Missed You While You Were Gone

Three days, you’ve been away
I’ve missed you
like Charlie Brown missed Lucy
when her family moved across town

Last night, out of habit
I set out two cups for morning coffee
Seeing yours empty this morning
filled my heart with loneliness

Cleaned the kitties’ boxes
without you asking
Fed your bird friends…
all twelve feeders, to the brim

Sensing my missing you last night
the kitties curled up next to me
Lily kneaded my arm
till she fell fast alseep

Even with the sprawling cats
our bed felt king-size empty
without your warm cuddly body
nestled next to mine

The slight hint of perfume
you left on your pillow, reminded me
I’ve loved your sweet scent
from our first date and kiss

Can’t wait to see your black Infiniti in the drive
and watch you size up your slumbering flowers
We hug. I sniff the baby soft nape of your neck
You coo: “Boy, am I glad to be home”

Taking Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine to Dinner at Cracker Barrel

Study consciousness
Eventually you’ll encounter Life Divine
Not nirvana itself, but
Sri Aurobindo’s 2,000-page opus
on consciousness and the cosmos

Not light reading any time
Especially not over dinner
at an exit ramp Cracker Barrel
35 miles southwest of Rolla, Missouri
But with a paper on Life Divine due Saturday
The tome was my travel companion

Everything was fine
until an older couple sat down next to me
They size me up, I size them up
They smile, I smile
The woman speaks first
“That there’s some big book”
I reply: “Yes, m’am, it sure is”
We continued studying each other
I hoped she would probe no further

She fires a follow-up question
“What’s it all about?”
I breathe deeply, finally a few words come out
“Well, it’s a religious book”
At this point, her husband jumps in
“Is that right. Too big for the Bible!”
My stomach knots
I’m a gonner if I tell them about Life Divine
I fudge: “It’s a companion text to the Bible”
Their eyes cross at this point

The woman is at me again: “You a religious man?”
What could I say?
“Why yes m’am, I am”
She hisses, showing her missing front tooth
“I just knowed it!”
“Can’t you tell Herb, just lookin’ at him?”
Ole Herb smiles
I count three teeth missing in his mouth
“Yep, I agree Thelma, you kin just tell”
I’m thinking…oh shit, now I’ve really had it

I try to change the subject
“Food’s great here. I had the chicken and dumplings”
“Sure is. Herb and me eats here every Tuesday”
She’s a bulldog, refusing
to let go of the meat of our conversation
“What church you go to?”
Shit, I’m really dead now
Can’t tell them I’m a cross between
a Tibetan Buddhist and a Unitarian
I lie: “Nazarene”

Herb and Thelma look at each other, and
in unison say: “You here for that Nazarene revival?”
“I’m afraid not, just here on business”
Thelma’s back at it
“You always been a Nazarene?”
I fire back: “Sure have. My whole life”
“We’re Pentacostal
Lord’s blessed us with some fine preachers
Hey, you look like an evangelist to me”
This has gone too far
I feel beads of sweat on my forehead

Suddenly my waiter shows up
I think; there really is a God
“Anything else for you sir?”
“No, just my bill, thank you”
The young man hands me my check
I push a twenty his way
telling him to keep the change

Hurriedly I say goodbye to ole Herb and Thelma
They look confused
I feel for them, but
no amount of words
will heal their confusion
We exchange goodbyes
and I’m gone

I get to my car
Oh shit, I left Life Divine
sitting on the table
I rush back into the restaurant
Heading for the table
I see Herb walking my way
waving and screaming
“Hey, you forgot that big religious book on the table”
I thank Herb, praying
he did not open the book
and see the long-haired bearded Sri in his ashram
Herb looks in tact
I’m relieved

Driving back to the motel
the Sri and I resolve ourselves to room service
for the rest of the trip

Pondering Something Larger

We’re borrowed, from something larger
Not borrowed like a cup of sugar
from the next door neighbor
Nothing that simple, or sweet

We can’t quite grasp this something
therefore, no idea its size, our size
In this case, size REALLY doesn’t matter

This something, beyond space, time
any physical properties, dimensions
No location; neither here nor there

This something, identityless
No face, gender or name
like Yahweh, Jehovah, Brahman

Neither this nor that, because
it has no divisions or parts
like a car, body or solar system

Since we’re borrowed
we don’t own ourselves
We owe it all
to this something larger

