poems


Who are you?

You, behind dark and light forms here and there,

Behind mirrors and doors,


Behind thoughts and their frames,


Behind angels and demons,

Behind my desires and fears ...


Who are you


Who teaches that the less space there is between us


The higher I can fly on my own wings?





Self Image Is Destiny

There was a little girl
with shining curls,
one in the middle
of her forehead;
daily she was told
they were beautiful;
they grew thicker, shinier
like the coat of a young alpha wolf.

As the girl grew older
she began to hear she'd caused
the hair of her friends
to be thin and limp
because she was claiming
the most care and attention
and she caved in, shrank from view;
her hair dulled, turned limp, fell out.

Then the hair of her friends
didn't look so bad.
(It's lonely at the top.)



Reflections (after Rumi)


A cloud passes unseen
you see the shadow it casts

Pulled from your source
you long to go back

Desire makes your heart skip a beat
in the lock of your fear a key turns

In time all images are spent
like gold plucked from a sleeve


You deem yourself a donkey's slave
yet ride a magical horse


While you sleep in darkness
something within you shines

While your body fades to dust
you hop from roof to star

Your body is but a shadow
of a shadow of your love



Back to the sea

I want to go back to the sea
where light and dark are one
- where I’m free, where I’m from.

Back to sea waits and wiggles

where the will to be
(not greed) trumps right and wrong.

I would be a tiny fish, live one marvelous moment

or a big one, snapping up the little.
The sea sings, ‘the one who doesn't know me is an orphan.'

I will go to the deepest place

listen to the sound rising

find my wings where they form.



Killing the Christ within

(written after reading comments by Benny Morris on ethnic cleansing)

Ethnic cleansing is sometimes justified
he tells the crowd
which claps and shouts
roars and cheers, believing
what goes around
doesn't come around
when you're armed to the teeth
and special.

St. Peter isn't there this time,
just an old man
sucking on an empty pipe.
A cock crows twice and keels over.

He sees the cock drop
and tells the crowd he's had a sign
- it's up to them, the chosen,
to kill the Christ left within
- their Beast is set to rise
to scorch the land again
and they’re to follow,
pitiless as a desert sun.



Orange Cord

(a suicide bomber foresees her death)

dynamite strapped across her chest
dark hair covered, soft brown eyes,
she steps over raw sewage

cement rocks and broken toys
across fields and into a shop
busy with affluent citizens

her veiled purpose to blow apart
those who drove her family
from their land and lives

who degrade without a rest,
stealing mind and body
like vampires feasting

the world watching,
she will not be broken
or pretend to acquiesce to slavery

she will light a fire of hope
with the orange cord held to her heart,
a martyr opening gates to heaven.

Suicide bombers in Palestine




It's Said...

(short poems and sayings)

It's said, 'You have to kiss a lot of frogs,'
wet ones, eyes bulging.
Many do, yet never find a prince;
find grinning frogs in their mirrors instead.

***

A green fish, nearly too old to breathe, rests
under October's thin ice. Early snowflakes
melt above him. Soon fish and flakes will
leave the viewer, who says he owns them.

***

Some have said that Sound and Picture
are more fundamental than the Word, better
vessels for magic, superior tools for the artist;
but, like fire, language is a gift from the gods;
words can create both sounds and pictures
and turn them into poetry. Words are wands.

***

When our thoughts impinge on one another
and shrink, energy hardens into mass
and we see the worlds we call real.

***

A bowl of cherries is just a bowl of cherries.

A hawk circles over a farmer's hens
while the farmer plucks cherries for his pies,
pops one into his chin.

***

Knowing one can have something

doesn’t mean one knows the cost.


***

One's will to be all he can 

guarantees his fall, on and on

until he completes the work within.


***


I would say to the warrior Achilles

that poets, too, live in joy

and laugh in the face of death.



***

'Impulsive' is said to be

eager without looking
then - surprised!
Some with that habit
age to 'old and wise';
others turn old
with a vengeance.

 ***

Dancer and red fish dream,

one under satin,
one under stone;
glide like fireflies
from their covers.

***

His poem about a perfect lover
is well-crafted, but no one lives there.

***

The color red is said to bring

new beginnings and prosperity,


the darker shades elegance and power,

the brighter ones energy.


