Published on: 11/25/2015
I claim no faith beyond what I'm allowed
To see when both my eyes are closed, and I
Am free to turn my lenses
Toward scrutable events,
If I'm inclined. I've never been too proud
To taste untested meals placed on credenzas
Or be the first to die
From quaffing wine reserved for sacraments.
I dream that I'm awake when I'm asleep,
And if I'm wakeful I begin to dream
Of lives I haven't led,
To my immense dismay.
I seldom spend the nighttime counting sheep,
For I have better things to do in bed,
Like hoping to redeem
My self-indulgent tendency to play
Before my work is done. The bones and tendons
I bear within me ache as though raw nerves
Were all there was to them.
Impair my theoretic independence,
And I have yet to find a stratagem
Or natural herb that serves
To clear my mind and curb its fits and starts.
Published on: 2/2/2016
Trained Fast to the Fast Track
He placed his coins in even stacks of ten
And lined them in precisely ordered rows.
He washed his hands, then washed them once again,
Lest any uninvited pathogen
Be carried by his fingers to his nose.
He placed his coins in even stacks of ten,
A prudent strategy for if and when
They needed counting. Done, for now, with those,
He washed his hands, then washed them once again
And added half a gram of pure cayenne
To portions near the area he chose
To place his coins in— even stacks of ten
Bear watching. Grace concluded with "Amen,"
He ate a meal with perfect ratios,
Then washed his hands. He washed them once again
And went directly to his paneled den
To call his broker. At the Market's close
He placed his coins in even stacks of ten,
Then washed his hands and washed them once again.
Published on: 1/28/2016
The battered treetop and the driven wave
Submit to every raging winter storm,
But frightened human denizens behave
As if the benefice of being warm
Forever were their birthright. Sullen skies
Are helpful in creating unity
Among the pilgrims who, with lifted eyes,
Seek neither pity nor immunity.
A storm is like another virgin birth
That sanctifies the youthful indiscretions
Recounted in the lap of Mother Earth;
She seems delighted by our true confessions.
So let us now endorse sobriety
Of purpose— never mind how much we've drunk—
And pray we'll find the natural piety
No unenlightened skeptic can debunk.
Published on: 1/26/2016
In Defense of Tongues
We require other organs, a sensory organization different from
that which perceives only words as such, if we want to understand
within the word the thought that another wishes to communicate.
— Rudolf Steiner, from The Boundaries of Natural Science
A tongue accused of tripping over words
that then express by accident a truth
may try to mount a spurious defense,
adducing, say, a voiced array of surds
transformed by colic or an aching tooth—
an unintended sequence of events—
whereby a "choice of trucks" becomes the "joys
of drugs." Though Sigmund Freud was surely right
when he averred that slips of tongue are wrought
in hidden foundries, words turn into noise
when they are chanted endlessly, the thought
they carried disappearing like the light
of serial undifferentiat-
ed days. It stands to reason that all tongues
should be forgiven their unmindful slips,
and likewise for the hyperactive lungs,
those rhythmic bellows pledged to regulate
the void transactions issued from the lips
of social creatures. All we know for sure
is that a seventh sense exists, the means
by which we comprehend the spoken sounds
that reach our ears. On busy village greens
we greet our brethren while we make our rounds,
with little care for words if hearts are pure.
Published on: 1/23/2016
Because of shoes, one's feet grow pale and soft,
And as a consequence I had to visit
The doctor. Down the hall a patient coughed,
Among the worst I'd ever heard. What is it?
I thought. A hairball? Hacking up three packs
A day? An outbreak of tuberculosis?
As minutes passed, I started to relax,
Too sleepy to complete my diagnosis....
When I awoke, the doctor had arrived.
Apparently the patient two doors down
Had overcome his crisis and survived.
I raised my legs and watched the doctor frown
While he looked closely at my blistered feet.
"Your insteps have sustained a nasty burn
From sun; your soles resemble roasted meat.
You city people never seem to learn,"
He said. I'd spent the weekend at the beach,
The hottest, brightest days so far this summer-—
My first time out. Physicians love to preach,
Their chance to let a patient know he's dumber
Than they are. I was pissed. My feet were sore,
But when the doctor searched a nearby shelf
For soothing salve, I hobbled out the door
And shouted back, "Physician, heal thyself!"
