What he remembers is not the shock of pain
but waves of breath lifting and carrying him to the hollows of a cedar tree
where owls cover him with their wings.
He knows now the burgled house unlocks its own doors.
The murdered man solicits his death and pays the killer in advance.
The widower sleeping on his wife’s side of the bed is found naked
Everything is a succession of Being, always busy becoming
A glass of water becomes the Pope, drop by drop.
The boy remembers this and is comforted.
Inside these diamond backed shadows, you are with me
as I am with the river.
Twenty-seven years married, now the night is coming.
The sky is a blue man in a sequin suit
falling down on blue knees by the river.
Under scrub oak trees all the mossy backed chickadees are feasting without a care,
turning over leaves shaped like hands that close
around each other as they dry.
“There is a love that will break ribs getting to your heart.”
You harnessed my anger, made me plow in a field of bones.
Taught me not to hear the world’s infected promises
not put my lips too near a dead thing’s mouth
but to kneel
and from my distance, look into the world’s yellow eyes.
See through them there is a light in outer darkness, that does not
Now I stand in front of waterfalls, gutted, reborn in water.
I am here in all this beauty and I am satisfied
Next moment I am crying. The whole creation is crying.
Pain is not an unwanted child standing in line for her own abortion.
Pain is the expected one we wait for all our lives.
To mend the heart
the surgeon’s knife cuts through walls of bone and muscle
and we are satisfied with that.
We meet on the river road and know each other by our masks.
When a man has nothing left to say, the ghost in him takes over.
The ghost speaks through the hole in the mask, as if it is alive.
The ghost says
“The blind running with coyotes through fir trees can clearly see
what those with eyes cannot.
The deaf play on blue guitars and sing
while those born with ears and a tongue are forever dumb.
All night long the cricket patiently rubs his legs together!
The living die and the dead dance in circles, dressed in feathers of a fish hawk.”
there is a ghost in me who suffers and enjoys
and I am satisfied with that.
In the end we are like salmon
forced by our blood back to the spawning pool.
We are Chinook and Coho
cut by volcanic rock in narrow beds of white water streaming blood.
We come home, proud flesh showing golden on the scales.
Sockeye, Steelhead, dammed and gill netted, hunted by fish hawks.
We are impaled upon talons, taken up into fir trees
Beaten beautiful as seven billion Christs stumbling toward Golgotha,
we come home bearing the colors of fire across our backs.
Follow the scent of our Mother’s blood home,
we fertilize eggs and we die.
The carcass rots.
Young men called barefoot to the river in the heat of day are offended by us
and move on.
I am satisfied with that.
I will die at sunrise with the sky
red as a salmon lying on his side in a bed of coals.
There will be a little wind,
just enough to stir the oak leaf curled in the palm of my right hand.
When I die there will be phlegm in my throat.
The left nostril will be closed to further breath
and the right ear be so full of fluid
that breath itself sounds indistinct and vaguely sacred.
Hearing this sound I will enter into a kingdom of silence
and be offered a crown.
The Alone is alone with itself, has always been alone and always will remain
but you can find me here in all this beauty,
a blowfly sitting on my head
the color of a sapphire sewn into the crown of a yamaka.
I am satisfied with that.
There is no difference between faith and unbelief.
Words are bloody rags placed on an altar.
“I believe, I believe…”
Beliefs are dead men slow dancing with worms, ashes raining out of their eyes!
Every prayer, including this one, a tsunami of self pity
a rogue wave in a daub of spit!
All day our faces are gulfs of green undrinkable water.
At night coyotes hunt the river bank for a life more quiet than their own.
Ten years ago you told me
“Come to the river in morning, among grass widows, in blades of light.
Come repeat a name composed entirely of water.
Whisper these syllables into the river not as prayers
but as breath let go of, not expected to return.”
Now you say
“Don’t try to find me where I’ve always been.
Look for me in dangerous places where the poor cook their own hands
I am the poor and the dead. I am meat in the fire.
Only when your tongue is taken back into the mouth in ashes
can you speak my name again.
Only when the roof of the mouth collapses in fire,
and the skull is broken into, robbed of everything
only when you are empty as the endless canopy of sky
can you kneel like a drunk man
amazed to find the full moon floating in a cup of wine.
Only when you can see the mountains of the moon,
bear witness to a light only the blind may see,
sing words only they can sing whose throats have been cut,
only then can you speak my name again.”
There is an oak tree planted by the river
so old only its leaves know the world still exists.
When I sleep, I hear the west fork of that river
and smell it in the fine hair on my wrists.
There is something in me wants to be that cold,
wants to come back to itself in deep water
where the river curves and the bank is undermined.
There is a quiet that goes on gathering in the river
until it touches a man between his shoulder blades and he wakes.
But there is no meaning in this world.
There is heaven. There is hell. There is purgatory
and there are hallways leading between them.
You tell me
“Every house is on fire!
The moon is dancing naked on the roof ridge
with all her feathers fallen to the ground!”
“Throw off your blankets! Your sheets are in flames!
The bed where you are sleeping is now the unmade sky!”
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
2 Kings 2:11
for Carol and for David Spero
There is a quivering in the creek water
like the flanks of a mare in heat and in the pasture behind the log barn
there is vibration in the blood of the seed bull.
Hawks circling the moon watch the bull lift himself
on the backs of heifers
where he lays his head between their shoulder blades to smell
the quiet in their sweat.
In air thick and damp as a lover’s tongue there are tremolos of fireflies!
There are teeming wings of mosquitoes
as a million gnats too small to be seen are carried over treetops
in heated waves of breath!
I am joined in air by web worms,
by spiders climbing into oak trees, making sails of their silk.
Together we throw ourselves into the sky
where the moon is naked as a stripper’s breast!
Moonlight the color of skin stretched wide across the bottom land
where the ground slopes back to Stephens Creek
and javelinas come to rut.
In every cell of the captive locked so long inside of freedom, there is a tingling.
I am ready now for the moon to take me
in waves over pine thickets, over the river dammed and coiling, the color of a water moccasin.
I am flying!
I am carried away from San Jacinto County, north to Palestine, Texas
I am flying!
Anyone who welcomes me now, I welcome as my own self
and give myself to you in return.
As the heart of a man should be, mine is!
As the heart of a man should be, mine is!
I WILL LEAN INTO YOUR VOICE
I will drink your voice as a willow drinks the wind.
The terror of your nails!
The meat of your presence!
The seed bull enters his herd with a trumpet!
Grackles fly out of maple trees, shaking limbs as if in seizure.
The magnificent Eye that sees all creatures afloat in Itself
I want to run my hand over the nylon covering your void.
Let me call your name!
Standing on a lake, playing his flute,
golden dhoti waving, Krsna is giving birth to wheat fields in the air.
Worlds, men and women tangled with stars
are streaming from the flute!
He speaks his own name and universes leap into being.
He keeps quiet and worlds gather back into Being.
He stops playing and eats a mango.
Over a sourceless, sounding lake he walks
every footstep leaving a child waking up in the water
of the Mother’s womb.
We are praising you Krsna,
praising you Krsna,
I LOOK IN THE INFINITE DIRECTIONS OF THE EYE
I look in the infinite directions of the Eye.
See your face upon the Earth,
the circle of your mouth,
your teeth like geese whose beaks point toward the sun.
Hear a caravan of wind, a shipment of breezes,
thunder carrying your Voice over the farms.
You are the Ark and the flood that lifts the Ark.
I am calling you like a tree frog calls for his mate.
I am calling like a cricket to the moon.
I want to be stripped of limitation, forced full of lights.
I want to be a raining presence of affection,
to stand naked before you
and give my self wholly to the river off your glance.
PRAYING IN A HORSE PASTURE NEAR MIDNIGHT
You enter through a wound
going down into the world
where fire walks, embodied in blood.
I walk into the fire and I burn
upside down in a suit of ashes.
I drink words from a broken cistern,
words and ashes mixed together.
I want the earth never to have existed!
I want colors going back into light!
I am afraid of little breezes touching my arm!
See wings made of moon light beating in the dark!
Something in me wants the iris to float out of my eyes,
wants to be old and surrendered to the sky,
give up to the floating scenery I am described by.
I want that!
I want to disappear, become all this.
I want to be with you and to know you.
Come down to this pasture where long eared donkeys bray.
Come down from the tower of the trees
or bring me up.
HEARING TREE FOGS IN THE RAIN
Hearing tree frogs in rain, I draw back the curtains,
let their clear syllables fall across my boots.
Last night we slept together touching ankles.
Now I stand at this window
holding in my hands the green light of cedars.
I SPEAK OF THE NEW BIRTH!
I speak through a cylinder of foam
birds raging in my throat.
A season of nails falls from my hands,
The sky slides into my shoulders.
I am not this, I am not that!
The hundred angles of my smile attach to light.
I speak of the new birth!
Nothing is tangled.
The stars are stars, after all.
The coil is a river and the river is my self.
Watch for me, where I fly in the body of an oriole,
an answer without a question!
PRAYING BY A CATTLE TANK
I want to be touched by the nameless Presence.
I want my lips to be leaves of fire!
But there are flies on the surface of the cattle tank.
A mare with a belly like a church house has come down
to drink water.
From where I sit, I see
the jawbone of a cow that bloated in winter and died.
See a blue jay, everything eaten but its feathers!
I hold my hands up against the land, the sky, oak trees
for Carol, Rob, Aja, Amidha, Michael
The world is memory.
You tell me about the squirrel you found, fallen from his nest,
hairless and smooth as a scrotum.
Now I remember that squirrel as my own.
Cry for him.
Off and on for the rest of our lives we go on crying.
We think we are stranded but we are moving at the speed of light.
Believe we are unloved while the Mother’s hands are
busy holding us.
Know with a certainty we only have a few years left to live
but we died a century ago,
only it made so little difference we never noticed.
Catching sight of God,
it’s like seeing a deer in the woods.
The colors are not impressive at first glance.
It’s God’s deer not Walt Disney’s.
If you’ve never seen a deer
you might miss it entirely or say to yourself,
“That can’t be a deer.”
Yesterday we walked to the river
one of us immersed in pain, the other aware of a unity.
The white water in the river below, the ringing of the hillside to the north.
High pitched trilling in the ear like 10,000 digitally recorded crickets.
Pixelated visuals of fir trees, dirt road, low hanging cloud,
all composed of sound, light, and energy in the body.
The body itself is made from pin points of light oscillating fast
as a moth’s wings flying into fire!
No difference between suffering and elation
between your body and mine
between the river below us and the sky.
My friend, despite what you say, I believe you are capable
of performing super human good deeds for all seven billion of us.
All of us at once, yourself included.
The common human heart may appear shallow as a grave
but it will open wide enough to hold the universe!
Our sun, our moon, all our stars are small as teardrops
We will be buried inside ourselves forever
or we will burn, we will burn, we will burn
until we go free!
I don’t want to ever go past love.
I want to stay where love is.
It’s like treading water in a pool fed by springs
coming up under us,
not gently but churning the water in a muscular way,
the currents wanting to lift us all up
God has seven billion pairs of eyes but he is blind unless our eyes are open.
He doesn’t have a clue what he feels
unless we speak for him.
“Tonight I am a child. I do not know that the moon is not the sun.” Rafael Stoneman
I was hitch hiking from Oklaunion,Texas to Ellenville, New York
telling people about Jesus.
Dime in my watch pocket, the cost of a pay phone having risen that high.
People are mostly kind, give me food to shut me up
as if a man couldn’t preach with his mouth full.
Nearly died of dysentery in Ellenville
eating out of dumpsters what fell from the rich man’s plate.
Stole a jar of peanut butter while I was on the road
believing it righteous to even rob a bank in the service of the Lord
but a broken hearted man just out of prison taught me better.
Said, “Pretty boy like you don’t want to go anywhere near jail.”
One of very few converts that I made.
He was weeping beside me in his mother’s Buick
not for crimes he’d done but for the mother dead and buried
her hair grown so long in memory it nearly touched the ground.
Preacher in Brinkley, Arkansas
first put me up in a railroad hotel, then had me arrested.
I’d persuaded the youth director of his church to forsake all
take to the road with me!
24 hours in a drunk tank in Brinkley
before they drove us to the county line,
me and one old man the scriptures could not reach
so full of shame he could not help but drink himself
When I was a boy, I wanted to be a hobo.
Back when they all had long Bible beards
black as Chinese rivers in danger now of catching fire.
I see kids on the highway
20 years old, leaving home without their teeth.
Mouth sores like a leper’s, eyes like campfires built inside of dripping caves.
Where I live, in winter the sky is white as fish belly,
cut open with a folding knife, water always draining out of it.
Travelers keep dry beneath the underpass that leads to the river.
Driving by in my work truck I sometimes give them a dollar
but more often try to time it so I don’t get caught by
Crossing the Columbia from Washington into Oregon
I feel a distance come up in me.
Feel the space between the sky and what I call myself suddenly
come to nothing.
Maybe I am seeing through the eyes of a stranger on the road,
feeling the common and the aching human heart
that wants to free itself of everything
Whether it’s Ripple wine or Fiji water, all of us are drunk
Then we’re dead as any traveler found frozen in a culvert
by some lonesome railroad track.
There is joy in knowing this. There is joy in knowing this.
That is what I feel on a bridge of fog between two states.
But by the time I cross the river into Oregon, the stranger’s heart is gone
and there is only sky.
The Bible says we have no name that can be repeated.
It says that living with tears is also living well.
Even God sleeps in a rent house and may be torn asunder.
Sometimes I feel shame having lived this long, awake in the night
with so little still to give.
But here are my empty hands in friendship.
What I have is yours.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself. D H Lawrence
First 37 years spent in solitary confinement
rolling dice carved from finger bones
against an unforgiving wall.
Let out from time to time
to circle the prison yard.
No brain for science.
Forced by nature to relate everything to God.
Layers of imagined specialness,
all very complicated.
Getting old now.
Falling back on what set this world in motion.
Whatever Love is,
the only God I want to know.
Selfishness at the root of every body.
Take care of my own self first.
Fight for the last remaining breath.
All very tiresome in the end.
The body stores so much tension it can’t relax.
By the time it dies, its face belongs to someone else:
to this man created by a tension
held so dear.
when you came to my door, your arms were open
but I was asleep.
I have climbed into pine trees,
scanning distances the colors of cerulean frost,
hoping to catch sight of my own eyes.
Maybe you called my name but I could not hear
for all the mockingbirds.
When you left, even the crows left with you.
Even the blue jays are gone from my door step.
No one singing now.
