On the Metaphysics of Old Age Clumsiness

A certain clumsiness comes with old age
Almost another adolescence
We stumble–
On our words, footsteps, and
even our prognostications about life
All else keeping us awake at night

A certain clumsiness comes with old age
Even when we’re just sixty
Thinking back, I remember
When my parents were where I am today–
Clumsily closer to nonexistence–
Where all is lost, including ourselves

A certain clumsiness comes with old age
And then, there is nothing
Even the clumsiness ends
Once we get out of our own way
And allow our stream of existence to empty back
Into life’s sea of new possibilities

The Sound

It grows on you, rather quickly–
The Sound’s lulling darkness
Lapping back and forth
along the pebbly shoreline

We watch the green and white ferries, and
how they ride the waves, like musical notes
from Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings
Haunting presence, especially
when there’s fog, or a light rain

The gulls know its springtime
Though there is no sun
They sit longer, closer to you–
Waiting for a handout–a piece of bread, a stale cookie
The red-headed boy fed one a slice of greasy salami
The damn fool ate it straight down

The Sound grows on you
In a soulful way, cutting deep inside you
to places you dream about, but
never seem to remember
Except you know they’re very old

Seattle would never be what it is
were it not for the Sound, and
it’s constant nudging and coaxing
to go deeper, plumb life’s depths
Let the foghorns at night sink in

A Theory on Life’s Questions

Take a load off
Give up the struggle–
All those weighty questions
Spinning you in circles
Sapping the life out of you

Easier said than done–
I’ve ridden those circles–
Like wild ferris wheels
Taking me round and round
Till I’m silly dizzy, then dead

Perhaps a better word is deadened–
To the real life–
The one we were born to live, and
somewhere along the line set aside–
For all our questions

I’ve a theory on questions, and that is
the universe needs them to grow
They’re fertilizer–
Helping the world evolve consciously
and yes inquisitively

Questions make children grow up, and
they kill off their innocence–
Then kids become grown ups, and their questions kill them off
Now why is that?
The universe needs a rest from our questioning

Hats We Wear

No helping who I am, like
the sun can’t help but shine
Yet at times clouds block the sun, and
often I get in my own way–
of being who I am
Are you like me?
Do you sometimes wake up, and fall over
the life you’ve worked so hard to create?

Watching the morning creep into the back woods
I wondered “why am I here?”–
Not in this chair in this room on this morning, but
HERE in this body and mind, and
HERE in this illusion of permanence, that
I wear like a hat pulled down over my eyes–
so I have an excuse for walking into walls, and
falling down stairs–into a basement, where
I’ve dumped everything I can’t let go of, including
piles of hats no longer fitting my fat head
which fills with new illusions each day, making
my head grow larger and larger

Aren’t there limits to how big a head can grow?

Fetching Uncle Eddie on a Friday Night

Three Gaynors Night Club in Bridgeport was the place to be
on a Friday, with your paycheck in hand
No ID needed to cash your check
if the bartender knew your face
Uncle Eddie’s was well-known–
not only on Fridays, but every other day, except Sunday
when he drank in the privacy of his own home

His poison of choice–Jack Daniels
Never cluttered with much, just a few cubes of ice
that never had a chance–
to return to water, because
of Uncle Eddie’s swift swilling technique

He told me once golden amber was his favorite color
I asked him why, and
he said I had to guess, and I tried
but to no avail, so
I asked my Mom, who explained
that was whiskey’s color, and
warned me never to drink like her brothers

I never saw Uncle Eddie drink, which
was not so unusual, since drinking was a matter for men, and
not young boys, who just might notice
that their uncles weren’t perfect–
a far cry from what their mothers would’ve hoped

Only once did I see my dear uncle snockered–
Totally smashed beyond recognition
He called my Dad; his third call for rescue
Knowing he could never drive his ’61 Chrysler
back to his home in South Bellaire

Dad responded to Uncle Eddie’s call, at Mom’s insistence
that he go fetch her drunken brother
To my chagrin, he asked me to come along
Perhaps he knew he’d need another set of arms
to get my uncle home this Friday night
I accepted the mission without hesitation

