Wednesday, December 20, 2017


  Well, first the poem, then the news.


I used to bodysurf.
It was years ago, as a child.

I lived not far from white sands
    and long curling waves,
from sailboats and oil tankers
that loomed like quiet phantoms
at the liquid edge of the world.

Wearing dark blue trunks,
I would wade in through broken
waves until the brine lapped
softly against my chin.
As whitewater neared, the sea
would drop just low enough that
I could push off and join
the tumult, turned briefly
into a crude, knobby surfboard
    sliding amid the swell
until at last my trunks scooped up
    a little sand, and I found
myself beached between worlds.

Once, while waiting for just
the right wave, I bent my knees
and dropped below one not quite
    big enough, pushed up
to the higher water behind it, and
came down on absolutely nothing.

The sand was gone.

I extended one leg, toes spread
down to find it, but all I could feel
was grit rushing around my foot,
    my ankle, and shin.

There was a moment of uncertainty,
as if the wily sea were merely playing
a practical joke, then on instinct
I began to swim toward shore
where I could once again find sand
to stand on. But, I went the wrong way,
swimming forward, my body slid
back toward those distant ships, limbs
useless as seaweed on the wake.

The joke was over. Fear flashed
electric through my limbs. I sprinted,
kicking and stroking with all my might,
eyes wild and white, face pale, arms
and legs weakening until at last they
turned flaccid and ghostly as jellyfish.

Strength spent, I gasped for air
as my chin dipped into that salty,
half-lit world. And with that air
I choked and gulped at the sea.

Somewhere in the watery depths
of my soul, I began to accept this fate.
I began to accept that I now would join
and merge with the great abyss forever,
that maybe I would find my father there
in the cold blue depths, that the simple
    joys of breath were at an end.

Then, suddenly, a bright orange buoy
splashed near and I heard a voice
howl, “Grab the buoy! Grab the buoy!”

It was just out of reach, and I was still
being pulled out to sea. But I saw him,
a muscular man in glaring orange
    trunks waste deep with fear
in his eyes—he saw me, a lifeguard.
And seeing I could not reach the buoy,
with one great snap of his wrist,
whipped it out of the water back
to his hands. Like a quarterback
from heaven, he heaved back
and hurled that orange buoy as if
he meant to land it beyond the horizon.

It landed just past my head, and with
one feeble hand, I grabbed hold.
My body lifted horizontal as the rope
pulled taught, and for the first time
I could feel current rushing past
every inch of skin. My other feeble
hand took hold and the man full
of muscles reeled me in against
that all consuming tide until I flapped
and flopped onto dry sand, crying.

    I remember looking back
on that great ocean, waves weaving
docile patterns onto the shore,
heart hollow with fear and dread.

When the doctor came in, he asked
me to remove my sunglasses. His
face was granite. He said he wanted
to see my eyes. In that moment,
I came down on nothing and began
            to tread uncertainty.

I removed my glasses, and he began
to tell me about your procedure, tilting
his head forward as he tracked my eyes.
I toed for sand as he talked of polyps
safely removed from your watery
depths. Then he took a breath, almost
imperceptible, and said in dry, measured
tones as grit rushed past my leg,

                       “I found a malignancy.”

  So, yes. We discovered a month ago that my wife has rectal cancer. The tumor itself has since been staged at T4n0, which means it's a very large tumor that has not yet spread to the lymph nodes, though nearby lymph nodes are inflamed. The medical oncologist initially set the staging at 3b, which indicates the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, but the staging may be lowered to 3a or possibly even 2, though the size of the tumor itself along with the inflamed lymph nodes makes stage 2 unlikely.

  This poem came about as I tried to tell my sister what it was like for me to learn about the tumor, using this childhood experience as metaphor for the more recent experience. Perhaps the doctors involved, including the surgeon overseeing the case, could be the lifeguards and the treatment protocol the buoy. But, for the most part, I feel like I've already been swept out to sea. We do try to stay positive, though. That's important.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Before memory

  Most of parts i and ii were excised from “What comes after.” I realized they didn’t really add anything to that poem, but could possibly become a poem of their own. And they did.

Before memory


Do you remember your first thought,
 your first sight? Do you remember

  Can you call back the first time
     I picked you up in my arms
         and touched the pink new
             leaves of your fingers?

                     Probably not.