Washed Free, Starting Over

torrential downpour, all night
washing away, everything
we worked for, created together
things hoped for, not yet realized, drown
in our own hopeless tears
the ground we planted our lives in, gone

with all lost, we still have each other
two seeds washed clean, waiting
for the morning sun
flooding us with hope, lifting us up
readying us for the new garden
where only new beginnings grow

Fourteen in ’65

Fourteen, the perfect age
Awkward bliss
Time stood still, and
everything in life led to something
Life lesson at fourteen:
Adventures have no deadends

Girls, a mystery deeper than Saturn’s rings
but, worth losing sleep over
Cars, faster, noisier the better
Even in ’65
’57 Chevies, still tops

Vietnam, flaring up
beyond what anyone ever expected
LBJ, President, though he didn’t want to be
Most still wished, Kennedy back from the dead

Churchill, dead, five days after my 14th birthday
Just a famous name to me
until hearing the TV replay
of his We Shall Fight Them on the Beaches speech
Then I understood
why you must fight back, and
even sometimes, pick a fight

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
I Can’t Help Myself
Wooly Bully
My Girl
You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’

Top songs, 1965
Songs still playin’ in my head

We’re 42 years past 1965, but
it’s not too late
to stop in the name of love

A Fall Day Robert Frost Would Adore

Rust-colored leaves, tumble helplessly
from the big front yard maple tree
No wind
Just their time to let go

Stateman-like bluejays, squawk nonstop
Warning all, red-tail hawks circling
eyeing plump mourning doves, in pairs
in the red cherry trees

Two baby garter snakes
wearing bright yellow necklaces
like those girls wear to a debutante ball
writhe on the dusty garage floor

Flowers, enroute back to seeds
Their nectar, still sweet, enticing
monarch butterflies to cling
to their sticky honey

The older man, leaning
against the weathered wooden fence
a spitting image of Robert Frost
casts an approving look my way
I know then, nothing more need be said

At Day’s End in the Forest

Retreating September sunlight
Last traces…
creamsicle-orange glows and streaks
poking through tree openings
Marking day’s end

Rustling sounds draw closer
White-tailed doe, spotted fawn emerge
from forest darkness
Young seedling leaves–
an awaited bedtime snack

Sun’s last rays slip
below an outstretched horizon
Pale blue-gray evening light
descends upon forest shadows
Doe and fawn disappear into their own footsteps

Wanting

I want. All of us do
I become what I want, and
so do you
Like a car’s engine
desire drives us
in the direction of our wants

The Devil’s playground, some say
the root of all suffering
Uncontrolled, victimized by our desire
Too much wanting
and wanting for wanting’s sake
surely leads us all astray

Yet, what is left
when all desire, taken away?
Should we even want
an end to our wanting?
Can we end what is
at the very seat of our soul?

Surely what brings us pleasure
also brings us pain
True of time, money, even laughter
and so much more
A price for everything
no matter what you name

Temper we can
how much we want in life
Done best through sacrifice…
Saying no to more
Passing on second helpings
Giving to others with less

Yet, with our temperance
is there ever an end to wanting?

To Be Young Again

Thoughts race backwards…
when I was a boy

There were challenges
but mostly adventures
not necessarily problems
Growing up issues you outgrew

Life was simpler, certainly than now
Less money, more freedom
Fewer commitments, more open road
Not quite Jack Kerouac freedom, but
lots of room for imagination, and fun

Ideas came easier then
Wild ones, like
being the best baseball player ever, or
a famous world adventurer
Back then, it was ok
imagining beyond your reach
Now, I’m not quite sure

No retreating from the present
Things are great, just different
More people and things to consider
even around small decisions
That’s what adults do, I guess

It’s ok to play hooky…
at least once in a while
Let that inner child dream, play
imagine something beyond his reach
Hey, maybe I’ll be a millionaire

The Rhondas

Three 30-somethin’ gals from the sticks
dressed to the nines, country western garb
singin’, playin’ their hearts out
Stompin’ up and down on the stage

The Rhondas, they call themselves
Don’t know why, but the name fits
Means “noisy” in Welch
Maybe that’s why

Harmonizing, sweeter than honey
Songs ’bout backroads West Virginia
down an’ out factory workers, dirt-poor farmers
distraught mommas, agonizin’ over aimless kids

Just three ole country girls
See ’em walkin’ barefoot down sunny dirt roads
Filling their lungs with music
Lettin’ it all out on a Sunday afternoon

1 in 13,983,816

$330 million
Last night’s Mega Million lottery prize
Not much to Bill Gates
To most people, a whole lot of money

