Monday, January 18, 2016

The Old Pain


  My sister has commented in the past that I seem to be most drawn to reading and appreciating poetry that deals in some way with the subject of death. Perhaps. Some of my favorite, influencing poems are “Sunshine,” by Robert Service, “The Legend of the Organ Builder,” by Julia Dorr, “The Last Man,” by Thomas Campbell, and “Derelict,” by Young E. Allison. Each of these centers solidly around the subject of death in its own way. “Sunshine” follows the final thoughts and feelings of a man whose wife has died as he himself succumbs to the same ailment that took her. “The Legend of Organ Builder” tells the story of a young man who wins fame by building a legendary organ that plays of its own accord wherein he arrogantly abandons his bride believing she betrayed him and later, when he realizes his mistake, returns home from abroad just in time to attend her funeral—during which he himself dies. “The Last Man” sets your mental vision on the remains of a dead Earth where the last living human speaks to the setting sun, knowing full well that he himself is soon to follow. “Derelict” leads you across the deck and through the holds of a derelict ship where all hands have perished during a mutiny, ostensibly triggered during a bout of drunken revelry.

  So maybe it is no wonder that I find myself drawn to the subject as a poet.

The Old Pain


There are too many anniversaries
that haunt the days and years as they go by
and all too many treasured memories
that stir within the old pain to a sigh.

This is the day we met, the maple leaves
that flourish by the driveway, then as now,
were sunset red and swaying in the breeze,
dancing down to dress the walk below.

We paused amid the fumes of regular,
eyes locking for a moment like a spell
was cast between the rooftops of our cars,
enchanting us into a mutual thrall.

By time this maple tree had filled its crown
with lush green cover, we assembled all
our friends and family, and made a vow
to watch as one its colors fade and swell.

The months that followed blurred to a montage,
of salient years, each moment lived in full—
then all at once the sheen of that mirage
dissolved to barren sheets of salt and soil.

The call came in the evening as the sun
sent slanting shades of light across the play
of leaves that only barely had begun
to bob out infant hands in tremulous sway.

Your splintered bones lay tubed to life support—
I just assumed long hours kept you late.
It never once occurred to me your heart
beat faintly in the latexed hands fate.

I raced to reach your side, to touch your hand,
to seek some indication from the staff
that you would be okay, your golden band
would not become a pendant cenotaph.

But then the surgeons came who strove to hold
your spirit tethered to your heedless form.
They bade me sit—my limbs grew weak and cold
as they explained your limbs were merely warm.

The lightning storm of self behind your brows
had lost its charge—the person that you were
no longer lived within the clay, and now
the clay was all that lived, and nothing more.

For months I hovered near and watched your eyes,
your cheeks, your hands, your every subtle curve,
for any sign that you were still inside,
alive in some mysterious reserve.

But there was nothing, just the rise and fall
of ribs responding to the steady drone
of air pumped through a plastic tube to fill
your lungs that would not function on their own.

Your bones were mended, lacerations healed.
The nurses kept the pressure sores at bay.
For all of this, your soul could not be hailed
back from the stars into that quiet clay.

Insurance coverage tapped and savings gone,
there was no choice except to make the call.
The doctors came—with somber denouement
you were declared as unrecoverable.

I held your hand in both of mine. Machines
were gently disconnected. Line graphs
that danced desultory rhythms on the screens
lost all expression to an air of grief.

To think it happened only blocks from here,
close enough I might have heard the sound
of metal smashing, sirens speeding near
to lift your shattered body from the ground.

To think that as the surgeons cracked your chest
and opened up your skull to free the blood,
I watched the evening news, reclined at rest,
and snacked on crackers in a tranquil mood.

It’s fitting, then—I guess—these maple leaves
turn red as gore around the time we met,
a keen reminder that our vivid lives
lay at the mercy of an unguessed fate.

This is the day we met, a day of cheer—
or so it was a million years ago.
Your ashes dream throughout the tireless years
above the hearth—a ghostly afterglow.