There is no pain other than being here without you.
All other pains are rolled into that one.
Behind all of this, an embrace, a smile, a welcome
At the right moment, I will not be afraid.
What is broken will be knitted back together with needles
I know this.
So interesting now to hold the hand of the one I love
to feel it as a woman’s hand grown old
but also a girl’s,
a dry leaf, a flow of air across the palm.
In the dark
we can’t tell whose hand is whose.
We are all illegals here
all of us homeless with a hand out.
Help me cross this river, Friend.
Water is streaming out of my body red as blood.
Hold me one time in your arms and tell me I am
Once will be enough.
Being on time for God is important,
being awake when he passes on his morning walk….
but luck has so much to do with those who catch sight
No matter how diligent we are
we drift out of sleep just in time
to see the moon passing full across the window
I sympathize with your friend who shot himself in the head
but let’s not do that, just yet.
Fellow I knew recently hung himself.
A good man, you couldn’t miss the kindness in him.
Battled depression for years. Fought it hand to hand.
The end of a long relationship must have played a part
but the final blow
was the dean of the local college,
where this man painted, cleaned, repaired the walls.
The dean announced it was likely the school would have to close,
all workers thrown into a fire.
That good man went home, wrote some note to his children
and hung himself for a friend to find.
Now it seems the dean was hasty.
The school won’t close after all. They say that school never closes.
How could it?
Hope is not essential.
Sometimes there is joy and ecstasy.
We feel a pointed participation with our Existence
as a person with plans unfolding.
Sometimes there is an ecstasy with no plan.
Just seeing the moon pass across a window pane is enough
to justify the universe.
Other times we are in pain,
rolling in our bed sheets as a caterpillar spinning its cocoon.
Or we feel we are taking a light nap
aware of what is happening around us but uninvolved
Either way, risen or set, the moon is there.
Not allowing ourselves to tunnel out of prison is important.
Not rolling our bones into a past or future.
When we fall in love, it always happens where we are
not where we ought to be.
We look up, for no reason that we know, and there is Lord Krsna.
Or in my case, there is Carol
or there is Krsna dressed as Carol or Carol dressed how Krsna would be dressed
if he were dressed as Carol.
I want to give back everything I have stolen from my Self
saying it was “mine”.
Let me lay it down on the kitchen counter, where I find myself
naked as moonlight
waiting for water to boil.
I will kneel before imaginary gods
Taking their blue hands as wings
And I will fly as one of them into persimmon trees
To sing the sweet fruit down
But the one I love more
Breaks the back of this world, hammering its vertebrae to dust!
I will sit before a willow fire
Banking heat, storing what light I can
And when night comes with increase of darkness
I will hold cupped hands against the afterglow of that collected light
And sing the songs old men sing before they curl into a bed of ashes.
But the one I love more, imagines this world.
Then comes with wrecking balls, comes with hammers, comes with demolicious fire.
There is nothing better than to wake suddenly in flames!
Walking down the river road in a wedding coat of fire!
These words are memories.
Hearing them, a blue jay will turn his back on words
And lifts his wings into a sweet persimmon tree.
After we die, our jaw bones go on grinning.
The skull empties itself.
Magnificent human eyes give up space
for the moon to see through.
We humans do not look away
from our own faces decaying in varieties of mirrors.
We extend a hand in welcome, even to death,
making nothing of what is already nothing.
I say that all of us will falter, all of us will kneel,
and all be left standing.
I say there is a sky, blue with diamonds, coming down over us.
There is a singing in tongues only mountains understand.
There are hands of fire reaching out for ours.
for my wife, Carol
To strangers and to moths gathering around fire
my common heart is opening.
In every rounded corner of the world there is a laughter
I can hear.
There is a joy I share with falling leaves and sparrows.
Inside his prison cell, the condemned man is awake,
overcome with joy.
His floor is worn smooth with solitary dancing.
The bags under his eyes are packed with sand to stop the river overflowing.
Can you hear those church bells ringing in the palms of his hands?
There is a happy static jumping inside the blood
and across his rib cage, pastures waving, fireflies humming!
The pain that comes with love is taken down into the body,
locked in cells designed to open.
That pain is free to go now!
Born naked into fire? That pain is forgotten!
The pain of Earth confined in solitary space,
all that is over now!
From here I see a billion suns clustered as her crown.
Some like to take the shape of planetary nebulae falling past the world
as flaming dust.
I like to follow the blood, returning to the heart.
Every moment I am kneeling with an ear against my prison wall
and the beating heart I listen for is yours.
These poems may not be worthy of having the name Galway Kinnell connected to it but I have to thank him, as I am able, for the gifts he has given me.
October 29, 2014
The day Galway Kinnell died, a finger was found in the East River,
Queens, New York.
The finger of a giant, cut from a muscular hand,
still bearing the mark of a wedding ring.
A little Honduran boy playing by the river found the finger moving in the current as if it were stirring a bowl of sky.
Every time a barge would pass, the East swelled awake
and the fingertip was lifted high enough above the waterline
to touch the river coming down, making a water ring.
One hundred yards down, under Throgs Neck Bridge,
where she was raped ten years before,
a mother is ready to forgive the river its indifference.
All night, after Galway Kinnell died, she stayed awake, reading
The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World.
All that night she was crying, until river gulls,
who would steal breath from morning just to keep their young alive,
Quietly then, she took her left hand into the right,
holding both as her own and she was healed in a moment by Saint Galway!
It will not be a rapist’s eyes she remembers now,
though they were sharp as folding knives flicked opened with a vengeance.
It will not be the smell of pork flesh in his teeth, she remembers,
but how the heavy woolen overcoat she wore that night,
cushioned the ground, as much as it was able,
how tug horns, in compassion, went on blowing in the fog, covering his curses and his threats.
That coat is black
with silver threads like trails of stars falling through a moonless night.
She wears it now, as if the river is a lover she was assigned to meet.
At ten o’clock the morning after Galway Kinnell died,
when the flat October sun is so intense, she has to shade her eyes
to see galaxies of gnats and water walkers swarming on the river.
Twenty-nine hundred miles away I am standing in the White Salmon River, Underwood, Washington,
where cliff swallows are calling, “Galway, Galway…”.
Eleven silver salmon in the white water,
six of them dead, five scouring trenches in the gravel bed,
ready to spawn before they die.
The smell of the living and the dead, rise up together, braided with the river
to make a perfect twelve.
Standing in white water, cold coming through my boots, drawn up calf and thigh bone
clenching its fist around my ball sack,
Mother of creation,
All eruptions of consciousness,
including the human animal thrusting disease into itself,
All planets, stars, the space between atoms
in which galaxies flourish,
All currents, energies, waves of light,
trillions of created souls, each one different from the other
as Hutus are from Tutsis,
All of us born together in flame and blood through a single red vagina,
as the Mother is born of Herself.
All of us are merged in a Unity beyond conception!
This is my prayer.
It is unkind to tell those who suffer,
that happiness is just another kind of pain.
But standing in the White Salmon River,
knowing the Mother as my own self,
the air between us so erupt with joy, I feel I am being beaten to a kind of death.
I tell you this joy is so intense at times, I hardly care.
…I brought him to my Mother’s house
to the bedchamber of the one who conceived me.
Song of Solomon 3:4
Go to her.
Leave the flesh waving behind as if it were an acre of maize.
Float out to Her, calling her name.
Your voice is a morning glory opening in the throat.
The name forming on your tongue,
one thousand syllables of falling water.
We are drawn from our Mother’s well
fed by Her spring, hidden until sung for
in the folds of Her.
There is a way through earth known only to water
and to the water witch with a pliant branch of willow in his hands.
I am a ghost of water
whispering into my own good ear
all I need to know
how I live and move and have my being in a Gulf
how all of us are bathing in our selves
the light we see by
streaming from our own eyes.
for Michael Johnson, for Aja, and for Rob
April 7, 2014
Yesterday took a walk to the White Salmon River. Felt lit up as usual down there, praising God above the rapids, a fat man swollen with joy. Coming back met a woman maybe five years older than I. Skin of her face worn thin. Had the look of a logger’s widow, hands nervous as a knitter’s, hair pulled back into a pony tail like a girl’s. Stopped to talk to my dog, to tell us why she was on the road.
Someone close to her, she didn’t say son or grandson but I assumed it, was having troubles, had disappeared on 114 just across the river gorge, the road you can hear winding past a plum orchard, all in bloom now, pink as whore’s eye shadow. He’d driven away on Thursday in a white pick up but never arrived at work. Not seen or heard from since. So she was walking the river looking for a truck gone over a cliff, down to the water. This road we walk is closed to autos, the bridge over the river burned years ago. Tells me she used to ride it bareback on an appaloosa mare, all the way from BZ Corners, maybe 10 miles away. Now she’s looking for someone she loves, someone she believes dead by his own hands and still she is smiling, telling me this story, though her smile be thin and full of pain.
Minutes later I see a young squirrel, still immature with a tail that has not yet flared at its tip. He is sitting on the limb of a locust tree eating dry seeds that formed before he was born, letting the pods go spinning down like propellers to the ground. I hear him give a quiet little bark, then throw his head back and howl like a coyote, six inches from snout to root of tail. Those who live long enough know this world likes to eat its young, murder and give birth to them again and again. Still there is a joy here we need not, can not live without.
When I get home I realize I am exhausted and take a nap. Feel fine now. These words are a prayer for the woman on the road, for her sons and grandsons, for anyone who might lose his right hand to a chain saw and not be able to work again. I can feel another’s pain now but it doesn’t take hold. It is like the memory of a tooth pulled weeks ago, a ghost standing among a congregation of other ghosts, waiting for something they have earned but no longer want. This world is a wedding feast and crucifixion. Always has been and always will remain, as long as human beings are still human.
“The lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shouts for joy. Water gushes forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”
“To live in the world and yet to keep above the world is like walking on the water.”
Hazrat Inayat Khan
you make my heart a place of worship
an unfenced pasture where creeks stream together in a confluence
My heart is a drum for singing your name
and you are its drummer.
Your voice is released in waves and I go walking on its water!
Bones becoming light under the skin
the hollowness inside them filled with laughing gas!
There is no one above me now, no one below
You say I hear your voice when I listen well to my own.
I am listening now. I am listening.
I came because you waited all your life for me.
Everywhere I look I see your face as fire
with its green radiance.
You tell me
The falling bird remembers how to fly.
The heart works well, once it has been broken.
Now the ground opens under my feet and I find myself suddenly in air!
you take me to the limits of the sky
where there is nothing left to leave behind.
Out where there are no names and no in coming breath
is the dome of a sky.
Black as polished obsidian and full of stars,
this sky seems infinite in all directions but is not.
What seems to be an endless sky is only the pupil
of your right eye.
MORNING WITH BIRDSONG
With all this memory left in me
how can I go to sleep under your southern wing?
With all this blood, how can I hide my face?
Only if you say clearly
“You have no face that is not my own.”
can I put myself to rest.
MORNING PRAYER FOR CAROL
“Everything that touches you.” The Association
May she sleep well at night.
Wake without pain in her shoulder.
May her knee and hip not cry out, bringing her too soon
to this world.
May blue jays speak respectfully at her windows.
Let there be peace in her morning contemplation
a perfect cup of coffee in her hand.
May she enjoy everything she sees and hears, everything she touches
May she always delight in the face she sees in her mirror.
Let the first incident of the day that would disturb her peace
Let her go at her own pace and never tire of beauty.
May beauty flow in her as mercy and as a joyful song.
May she enjoy her garden as she does her flying dreams.
May there always be harmony between us and trust and may our eyes be creased
CAMPING OUT IN A PASTURE
Though the house is only a hundred yards through the woods
we lie down on damp ground
to draw into ourselves the cold life of stones
on foot below fescue.
There is a Quiet coming up
like a mountain blue with distance.
We try to know
the solid ecstasy of rocks, floating ecstasy of leaves
the clamorous ecstasy of creeks.
I say that our lives are eternal and there is nothing
we can do about it.
I hold up empty hands to show you
what I have made of myself
in a city where even wetbacks get rich
and every highschool graduate has a scheme.
I hold up hands and long arms
empty as cement beaches.
In the backyard wild onions come up.
Bluejays like unoiled hinges sing.
My eyes open on an expanse of GI houses
empty empty empty
meaningless repetition like the ticking of a watch
on the wrist of a freshly buried man.
I hold up hands full of nothing
but the breathing winds of Houston.
CONTEMPLATING A CHRYSANTHEMUM
All that I am, all that I know I bring with attention
to these chrysanthemum leaves.
In the side yard a pigeon and a mourning dove
preen themselves in the green crown of a willow
RECALLING WHO I AM
So much has changed
but the ache of knowing I am still here
is the same.
The heart opening wide as a grave digger’s yawn
trying to take in more than it needs to survive.
THE OTHER IS MY SELF
We share a common existence, living in seven worlds at once
and in every world there is a price to be paid for love.
What I cannot imagine or hope for is all I have
to offer you.
SITTING IN THE WOODS OUTSIDE KINGSTON, ARKANSAS
You have to wait
wait until it begins to happen.
The black beetle rolls a ball of dung at your feet
intent upon it as a lover after his pleasure.
In a circling breeze are
two saplings beautiful as adolescent girls before the fear
of happiness comes.
They dance together, one touching
After an hour you are invisible
and the deer that you don’t see, does not see you.
In a hollow walnut tree the owl startled from its sleep
speaks a name in the Ojibwa language
you recognize as your own.
63 YEARS OLD, WALKING ON COOPER ROAD
63 years old, walking on Cooper Road
two loops around the graveyard and home.
Sun in the west through Douglas fir and second growth oak.
My shadow on the blacktop, rounded in the shoulders
as I remember my father.
I DRIVE FIVE MILES WEST ON 114 TO KAYAK IN DRANO LAKE
I drive five miles west on 114
and paddle to the drainage of the Little White Salmon River.
The water clear down to bedrock.
Spread wings of the sky cover the surface of the water
until a stroke of the paddle
breaks the perfect mirror with a wave.
In the pool close to the fish ladder
I watch salmon try to leap the dam, go home to the river.
A thousand more, dead or spawning, bump the plastic hull
of my yellow kayak.
Inside your voice is another voice
saying, “Come in here. Come in…”
Inside that voice a third voice is singing about sunlight dancing
along a certain ear of corn.
Inside every yellow kernel is laughter, is water falling
water falling, clapping on a rock!
IT WILL BE THIS WAY
Texas will secede from the Union. There will be a killing!
The profit of the Lord shall not be made less
than any another man’s.