Because of shoes, our feet grow soft and pale,
But everything depends on where they take us.
I'd rather walk through hell than go to jail
For ordering a therapeutic fracas.
Published on: 1/20/2016
Uncensored and Uncensured
I, too, have had a dream: a vision
in which the primacy of facts
assures a measure of precision
too seldom realized in acts
of faith. I'm hoping for a place
where all good deeds may go unpunished
and honesty does not disgrace
one's name; where no one is astonished
by anything a human being
expresses from the heart. Behold
the politician disagreeing
with party leadership, though told
he shouldn't do it. Also note
the unaffected novice writer
condemned for articles she wrote
because their tone was impolite— her
design was only to unravel
each twisted sequence of events.
When freedom-loving people travel
to parts unknown, they sleep in tents
erected on the content of
their character and not the color
of anybody's skin. They love
the texture of an honest dollar
held jauntily between their fingers
in sight of envious collec-
tivists, and how its odor lingers,
not quite politically correct.
Published on: 1/14/2016
Evening Approaches on the Fourth
... Here once the embattled farmers stood...
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, from "Concord Hymn"
Some large exfoliating tawny patches
Of bark hang loosely from the river birch
Which shades our patio, and they remind
Us of the parchment signed
Two centuries ago when State and Church
Were one. A robin catches
A caterpillar on the ground, and thus
Seems fully fit and able to declare
Its independence. While mosquitoes hover
Like suitors round a lover,
Aggressive squads of swifts patrol the air
Above, defending us
From reinforcements. Many kinds of flowers
Close up at night, but we have planted others
That open after dark: They summon moths
As checkered tablecloths
Might summon us, and like attentive mothers
We watch them play for hours.
Published on: 1/8/2016
Same Old Story
For me, to read a novel is to feel
discounted. Characters inside pretend
I don't exist, as though I were less real
than they are, never having to defend
myself from some prolific author's wild
imagination, beaten down by plots
that leave a person helpless as a child
in wartime. What do they know? There've been lots
of times it seemed as if a loaded gun
were pressed against my head, or prison mates
decided on a whim to have their fun
at my expense instead of lifting weights,
which was their normal recreation. Yes,
I'm quite familiar with scenarios
in which the specter of extreme duress
attends those vital questions no one knows
the answers to. Much comfort there would be
in learning an omniscient Author stood
behind the scenes, whose mission was to see
that endings always turned out for the good.
You characters, ignore me if you must,
but don't assume that your travails are worse,
for though your spelled-out lives may gather dust,
my own will find erasure in a hearse.
Published on: 1/5/2016
And Simple Truth Miscall'd Simplicity
The simple truth is that there is no simple truth.
By fewer words a greater message is conveyed,
The best martini will contain the least vermouth,
And garlic's at the heart of every kosher dill.
Whole thoughts flow ever outward on a ripe cascade
Of fetid breath, and listeners should neither drown
In them nor drown them out with airs of lesser skill
But greater volume. Verity is like a song
Auditioned from an auction block: It all comes down
To how one feels about the singer, whether one
Can separate the beauty from the beast. It's wrong
To pick and choose, but, then again, it's right to be
Selective; wholesale prejudice is blind and un-
Productive, but discrimination is a virtue
Employed to sift illusion from reality.
The truth may bite, but it will almost never hurt you.
Published on: 1/1/2016
Nobody worries in the summer swelter
unless some-other-body tells them to
for reasons necessarily obscure,
because it's common knowledge that the cure
for tropic doldrums is the pas de deux
which never fails to render timely shelter
from any harm a couple stands to fear.
This benison is sandwiched in between
a slice of fondly kneaded leavened bread
and wafer made from pounded bones of dead
philosophers. The grass grows thick and green
in privileged regions of a hemisphere—
if not next door, then on the other side
of Mother Earth— no more a matter for
review by clerics in the Vatican
or Mecca (Please, dear Lord, not that again!)
than rounds of mild distress one must endure
till every needless teardrop has been cried.