       These are my moments,
   memories I will forever cherish.

          Yet, you were here.
                  You existed.

      Your life already was. Life,
                          already beyond
        your powers of memory. You,
                             already beyond
                the touch of recall.


  There are many more moments
        I have the privilege
               of holding in mind,
                                     such as

          the first time you stood
    wobbling over your own two feet,
      your first three shaky steps,
         the very first time you rolled
             onto your back, and
                   even your first word,


      You may not remember
             any of it. Still,
                 you were there—
       you existed, lived, laughed
                                and flourished.
  Your heart raced behind your ribs
                          like a rabbit's.
                Lightning arced
     through the plasma in your veins
              and kindled the presence
                               in your eyes.


   One day you will think back
         to your first fuzzy memories,
              maybe a yellow slide
         at the nearby playground,
              or the orange hue
       of cottonwoods turning
    toward winter, or perhaps
singing standards with Lola.

You may find yourself wondering
           where you were before
     blue swings and spiral slides,
        before autumn scents
   and colors, before old songs
     with loving grandparents,
before drifting down from the stars
                 into mother’s womb.

  All I can say is that you were
     here before you remember
   and that all my life
            I sensed you were there,
    long before you were here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What comes after

  I thought I’d try to leave some thoughts on how I eventually came to reach a sort of homeostasis with the fear of death for my son to one day find in the form of this poem. Turned out it’s not easy to put into words. In fact, I’m going to venture out on a limb and say it’s impossible. Such understandings must be discovered—they can’t be taught, disclosed or otherwise imparted. The best I can do is leave a few bread crumbs that may or may not lead my son to eventually finding his own peace with the inexorable reality of the circle of life.

  In writing this poem, I did ask myself how I came to my current place of peace with death. The answers were slow to come even to my own mind. It’s a peace found in the seat of the soul, so deep and so obscure that it evades all attempts to grasp at it. But I did come by many important insights, some of which I found words for. But these words would only mean something to one who has already acquired a similar understanding. To the rest, they would be meaningless as the ramblings of a lunatic—not all that useful for the goal of this poem.

  So what small bits of wisdom could I impart to my son’s future self, considering there’s no way at all to impart the understandings I’ve come to acquire? Well, maybe this is at least a start:

What comes after

One day it will dawn on you:
this is not forever. Like the milk
in the fridge, the multigrain bread
on the counter, the lupine blooms
by the driveway, you too have
an expiration date.

This notion may come with a sudden
sense of shock, electrifying waves
of terror. You may try to imagine
existing beyond existence, awareness
beyond the withering of skin,
the bubbling putrefaction of flesh,
the slow return of bone to dust.

Your imagination may conjure images
to mind of all long decomposed
humors magically resurrected,
judgment at the feet of a golden
almighty, or angels leading the way
to long green valleys rowed with white,
columned mansions. You may imagine
nothing, suspended in eternal, black,
weightless solitude—or perhaps
the eternal peace of a dreamless sleep.

When the time comes, I imagine you
will ask me, eyes wide with wonder,
love and anxiety—me, who merely
helped bring you into being, as if I
had somehow unlocked the secrets
of all—what happens to the driver
of all these years, months, days, moments
once the engine of living has ceased to run.

Though I have also pondered
such questions for a lifetime, I will
have no concrete answer for you.
Though you will find many opinions
and declarations of faith from nearly
everyone else, I will offer mostly mystery.
Though friends and family will speak
with inflexible conviction, as if they
themselves have traveled beyond
the thin, black veil, strode the great
marble halls beyond, and returned
to tell all, I will have no simple response.

What I can tell you is that some comfort
may be found in mystery, the kind
of comfort one finds in looking upon
the full moon at midnight, the soft white
river of stars on a moonless night,
the deep green rolling expanse of pines
from a mountaintop, or the all concealing
blue-green wake of the sea, forever
hurling its thunderous foam on the sands.

I can tell you whole lifetimes are wasted
fearing the unknown, years frittered away
dreading the long, thin shadow that falls
on every brow, the cold, grey hand
that cups every shoulder. I can tell you
that one who spends his days marking
that shadow’s slow approach through
time—who merely passes all waking hours
in solemn wait for that last chill touch—
is one who will never know the wild thrill
of spring blossoms arching up an alpine
vale, who will never wonder at the sight
of massive lenticular clouds amassed over
wide autumn valleys, will never feel the giant
triumph of cresting a rocky peak in the broad
Sierra backcountry, will never test and find
his limits or discover what hidden reserves
of strength lie within—will never
                                                actually live.