The Red, the Brazos, and the Trinity will be gutters of blood.
The Big Thicket will be burned and the Salt Plains put to use.
Those who lie with the Babylonian Whore cut their own throats!
Every man, every woman, every child
who bends a knee to the wrong god
will be cut down in open fields
and left to the sky!
Hair and teeth rise up in plowed furrows!
Jawbones go on talking for a thousand years!
God’s voice is a devastation of cornfields!
THE LIGHT OF OUR FACES
When I kneel to this world
a fire burn in the joints of my knees.
Streets once warm and moist as a woman’s thighs
50 gallon barrels in alley ways where the homeless burn
I heard this on the radio in Hood River, Oregon:
A 76 year old man dying of cancer was caught laughing out loud
at his own funny shadow on the hospital wall.
Told his wife he would rather walk once more alone on Mount Hood
than drink death for half a year in bone colored rooms
where people wear masks.
So a friend drove him up to Cloudcap where he walked in falling
and was found six months later become the color of water.
By the light of our own faces
we may look straight at the terrors of this world and be found clear
FOR JEFF IN 1988
In the beginning there are rainbows inside of eggs.
The moon is small as a lentil.
Earth is the right eye of a sunfish.
I wake in darkness with my own arms around me like a fetus.
Heartbeat is a voice whispering secret names of other selves.
Morning singing to me like a Mother.
DAWN IN LATE OCTOBER
It is dawn now in late October.
I have been awake three hours drinking tea
and studying the slope of the roof next roof.
I will have oranges for breakfast.
Eat the morning slice by slice.
Your face is radiant as shucked corn
Troubles blow away from you like chaff.
What has happened?
I FEEL SORRY FOR HER
I feel sorry for her.
She has fierce periods of blood
arthritis in her knees.
Her skin breaks out
and she cries for no reason.
Her face is always cloudy as water about to boil.
I make sounds in my sleep
wake up shouting about Jesus.
I am helpless. There is nothing I
can do to save her.
SHE NEVER MADE A MAN HAPPY
She never made a man happy except afterwards
when he remembers escaping barefoot
down her back stairs
gray paint blistered and cracked in the soles of his feet
like walking on nails
except he is laughing out loud as he runs.
DRIVING THROUGH IOWA
We are driving over a rise of ground in Southeast Iowa.
Furrows on both sides of the road half full of snow.
Looks like ten thousand bodies wrapped in sheets
laid side by side in the fields.
Above the flying car, the sky turning blue as a crow’s
wings, we are reaching out toward two infinities.
At dawn we cross the borderline.
WALKING IN THE STREET AT NIGHT
Evening breezes blow though my window
lift the curtain, letting darkness in and out.
I walk the streets
knowing what I sense in the dark is my own elaborate self
that is dying.
Elm trees in the green night look like negatives of photographs
of hands on fire.
The pavement is leading me past houses where desires are kept
locked in drawers with loaded guns.
I don’t know where I’m going, where
I will end.
I walk in the dark suffering the blows of headlights.
BEN HARRIS IN 1957
Ben Harris bends over his coffee in the dark
of early morning.
Dandruff falling from his head into a cup
full of stars.
His shadow is thrown by light from a kerosene lamp
down wooden steps into the chicken yard.
LITTLE POEMS WITH LIGHT IN THEM
Light the color of a heron’s wings, light com-
ing from a clearing in a cloud bank.
Blue portuguese men of war light.
Let me tell you how the polished body
of a jellyfish gives off light from deep-
er down deeper down
like the eye of a buck deer embedded in glass.
Let me tell you how my hands are drawn to your body
like teenaged boys to an empty grave.
Go barefoot into your own yard, into your street,
where chinaberry trees flame in the green morning.
Go early before you have to,
when cold strikes the soles of the feet
runs up the legs following the spine.
Cold shooting into the brain, green joy flaming
in the temples.
MUNG BEANS SPROTING IN A JAR
Inside the shell the life is waking up.
A white coil lifts, tiny wings begin to open.
When the coil darkens in the light, the wings turn green
spread out as two hands of a priest.
We are all, we are all that light.
FOUND POEMS ABOUT ADMIRAL ISOROKU YAMAMOTO OF THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE NAVY
A Son Remembers His Father
He often took a bath with us.
He was very kind
and washed our backs and faces.
In the afternoons he would play catch ball
Though missing several fingers
he played catch ball very well.
The Admiral Thinks Of Retiring
In autumn I will return
to the house where I was born.
I will read the books my father and grandfather left.
I will grow vegetables and take care
of the chestnut tree.
He Regrets Making His Men Practice Dive Bombing
With every dive their lungs bleed, their lives
It hurts me
but I do it for my Emperor and my country.
On The Eve Of Pearl Harbor
All my men together are one person.
What the world will think, I do not care.
I am the sword of my Emperor
Days Before Being Shot Down And Killed
I have killed quite a few
of the enemy
and many of my own men have also been killed
so I believe it is time for me to die.
But I am the sword of my Emperor
and I will not be sheathed
until I die.
A hundred drowning men gave themselves
to The Old and Lost
gave their bodies to the gar
gave their heads for snails
the coils of their tongues to speak for
a strangeness in the river.
Carried into tributaries, into ferns
and tabernacles of roots
a hundred drowned men float on swollen backs
giving up their voices to be ghosts of water.
Overhead, the white crane circles.
BEFORE ME I SEE A LAKE OF FIRE
Before me I see a lake of fire,
one fish leaping up with scales silver as coins.
I see the coins dissolve into a mist of atoms
and the atoms condensed into light.
Inside this light are rainbows,
are moons and people walking
and when the light enters the water
it is a fish again!
TWO FLAT TIRES, TRUCK IN DITCH, Fairfield, Iowa 1983
Two flat tires, truck in ditch.
Tooth chipped when I fell down looking for keys.
Everyone I love is sleeping 800 miles away.
This will all turn out to be exactly what I needed.
After painting a horse barn all day, I drink tea in late afternoon
letting go of what can’t be held in her hands.
Eight hours gripping the rungs of a twenty-two foot ladder,
now that ladder falls while I remain in air!
We hear cicadas singing in shrubs along the fence line,
so loud they must be inside us.
Delighted now in whirring air after years under the ground,
cicadas are rising in a mass, shedding larvae shells.
They are singing for their mates, flexing the muscles along ribs
I offer my right hand to one who has landed in leaves of a hops vine.
She steps gladly on my finger that was broken in the Fall,
recognizing its curved rigidity as her own.
There is a joy years in coming that waits for us in the dark.
It fills the space we call emptiness which has always been full of stars.
There is an emptiness that is spring fed and overflowing.
There are eyes in the dark and wings prepared to open.
Whirling in the air, there is a joy coming in waves and in shattered lights
Littoral Women, by Kevin Schoonover
EASTER MORNING, MATAGORDA BAY, TEXAS
“Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.” Bruce Springsteen
On Matagorda beach where cattle gather at night to escape mosquitos
and white calves lit by the moon
are taken by sharks feeding in the shallows,
Amish women come barefoot with their daughters.
Fully clothed as the day they are born again in water,
Amish women wade in the Gulf to their thighs.
Heads covered, skirts to mid-calf, dyed the modest colors of the sky,
they kneel to the wave that covers them,
knowing without believing,
that this is the Mother they are born from.
Fathers, uncles, brothers, sons walk the beach dressed in black
with their boots laced
or wait in rented, utilitarian vans discussing scripture,
the price of seed corn and harness leather.
Amish mothers in their early 30’s with teenaged daughters
walk to their waists in the surf
remembering mornings their waters broke,
when their skirts were saturated with the salt,
waves of pain taking them closer to heaven and to hell
than they care now to return.
An Amish woman knows how to plow behind a horse
and when called upon before first light,
will throw strong legs across her husband to help him
work the soil.
But on Easter morning,
touching hands with their daughters in the surf,
images of Anabaptist martyrs slip from the mind,
men burned alive, women with pikes driven into them.
Holding hands with their daughters, they come as close to dancing
as they are allowed,
careful not to cross into water too deep to come back from.
Mothers and daughters going down with waves between their legs, a rip tide tugging at the coarse cotton they are bound in.
Turning their backs to men waiting on shore,
nipples showing through wet blouses, pink as apple blossoms,
Amish women watch the sky come down into the Gulf
and the Gulf rising up in waves
to meet it.
March 9, 2013
In 1969 I went to school in Nacogdoches, Texas, driving back and forth to Houston on weekends. There was a honkytonk I’d pass near Diboll called the “Tired Moon”. Well, I was 19 and except for communion wine had never tasted alcohol but I was drawn to the place by its name. Once I pulled into the clam shell parking lot, determined to go inside but came to my senses, believing if a guy such as myself should enter the Tired Moon he might as well be wearing a t-shirt that said, “Kick my ass for 5 dollars” and I better damn sure have the five. I was big and had the muscles of a working man but was always always told I had the eyes of a girl. A mistake to be born that way in Texas. Five years went by.
My first wife, Shelley and I were living with our baby daughter, Ananda Lorca, in a stone house outside Huntsville, Arkansas. Ananda means “Bliss”. Lorca is the last name of my favorite poet at the time. I wanted her to be called Lorcananda, meaning “the Bliss of Federico Garcia Lorca”. But no… One weekend we traveled deeper in the Ozarks to spend the night in Eureka Springs, a turn of the century town built over mineral hot springs, where, in the off season, you could get a double bed in a beautiful old hotel for $12 a day. We were planning to spend one night there.
The town had built a replica of the old city of Jerusalem and held a regular Passion Play for $1.50 per, but in the off season they weren’t playing. While eating lunch in a cafe I heard the rumble of motorcycles and saw at least a hundred of them parading into town. Soon the cafe was filled with large, ugly men and with women who had forced themselves into leather pants. Greasy hair, tattooed snakes forming the numbers 666, chains and cigarettes! I was eating with my head down like an evangelist at a banquet, literally minding my own peas and cucumbers, when I heard one of the women ask, “Are you stayin’ over Saturday night?”
The man who answered had a face like a fistful of teeth swimming in a bowl of chili. “No, I gotta be back to teach Sunday school in the morning.” It was a Born Again Christian motorcycle club. Had several more sightings of them in the years to come and was told by a deputy sheriff they were pretty good old boys as long as you stayed away from topics such as sprinkling versus baptism by immersion and the whole question of using real wine or grape juice in the communion service. God help the paid preacher or the Catholic stumbling unarmed into their midst. Twelve more years went by.
I was divorced and living with Ananda and my son, Eli Luke, in Fairfield, Iowa. Eli means “the Highest”. Luke means “Light”. So his name means, “The Highest Light”. We were driving back to Houston in our 1978 Datsun King Cab for a visit when I had a lapse of attention. I didn’t go unconscious or fall asleep at the wheel. I was driving perfectly fine but still ended up 300 miles off course in Paris, Texas. Paris was the home town of my former father in law, Peyton Bryan. I also had an uncle, a brother and a brother in law named Peyton and feel I understand them better for having lost my way. We stayed the night in a motel with a swan motif, pink chenille bedspreads and framed photos of the Eiffel Tower in every room.
We were eating breakfast early the next morning sitting next to two couples. Listening to their conversation I could tell the husbands worked for a big rig construction company and traveled from job to job with their wives. None of them seemed to know each other well. Even the married couples were strangers to themselves but I was struck by one fact, the wives were staying with their husbands, not running off to California leaving them with kids. Right then I wanted to write a country song about these folks which Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter would sing. On a napkin I wrote the words, “She followed her man while he swung his wrecking balls from state to state. “ That was as far as I got. Twenty-six years went by.
In 2012 I remembered the Tired Moon, looked for and found the napkin I had written on. I wrote a poem in rhyme called “The Flood Plain”, still wishing it could be sung by Jesse Colter, Waylon Jennings having died some years before. But I admitted to myself that no one would ever sing this song so I rewrote it in a conversational voice from the woman’s point of view. It is somehow better for a poem to go unread than for a song to be unsung, I believe. The song was sad and hopeless but the poem ends with a possibility for happiness. I believe now that joy is as inevitable as sorrow. One comes as unsought as the other and stays or leaves as it will.
THE FLOOD PLAIN
One year in ten with bloated cattle washing on its back, the Brazos will engorge and try to drown us.
Two hours drive from where I labor, is a night spot on the Brazos
called the Tired Moon.
We got married there when he could still light cigarettes with his eyes.
Good luck was wished on us by women dressed as cowboys
living on the flood plain,
while fiddle music slithered through smoke and coiled around our heads
On that day I held a photo of my mother in her apron, unlit Marlboro in her left hand
like an extra finger.
Her hair was a cotton candy tower with a yellow rose of Texas in its turret.
In two months I began to notice that the pleasure lit between us was a fire
and the burning registered as pain.
Five years I followed my husband working big rig construction in thirty states.
He swung his wrecking balls from Lansing to El Paso and from San Diego
east to Galveston.
Six months a year we lived in trailers parked in clam shell lots
or in motels behind biker bars
where mornings you might see a stranger’s blood drying in the gravel.
Fire ants feeding on that blood were the color of the sun setting down through diesel.
Six days a week in false dawn, I’d hear him rise, let down his water,
draw a razor cross his face and throat.
Once I watched him kindly part the polyester curtains to look down and say a prayer
for all boom boom girls lined up for jail.
Standing in each others’ shadow, flinching from the headlights of a passing
they were smoking Camels down to glittered nails, all their eyes as faded
as a blue tattoo.
I grew tired living on the road,
so we bought a trailer, placed it down among some willows grown too near for comfort
to the old and fickle Brazos.
From our bedroom you could hear the highway
and on moonlit nights hear coyotes ripping road kill neatly from the bone.
One weekend per month he was at home.
We sat at evening by the river, watched the sun set fire to willows green
Sometimes he’d cry after his beer,
never believed he’d be this old and this alone.
Five hundred miles of highway in his eyes where the only thing on radio was static.
He listened to the road noise from our bedroom,
heard it howling through the marrow of his bones and knew
that even if he stayed he’d be alone.
So he called me from El Paso and he called me from Las Cruces
and he called me once from Phoenix, Arizona.
As he drove there were signs and there were warnings on the radio
of flash flood.
One hour east of Lancaster in the red Mojave Desert, where the mountains in his
looked like butchered white men bleeding on their knees,
he lifted his tired eyes to heaven like the two moons of Uranus
and there across the carcass of the sky, he saw the hand of God
start writing his parole.
He stopped his rig beside a dry arroyo where water once was flowing,
felt the floating dead he carried inside his body start rolling on their backs
and he saw, with a child’s expectant eyes,
the new moon.