Published on: 12/22/2015
One fancies that it's possible to be
As disengaged an arbiter as Pontius
Pilate, who washed his hands and failed to see
Eventualities beyond his conscious
Review; that many pleasant feelings would
Arise from learning we were born to please
Ourselves, intemperance the greatest good;
Or that the tender caps of bended knees
Should never dent the surface of the ground.
But benefits of vagrant dreams are slight
Compared to what pragmatic pilgrims found,
Who dared to venture forward toward the light.
When harbored thoughts resemble idle chatter
The notion of a purpose doesn't matter.
Published on: 12/8/2015
The Master said I'd reached the final stage
and it was time I came to terms with death.
Attentive to his wisdom, I prepared
to fast for forty days, to undergo
whatever discipline might be required
to kindle my enlightenment. One night
in late July, he summoned me to sit
beside him near the pond that occupied
the northeast corner of his wilderness
retreat in Minnesota. "Blest am I
to sense your breath," I duly said, but he
replied, "Let no mosquito pierce my skin."
For half an hour I sat and slapped his back.
"And did you feel their tiny deaths?" he asked
at last. I shrugged and shook my head, afraid
that I had failed a crucial test. "That's good,"
he said. "Then keep on doing what you're doing--
your concentration makes it possible
for me to meditate." At once, I knew
he'd taught me everything he had to teach.
Published on: 12/11/2015
Invisible, the air we breathed--when age
Could be accounted by the fingers of
A single hand— did not exist. Our gauge
Of it came only when the need for glove
And scarf bore witness to a solid wind
That gave it texture we could feel despite
What eyes told. Later, we were disciplined
By Science, taught that even though the light
Saw through it, it was real, a substance formed
Of oxygen combined with other less
Important elements, a fluid warmed
By what we called the Sun. To our distress,
As we've completely lost the benefit
Of ignorance, the atmosphere we live
In tests our diaphragms and won't acquit
Itself the way we think it should. The give
And take we orchestrate with labored lungs
Now seems a symphony of wasted breath,
For every sonal theme our tasteless tongues
Project is flavored with a hint of death.
Published on: 12/18/2015
When she arrived on campus, right away
the culture of the institution took
an unexpected turn— as though a ray
of light had flashed from some forgotten book
that formed the root of every discipline.
For once, the women and the men agreed:
her worth went deeper than her flawless skin
and satisfied a long-neglected need.
Her salient traits were the concinnity
that dignified her words, her ample bust,
her perfect legs, and the virginity
she modestly admitted to. The lust
to which most men would normally consign
themselves was sublimated into pure
aesthetic fondness for a graceful line,
and women journeyed to a farther shore
where jealousy and envy disappeared
beneath a cleansing wave of confidence.
The changes her engaging presence reared
bespoke a numinous intelligence:
She seemed to walk on clouds, and soon enough
the souls she touched were walking on them too,
until their daily lives became the stuff
of dreams. Encounters they once struggled through
were balmed by gracious cinctures of accord,
their conscience now the holy apse where strains
of newfound sacrament annulled the sword
of Damocles. The media took pains
to prearrange exclusive interviews,
and not a day went by her telephone
lay still. She was the center of the news,
and when reporters cornered her alone
and asked about her novel strategy
to stem the modern tide, It's tactical,
she'd say, a stroke to counter tragedy
by doing what is truly practical.
Published on: 12/4/2015
While Ink Dries
Late in the afternoon, especially on Fridays,
The amanuensis hums a secular tune
And, equipped with a damp rag and a taper, tidies
Up in the Master's workspace where his notes are strewn
Along with pages of a weighty manuscript
More than five years in the writing. A corn-straw broom
Stands uselessly in a corner, its bristles tipped
With clots of the settled dust that the entire room
Is covered in— to sweep would send it all flying
Everywhere and compromise the good work they'd done
Earlier that day, which isn't dry yet. Lying
Next to the inkstand is a long letter, begun
But never finished, addressed to the Late Duchess,
Who had commissioned a complete written account
Of her family history, willing to spend as much as
It took to get it done, no matter the amount.
