Posted in honor of the twelfth visit to America by His Holiness, Baba Shiva Rudra Balayogi Maharaj, Shivabalayogi’s only monastic disciple.

Baba and Shivabalayogi

Baba and Shivabalayogi

There is a happiness
like a bee hive humming inside the black locust tree
where an orphaned squirrel makes his home among thorns.

No one can fill what has never been empty
nor displace what is always full
but when love sits down in your heart
it will overflow.

Some look at my face and see a slammed door
locked against the cold
but inside this empty room I am always calling your name.

In rapture, the little white dog watches his master’s face
wondering if the light around her head is edible.

Now in the middle of the night I am awake
watching the moon blossom in that cloud shaped like the palm of an open hand.
Between two locust trees where someone has strung a clothesline
a thousand ants are walking.
Each one carries in its jaws a white petal round as the moon.








Rafael Stoneman in his natural habitat.

Rafael Stoneman in his natural habitat.

“i figure if Ramana wants me to drop the body, he’ll
make it happen, and if not, HE will keep the tree standing.” Rafe

I was painting a big three story Queen Anne
off a forty foot ladder, up near the  roof line
when God whispered in the ear of the ladder holder
“You’re not needed here. Walk away.”

So he walked away
and when the steel toes of the ladder kicked out
I fell
hitting  the roof of an ugly family room tacked on in 1971
the year you were born.
That saved me.

But I kept on rolling off that second roof and hit a 6×6 cedar post
planted upright in the garden for no discernible reason.
Finally come to earth with only my collarbone broke.

There were other falls.

Thirty-five feet off an apartment house I was decking in 1972.
The roof over the third story porch broke loose and I went with it
fast and furious like a bird on fire
but peaceful too, like it was happening to somebody else.
Landed on my back in a pile of boards.
Three cracked vertebrae, a week in the hospital and out.
God said “It don’t hurt that much.”
Funnily enough, he was right at the time.
Just starting to now.

I fell off a concrete dam into the Blanco River when I was a kid
but didn’t drown.
Fell out of a hickory tree, twenty-five feet or so, in 1959
grabbing at limbs that tore holes in my arms, screaming all the way

Jumped off a roof once, testing a parachute made from a cotton sheet
that had cowboys printed on it, firing six guns out of both fists.
The air was so thick with damp, I thought that I could walk upon it.
But that one doesn’t count.

Other falls I don’t remember so well anymore.
They say forgetfulness and loss of grip are gifts of age
and I agree with them.

In 1988 after that collarbone business I went to my Guru
Shri Shri Shri Shivabalayogi Maharaj!
Beautiful, fierce and kind, all at once,  just like a little child
whose best friend is a cobra.
He gave me blessed vibhuti, a chunk of sacred ash used for initiation.
Said, “Keep this in your car. You’ll be OK.”
That’s what I did, moving it from the glove compartment of one junker work truck to another
until that last one caught fire and burned
nearly taking the whole neighborhood with it!
By this time my Guru had passed on
becoming the breath that all of us breathe forever and forever
and forever.
Now if I fall, I will not be falling.  I will fly.

All I’m saying, Rafael, is be careful my friend.
You are needed here and you are much



photo of Sage Stoneman

Charlie Hopkins and Rafael Stoneman 2013, along with Freddie.

Charlie Hopkins and Rafael Stoneman 2013, along with Freddie.




“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 reached 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 hisself
to death.

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 there by
the light.

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.
Then 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
or die.

Whether it’s Ripple wine or Figi water, all of us are drunk
on something.
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 the 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.
Here are my empty hands in friendship.

What I have is yours.



“the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth and into mine…” Anne Sexton

...the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth and into mine...

There is laughter shuddering in the blood!

There is joy that will shatter bone, freeing lightening from its marrow!

When the sky is painted with desire

All swans with broken wings come healed from the river.

Streets  fill with women wearing earrings that are hoops of fire.

The happiness prepared for us finds us falling under weight

Of  light.

Urgent with wind whipped fig trees,  urgent with a million wings of sparrows,

All the gold and spangled streets are ready

For those who believe and for those who doubt

they are not too old to dance.



crystal skull
They say our hearts are hard
but inside the stone is a hollow
filled with blue industrial diamonds.

After we die, the jaw bones go on grinning.
The skull empties itself.
Magnificent human eyes give up space
so the moon can see through them.

We humans do not look away
from our own face decaying in varieties of mirrors.
We extend a hand in welcome, even to death
making nothing of what is already nothing.