Sitting in the cabin of his truck, the engine ticking
and the smell of grease softening the desiccated leather of his seats,
he felt the desert suddenly splitting open, with the ripe crack of a melon from Luling, Texas!
A fearful and a shuttering elation opened in his heart, as if the world was ending.
Dry lightning in the distance looked like Jesus on a palomino pony, come to save him.
But waves of river mud were also rising and he knew he could be drowned,
forever buried under sand piled six feet high against dry runoffs in the desert.
All banks could be broken in another flash of lightning,
giving way by force of water.
So he turned his rig around and started home.
Somewhere he got lost, drifting off the highway, found himself in Charlie, Texas
where the dawn comes on like peaches grown along the Wichita.
Thirty six hours without sleep, the dead within him washed with weeping,
he parked his truck under willows and saw me in a sun dress
There were nights I drove two hours to the Tired Moon.
I drove alone to dance with strangers.
Straps had fallen from my shoulders. More than once the ribbons in my hair had come undone.
If you hear these words and think you know me, if my number’s written
on a matchbook in your pocket,
I’ll call it kindness if you keep it, if you keep it to yourself.
“I sing you this October song.” The Incredible String Band
Come walk these wounded streets with me, where maple trees leak sap in regimental lines.
Where leaves the colors of blood are taken by wind
and carried to the fire.
I am the wounded and the fire in which we burn.
But now the clear plastic over this world has been torn away,
enough that I can breathe.
Now everything is breathing and even the dead are alive!
Up and down the ladder of my spine, grandmothers carry baskets
of flame fruit,
their long hair coiled in a bun and covered with a sequined net.
Listen and you will hear even the dead
If you are crying, open your eyes and let them widen
til they contain the whole of the prairie sky.
A sky will open in your heart and the sound of wings
be like a river.
I say you will never be born again, never beat another child just because she cried.
You will not die of cancer.
If you are crying, let your tears fall into the simplicity of fire.
I am crying now.
People tell me I have the rounded shoulders of a man who labors in the dark.
My hands may be hidden by the blue gloves of a working man
but even while they hold a paper hanger’s knife,
my hands are worshiping the one I love.
Sometimes the moon looks like a puckered scar in a blue fog.
Sometimes the cool of night touches the bald spot on the back of my head
where an emptiness is shaped like the morning star.
I feel the cold of this world but when I can let the night be all there is,
the moon with a cloud across it white as a wedding veil
can make me weak with joy.
I carry a hundred thousand years of light across my shoulders!
The round stone of this world drops down through me
and I laugh like a river with gravel in its throat.
I am loving the dark face of the sky,
loving her painted circus eyes, her carnival lips!
For years I walked through mountains sharp as teeth broken under the skin.
Hungry enough to eat stones, a stranger even to myself,
I swallowed anything that would keep me warm,
put on religions like long blue overcoats.
And I loved women as if they were spun of wool,
born only to maintain my heat.
Trying to be what a man should be.
Failing that, I would lie down on the ground
waiting for a star to fall into the plowed furrows of my heart.
Spent bullets, knives, teeth fashioned into arrow heads
began to rise up through me!
Tomahawks, missiles, war poisons were brought to the surface
by the cleansing action of the earth.
So I was brought to the surface of this world and made ready
to step into the sky.
I wore the sky across my shoulders,
all the colors of a troubled Gulf, the gaudy archetypes of the end of time.
I could feel a sky come down over me
dung colored, river throated, green and heavy with hair.
I was crying, my voice ragged as a gull’s.
Then a dove exploded from my heart!
What had been a thorn tree where sparrows hid in fear of the hawk
became a simple heart again, white doves
flying out of it!
Sacrifice is not blood running down a cross of locust wood,
nor hands full of thorns.
It is looking at my own face in the river and seeing
your eyes, your smile.
I hear a voice whispering my secret name,
a voice made of Brazos water and a name made of light that falls blue as rain.
You tell me we have started digging a river and that the river will flow.
But however difficult it might be,
we must endure the bite of the pick, the shoveling out of everything
that is not bloody with love.
There is a fire that starts in the marrow and burns outward
through hands red as maple leaves.
There is a wound in all of us, red as a mouth that won’t stop crying,
not until its tongue is a tongue of fire.
When fears cease, this world shines like one drop of rain among a billion others.
The sky folds down across each drop like a Mother’s shawl.
Let me tell you about the night I married Jesus.
It was in a cinder block church that smelled of mold, trapped gas and chewing gum.
It was the summer I turned fifteen and there was just enough breeze
to keep pastures from bursting into flames.
I put on white overalls and stepped with my Grandfather
into a galvanized tank of baptismal water.
While the congregation sang
“In the arms of my dear Savior O there are 10,000 charms.”,
I went down into water full of stars!
In that water Jesus lifted the bridal veil and showed me one glimpse
of my own face.
In that water he betrayed this world with his kiss.
When I returned to the one I pretend now to be,
answering to his name,
there was still the imprint of a place where we have no beginning.
Where there is not a single breath of air and no focused love,
only love delighting in itself alone.
If you are thirsty, kneel down in this water.
If you are covered in wounds, bleed into this fire.
If you are crying, let your tears be tears of joy!
When death reaches me there will be a marigold of fire brilliant as an eye
opening in the palm of my hand.
There will be a light rain of singing as I am carried down river in a boat of leaves.
When I die there will be one second of fear as when Carol reaches out at night
to lay her hand on the soft of my throat.
Fear will leave that quickly as when she rolls against me in our bed.
Even now I hear a voice like three creeks woven into one
with a skin of ice across it.
I see a circle of river rock with a fire burning inside it like an open
This is one kind of happiness.
Grapeland, Texas 1959
It was November and she would not wait until Spring
so we drove to a farm close by the church and gathered round a cattle tank
“Shall we gather at the river…”
But the Trinity was treacherous and full of gar.
The Trinity was full of holes.
The preacher wore white overalls, the woman a gown made from a bed
They stepped into shivering water like two blue herons.
I remember the smell of mud around the green tank
covered hard with hoof prints and cow patties,
the steers we boys had driven off with swords of willow.
It did not take long to hold a handkerchief over her nose and mouth
to let her three times down into the body of the Lord.
She went down shivering into ecstatic waters.
She went down shivering in ecstatic water.
For My Grandfather, Charles Marion Reed, 1896-1987
“Charlie boy, the world is a painted woman.” CM Reed
His voice was birdsong.
His voice was verses torn from the Bible in a wind storm.
A quiet man living among women, keeping excess of joy
always cheerful like a cool glass of sweet tea.
Simple as a breeze out of McLennan County where Waco, Texas squats by the Brazos
like a hound dog contemplating a headless squirrel.
Born out of ground plowed wide for cotton, out of hay fields
cut and stacked
where lonesome hawks hunkering on fence posts watch for mice
creeping in the stubble.
Land where prairie fever makes the people sweat with love for the Word of God
but not for the man himself.
Land famous for radio preachers, auctioneers
and cowboy yodelers.
Wanderers of the wasteland who sang like coon dogs with chicken bones
caught in their throats.
Five foot two, shoulders wide as a church house door,
high waisted, narrow prairie lips,
work hands that could tear thorn trees out by the root!
Little smiling eyes like a chickadee’s, alert as campfires
in the night.
Round head, dainty feet, nose you could stable a mule in.
His ears were large, wide opened as hand held fans,
the kind the mortuary gave to women of the church
depicting Jesus rising from the dead.
He could wiggle them like an elephant’s to please his grandsons
anytime we asked.
Owned the King James Version of the Bible recorded unabridged
by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr
but believed his own voice, pitched high as a wind in a chinaberry tree
and quivering like a red bird’s,
was sufficient to sing God’s name in the privacy of his bedroom
converted from a one car garage.
“Charles, a nigra should be listened to, same as you would a white man.” CM Reed
Unkind words were never intentional.
Seldom did they fall from his mouth without his notice,
warm and happy, like a little boy pissing on a hot rock.
After the First World War he taught in a one room school house
built upon a slight rise of ground outside Waco.
When he wouldn’t give passing marks to a white but undeserving share cropper’s son,
the boy and his father laid for him with twenty-two rifles,
firing up hill from a run off.
In a voice somewhere between a bluejay’s and a mockingbird’s,
he explained to me
how they could have lowered their sights a little and killed him
if they’d known that even in Waco, the world is round.
Favored by Jesus and cognizant of the curve of earth,
Charlie Reed lived
while their bullets flew high and fell exhausted and ashamed
into cotton fields.
During World War Two he moved to Huntsville with Nana
and Aunt B
where they all attended Sam Houston State Teachers College
while living in a quonset hut.
After class he chatted with German POWs held nearby,
telling them how God choose Texas as a fortress for His people,
quoting scripture to them through a bob wire fence.
1949 in Spring Branch, Texas, he taught high school science for a year
before they fired him.
He refused to teach the theory of evolution
and fought once in the class room with a disrespectful rough neck boy,
lapping blood from his face burned dark as sludge
on off shore derricks.
A boy whose hair was combed into simulated flames,
held high with butch wax in currents of oil!
It was easy for me to love a man so fond of himself,
so old and self content in his garden, hair the color of a halo.
When he was 80 and cut his thumb off in a wood chipper,
he and I buried it in a row of turnips.
Charlie Reed was a lantern swinging in the dark between the hay barn
and the Brazos,
always a light and a satisfaction to himself.
Never tiring of his own stories,
he spoke of himself as if he were a wealthy friend,
someone always ready to loan him money.
“I always got along well with Taurian women.” CM Reed
I remember his Mother, well under five feet tall,
voice like a locust scratching in a match box.
Lying in bed in her nineties smelling of talc,
she complained of leg pain,
the leg my Grandfather broke, running over her in a Model T Ford,
the first one in the county.
Her father had been scalped by Comanche Indians!
As long as she lived she saw them lurking in pin oak groves
and in the graveyard near Prairie Hill where an old Comanche man
converted to a Methodist
was buried outside the graveyard gate under a flowering oak.
A heavy rain came when they dug the hole to put him in.
When the ground dried,
it opened like a grandmother grinning at the sky with her teeth out.
Five feet down you could see his skull
long gray hair braided into a river of dust.
“Sixty-eight years of marriage and I never found a fault in her.” CM Reed
My Grandmother had skin more dusky than the average white woman.
Her nose was wide and turned up, with her nostrils flared.
“She could drown in a rain storm.” is what they said.
Seeing her picking cotton in the fields with a scarf around her head,
her neighbors would remark,
“She’s bound to have some Mexican in her.”
but they were thinking darker thoughts.
Nana’s hair was long as a sermon until she finally cut it.
Let down from braids at night and brushed out,
her hair was like the Brazos River curving round a hip bank.
After 1960 she kept it short and silver blue
as the barrels of a shotgun sawed eight inches from its stock.
Lying on her back in summer when she was a girl,
she was waiting for a breeze to part the curtains
and come inside her room to cool the sweat between her breasts.
Nana dreamed herself on a sandbar in the river.
Dreamed her whiteness slightly muddied by the water,
while the moon came upon her, looking in her eyes.
Nana came from rich farmers out of Lubbock.
Her father was famous for saying, “I smile like a jackass eating cactus.”
He foresaw the drying of the land and sold out after the war.
One sister married a banker from Lubbock with a John Deer dealership.
The man was as short and swelled up as the pecker of a boy,
who eats his fill of water melon just before he goes to bed
and wakes engorged, delighted with the world and with himself.
He smoked cigars big around as a newborn baby’s thigh.
Made his fortune at the bank, taking back the farms
of men with faces burned and rutted as the soil.
Families knocked to their knees with hands knotted in prayer
blown bankrupt out of Lubbock.
Lifted up as human dust and driven North of Texas by the wind,
they flew over mountains named for Jesus’ blood
where a remnant chosen by the Lord fell gracefully into irrigated rows,
come to rest in sugar beet fields of Southern Colorado,
where some of them prospered again and were saved.
“It wasn’t my fault your Grandma could never have a son.” CM Reed
Charlie Reed was not popular in Coldspring before the war.
He was farm agent for the county
and made enemies of white men, forcing them to pay in seed
what they owed black share croppers for the corn they grew.
Born in Central Texas he was considered almost a yankee!
Neighbors laughed when he broke his leg kicking a billy goat
in the head.
Bitten by a rabid squirrel, he had to go to Austin for the serum
that was shot into his liver
through a needle long as a seed bull’s pecker.
First time he entered the Coldspring courthouse
of San Jacinto County,
hogs were roaming in the foyer free as citizens!
Sows and their piglets tapping down the hallway
leading to his office!
As he told me this, his face was wide open as a sky
in which the half moon can be clearly seen in light of day.
His eyes were fierce as a child’s pretending to be angry.
Lying back in his easy chair with duct tape on the arms,
he told how he drove those hogs out like Jesus did the money changers,
past the pillars of the Court House into the muddy road!
Forty years after those days,
his voice pitched high as an oriole’s leaving the safety of a sycamore
to light upon the ground,
he told me about a gangster’s son he and Nana wanted to adopt.
But the gangster wrote a letter from Huntsville Prison
threatening to kill them if they did.
It was the same year Bonnie and Clyde traveled through Coldspring
leaving a note under a coffee cup that said,
“Next time we come, we’ll paint this town in blood.”
But Clyde was driving north and east that day
toward Bienville Parish, Louisiana
where the gang was shot so full of holes, the sky could be seen
streaming through them!
“Treat your Mother well and read a chapter of your Bible every day.” CM Reed
After Nana died of stroke, he held on for a year,
before a coiling breath of air found him sleeping in his easy chair.
He was watching re-runs on a buggy summer night
when a breeze came from the south through rusted window screens
and touched him gently on his forehead, as a wife would do.
Cicadas in mimosa trees were praying loudly and in tongues
about the fatted calf, the sacrificial lamb, the bride
and the bridegroom waiting at the altar.
But only Charlie Reed sleeping in his easy chair could interpret
Nana and his Mother and a still born son without a name
were calling, “Charlie, Charlie Reed…”
And he was lifted up as tumbling ash above a prairie fire.
As husk after the harvest he was carried circling into air,
all his work finished, all his grain stored in silo towers.
Charlie Reed was lifted up, inhaled as dust and chaff into a breathing wind!
All that was left of him, every scrap of his being came together
in a spiral lifted high!
And taking on an angel’s shape composed of singing dust,
he left this place, he traveled and was gone.
There was a story my mother told me of a dust storm in Lubbock, Texas
before the war.
