You can stand at the dock
now and not be bothered much
by boats. Looking hard you can see it –
the road worn into the water where
the flat-bottomed ferries once
went up and down all day.
The islands want none of us
and won’t come. Vashon squats
with its aliens in a patch-tattered
yurt that shrouds the shore in
smoke-yellow walls – a bit put off
by the virus across the bay.
Bainbridge and Whidbey salute the San Juans
who can finally keep the orcas and grays to themselves.
From shore to shore the semaphore
warns that plagues are made on the
mainland – they’d have us keep our fevers
here. The few running boats ride high
above the jellyfish. Two tired men
throw gray ropes to an empty pier.
A Plague Diaries interlude for National Poetry Day
Light the fires
lace the shoes
follow the leashless dogs!
Put your shoulder to the breaking of the fog
Death awaits, yes!
But you can march on him -
and make him doubt -
and make him pause
“Ah, the prayers of the millions, how they must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God.” — Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
I like to think that all the prayers make it to God, but naturally so many of them are each other’s antitheses that there must be an awful lot of uneasiness in the queue.
Life belongs to the morning, and as I came down the stairs just after six o’clock I saw a group of two and a group of three people out for a walk in the dark. One coming up the hill, the other going down. Normally there would be more activity at 6am, but it would be commuters – rote movements, made by reflex, driven and direct. A lengthy SOS tapped out in the rhythm and spacing of cars streaming off the ferry. This morning the walkers owned the road. They did not hold any line on the first day of Spring, but moved like drunken bees, letting their forgivable concerns be confused in the carelessness of their steps. From one edge of the pavement to the other, with an odd pause now and then, hands on hips and saying things that I, also stopped but inside my house with one slippered foot not yet on the floor, was never meant to hear.
Still, outside or in, they say the plague rages on, and
The world’s first murderer
(here Cain’s dust coughs a proud mote)
breaches quarantines to meet
not the cowering flowers
of a beaten people.
Skirmishers of the timeless virus
face good bodies and strong.
What fear they carry is shared…
drawn out and dispersed
to the bone-drumming thrum
of the empty ferry’s engines
Let me first ask –
is it ok to wish for waves?
The South Sound is too calm to mount.
We see no breadloaf vans spilling surfboards
in the street. No swells, no breaks. So I ask –
is it ok to wish for waves?
Here is a good place for a mother’s reminder-
be happy with what you have.
But how be happy?
The lordly boy stands pearl-kneed
in a sea that never much stirs.
The hollow parts of his body
commune with the deep but needs must
Why so much sea if no waves come?
No rhythm, no thrum.
Though the tidal brine climbs his thighs
it recedes without heat. He knows no moon –
no salt-pound to sting his whalebone shins
and by dusk he implodes with curses.
That sacrilege calls to the altar
the long canoes of the Salish – carved here with eagle,
here with salmon – paddled up and tied to a fire hydrant
until an overfished Indian can climb out and
shout across the bike path
the Lushootseed word is whulge
Oracular, he divines a mute future
in the swirling oil on his coffee, then
scoffs as he dumps it through a drain
painted like an orca’s mouth and asks
why say whulge
That name’s as full of sound as sound itself
and yet the Puget makes none unless the storms come.
We simply haven’t here that sort of sea.
Ten thousand years ago
a Duwamish mother with scrimshaw skin said
because it was the sound she heard
when her hollow boy imploded,
bone deep in the kelp-rot of another warless summer,
wishing for waves.
Let us say that only Everest for the mountains
and the Sequoia for the trees
and the blue whale for the animals
(and if we must split land and sea
then it’s the elephant for me)
can be what we call giant.
I have seen the giant pacific octopus
and wished that it were bigger.
The last thing I ever want to do is the thing that everyone else is doing. For the purpose of this entry, that thing is playing the victim. Claiming specialness. I am not special. I am not a victim. But I am willing to observe, politely and mildly, that there is a bit of an extant sentiment in society that is, shall we say, ever-so-slightly in opposition to men. There’s lots of things we’re not supposed to be, depending on who you ask. But it’s all the same thing in the end, really. The thing we’re not supposed to be, is us.
