World Poetry Day

Blame the world!

It’s world poetry day, and I wanted to get something in. I wrote this one a while ago but didn’t publish it because it’s a little bit of a downer, and frankly I just don’t feel that down. Ever, really. Still, it came from somewhere, didn’t it? I’ll have poetry in mind today, and try to come up with something a little brighter.

It’s in a form called a triolet (introduced to me by Cubby) with a nod to Robert Frost. Title comes from Dad, who once said one of the more profound and practical things I’ve heard:

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Yonder

I’m sorry I’m so far away
but my God, this world’s a wedge.
I have to shout now just to say
I’m sorry I’m so far away.
I thought our gold alone could stay
but here it’s peeling from its edge.
I’m sorry I’m so far away,
but my God, this world’s a wedge.

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Tilting Loveward

Every Dog Deserves a Eulogy

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If there is anything that is guaranteed in life, it is that we will love things that are not good for us. Few loves are ever a pure win. Some are calamitous. Most are in between, and most of those lean significantly towards the good. Tilting loveward is our most incorruptible instinct. It is the one thing we do that always moves in the same direction as God, so it is the movement that makes us both most human and most divine.

It is why we love our dogs, so often doing so not because of them, but in spite of them. The strife and inconvenience that they bring to our lives almost immediately outweigh the joy: the ruined rugs and floors; the shoes, furniture and walls chewed to pieces; the holes in the yard and the fence, the running away. The vet bills. The apologies to the neighbors and the boarding expenses when we go on vacation (if we still take vacations, now that we have a dog). The piles of dog-specific clutter that enters our homes and disrupts our lives from deep down in the Feng all the way up to the shui. And unless you are a full time hunter or a sled driver in the Yukon, the return we receive on this investment in chaos is rarely more than a wagging tail and yet another body that we didn’t invite into our bed but is there anyway.

Yet for all that, we look one time at some oversized paws, get nipped by those tiny piranha puppy teeth, and smell that unbelievably sweet vanilla-maple perfume down in their downy coats, and we tilt ever harder loveward.

The years go on and some of the early worries vanish, along with the amount of free space left on the bed. They are years on cruise control when the young dog mostly behaves and our lives are are an often mechanical, sometimes poetic routine. “This is why I got a dog,” we say and mean it because her coat is rich and full and as she naps after hours of running in the park her breaths come easy and even. We don’t know why but suddenly we want to invite friends over. We want people around us, and our dog. We want to show off a little.

The years continue to go on and some of the early worries start to return, along with the amount of free space on the bed because she can’t get up there anymore. We tap the brakes and adjust our speed more frequently. “It is difficult to have a dog,” we say and mean it because the mature dog has some new dietary needs and her coat is thinning and her face is turning white and as she naps after a short walk down the hill to the mailbox her breaths come with a slight wheeze and catch. We don’t know why but suddenly we want to sleep, too. We want to be alone with our thoughts, and our dog. We want to cry a little.

So yes, it becomes increasingly difficult to say, honestly, that we’re happy we have a dog. Yet for all the woes that I could easily catalog over the 15 years of a tumultuous life with our dear Lucy, I find us undeniably diminished by her departure. She died yesterday, medically induced. It was a decision we made based on the fact that for however much longer she might go on, every single day would be both her best day remaining, and also worse than the one before. We did it for her. We did it to let her go out on the highest note she had left.

We could have had it done at home, but at the vet she was well known and even better loved. We sat with her there on the floor and as the sedatives took effect the whole building seemed to sag with her muscles. She worked her way at first voraciously through the pile of treats that the doctor set before her. Then she forgot them, rested her chin on the blanket, and let her tongue hang comically and adorably from the front of her mouth. The rest was done with a somehow tender clinical ease, by way of two more injections, and she faded gently out from there without so much as the tiniest twitch or final significant breath. She was just still there – only not – and there was no longer anything we could ask of her. That, I suppose, is the final gift: that she no longer has to wonder how to make us happy.

She could have gone on for a while, survivor that she was. As a pup she was bitten in the face by a rattlesnake and barely flinched. I, on the other hand, drove so fast and recklessly to the animal hospital in a rented roller skate of a car that news helicopters were being scrambled.  Years later, the new dog we got to be her companion wound up turning on her and attacking her brutally several times. We found that dog a new home (literally – not in an “off to live on a farm” kind of way). She had food allergies and skin conditions and more medical issues than I can list. But in the end there was always Lucy, waddling bow-legged along and pawing her nose at a world that seemed bent on holding her back. She kept going.

But the joy was gone for her. She really just slept through any stretch of time in which she had no reasonable hope for food. She followed us to bed but could barely manage the stairs. Life was naught but compulsion and habit, and was only getting worse, so we let her finally get off those aching legs of hers forever.

We remember her best, perhaps, driven for years by a steroid imbalance that left her with an improbably large liver and a literally insatiable hunger for food, rushing to the kitchen whenever she heard the dishwasher open so she could scrounge up any scraps she could reach. She lived to eat, and she died among food.

I only ask her to please, just once, make sure to poop in God’s living room on Roomba day. My children can attest that it might be the only time you ever get to hear Him swear.

In her life and again in her death, Lucy tilts us loveward.

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We Were Subtext

A prose poem, barely punctuated.