I can tell you the question itself is misleading,
for it draws all thought away from where
life is—here, now—to a place beyond
the sound of wind in tall desert cottonwoods,
beyond the touch of morning sun on the cheek,
beyond the smell of sagebrush through wide
open windows, beyond the sight
of thunderstorms lumbering flashes of light
in the distance, beyond the electric taste
of love’s first kiss—beyond all that is living.

A more important question, perhaps, is, “What
happens before we die?” After all, this is where
everything takes place.

And for the most part,
                             you get to decide the answer.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


  Once I finished “Light” in March, my queue was finally empty. So I found myself looking in a folder I long ago named “Backburner” to see what was there. This is the folder where I put files for poems that I started working on, but eventually abandoned for one reason or other. Upon reviewing its contents, I decided the folder didn’t contain anything of interested to me. Inside that folder is another one named “Altogether Abandoned.” In there I found a few old ideas sitting in digital limbo. One was titled “hybridanelle—original marriage commemoration attempt.” I only vaguely recalled what that might have looked like, so I opened it.

  The first 13 lines of this hybridanelle were already written. I tried to think of why I abandoned the poem, and then I remembered. It didn’t really feel like the marriage I was entering into. So I scrapped it and composed “Matrimony” instead, modeled after hurricane Katrina. Much more fitting for my first marriage. The first 13 mystically abstract lines of this unfinished poem were actually more fitting for my current marriage. However, there’s just no way I could re-commemorate it to my second (and this time for real) marriage. My wife deserves completely original poems, such as “Wild Cherry,” written a couple years—and not that many poems—ago.

  So why bring this out of the mothballs? Well, I liked the language of these first 13 lines. I didn’t actually think I could make it work as a full hybridanelle poem, but I thought of this concept of life as a stream and streams converging into one another as they move through the fields of existence, and I decided I’d like to give it a try. So, no longer a marriage commemoration poem—just a poem inspired by the notion of convergent lives, hence the title:


       Consciousness emerged in swirls of color.
          The pliant void composed a shifting stream,
      an ever-changing song of rippling texture.
   Awareness rose and surged in subtle shades of light,
     searching through confusion for companionship and trust
         eventually to join another stream for life.
           Two channels merged to share a mutual course,
          brought to flow as one by karmic forces.
       The pliant void composed a shifting stream,
     singing like a river that curves throughout the night,
    swelled with faint reflections of a darkness steeped in stars.
       Awareness rose and surged in subtle shades of light,
            sent before the hidden crush of pressures
         en route to mingle matters of the soul.
     Brought to flow as one by karmic forces,
       each turbid swell of dream converged and realized
           harmony beyond the scope of individual strains.
              Eventually to join another stream for life,
             each flood progressed with all its sense of self
          through wooded solitudes and desert places
      en route to mingle matters of the soul.
 Condensed from engrammatic vapors, recondite,
     elements of being coalesced until in streams
         awareness rose and surged in subtle shades of light
             amid the grassy sprawl of open spaces
          beneath the floating glow of moonlit clouds
     through wooded solitudes and desert places
  down long cascades past deep brown pools—where lithe
      recollection’s slender shadow below the surface stirs—
            eventually to join another stream for life.
                Like soft white rays refracted through high mists,
           consciousness emerged in swirls of color
        beneath the floating glow of moonlit clouds,
    an ever-changing song of rippling texture
that shimmered down from realms of dream, so faint and slight,
    time held no form and had no bearing until from out this trance
      awareness rose and surged in subtle shades of light,
           eventually to join another stream for life.

  This, my 22nd hybridanelle, was a bear to compose. As I suspected, the refrains used in the first 13 lines were not easily remolded into fresh expressions. It also took me a good while to figure out what I was doing with the meter and end-line schemes. There’s one scheme that doesn’t use end-line prosody all, but related concepts, such as “color” and “texture,” “course” and “stream,” “pressures” and “forces,” and a few more. Pretty interesting.