  Maybe I use poetry to in some way explore and seek understanding into the concept of death. Maybe the inevitable has so occupied my thoughts since I was still a toddler that it only comes naturally to me now. Maybe it is the one thing we all share, no matter what. Even if there might be some immortal among us, walking through the ages observing our histories, he too must eventually die as the sun expands and incinerates the upper mantle from of our world. Death is something every living thing has in common. It is a bond we all share. So, then, is tragedy, loss, and finding some way to live and move on.

Monday, October 26, 2015

i found God


  Photos of Aylan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian refugee who drowned in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Bodrum, Turkey, have haunted my thoughts for several weeks now.

i found God


cradled in the pensive palms of earth,
his head rocked slightly in the gentle surge,
caressed by waves that murmured quiet prayers;
his arms lay pale and tranquil at his side,
his legs pulled partly up as if in sleep—
perhaps he slept, but he would never wake.

eyelids lightly closed on sunken dreams,
a cherub cheek lay pressed against dark sands;
and clothes that only hours before were filled
with flames of life and curiosity
now covered only stillness like a bruise,
a shroud still dripping fathoms’ worth of rheum.

peace was on his brow, immeasurable—
such contrast to the violence of his plight;
what circumstance would bring a child here
curled sleeping cold and graying on the shore,
his shrieks of laughter silenced to a sigh
caught strangled in the throats of passersby?

this is God, i thought, in all his glory—
we praise with words his name, then turn and plunge
him flailing in the dark of angry seas
until his strength plays out and every breath
is filled with brine—and sudden quietude—
just flotsam on the altars of the deep.

yes—i found God on the beach today,
the seagulls circled high above his head
and cried their long and steady mournful calls;
the people saw him and they knelt in prayer,
hands clutching at their heaving, hollowed breasts,
all hope of penance ripped from out their souls.

  If fatherhood has given me anything, it is an incredible pain in my chest at the sight of a dead, abused or impoverished child. I see the eyes of my baby son in the face of every child. I've heard it said that God is revealed in the face of our children, in their innocence, love and wonder. If this is true, then there is no hope of salvation for any of us, for we are all responsible and we all bear the shame of such atrocities.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Aural Borealis


  This is my 14th trisect, by far the most challenging of them all for me. First the poem, then some thoughts:

Aural Borealis


Vibration

Her voice began in a furnace where blinding flashes of light
arced through scraps of metal until they swirled in a pool
of fiery molten fluid, drawn through a running cast
to red hot beams that slowly dimmed to a charcoal gray.

Her voice remained congealed within those cold gray billets
until at last they were moved once more into the fire,
reheated to a yellow that rivaled an alpine sunrise
then rolled into burning coils of thick unfinished wire.

Her voice emerged like a mist—heavy, cold and gray—
clanging anemic pangs with every shift and shock,
until it was drawn through the eyes of a series of shrinking dies
and thinned into tensile threads of spidery, silvery hue.

Her voice awakened at last, a vivid reverberation
borne aloft on the wind to dance over rolling hills,
chasséing amid the bunchgrass, jetéing through the sagebrush,
and pirouetting through the air with flying seeds.


Resonance

Her frame was born in the grip of weathered, ancestral hands,
leveled against the kill, for when the shaft was flown,
the hunter’s ears were piqued by a sound that yet remained,
inspiring him to hunt for a means to play the same.

Her frame took shape in the calloused hands of inspiration,
coaxed into living form from scraps of wood and skin
by ancient artisans who notched imagination
in ornamental bows that flew but melodies.

Her frame evolved in marble halls that harbored kings,
scales and chords expanding until resistance formed
a pillar to hold against the pull of hallowed strains
and serpentine harmonic curves to relieve the same.

Her frame outgrew the very hands that gave it being,
bursting forth a will that of its own accord
would volley out barrages of elegance and meaning
on airs reechoed over undulating lands.


Serenade

Her breath is a wind that brushes gently through the desert,
stirring the stained glass petals of Venus’ looking glass,
exciting wild bergamot atop green towers,
and swaying deep-throated harebells lightly on their stems.

