Soft, Sweet Armor

On resisting the things that actually threaten our harmony, our unity. We never go deep enough.

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Guard against the joylessness –
the shout
the sloganed cry.
Guard against the chanted curse
and truthful-seeming lie.

Guard against the joylessness –
against the sheepish fright.
Guard against the mirthless marches
that wilt without the light
(a truly righteous Army thrives
even out of sight).

Guard against the joylessness –
the hunt
the bluebird’s noose.
Guard against the flashing placards
that turn a lynching loose.

Guard against the joylessness –
against the textbook heart.
Guard against the low momentum
of the classroom’s faded arts
(the ivory’s crumbling fastest
at the over-polished parts).

Guard against the joylessness
my son,
my girl child,
by suiting up in Mother’s grace
and by wielding Father’s smile.

Never Stop Laughing

Christmases!

Seven years ago, this was. The Boy wasn’t even a year old, and the girl was only three. They’re 7 and 10 now. Wow.

We didn’t go anywhere in search of Christmas, necessarily. But we did go driving off to a place where Christmas might be, if it were going to be anywhere.
 

“He looks out the window a lot, Papa.”

“He sure does.”

“Why do you think he does it?”

“Well, do you remember when I told you that his spirit was a miracle?”

“I think so. I think you said it was a miracle because it hasn’t done anything twice.”

“That’s right. Because for a tiny moment, it was the only thing in the world that had not done anything twice. And now there’s a world full of things that he hasn’t seen even once. Turns the world into a kind of miracle for him.”

“That’s why he laughs at it?”

“No, he’s laughing when he looks out at it because he wants to do everything he can with it to make it laugh like he is. He doesn’t know where it comes from or how it starts or anything about it except that he wants it to keep going. That’s how you feel when you are tiny, and new, and haven’t done things twice or seen things once, and it’s the part of it that’s the same for him as it is for us.”

“If it’s the same, Papa, then how come you don’t laugh so much?”

“Jeez, how old are you again?”

“Three and a half.”

“Hm. Well, I guess I don’t laugh so much because after a while you find out that some things don’t laugh back. And after a longer while, after too many things don’t laugh back, you just get tired.”

“Too tired to laugh?”

“Too tired to laugh, baby. But we remember that the world was a miracle for all of us, once. We remember that we saw new things everywhere we looked, and we expected everything to be laughing because we were laughing, even though it has been too long, sometimes, since anything up and laughed with us. That’s what Christmas is, sweetie: Being old and tired and still laughing, for a day, like we did when we were still playing with miracles.”

“But I’m not old.”

“No, you’re not. And you never have to be, because to your brother you are everything he sees when he looks out the window. And laughs.”

Cut

Yes, messy.

There are days you learn things
like the real feel of sawdust,
downy in plush piles
with no trace of the cruelty
of its bellicose birthing.
Days you learn that
the things you don’t long look at –
things made when two mean pieces meet
and one must give –
are too quickly swept away.

The first time you ever smelled it –
a tidy slice that bled all freshness
from the dying whine of the
chopsaw (hard named thing!) –
was in the garage, probably,
or a cobwebbed shed or even
in the bright back woods,
under a stiff wind that could move whole seasons
and could not help but carry
the fruit of hewn spruce and history
straight into you.

That first time it was only looking
for a place to live.
It barely asked a second time
to make it smell like home forever.

We know it now
not as the smell of the jobs of our fathers,
jobs that often didn’t seem enough.
We know it now
as the smell instead of the work they did
that we silent saw
(and they more silent did).

Work that was rough,
that was mean,
that mother sometimes seemed to think
wasn’t good for much.
That it was only the work –
just that, merely the work –
that made them,
merely,
men.

But now we know that Mama knew
and nothing good was left unseen.
We know that she knew that
Papa had to be the silent thing
to clear a little holy space
for a little violent shepherding.

Now we know that Mama knew
what rough cuts made the dust,
and how she must not just sweep it up
but that she must (hard fought stuff!)
form its piles into neat peaks
to bear up the brutes, the boys,
the noise-born boys
whose shouts we shush –
stamp right out –

Believing, hoping we can
polish down the teeth
of the saw,
pad the menacing head
of the hammer,
quench the fires blasting
in the engines of the bulldozers –
And still have a house to live in.

Mama – who made us know
when she made us whole –
sees us act
as if we could make all
the hard things soft and
the loud things quiet and
the mean things nice and
never once put tooth to tree.
As if we could have
the (yes, messy) blessing of the dust
without the saw.

We never saw that mama cuts things, too,
and lifts her blade while
papa (who always mutely knew)
swings his, severing, down.
We stand between and above
with our noses in the air where
we’re made on the hills of their unswept dust,
smelling home with every swipe and hack.

