Parallel reality — poem followed by a brief reflection

A seahorse thought,
A very small wave
Followed by another.
And way down below,
Its counterpart,
The seahorse . . .
And maybe deeper,
Some quiet resolve
To explore vast spaces
Of eternal quietude beneath oceans
That seem to never end. And yet,
Someday we wind up in the sunlight on a shore
As beautiful as any place imaginable
With no plastic
Nor any trace of war,
And there, to make peace with the memory
That we made it through
By simply being kind.

Reflection: This poem came about because I spotted a seahorse stitched into a towel in our bathroom and I couldn’t take my eyes off it as if it was trying to tell me something, something about the power of being harmless and gentle by nature and, by extension, being kind. Now, no one can prove that a seahorse is kind! But that is really not the point, although I am convinced it is, kind that is. The point is, the seahorse opened that door for me. I had a kind of vision of the seahorse deep below the strife of the world as we know it, swimming here and there and floating with the deep sea currents. And in that deep sea place below the storms, time hardly exists or matters so that too was a gift or something of a revelation. The poem begins with a gentle wave, but this poem is really about a deep Dreaming place and the idea is that whether we access this place consciously or not, it is there and maybe we spend more time there than we realize, in our deepest sleep. The poem ends in the future, or in a parallel universe outside of time entirely where there is peace and beauty and all the things our souls might help us find if given half a chance.


New year, new eyes, new skin — poem and reflection

New year, new eyes, new skin

I am a snake
Slinking out of my old skin.

Maybe that is what I am doing.
A very slow, awkward process.

Some of it clings to me like wax
As I squeeze through tight places to work it off.

When it’s off I will be at home in this cluttered universe.
This image of me as snake is only a means

To get through this weird period of metamorphosis.
There is a ton going on,

But maybe it all boils down
To only a few important things after all.

Things that only new eyes can see.
My skin will shine.

Reflection: I wanted this poem to carry an awareness of its own metaphor, to have that ability to step in and out of the metaphor of the snake as the animal that teaches us how to crawl out of our old self or old skin. I didn’t want to completely identify with snake and lose myself in the process, but to stay with the awkward and difficult work of resurrection . . . to change but to also to suffer change. Does the snake enjoy rubbing against the abrasive rocks in the stone wall to shed her skin?  I feel that these times call for renewal without forfeiting our commitment to stay with this cluttered universe that we have created, to own the crevasses, the sharp intrusions, the edges. The clutter is a clutter of ideas that have outlived their usefulness, beliefs that have lost their luster, illusions that take up enormous psychic space, junk-materialism and bad-behavior toward one another. We must transform but can’t allow ourselves to transcend the mess and the spaces we have made, leaving it all for someone else to clean up. So, let’s clean up our act, focus better on what matters, work for change, get our hands dirty . . . but through it all let’s not forget to shine forth who we are becoming. One person who stands as a model for this kind of tough transformation through deep self-acceptance is Patti Smith, whose autobiography I am reading — Just Kids.


Finding myself being twice as old as my son — and brief reflection

I am 66, he 33.
This will never happen again.
He is catching up with me.
If he lives to be 1000
And I am still alive,
I will be 1033.
By that time
California will be a desert.
But we will sit in an old growth forest
In what used to be Alberta
And we will talk about things
That would only interest 1000-year-old men.
Not health, because
We would have mastered the health-thing.
No, we will talk about dreams
And yogurt and colors.
Also, we won’t be using words
But whistles, like the birds
Who will, I like to imagine, flourish
After the Climate Crash of 2053.
I will smile and look into his craggy face
And he will see how much I love him.
And I will see his love for me.
I really like having an old soul!
It makes it easy to see beyond
And feel OK with the possibility that
Things may not get better
For a long, long time.
Reflection: When my son was one year old I was 33 times older than him. Now I am only twice as old as he is. He is catching up with me. In this poem I having fun imagining what it would be like if my son and I lived so long that we were almost peers. What would that be like? To make it seem less impossible, I picture sitting in a Sequoia forest where the trees are as old as us even though we are as old as the hills. What would such old specimens of humanity talk about? It occurred to me that 1000-year-old men would have no interest in. . .whatever we talk about when we are 100 or less years old. Why yogurt? Because I love yogurt so much I figure that it counts among those things that I could never get tired of even if I lived a thousand years. Love would also last 1000 years.

