You Can’t Look for the Lightning

A storm coming deliberately at us
and the tornado siren
wailing with a bored urgency
like the ambulance of the great plains.
We pulled over.

Oof. I just had a message come across some app that’s on my phone, telling me that the literary magazine at Seattle U is accepting submissions for the upcoming issue. My first thought was “oh hey, there’s a literary magazine?” But that’s because I am a man of narrow focus. I think it’s a defense mechanism of sorts. I guess it would be pretty common for there to be a literary magazine, and a school newspaper, and all kinds of things of the sort at a college. But i’m so overwhelmed by the most perfunctorily whelming things that I withdraw, and school becomes, for me, a rote act of “park the car, go to class, get back in the car, go home.” Narrow focus shuts out the crowding hazards.

I mentioned my first thought. I don’t think that I had much of a second thought, because the deadline for submission is in two days. And there’s a theme, so I can’t just grab a poem I’ve already written and submit that. Let’s clean this up – here’s what I discovered, in order: 1. There’s a literary magazine. 2. They’re accepting submissions. 3. FOR TWO DAYS. WTF? 4. The theme is humility. 5. What? It’s an annual publication?

Yes, annual publication. I have two days to whip something up and take my shot, or it’ll be another year before I get another chance.

Well here’s my shot. If I had more patience or a less narrow focus, I would revise it for the next day and a half. Nope. I’ve already submitted it:

 
The Whole Sky, All at Once

You can’t look for the lightning
Dad said
or you’ll always just miss it.
He would pull the Buick out to the street
and we sat like crooked teeth
in the yawning maw of the garage.
A storm coming deliberately at us
and the tornado siren
wailing with a bored urgency
like the ambulance of the great plains.
We pulled over.

You can’t look for the lightning
Dad said
or someone else will see it.
He would talk about seeing the whole sky
and we sat like crooked teeth
in the yawning maw of the garage.
We tried to look at nothing and everything
while the old corn across the street
whispered with a quickened urgency
like the dying secrets of the great plains.
We closed our ears.

You can’t look for the lightning
Dad said
or you’ll never see the flash.

The City Sends its Dogs to Say Thanks

The sight of the urban maiden is all light
in the fog and damp of our staid, cemented ways.
In boots and dearly rationed leggings –
as if I have to say!
Her whole aspect a lively equipage
liveried and lent to our idling eyes.
A city’s little thanks for our putting up with it
as we do
as a whole
because we try
against our very produce to not be
a pallid wash of mere moneychanging.

And then, dangling with less decorous restraint
from her bejeweled and worried fingers
– that are only trying to keep their distance –
is a loud, indelicate package announcing its lady’s attendance.
Pendulous and any color you like,
a cackling sack tied shut around the dignity of the maiden.
It hides without guile what we all alike are aware
that her dog delivered,
back there.
Deposited to the city’s coffers
and loaned out again
against the collateral of her oblivious dignity.

Tiny Giant

I had a tiny body once
so often rapt with joy.
It turned the wheels of tiny bikes
and proclaimed “Here comes a boy!”

It left me bleeding once or twice
and bumped a thing or two
as I flew around this giant world
and learned to steer it true.

Everything that held the line
from getting all confused
was new and out in front of me
and replaced what I misused.

Now giant eyes have seen the world
but in glancing glance away
From the giant things I once beheld
but are tiny now today.

At Noon I’m Just a Man

I.

I lay down a Captain and a deist
scheming at waves of massed dreams
diving from the plastered sky
– kill a little, leave a little be –
and casting a guided prayer for peace
and help
and hoping
there’s enough company here for the plea to be absorbed.
The key prayer for reinforcements
in rooms defrocked of their vested power of relief.
Under the moon, that last supper clings to a dream
of never being taken at all.
In a moment, God says, it will not have been.

II.

I wake up a poet and a deist.
Spreading my toes to filter First Things
springing from the earth of the morning
– catch a little, leave a little be –
and casting a blanket prayer for space
and absence
and hoping
there’s enough emptiness here for the plea to echo back.
The rare prayer for abandonment
in rooms vested with a host of languid dust motes.
Before the sun, breakfast clings to a hope
of being taken alone.
For a moment, God says, it can be.

Burning Down the House

In winter it is all wet.
The trees burdened groundward.
Exhausted cedar boughs
reach skyward to nothing,
clawing at the clouds
like they’ve woken up inside
a grave without a bell.

I look inward to late spring –
the marginal brightening.
A shuttered window at midnight where
there’s dancing inside
and the light trips out just around the edges.

In summer the house burns down
and everyone gets out
alive

Reaching for Mysteries

It is all wet.
The trees burdened groundward.
Cedar boughs exhausted
from reaching skyward to nothing.
I look forward to late spring.
The marginal brightening.
A shuttered window at midnight where
there’s dancing inside
and the light trips out just around the edges.
In summer the house burns down again.

That’s not for nothing. Not for something. Shower thoughts that might have a little life in them.

I’ve got a week – ooh, lemme get a little Euro here: I’ve a week at uni behind me. It was just the lubrication I needed. I’m not fully comfortable and confident there, but my NEW GUY NEW GUY NEW GUY neon has dimmed. The hardest thing to do in a foreign land is kill time with grace and dignity. My schedule with the kids, combined with the uncertainty of traffic, means I leave for school as soon as I can and generally get to campus well before class starts. Have to kill time. I’m getting better at it.

Colleges are the sort of places that cling to the idea of being a good place to be. I suppose that to call a collection of buildings “good” is to misuse the term a bit, but the architecture and the landscaping and the livable area in general just always seems to have been designed in an effort to rise above the mundane. And I think that is good, in a very old fashioned, rigorous sense of the word. A century ago I would have been able to say that it “reaches toward the divine” without losing readers. Today I can say vaguely and without offense (to anything but the truth) that it aspires to something greater. The architecture can be grand, the open spaces are comforting. College campuses are not strictly functional places. They are transformative places. And this is not simply because of the classes or by accident or by dint of tuition and private funding. It is because it has always been known that to be at our best requires help. To achieve at our highest levels is not a droll and mechanical undertaking. The human status quo is truncated by inherent limitations, and we surpass them only by reaching beyond ourselves. Historically, that was the purpose and intent of art and architecture and music. College campuses are one of those places where a little bit of the human reach is still directed upwards.

Which is not to say that Seattle University is a gem of architectural wonder. It has some of those spaces where commercialism and efficiency have muscled their way in and a shy austerity is created by too much lighting, too much space, and too much smoothness. I like the rooms in the administration building instead. Paint flaking off the frames of the wafer-thin windows, old brown chalkboards, doors that close with a heavy ‘thunk.’ Everything is so sturdy above the thick carpet that sounds are naturally muffled.

At the top of the 2nd floor stairs is the always shut door of the small Immaculate Conception Chapel. I want to go in, but I adore the mystery that the closed entrance creates, emerging over the horizon of the top step as you ascend, and I’m afraid that to open it will solve that mystery and make life too normal again. The proverbial door that, once opened, can never be closed again.It’s like Christmas: the problem with presents is that it’s no longer Christmas after you open them.

Week 2 starts tomorrow. I get the feeling this one’s going to move fast and set the tone for what’s coming. Killing time should become much less of a concern.