I say 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 on fire reaching out for ours.





for Carol

To strangers and to moths around the open fire of light bulbs
my common heart is opening.
In every rounded corner of the world there is a laughter
I can hear,
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 dancing.
The sand bags packed around his eyes are there to stop the river overflowing.
Can you hear church bells ringing in the palms of his hands?
There is happy static jumping inside the blood.
Across his rib cage, waving pastures, 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 in your 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.



Shivabalayogi Maharaj 1935-1994

Shivabalayogi Maharaj

“The lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shouts for joy. Water gushes forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”
Isaiah 35:6

“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 body a place of worship
an unfenced pasture where creeks stream together in a confluence
of laughter.

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
only you.
You tell me I hear your voice when I listen well to my own.
I am listening now. I am listening.

You say
“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. 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.



This is a poem I started in the Fall of 1986. I have worked on it off and on ever since.


“There’s a light, a certain kind of light…” The Bee Gees

I walk in spirals
through streets of Chicago elegant as a rattler’s back.
Stepping over rainbows in oily gutters,  I see my reflection
standing with well dressed mannequins
in a department store window
as if we are family, waiting for the world to end.


But I am older than Chicago, older than the prairies.

In my chest are springs seeping into cattle tanks
where milk cows gather at dusk to drink water the colors of heaven.
Dogs are howling up and down my spine!

In October I stood by an open window in Fairfield, Iowa
contemplating the Fall.
Leaves like Puerto Rican brides
red and gold were falling and flying
and I am flying with them now as a bridegroom
over cities swollen with the blood of people
cut off from the sea.

I fly over solitary farm boys courting domesticated animals
forbidden by the Bible
see my body below me mounting mule deer and antelope
along the Chama River in New Mexico.
Put on antlers and wade with cows into water
the colors of heaven!


I want to spread my arms wide as prairies!
I want to kiss everything alive!
Lie down in fields plowed black as Ethiopian women
and pull the sky down on top of us!

Because I am awake in the love that makes leaves bud
in the highest branches of an ash tree!
Because every cell of my body is dancing in African circles
like one hundred thousand ash leaves together in a wind!


This love I offer to the Mother.

You with your prayer voice, your prayer smoke rising.
You with your prayer teeth, your prayer skull throbbing with rivers.
Your face is a cliff of fiddle fern with no trail to the top.
There are no roads higher than your hipbones.
So come down to me because I can’t climb high enough
to reach you.

I have built altars to myself in high places
and I have fallen.
I have climbed on ladders made of breath and I have fallen.
But your breath is a wave swelling in the Gulf of Mexico
beyond the seventh sand bar.
Your breath folds into itself and breaks in sudden laughter
on Matagorda beach!


If you see me on street corners, standing in a rain of galvanized nails
shouting, “I am Jesus!”
If I limp toward you with bullet holes in the palms of my hands, carrying an atom bomb
lift me up into your arms and heal me.

Let your breath come from the four corners of the sky.
Come like dawn through my blue windows and lay
your salmon colored hands on me!

Mother, lift me up and enter me!
Make my belly swell with a new earth
a new sky with a new moon in it.


When I walk in spirals through Chicago there is a lamb’s heart
beating in my heart.
Light enters through a wound in my side.
I welcome strangers standing on corners like ash trees giving back

I welcome meadowlarks with flowers in their beaks
and gray winged gulls come from the Great Lakes
who follow rivers inland to live with drunk men under bridges.

I welcome the Mother who has no place to stay where she has not always


Once I carried heavy burdens
crazy women with hair the color of drained oil.
I walked in circles gathering the dust of cities
that falls from wings of sparrows,
dust that collects in the creases around our eyes.
I carried the skull of the moon between my shoulder blades
where wings used to be.

One night the moon rose off of me.
Stars fell and there were rivers in my hands!
There was water falling over me, seeping through hillsides into springs.
There are oceans inside me now and my heart is full of waves!


Late November now in Fairfield, Iowa.
A certain kind of light is falling from the wings of meadowlarks.
The sky is full of white flakes of fire!

Standing in a grove of oak trees naked after the Fall
grown so close together we touch each other like children

I praise the ten thousand genitals of an oak tree!
The open face of the sky I praise!
God’s breasts round and full, I praise.

I praise her belly covered with moss roses
praise her long arms embracing seven billion men and women.
Everything that breathes and does not breathe, I embrace.
I kiss her red mouth.
I drink her voice seeping through me like water into cattle tanks.

I kiss her red mouth.



