“Our very life depends on continuous acts of beginning. But these beginnings are out of our hands; they decide themselves.
Beginning precedes us, creates us. There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning.
More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could."
John O’Donohue


29 July 2014

Calling

My grandmother’s God was repetition
and abundance.
We could mark time by the retelling of stories: 
The one where hurricane winds bent
Gulf Coast palms so they kissed the beach.
The time my father
planned to join the circus and used my aunt
for knife-throwing practice—
Thump...giggle...thump...giggle, it went,   
and then, Praise the Lord he had bad aim.

And the one less often told
because it cut a cold chasm
through the sweet evening air--
the one about carnage and election:
four teenage bodies broken
on gravel, in ditch, 
two hours before morning.
She was the survivor.

So she set to 30 years of ceaseless praise for the gracious earth and its fickle God, filling three deep freezers and five pantries with the gifts of the garden, enough pickles and soups and preserves to feed the children of the living and the dead for a generation.

Lying in the bed of unrestrainable mint,
I would tell my brother my vision:
There is a river running under this house.
I know you can’t hear it,
but I can.
No river I had ever seen,
not like the lazy, silty Chattahoochee,
but a diamond-clear liquid highway
brimming with salmon,
lusty and muscular with intent.
In the first flashes of fireflies at twilight,
I could feel it rush
under the sweet gum tree,
whispering deliverance.

She worried about me.  
Too many cryptic paper scraps,
too many boys tapping at the screen door,
my heart given away
too easily to the musty encyclopedias
bought the year I was born—
meant to be a decorative flourish
in an otherwise bookless realm.

I’m a poet, I would say to her,
intending to make light.
Honestly, how much trouble
can I get into? 

15 May 2014

Every Other Weekend

I expect to her it felt like failure,
eight steps down to the basement,
fifty precious dollars less a month
than the first floor with a balcony rail
and a partially obstructed view to the future.

This is why they call it garden level,
I always thought,
brushing by her irrepressible hanging plants,
craving the cool surrender of descent
over the sweat and elbows of climb.

I remember myself reflected infinitely
in the six paneled mirror
around the clawfoot tub,
three steps up on carpet, with stage lighting—
an extravagant queen’s welcome
for not yet breasts and misdirected teeth.

The 2am freight train
rattled hollow doors and the electric stove,
barely moved the wood block picture frame
wedged between the Big Book
and a Christmas cactus.

She worried I could not sleep through it.
I tried not to.
The predictable, dream-riddled earthquake
was assurance,
that the world can shake mightily
and not crumble.

9 May 2014

Housing the Multitudes

Curious how a first talk over tea, 
strangers becoming acquaintances,
makes me think
of inchworms. 

Especially that spring
when they rained down
from the trees in the backyard
by the hundreds.

The first few that appeared
on the windshield
inspired my daughter to action
building private homes out of quahog shells
with leaf beds and leaf dinners
and little flowerheads
for atmosphere.

On the second day,
construction couldn’t keep pace,
and materials were in short supply.
Our heaven sent friends
had to bunk up.

By day three,
the car as iridescent green
as it was its native blue,
she was inconsolable.
Every departure down the driveway
was a genocide.

Now you are telling stories
of couch surfing
through distant cities,
held by the kindness of strangers.

Something an inchworm would do—
base jumper, intrepid adventurer—
if only it didn’t take a lifetime
to cross those fifteen cement blocks
marking off the patio. 

On a given day, you arrive,
vibrant and sincere,
and all the beds are already taken.
Construction underway,
but God knows
it will be generations of inchworms
to see it done.

8 May 2014

The Proposition

Something about the way you ask—
“How can I see you again?”—
makes me want to put on different robes.

Because nothing fits, anything can be worn
for a while.

And I’ll let you, of course, see me—
because earnest desire pleases me,
and because I am unsure if we are here at all
outside of being noticed.

But the how is just the question, isn’t it?

I think maybe I’ll show up as someone simple
this time.

Just imagine—
No old, weeping wounds still being nursed.
No visions of treacherous strangers
taking my bed as their own.
No grand work to accomplish. 

Just some stories about picking blueberries
on hot hills in distant summers,
amusing misunderstandings and fender benders,
and a European backpacking trip
that changed my life when I was 22. 

And now a well-worn reading nook in my apartment
that catches some sunlight,
an impish resistance to gossip,
enough work to buy tangerines and freesia
every week at the market where we meet,
and soundless pictures of making love in new places
in the afternoon, no urgency.

I could try it on.
Months could go by before
what’s been written and said
finds its way to you.

26 February 2014: Marin County

Arrangement

The purple anemones from the Sunday market
are beautiful all week long. 
But there is an instant, 
sometime on Wednesday, 
when they pass from blooming beauty
into dying beauty. 

I always seem to miss it. 
It must happen when I'm showering, 
or lost in thought, 
or when I turn for just a moment
to brush back the hair from my son's eyes. 

Or maybe it was spoken this way into the primordial wind: 
how it was to be,
this ministry of cut flowers. 
That we should see not the apex of their decline,
their resistant throes, 
but only the exuberant stretching to sunlight, 
the attenuated praise for fresh water--
and then, ineffably, the graceful surrender
of bowing leaves and drifting petals, 
the easy disintegration of severed stems
into that fecund stew, 
breathing out low tide and high farmland
at once. 

16 January 2014: East Oakland

1 Kings 19

The cave was not unlike a home.
She could straighten the hand towels
and dust the candlesticks
there just as well as anywhere.
The constant crumbling
was a nuisance, of course,
and it was impossible
to keep the threshold swept clear
of the outside trying to make its way in.
When the wind came,
it made a circuit clear across the dinner table,
setting flowers and crystal to flight.

But God was not in the wind.

There was the night
when the whole scene
shook and swayed,
waking her from shallow sleep,
and the lights flashed on and off.
Two hours of tremors,
then every photo down from the walls,
not just shattered glass
but frames snapped and paper ripped to pieces,
with the rage intent
on eviscerating morning.  

But God was not in the earthquake.

She found she could be
in a place that her hands called home
while her heart was a thousand miles away,
alone on an island in a lake of fire. 
She knew she should not set camp there,
as her birthright called out
from the not so distant shore.
But night fell, as it always does,  
with the flames no less enthusiastic.
So she slept again,
like the caged lioness sleeps,
hearing whispers of the hunt in her dreams. 

But God was not in the fire.

In the end,
there was the silence that stood calmly
on her doorstep
for three full days
before it asked:
“What are you doing here?”

No words for an answer.
Only hands,
heart,
feet.