  The meters, it turns out, switch between pentameters, hexameters and heptameters. Being a bit out of practice, I actually found it difficult to wrap my brain around this complexity, and I kept forgetting to double-check and make sure I’m following the correct pattern. This gave me some insights into why poetry took a 135 degree turn toward gushy chopped prose a couple centuries ago. It can be bloody difficult, and a lot of times the end result is just not what you were hoping for.

Friday, May 26, 2017


  I’m guessing that one day my son will begin asking the big questions. When he does, I hope that some of the insights I’ve gained along the way will be of use to him. The only way most of these questions can be answered is via metaphor.


One day you may ask,
        “What is all this?”

    I will tell you,
as best I understand.

          This is a stream
     fed by rains that fell
                   from the stars.

  We all are streams,
       rolling sliding gliding
    toward distant waves.

  Some tumble from cliff tops;
     some roar down craggy canyons;
 some cascade over boulders;
   some carve out wide valleys;
some slide quietly across grassy plains.

  All converge merge and surge
       into one another, blending
    forever into something new.

              But wait.

          Perhaps these images
  have made you think of water.

              Think more…

     We rained down from the stars.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Let's go down

  There was recently a death in my wife’s family. It was no-one I knew. He was close to her father, however, who now lives with us. When something like this happens, my wife will want to visit one of the Catholic churches in town, presumably to pray for the soul of the departed.

Let's go down

Let’s go down to the masonry
that holds the high-arched doors
and in to the pews beyond them
to offer our inmost prayers.

Let’s go down to the marble font
and cross our heads with the water
as we remember with all our thoughts
one who is no longer with us.

Let’s go down to the heart of the nave
where ancients circle the altar
and bow our heads in the solemn light
that eases the restive soul.

Let’s go down to the effigies
that peer from their quiet coves
and light the vigils with incense sticks
for one who has gone before.

Let’s go down to the redbrick church,
the one where spirits dream,
and kneel at the creaky old wooden pews
to pray for the recent dead.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017


  This was meant to be my son’s 2nd birthday poem for last year, but I had so much difficulty with figuring out how to approach it that I ended up abandoning the effort while I still had time to write something else, which led me to compose “Lines to My Son” instead. Even after a year of visiting and revisiting this poem, recording notes, and writing and scrapping lines, I still found it difficult to figure out how to approach putting it together right up to the last word. There are two things I wanted to tie into it: One, a series of first-time events leading up to my son’s first word; and, two, his fascination with all sources of light right from the first time he opened his eyes.


The first time I saw you
is when you first came to light.
You breached red shadows
and struggled for breath,
managing only a strangled
wheeze—your first breath
constricted by thick meconium.

Your eyes were squeezed shut
as nurses vacuumed tar from
your bronchia, clearing the way
for air to brush past tiny round
leaves deep within your chest.
Then for the first time you cried,
a sound that rattled, lightly shaken
from your inmost branches.

Wrapped in sterile rags, you
were handed to me, and for
the first time I held you, peering
down into your face. I saw there
in your pure pink features, light
radiating from some place beyond
time, reason, comprehension,
piercing through to the deepest,
darkest caverns of my being.

Unsure how best to safely set
you down, I passed you back
to the nurse, who placed you,
tightly wrapped, in a sturdy
wooden bassinet. Exhausted,
you drifted off to dream new
shades of light for the first time
outside the womb, eyes still closed.

When your eyes did open, I was
there, waiting for that first look
into your uncolored gaze. You
took slow sips of the world, orbs
rolling around the nursery until
finally they settled on the wide
amber light that warmed your blood.

After a few days, once your mother
recovered enough, we took you home
and saw to your needs. Meanwhile,
you dedicated the bulk of your efforts
to the arcane arts of movement,
struggling against gravity until at long
last you rolled for the first time
from your belly to face the light.

Before long, you began to discover
deep in your solidifying soul
a hidden power, a resonating
determination to pull yourself up
from prone toward all those many
lights that drew your eyes. You
began with the smallest motion, yet
for you still an effort rivaling colossal
feats of Olympian might. Then
after weeks of training and strain,
for the first time you sat up
                              all on your own.

You looked surprised at first, not
quite believing your success,
then slowly you looked up, face
gleaming a smile of pure triumph,
a hue that soon returned to radiant
resolve as you set your mind
to the enormous task of learning
                                       to stand.

Months passed. You mastered
the craft of rolling, crawling and
laughter until one day I looked
and for the first time saw you fully
upright at the edge of your playpen,
eyes vibrant with concentration,
knees wobbling. With one hand
you steadied new-found balance.
The other reached up toward
light that fell from the floor lamp.