Her hum is a feathery rain that tickles arid sands,
drifting down from downy skies until all ears
relax for a moment from the wary, watchful strain
that haunts and harries every living thing through life.

Her chant is the purl of a spring high up a narrow canyon,
wild mint and licorice gathered round the edge
of small, translucent pools wherein the heavens ripple
impressionist renditions of hawk and thunderhead.

Her call is a shower of light that streams over emptiness,
distant mountaintops and nearby shrubby hills
dissolved into a silhouette that circles round
beneath the shimmering flow of relativity.

  The inspiration behind this piece is two wind harps, both conceptualized and created by New Mexico resident, Bill Neely. Most people know the wind harp as a wide, narrow box with a few strings upon which one may close a window in order to force air through them. These two harps, however, are shaped like the concert harp and larger than life. The first, referred to by its sculptor simply as “the NFO windharp,” stands 20 feet tall and weighs 1600lbs. The second, called “Tempest Song,” was commissioned by the owners of the now defunct Traditions shopping center about smack in the middle of New Mexico and weighs in at 3000lbs at 24 feet in height.

  “Tempest Song” was the first of the two wind harps I chanced to visit, in 2002, actually driving out to New Mexico to see and listen to this living, musical instrument after stumbling across some information about it online. The experience was somewhat ruined by noise from the close proximity of Interstate 25. Upon returning home, I sent its creator an email along with a copy of the poem inspired by my visit, and I was invited to visit the first of the two wind harps on his private property the next time I made it out that way. I made it a point to take him up on this offer two years later, spending a night under the soundboard of this 20 foot harp—a wonderful and somehow enlightening experience. It has ever since been my intention to try to write a poem worthy of that first harp, remembering that night under the stars listening to her sing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Wail


  Sometimes his cry would shriek through me and tear at my bones. There would be moments where I was sure I was going to go insane as I tried in my clumsy way to find and meet his need. But there were other times when I was just moved... Moved to the point of tears and chest-splitting empathy.

Wail


Your cry is the sound of blue
         swallowtail butterflies
ever so slightly teasing the wind.

With every tear-streaked shred
      of your being you call out,
red-faced, to your maker—Hear
and heed what I know
                       no words to ask.

But all I hear is the beauty,
   the flicker of painted wings
bobbing amid bunchgrass
   and tall desert dandelions,
      singing a call to nectar.

  It's time for me to accept that this burgeoning life is as much a part of my creative spirit as my own years have been. I have decided that I will begin writing whatever fatherhood poem ideas pop into my head. Maybe it won't be all that long before I can produce a small book from these poems.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sunrise


  Malaya will be one year old on the 22nd. I am going to try to write a poem every year to commemorate his birthday. As it occurred to me that he may one day want to hear about the circumstances surrounding his birth, I decided that his first year poem could serve as an archive of memory and impression as much as a commemoration.

Sunrise


You were born in starlight, stardust
   congealed, comingled with blood,
under the harsh, cold fluorescent
      glare of breath, suffocating for air.

It was the shortest night of the year.
   Your heart began to falter in the warm
red canal, so we nodded our assent and you
      were cut from the belly of mystery.

First light had not yet grazed the east
   when you were lifted, barrel-chested,
from your ancient, ancestral pond into
      cold, thin, arid space. Your round

orbs hid behind frail pink lids, squeezed
   so tight your nascent dreams moved
etched against them. And your face,
      it was wrinkled with screams,

yet no sound passed your uncut gums.
   A latexed finger reached in, swiped
meconium from behind tiny tonsils, and then
      you rattled a brief, panicked wheeze.

The dimmest of stars fell back into night,
   the space between ever so slightly
lightened. An amber tube snaked down
      past those tonsils and pulled up thick

green fluid, and when it finally returned
   you struggled with all your might
to slake some unbearable thirst for meaning—
      A quavering cry spilled from your lips.