Like Grandma’s apple pie
four winners, four equal pieces
I’m not one of them, though
I bought 50 tickets, hoping
God would smile upon me
sharing His abundance

1 in 13,983,816, the odds of winning
Only God navigates those betting waters
Odds of marrying a millionaire: 1 in 215
Sounds like a better bet
I didn’t do that either

TV in the ’50s

Always on, the ‘56 black and white Philco flickered promises
into crowded living rooms across America
A better tomorrow for working families
All it takes, stare hours at your TV screen
Let the subliminal messages do their work

Wishful thoughts, soaring away with Dinah Shore
You’re in the USA with a Chevrolet
What’s good for GM is good for America

In retrospect, we know better
Back then, what we bought was who we were

Many blamed TV for misdirecting youth
Bigger than life ideas filling their heads
Blame our Philco if you like
but there’s another side:
All those jobs in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, hanging
on whether folks bought the contraption
advertised during Phil Silvers Show

Diversion was our god, aided
by Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers
Making us laugh, rather than cry
as advertising created a nation of consumers
Having was how we found meaning

In another way, our Philcos, Zeniths
and GE TVs helped us get beyond
face-to-face sameness, filling
small towns across America
Hungry for new role models, TV provided them

For those growing up a long way
from New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles
TV sets brought them closer
to the reality, soon changing us all
Perhaps we should be glad someone told us
even if it was Howdy Doody

As September Draws Nigh

Summer plans one final act, readying
to turn over the stage to autumn, whose invitations
out early this year
have captured the hearts of the sun, leaves
remaining flowers and birds

None can resist fall’s impending magical dance of color
its extravagance, spell-bounding beauty
The trees must sleep, after a long hardworking summer
The flowers return to seed, rejoining the earth birthing them
And the birds draw straws, seeing who will stay
and who will flock and head southward

With just a glimmer of sadness, I watch
as September draws nigh
the last of summer drift past my window
and autumn’s glorious color show begin

Our Attitude about Money

money isn’t the devil
some say it is
it’s a reality of our existence
and can be a resource for good

how we come by it matters, and
how we use it is important
not a ticket to happiness, and
many other things are more important

though, it concerns me
when folks disparage money
calling it the root of all evil
saying it doesn’t matter

it also worries me
when people only want money
don’t care about other people and things
believing money and life purpose are the same

our attention manifests the life we have
no more, no less
same is true with money, and
everything else in life

if there isn’t enough money in your life
ask yourself why
explore your deepest attitude about money
it may be an impoverished one

Unleashing the Child Within

children, so inventive
always something new
new things to do
new ways of doing
new ways of looking, and seeing

the child’s mind: nimble, malleable
open to the moment’s presenting
learning…a game
bringing joy and excitement
just for the sake of playing

as we grow older
mountains of beliefs, ideas
ways of being, expactations
bury our inner child

unleash your inner child
challenge him to leap these mountains
carrying you to fresh new starting points
just on the other side

Reflections on Rush Hour

I think of those people
trapped, in their Chevys and Toyotas
with their favorite lame radio talk show host
drinking up airwave poison
inching their way through stop and go traffic

A Dalai Lama moment seizes me:
Somebody taught these folks to drive
but forgot to teach them to think
I smirk, but glancing in the rearview mirror
see myself, also suffering
like the fish swimming in the bowl all about me

Each way, an hour or more
Trying to get somewhere
getting nowhere
Due to a bad hair day, their Imus is gone
A victim of self-combustion
But Howard Stern’s still there
interviewing guys, liking to suck women’s toes

My own fog aside, I cringe
watching the Goth chick next to me
engulfed in a thick cloud of cigarette smoke
Barely making out her University Hospitals parking sticker
I wonder, who’d come to her for healthcare
She passes me
I give thanks her window is up

Many, as they drive
sip and guzzle Starbucks grandes
As I reach my exit
a second Dalai Lama moment occurs to me:
Stop and go means something else to them

Letting Go

Entire books on the subject
You can read them
Some are great
Save yourself some time
Just do it
Let go
Of whatever anchors you
To the pain of wanting

Start small
Let go of something easy
Work up to something harder
Keep going, until you’re free
Letting go is simple
Just don’t hold on
Let go, let God

Showing Up

show up
like the sun, each day
nothing special asked
just be there
provide light, when needed
give warmth, always

special things happen
when we’re fully present
when we set ourselves aside
surrender to the moment
give ourselves to others
by simply being there

it starts by opening our hearts
reaching out with love
holding hands with truth
then, like the sculptor
setting free
what’s always longed to be beautiful

Dedicated to Jim and Elayne Devine
for their caring and sharing.

