Respite

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Way up in the mountains,

Past the point of fatigue,

Between inertia and determination

Sore feet find their rhythm,

And the words that have flooded the mind

Seem to have ridden tributaries out to some unknown delta,

Thanks be…

 

Along the rim of that high lake,

Cold from ice melt somewhere further up,

There is a flat spot—like one monolithic boulder

Laid itself out like a table, welcoming everyone to sit down for a well earned meal.

 

The sharpness of the cold on the feet and calves, wading in; only so far.

Throw in a line, perhaps a trout will bless you.

If not, the view will.

Take sun if you wish,

Or take shade under the conifers,

Weeping their sap,

Crusting like sleep in the eye’s corner…

 

And if one is to delicately pry out the accumulated sleep

with the edge of a blade,

Tuck it safely in a pocket,

And some time later commit the sweet amber

To the ember of a coal,

 

One may breath in the dreams of the forest,

the mountain,

and the lake.

 

The tree, silent and generous in every way,

Has known the company of stars,

and the seasons like rock flour, ground fine,

Barely moving In serene suspense.

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Ms. Lyles

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Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

I don’t think her name could possibly have been said in her lifetime as many times as it was said tonight. The number of times we all repeated it. The number of us that there were.

The police had the good sense to not be there.

A tragedy breaks a people. A murder breaks a community wide open. And while I don’t know exactly what love is, there is love in the molten core of a person, and that burns even hotter at the core of people. People together.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

We chanted her name hundreds of times, and I still don’t know if it’s Ch- like change or Ch- like chartreuse.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

There was an old black woman. She used a walker with wheels on it. There was a sense that she was mother to the mother who was shot. I can’t say for sure. But she walked down the parted Red Sea of people, and keep looking out, saying “Look at all the people. I can’t believe all the people.” We were then a procession behind the woman.

Say her name. Charleena.

The woman from the city council spoke. She is a truth teller. The people see that.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

This vigil was at the apartment complex where Charleena died. There’s a playground there. Kids were playing. Martin’s dream is partially realized. While we were saying her name, there were kids of numerous stripe playing together there, while we also stood and calmly, emphatically demanded justice.

Say her name. Charleena.

You can’t really have justice when children step over their mother’s dead body to get out the door to their home.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

I’d cut enough roses for each of us to have one to give. But there were too many people there to be able to place them at a shrine to her, that I can only imagine exists. Our small group divided. A child needed to go to bed. We continued to listen, and then we processed, and then we marched.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Roses still in hand, we marched through the park, and turned right up the street that I live on. A woman, dressed up, stood in the middle of the road, holding sunflowers in store plastic, smoking a cigarette, holding back from crying, and directing traffic.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

I turn around and go to her. “Are you giving or receiving flowers?” I ask. “Because I couldn’t get close enough to give the ones I brought.”

“They’re for giving. I couldn’t get close enough either.”

“Would it be possible to have mine join yours?”

“Yes. That’s very sweet.” Tears were close to her eyes.

“You look like you could use a hug. Would you like a hug?”

“Yes.”

And just before the solstice, a white man and a black woman hugged and joined flowers in the middle of the street.

It’s 2017. That shouldn’t be as Goddamn special as it is.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

Say her name. Charleena.

I don’t know what love is. But I know a mother died, and the baby inside her died. How was thirty years her lifetime?

Charleena called for help.

Say her name. Say it from your molten core.

 

Say her name.

MF_Vigil01
Photo by Megan Farmer of KUOW

Consider making a donation to the go fund me campaign for Charleena’s children.

For the One Who Calls me Uncle

To be a feminist man
Is an aspiration
That must be taken up and proven
Like the back end of “Hey Jude”
at peak energy,
and seemingly endless.

Which is more
Than fair
Considering
The seemingly endless
Tilt of the board
Where every woman and girl
Falls sway to a world
Where they, instead of a wristwatch,
Are considered an accessory.

So when a well-meaning relative
Describes the girl
Who will be a woman
As “not very ladylike”
I take that sad song, and make it better:
This one is not going to be a lady;
She, is on her way—

As a force of nature.

Balance and a Better Direction

Justice is about bringing things into balance, and pointing them in a better direction.

I first felt the tear of justice before I could speak or think in words. There was an imbalance in the one with the beard. That made an imbalance between him and the one who was soft. That made an imbalance in her. And when the chaos between them erupted for long enough, the one with the beard and the one who was soft ended in divorce. And with few words but overwhelming emotions, I, as a toddler, struggled to decide to whom—the soft one, or the one with the beard—would get which portion of love, which I clearly had a limited supply of.

Justice as judge.

***

My Aunt Aimee was a teenager when I was born. My Mimi and Pipi’s old yellow house burned down when I was a baby. I never knew the house my mother grew up in. Just the ranch that they built in its place. It was a house that only needed three bedrooms since nine of the kids were out on their own. Just Martha, the youngest still lived at home. Aimee lived away at school. However, even though they didn’t have most of the kids at home anymore, most of them lived nearby with their families, and there were lots of big meals to eat together, so the basement was big enough for a kitchen with two ovens, a rack of mason jars of put up foods, a woodshop, a bar, a fireplace, a bathroom and enough picnic tables for everyone to sit at close to the same time. That basement was big enough that I rode my bike around, and not just in a constant circle. In fact I was learning to ride my bike when it was just Aimee and me in that basement. It was the day that I stopped the bike in place and said to her “you’re retarded.”