Perhaps on finding your feet
you began to realize a sense
of potential, for your first few steps
soon followed, shaky, arms
outstretched, fingers feeling out
the way. Often you would let go
and for a moment stand free,
wavering like an aspen before
collapsing back to your bottom,
eyes cast up toward visions of light.

Time phased and shifted behind
my sleepless eyes, then suddenly,
in the middle of the living room,
through epic endeavor you rose
to your feet and took three small,
trembling steps across the floor,
hands grasping at only the air. As
you returned to hands and knees,
you lifted your head to study three
bright bulbs suspended beneath
the blur of ceiling fan blades.

Slowly, your steps grew stronger,
more steady. You pushed a walker
this way and that, reveling in your
newfound powers of ambulation.
It was around this time we realized
your amorphic syllables had begun
to take on the first hues of language,
for every time you entered a room
you would point to the fixture
centered in the ceiling and exclaim,

Which a few weeks later we finally
discerned to be your first real word,

  My hope was to elicit a sense of wonder and amazement from the reader similar to what I experienced as I witnessed these first-time events myself without once having to use an, “I felt blah blah blah,” expository statement toward this end. I don’t feel confident about the outcome, however. For me, all poems are a work in progress, so there is every likeliness that I’ll one day come back and try to improve upon it.

  There is still some time to spare before his 3rd birthday, so this may or may not end up being this year’s birthday poem. I’m hoping I’ll find the time and inspiration to write something else instead, but we’ll see.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

At the edge of language

  The poet—the serious poet—spends considerable time walking the hinterlands of language, exploring that boundary between the obvious and the unintelligible. What the poet brings back from the edge may allow readers the unusual experience of ascribing as much, or even more meaning into the words than were ever actually inscribed. To say more would defeat the point of the poem itself.

At the edge of language

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of her
here, where uncertainty swirls into
     mystery, magic, meditation.

What few trees still stand are dead,
black, misshapen skeletons reaching
out through thick mists. This one
might have been an elm once, or
maybe an oak.
                    There is no way to know.

Boots sink into long dead leaves
and grass, submerged to the ankle
in brown, half decomposed meaning.
Every step is a matter of deepest

Something slithers by, almost…
almost catching the eye, a thing
that feeds on detritus left when words,
thoughts, histories fade from memory—
all shapeless within its long, lean gut.

As I carefully lift one foot from a suction
that seeks to make me one with all
things forgotten and lean the other
into a slow, pungent belch, I’ll catch
a glimpse of her, moving in the mist,
part gleam, part shadow, part
understanding. I can almost make out
legs shifting beneath a gown, possibly
a face, and then she’s gone.
                                               I’ll pause
as my weight settles to a fading hiss,
and after a moment call out. There is
never an answer.

                            Still, I come seeking.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

the hermit

  One who aspires toward greatness will eventually find himself alone, peering down on the valleys from which he began. Very few will ever seek after him, and if he has even an ounce of sense, he’ll dash the hopes of those who do and send them back down to the valleys below. The imagery here is taken from stories of poets in ancient China leaving public life for a very simple one, alone on a mountain. Friends and acquaintances would occasionally make the hike to visit them, bringing tea, and a few supplies. These hermits often continued their creative pursuits there on the mountain, needing little more than ink, brush and parchment.

the hermit

i have lived here for years now, here
in this alpine vale, high at the head
of a deep ravine that forks and branches like
lightning, scoring a third the southern face.

at this altitude one must face the sun
or a simple hut will bear no comfort
against the cold. one must gather wood
for the night when pines shade the noon.

in those days i left smoke-filled valleys
for vistas that every day catch my breath.
my feet have spun trails like a spider’s
web, spiraling out through the trees.

my hut, a lean-to really, is but the most
meager of commodities. a hundred yards
this way a hole collects my dung. before
long it will be a hundred yards that way.

every few months a face appears, bobbing
amid the trees as an old acquaintance
seeks me out for conversation and tea.
they no longer ask when i will return.

they bring ink and parchment and take
with them what thoughts have occurred
as i dug up roots, picked wild grains and
berries, chopped wood, or simmered stew.

they tell me these thoughts have found
a following. once in a while a new face
bumbles into camp, seeking the elusive
spring that slaked some thirst within them.

i offer what little i have, and they ask about
the old poet who lives on the mountain.
gently i suggest they may have lost
their way and in the morning point to a path.

i tell them it leads back to the world below,
describing landmarks and hinting at failure.
for too many pilgrims would leave me starved
and dying come winter. they only ever come

with palms stretched open—empty. a red
squirrel barks warily, a brown jay swoops
and caws, and i turn back to meditations
that ultimately yield a small fire that warms

my bones and licks inky shadows dry
on a piece of parchment while i nod off
to the sound of wind or rain—or to the all
pervasive silence of falling snow.