Meeting James Wright at Dutch Henry’s Bar in Martins Ferry

finally met up with him, one blustery cold friday night
saw him, sitting at the far end of the bar
hunched over a blue spiral-bound notebook
his right hand, like a machine gun
shooting words onto a shadowy white page

the only other time i’d been to dutch henry’s
was with uncle hank when i was eight
as my uncle pushed open the front door
he cautioned me: never bring a lady here
didn’t ask him why
but after my maiden visit
i knew exactly what he meant

i felt so important
just sitting on a bar stool next to my uncle
drinking a coke through a straw
listening in on his conversation with the two burly men
whose massive sandpaper rough hands swallowed mine
when we shook hands
somehow i knew one would ruffle my curly black hair
before our visit was over
jake, the taller fellow, did just that
not once, but twice

i never knew my uncle laughed so much

james looked older than i remembered
from his black and white celebrity photos
but i still recognized him
his heavy, black-rimmed glasses, were a dead giveaway
a balding portly man
his gut hung, like a small pouch of dough, over his belt

i reached him at the end of the bar
just as his left hand grasped the neck of his beer bottle
without letting go of his beer, and
only barely moving his torso
he swung his right arm around
extending his writing hand to me
managing just a hint of a smile
he said with a slight lilt “don, i presume. i’m james wright.”

his hand was soft and warm
i thought it would be rough and cold
from the hard life he had lived
it wasn’t till much later
i saw the thick writing callous on his middle finger
mine was negligible compared to his
but then, so is my poetry

he chugged the remains of his beer
we ordered another round
as i sat down next to him
i strained to read what he was writing
but his handwriting and the darkness prevented me
from making out even a single word
he didn’t offer, i didn’t ask

he asked when i had left martins ferry, and why
it was the why part he was after
i wanted to move on, talk about writing
and what it’s like once your poetry ends
why i left no longer mattered, but
why both of us returned, just for this visit, did
we both knew more than our poetry carried us away
from this near dead steel town along the ohio river

james made me feel like a mirror
allowing him to see himself
at first, i felt like some hyperbole to him
then i realized…
dead men can’t see themselves
then i understood why i was sitting
in the town’s dingiest bar, talking
with the ghost of martins ferry’s poet son

like james wright
i had seen autumn begin in martins ferry in 1963
he was long gone from this place
and well on his way to infamy
i was still there (here)
an aspiring player, galloping terribly against other young men’s bodies
on shreve high school football field

back then, every night i went to bed
dreaming about becoming somebody important
hoping to escape the choking smoke of the mills
and someday make a difference in the world
here i am 44 years later, literally dreaming
about meeting a dead poet in a bar
locals would remember far longer
than their town’s poet laureate

isn’t it odd how dreams and reality stare back at each other
not only in poetry
but also in fanciful meetings with long-gone poets?

#####

Author’s Note: Like the poet James Wright, I grew up in
Martins Ferry, Ohio. Wright died in 1980. Dutch Henry’s
is still serving drinks, and it’s still not someplace you
should take a lady. Someday I plan to sit at the end of the bar
and write a poem.

The Monarchs on Point Lobos

monarch butterflies, following their destiny
traverse the rockies and sierras in magical caravans
at the right moment, coming to rest in dense clusters
in monterey pines and eucalyptus plants on point lobos

perhaps it’s the call of the sea lions
catching rays on the staggered jagged rocks
or just their hearts beckoning them
to carmel’s deep peace and grandeur

in unison, their wings flutter in the cool ocean breeze
sweeping across the enchanted peninsula
always in pairs, they break away from the clusters
finding their way into the sunny meadows
flirting with the fragrant douglas irises and coffeeberry shrubs

until march, the monarchs call point lobos home
a safe haven where god stands watch
performing miracle after miracle
and where wintering monarchs invite their aquatic friends
the seals, sea lions, otters and whales
to help paint the breathtaking canvas