The poor old wealthy dowager suddenly died—
In her sleep, may God rest her soul— with only six
Or seven months-worth left of funding set aside
To sustain the ongoing project. Politics
Had no part to play in the arrangement, for she
Was all but witless and wholly single-minded
Regarding the tome she hoped was going to be
Her abiding legacy— paying by the line did
Not trouble her at all. But then, since the title
Had been passed down to one of her distant cousins
For whom accounts of his forebears were of no vital
Importance, the Master was forced to ponder dozens
Of schemes to secure and extend the generous terms
Of his long-standing employment. It was not a thing—
Though necessary— to be proud of, for the grim worms
Had barely begun their feasting. In order to bring
About a desirable change of heart and mind,
The two of them, scholar and scribe, opened a Bible
At last, in hope that they would be able to find
Guidance there on methods for arousing tribal
Conceits. Credit is due the amanuensis,
Who bypassed the entirety of Matthew, Mark and Luke
And brought a dissolute parvenu to his senses
By reciting a passage from John for the new Duke:
In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God.
Struck by the power a word holds, he gave them the nod.
Published on: 2/5/2013
At the Edge
If eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for being.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
It's said that when two biomes intersect
Diversity is of the highest rank.
The best examples of this edge-effect
Occur in hedgerows separating fields
Of hay or grain, and on the muddy bank
Around a pond where standing water yields
To higher ground.
The ear was made for hearing
And music is the sound that's most endearing.
For birds above all else, such habitats
Provide abundance worth a pretty song
Or two: a naturalistic table that's
A smorgasbord of insects, worms and seeds.
Ten thousand generations can't be wrong
About these special niches where their needs
Are always met.
When fruit just hangs a-wasting,
Remember that the tongue was made for tasting.
To eat and to be eaten is the way
Of every living thing, however loath
A denizen might be to see the day
When it's the latter. Animals eat plants
And animals; bacteria eat both
As well—but only what the tireless ants
Have left behind.
The nose was made for smelling
Bouquets of ripe decay in every dwelling.
A creature's prime directive is to mate,
To reproduce (presuming it has fed
Already), lest it soon become too late
To do so. Better that the parents die
Before their cherished progeny are dead,
For fertile children will have less to cry
About than they.
When sunny hopes are sinking,
One wishes that the brain weren't made for thinking.
Published on: 2/7/2013
I found a wounded bird the other day.
Its crumpled pinions, normally adept
At keeping clear of branches, must have swept
Some limb a gust of wind blew in the way
Of where its flight was aimed. The grounded jay
Was very fortunate I hadn't stepped
Upon it near the shed in which I kept
My gardening tools, and where I sometimes pray.
Thank God, I'm not a fool. I would have wept
If I had been so careless as to slay
It. Even so, my angels were inept
Or simply callous, failing to allay
My grave concern: for later, while I slept,
The bird gave up the ghost, to my dismay.
Published on: 2/8/2013
A joke is seldom meant to kill, although
The laughter's often quite infectious. Time
Was never known for standing still, but slow
Enough it goes if pain or boredom climb
Aboard its juggernaut. Not funny, how
Distress is capable of clogging up
The days one hoped would overflow—which now
Suggests a vital question: Is the cup
Half full, or just half empty? Some will say
The question spawns another one: And what
Was such a cup once filled with, anyway?
The answers float inside the scuttlebutt,
Where brackish water seeps through leaky seams;
This barge, a Noah's Ark of jetsam dreams.
Published on: 2/11/2013
The Road Home
There's a right way, and there are many wrong ways.
There are dirt roads made for four-season travel
And others not worth the bother. The highways
Run proud above the landscape and unravel
The many knotted routes that lead to home,
To where the mailbox is. A driveway's paved
With tarmacadam, gravel over loam
That's been compressed, or copper pennies saved
In gallon jugs—it doesn't matter, just
So long as all the numerals nailed beside
The door are visible. In God we trust,
But friends and relatives have almost died
While searching madly for the rural address
Where someone they have missed for years still lives,
Where they'll receive a blanket and a mattress,
And also various restoratives.
A home is where the heart is most relaxed,
Tuned-in and pampered; where the bounty falls
To those who give the most; where nothing's taxed
That leads to pleasure down its creaky halls.
