Winter Paints December on Lake Erie

If you look closely, you will see
The masterpiece Winter painted
Along mighty Erie’s shore
In the darkness, well into the early morning light

You will see his fondness for ever so subtle shades of gray
How one by one he bends, sheaths the tall ornamental grass
In rounded silvery whiteness
And how he paints ripply footprints at the water’s edge

If you look closely, you will see
The fluttering gulls in the distance
Seemingly small, yet not insignificant
Every detail a pixel of life

There’s more, if you look closer
If you’re willing to brazen the biting wind
Like the pile of jagged sticks, and mossy green rocks from summer
Now a single creamy white ice sculpture

And if you hold your eyes and heart wide open
You can read the painter’s signature
Written in the battleship gray sky—
December

Who Are You?

If somebody asked you
what’s your story–
What would you say
What answer would you give
that’s completely unrehearsed
Without presupposition
Unconditioned
Absent any pretense
Just being–
in the gentle spring breeze
Steadying us
Yet blowing us away
Like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine

feelings beyond words

we feel things at times
that go beyond words
exceeding that something inside
that wants to express

yet we know
deep down inside, we know
that we’re alive–
feeling beings–
sensing our way through life

we never know when
it might come back to us

an old high school photograph
could whirl us back in time
helping us remember what we forgot
at times, things we never knew
had become a part of us

it’s always in the silence
when the mind is still
and the heart is free to roam about
mending itself
knitting back together lost parts of us
forgotten things that long to be remembered
giving back to us
that sense of who we really are

What Shores Us Up

What shores us up isn’t always pretty
Like the mass of broken and jagged concrete,
the rusted orange and brown iron reinforcing rods,
and the bunches of faded red paving bricks
that struggle daily to keep the lake at bay
Securing the land on which we live

We need infrastructure in life to stay strong:
retaining walls, friends, values, kitchen sinks,
police departments, militaries, yoga studios,
meditation cushions, and roads and highways
Yes, even sewers to carry away the waste in our lives–
the parts of us we shed to stay alive

Without these things, we’d surely fall apart
and wash away like the yellow and brown leaves
the creek dumps into the lake on this November day
Like a mother’s love that helps us trust
Even a father’s presence that gives us courage
So we may someday shore up our friends

No Reasons

Some people say there is a reason for everything in life
God’s will, cause-effect relationships, higher purpose, their will
I’ve said the same thing on many occasions
But at this moment, as I gaze out over the city and lake
I don’t believe there is a reason for anything
No Divine purpose or plan we’re a part of
No higher good to be served by suffering
No reason to deny our joy

As I gaze out over the city and lake
I marvel at life’s beauty, its splendor
But I see no higher purpose to be served
by Cleveland, Lake Erie, not even my gazing

I see no reason for any footnotes, endnotes,
or cited references of any sort
for what moves in and out of my field of vision
My forever limited view of the world

Some people say there is a reason for everything in life
As I gaze out over the city and lake
without purpose or expectation
I see no reason for anything in the world
except my own hopeless clinging to life
through all my useless reasons, causal explanations
And most all, my wanting for there to be more than there is

The Small Dark Cabin in the Woods

The small dark cabin in the woods is lost
in the daylight hours
when the sun tangos with orange marmalade leaves
barely hanging on, and soon
to be violently swept away
by the biting November winds
begging them to dance the final dance

Just past six pm
as the sky moves from gray to black
uneven puffs of sooty black smoke drift, then bellow
from the faded red brick chimney
that will soon disappear into the night
Well before the barn owl calls out, and
not long before the waxing crescent moon
casts faint shadows on the front steps
of the small dark cabin
where the white-bearded old man counts his days
hoping he will outlive the November winds, and
see again the soft morning light

To Mary on the First Day of the Rest of Her Life

Some days seem dark and bleak
Words of hope hard to speak
It feels like no one cares or knows
Appreciation lost, never shows

At these times, we oft forget
Hope’s not lost, no not yet
Good times, bad times, parts of life
Live in love, not in strife

We have but so many years
Live them well, both tears and cheers
All just lines in dusty history books
Babbling sounds, far off brooks

Stay in the flow, easy come, easy go
Put up your sail, winds of change blow
Some place new calls your heart
There you’ll find your life restart

First Take on Bratenahl

A cloistered place by the lake
Where old things still predominant
Surprisingly over new things
Yet new life abounds
Both imagined and real

A museum of sorts
Where old names reign higher than new names
Where quiet faces stand longer
In the mirror of time
Reflecting a familiar playful benevolence

A place where ultimately
The water washes away everything
Including the deepest things harbored inside us
Even our conditioned moorings
Holding onto us, as we hold onto them