  In many ways, this forms a half-decent metaphor for the reclusive being I’ve become myself, one who still seeks to continue his work as a poet.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


  The imagery here is drawn from an undated journal entry, which is itself likely drawn from a dream. In recently reading it over, I thought that it could be turned into a poem, and so I gave it a whirl:


She emerged slowly, like sun
through mist, and walked toward me.
Her eyes were the color of ice
from deep in an ancient glacier.
Her hair fell in waves around slightly
freckled collarbones like late summer
grasslands rolling in the wind.
raised arms and placed slender
fingers over my shoulders, tilting
bright brows forward as she looked
me in the eyes. Like an aspen leaf
on the gentlest breeze, I trembled,
entranced, overcome. Why would
something so beautiful, so perfect,
emerge from the fog of my life
to find me?
                    There was no time
in the fog, only moments, uncertainty.

In the moment she emerged and lay
cool hands to my skin, insight.

            “Who are you?” I asked. She
only cupped one hand behind my neck,
the other behind my head, and pulled,
gently, until my right cheek took pause
in the curve of her neck.
                                        Here I could feel
her pulse against my jaw, my lips. It felt
like stories, hints of long ago carried on
the bright blood of time to now. It moved
with the cadence of what could be, what
has been.

My blood, so long subdued by the ever
present mist, stirred. She pulled back,
slowly, and with the faintest smile
glowing from her cheeks like the moon,
turned away, taking my right hand.

“Now that you have found me,” she
finally spoke, voice like a still, slow
stream easing over rocks and pebbles,
sliding among grasses and alders, “I will
always be near.”

I took my eyes from her flowing figure,
from the curled sunrise of her hair,
and saw, for the first time ever, shapes
take form in the mist.

                         It was beginning to thin.

  I’ve had dreams like this throughout my life as far back as I can remember. The mood and feeling of the dreams were always similar, though the face and form of the woman would change. It has occurred to me that she could represent my anima, that feminine aspect of a man’s psyche discussed in Jungian psychology. The title could just as well be “Sophia,” as this is the term used for Jung’s final phase of anima development, and I feel the figure in this dream could represent a degree of integration with Sophia, a process that has been ongoing for many years.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016


  Stars and consciousness have so many parallels to my mind. Both form from an accretion of nearby matter. In the case of consciousness, it’s psychospiritual matter. Both condense to a state of hydrostatic equilibrium. In the case of consciousness, this more or less takes the form of the Jungian psyche. Both generate a sort of radiation and light. In the case of consciousness, this takes the form of awareness and understanding. There are more parallels, but they become more difficult and abstract to explore. Suffice it to say, I see the sun in the eyes of my child, a star growing ever brighter and more radiant.


I see in your gaze

                                the Sun,

            tremendous light cast
from the ancient spark of being.
Your face is the uneclipsable
corona of life, and it burns away
            the heaviest fog.

Your laugh falls from the skies
an all pervasive warmth that
raises the downcast petal. She,
no matter how fatigued, stirs
            and lifts smiling eyes.

      Even your tears flare bright,
cries erupting long wide arcs
of plasma deep into darkness,
ultimately to rain down meaning
      on the harshest,
            most distant climes.

when you call on the sacred name,
voice lapping like small waves
on distant, star-lit shores,
in that moment, when your thin
lips part and form with violin vowels,
“Mama,” I see in your face, full
with the scents of autumn,

                                the Moon.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Lines to My Son

  My goal was to have this written for my son’s second birthday. But, although I began working on this poem with six weeks to spare, it is now about six weeks late. This mostly is due to my still learning how to manage and maximize my creative time and energy as a first time parent. Well, first the poem, then a few thoughts:

Lines to My Son

There is a stillness in your eyes
that not a lifetime could disguise,
never mind the mere two years
we’ve shared of laughter, play and tears.