Published on: 2/12/2013
Never always, but always again,
The heavy hammer will descend
Upon the passive terran anvil
And smite the shoddy work of men
Whom no fair judge would recommend.
A would-be carpenter from Danville
(Kentucky, Pennsylvania or
Virginia… seems I can't recall
Which one) who didn't own a level
Attempted to repair a door
That led through someone's kitchen wall
To gardens just beyond. The devil,
As often is the case, was in
The detail. Doors which do not shut
Completely, doors which do not open
Unless they're tugged, have never been
Considered up to standard. But,
They do allow a ray of hope in:
That artificial barriers
Between the pantry and the soil
Might be discarded altogether.
In former times, the farriers
Outside a smithy shed would toil
All day in foul or clement weather
So horses wouldn't come up lame,
While farmers worked from dawn till dark
To wrest a living from the acres
The horses plowed. It's not the same
For carpenters who like to park
The trucks domestic automakers
Have sold them on in driveways paved
Like superhighways. What the slight
Young journeyman informed his clients
In Danville was that he had slaved
For hours to hang the door aright,
That carpentry is not a science.
Published on: 8/19/2010
In every breath, a molecule or two
That once had been inside the living lungs
Of Alexander on his way
To Persia. All the men his army slew
Ascended in a sentient cloud
Like those which gather here today,
But now they loom without the gift of tongues,
And crude translations aren't allowed.
The clouds consist of transitory vapor,
Substantial only during spells of rain -
Though nearly solid when it pours.
Obituaries, not of ink and paper,
Of those who lived before the Flood
Are graven on supernal shores;
Departed patriarchs express no pain,
No grievances of flesh and blood.
Libations honoring the dead are sipped
Or quaffed, according to the habit of
The drinker. No one here recalls
Who first composed an elegiac script,
But everyone has heard the sound
Of warnings whispered down the halls:
Be careful not to squander all your love
On what lies buried underground.
Another drink, a dose of shelter from
The ice storm bearing down; another dram
To guard against the bitter cold
As long-exposed extremities grow numb.
Nobody gets to live forever,
But some will live until they're old
Enough to comprehend the diagram
Outlining meaningful endeavor.
Let glasses now be raised in glad thanksgiving
For words imparted to the dead,
For words that they, in turn, have said
To doomed imbibers still among the living.
Published on: 8/19/2010
What Profits a Prophet
The bells of hell peal loudly in the night.
For some, this is a sign the end is near;
For others, that an age of sheer delight
Is just beginning. No one goes to bed
Until a normal morning makes it clear
Again that no sublime apocalypse
Has altered old routines. Isaiah said
The Lord is merciful, but where's the proof
Alleged historical relationships
With deities are binding? All too often
The regnant principals remain aloof
Toward those who were created in their image,
Just like the uncle in an open coffin
Whose Mona Lisa smile is possibly
A side-effect of donning angel plumage
But who, for some strange reason, doesn't care
To enlighten his grieving kin. Velleity
Becomes the standing order de rigueur.
Nobody's certain whether God is there
Or not, and if required to make a choice,
So few could tell what world-view they prefer,
Which puts the game-piece squarely on square one.
From heaven's faint destabilizing voice
There comes a rash of open-ended words,
The stuff of crossword puzzles twice begun
But never finished. In the equipoise
Between full dark and when the faithful birds
Arise, there's not a hint of joyful noise.
Published on: 8/19/2010
For any swain grown tired of herding sheep
There's always farming - sure, a rusty plow
To till the ground, with Heaven just a leap
Of faith away. It's quite apparent now
That husbandry is not the right career
For everyone, and farmers should allow
Their sons and daughters leave to drift a year
And maybe more before they're made to choose
A lifelong job. It's easier to steer
A proper course when guided by the clues
A base of broad experience affords;
They're wise to walk in many different shoes,
Therefore, down roads provided by the lords
Of commerce. Doing varied sorts of work
Has value in itself and yields rewards
Much greater than the check a payroll clerk
Disburses every week as recompense
For services performed. The sterling perk
Which makes the labor make such perfect sense
Is being certain - saved from being wrong -
That places they decide to pitch their tents
Are where they unequivocally belong.