The faintest whisper of halo gathered
   along the rim of eastern hills. Thick silver
scissors appeared in my hand as pale
      white gloves held you still. A voice

broke through my wonder, “You cut, Dad.
   You cut the cord.” I trembled—dizzy—
starting to comprehend your fear, but I
      couldn’t say, “No.” The now of this

moment already began to phase into then.
   Stainless steel bit down on that organic
corridor you followed from far-away realms
      of dream into being, cutting you free.

You were cleansed, briskly, like an old doll,
   swaddled in bright white towels, then
passed into my uncertain arms. Warmth
      of your newness pierced through me.

From the hills the halo gathered strength
   and began to lift—More stars drifted back
behind its veil. In my arms you drifted back
      to sleep, exhausted by the large ordeal

of becoming. A wooden bassinet wheeled
   out before me, transparent walls rising
from sturdy, light-grained panels. I balked,
      unsure how to lay such perfect frailty

safely down. Slender hands, showing
   signs of age, grace and motherhood
reached out to guide, half lifting from my
      arms your towel cocoon. Tiny round

nostrils peered out from the layered folds,
   drawing silence from well-trained chaos,
exhaling stillness as I wheeled you along,
      trailing behind a periwinkle gown down

sterile corridors through a series of wide,
   magnetically sealed doors to a room
where tiny round nostrils peered out from
      staggered rows of white, cotton cocoons.

A pale, pale blue began to follow the halo
   upward as more stars returned to dream.
You were cold, I was told, and so your
      wrappings were opened and your ribs

exposed to a deep, amber herald of the sun.
   This awakened you, and for a moment
you explored motion in this strange new
      atmosphere with tightly curled fists.

Then again you slept, afloat on darkness
   beneath clear light—a solitary leaf curled
perfectly still on the dark mirror depths
      of a pond. I watched you in your infinite

quietude, hardly drawing breath for fear
   of disturbing those waters. After a time
you woke, or perhaps dreamed, and you
      stretched out a nearly translucent palm.

With the last knuckle of my finger I touched
   the inside as lightly as first twilight winds
touch high summer glades. And, perhaps
      in reflex, your fingers closed around it.

The blue deepened, now only a few stars
   left peering through thin archipelagos
of cloud. I froze in contemplation, studying
      every detail of your glowing, coral pink

digits. Studying, until my arm grew tired
   and trembled, stiff and numb—Until I could
no longer sense your grip through the pins
      and needles that gripped my limb.

Then you let go, grabbed your folded
   thumb, and were still again. I leaned back,
lightly rocking the light tan chair reserved
      for new fathers to fill each exhausted

moment with new life. A fresh pair of eyes
   periodically floated by to check your core
temperature. I floated in and out of dream
      until you were lifted from the warmer

and returned to your light-grained bassinet.
   News came that the seat of mystery
had been resealed, and its bearer now
      recovered, resting. Time had come now

for you to know her warmth, smell her sweat,
   and taste the nourishment of perfect
comfort. I watched your face, still squeezed
      shut, as we wheeled down stark,

sanitized corridors to where she lay—half
   sleeping—covered to her neck by brown,
raveled blankets. The heavy frame rose, half
      lifting her petite frame to receive you.

Her gown was opened, the last two stars
   of night inversed on the sepia mirror of her
chest. You were placed in the sky below them,
      and, drawn to yellow light from those dark

stars, you latched on and drank deep of life
   -giving rays. Tall cottonwoods, ornamental
maples and broad, flat rooftops emerged
      from halflight into color. As you finished

the first meal, western peaks gave praise
   to the sun. You slept, rising and falling
on the breath of that flawless sky. And she too
      slept, exhausted by the long ordeal

of bearing a son. Shadows pulled back across
   the valley floor, light creeping into every
crack and crevice, sifting down through leaves
      and window blinds, settling silently across

your round rosy cheeks. Though my own eyes
   wearied, I stood watch, only closing my lids
enough to wet the hot, dry sting as morning
      rose like a blossom, and all things were new.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wild Cherry


  For over ten years now, I’ve tried to write a sakura (cherry blossom) poem every spring. Though I started this poem early in the spring when the trees were still in bloom here in the Reno area, they’ve since greened and gone to seed. As a new parent, it has been more challenging than ever for me to focus my time and energies as I would like, hence the slow writing process. Another thing I try to do every year is to complete a poem on my birthday, which I’ve managed to accomplish here.