***

Body and Soul:
Dust thou art and to dust thou shall return
Soul thou art and soul thou shall remain

***

The one who worships himself as God
is highly tolerant of his own evil.

***

What is permitted may not be forgiven;
listen to the still voice within
if you would walk scatheless through your days,
your own master, blameless.




Some New Scholars
(verse commentary, after Yeats' "The Scholars")

The Scholars

by William Butler Yeats


Bald heads forgetful of their sins,

Old, learned, respectable bald heads

Edit and annotate the lines

That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love's despair

To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.


All shuffle there; all cough in ink;

All wear the carpet with their shoes;

All think what other people think;

All know the man their neighbour knows.

Lord, what would they say

Did their Catullus walk that way?



They used to be forgetful of their sins, now they seduce their students, pretend they're young themselves, but can't remember when they felt love's emotion without self consciousness; believe beauty is clever, not ignorant.


The older ones vacation in exotic places, the younger wear disdain and good will; all wear the carpet with their shoes; all think aloud in the same domain of political correctness. Few in the humanities or social sciences dare have an original thought that works (I recall one: "pecked to death by doves"; its source was speaking of her friends).


All know the members of their crowd; it's still important to know the right thinkers. In a town I passed through, those teaching for the local college bought their uniforms at Sears; the one with pecky friends asked if Catullus was an astronaut, then confessed she'd mostly read classic comics, adding her specialty was something else.




As a child ...


I learned to hold spiders, snakes, toads and lizards, the feel of life, stroking their small bodies with care. Years later at an inland college I saw a teacher in the faculty lounge kicking a cricket side to side, enjoying its terror.


I dodged his shoe and picked it up; a scream from across the room whipped deep into my back -- other teachers had been watching (and crickets didn't belong except in poems).


I took it outside and put it on the grass, faded, its presence scattered, but still beautiful and black.


(Childhood learning was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.)



Related verse, and a microcosm: Close Conspiracies: A Memory of Bakersfield




for John Milton

When we're young, arrogant lambs

with heart and wool

the world lusts after

we preen and swagger

all the way to hell

(called 'the

fortunate fall'

by a poet)


change radically -
willing, totally -
crawl from the fire,
rise to the light
(called by the same poet
'Paradise Regained')


Those who stayed home
ask, 'why look for trouble?'
and 'who needs to be a hero?'
as though they have little
left to discover


but you reached
into hell and heaven
for secrets of the journey,
show Him planting His apple seed
that holds the fruit
of divine Knowing

in our Garden 


then creating us
His chosen seekers and finders
of Knowledge.


                The Works of John Milton






Thanksgiving 2006

I'm not the body
I move, own, am tied to
giving thanks today
as I consume the flesh
of friends Tom Turkey,
plants I love,
along with air and water...

What is this communion,
one form devouring others,
transforming, mind giving credit
for the privilege
to a god?



Gandhi

"The only tyrant I bow to
is the still voice within."

Knowing the difference,
he chose between dying and living.



Regarding Van Gogh's Advice
Not to Be Afraid and Not to Try
to Make a Painting Pretty

It takes courage not to try
to make a painting pretty.
Few souls can resist,
the desire to please requiring
that ugliness be hidden.

Tell it like it is,
beautiful and ugly,
the best you are able -
serve no other master!
Was that commandment made for man
who has so much to worship, and forget?

A Van Gogh baby is big,
drooling, eternal -
a fat promise
held by a vigilant mother,
her apron wrapped tightly
over simian bones like a second skin,
strings hanging like tails.

It is in related gestures too -
their straight backs,
a jutting hip,
a small leg dangling
and hands ready to reach -
that love and attitude
raise immortal heads.




Winning
(prose poem)

In first grade, I learned long fingers indicate aesthetic bent and vision. Felt discouraged, until I saw pictures of chimpanzees with very long fingers, long arms too, especially adapted for grasping and swinging.

One of my professors remarked that in his experience people with wide triangular eyes have benevolent souls and those with round eyes evil ones; his own eyes were remarkably wide and triangular and when he saw me looking, noting their glint too, he frowned. Every time he heard his round-eyed dog bark he put it in a closet, on a vegetarian diet; it lived five years.

And so it goes: white, brown, short, tall, plump, thin, old, young; we make one better than another because someone has to lose, we think, so why not play more games like who can be truly kinder?