Cattle caught in a depression went sand blind
and the green was scoured from 4 door sedans.
But now I am nobody’s son.
I am not the boy who fell from the roof of a 3 story building and lived.
From where I lie in the dawn
I can see the moon like the horns of a bull and the last star of morning.
But I am not the one who ran with red colts in the field
who ran with calves kicking up their polished hooves.
I am not the bull with the moon caught in his horns.
There are voices fine as yellow thread that want to call us back saying
”We know who you are.”
Don’t listen to them.
Sometimes in early morning I hear my father’s voice
drawn from the well he dug through cold volcanic stone.
I hear his words coughed up with smoke and phlegm and red East Texas clay.
My father’s eyes were fields of purple hull peas
split by a line of thorn tree and sweet gum
with a wave of air running through them.
His anger was one hundred acres of feed corn molded in the husk.
Now I am no body’s son.
I am fire burning in a pan of water.
The smokehouse door has fallen from its leather hinges.
The moon has set in the horse pasture where a thousand blue bottles were thrown.
These memories I put into ground and smooth them over
with my hand.
We are able to cut the threads that bind us.
We are able to live without idea of who we are.
A man can rise in early morning from the dead and walk like christ into the light of day!
A man can abandon his face and let his eyes be everywhere
become the sky unfurrowed in all directions
not perceive himself as separate from the blow fly
or the morning glory vine!
Not care to be less than everything he sees, hears, smells, tastes.
Not care to be more.
I want to go where there is not a whirlwind not a column of smoke to guide me
where I am ash
and the moon comes down to look me eye to eye.
That is where you find me
one grain of sand tumbling against another.
What I have to show for sixty years of breathing is the swell of you inside me.
I belong to you.
This is a longish autobiographical poem written in my mid-forties. It starts with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Unless you are of an age to remember what mustard and baloney on white bread tastes like, coming from a Roy Rogers lunch box with a pickle wrapped in wax paper, you may not understand what they meant to us. Roy and Dale were Christians before Christians knew enough to be ashamed of themselves and to blame others for their shame.
When Roy and Dale became stars they gave up smoking, drinking and swearing, determined to be examples for their saddle pals. And they were. My Aunt Cle worked for a dentist who gave us tickets every year to the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, where Roy and Dale performed with Pat Brady and the Sons of the Pioneers. If it’s been a while since you heard the cool, clear water of their voices, listen now and drink your fill.
After every performance, Roy and Dale circled the arena on horse back, shaking hands with a thousand kids come down to them from the stadium. Many times I saw them turn and ride back to a child who had come late to the rail. When Roy and Dale looked into my eyes and touched my hand I knew what the Israelites felt when Moses smote the rock with his staff and water came gushing out. Wherever Roy and Dale may be, in whatever form or formless state, even if they are only cosmic dust, the one whose head their dust may fall upon, is blessed.
Remembering my second cousin, Luther Hopkins, now, his wife and their two sons, both named Tommy. Not really part of this poem but of the times. I believe that Luther was Uncle Henry’s boy but I’m not sure. My father’s family rarely visited and when they did, they never had a word to say, except Luther and he talked mainly about his cattle and his teeth. Luther had a mole on the right side of his mouth the size and color of a pencil eraser. He had rogue eyebrows you could hang a blue jean jacket on. That I do know. Luther was a short man and lean, while his wife was a big woman. When they stood together it was like a struggling pine tree beside a hay barn. I’ll say no more about it. Perhaps I’ve said too much already.
I didn’t know Tommy number two and all I remember of Tommy one is his photo dressed in full cowboy outfit, including woolly chaps. He was sitting on a Shetland pony, black and white, with braided mane and tail. The saddle was black leather with a silver horn and silver on the stirrups. Might be hard for you to understand how badly I wanted that little horse, that saddle, and those chaps. When he was in high school, his sideburns grown long and thin, Tommy had the poor sense to rope a seed bull from horse back. The seed bull drove into him, knocking down the horse, which fell upon the boy and broke his neck. Then the bull ran off trailing rope which tangled in the bob wire fence and took it down. That’s how they found Tommy in the pasture. He died alone while his mother was in the kitchen frying spam and eggs for breakfast.
Maybe ten years went by before they had another son and named him Tommy too. I heard my mother say no good could come of that and maybe she was right. Cousin Luther ended up divorced and remarried to a woman from the honkytonk. More than this I should not say. If anyone alive remembers these events and corrects what I have said, I will bow my head, admitting my mistake.
Memories come back to me now inappropriate for casual conversation because too much is revealed by them of the secret heart. In the secret heart are rooms we should not enter alone and caverns leading down to a core of fire.
I was born in Texas
where Mexicans paint pink crucifixes on the doors of abandoned Chevrolet’s
buried to their axles in blood colored rust.
And I grew up wanting to be Jesus.
It was always Jesus or Roy Rogers I wanted to be
because I knew then what I know now
if Jesus Christ had been born a smooth shaven Hollywood Cowboy
he would have been Roy.
I had the idea of a partial incarnation of Christ
known as “The King of the Cowboys”
not knowing the role had been filled 5000 years ago by Krishna.
If you had a 78 RPM of Dale Evans singing “Ave Maria”
and if the broken arm of the record player swept back again and again
from the end to the beginning
while your heart rose into pine trees shuddering with prayer,
then you understand me.
Year after year, I shook hands with Roy and Dale
at the Houston Fat Stock Show and Rodeo
as they rode around the arena on Trigger and Buttermilk
greeting every child who came to them
and often riding back to touch the hands of ones who came late
from cheap seating.
It was like looking into the eyes of glowing saints.
It was like touching the feet of a plaster Madonna in San Antonio, Texas
that cries real tears.
I decided to become a preadolescent preacher.
I would tour East Texas healing people
making them bark like dogs up and down the aisles of cinder block churches.
Southern churches have baptismals made of tin 4 to 5 feet deep
where working people are immersed in water, like the Bible says to do
not just sprinkled like the rich say.
Afterward we become useful Christians citizens such as plumbers
or insurance salesmen.
Baptismals are hidden until needed by blackboards behind the pulpit
where preachers writes words like ”The Pope” or “The Jews”
during his sermon
drawing a white X across them, pressing so hard on the chalk stick
that it will sometime break or fly out of his hand.
I fell into a baptismal and nearly drowned in there, pretending I was Jesus.
I remember my Mother’s arm around me in the church
whispering in my right ear
while the preacher walked in his sleep down narrow hallways of the Bible.
The preacher, named Brother Prentice Potter, made his living
driving short haul truck.
I remember his arms swollen with muscle from unloading boxes of fruit
forbidden to the poor.
High on his left shoulder, under a long sleeve shirt buttoned to the throat
and covered again by a cotton tee
was the tattoo nobody was supposed to know about:
a red heart broken into pieces jagged as teeth.
What hair Brother Potter had was thin and curled, stuck to his skull
I worried I might look like him some day
and now that I do, my right hand reaches back through all this time
to shake hands with the man, to touch him high on his upper arm.
I remember him preaching about the end of the world
while my Mother whispered how good it would be for the world to end
while we sat there in church.
Looking at walls and a ceiling built quickly as the world was
out of cheap materials
I saw Jesus Christ riding out of the sky on a Palomino stallion
breaking down rooftops like a Santa Claus of fire
waving his sword of many colors,
blood of the rich red as rouge on his cheeks
their blood up to the thighs of his horse!
His eyes were like wheat fields of his enemies burning!
I used to take the red ball point pen out of my Mother’s purse
the one she kept for marking errors.
I drew nail holes in the palms of my hands and on my feet.
If I could stimulate a nose bleed at that time
real blood could be substituted for ink.
Then I’d lay out in the sun thinking how hot hell must be
and pretend I was being crucified.
The earth would fall away from me and I’d be flying on the cross
among stars no one knows the names of.
The cross became a fighter plane or a dive bomber
and I was the lone pilot, 30 seconds over Tokyo.
There was a certain tree I’d climb in, full of faith,
whose limbs were perfect for a crucifixion.
With my fingers braided in knots of imagined agony
and all around me crows and catbirds laughing like Pharisees in the streets of Jerusalem
I would stand alone in suffering heat
and in breathing wind.
The state bird of Texas is the mockingbird.
I imagined them clustered around my all seeing eyes, pecking me sightless
while I looked within at the face of God.
In Texas, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Sherman’s march to the sea
are current events.
That tree was a willow and looked like a woman bent over at the waist
brushing down her long green hair.
Standing in that tree was like loving a woman
though I didn’t know it at the time.
Letting go of the body while keeping a grip on her limbs
I would fly upwards on the cross into temples
Years ago in San Antonio, I found a crucifix of Jesus laughing.
He wore a crown of thorns big as a sombrero
but even with his circus tears and all that Mexican blood
he was happy
because he knew then what I know now:
All wounds, even bullet holes in our hands and feet
are only flesh wounds.
I was a sleep walker.
I didn’t know that I cried in my sleep
wandering around my parent’s house, looking for home.
Even years later sleeping in cars and abandoned houses
and once in a drainage ditch outside Wheeling, West Virginia,
the moon raised against me like a sickle sword,
I was crying and didn’t know it.
There were nights so cold I prayed for death
which seems extreme to me now.
Because I lived, I learned to embrace the cold and make love
Where I live now
clouds come down over houses and fog squats in pear orchards.
If I walk in that fog I may hear laughter and not know whose.
I may hear children crying or men shouting at their wives.
When the wind blows through the Columbia River Gorge, where I live
it can sound like laughter.
It can sound like men weeping together under a bridge.
The river is loud with salmon backed against dams
ground up in generators and boat locks.
In my heart there is a river
and in my heart there are wheels and gears and millions of eyes.
But there is also a Joy as powerful as weeping
that I cannot defend myself against.
Joy comes over me and I collapse under it.
Then I kneel down and admit to myself and to you
I know nothing.
Sometimes I wander at night
staring over this curve of earth, looking for home.
Sometimes I go down through layers of terror into a hole narrow as a scream.
It might be a birth canal.
It might be the wound in Jesus’ side or a hallway leading to his throne.
Sometimes at night I feel I am swimming in a river
or moving through the body of a woman who has no name.
In the dark, I feel for the spreading and the joining of waters
at the source.
I pray She will become small enough to be loved by me
that in my hands her breasts will be the domes of a temple
In 1971, I decided to shake the dust of Houston off my feet
and walk into the wilderness near Huntsville, Texas
where the prison moon assaults the weary lost at night.
But I didn’t know how to live out there and I still don’t.
I had knelt by streams of blood and drunk my fill
of all this world has to offer.
It is the taste of blood that holds us to this world.
That is what I believed.
I had drunk the blood of suburban neighborhoods in Houston
at 3 in the morning when the only ones outside were me
and cars leaking oil.
I had drunk the blood of streets in the Montrose area of Houston
where middle-aged beatniks, artists and professional religionists lived.
I slept in a Chevy with the Virgin of Guadalupe standing on the dashboard,
the backseat covered with cigarette burns and knife holes.
I was a mummy wrapped in the bandages of what I had become
and I was crying.
I had one friend always on amphetamines.
His name was Daniel and he drove a 63 Porsche inherited from his father
that still had its original tires.
Rusted out and dented he’d drive down Montrose Blvd dragging his muffler down the street
sending sparks into magnolia trees.
Daniel wore orthopedic shoes without laces so the tongues flapped
as he walked.
These shoes had been expensive when he found them.
They talked to him and they listened like no one else ever will again.
The faster he walked, the faster the tongues flapped
and the more information the shoes gave to him.
So Daniel was always walking fast as he could
until the shoes that talked in tongues
began to sing.
Once I found him standing completely still in his kitchen.
He said he’d been there for days
but I had seen him drive up half hour before.
He said the shoes wanted him to know how it felt to be a shoreline
carried day by day into the Gulf.
The shoes began to talk to him even though he wasn’t moving.
They began to sing to him like two black women washing dishes at a sink.
“Jesus will be alive long after you’re dead!”
The truth of that hit both of us hard.
Jesus will still be alive long after I’m dead.
Selah. Think about it.
I think about death now.
I get up in the morning and the skin of my face hangs like wet sheets
on a back yard line.
My skull is a hilltop being logged to clearcut.
The years strip us bare and lay us etherized upon a table.
The years, they are the hands of surgeons.
They cut us open and force back ribs to expose more and more
of the heart.
Now I look into the eyes of old friends and see burned churches
houses of God broken into and set alight.
Jesus will be alive long after we’re dead.
The soul is coiled inside the body like a mouse that sleeps in the skull of a roadside dog.
The cities are stacked bones in a trench of blood!
But the green heart is undefiled.
God wears sideburns and has acne on the back of his neck.
God smokes cigarettes in the cool of the evening and wipes his hands on the crotch of his jeans.
The heart is a river where I kneel in the shadow of a willow tree
praying to the god of water:
“Carry me. Carry my family. Lift our shadows from us and make them wings.”
Between 1970 and 1972 I was always alone.
Everybody I knew was tangled in sex like mudcats in fine nets of fire
but I wouldn’t even touch myself down there unless I was holding
a soapy rag!
At that time if you looked anything like Jesus
girls you didn’t even know would ride up on bicycles and ask you home.
I looked a lot like Jesus.
I had the hair, the beard, the feet.
I spent a lot of time looking up at the heavens like someone hit on the head with a rock or shit on by bluejays.
There was a girl named “Meadow Star” who asked me to see a quilt
her grandma made.
She looked like Mary Magdalene and my grandma made quilts too so I went.
On the way she told me she was a dancer
and I thought she meant ballet or jazz
but when we got to her house there were g-strings on the kitchen table
she had made for herself out of buckskin and crow feathers.
Someone had drawn her naked on the dining room wall and written the words
“Ascension to Virginity” over the top of it.
The quilt was spread across her bed like fields of tulips in Southeast Iowa
seen from a prop plane.
But to me that quilt was a desert where I had come to fast and be tempted.
I drew a circle in that desert with my fingertip and stepped inside it.
Inside the circle was a spring of clear water.
Outside were tongues of fire jutting out of rocks.
There had been a night ten years before
when my Father didn’t want to go to church on a Sunday night.
He wanted to stay home and watch acrobats from Hong Kong
on the Ed Sullivan show.
Mother stepped between my Father and me and drew a line across the linoleum floor
with the toe of her low heeled shoe.
“All those who are for the Lord, step across that line.”
“As for me and mine, we will serve the Lord!”
I had just seen Walt Disney’s version of “The Alamo” starring Fess Parker
and Buddy Ebsen.