Littoral Women, by Kevin Schoonover


“Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair.” Bruce Springsteen

To 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;
here, on Easter morning
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 when their waters broke
mornings their skirts were saturated with the salt
when waves of pain took them closer to heaven and to hell
than they care now to return.

Amish women know how to plow behind a horse
and when called upon before first light
will throw strong legs across their husband to help him
work the soil

but on Easter morning
touching hands with their daughters in the surf
images of Anabaptist martyrs
of men burned alive, women with pikes driven into them
all slip from the mind.

Holding hands wth their daughters they come as close to dancing
as they are allowed
careful not to cross into waters too deep to come back from.
Mothers and daughters going down with waves between their legs
rip tides tugging at the coarse cotton they are bound in.

Turning their backs to men waiting on shore
nipples show through wet blouses pink as apple blossoms.
Amish women watch the sky come down into the Gulf
the Gulf rising up in waves
to meet them.



March 9, 2013

In 1969 I went to school in Nacogdoches, Texas driving back and forth to Houston on weekends. There was a honky tonk I’d pass near Diboll called the “Tired Moon”. 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 woman. 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 parading into town. Soon the cafe was filled with large, ugly men and with women who had forced themselves into leather pants but let it all hang out above. 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 felt I understood 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 be unread than 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.



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
like lassos or like a halo’s blessing.

On that day I held a photo of my mother in an 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
that 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 motels behind biker bars
where mornings you might see a stranger’s blood drying in gravel.
Fire ants feeding on that blood were the color of the sun setting 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 night girls lined up for jail.
Standing in each others’ shadow, flinching from the headlights of  each passing
they were smoking Camels down to glittered nails,  their eyes faded
as blue tattoos.

I grew tired living on the road
so we bought a trailer, placed it down among some willows grown too near for comfort
on the old and fickle Brazos.
From our bedroom you could hear the highway
and on moonlit nights 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
and silver.
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 two moons of Uranus
and there across the carcass of the sky believed 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 carries in his body rolling over on their backs
to look and see 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 split open with the ripe crack of a melon from Luling, Texas!

Then 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 the 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 would fall from my shoulders, my hair would come undone.
If you hear this song 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.
Come where leaves the colors of blood are taken by wind
and carried to the fire.
I am the wounded and I am 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, covered with a sequined net.
Listen and you will hear even the dead
are breathing.

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 be all there is
then 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 that were 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 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
and 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 singing
until its tongue is a tongue of fire.

When fears cease, this world will shine
like one drop of rain among a billion others
and the sky will be folded 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 it 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
to sing

“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 pond
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 hankerchief 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.




Swamiji's Bio 022

Shivabalayogi Maharaj

Shivabalayogi Maharaj 1935-1994


I followed you by rivers of phlegm and blood
followed you by rivers of wind and strong digestive juices and I found you
in my heart.

What I call my heart is you.

Now I want to hear you sing and play the flute the Virgin played
when she danced before our Lord in pious circles
as the moon does in her orbit.

Once more I want to see you consulting with widows about their hemorrhoids
and with men my age asking for money.

I am more than 60 now
and less than the smoke of memory gone into fire.
Less than what is left when bones splinter and become

When not even the echo of my voice is left
there you are!

With my hands I am listening for your voice spread over me like a flag of sky.
Open and let go of,  carried in wind and snapping like a prayer shawl!

The mind without end or beginning.
The heart alone with itself,  the heart alone.
I listen for that.


Whatever prayer is, this is a prayer:
the whistling a redbird makes shot through the wing with a pellet gun.
The cry of a buzzard falling from the forehead of an oak tree in Stephen’s Creek, Texas
shot from an amazing distance with a 22 rifle when I was twelve.

The arc of it falling still beautiful in memory as the breast of a woman
or the flared nostrils of a muley cow in labor.
The arc of falling is my prayer and the memory
of hitting the ground still trying
to breathe.
My own red face in the mirror is my prayer when I am feeling old
and bitter and used.

There is no burden greater than breath turned against itself.
But if you are who I say you are, you hear these words before I


They say you are God but you are not God.

God is just one more man who doesn’t listen when we go down crying on our knees.
You are more than God and I am laid bare to you!

The coarse hair over my heart
you know it well.
When I call your name you see the gaps between the crooked teeth I want to hide
behind my hands.

I have the tongue of a crow slit by a peanut farmer’s son and taught to speak
the words of men.
If I couldn’t lie there would be nothing left to say.

I am poor poor poor poor. I am poor!

I can’t earn your love.
I can only stalk you as a crow will a slice of wonder bread
that falls from your high window to this ground.