The Dreamstronaut

I don’t really know what you call your wife’s cousin’s child – maybe my nephousinlaw. Whatever he’s called, he’s about a year old I guess and sleeping upstairs right now. He gave me a remiracle tonight, or at least let me live inside the memory of an old one, when he fell asleep easily on my chest. It’s the kind of thing that turns you into the kind of person that you don’t show too much in public. And it reminded me of when I wrote this poem after one of the last times my own son (at least I know what to call that one) fell asleep while I sat there, staring down at his face in a chair in a dim but brilliant corner of the room:

Originally written Dec 2011

The Dreamstronaut

The boy adrift in outer space alone –
His hairless pate in a glassy dome.
The awe, the joy, the dreaming soul.
A six-tooth smile in a barrel roll.

While his hands still search and his toes still curl,
Half in, half out of his old man’s world,
The half that’s in heaves a sigh at me,
The half that’s gone starts its reverie.

And with that I guess he’s in the stars,
Using them like monkey bars
To swing amidst the giant rows
While the library of his dreaming grows.

And once it’s up he’ll float about
In no great hurry to be picking out
His stories or his nursery rhymes;
He knows his night’s not bound by time.

He bobs on past hoar-frosted shelves,
And a hall that holds a copse of elves.
With a languid pull he moves along,
To the fantasy he’ll settle on.

I’ve always imagined him like this,
Giggling through the stacks in bliss.
The length and breadth of innocent whim,
His snickers and kicks propelling him.

Now in my arms he’s settled more,
But he shifts a bit one time before
His searching hand tugs on my nose –
He’s grabbed a dream, and off he goes.

Morning’s Mile

In the cities there is nothing
to milk but time. You are spared
the poetics of rote labor.

There is no duty to recall
in that strange awakening
of late adulthood

mother’s feathered hands
or the careful thud, thud,
thud of father’s boots trying

helplessly not to wake you yet.
In the cities when young
men find themselves wearing

their own fathers’ rent vestments
they do not smell like
dirt, shit, and oil.

They smell like paper
and staples and the florid
lining of a brass-clasped

briefcase swung swish,
swish against a silk-slacked
thigh.

In the cities young fathers
grow up slight and light
because their histories weigh

less and don’t ask much
muscle to carry around.
They lack the heraldic sound

of the only engine in a morning’s mile
being turned churlishly over and
breathing exhausted clouds into an

unhidden sky. But in the city in
the street where a thousand engines run
you don’t hear a single one.

Cavity

I.

I’ll say that there are Men.
First.
Just that.
There are Men.

And that men are magnificent.

I’ll say that there are violent men.
Magnificent, violent men.
Violence is the golden blood.
And violence is the fetid brine
where it turns the earth to mud.

And I’ll say that the most violent thing is
Not the man
Not the knife
Not the heart
Not the guts
Not the blood or the brine.

That the most violent thing
is the violence it takes
to strip
to rend
to gnash
to gut
to burn
the man away.

II.

I’ll say that men are with women.
And these women are mothers.
And that mothers are magnificent.

And that if mama don’t get her way
she finds her way
any way.
Because she’s capable of the biggest things –
including violence.
Because that child won’t feed itself.
That fish won’t gut itself.
But mama’s violence doesn’t
crunch and zipper
down the fish’s scales.

Mama’s violence is an ancient intent –
A bloodless lunge that leaves no hole.

III

I’ll say that these women are with men
And these men are fathers
and that fathers are magnificent.

And if papa don’t get his way
he gives his way
any way.
That tree won’t chop itself.

But papa’s violence isn’t neat.
It leaves great gashes of sap
and of tarry black blood
and a hole so big
a child can crawl through it.

IV.

the built world screams at Papa
because his way is violent.

But papa with hard hands in the world he built
says nothing back.
He just shoulders the axe.
Because violence knows
and violence gives way
and violence rests.

And rest endures.

V.

And because endurance is violent
He is violent
to people who are his boys
so that they will not forget how when duty calls them.

And because violence endures
He endures
with people who are his girls
so that they will not forget how when duty calls them.

VI.

And he is with woman and she is with him
and they have ways that are found
and ways that are given
and ways that are taken.
All ways endure.

VII.

The most violent thing
is the fish
because the fish will make you quit
because you feel embarrassed
for the fish if you
look at its guts.

The fish with its rent heart
will not understand this.
The fish with its rent heart
and piles of cold spilled guts
will wonder what’s wrong with you.

The fish will ask:

Have you never eaten?
Has your mother never told you
about all of the pain?
All of the violence it took
to be eaten alive by you?
At least you have the heart to kill me first.

VIII.

And I’ll say that men
have spoken to the fish
about the fish’s guts.

And I’ll say that men
have spoken to the tree
about the tree’s bones.

And I’ll say that men
have spoken to the earth
about the earth’s blood.

And I’ll say that men
have sung to the child
about the child’s supper.

And the fish and the tree and the earth
have answered the men.

the fish has offered its guts.
the tree has offered its bones.
the earth has offered its blood.

IX.

And the little boys drag
– with their bleeding hands
and hard fathers – the heavy axe.

And the little girls pack
– with their tender hands
and hard mothers – the crimson gauze.

the men give thanks
the women water the stone.

Because endurance cradles
violence at its breast
and woos it to its rest.