“Shut up.” She said. “That’s not a nice word.” and she made a sound of vocal cords constricted that came from her nose while saliva gather at the corners of her mouth, with her tongue making a clicking sound that she made when she got upset.

Her pain was apparent and large. Inside, I collapsed, and my stomach reviled in the disgust I had for myself.

Justice as empathy teacher.

***

My friend Brian is an exceptionally bright and gifted guy, and exceedingly goofy. There’s no one I’ve eaten more macaroni and cheese with. Not a contender on the horizon. He was one of the brightest theatrical lights to shine from our hometown, and of course he moved to New York trying to be a star. He did some things, but later the dream got more tailored to his actual life. I was going to NYC a lot back then for work, and nearly every time, I’d see Brian. A few times I’d stayed with him too. If you know anything about NYC apartments, you know how generous that is. Rent was cheaper—if you want to call it that—out in Astoria. Just twenty minutes ride into Manhattan, still the city, but more organic. Going in and out of his building there was an old Ukrainian man who would sit in a broken lawn chair. He lived downstairs from Brian. He had a golfball-sized lump on his chest where his pacemaker was which I’d just assumed was a tumor.  You could see since he just wore an undershirt, or on the hottest New York days, no shirt at all.

“Hey Mr. Thomas.” Brian would say.

“Thanks again for the ice. Thanks for the ice!” Mr. Thomas said profusely. It’s not hard to be a saint. Sometimes you just need to share the benefits of owning ice cube trays.

Justice as neighbor.

Necessity of Arson

With every reason
To turn sorrow’s mansion
From timbers to embers
With roses dipped in gasoline,
Pain’s dry bone cracking kindling,
and anger’s spool of tightly wound fuse;
Why, with kindness calling,
Does every matchstick
strike damp?

With precision then,
Shatter the hardest part,
And in collision,
spark the flint.

Categories: Poetry

A Dozen Non Sequitur Truths

One: In a sense, love is just rain in a cup of soup.

Two: While the population of the world is discussed, the population of time never is.

Three: Triangles, like circles, deal in 360º.

Four: Everyone has a favorite.

Five: There is no such thing as “pure.”

Six: Pink Lady is the best apple on Earth.

Seven: In crystalized time, everyone is polyamorous.

Eight: Some people see guns as beautiful.

Nine: There was a saint in the Lenawee County Jail.

Ten: You will let someone down. Someone will let you down.

Eleven: Infinity and nothing have more in common than anything else.

Twelve: It sure is nice that we were all once babies.

Categories: Poetry

Release and Seize

Live urgently
with all of the calm
honesty
love
and savoring
knowing
one eventual tomorrow
will be the final chance
to press toes
upon the Earth.

03/17/2017

For the recently departed, the soon leaving, for you, and for me.

Categories: Poetry

The Only Constant

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Greatness is directly connected to graciousness and gratefulness.
This hatefulness that you bring to the scene is a different thing.
It’s obscene.
Profanity can touch upon humanity,
but what you’re grabbing at
is like piling cinderblocks atop a canvas canopy.
Heads are shaking saying “this cannot be.”

Today you laid your hand on a book
trying to look like there’s some reverence
some earnest prayer prayed,
but your mug is smug as ever.
You think you’re clever,
but you’re a cleaver,
ready to sever all but your devout believers.

It’s not the absence of prayer that’s concerning,
it’s that you are a thief of belief
and it’s no surprise that those with eyes
see the direction you’re stirring the tide towards turning.
Fates and Gods are stenographers’ shorthand,
but baits from demagogues, are slight of hand,
but slight isn’t your style,
do not pass go, take it to trial, and do a stint
because your brutality is belligerent.

You’re an assault on the senses,
civil rights, and intelligence,
betraying the common good
while equating ratings with relevance.
The new normal is not normal,
no matter how formal the red power tie.
Repeating a lie until you believe it,
claiming populous heroism,
throwing no real bone,
and a few real people still run to retrieve it.

You traffic in anger, fear, and promises,
pushing on any spot, revealing where the trauma is
a shock-and-awe show of force to sit in the seat of power.
Just the cost of doing business.

Buying it in order to break it,
is taking reigns as an obstructionist;
a tough-talking tyrant, and a class c cabinet picker,
instead of innovation, you’re filling it with liquor.
No matter how fine the glass, there’s a disparity
between a blackout tirade and a moment of clarity.

You’re simultaneously a gorgon and a siren.
It’s poisonous to look at you or to listen.
But we do it all the same.
Baring witness is the mission.
There are different kinds of people;
different kinds of men.
We’ve seen your kind before.
We surely will again.