I tell you my heart is a decorated doorway
that the ribs over my heart are sanded smooth and lacquered with mantras
chanted in the remains of a East Texas accent.
But the face I show you only you can see
who see through walls and time before emptiness becomes a man.

Once I heard you telling someone on the street
“Abandon every face, see only sky.
If you must kneel, kneel completely through the earth.
You are free! You are not a prostitute and God is not your pimp!”

I kneel and I feel myself carried underground to the unconceived beginnings of a river.

I am the decorated doorway
the one you pass through walking with an arm of moon around your waist.
I will kneel before you like a man
or I will wear a long white skirt that drags the ground with a red hem.
I will dance for you with honeysuckle in my hair!


Shree Maa said to me
“Who am I? I am nothing, zero! If you want to see God, look in your mirror.”

I can’t say who I am
but I go round you like a red tailed hawk around a wild magnolia tree.
A wild magnolia tree in which a red winged blackbird sings.

Sometimes when the moon rises, our blood follows the limping heart and flows
in a spiral through the body
like the mob that followed Jesus through the winding streets of Jerusalem
when the cross was on his back, the sun setting on his head
followed by thunder, followed by rain!

Sometimes we may feel a wing has been torn out of our spine.
Shree Maa told me that with one good wing we can fly in circles around our Lord
that a circle is as good as straight line when all we want is to be
with you.

Before I came to rest in the one whose breast is white and fragrant as magnolia
I ate the flesh and drank the blood of memory.
My heart was a bible with verses marked by sticks of chewing gum.

Now in early morning I kneel by streams of breath
and with the moon as my witness
admit to you
I know nothing nothing nothing.






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.




Johnny Johnson was my Grandma’s cousin.

He had an extra thumb grown out of the side of his right thumb

that we always wanted to look at and touch.

But Ma wouldn’t let us ask him.

Except once when she went to get him some iced tea

we drifted over like farm dogs to a dead rat

and I said

“Can we see that thumb?”

Johnny Johnson opened the screen door with his long foot

and spit out over the wooden step

where a spotted dog slept with a new spot on his ear.

“Alright boys.”

And in his voice was wonder  and in his voice was compassion

and in his voice was manhood.                                                                             





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. 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 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 wooly 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 me 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”
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 come down to them from cheap seating
often riding back to touch the hands of one came late.

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 the South 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 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 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 the long sleeve shirt
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
with sweat.
I worried I might look like him some day.
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 the 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 the 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 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
all around me crows and catbirds laughing like Pharisees in the streets of Jerusalem
I would stand alone in suffering heat
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.

The 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 willow limbs
I would fly upwards on the cross into temples
of space.

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
when the moon was 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
to loneliness.

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 up against dams
ground 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 a 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
on fire.


In 1969 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 drank 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 one outside was me
and cars that leaked 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 bandage 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 in 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
the more information the shoes gave to him.
So Daniel was always walking fast as he could
til the shoes that talked in tongues
would 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 back yard lines.
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 coils in the body like a mouse that sleeps in the skull of a roadside

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
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 as if I’d been hit on the head with a rock
or shit on by jays.
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
as 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 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.”
she said.
“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 the first of many times he poured his 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
closed inward
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 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 in two fortune cookies
at Bonnie’s Red Dragon China 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, all electricity released
in water.

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 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.

MnnV SW S USA 005 Chisos Mountains Texas

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.

I rose
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!




Clara and Charles Reed - 50th Anniversary (1)


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 claws, cut off wings
and put them dried 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
near 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
that she delivered.
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 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,
the nickel that 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
boiled it.

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.


Hood River Oregon, Mount Hood

 for Eli and Jeff, “Your love has given me wings.”  from “Volare”  sung by Bobby Rydell

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.

From the head of the valley to where it empties in 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 sternum
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
peeing 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 another.

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.

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.
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
and 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 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 two 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.”
he laughed.

The man came closer and brought his face near to hers
noticing for the first time the cold sore on her mouth that she covered with makeup.
“Look at the cancer.” she said and turned her eyes away
looking down to the hand woven Persian rug she sat on.

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 limbs of sycamores
outside there in the bleeding snow.
We tell the secrets we would tell to anyone and one or two reserved for lovers
but not the ones  we whisper only to ourselves
and not the one we never let our own selves know?
Is this a business deal, a franchise gone around the world?
I’ll touch you if you’ll touch me?
The only trick is 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
of frost.
The patterns on the glass reminded 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 the 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 like sheep to be sacrificed are
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!”

“What fire?”