Uncle Eddie was too far gone to pose a problem–
No resistance did he give
But, no more than 10 minutes into our drive
My uncle perked up, proclaimed the night wasn’t over, and
one more drink he needed to find his bliss

My Dad, not a drinking man, was quick to counter
Reminding Eddie his liver would someday surely give out
To that, my uncle countered–
that we only go around once, so
we should make the most of it

Dad didn’t argue–
wouldn’t have done any good
He just stepped on the accelerator
Getting Uncle Eddie home sooner

It wasn’t long before Uncle Eddie was fast asleep–
The job from here on was easy
My aunt greeted us, arms crossed on her bosomy chest
She wasn’t happy with the situation, but
after twenty years with my uncle
she had resigned herself to his drunken nature

On the drive back home
I asked my Dad why Uncle Eddie drank so much
He looked at me with a reluctant stare, shook his head
And said “so he wouldn’t feel the pain of life”
I didn’t really understand, but got the sense
my uncle was nowhere as happy as he seemed

Three years later at Uncle Eddie’s funeral
I stared at his colorless face in the casket, and saw a look of peace
I whispered to him: “You never asked my favorite color–
It’s sky blue, the color of Heaven”

The Evangelist

Reverend Jeffrey Carlyle Thomas sold used cars
before he found Jesus, and
before that, he spent three years in jail
for repeated indecent exposure offenses–
Showing his family jewels in public

Then, he found Jesus
Who washed away his sins
Cleansed his heart, and made him whole–One Sunday night
at the Cow Hollow Pentecostal Church, and
that same night, he was called–
Into the ministry to serve His Lord God

Now Jeffrey Carlyle Thomas is an evangelist, spreading
the Word of God to all who will listen–
Mostly to Jesus-starved congregations
in small country and inner city churches, where
folks don’t challenge your credentials to preach without a license, and
intercede on behalf of the Lord Almighty

I heard Reverend Thomas preach a dozen or more times, and
there’s no denying he has a gift with words, including
the Holy Scriptures–you would think
were handed straight on down to him, who
some call Jesus’ thirteenth disciple

Why old Paul Gurley, my Sunday School teacher, even went so far
as to say that Reverend Thomas’ initials are J.C.
same as you know who, and this is no coincidence, since
the Bible says “watch for signs of His Second Coming”
I thought that was a stretch, but
who’s to question a wise Sunday School teacher like Mr. Gurley?

Jimmie Burgess’ mom says that
Reverend Thomas has brought more than 100,000 sinners to Christ
Far more than the 5,000 folks fed by Jesus, so long ago
with the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish
She claims it’s a known fact, and
we should be thankful Jesus sent the Reverend our way

Then one warm early September day
Our preacher, Tucker Holliday, received a phone call
from the preacher down in Coal Run, saying
that he had heard, from good authority
that Reverend Thomas wasn’t evangelizing anymore
Seems he got into trouble somewhere in Southern Indiana
for showing his private parts to two teenage girls

Reverend Holliday made a solemn announcement
at the next Sunday morning church service–
Seems he got a copy of the newspaper article, describing
the incident in Southern Indiana
He said a prayer of protection for all of us, reminding us
of our naturally sinful natures, and to heed the Word of God:
“May he that be without sin be the first to cast a stone”
Being an obedient congregation
A unanimous amen rose from all present
at the conclusion of Reverend Holliday’s prayer

The Thief

The Eighth Commandment–
Thou shalt not steal
And what did he do?
He stole her joy
With every breath he took–away
the very thing for which she lived

When he could longer care for himself
She brought him into her home–
Her most sacred place
Where her life was her own
The place she slowly healed, day by day
From his lifelong abusive words and ways

He still smoked–
In her bed, which she gave up to him
Because she had no other choice
He was her father–
The man whose seeds grew to become her
Inside her mother’s womb