New York City (1996)

In touch
with the heartbeat
of the world
we have a sense
of action snowballing,
of impending upheaval.

In my neighborhood
a darkness beyond the ordinary
has been settling in
for a long while.
It penetrates the daylight,
walls of buildings,
pores of faces.

We know it is never too late,
but is there a future here?
That is the incredible question
in this City of high energy
where people of every kind
live together in a harmony
unheard of elsewhere.

We play out our dramas
deep in the womb
of a sleeping volcano,
await the purifying fire.



5 haiku

big white fish hiding
under red October leaves
closes, opens lips

***

brief as a firefly
a goldfish glides under weeds
in dusky water

***

carp swims up my scroll,
turns into silver crescent
predicting long life

***

elegant bamboo,
the lucky kind, curls 3 times;
yellow base means death

***

my boots sometimes sink
climbing over a snow bank,
ice cream cone steady



The gnostic

To follow the Christ spirit
manifest in that one
who was a son of God and knew it
even in the bloody eye of his storm

allowing truth
open to what the winds will bring
trusting
open to dying, to being born
is too difficult for me

I opened many doors once
and turned my life authentic
but love won’t bear another undergoing
I think, looking back -
still, today appeared a hurricane
and I am walking through it upright

Don’t call me christian though,
a follower of dogma;
I’m a co-creator in alignment.



Shoes

Feet flatten,
holes grow,
a push and pull
wearing down concrete,
leather and bone.
Like wind and roses,
stone and sun,
like us,
each shoe's life
depends on crafting,
what it is made of
and what it rubs.




The magic footprint

Whoever puts his foot in a side of the cliff
where a giant footprint is stamped
will be granted the wish there he makes for himself.

In our town, this is a living myth.
Over the past 30 years, four have tried;
one fell into the sea and broke her hip,
the others say their wishes have come true.

I decide with certainty - no doubt
what will have come to pass for me;
un fait accompli already,
it manifests in its time like magic
if I let it be.




A Reflection (after Rumi)

How does softness leave a petal,
or hardness a stone?
But the parts, when lost bless,
bring you to all there is,
the Friend you seek beyond them.



The Future's DNA

The future unfolds
the intent of living things
to die and be born again.

The caterpillar inches towards death
spinning its cocoon
willing to grow wings.



Chalk and Board
(or Cheek and Tongue)


Vice makes virtue possible to know,
like white chalk on black or green,
thus there is no role I would not play --
sage, madman, robber, king --
changing skin and gait
on a Shakespearean stage;
the more identities I can have
the more knowledgeable I can be,
act deliberately,
not re-act mechanically
or be fooled by Loki spirits
hovering near.

This reminds me of a dream

in which a traveler lost his way


but that was before I found my devil

looking out just for me
while I hop leg to leg
finding-missing parts,

loss to gain back to back;
the devil with a stash of scalps
who tells me I've been chosen
and others haven't.





Plea to a friend, to act wisely

When have you or I
stopped pursuing folly
before many falls?

There is a Zen saying
that some horses only need
to feel a whip lightly,
others in the marrow of their bones.



For David, the Painter

'Sometimes I want to paint
something as corny
as a sunset,' he said.
'Why don't you,' I asked.

'Maybe you could paint it
like no one else has.'
But he shook his head,
'I have an image to think of.'

He paints abstractly
and, instead of things, an idea
that life is an unending plateau.
His paintings remind me of sunsets.



only caught


He plays on rims of chaos

testing his intent to live

and disciplines self

by choosing not to obliterate

certain foes and faithless friends,


remembering his drive to kill

before being killed must be on edge 

– else he could forget, grow hapless

and life be lost — maybe his;

he’s come close when playing

with all he’s got for a good cause


not certain if he’s right or not

which doesn’t make him wrong --

he's only caught



It is better to live one day as a tiger, 

than for a thousand years as a sheep. 

 (Tibetan Proverb)


I agree but would prefer to be 

anything I choose

neither trapped nor fleeced

captured only while I’m willing.




Friendships

I've wondered more than once
which friends serve me best,
those who stand by me
or those who exploit my weaknesses.

The first offer love;
the second, loss
followed by opportunities
I wouldn't have sought directly.

Wanting to know my world,
find the treasures hidden in it,
what can I honestly say now
other than I've been lucky.



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