“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 in a blowing drought.
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 from behind you like the ice in a freezing creek that takes carp
by the back of the 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 and caught me with my hands raised up to the sky.
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 back to the window and with the nails of his right hand scratched
through thick  frost, leaving his mark on the pane.
He showed his nails to the woman and said

“Ice is the purest form of water.”





I am a stranger here
and you 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
on fire!

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.



                   “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.
Jesus  says

“I have a crown you can’t  wear. Where I go
you can’t.”

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 Carol

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
is salvation.

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.




right eye



My room has no door but you

knocked anyway.

Outside in the moonlight the yard had the marks of a leopard.

Wind rocked the limbs of a chinaberry tree.

But I was sleeping and did not hear you





Eagle Creek Fire 2017 near Cascade Locks, Oregon. Photo by Carol Hopkins

“This is the village of the dead.”


All around us
people are setting themselves on fire!

Some for what they think is love
but is nothing but meat fried in yesterday’s lard.
Some for money or to hear their own names carried up in a wind.
That offering they make to the God who has
no name.

The human is naked.
Sees himself in mirrors and looks away.
Only when shame stands up inside him erect as fire
does he know he is burning.
Can’t see the sky is nothing but fire
and the air he breathes a flame.

Compassion sometimes means
“Let them burn.”



for Tracy Park


I took my poems to a pool
And stepped with them into the water:
Into chaos and division,
Into harmony and completion.
When I stepped out the ink had washed away
And I had this fish in my pocket!


This is a poem I wrote in 1972 and forgot about. I must have given it to my old friend Tracy Park of Houston, Texas. Today we met again on facebook after all these years and he still had the poem. Amazing. Thanks, Tracy.


IMG_2423for Tim Britton

Not content just to kill
the mountain lion north of Carson in the Gifford Pinchot
takes a doe with a broken leg
drags her by the left hind hoof into a fir tree
and leaves her there a while to cool.

Last night I dreamed I was painting a house the color of an apricot.
Ladder raised twenty feet, set into soft ground.
A dream ladder made of wood left out in rain for 20 years.
The grain split and slick with mold.

When I look up, my father is standing on the roof ridge
dressed in golfing clothes of the 1970’s
twenty years younger than I am now.

Lime green slacks held up with a woven belt.
Red nylon shirt, yellow spiked golf shoes, hat the color of a lemon
matches the shoes.

Now he is back on the ground, looking very concerned for my safety.
Holding the ladder, my father is asking me without words
not to climb it

but I say I am ready now as ever will be.





“Let us cross the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
last words of Stonewall Jackson


The moon has always been a major symbol for me, as long as I can remember. In the play, Our Town, which we read in junior high, there are references to the moon being “terrible”. That made an impact on my mind I have never forgotten
and is one of the ways I have experienced the moon, the fierceness of its light.

A second way is seeing the moon in the upper branches of a tree, as if it is a silver crown. Third way is seeing the moon in daylight, like a white petal torn from a white rose. Fourth is the new moon, just a sliver, like a clipped fingernail.

But last night I saw nothing at all, except maybe a smudge of light inside heavy rain.

It is hard to believe there was a time when we were young enough to think
all issues would be resolved one day, everything revealed and understood, even why the creation came into being. Revealed and understood not by scriptures or science, or the revelations of others but through our own experience.

Now I look forward to evening time, my cup of tea, a time of day so quiet you can hear a sparrow beating its wings, or a rabbit small as a rat nibbling some blade of grass. These small things are precious to me now as I imagined far grander revelations would be.

Let the little become the big and the big be shouldered by someone else. Now I know that where there is a gathering of power, there is also corruption. The man who knows he is without power is a man on the verge of being free from its imaginary gifts.



9 NOVEMBER, 2016 written by Carol Hopkins

The birds outside my window don’t realize Donald Trump
is their President.
They peck for seed placed on concrete walls
that enclose our friend’s porch.
They are oblivious to the walls of this world
and satisfied, even without health insurance.

Millions of dollars have been spent here on houses with a view of the Columbia.
The bluejay having eaten his fill
is lifted by his own wings into hundred foot fir trees.
For him the view is free.



by Carol Hopkins


I sit on the deck blowing the trees.

Now I’m blowing the hair on this body’s head.

It’s annoying but it’s not exempt from these things that go on.

What’s with the body?

It registers heaven and hell yet it’s just a lot of stuff n bones.

I sit here waiting for an answer and when it comes

I will feel it in the body.

I’ve been told to not identify with the body by a hundred people in a hundred


And yet….there’s something about the body.

I know eventually it will receive the answer to this question and it

will pass it on.