The lung cancer had spread to his throat–
the channel carrying his venomous words–
to the scaly white lips that lived to hold a cigarette
and puff smoke like a volcano ready to blow

He blamed the doctor
for not making him quit years ago
She knew better–
because cigarettes and beer were his life–
his most sacred place
Where he hid from his daughter’s love
The torture chamber in which he lived
And day after day beat himself

She hated cleaning up after him
Not just the filled ash trays on the night stand
But having to hold him while he urinated, and
emptying the bedpan where twice a day
he spilled his foul guts

One morning, he struggled to urinate
Finally there was a stream
For just one second, she thought
he was grateful for her help, but
quickly she realized it was just his selfish body
savoring the relief of his empty bladder

He died on February 16th at 3:12 am
She was there with him, holding his cold boney hand–
the hand that never held hers as a little girl
The hand always ready to slap and hit her, and
anybody else making him feel loved

She didn’t cry
All her tears were used up years ago
She felt relief, when
the two emergency technicians lifted him from her bed–
the bed she vowed to dismantle, and burn
piece by piece in the trash barrel in her backyard
It would be her way of cleansing herself, and
forgiving the man who stole her joy

A Bloodied Old Man’s Face

As a child, I was often reminded
not to stare at people
My mother said it was impolite
But I’ve always wanted to see
what was really going on in life
You need a studied look to accomplish that

I studied the heavy old man, seated
at the table next to ours
The years had taken their toll–
In ways I hate to think as I approach sixty
But what had bloodied his face–
About his nose, under both eyes?

Too old for a bar fight
His younger wife didn’t seem the bullying type
Too much damage for an off-course golf ball
Maybe a car accident, or dreaded skin disease
Observing his toddled gait
I suspected a nasty fall

The restaurant manager catered to him
Not because of his bloody face, but
because he was seen as somebody special
Likely a man of significant financial means, and
the power that goes with money
I wondered who

Public catering has always bothered me
It’s an unspoken contract
between the caterer and cateree
A show of status, a sign of weakness
A form of myopic symbiosis
An act bloodying others’ faces

I’m not sure in this case
the old man enjoyed his special attention
I saw his eyes, just once
They were hollow, rapidly emptying of life
His eyes said “don’t look at what remains of me
Or my bloodied, bruised face”
The face others recognized

I knew then my studies were over
My eyes had found what they were looking for–
the old man’s pain
What haunts us all as we grow older
Bloodies us inside and out
Draining us of our last drops of life

Seeking the Timeless

It’s Friday
Another week is gone
Another piece of life has slipped away

It’s easy to blame the clock
For marching on, into a future
We’re not ready to face

It’s not just that
It’s a future we control; one we possess
Not the other way around

The clock takes away the eternal
Binds us to its hands
Strips us of the moment

Yes, the clock takes it all away
Leading us to believe
That 24-7-365 is our real genetic code

For one hour, I sat on my meditation cushion
No clock in sight
Trying to forget time

I became so annoyed
First with clocks, then clockmakers
Then everyone insisting my time should be theirs

I sat for another hour
Time washed away my annoyances
Yet the wanting lingered

The wanting to be timeless
To be this or that, or anything
Then I saw it–my temporal conditioning

How in fact all the breaths I had taken in my life were lost–
Conditionally buried in the seconds, minutes, and hours
Of my time-bound life

I sat for another hour, and noticed another layer
Beneath my temporal conditioning
And beneath that another, and another

Till finally, I sensed the futility of trying
To experience my life outside of time’s onion
I looked at the clock, it was three pm

Just Like My Dad

The sunrise danced vibrant streaks of salmon, orange and red
Across the still dark, waking sky
Dad missed it, though Mom tried her best
to draw him out from under the covers
And join her on the front porch steps

This isn’t the first sunrise he’s missed
I don’t think I ever heard him talk about one
That he thought was worthy of his sober presence
But he even missed my junior high graduation last week–
An important sunrise in my life

The front screen door slammed shut
As my exasperated mother took in another sunrise alone
Things have gotten worse at home
since Dad went on permanent disability two years ago
They were never good, his drinking and all
He doesn’t even try anymore, to help himself
Or do anything useful