Larry’s Turning Point

the teachers called larry slow
kids were not so kind
to them, he was the village idiot
from the other side of the tracks

as a special education student
larry was stigmatized, ridiculed, teased
and treated as less than everybody else
though the butt of other boys’ jokes, larry played along
wanting attention, of any kind, from his classmates

teachers and the principal tried their best
to stop the boys’ malicious pranks
they were given detention
notes were sent home to their parents
nothing stopped them

sometimes problems solve themselves
that happened in larry’s case
one day, during morning recess
the boys convinced larry to remove his clothes
and run naked through the hallway

kids flooded the area
laughing hysterically, as larry emerged from the restroom
and began his first streak
he forced a smile
but his embarassment was obvious

then it happened
larry suddenly turned around, facing the boys
their laughter stopped abruptly
as they beheld, by far, the largest penis
any of them had ever seen in their lives
bigger even than their fathers’

the principal rushed to larry’s aid
covering him with his suitcoat
larry seemed grateful for the help
but pleaded with the boys to keep laughing
their laughter made him feel a part of them

after the streaking incident
the boys’ pranks and teasing stopped immediately
and for some reason
the girls suddenly took a liking to larry

Note: True story from my childhood. Names changed
to protect the innocent. Ok, I embellished just a little.

An Old Woman’s Memories of Her Father

the old woman sits on the park bench, alone
with her memories

most vivid, those from long ago
like in 1936, her father teaching her to drive

she still sees the dark gray ‘32 ford cabriolet
smells the black leather seats
and hears the sputtering sound of the engine
as the car climbs the steep hill near their house

fighting the tears, she remembers the ford
sitting in the garage, untouched for 3 months
after her father went off to the war
he never returned from

she still sees the chair, at the head of the table
where her father sat, empty
long after her mother died

now, she sits alone, remembering
small parts of her life, just before
darkness falls on the park bench
and death removes all memories

When a Man Grows Old

he wonders where his life has gone
with so little of himself left to get up in the mornings

the playful boy has a new home
and now walks the banks of the river
skipping stones with other boys

the young builder puts away his tools
to watch other young men build things

the wise gray-haired gentleman
living to counsel others
forgets more than he remembers
and concentrates on not spilling his morning coffee

the old man, living all week for a sunday walk
just sits in his chair, watching birds on the feeder
thinking of all that has been
wondering why autumn leaves surrender to the winter snow

A 1933 Ty Cobb Baseball Card

ty cobb, a.k.a tyrus raymond cobb
baseball hall of famer
driven man born in rural georgia
card #1 in goudy’s 1933 baseball card series

to teammates, the man always getting the needed hit
a guy who could steal home
as easy as bonnie and clyde robbed banks
but also the surly, arrogant sob nobody wanted to room with

to opponents, a ruthless competitor
sliding spikes up into second basemen
the devil sneering and glaring
stopping you dead in your tracks

to his friend “shoeless” joe jackson
a “stop at nothing” batting champ rival
one distracting joe at the plate
just to throw off his hitting

to fans, a magnificent hitting, running machine
they’d cheer each time he’d step to the plate
and too afraid to jeer
when he went down swinging

to detroit, the main reason fans showed up at tigers’ games
in 3,000 games, almost 4,200 hits
yet a man with few friends in the city loving his gamesmanship
perhaps that’s why henry ford never built a car called the “cobb”

to history, one of baseball’s greatest, but also
a player whose racial slurs made tempers flare
a man who thought, to his last game
negroes should always play in a separate league

a legend in so many other’s minds, but not in his own
those knowing ty cobb say, to himself, just a boy
trying not to disappoint his father
and go home a failure

to me, a prized 1933 goudy baseball card
a surprise gift from my wife
enjoying the hunt for trophy cards
even more than me

to the depression era boy, opening the waxed paper wrapper
finding the “georgia peach” in the pack, sheer uncontrolled delight
propelling him, like a rocket, through the neighborhood
proudly sharing his good fortune with envious friends
for his hand was the first to hold the card, now in mine

to those caring nothing about baseball cards
especially old musty smelling ones
just a colorful piece of cardboard
getting in the way of the slab of gum in the pack

in the larger scheme of things
a 74-year old door to history
kept open by someone
hoping others would walk through it someday

life doesn’t stop for us

life doesn’t stop for us
like some bus, picking us up, dropping us off
there’s no stopping what’s always been
and without reason
reinvents itself moment by moment

it just moves through us
that’s all it’s supposed to do
it’s not yours, or mine, to keep
given what it is
let’s not stand in its way
try to slow it down, or
even speed it up

don’t believe me?
let’s hold our breath
as though that changes anything
eventually, we’ll breathe
and life continues on

in case we’re wondering
death brings no end to life, only us
think naming things stops their becoming?
think again
better yet
just let life go on, and
let’s get out of its way

Trust Yourself

Don’t doubt yourself. Submit to the force of your own trust. You’ve survived worse: reams of self-doubt over a lifetime, plaguing you like death. You want others’ confidence. How can they, when there is nothing but terror and trepidation written on your face? Change it all. Trust yourself.