The wall between is not on any border,
rather philosophies of either empathy or enmity;
the power of love or the love of power.
But you’re the loudest shouter. We know who you are.
So have your parade, circumstance, pomp, and tweets.
We’ll be resisting, marching, and breaking beats.
You grabbed the police, the congress and hence all the policy.
You’re fudging with the button that could trigger nuclear winter,
while shaming us as “snowflakes,” while lobbing tear gas canisters.
You might not be “a big believer in climate change,”
but mark these word on winter weather,
snow, like water, has a strength in volume.
We will cover you like a lizard in a blizzard,
watching Cool Hand Luke alone in an air conditioned ballroom.

Your bitterness caused a polemic epidemic,
creating crude chasms in the form of family feuds.
In the reality that is not on television,
our resilience is our brilliance.
We’ll watch your privilege split like fission, a shattered illusion.
To clear up any confusion, we’ll be using fusion.
By virtue of the arts, through inclusion of all races,
because black lives matter, we do not rest in stasis.
There will be no Muslim registry, and our voices hold up choices.
And forget about your plans to closet our people who are lesbian, gay and trans.
And for poetic justice, last to mention, are the ones who will do you in.
If you don’t know already, that’s a reference to all the women.

01/20/2017

“The Only Constant” was first published on Medium.

Instinct Comes Forward

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If it is true what they say, that our bipedal species is a political animal,

Are we scavengers, pilfering the scraps that others have wasted?

Are we herbivores, living on what the land offers, grinding away at thoughtful cud?

Are we predators, hiding, waiting, watching? Kill or be killed.

What unseen parasites are within, our own take becoming their keep?

 

When we moved from wild to domestic, what was lost for what gains?

Is there elegance and dignity?

Is there room enough to turn about?

Freedom of motion?

Does any wild remain?

 

A persistent unreachable itch between my ears requires the intervention of another.

Pack, herd, hive, nest, school, murder, and I,

All have critical needs to meet,

But aren’t.

Growl…

 


“Instinct Comes Forward” is taking a writing challenge that I’d issued to a friend. I’d love to see what others do with it as well.

The challenge:
  1. Three stanzas. Five lines each. No rhyming.
  2. Each line has a different number of words in it than any other in the poem.
  3. Only one religious word (max) in the poem. Make it count.

 

Breakfast on Earth

It’s been a few weeks of bitterness being served up course after course on the news, social media, and regular real life. But it’s breakfast time on my little part of Planet Earth.

On the menu this morning—nothing too crazy—just a peak in the fridge and putting together something easy and familiar. A little coffee. Make use of baked goods soaked in an egg wash. A few bites of fresh fruit.

I’m an atheist, so I don’t bless food, but I am grateful. While I don’t pray anymore, I still have many hopes and wishes for a world that’s a little happier and whole than it is now.

Time to clear the pallet of that bitterness and taste some of the bounty. I like Earth breakfast.

So how about an English Muffin given the French toast treatment? But since there’s just one, gotta supplement with some bread from Oregon. That English Muffin was made in Colorado. Huh. I assume the grains in both come from the great plains….

Mix up those Oregon eggs, pour in a little Washington Milk. A few drops of vanilla and a dash of each: cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and clove. No country of origin named on any of those, but I sure didn’t pull them from the garden….

While that soaks in, heat up that pan, using that hydro-dam electricity. A little pat of Irish butter bubbles away in a splash of Mexican avocado oil.

In a melting pot on the back of the stove, get that Canadian maple syrup warming up. A little splash of Scottish highland single-malt gives that good peaty flavor. Somewhere in my DNA a bagpipe blows in celebration.

It’s smelling good in the kitchen! Gonna need something to wash this down. Put the kettle on to get that Guatemalan coffee that my friend from the Philippians gave me. This morning the coffee’s getting made in the French press. That morning bliss gets poured into a mug from a Seattle company made in China with scenes from Portland, Oregon on it.

Cooking, like shoes, is best as a pair. My partner in crime is at work on the healthy portion of this simple feast. She’s bringing together a greens salad from our CSA. Kiribati lettuce—I’d never heard of it either—and Swiss Chard, with a pinch of Celtic sea salt from France, some of that Mexican avacado oil, Italian red wine vinegar that is somehow a product of Spain, and a little apple cider vinegar from the U.S.—talk about vaguebooking—which according to the label is kosher, has a quote from 3 John 2, and another quote from Hippocrates.

As everything starts to come together, it goes on a plate made in China that was bought at a Swedish store alongside a fork with a similar lineage.

On top of the main dish goes a banana from Peru, and a few bing cherries who are also from the bounty of the CSA.

None of this has happened in silence. It’s Sunday morning, and on my part of Planet Earth, that means the local community supported radio station is playing “Sunday Morning Preaching the Blues,” carrying notes of the long slow song of Africa, passing through American slavery, and a hard, cruel path through slavery, oppression and hatred, and yet it’s music….the best music for breakfast on Planet Earth.

With this thoughtful food from around the world, I raise a fork to our interdependence, our non-isolation, and a hope that we’ll one day welcome our fellow humans as openly as we do the fruits of their labors.