Bratenahl, its own place
Yet a part of something larger
Something deeper
Something indelibly Cleveland
Yet one step removed

a simple pointer

all things, parts of one thing
all places, connected to each other
all people, one body, mind and spirit
the whole of time, contained in each moment
every beginning, also an ending
every ending, an opportunity to start over
every thought, impermanent, without form
birthing yet more impermanence
all poems, simply pointers
to that which lies beyond

Passion’s Fire

Cherry red fire engines awakened me this morning
Blatant reminders of all the unkept promises
Littering my life
Dividing me
Drowning today’s sun in yesterdays

Their ladders fell just short of me
“Go up they screamed!”
But deep inside I knew I could climb no higher
No steps left, nowhere up to go
This is as far as I can go in this life

Our passions can destroy us
Consume our goodness, drop by drop
Till nothing but they remain
The only saving grace is this:
Fire cannot feed on itself
Eventually even it comes to an end
When there’s nothing left to burn

I Can’t But Wander by The Lake

I can’t but wander by the lake
Inhale her beauty at daybreak
Watch her waves thrash about
In my mind there’s no doubt
Something mighty makes her dance
The very breath of God perchance

Her color changes with the sun
Aquas, blues, grays undone
The gulls adore her for a reason
Hover, soar, dive each season
Her rocky shore takes a beating
Her waves advancing, then retreating

Boats and freighters ride her waves
Carefully though to avoid their graves
One by one they make their way
Return they will another day
She plays with them like tiny toys
A game that she so enjoys

I can’t but wander by the lake
Each breath I take for its own sake
Watch her waves thrash about
In my mind there’s no doubt
Something mighty makes her dance
The very breath of God perchance

2 AM Reflections on Life

Sometimes the only time
honesty comes out
is at 2 AM
when the house is quiet
the sky has fallen irreversibly black
and the background noise overtakes
the foreground noise you call your life

Sometimes the only time
you truly hear
the pain of your deepest unfulfilled dream
is when the heat of your desperation causes you
to kick off the covers
and really look at yourself

Sometimes you realize things at 2 AM
that you have avoided all those years
you thought pretending would somehow save you
from facing the darkness that birthed you
and has followed you around
every waking moment of your life

Sometimes you glimpse the pattern
running through all your words, even your silence–
the pattern preventing you from letting go
of even the futile nonsense awakening you at 2 AM
claiming to be your life

War-Torn Autumn Leaves

The woods outside my window are war-torn
Filled with red, orange, yellow soldiers
Fighting with each other, themselves
Who can standout most gloriously

A perennial war they fight
From rounded treetops
Through jagged branches
To dark moist ground below

There’s no winning the battle of color
All pushing, shoving, name-calling in vain
Eventually all leafy soldiers brown
And the snow hushes all clamoring

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

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

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

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

The Liar

It’s not just his evening drinking
Drowning out the make-believe day he lived
It’s how he sees himself, or doesn’t

It’s the endless anesthetizing lies
That strip him of his real skin
Leaving just the flawless plastic sheath
He draws around himself every morning
As he mindlessly shaves at the mirror

He doesn’t get it
That life is much simpler, and definitely easier
Than keeping all the lies straight
Like the thick noose about his neck
He claims is a Charvet necktie

My only regret is I haven’t the guts to tell him
People like you best when you’re real
And that they smell bent truths, like rats
Crawling from a liar’s rectum
Desperately trying to get inside you
To turn you into something you’re not

He keeps looking
Stumbling through the shadows–
Over the mound of empty bottles in the kitchen
He hides there–in the bottles
Swimming down each one
Hoping he’ll find the truth
At the bottom of the bottle, or anything
Even the cold, smooth white pine box
They’ll bury him in someday

I wish I had the guts to tell him
I’m just like him–
Lost, afraid, lonely
Seeking a way out of the entangled web
I’ve spun, and called my life
Maybe if I told him, he’d wake up
Maybe if I told him, I’d hear my own words
And I could be who I really am

Blue Spring Beauties

From a distance
I watched you dance
Like a sea of tiny blue stars
Dreamy circles you waltzed
Never missing a step
Perfect harmony with the wind

Inching closer
I saw your sweet smiles
Blue spring beauties
Forever in tune
With that something larger
Casting a spell over me

How lucky seeing you dance
Your heads held high
Identical green dresses you wore
Like velvet
Shimmering in the sun
Graceful as only a flower can be

I felt you so close
As only a chosen lover can be
Dance with you I did
My heart filled with glee
Now I must go
A date with Emily Dickinson to keep

Click here to see the blue spring beauties