Note: If Charles Simic, our new Poet Laureate, can get away with this style, can’t I?

Sit-in Roadshow Stops in Tucson

Scorching hot mid-May morning
UA campus, Tucson
Just a week following Kent State
In psychedelic-colored secondhand school buses
faded tie-dyed VW vans
and even a few in slick ‘57 Chevies, they arrived

Pouring into the Park Avenue neighborhood
the unexpected California sit-in roadshow
clogs the western campus entrance
Throngs of half-naked, long-haired people
Some say, 20,000 strong
My guess, at least a couple thousand
beaded, bearded, barefooted, stoned Hippie freaks
descending, like outer space aliens
overpowering campus and city police
National guardsmen arrive, dressed to kill
Even they couldn’t disperse the sit-in
lasting two long timeless days

Joints burning well into the night
That familiar sticky sweet smell hovering
like a thick smoky cloud over campus
Enough for a contact high
just walking through the motley crowd
The dope was one thing, but for me
the music and dancing took the cake
Upon reflection…
maybe even better than Woodstock

Then, without warning
on the morning of the third day
they left, as quickly as they came
Taking nothing, leaving only
thousands of MJ roaches, empty wine bottles
and their handmade Make Love, Not War signs
Next stop? Santa Fe

A Soldier’s Last Songs

the eighty-two year old man
with the chalky white skin
and the permanently folded hands
lying in the casket
was the only one to know
the true reality at hand

his ability to see, no longer blinded
by his eyes, and other senses
his mind no longer gets in the way of his spirit
which waited all these years for release
he sees, in a different way, the shadowy figures
lurking, and flying about the room
like ancient winged creatures
right out of the alchemists’ Rosarium philosophorum

visitors paying last respects pour into the room
the shadowy figures multiple in number
like a mushrooming chorus
singing one familiar song after another
like the song of the children
where sons and daughters stand over their dad’s body
crying to be held just one more time
like the song of the grandchildren
wishing one more visit
to get to know the father of their parents
like the song of the wife
begging her husband to return to their bed
that tonight she might not sleep alone
there are no brothers or sisters
so this song, for now, goes unsung

then, the song of the friends, mostly older
streaming past the open casket, offering prayers
wondering when their time will come
among them, the man’s veteran friends
who sing the final song, the soldier’s song
reminding all of death’s disinterested stare

tears fill every eye in the room
as the haunting sound of taps
washes into the parlor
bringing with it
a legion of uniformed men
young and old
not from just one war, but all wars
one by one, they march past the casket
and with their voices lift up the man
and take him home

In Memory of Marie’s Father, Jack Keck

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

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.

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

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.

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).

The Night Grandma Died

Three wonderful years
Grandma lived with us
when I was in high school
in St. Clairsville.

She died one cold January night,
which I will always remember
as a night that took our breath away.
The night that made me realize
that life is so precious to us
because we have only so much of it.

In the back bedroom,
that used to be my room,
she cheerfully lived with us.
Never a bother.
Always a joy.
Always willing to help
as best her arthritic hands could.

She died in my bed–
the bed I slept in
for two-thirds of my childhood life.
The bed that stayed warm
even long after she had departed.
A warmth that assured me
our love for each other
would never die.

She cried out just once
before her last breath, and then
the house grew stone silent,
as we sat around her bed,
without words,
waiting for the ambulance
to take her small empty body away.

She was gone
and we knew it,
but still we needed to hear
someone else say the words:
she’s gone.

So much was unsaid
as they caringly took her body away.
I had questions,
but they wouldn’t bring her back.
So why ask them?

I wanted to cry
but wasn’t ready to
the night she died.
The next day,
as I touched her worn Bible
on the bedstand
she brought with her from her house,
the tears came.

I remembered her petunias,
that overflowed the green flower boxes
on her front and side porches.
And I remembered how
she never locked her doors
because she said
nobody could ever take away
what God has put in my heart.

I decided then that my life,
like my grandmother’s,
must be a blessing to others.
I knew then
that anything done in life with heart
makes a difference.
I knew then
that one of my jobs in life must be
to carry on my grandmother’s undying love.