Wild Cherry


  for Joy


Each hour with you is a blossom
  on a dark wood cherry tree
bursting light from the silence
      of wood grain mystery

Each week that passes between us
  is a twig on that dark wood tree
swaying on gentle breezes
      like foam adrift on the sea

Each season we share together
  is a branch from which they grow
bright as a cloud in the darkness
      reflecting the full moon’s glow

Each year that shimmers behind us
  is a limb that holds on high
moments arrayed in a splendor
      that rivals the dawning sky

And lifting it all like a prayer
  is the trunk that widens through time
rooted in layers of meaning
      that nurture the living shrine

  The particular species of cherry used for inspiration here is prunus avium, or wild cherry—sometimes called sweet cherry.

Monday, January 5, 2015

I must be


  One may be able to infer from these words the nature of an inner struggle. It is a struggle that has endured in one form or another since childhood. Now that I’m a father, now that I look every day on my baby son and experience the wild array of emotions that come with watching him coalesce and evolve, this struggle has become all at once completely inane and yet all the more intense. It is winter. My one method of preference is exposure. Yet I have a powerful new reason to cope with the fears and uncertainties that have plagued my being for as long as I can remember.

I must be


I must be more than memory,
   more than just a name,
more than faded echoes cast
      from pictures in a frame.

I must be more than faint suspicions
   coiled in the heart,
smoke-like apparitions drifting
      through a starless dark.

I must be more than supposition,
   more than just a guess,
fashioned from a dust that fell
      through years of emptiness.

I must be more than stories told
   by uncles, aunts and kin,
anecdotes of vague recall
      from time beyond your ken.

I must be more than fantasies
   of how things might have been,
conjured up to fill a void
      that widened in my stead.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

first rain


  As with the previous haiku, this was written as part of a dedication when I gave a copy of my book to a friend. Years and years ago, I met and got to know him a little while we both still lived in Ukiah, California. He now lives in Colorado; I in Reno, Nevada. One never knows where life will lead. Wherever that may be, the scent and sight of autumn's first rains in the hills around Ukiah will never be forgotten.

first rain


deep green leaves glisten
dust is rinsed from weaves of rust
fresh mud seals cracked earth

Saturday, January 3, 2015

ray


  I recently found occasion to sign a copy of an inkling hope to an author who has over the years influenced my style and approach to poetry. When I did, I wrote this small dedication. His nom de plume is blended amongst the words and imagery.

ray


red pine at dawn
light expands through cool sea mist
a sun beam sparkles through

Monday, October 20, 2014

October Moonrise


  I happened to visit a storefront a couple weeks back that's nestled in the eastern foothills of the Sierras along I80, a few miles west of Reno. Soon as I pulled up, I noticed the full moon and realized my luck. I hurried my way into and out of the store so I could hang out a while and take in the view. As I did so, watching every subtle change for 20 minutes or so as dusk rose up to meet and overtake the moon, I couldn't help but notice that not one of the several dozen people who came to make a purchase from this store so much as looked up to take notice of this spectacular scene unfolding before and around them. In some ways I felt sorry for these people, in other ways frustrated. How does one not notice such splendor? How does one stand before the throne of God and see nothing? I thought that impossible strains and terrors must be burdening and goading these poor creatures along to render them so incapable of seeing this rare panorama that perhaps occurs only once a year.