Colonel Travis had drawn a line in the dust with the tip of his sword
like my Mother did with her shoe.
Inside us is someone who never stops laughing. To know this
is to be in danger of loosing everything.
That night I went to church with my Mother and 20 years passed
before I held my Father in my arms and let him cry.
It was after his first heart attack and the first of many times he poured salt into my desert shoulders
and every tear was a sacrifice and every tear was a lie.
Glad now I left that quilt undisturbed.
Glad I left that virgin un-ascended.
Glad I don’t have children scattered across Texas who would be the same age now
that I was then.
If I met these children by accident on a bus ride to the Gulf
when the moon was a curved tooth rotting in heat haze,
when the coastal plains of salt grass and oil derricks were chewed in headlights
and swallowed by the dark.
If I met my children for the first time with the shoreline coming closer
closing around us the olive colored arms of a Mother dressed for church
a Mother big as the Gulf of Mexico
with waves of green fire phosphorous and shallow water shark.
If I asked those children, who were never born but have faces
who were never born but have names that come against me suddenly at night
like birds exploding from a branch while I walk in my rich fog.
If I asked those children about their father
they would look at me with the eyes of my Grandmother
come back across the Brazos with her face spread wide as a delta fan
they would look at me and say
“I never knew you.”
If I could tell how smoking dope in an apartment hallway with all the doors
could lead to jobs painting houses
it might be a deterrent to the kids I do have.
I’m a paper hanger now and good at the trade.
Call me at 509-493-5209 in Underwood, Washington if you need
any work done.
I once papered a bathroom for an old man named Jim Root
whose desolation was hidden by jokes
the way a clearcut is hidden from the highway by a fringe of trees.
Jim Root wore a Blazer’s cap and had a wife with a hump on her back
the size of a half grown cat.
When the time came to pay, he said
“You know Adolf Hitler was a paper hanger too.”
I said, “I didn’t know that, and I still don’t.”
I don’t know anything now but sometimes I pretend.
In the middle of long explanations I sometimes remember words of wisdom
that came to me inside two fortune cookies
at Bonnie’s Red Dragon Cafe, in Fairfield, Iowa:
“A worm gnawing in a tree is not heard. Neither should you be.”
“In a lifetime only one hundred words are worth saying. If you must speak
let them hear only the river.”
I left those words slipped between the loose seams of red flocked wallpaper
three booths back from the street
where the naugahyde seats are patched with duct tape.
Look and you will find what I say is true.
When pain comes a man will face it or turn to the river.
He will swell up with silence like a woman with child and he will sing like the river,
mud in his throat, salmon leaping from his eyes.
We still drink from the river though it carries bloated cattle on its back
that pile against dams, with all their electricity released
I believe that every one of us will crack along lines predestined by the intelligence of the heart.
The heart will come to harm and it will heal itself.
Spread out over many years or all at once like an ax blow, the heart will be broken by a force it no longer cares to resist.
Then every dam will collapse at once and there will be flooding
on the land.
Flakes of burning sky will fall on the backs of children
setting light to 300 layers of skin going back seven generations!
Our bones will rattle!
The fillings in our teeth will rattle like seeds in a sacred gourd.
I look across years that curve gently back to a single point of laughter
from which all these worlds have come!
I have followed myself through a thousand streets and I have arrived
at this chair by this window near the Oregon border
with all the big trees coming down and the last owls hooting.
Everything I need to know I can see from here.
Inside my face is a skull that is always laughing!
It shines through my skin like the stalking moon.
There is death in life and life inside of death.
The dead move easily through the marrow of the living like sleepwalkers
through apartment house hallways.
When our bones are hollow
wind blows through them the song of a Cherokee flute.
I have to see through my own eyes and blow through my own bones
a song that is holy and immersed in the blood of earth.
I have to let my voice go up like sparks into magnolia trees
while I go down in the secret heart and walk through caverns
to the core of fire.
One of my favorite poems, written in 1984, when I was 34 years old.
I am crushed like paper on which a child has drawn a picture of her father
in red crayola.
I am blown through strange neighborhoods
where windows growl with fierce flowers.
Stunned by blow after blow, I have gone down on my good knee.
Friends walked away from me
because I was foaming at the mouth
wandering through streets, terrified of water.
But in time I lifted my face and saw the moon sitting in a pin oak tree
drawing water up into its white corona.
sharp blades of grass falling from my chest
helped by invisible hands
and by an angel with a thick scar across his nose
who sat by me on the bus from Ft. Stockton to El Paso.
It is to him I speak now:
I don’t remember your name.
Your Mother came from Mexico by night
when the moon was a finger nail bitten to the quick.
She gave birth to you squatting by a drain pipe on the American side
her hair still wet from the river
her white blouse stained red by the river.
Pulling you out with her own hands like Moses was from the river
she gave you something you could not throw away
though you tried to in alleys, with your arm full of needles.
Going to high-school in El Paso you were stabbed thirteen times
by the brothers of a girl whose eyes were black as two cups of coffee
whose kisses were gulps of border wine.
Sitting with me on the bus
wearing a Mexican wedding shirt of virgin acrylic
you were talking about knife and bullet wounds and about El Senor.
You lifted the tail of your shirt, slowly, as a bride would lift her veil
to show me your scars.
By bus light I counted them
while the sky spread out like two wings of a black bird
hunting the desert for something ready to be
Water drawn out of stones by the moon
collected on the antlers of deer and antelope roaming dry river beds.
A million spines of cactus pointed to a million different stars
while I counted those scars
and I felt my own wounds burned closed by a fire you built in my heart.
In light given off by your face, I felt my own face composed and graceful as a fist
full of peonies.
In the seat behind us a woman was talking about her monkey
how when she was away from home he wouldn’t eat his peanuts
or run his little comb through his hair.
In front, an old man in shorts and polo shirt with a penguin on the pocket
told how in the 1920’s
he had picked up Walt Disney hitch hiking
and carried him for the first time into the city of Angels.
You were laughing beside me.
You said in Viet Nam you were hit by shrapnel
and lost the bridge of your nose.
But the Virgin came in a dream, walking on the crescent of a black moon
to tell you, you wouldn’t die.
Back in El Paso you whipped those brothers
married the girl
learned to beat the dents out of car bodies and paint them new.
But after your son was born your wife dyed her hair the color of flames
and hung a hat over the face of the Virgin.
You came home early from work and found her naked with a man.
He jumped out a window while you stood there like a pin oak
broken by lightning!
She took drugs and lived with men who beat your son.
You had to learn to see her walking in the streets with the arms of strangers
around her waist like shadows
and not scream, not pull a knife!
Finally you forgave her and went back to work.
Now the moon pours over you like the Jordan River.
You sing a new song, a happy song, your son high on your shoulders
the streets at dawn opening to each other
calling out each others’ names
laughing, shouting, honking like geese!
for Clara Reed and all who loved her
“Charles, all I want is you to be a good man and a song leader in the church.” Nana
Light is coming down through sweet persimmon trees
walking from limb to limb to be near us.
The light through your window is risen up my legs to my chest now,
covering my forehead.
Nana, the light jumps to your bed and is gone
up the sleeves of your pajamas!
There is a grackle on your sidewalk
walking like a shopping mall salesman in new Italian shoes.
But how can I tell you about the blue fire of a grackle’s wing?
I’m not that young anymore.
There are lines on my face where white sheets of skin hang.
Before I die in a bed like you I will disappear in mountains.
Nana, two Mexican boys are running up your street with a blue jay
in a birdcage!
Fast behind them a dog with a diaper in his mouth.
The light is all around us now and still, you
Sometimes I want to turn away from you,
walk away from hands that smell like talc,
from bones like butcher knives cutting through your arms.
There is a muley cow skull grazing through your face.
Your paralyzed legs want to jump out of bed,
run 265 miles up Highway 59 to Palestine, Texas where you were happy in the church,
giving away eggs to ungrateful neighbors during The Depression.
Nana, I don’t believe you know who I am today.
You grip my right hand while I feed you jello with the left.
You told me once, in words somewhat different from these, that if God took me by the hair,
jerked back my head and put a knife to my throat,
I should make my throat a fountain of praise for him!
Now the devil is draining all the honest blood from your face.
Let him drown in that red sea while you escape into the desert.
I took the kids to Galveston last week.
We rode the ferry to Bolivar Island and Eli said the water looked like leather.
But to me the Gulf was the hastily braided hair of a woman
running naked, shrieking through the streets of Galveston and Houston,
clear to Palestine and beyond.
Cattle will be found drowned in the desert covered with barnacles!
That night we watched men dragging nets in the surf for mullet.
I saw a seagull rip the delicate skin over a ribcage of water
and come away with nothing but paper in his mouth.
I remember your hair when I was a boy,
up in tight braids close to the scalp in daylight.
Let down long at night and brushed out,
your hair was like Matagorda Bay with stars flattened on waves
and tossed away.
Sometimes I feel my blood beating against the sky.
Sometimes it’s so quiet I can’t hear it.
Who will listen to what the blood says?
Who will put an ear to my throat and tell me what the red blood says?
Long ago you told me words are shallow graves
where tired men lie.
You said there is a love that will pull out teeth with a pair of pliers,
a love that will break ribs getting to our hearts.
And you were right.
Now you say the dead ring bells in heaven.
The wings of fallen sparrows fold under layers of ashes.
Shadows follow each other through the streets like widows to a graveyard.
I say let the dead ring their bells!
Let the moon sharpen its sickle blade against my spine!
Let naked trees offer arm loads of snow to the nickel colored sky!
I want blood turtles to return to the sea!
I want the earth to open her swollen legs and let us out!
Nana you lie here curled in a fetus, every tooth gone,
ribs bandaged from a fall,
wearing a diaper.
God has taken you by the hair, jerked back your head and put a knife to your throat.
Make your throat a fountain of praise for him.
Go to the sky
and listen to the tongues of singing locust trees.
Let them sing for you.
The sun is full in the sweet persimmon tree.
Morning doves let down their wings around you.
Nana, hold my hand as you would the right hand of Jesus and follow his blood
from vein to vein back to the heart.
Stephen’s Creek, Texas 1957
Ben Harris ate hawks with his jaw bones working like saw blades at the mill
where he got his hernia and earned the right to rest
from all work forever.
With teeth too poor to be false
grinding on the backs of birds never meant to be eaten
Ben Harris ate hawks with his hat on
that blew off the head of a rich man down at Double Lake in 1935.
It was a perfect fit.
How did you climb those light poles Ben
to set the hawk traps we boys shot away later with our guns?
How could you take a wounded hawk by the talons, cut off its wings
and lay them to dry beneath your pillow?
You could have had chickens by the hundreds gone wild in pine trees
where you couldn’t walk without getting shit at!
Ben took a bath two times a year in Stephens Creek with his long johns on.
He’d rub his chest with a bar of soap my Grandma made
out of hog lard and lye
in the black kettle in her side yard
beneath the tree she where she hung her chickens
to twist their heads off and throw them on the smoke house roof.
We had to climb the willow tree
to see how their beaks kept clucking and their eyes spun in circles
looking for the hand that no longer held them.
The spinning of their eyes was the spinning of planets,
was a whirling of stars around the throne of heaven!
I see you now, Ben, picking up chicken heads in a tow sack,
slinging the bag full of silent clucking over your shoulder,
dumping the heads into a vat of skinned squirrels, their heads still on.
Adding chunks of possum and armadillo meat,
you ate all of it with the dumplings Mrs. Hillendager gave you
for drawing water from her well.
She was a Catholic and you pronounced her name, “Hilldigger”.
Ben lived with his brother Rob
who smoked a pipe with a foot long stem made from some kind of leg bone.
They slept in an 8x8x7 foot shack
with their chickens and their chicken eating dogs,
with their guinea hens and the lame squirrel they wouldn’t kill,
with a million seed ticks and the hoots of owls,
with pine sap still rising from the boards they borrowed from the mill one night
when the moon was chuckling in a sweet gum tree.
With the picture of their Mother hung on a nail
whose maiden name nobody knew,
with shotguns hung on antlers from bucks killed out of season,
with the smell of Vicks Vapor Rub and the smell of wood smoke,
the smell of liniment and the smell of turpentine for head lice,
and the smell of snuff they never used around Ma,
and cough syrup and rubbing alcohol,
and the smell of horse and cow and chicken shit,
and the smell of old, old men no one would marry.
But someone had married Ben,
one of the Blanks women before the war.
Ben worked at the sawmill and hunted possum at night to feed the sons
But she died of ear ache that got into her brain
and the boys grew up to despise him.
When they were old enough, they moved to Huntsville to be in the prison.
One for stealing a man’s truck, the other one to guard him.
Later on they moved again, to Houston
to operate a liquor store and rise up into the middle class.
Ben, I remember you saying, “No, no Aunt Mary…”
while your hand traveled in an arc to take the nickel from my Grandma’s palm.
That nickel she gave you for bringing mail up from the store.
I remember your fingers trimmed by a saw blade
and the scar across your palm where a hawk got you!
You used to take a jackass by its back hooves and hold them ’till he couldn’t buck no more!
I remember the hawk feather in your hat
and the smell of you even pine-o-pine couldn’t kill.
Ma wouldn’t let us drink out of the same gourd dipper as you until she
I remember you in overalls with shoes like starved dogs.
You never had on any socks in winter.
I don’t want to tell how your boys put you in a home where you cried
and couldn’t remember your own name,
how they put you in a cardboard coffin without a suit on.
Then dozers came to scrape your shack away
and on that spot is a man made lake with trailer houses along its
Everything I see and hear and taste and smell is from a place carried away in a flood.
Clearcut, burned, buried in water, gone!
But I remember your eyes like my Grandma’s eyes,
the color of milk left outside for dogs with the sky in it.
for Shelley Bryan
Last hour of the afternoon on the west side of the house
where a narrow pasture and harvested field
We sit on a rock wall looking at the sun
because a Sikh told us it was good for our eyes.
The red sky standing on water in furrows where corn will grow
darkens and begins to freeze.
I look at you as if you are the sky, stunned by a light that is always
Inside me is a woman whose face is a mirror held up to the sky.
Inside me is a woman swollen with bodies inside
Now is time to light the stove, cook rough grains and winter squash
drink tea in stark and ringing silence.
ferns of ice form on yellow windows on the north side of the house.
I lie in white sheets under a white blanket
the unplowed field filling up with snow.
for Ananda Lorca Hopkins
I am 24 years old again.
My daughter is in the moonlight room,
spring wind blowing through her from an open window.