My child, when you cast your smile,
I am compelled to gaze a while
on all the features of your face,
each contour radiant with grace.

I know that sometimes you will cry,
that pain and grief will make you sigh,
but in the end, I hope your share
of peace will far outweigh despair.

I hope that as you grow, a sense
of purpose—meaning—will condense
within your soul until a spring
of inspiration purls and sings.

I know that you will face arrays
of challenges throughout your days,
and sometimes with a heavy heart,
you’ll want to fold and fall apart.

But, son, I hope you’ll come to see
that what is gained too easily
is rarely valued at its worth
and offers only fleeting mirth.

I hope you’ll learn to meet with poise
each obstacle that life deploys
and overcome it with that grace
I see forever in your face.

I know one day that love may lunge
from shadows at your heart and plunge
its ancient kris between your bones
and leave you wretched, wracked with moans.

But if this end should come to pass,
I hope in time you’ll rise at last
and realize deep within your soul
that love is nurtured—not controlled.

I know that fear, with silent tread,
may one day stalk your thoughts till dread
swells acid-like within your chest
and melts all courage from your breast.

If that lean creature ever learns
your scent, I hope that you’ll discern
the way to throw it off your trail,
ensuring all its efforts fail.

I hope you’ll come to see that fear
pursues those thoughts within the sphere
of all the worst of what could be
until it mauls reality.

I hope you’ll learn to contemplate
your blessings and appreciate
the least of things that come your way,
the smallest moments of your day.

I know that sometimes loneliness
may chill you with her gelid kiss
until you crave for any fire
to burn away your dread desire.

But, son, I hope you’ll make your peace
with solitude and grant her lease
within your wide expanse of self
where she reveals one’s inner wealth.

For solitude and loneliness
are only sisters in the sense
that each reflects an attribute
of isolation, but in truth

the two are not at all the same;
one sister lights and keeps the flame
of contemplation, but her kin
instills an anguish deep within.

I know that loss will find your door,
and though you ask, entreat, implore,
he’ll barge into your private place
and carve a lasting, empty space.

I hope, despite the swells of grief
that crash across that jagged reef
of raw emotion deep inside,
you’ll find a way to bear the tide

and build a lighthouse on that shoal
whose spinning beacon may console
with brighter moments from before
you lost the ones that you adore.

I hope that you will find the strength
to mourn your losses, then at length
stand tall, gaze deep into the night,
and let acceptance fill your sight.

I hope with vibrant health you’ll live
till all your hairs turn gray and give
you such a sagely countenance
you’re loved by all with reverence.

  I don’t go into writing a poem like this thinking, “This is going to be written in iambic tetrameters using an aabb end-line scheme.” For me, the pattern emerges on its own, usually in mind as I explore the opening lines and stanzas before writing anything down. Once a pattern emerges, if it emerges at all, I usually stay with it. By the end of the fourth stanza, I decided that variations on rhyme suit the end-line scheme just fine, but that I would also still attempt to use rhyme whenever possible.

  There are five great difficulties explored in this poem, five challenges that I myself have faced and endured throughout the years, mostly stemming from internal issues—perhaps psychological in nature. These are giving up, feeling betrayed, anxiety, loneliness, and loss. There’s more to the poem than this, but as it has occurred to me that some my overwhelming difficulties with these personal challenges may be genetic in nature, it felt important to me to try to use this piece to pass on some of what I’ve learned about them in the hope that he will one day read and gain insight should he find himself facing similar struggles.

  I have no way of knowing if I’ll live long enough to offer him such insights as those I’ve tried to express here by the time he has need of them, and so this poem. Even if I do, it may be that by the time he’s dealing with some of these struggles himself, he’d be more open to taking my thoughts into consideration from this form anyway, written when he was still a toddler.

  My father was gone by the time I was 10. I have no idea what insights he may have had for me. I have no real indication that he even thought of what kind of person I might be as an adolescent or as an adult. As my son grows up, I would like him to know that I thought of him—that I thought of him as a teen, as a young man, as an adult in the middle of life, as an old man nearing the end—that I held hope in my heart every single day that he would have a good life and enjoy the bulk of his days clear to the end. It would have meant something to me if my father had such foresight. I hope this may mean something to him.