We were always walking and my God so much of it was the long march between. The unpunctuated march from indent to ending when we were the words in a sentence. Never the whole story we could never have carried the whole story that far. We were a sentence written at night in the woods on some old road dug out for I can’t guess what and knee-deep with the damnedest sand. But there was only the walking never the starting. A tiny line just a few words long marching unprefaced and already three chapters deep in a forest that had a beginning somewhere but like all beginnings it came first so we forgot it as soon as we… Sometimes we walked for days but our martial moments were phraselong and fragmentary and I swear I can only ever remember a minute or sometimes even just the preparatory inhale – a memory with half a mind and here the breath catches on a movement through the falling action of a black February night when in an odd blank space erased from the forest’s page there was a slickblack scribble that was a snake. One of the words in my sentence raised a blade and I drew a slight hyphen but it was predicated on happy endings and nobody writes those anymore so he cut the head from the snake like pulling the dot out from under the exclamation point and it writhed and squirmed and semi-colon’d and parenthese’d and ran on and on and on and bled inkblack into the moonwhite sand and all I could say was that it wasn’t even poisonous but that doesn’t matter much because either am I but I know from the way we write stories now that mine’ll likely end in knives too because when all you are is words somewhere three chapters deep there’s no way for you to remember the beginning.

International Flavor

A found poem made of phrases from newspapers

Two hours into the operation
time came to choose
twice sold books
over and over again.

But the last survivors of that era –
they are all gone away
to bring your children
An insect feast,
accessible game meats,
some bottles of water,
and unrelenting nerve pain in the face.

Are you done with these?

Are you still down there
with the flame proof wisdom
of a snow storm
fluent in English and Japanese?

How is the fairy tale?

The Speed of Belief

(Gah, formatting. The lines are not how I wrote them, and I don’t really know how to make WordPress behave)

I.

I wake up with the news and am in no mood to endure it and come instead to visit with you.

On my way to you a few blocks up from the ferry dock
a car is broken in the road in everyone’s way (the nerve).

It is too broken even to roll – The driver said as much.

Other people in unbroken cars have to be somewhere now always now
so they honk, gesture, wave and blame.
People blame him with their hands and their eyes
People are very good with the things they do with their eyes
Their eyes say that yes they see but they need and
their need cannot be defeated.

Certainly not by him and his broken car

Certainly not by him

II.

This is what people look like to me, when I don’t slow down.
This is what I see of people in my cynical times
what I know of them raging against some poor man’s trials
and what it does to them.
(He is no poor man. He does not suffer)
These people woke up watching the news and they’re listening to it in their cars
where they honk at him and they are believing it, the news.
All the time they are believing it.
Right now as their palms press down on the cold molded
February of steering wheel plastic
and their horns blare the sound of their need they are believing the news because the news moves everything

out of their way.

They think it is real.

But not him or his car.
They don’t believe in him or his car because it is
in front of them and in the way.
They don’t believe in things that are in the way.
They don’t believe in things that the news can’t move out of their way.
They decide not to believe.
They just decide like that.

This is what people look like to me when I don’t slow down.

III.
Someone’s buying him…

…I slow down here…

…and gather myself…

…someone’s buying him a coffee.

She walks a coffee out to him

She reaches
out
He reaches

and in that blesséd beat when both of their hands are on the offering

someone honks.

God damn it.

Paradise, lost

IV.

God damn I go slow

He’s on the hood of his broken car, the half-sit you do sometimes
with one heel cocked up on the bumper.
Looking undefeated with coffee and listening nowhere to the news.

Getting up when he needs to direct traffic and doing it like he’s done it before. With a half-smile and that knife-hand pointing, arm extended,
fingers and thumb pressed together in flat, playful authority.

This way is clear.

You picture the whistle, the white glove

(the traffic cop)

V.

It isn’t a very busy intersection back here in our neighborhood near the bakery.

When I go slow it is his unflappable traffic direction,
all smiles and gifted coffee on a February morning just up the road from the ferry dock

It is his this, his him
his he
he is it, the thing –

he is the thing that hits me right where I need it and when
back here in the corner of the bakery just up the road from the ferry dock.

When the boat comes it will bleed out and he will be busy with people
who will honk their news at him. They will honk what they believe at him
from their unbroken cars full of need.

He will not see his empty paper cup roll half-circle off the hood
when he gets up to be something they don’t believe in.
He will point, and wave, and smile while he slows them down
to show them how to get around him and when.

Briefly, Your News

I’ve been looking at the news for a while now, trying to find something that happened somewhere but that’s like counting the grains of gunpowder in the bullet with your name on it.

There might be one in there that isn’t going to light when the firing pin strikes, but that’s not going to slow it down any.

All that mad space on the airwaves. A dozen papers a hundred websites a thousand articles a million words.

Each one distinct and identical and individual but fired all together from a three-letter casing that tries to hide its intent. It succeeds wherever we let it and it does what a bullet is supposed to do – it makes a hole in us.

Oh my god I just can’t do it.

I’ve been looking at the news for a while now, trying to find poetry, though I know I should have known better. By the time I had my breakfast all I knew was exactly what my opinions should be.

All I knew was that it was wrong to stereotype (except by voting preference)
and that it was wrong to discriminate (except by skin color and gender)
and which kind of prejudice would get me high fives
and that love is both love and a very oppressive weapon

and I am far more certain now that there are some very hateful ways to say that hate is a very bad thing.

I’ve been looking at the news for a while now, trying to find out who we are and it has become very clear that if everything we say we are working so hard to eliminate – the hate the prejudice the racism the sexism the violence

my God I think especially the violence!

if all of those things we march against and wave signs against and rally against and throw rocks at and beat people up over and lie to keep alive were somehow magically eliminated tomorrow

we would bring it back yesterday because we wouldn’t recognize ourselves without it.

If we won we would be lost.

I’ve been looking at the news for a while now, and my family still sleeps somewhere above me and I pray that when they wake up I don’t somehow take this all out on them
the way I see everyone else take it out on each other, every day, for love.