling white, that
had approached, soundlessly, pleading with his eyes.
The legs, so delicately shaped, balanced a
body wrought of finest ivory. And as
he moved, his coat shone like reflected moonlight.
High on his forehead rose the magic horn, the sign
of his uniqueness: a tower held upright
by his alert, yet gentle, timid gait.
The mouth of softest tints of rose and grey, when
opened slightly, revealed his gleaming teeth,
whiter than snow. The nostrils quivered faintly:
he sought to quench his thirst, to rest and find repose.
His eyes looked far beyond the saint’s enclosure,
reflecting vistas and events long vanished,
and closed the circle of this ancient mystic legend.

Note: Translated by Albert Ernest Flemming

Your Thoughts?

And so, what uprisings in your soul does all this ignite?

What We Search For Is Inside Us

Until we realize
we are trapped inside ourselves
with no way out,
we are not free
to be who we truly are.

Everything is inside us; that is
everything we experience.
There is no way
to be with things on the outside,
only to bring them inside, then
they become a part of us.

Even when we think
we have found a way out,
it is just another way in.

No cause for panic, though
our perspective changes
profoundly
when we make this realization.
Not just our perspective of one thing,
but of all things changes.

Desperate as we may feel,
we shouldn’t struggle
to get outside ourselves.
What else have we?

The web of consciousness
is all we have;
woven together
moment by moment,
thread by thread.
It connects us: you and me.
Nothing happens, or appears to happen,
unless it passes through this web.
And then we know it.

And what of God?
Inside us as well.
Not separate.
We can only know
what is inside us, and
therefore our only hope
of knowing God
is through the windows of our souls.

To see ourselves and God,
our soul windows must be clean and clear.
Today seems a good cleaning day.
Don’t you think?

Fourth of July

Now it seems
after the Fourth of July
the summer scoots by so much faster,
making us almost wish the Fourth away.
But as a young boy,
July 4th was long and eagerly awaited,
and then summers lasted an eternity.
Always then,
up before the hazy sunrise.
Boundless energy
exploding in all directions.
Rapid-fire machine gun firecrackers
breaking the morning’s silence.
Sweltering heat at noon
as we guzzled gallons of cool-aid.
Pick-up baseball games,
badminton matches, and horseshoe contests
throughout the inexhaustible day
that went on and on.
Dips in and out of the pool
and even a run through the sprinkler.
Favorite aunts hugging you
and begging you to tell
about your secret girlfriend.
How did they know?
Maybe because they were
secret girlfriends at one time.
Picnic plates filled with things we still love
but won’t allow ourselves to eat today.
Barbecue smoke wafting across backyards,
whetting our insatiable appetites.
Uncles, tipsy from much beer, telling bawdy jokes
kids shouldn’t hear, but always they did.
Excited laughter
giggling through life’s usual humdrum.
Magical fireflies twinkling yellow
in the alluring darkness,
prompting our chase
long after bedtime.
Skies graced with exploding rainbows
and mesmerizing color extravaganzas.
And best of all: Sweet dreams
and painless happiness everywhere.

For Sale By Owner (Revised)

The house down the street is for sale–
the house with the family we hardly know.
We’ve never really connected with them.
Maybe everybody is just too busy.

It’s embarassing-
this family is still a mystery to us after three years.
There’s an awkwardness when you go so long
without connecting with folks you see everyday,
but don’t really know.

They stay to themselves, and we do too,
and so does everyone else in the neighborhood.
The detached faceless society is not what I want, but
it seems a way of life for many of us today.
What can we do about it?
Walk up and give a stranger a hug? Maybe.

We gave the family a bouquet of flowers
when they first moved in,
hoping they’d feel welcome.
The mother waves and smiles sometimes
when we drive by, and we wave and smile back.
Other times, she looks the other way,
and so do we.
The father never looks our way.
Not sure why, but
he always finds something else more interesting:
his shoes, the dog, or his cigarette,
which glows orange in the dark
when he smokes outside at night.

The kids are teenagers, seemingly preoccupied
with their boyfriends and girlfriends.
Nice-looking kids.
They pull in and out of the driveway a hundred times a day,
which is typical for hormoned teens.
I have a hunch that the girl graduated high school this year.
I wonder if she’s going to college.

It’s strange, but there seems to be a point,
beyond which it is too late to get to know people.
Three years is that point in this case.
We don’t know why the family is moving.
We hope it’s for a good reason, and not
because something terrible has happened.

The family’s large fluffy white dog used to love
to stroll up and down the street.
The brooding father used to bellow at the dog
when it wandered too far.
The family never walks the dog,
which seems a little odd to us.
Haven’t seen much of the dog lately.
Maybe he gave up on the neighborhood too.
I wonder if he knows his family is moving.

I stopped last night
and took one of the marketing brochures
from the tube under the For Sale by Owner sign.
The big house is very pleasant-looking inside and out.
Lots of rooms for just four people.
Perhaps that’s why they’re moving.
Asking price for the house: $585,000.00.
Does that include the benefit of living
in a neighborhood without a sense of community?

Eye Contact with a Man Who Will Burn in Hell

Not many people strike me instantly
as being truly evil, but you did.
I saw your sneering face look at mine
as our cars drew close to each other
in the grocery store parking lot.
I saw true evil in your eyes,
and felt your cold in my heart.
I didn’t accept it,
but I felt it just for a second.
I’ve known others like you.
You’re all the same.
Scott Peck wrote about you
in his book People of the Lie,
which tells how evil people
project their evils and sins onto others,
and then see it as their job
to exterminate these evils and sins
in their victims.
Death rows everywhere are filled
with people just like you.
You won’t say it, but I know
you’ve made a pact with the devil.
It shows in your eyes.
You see your role in life
as intimidating other human beings–
making them feel afraid, just so
you won’t feel afraid,
because deep down you know
you can never get out of the deal
you made with the devil.
I was even more convinced
of your evil nature when
you stopped to glare at another man
pulling into the lot, as you left.
Your car and his stopped
just one moment longer
than they should have.
Just long enough for you
to shoot him the evil eye.
Then as you drove away,
you extended your arm
out your car window
and gave the finger.
I know you think
your extended middle finger
is your protection.
Yes, your protection from
another man’s evil eye.
You digust me, even now,
hours after our encounter.
And I pity you, yet
you won’t have your way with me,
because I know about your pact,
and I know you will pay dearly
once your time comes to go.
And when that time comes,
your middle finger won’t ward off
the purging fires of hell
delighting at the sight
of evil eyes and middle fingers.

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The Ancient Tree Drummer

I hear him.
Making holes again.
Hollow places in dead trees.
He’s very old, you know.
Prehistoric!
Pterodactyl-like, I think.
With his red crest
bobbing up and down,
he seems so very proud.
Downright cocky, I’d say.
His drilling stops.
Oh, I hear him again!
Those odd cuk wucka sounds he makes.
His mate makes him wait.
I know he’s listening for her.
Finally she returns his call.
His work resumes.
Strange fellow–
that pileated woodpecker.
Feasting on ants and beetles
deep in the old forest,
where there’s plenty of dead wood.
The hollow tree is his drum, you know,
He’s playing a driving beat.
Latin rock, I think.
He’s ancient, you know.
I hope I see him.

First published in Stilling the Waters (2005).