I resent him, his ugly self-pity
How he doesn’t shave for sometimes three days
How he won’t learn to live without his right hand
It’s only a hand I screamed to my mother
Who, like always, took his side over mine

His hand’s not the issue
He was selfish even with two hands
I loved baseball for a long time
All I ever wanted was for Dad to play catch with me in the front yard
So my friends could see my Dad spent time with me
That he loved me more than his whiskey

He fell down the basement stairs yesterday morning
Just as I was leaving for school
Mom rushed to him, as he lay on the cold basement floor
He blamed his fall on his missing hand
His breath reeked of whiskey
I knew otherwise
I listened as he cursed God for taking away his life

As I brushed my teeth this morning
I saw Dad in the mirror
His face was written all over mine
I cursed him and God
Because I knew then
I would turn out just like him

innocent eyes spotting a deer in the wildflowers

lone deer standing so very tall
amidst a patch of spring wildflowers
wearing, as they always do, long stems
and remarkable yellow-red headdresses

not a far off place, a simple place nearby
where spring makes its way past–
all the nonsense, indifferent faces
standing between you, me, and joy
transcending the imagined realities, even
the promises we hoped for as children
forgot as adults, yet
linger as ghosts in our souls

strange but it finally ends–all of it
the pretense, promises, misplaced and forgotten words
losing all effect, ultimately giving back to us
the innocent eyes that gave birth to us
those spotting the lone deer in the wildflowers

Unemployment Line

He impressed me–
the way he kept a smile
As he stood with the other hungry faces
With vacant downcast eyes
Wearing their defeated shoes with no laces
Shoes two sizes bigger than their feet

His smile, a sunbeam, spread
across his broad whiskered face
His determination gleamed through his faded blue work shirt
All the way down to his large muscular hands
That weren’t afraid of a sweat-stained shovel handle
Or to grip the sour-smelling rags, used
to clean the public toilets at 55th Street Station

I counted them–
One hundred and thirty-three men and forty-one women, waiting
to be chosen for work, any job
that would put a dime, hopefully a quarter in their pockets
Enough for a loaf of day-old bread, maybe some beans
If lucky, a can of oily sardines

I was glad they picked him
His smile set him apart from the others
I shouldn’t play favorites
Each one of them deserved a job
Some food for their families
A pair of shoes that fits

The News

He wasn’t going to make it
He knew it
So did his agitated, pacing wife
Though they couldn’t be certain, until
they heard the doctor’s ominous knock, and
his heavy footsteps, carrying him
to the side of the man’s bed

The doctor didn’t stay long
Doctors never do
Whether you’re healthy or sick
In this case, it’s just as well
The doctor’s spotless white coat–
An ugly reminder of death’s ghostly face

From my bed across the hall
I watched the closed white curtain
Surrounding the old man’s bed
Making me wonder what was on the other side
Of the curtain, of life

I prayed my news tomorrow would be better
That God would decide He’s not finished with me
That I might hold my wife’s hand for a little while longer

The Shift in My Poetry

Why so dark you ask? I have been writing a number of “empathy poems’ lately. Some of which may find their way into my new poetry book. Poets sometimes write about themselves and their lives, and sometimes they write about other people, even imagined people. So, there you go. Enjoy your day!

No Freight Trains to the Galapagos

There are no freight trains to the Galapagos
An obvious point to anyone looking at a world map
Nor any way she would forgive herself
For not trying to go places
Off her frayed and tattered life map

Last night she dreamt
She was walking alone on a strange distant planet
Not Mars or Venus, a place without a name
She was looking for something, maybe even somebody
She’d misplaced a long time ago

Night fell, darkness followed
Morning came, no light appeared
In the distance, she heard a faint train whistle
As she peered into the darkness, she remembered
She had given away what she thought she’d lost

As the train whistle grew louder
The darkness slowly receded
A rusted metal sign stood before her
“Purgatory” it said
She remembered then–she had no life