Published on: 8/19/2010
Come down from Heaven, Mother, to the shade
prepared for you beneath the spreading boughs
of trees raised up on our placentas. Rouse
yourself from dreams you share with Him who made
you what you were and are to us, and lade
our empty cargo holds, if He allows
it, with the treasure yonder mansions house -
or simply sit and sip the lemonade.
Our father would have said the same if he
were here, but he has passed away as well.
He claimed he would have spent eternity
with you, if only you had gone to hell.
We stand alone now, Mom, aggrieved to be
the cheese - blame Dad, the farmer in the dell.
Published on: 8/19/2010
The Only Family You’ve Got
There are those who never question. Others
shake their heads and wonder why. A small few
begin with crying, including mothers
who've already done it a time or two.
So many wars, abroad and here at home -
it seems as if the golden Promised Land
is not the prize but just a plot of loam
that's wagered on a lucky poker hand.
Animal impulses, strangely human
when the lights are out, generate a scent
evoking old commands and illumine
pathways where the intellect never went.
The ones who disengage, pretending they
do not take part in it, somehow manage
to live a quiet life - until the day
when they become collateral damage.
The call for help that rises in the deep
of night from lover to beloved bleeds
into the white noise of worry; the seep
of fond intentions only reaches weeds.
It's not the kind of place you'd want to raise
your kids; adults have a hard enough time
as it is. Better to defect, to graze
on lotus, to trace years in pantomime.
Children are not just victims - they're the cause!
The failure to grow out of old clothing
is the reason for yards of bloody gauze,
for disenchantment, and for the loathing.
One important lesson all too often
undersold is that the choice is never
between a cradle and a new coffin,
but between tomorrow and forever.
Things work out, or they don't. The right to name
its gods, to pick its battles and to wage
its wars is childhood's highest law, the same
that tames us, if and when we act our age.
Published on: 2/12/2016
Sheep in Sheep's Clothing Grazing the Bell Curve
Entrusting life to luck ensures
That cold stochastic laws will drag
You down. For lack of sinecures,
Uneducated people lag
Behind the rest, but not because
They're stupid. They are simply blind
To what a bit of effort does
To elevate an average mind:
Assembled in their own backyard,
An arsenal of handy tools
They negligently disregard.
Inside the walls of public schools,
The wool pulled over sleepy eyes
Provides a boy with nothing better
Than idle time to theorize
On whether he should don a sweater
When left outside to face the cold.
The garb you wear defines your taste
And shows your age. By now, you're old
Enough to know that it's a waste
Of precious time to put your stock
In fashion statements. Life is more
Than just a chance to stage the mock-
Heroic gestures you'd deplore
In any better circumstance.
Nobody cares what clothes you wear
When, unprepared to dance the dance,
You cry that music isn't fair.
Published on: 2/6/2016
Character Sketches Drawn from Dark Archives
With all the courage he could muster
He stood against his fierce attackers,
but their assault was hollow bluster
Because they lacked financial backers.
Though much admired for her tenacity
In matters bearing on the goals she's set,
She doesn't have a true capacity
For understanding when her goals are met.
A penny saved might be a penny earned,
But nasty habits beg to be unlearned:
He dined on kitchen scraps and lived in squalor,
A lifestyle worth but pennies on the dollar.
Lack of Concentration
Black tea infused with bergamot
Is widely known as Earl Grey.
She drank some early and forgot
This was her Lapsang Souchong day.
Some jobs exist for which advanced degrees
From universities are requisite.
A middling student got down on his knees
And prayed his prayers would be of benefit.
Missing the Point
She laughed because she thought a sense of humor
Required that she must laugh at everything.
She cried because she once had heard a rumor
That raw emotion earns a wedding ring.
Trying Too Hard
In haste to bypass Purgatory,
He goes to Hell instead of Heaven.
Each mortal sin augments his story
Line. Count them—there are more than seven.
The plan we settled on was artifice,
So pure and simple that it assayed real.
I wish I were not taking part in this,
But in the end, you know, a deal's a deal.