WORDS WRITTEN ON THE MORNING OF MY SIXTY-FIFTH BIRTHDAY

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for my friends Rob Sacks, whose first girl friend in high school was born on this same day, Aja Thomas, whose birthday is the 29th of April, and for Rick Lehman who was born on July 26, 1950.

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I know well the bitter wine that Jesus bled
when he cut his foot on pot shards
stepping into the Jordan.

When the dove of light opened its wings and the sky
bled for him the many voices of our Fathers
their hands all hard and oily on the backs of our heads
desperate to bless us.

Underneath our fingernails, the dirt not washed clean
by the river
is there to remind us where we came from
what we are.

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OCTOBER SONG

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“I sing you this October song.” The Incredible String Band

one

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.

two

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!

three

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!

four

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.

five

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.”
Then 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!

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