She is wearing a little gown the color of the moon,
pulling herself up by the bars of her crib using the power of the moon.
She is crying.
People have told us, let her so she can learn
to be alone.
We are crying.
I walk in the wet field toward end of day,
sun setting fire to water in the ruts.
Follow hoof prints of a white calf through oak trees
to a pasture higher up where long grass whispers
Jesus saves… Jesus saves…
To the south, crows caw from the hollow
where the spring creek empties into corn.
I hear them beating something on a rock.
Later find the skull of a squirrel, eye and tongue mostly eaten.
In the quiet between crow caws there is a hollow in my chest
the size of an open palm.
Below me now red furrows in the dusk.
The field is a barren woman streaming menstrual blood.
I kneel to drink water the color of fire and blood
from the hoof print of the white calf.
Turning home where Shelley is kneading dough again,
I look down at the rent house built of creek rock with a flag stone porch
where copper heads like to sun themselves.
Suddenly my hands are beside my mouth,
lungs letting out bursts of air from the hollow in my chest,
imitating a crow!
Dogs in all directions lift their heads and look into trees.
Something is wrong with the pregnant cow.
She walks in circles bellowing!
From this distance, looks like a tree limb sticking out
She lies down gets up.
I run over see the hoof of her calf coming out.
She lies down in pain again.
Run to the road, yell at an old farmer driving a tractor into town,
a man whose teeth are like children,
dead to him now.
Shows me how to put both hands inside the cow,
take hold of the calf’s head and pull it into place.
Then we take hold of legs and all pull together!
Shelley comes from the house. We all pull on the calf’s legs,
our hands cut by razors of wind!
The farmer says sometimes he hooks them to his tractor and pulls.
But the calf shoots out like my daughter,
steaming blue and white, membrane and blood!
The cow gets up, licks the eyes of her calf,
licks her nose and mouth.
Everybody is happy.
Then come long horns of evening,
crow caws flattened across pond water.
I get up in the dark, stars falling like figs in the Bible.
Walk around the rent house, knowing ten years before it happens
I will loose everything,
be picked up by county cops walking towards Texas,
shirtless, an oak bow strung across my chest,
quiver full of hand whittled arrows,
I am the white calf! I am the Mother of the calf!
I am crow caw!
I am not young.
I am the color of winter grass
silver on the backside, golden on the belly.
From here I see two hawks circle a mesmerized field rat
going round him like an eye with the rat as the pupil
to teach him death.
I hear the coyote hunting in grass up to his testicles
lying to the rabbit and the mouse saying
“I am grass. These blades can’t cut you.”
But on a good day
when the mouse himself is stalking wild celery seeds
that click against each other like teeth
the coyote goes with the eloquence of blood
to the heart of the mouse
teaching him death.
I am not young.
I have seen the beginning and the end.
Now the middle swells around me like a waist of water.
Cold mornings I make my own fire.
Standing naked in the shaving mirror, I recognize the cold
that looks for emptiness to fill.
There are rooms in me round as the astonished eye of a mouse
where children have been sacrificed
where jars of human hair and teeth and fingertips are stored.
There are dark corners in every lighted room
and the shadow thrown cross hard wood floors like a carcass.
But on a good night
when the heart is beating on its skin drum
and the blood is stumbling drunk through hallways of the body
the dead and the half dead waken.
I go out to the sky
to look for stars coming down. I raise my hands
to the one who comes to save or destroy me, saying,
“Thank you for this chance to see and hear and feel my self
in this deep water where life begins
where schools of joy swim with schools of madness and disgust.”
I can’t tell the difference sometimes.
I fight with myself in the night, fight with my love.
Can’t tell where shadows end and darkness begins.
When even rainbows are a twisting of the light
how can I know my self apart from darkness
know my self from apart from light?
I listen to this heart, to this blood beating and I am saved.
for Eli and Jeff, “Your love has given me wings.”
At 52 with help from my sons
I place a 40 foot ladder and raise it to full extension, braced against the stump
of a chinkapin tree.
With the ladder held and steadied by my sons, I climb
to the roof of a rich man’s house
looking over miles of the Hood River Valley come into bloom.
She is beautiful in Spring as a Mexican girl dressed for her wedding.
Through her middle is a flow of water continually drunk with gladness
for itself alone.
From the head of the valley to where it empties into the Columbia
there is always this laughter!
Today I climb in fog and middle 50’s, clouds with their arms all around me.
Above a certain height the knowledge, I can fall
is balanced by an equal certainty, I can fly.
Having fallen before, I know the cost of coming suddenly to earth:
three cracked vertebrae and the sternum bone,
right fore finger broken at the knuckle,
nose in four places crushed and re-supported with steel,
collarbone snapped so I had to sleep sitting up two months on the couch,
pissing through a vacuum cleaner hose into an empty bucket
of bone white enamel.
From where I sit now I can choose the world I live in.
If I choose flight I will leave this world and land gracefully in
If I fall from here, the result will be the same.
I see pear blossoms weighted down with drops of rain in the ashes of the morning,
before the heat of wheat deserts is drawn through lungs
of the river gorge.
I see the languid body of our Lord uncoiling from sheets of sky.
Hear the river praising itself over rocks worn smooth with laughter.
The shallower the water, the louder is its praise.
And I hear what the desert promises when she whispers in my hollow ear saying,
There is no difference between falling and flying.
The wheat deserts say that everything in this world is a door.
To fall is one door. To fly is another.
And when a pear blossom the color of the risen moon is cut by wind and carried up to me on the roof of a rich man’s house,
this is a third kind of door.
In the marrow of my breast bone that once was cracked but now
is made whole
there is a staircase spiraling into quiet.
There is an emptiness inside the bone I have learned to walk through.
Now I can say, I am completely alone, or I can say I walk hand in hand with my Lord.
There is no difference between falling and flying
as long as I will pay the price this world insists upon.
The first step away from selfishness is a falling that gives us wings.
When pride is exhausted, it gives way to greater clarity
so the head may fall of its own weight to rest over the beating heart.
What was lost is found
not in the closed but in the open, empty hand.
Then our faces shine like spoons full of water.
We are gathered into someone’s arms whose only name is Silence.
From where I sit I see a silver blade of sky and the first blood of morning
but I don’t look for meaning in this light.
I sit here counting the single, unspoken and unthought syllable
of the quiet.
Over and over the same syllable of the only name I answer to,
the name that is yours alone in whom I am harvested in Fall.
I am flying!
I am climbing down this ladder to my sons.
for Nancy Berg, 1985
“You have the sharpest eyes I’ve ever seen.” he said.
“Yes, my eyes are black thorns. I’m impaled upon myself.”
The woman answered with a smile. “Is that clever enough for you?”
“Yes, it sounds like something a fifteen year old girl would write in a spiral notebook
then wait fifteen years to slip into conversation.”
The man came closer and brought his face near to hers
noticing for the first time the cold sore on her mouth she covered with makeup.
“Look at the cancer.” she said and turned her face away,
looking down to the hand woven Persian rug she sat upon.
All the intelligence and skill gone into its making were now in her face.
“Let me understand you.” she said. “You’re suggesting that we stay the night together,
watching the moon break down through the limbs of those sycamores
outside in the bleeding snow.
We will tell secrets we would to anyone and one or two reserved for lovers
but not the ones we whisper only to ourselves
and never the one we don’t let our own selves know?
Is this a business deal, a franchise gone round the world?
I’ll touch you if you’ll touch me?
The only trick knowing when to pull out?”
“No, that is not what I meant at all.” he answered back. “Well, yes, it is what I meant
but not what I want.”
The man walked over to a window covered with intricate ferns
the frozen patterns on the glass reminding him of his own intentions.
He felt alone but somehow beautiful
as when he watched the moon come through a cloud
or listened to a dove in morning fog.
“I don’t understand this kind of talk.” he said. “Everything we think and say
is a maze and in the center of that maze is our secret heart.”
“Keep talking.”, she said, parting her lips a little, showing some tooth.
“You’re getting better at it. But I’ve heard this before.
We talk until we get what we want, then find we don’t want it anymore
or it don’t want us.”
“Yes.” he said, “We are all the same.
Everyone we have taken in our arms are sheep to be sacrificed and
also our own selves.
All those bodies with just enough meat to cover the bone
just enough hair to cover the skull we live in fear of.
White skin over hilarious jawbones,
bright eyes in empty sockets,
they have all been us!”
“What are you talking about?” she asked. “I just want to be happy.
Where is the happiness they promised me?”
“Who promised you happiness?” he spat. “I’ll tell you.
The same one who made the fire you’re burning in.”
“The fire that is eating you! The fire you’re afraid will go out.
And it will go out, slowly or suddenly, in heavy rainfall or blowing snow.
Somehow we have to stop it now.
Just stop. Sit down. Wait. Do nothing for a while
maybe a long while, maybe forever, or what seems to be forever.
Then a kind of peace might come like the dawn to this window.
I have seen it gold all over this room while I stood here shivering.”
The intelligence in the woman’s face had changed again
become less like a Persian rug and more like a wall of hand cut stones
fitted together with so much precision, no mortar was needed to hold them
“Oh,” she said, “I have seen your dawn gritting its yellow teeth
grinning behind the backs of white houses
beginning to kneel down in snow!
I have felt its cold breath through the window.”
The man turned and shouted at her
“Listen to me! There is a kind of love that is cold.
It comes behind you like ice in a freezing creek that will take a carp
by the back of its head.
Once when I was married I went out in the yard.
It was the night of the Winter Solstice and well below zero.
The stars were so close they burned my cheeks.
I must have gone into a trance, I started shouting something about the Walls of Jericho
and the Holy of Holies.
My wife thought she heard a lion roaring under the chinaberry trees.
She came outside, caught me with my hands raised up to the sky
and she asked me what I was doing. But I didn’t know.
So I gave her the look I had learned in college from a girl who used to stare
in peoples’ eyes and say, “I see Jesus Christ in you.”
I gave my wife that look and said,
“A freezing man will try to warm his hands on the stars.”
For a moment I was a hermit whirling in a mountain cave and I knew
what I was saying was the truth.
It may have been the cold talking. It may have been the cold whispering
a secret to the back of my head.
The man turned to the window and with the nails of his right hand scratched
through thick frost, leaving his mark upon the pane.
He showed his nails to the woman and said
“Ice is the purest form of water.”
Every spoken word is a lie but the same words being sung are true.
I find myself laughing for no reason
cry when there is no cause to cry.
I go out when moonlight is sharp as a woman’s slap
to see a round face that is not my own
but find I am looking into my own right eye!
I don’t know who I am not.
I am all places, all people, every seed and every open blade of grass.
I am what you are.
I keep a close watch on this heart
see my mind look for and find
I watch the heart let go of everything and look to itself
You are my heart
a sky in all directions.
Above and below you are my heart.
All we know is what we can never be told.
But we are not forgotten when we forget ourselves.
Someone is close
someone kneeling in water whose breath is a spiral.
There is a yellow light the color of peach flesh
laid across everything alive.
There is a naked awe in being here
whether in bolts of happiness
or in grinding or sudden suffering.
Whether I move with those who are moving
or stand in shadows as a thief of breath I am with you.
I am you.
The silence after a question that has no answer goes on forever.
Our minds stop
when we are not afraid to be completely alone.
The sky cracks open
the crown of the head is born from the womb.
We see the whole blue body come
between the Mother’s legs like a mountain of sky!
Alone or together
our hearts are gathered into one.
We are carried up like farm dogs in a funnel cloud.
The heart is a spring of water.
To reach it we must kneel and put our mouths near the mud.
We have to smell the mud and taste it in ourselves
Kneel if you dare.
Drink only if you are brave.
All night long thunder with lightning!
Earthquakes open canyons in the sea!
Inconsequential hills are lifted up as mountains.
Cities fold in waves of salt that are red as blood!
But by morning, the tidal flood receded
I smell the Gulf drying in nets of your hair.
Quail are ticking in the fallen leaves
and you are spread across everything like the sky suddenly awake!
Twenty-three years ago you shouted
“Every word you say is a lie!”
Between untruth and total silence I became your husband.
Now my teeth are going one at a time
as the petals of our ornamental cherry tree are pulled
by gusts of wind.
Connective tissue in the joints, eyesight, hearing, all are going.
There is a darkness in my heart
the dark of springs deep in earth
of water too cold to drink that must be warmed first in your hands.
Words come to me one at a time
like leaves torn from pin oak trees sixty years ago in Texas
that were carried underground in a torrent
and rise to surface in this spring of water.
As the poor make windows out of bottles, I make a bed for you
of these leaves.
I don’t know what love is.
There are no objects and no relationships.
Only one being like a sky that has no mouth but speaks anyway
no arms but we are all embraced by it!
I am the one behind the mirror
who sees without being seen.
I could line my driveway with the skulls
of every body I have been.
I am alone
in a house with no stairway to an upper room
no back door out.
In the quiet where a cricket rubs his legs together
I sit in this chair instead of working
knowing I am not a body
not the chair the body sits on
not the floor that supports the chair.
This house is mortgaged and I look around with rented eyes.
There is no sadness in a fact
and no rejoicing in what is simply true.
I am alone and like the cricket I make a song from what
I have followed you through all the veins of the body
and come back alone to the knot
of the heart.
All words end in the silence.
The heart never even forms a thought.
No words come from there
and none can reach it that are not first changed to fire.
Sometimes I wake up in the cold
and there is no face in the mirror
only a dry leaf for a tongue
and emptiness like a handful of fire!
If you walk in a spiral through this city
following lines of power, drawn by your own intelligence
you will find a place where I am already waiting
arms full of flowers buzzing with bees.
I wait for you in every cell.
There is a happiness coiled inside me
tightly folded as the wings of meadowlarks!
I follow you
wind blowing through me all the names
of the dead I am.
There is one name I answer to, so much like silence
that I answer it with silence.
Some believe in the quiet between two words
God can be heard breathing.
My faith is never to believe.
My prayer is not to speak the first word.
You told me
don’t resist the rising breath
even if your lungs are filled until they break your ribs.
until all this sky is breathed inside you!
I am a stranger here,
You are a river made of sky.
Both of us are vast enough for the Other
To dance inside of.
Tonight your breasts are the domes of cathedrals
I move inside you
Like a man night swimming down the Wichita,
Feeling in the dark for the spreading and the joining of waters
At the source.
I may not know who I am but someone is calling my name
excited as a child that I have come naked to her door.
My body is the color of road ash and whirling dust.
My eyes are beach fires. My heart is the Gulf.
I came to you with arms full of peonies dressed in a rich man’s clothes
and you ignored me.