So what. My entire childhood and adolescence were based on doing exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. Big deal. Still, here I am: one of these men – at least in terms of biology and mentality – that we don’t seem to want much of. I write occasional poems in support of others like me because after three years in college, I learned more than anything that the most important thing to do is to celebrate and support with the greatest fervor those things that are the most like ourselves. The liberal arts world in college is a world based on the elevation of things of your own kind, and denigration of things outside of your own cultural circle. And also tolerance. Do what you will with that little contradiction.
I am aware of what kind of man I am. I only very occasionally build things, but I have an embarrassingly impressive array of tools. That kind of cliché. I fold laundry more than I hammer steel, I wash dishes more than I turn wrenches. My hands are not hard or large. I am tall but not imposing, and I am (he meekly admits) terrified of confrontations. My God, I think back over all of the fights I have craftily avoided in my life and I am not proud. But it’s still in there, that core thing, that masculinity that is called toxic nowadays. I know our need of it, and bristle at the mockery directed its way.
I am not here to argue against that. It strikes me as hypocritical in some ways. The masculinity I own and revere does not raise its voice to protest. It works and produces and creates and lets that action speak for it. It follows the cardinal rule of the writer in that it does not tell – it shows. I am here not to complain but to be a fan. To write up my support for the hard things that we are, and for the shittily unrefinable parts of our nature that I would not run from a fight to preserve.
Having said that:
Be dirty and don’t hide
your large hands that could
They flip thin pages, too,
rattle pans and
feed their fighting heirs.
Be mean and lift the heavy thing
and don’t mind making a little
show of it.
Your beambroad back
can bear it and
won’t tremble in the least
Be hard, clumsy and cruel
and let the sneer of the timid
You hardly can part
from that look that
feeds you its forsaken strength
Be bare-knuckled and nude
because we need most what
no one wants.
The world knows and
keeps a place
for the things we expel.
Grandpa, Grandma, can we talk to you
about our mom and dad?
I don’t know quite what’s going on
but things are getting bad.
Dad’s been crying at the news
and his voice is higher pitched.
His jeans get tighter all the time
and there’s a limpness in his wrist.
Meanwhile, mom’s been swearing more
and wearing suits to her new job.
She hasn’t fixed her hair in months
and on weekends she’s a slob.
Dad’s afraid of everything –
plastic straws and – what’s a Russian bot?
Last week was Independence Day,
and he said he “just forgot.”
Mom hasn’t cooked a single meal
since she went marching in D.C.
And now our yard has all these signs
that say “welcome refugees.”
Dad almost asked if it was right
but she wouldn’t let him speak
so he’s been getting craft beer growler fills
every day for two straight weeks.
We don’t know what to do right now
We’re prolly just too young.
But maybe you’ve got some idea
of what’s been going on.
Granddaughter you’re a clever girl
and grandson you’re no fool.
So we’ll tell you something here and now
that you’ll never learn in school.
You’re noticing about your folks
that something’s kinda wrong.
It’s not just them – it’s everywhere.
We’ve been watching all along.
If it’s hard these days with mom and dad,
to know just which is which
You may not have the words for it,
But your dad’s your mommy’s–
You’re right, grandpa, school’s no help
our teachers are all so strange.
They say two-plus-two and Judy Blume
both equal climate change.
They took us out of class one day
to line up on main street
with signs that said the world would end
from the President’s next tweet.
I just want to build some things,
and when sister tries to sew
they swear that STEM’s the thing for her
and I’m privi- toxi- I don’t know!
Do you think that you could talk to them?
To our parents and the school?
Tell them that they’re scaring us
and that they all seem real confused.
We surely could go talk to them
but they hate that we’re so old.
We remind them of the ways they’ve failed
and the truths they’re scared to know.
There’s a wisdom in our wrinkled skin
that they’re trying hard to kill.
And if kids like you are catching on
they’ll start trying harder still.
For now it’s good you’re noticing
and that your guts say it’s not right.
Just keep each other close at hand –
pick your spots, and fight your fights.
In Lincoln Park
the orcas break
the surface of
the Sound and I
sit down because
I know the look
on the face of
that sky spilling
slyly out from
It will pour stories into the forest.
But it will tell
them the way you
tell stories to
a baby or a headstone:
mostly to itself.