Saturday, July 13, 2013

A summer poem about my father


I have a photograph from my childhood
of my father, standing in his zinnia garden,
puffed-up and beaming, posing for the camera,
watering hose in hand, surrounded by bursts of color
like blossoms of fireworks he himself lit weeks earlier
in time-lapse, kneeling on the dirt, striking a match
by placing each seed ­underground,  slow fuses
brought to life as white-hot shoots – pushing skyward,
growing green in a thick tapestry of tall arcs, swelling,
opening finally in brilliant explosions of red, yellow, orange – even purple,
to detonate around him like a fourth-of-July celebration
of his skill in gardening them forth into the world:
for a brief moment forever he stands proud,
a pyrotechnic God among flowers.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Listening to music tonight to drown out the fireworks, I was thinking about the fishing season just under way in Alaska, and found this on the page a few minutes later:

The Clothes They Wore

In my dream tonight
I stood on the deck of a boat
surrounded by ghosts of fishermen
who never returned from the sea.

They walked on water.

All of them rose out of the ocean
dripping, but not wet
and stood there facing me
as if to tell me what I missed.

I didn’t question the logic
of the dream. It was a dream, after all.
Not a nightmare.
But I had to wonder:

all these unnamed drowned,
no monument with a name attached
or standing near the shore
Phoenixes, wings spread cold before me.

No smiles or frowns, nor masks of anguish
on tortured faces. Passive expressions all.
 Not one spoke. They stood in a circle 
around me, my engine at idle.

Waves lapped the side of the boat.
I looked around – all points.
As far as I could see, they were there,
some in oilskins and nor’westers

some in sweatpants and bare feet.
The clothes they wore. I wondered
what would happen if I did not awaken –
if I would join them. It was then,

my t-shirt soaked with salt water, I did.

Monday, July 1, 2013

I am not a religious man, but...

I'm not religious, but a song i was listening to today got me thinking about a woman I often pass on the way to town, and the way so many Christian legislators are attacking women's rights lately. Even though this travels elsewhere, that's where it began. This is what I unpacked:


What if Mary was indeed the mother of God?
And what if she was standing on the corner
like the woman I passed today, holding the cardboard,
“Kids and I Need Food,” or the one she had last week
“Need $60 for Rent”? Why $60? Was that all it took
to rent a manger? A stable? A twenty-first century stall
lined with straw? How much more did she need for the food?

No, she wasn’t pregnant. But what if that meant
She was already born, an infant in swaddling clothes,
hungry and alone in the bushes behind mother Mary, 
who tucked her out-of-sight for fear of DSHS or worse?
What would happen if the state took away the Child of God
from her loving mother, and put her in the foster system?
What kind of God would that child grow up to be?

And where would that leave us? I wish I could say
I rolled down my window and handed her a dollar.
Or sixty. But I didn’t. I was in a rush to get to the store
before it got too crowded. Too embarrassed to look
another Mother of God in the eye, I pretended to be more
of a conscientious driver than I am, and checked the traffic
hard behind her before pushing the pedal down,
speeding away, echoes of a crying child ebbing behind me.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Great Heights

I recall talking with a friend of mine
as we stood on a boat inches away from a glacial river
about being afraid of heights.

“You know what I feel when I get too near the edge?”
he asked, leaning out to tighten a nut on the outside
of the cabin, one hand clutching a wrench, the other
gripping the rail. “I feel like I want to jump.”

I considered that idea as I wondered what I would do
if he lost his grip. A life ring and a length of line
hung behind the ladder to the bridge.

“Not me, man,” I shuddered to imagine approaching the rim
of a high cliff, or a building taller than two stories.
“I can barely stand watching someone else up high.”

I thought about how twitchy I get at scenes in movies
when a character is flirting with certain disaster
near a precipice.

My friend finished the tightening,
stood and handed me the wrench. “Never
think twice about it unless I’m there,” he smiled.

That was it. In the blink of an eye I decided
I never wanted to climb mountains
or anything else with him.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

This is for my friend Cyndi and her son, Logan


I sat alone with my dying friend
in the back room of her house, where she reclined
on a bed of pillows. It was getting close,
and even the ice chips weren’t effective any more.
She was delirious and drugged, just like mom
all those years ago in the hospital back in Logansport,
lost in the morphine of that Indiana spring. I sat next to her
for hours that night, trying to slip between the haze
of the drips sliding into her arm; to find my way in once more,
back to her heart. But it was a closed system, and I was empty
and outside it. All I have is her brief surfacing
long enough to flutter her eyelids like butterfly kisses, and
 (is this memory or what I wanted to happen?)
– a reach of her hand to mine.

I know she said, “Oh, you’re here.” And I was, even now.

I thought of that moment as I sat vigil next to my friend,
and considered what it was I wanted to say to her,
her son in the next room with other family and friends.
Her eyes opened wide then, and she sat upright. In a rush
she threw her legs over the edge of the bed, and tried to stand.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked as I gently stopped her.
“I have to leave.”
“I know. Wait a little bit first, ok?”
She sat back. I struggled to find my words, and watched her
raise a glass that only she could see to her lips,
lips that hadn’t felt a sip of water for days.
She took a long drink. She looked at me as she wiped her mouth
with the back of her hand. “You know it’s ok, don’t you?” I whispered,
my throat suddenly parched. “We’ll take care of him.”

She nodded as if she heard me and relaxed a bit.
I helped her lie back down on her pillows.
I don’t know if I got through to her either. It seemed to me
she was breathing a little easier when I finally tiptoed from the room
on my way to the kitchen for a glass of water.