October Moonrise


large and silent the full moon hovers over
a pine studded ridge just inside the gray
purple haze that marks the closing
                                        edge of night

dark citrine plates climb high into a pair
of ponderosas where they reach out to join
spiky tufts of green that overhang and
                                        frame the moon

overhead cloudless skies still resonate
the deep cool purity of day as ravens
quietly fan claw-like wings up the canyon
                                        home to roost

that hazy rim rises faster than the moon
it folds like an eyelid ever so slowly
on the all-seeing gaze of Odin’s singular
                                        ice blue orb

a few of the keenest stars begin to burn
through darkness that gradually creeps
up from the long horizon like a distant fog to
                                        touch the moon

cars pull to a pause in the newly paved lot
people emerge thumbing their phones
to the store and back never once lifting
                                        up their heads

i sit on a rock by the concrete walkway
eyes struggling to take in every nuance
chest riven by a surreal resonance with
                                        all i see

Thursday, October 2, 2014

the calling


  I had a sense of my calling by the time I was 12, but it wasn’t until the middle of 2001, 18 years later before I knew for sure. The calling is a strange thing. It doesn’t come with instructions. There are no guides. To follow it may be just as difficult as not to, but for very different reasons. The force of one’s calling demands all attention. If one turns one’s back on it at this point, out of fear of poverty, marginalization, or not being able to realize its potential, then the despair that follows is as overpowering and destructive as the circumstances may be in heeding that call. For me, heeding the call meant simply casting myself on the current that had already swept away all else, and staying afloat as best I can. And in my case, it really has meant poverty, marginalization, and a continuing uncertainty with regard to realizing its potential.

the calling


it wails like an infant
crazed with wordless hunger
eyes wrinkled shut
toothless gums wide
fists balled tightly by
round quivering cheeks

it will not be ignored

it howls like a tempest wind
incessant against white paned windows
it rattles the mahogany door
in its frame and knocks
shadowy branches against deep
brown asphalt shingles

it will not be dismissed

it swells like a flood
seeping through sandbags
creeping up one wet carpeted stair
at a time until even the old maples
just outside succumb to the current
and the house leaves its foundation

it will not be turned away

once it is known
it cannot be unknown

it hungers within
rattles the windows of thought
floods the foundations of soul
until all of life is swept away
cast adrift on that one last
current of meaning

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Winter Relief


  My hope was that I was going to be able to use this sonnet form to write a pen portrait of a man, possibly homeless, who during the winter ambles a ratty old bicycle down the avenues near where I work, dispersing bird seed to the fowl. He trundles along with a 5 gallon, neon orange bucket hanging from a handlebar. At various vacant lots, some of which are fenced in, he stops on the sidewalk and lobs great big handfuls of seed out across the gravel or asphalt. As he approaches one of the feeding places, the sky darkens with winged creatures, which land in a whirl of calls and flapping feathers. They are so used to this man that they let the birdseed fall directly upon them, bouncing from wing, beak and back.

  I know nothing about this “bird man,” as I’ve come to think of him, save for the image of his moving among the streets in the dim light of dawn, arcing fistfuls of seed over his head and chest. His face is a mass of unkempt hair, his snow jacket old and held together with duct tape. His clothes are layered in tatters and crusted with dirt and debris. Yet for all his apparent misfortune, he has made it his mission to by some means acquire this seed and feed the cities winged residents during the winter.

  After a few weeks of trying to get the imagery in mind to bend to this sonnet form, I finally decided to give up and let the words and images find themselves. Sometimes the only way a poem gets written is to let go of the originating idea, allowing the words to choose and arrange themselves. Under such circumstances, the poet merely facilitates a process that was somehow already occurring, already waiting disembodied in the ether to find a channel into existence.

Winter Relief


The mourning dove lifts pale, majestic wings,
illuminating vacant, asphalt grounds.
A shadow moves amid the murmurings
of feathered creatures stirring all around
him as unsteadily he trundles down
the frozen sidewalks with an orange pail
suspended from a handlebar; the sound
of squeaking tires mingles with a gale
of pigeons, sparrows, jays that dance like hail
across a gravel, weed-strewn parking lot.
He stops and probes the neon depths to bail
a scoop of birdseed—harmless scattershot—
which, reaching back, he arcs above his head
to bounce among the birds with even spread.

  This is my 2nd Spenserian sonnet. It was my intention to strictly adhere to the rhyme scheme for this second pass at the form, but the word pool was just too small for the b scheme, so I kept extending it until enough words became available to allow for a fairly natural flow of language and imagery. Still a partial rhyme by all accounts, since all four words share the “oun” phonemes.