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.
“Just look over your shoulder.” The Four Tops
There is a ladder leaning against the rim of the world
I like to climb down
into another body made of rain.
Shunned by the gods of printed books
I am happy standing over a pool of water
where the entirety of the sky is held in the palm of an open hand.
The miniature sun, untouched by mud, is there in its perfection
and a mockingbird crossing that round sky is shitting,
is shitting in flight!
“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 waiting 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 he 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 gold through the scales.
Sockeye, steelhead dammed and gill netted, hunted by fish hawks.
We are impaled on 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.
Following the scent of our Mother’s blood
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 so full of fluid
the sound of breathing is 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.
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 quivering in creek water
like the flanks of a mare in heat. In the pasture behind the log barn
there is vibration in the blood of the seed bull.
Hawks circling the moon watch the seed bull lift himself
on to the backs of heifers
and lay 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!
A million gnats too small to be seen are carried over treetops
in heated waves of breath.
I am joined in this air by web worms,
by spiders climbing into oak trees, making sails of their silk.
Together we throw ourselves into the sky
while the moon is naked as a stripper’s breast!
Moonlight the color of skin is stretched wide across the bottom land
where the ground slopes back to Stephens Creek
and javelinas come to rut.
There is a tingling in every cell of the captive locked so long inside of freedom.
I am ready now for the moon to take me
in waves over pine thickets, over rivers dammed the colors of water coiling moccasins.
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 everyone in return.
As the heart of a man should be,
mine is! As the heart of a man should be, mine is!
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 made 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.
We are leaning against a painted wall together,
pretending it is solid.
Suddenly find ourselves falling through it, find that we are
For the little white dog every smell is a door
opening to rooms whose ceilings are so high
they have their own atmosphere, their own sun and moon.
Guided by lights only he can see, the white dog enters
and I who have drunk rain water from the hoof print of a white calf
choose to follow.
…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.
“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 have made my heart a place of worship
an unfenced pasture where creeks stream together in a confluence
My heart is a drum beat 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.
Now everywhere I look I see your face as fire
and 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.
“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.
Come where leaves the colors of blood are taken by wind
and carried to the fire.
I was the wounded and I the fire in which we burn.
Now the clear plastic over this world has been torn away,
enough that I can breathe.
Now everything is breathing. 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.
One day a sky will open in your heart and the sound of wings
be like a river.
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 say I have the rounded shoulders of a man who labors in the dark.
My hands are 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 emptiness is shaped like a morning star.
I feel the cold of this world but when I can let the night sky 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
loving the dark face of the sky,
loving her painted circus eyes, her carnival lips!
For years I walked alone through mountains like 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,
loving women as if they were spun of wool,
trying to be what a man should be.
Neither failing nor succeeding, 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,
wanting to rid itself of whatever is strange.
So I was brought to the surface of this world and made ready
to step into the sky.
Then 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 coming 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!
I know now that 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.
Now I hear a voice whispering my secret name,
the one made of Brazos water and a light that falls blue as rain.
You tell me we have started digging a river, that the river will flow
but however difficult it might be,
we must endure the bite of the pick ax, 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
until its tongue is a tongue of fire.
When fears cease, this world begins to shine like one drop of rain among a billion others
and the sky folds perfectly across each drop like a Mother’s shawl.
Let me tell you about the night I married Jesus
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 painter 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 one I pretend now to be,
answering to his name,
there was still the memory of where I 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 herons.
I remember the smell of mud around the green tank
covered hard with hoof prints and 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.
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, 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 talked. 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 honky tonk. 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 the sweet persimmon tree
walking from limb to limb to be near us.
The light through your window is rising 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 is a dog with a diaper in his mouth.
The light is all around us now and still
you are sleeping.
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 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!
Nana, 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
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 nickle 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.
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 a 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,
eating 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 hand,
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 it 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 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!
“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.
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 the space between thoughts, a sky with no
end to it.
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.
Though I have heard angels singing clear syllables
that can change a stone into a man
and bring him crying to his knees
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 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
want 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.
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 that were slivers of meteorites which long ago hit the ground but still were 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 I am able now to 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.