I came naked with nothing in my hands
and you accepted me as if I were a diamond.
Now my empty hands are floating in air.
I was born to be your fool.
I may not know your secret name but I hear your voice.
The sound of snow melt dripping from a glacier inside me.
Your right eye follows the rising sun.
Your left eye sees a thousand worlds going down in darkness.
Take me with you into that darkness
where there is nothing but quiet and the in held breath.
But when you breathe out there is such a shock of life!
There are trees going up in fire!
Children are born from barren wombs!
There are billions of cells dividing and multiplying from the one!
I want to sit down in the cold “I love you” water coming from the mountain.
I want to gather into my chest all your laughter.
Laugh inside me!
Laugh and make everything come alive.
My hands are pine trees on fire!
for Rob Sacks, my dear friend
My eyes were empty graves I dug with my own hands.
Now they are filled with sky.
My heart was a hollow bone with all the marrow eaten out.
Now it is your flute.
What was obvious had been concealed by I desire and I do not desire.
Now all I want is you.
I hear your voice coming from a vase of yellow peonies swarming with ants
Do whatever you want.
I hear waterfalls of praise as pine trees stagger in a drunken April wind.
Go to the Master whose robes are not made of hundred dollar bills
whose hands are human hands not flowers
whose smile is full of yellow human teeth.
Go to that Master and kneel by the flooded river he makes of your own heart.
I will wash my feet with tears and dry them with my hair!
Our bodies are condemned at birth.
There is no herb for the dead.
We run, we tire, we stagger under pine trees towards the grinding
but with these hands I borrow from the dead
I will praise the creator and destroyer.
Let my body have what it deserves:
the embrace of friendship, the consolation of ecstasy.
In the insufficient light of evening when stars are falling
I give back these empty hands and you give me your hands
“the Love that loves to love the Love that loves to love…” Van Morrison
I love Rama the husband of Sita.
If not for Sita I would come in the night with my white hands
to part the green leaves of his breath.
I would kneel by Rama’s bed and whisper
“Let me be Sita tonight.”
If I were Sita
my breasts would be round, white, full of soma.
At the source of my rivers
would be a thatched hut of rough hair
built for Rama at the entrance to a hermit’s cave.
If I were Sita
Rama would come to me from above
from below, from the left side, from the right
and I would never sleep!
Jesus puts his arm around my waist and says
“Be wise. Be gentle. Be a man.”
But I say to him
“I am always a woman with my God.
Make me a healer
and I will put my tongue into your wounds to heal them.”
But he doesn’t answer.
He knows that I would fall through the holes
in his hands
that this world can never fill the void in his left side.
He knows that when they lift him off the cedar tree
I won’t be there.
“I have a crown you can’t wear. Where I go
When I was a boy I wanted his crown
wanted my blood to run down red New Mexican hills
to the roots of bitter trees.
But I couldn’t climb high enough into the tree.
couldn’t get up on the cross by myself!
So the Lord came to help me
came floating in a laughing ball of light to tell me
“This is not for you.
Follow me where blood becomes water
falling into itself forever.”
Now I say to my Jesus
“Let me serve you.
Let me sleep by your kind side in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I will wash your feet with my laughter.”
I am in love with Mary, the Virgin of Guadalupe
who flies on a curved black sword of moon
and wears a sky of stars across her shoulder blades.
I come to her at dawn and whisper
“Let me be the first man in America to know you.”
But she knows I love this world as much as I do her.
I would lie down in soil black as an Ethiopian woman
and try to pull the sky down over us!
And I know there is another one before me
whose beauty I can’t touch
who would break open my chest like a prison wall
to let me out
who calls my name in a forest
and makes the coarse hair over my heart stand up
like pine trees on fire!
I want to serve that One.
I say to him
“Let me be your son.
Let my two hands be cymbals and my long throat a trumpet
to praise you with.
What I grip is torn from my hands.
What I let go of floats away and does not return.
You are trying to kill me,
Before dawn you eat one hundred thousand children,
draw water up the delicate veins of a morning glory,
make the billion neurons in my son’s brain jump alive
seeing a cricket in the grass.
You raise the dead then threaten to burn them
I don’t know you.
I watch you coming up the street
broken houses bowing down to you in snow.
Even in the distance, your huge smile,
your teeth crooked with bliss.
Your mouth on my mouth speaking in tongues!
Your tongue in my mouth
a hermit dancing in his cave!
The whole world going up like cellophane in fire!
You say I should be alone.
You offer me this cup of wine, the full moon floating
perfectly in the center of it.
for Baba Shiva Rudra Balayogi, who taught me this Mantra
May the Divine consider my prayers that all eruptions of thought subside, that the mind relax into the heart, and the heart be conscious of Itself.
I know nothing.
Thoughts come and I believe in them and I love them.
In that loss of attention a world is born
in which every flower has a name unknown to itself,
in which every moment has a Mother and a Father,
a beginning and an end that are so close together they are
essentially the same.
Between the Mother and the Father is a snow melt river
boiling through a narrow gorge.
Along that river a billion lives are lived,
a billion blessings, a billion curses.
To find the quiet that was never lost, I walk into a desert,
try to dig down through rock and bone to the river underground
but that river is a river of blood.
No one wants to drink from it or see it come open into the light
We want to know it and be known by it only in the dark,
when artificial light fails us and doors are all closed
When the mind comes back to itself there is unheard applause.
There is rejoicing that leads by a red dirt road
back to the Quiet.
At the end of that road is no imagined home, no one weeping
for our return.
There is only the space between thoughts and a sky with no
end to it.
for Carol and Shivabalayogi
In the undertow of evening I am settled around myself.
Those who have lived long enough to keep quiet
should be listened to.
In the valley between my shoulder blades where I sing to my Self
there is a river is running underground.
I am always kneeling.
I kneel to the one who knows but will not speak
the first word that sets these worlds in motion.
Every man is alone and every woman is breathing in the Gulf
with schools of mullet in her tidal hair.
All night long the left hand feels in the dark for the right.
Shivabalayogi is my Guru. Carol is my wife.
This is all I know.
The angel of the Lord is flying again
over the Cascade Range and Hood River Valley.
Wings made of fire drop light into undergrowth.
I am a standing flame
my fingers matchsticks all struck at once.
I am the river in the Douglas fir
the living water rising through root and trunk
taking in and giving out breath.
You are above me spread out as breath and as the prayer of breath.
Shivabalayogi I am kneeling to you.
Carol I am kneeling to you.
Forgive me when I tell you I am lost.
Even though you hollowed out the rock
and made a temple in my chest
my heart is still sometimes a slaughter barn
where dogs fight over ribbons of blood.
I have heard angels singing in syllables
that can change a stone into a man
and bring him crying to his knees
but I am lost.
So many times I have been saved by Grace
heard the ringing of invisible bells that covered the laughter of demons
and drove them away.
I have killed demons by the thousands with a sword
baptized this world in their blood
but I don’t know for sure what my own name is.
Mother Mary smiles at me using the faces of grocery clerks.
The Mother and Father of the Universe tell me
I am their own child.
But I am lost because I can’t remember every moment
in whose arms I am held.
Two times I felt a presence behind me
turned to see a god seven feet tall
whose open face was a shotgun blast to the heart!
But twenty-three years later I come to your door
like a boy crying with a fish hook caught in his hand.
I need your help to go deeper.
I have seen Jesus Christ laughing inside an oval of light
the color of lavender.
Seen Lord Krsna dancing in a conch shell that was clear as ice.
Saw him floating over the Gulf of Mexico
while seagulls mimicked his name
and mullet leapt out of waves to reach him.
But I could not reach him.
Shree Maa told me, “I am you. I am nothing.”
Shivabalayogi said to me, “I am who you are.
You can never forget your own Self.”
But every moment I don’t remember I am in love with you
is like living in a bombed city.
There is an emptiness in rooms where you lived
then left behind
that hurts like a pulled tooth.
I need your help to go deeper.
For a long time I was afraid to give myself to you
knowing I would be eaten alive.
Now the sound of my bones snapping between your teeth
I want to walk in the perennial garden.
To gather into my wide face the light of the sky
coming down at sunset to kiss me on the mouth
leaving my lips red as a girl’s.
I want to give back light to you like the moon.
My beard is white.
My belly like a woman’s three months pregnant
but in my heart I am a lover.
I am a bridegroom with a handful of flowers.
If the one I love is Shiva
let him be the groom and I will be three months pregnant
with his child.
Take these flowers from my hand and put them in my hair.
I am talking to the God who lives in the body of Carol.
I am singing these words to my wife.
Because I have known the space between thoughts
known and endured terrible silences
I keep quiet, say nothing.
I find myself walking around the house in a coma
the right hand held in the left.
The moon sitting in the window is watching me like a child.
I want to be a happy man but if this house won’t cooperate
I will leave it!
I will wind the arms of the sky around my head and leap
into the subtle body of my soul!
When I become whole, I may never speak again
or I may speak for the first time of my secret visions
of my memories of angels in the cornfields
of the light around my Grandma’s coiled and braided hair
of the green flames of pine trees.
Forget me when I’m gone.
Leave me in the long rich furrow of your heart
and cover me with your hand
your hand full of eyes.
The one I thought I was who followed the river
limping with nails in his feet singing about the moon
has entered the water and been carried in a spiral
to your heart.
Whether I sit whether I stand whether I kneel
I am swimming naked with your nakedness
following the curve of your blood through the hollow of your hand
your hand full of eyes.
These photos were taken with the camera of a cheap phone and small Kodak Pixpro. Nature, the Divine Mother, the soul, the Lord of Being, all are merged in a Unity beyond our conception.
When a mob starts rolling, be it from the right or left, best to stay out of the way. Meanwhile the sun is finally shining here. Quail, rabbit, squirrel, wood dove, chipmunks galore. I feed them and they feed me. Anyone who respects me, I respect. Say hello and wave to anyone, armed or without arms. Sad about the Robert E Lee statues, my old hero, noble, no traitor, brilliant and arrogant, with the blood of 100,000 men and boys on his hands, but humbled and quiet in old age. Himself no friend of Confederate statues, no friend of slavery, no friend of war. There is no body without sin and we all have IT coming. I hope to be ready when it comes. Let it tear down every idol I have made to honor myself and let it take what is left of me where every drop of water goes.
1971, I met a hobo in far North Texas. I was living in a Christian commune and we were giving food to anyone who came knocking. This was not a young man. He had long ago accepted gravity. Had fallen and kept falling and kept falling and kept falling. Everything about him was the color of road dust, except his eyes, which were slivers of a meteorite that long ago hit the ground but still was burning.
His shoes were beaten dogs. Insulated with newspaper, the soles tied on with twine. And the ball cap he wore had a bill replaced with a curve of cardboard tied on with the same twine that secured his shoes.
I offered him what we had, a kind of chicken feed cooked up as cereal. That and stale doughnuts, always a favorite. And after he had eaten I tried to do my duty, talk to him about the love of God but the man interrupted me and said, “I’m neutral about that.” Pointing to the world outside the window, he said, “I’m neutral about everything. I’m neutral about that rock.”
Forty-eight years passed and now I take his meaning as my own.
by Carol Hopkins
There is a cold in winter that gets into the bone
telling us time is short, dust to dust.
Between two piles of ashes we build a castle,
a mirage in the desert that disappears with a blink.
But when the spear pierces the heart and the veil is torn
we see clearly we are the lucky one.
A fire comes to the heart that is heard as Sound and seen as Sight.
Then we remember the forgetting.
In the marrow of the bone we remember
that while time is short, forever remains
by Carol Hopkins
We live here as individuals painfully locked
in frozen fields of private dreams, opinions and self-righteousness.
If we are lucky, the separation becomes so unbearable we are pierced through the heart.
When the heart is torn open, we step out of time into the open arms
of the ever present Beloved One.
Beyond this, all words fail.
It’s snowing today
but the flowers in our rock wall are still blooming.
Even the geranium you left with us is outside and alive.
So little snow this winter, local pre-teen Republicans
have bolted antlers to their football helmets. I saw them
running through a clear cut yesterday, above the drainage.
They were chanting in a language nobody taught them
that boils up inside them from another life.
It’s that kind of neighborhood.
You say the cottage Carol and I built from one April to the next
is beautiful and you hope we can stay living here.
Yes, it is built of April and of May and of the first two weeks of June.
I know I should be proud of it but I am not much.
There is no home for us anywhere on earth, no matter how badly
we want it.
Your husband, Mitch, has grown his hair long and tied it in a pony tail!
He has a new respect for women, you say.
I got a new respect for women in 1983 when my first wife left me
alone with two children to raise.
Not for her so much, but for the rest of you.
Mitch strikes me as someone who has always respected women
but maybe I am wrong.
I was raised to be that way, without an example as to how.
Certainly I loved my mother for a long time, though that time is now
Still, at 97, God bless and keep her sleeping. Let her be pleased with herself
until the day she dies.
You tell me you don’t know my friend Freddy well.
Me either, although he is a nice fellow, artistic and erudite.
I am a mostly a nice fellow too, unless you cross me. My sword
hangs always ready in the old magnolia tree, a rusted sliver of moon.
“I have my third cold of the season… not a good sign. I think it is dust causing me problems… I can’t see house dust any more… so it doesn’t get removed. achooo!”
This made me laugh.
I remember well when my mother stopped keeping her house spotless.
I was 29 or 30, which means she was in her middle 50’s.
Starting to loose her mind, I thought.
Carol still keeps hers perfectly clean and coherent, except under the kitchen sink
and one closet, which are like Venezuela.
The snow has stopped. Guess I’ll have to take a walk in the rain.
Hope your day today is a happy one, Jane, and that you see
something beautiful out there in Kansas.
By Carol Hopkins
Awake at 5 in the morning, the angels come and say,
“Look at the liquid light in this dark room.”
I stare into molecules dancing and rejoicing in the eternally unfolding
Love of God.
There is no difference between
chair, book, aging body, slipper with a tear in its sole,
and the stained glass art my son made as a little boy.
None of this can ever be anything other than what it is,
How can I explain this to the child in us who wants Santa
to bring the latest game,
unaware that we are eternally resting motionless in the Mother’s lap?
Still, regularly I bend my knee and ask for Grace.
It’s the way of this world.
By Carol Hopkins
There is shimmering between terror and bliss like the leaves of a birch tree before a powerful storm. Is it terror, is it bliss, is it dark or light, heaven or hell? Who wants to know and why does it matter? Shimmering doesn’t need to know to shimmer. Content to shimmer.