The sad truth — and poet’s reflections

We’re not going to get rid of Trump
because Trump is an archetype.
Trump was already here
long before we voted him into office.
But he was more like a transparent pink bear
filling up tons of space,
being bombastic,crude,sarcastic
throwing his weight around,
baiting us in dreams that we repressed,
letting us know there were big holes in our dystopia,
the Benighted States of America.
He, or his aura, was around
swimming across the screen of everyday.
Long before the Republican Party
made him magically appear in the flesh
he was a big floater in our eye.
(Big floaters are a bitch, man!)
And you know what the doctor says
when you get a floater?
“You’ll get used to it.”
And aren’t we?
Getting used to being bullied,
lied to?
Used to living on the edge,
used to feeling ashamed
used to being shocked by our own sheepishness.
Emergency after emergency after emergency!
The pink bear, the annoying floater,
call it Trump or whatever you want.
Call it the new reality show of shows,
call it the ubiquitous traveling circus,
the new all-day-all-night show.
Call it the last act in the theater of fools
where there is no curtain
and no exits, and some guy
is shouting “Fire!” ”Fire!”
and the place begins to fill up with smoke
but everyone looks straight ahead with knitted brows.
But relax, it’s just a dream.
It’s just a poem.
It’s just another daydaydaydayday. . . .

Reflection:There is something about Trump’s appearance that defies explanation, although there is a lot of convincing banter out there about how Trump got the vote. I mean, the surrealism of his appearance and of Pence’s rise for that matter makes me wonder if I am really comatose and this is all just some endless lucid nightmare. (WHAT? HUH?) We’ve had some doozie’s in the Oval Office but, wait a second! How could someone who is so preposterously slung together that I am hard-put to come up with his like, walk into our midst and hang up his hat? I have to go to the comic book world to conceive of a character that holds a candle to Trump. Maybe Super Man’s nemesis, the trickster from the 5th dimension, Mister Mxyzptik who can only be defeated by getting him to say his own name backward. My point is, Trump is much bigger than Trump. Surely he is possessed by the archetype of Trump, or perhaps by some entity from a parallel dimension or far-off planet where Trumps are the norm, only here on Earth he has super powers. Maybe it is worth trying to trick him into saying his name backwards. (Oh, and by the way, we better start thinking of how to get rid of Pence while we’re at it. He’s the next up. Did the Republican Party discover some kind of portal to the 5th dimension?)

We’ll make it, a little worse for wear

Here there is the rip tide.
And you know what you do when you are caught in a rip tide?
You ride it out.
It carries you further away from the beach
but if you don’t panic eventually the current releases you
and you can swim in.
Then you only have to worry about exhaustion
or being swallowed by something from below. . .
When I look at myself,
I see someone
who has been just a little beaten up.
My white skin is blotchy from sun exposure. My eyes are bloodshot.
I’m slightly unshaven. A little hurt in my sleepless eyes.
No anger though. I don’t feel any anger at all.
I feel disappointment, and sometimes a deep sadness
for all the suffering of life on the planet.
By 66, you need to have figured some things out on your own!
To be able to close your eyes, set up the video camera and talk about life,
talk about what you have figured out.
No ranting. No whining.
No bullshit.
No bitterness.
Just talk.
Talk to your children, your grandchildren,
other people’s children.
Talk to your people.
Talk about how you experience the universe,
what you make of the unconditional love of the universe,
what you make of aging,
and the wonder of it all.

Some thoughts:

I think a lot of us have felt the rip tide these days, pulling us out of the shallows into deep water against our resolve to stay where it’s safer. The rip tide is a metaphor for the panicky feeling of losing control of our position, our goals, even our grasp on reality. We’re in the grip of something that has us and no amount of struggling to return to our safe spot is going to make any difference; we have to ride out a bad situation, fully aware that things are getting worse. . .much worse. Then, almost miraculously we are released, not because of anything we did, but because that is the situation. Everyone is in it, everyone who isn’t living in a total fantasy, hiding behind ornate gates and walls, medicated to the max, owes it to their neighbor to take advantage of the lulls to return to our center, to take inventory, to remember who we are and what we were working on before we were sucked off our feet, away from our confidence, away from our resilience and purpose. And speak up! Witness! Say what it feels like to live in a crazy dangerous, off-kilter world so that the folks of the future will not have to live with the rip tide.

“Why are we in Vietnam?” (or any damn place for that matter), revisited

“Why are we in Vietnam?” (or any damn place for that matter), revisited
How long should we wash our hands?
And while we’re at it,
How many angles in “Heaven”?
Just to keep things moving,
Dear little Ameise, you always have mints in a bowl!
How tiny you look today
Stooped over your busy hands with your spun-glass hair.
Every time I see you, you have shrunk a little more.
Why, you are almost the size of an ant.
What do you call your monkeys?
Those two, the ones you put diapers on.
You diaper them and turn them loose.
Out of their cage they leap.
Now they are acting wild in the sunroom.
The sun gets angry,
It asks you nicely, nice for the sun,
Let me play with those monkeys!
But you don’t trust it.
And for good reason. No, no, no.
It burns the house down.
The monkeys run for it, helter skelter.
But you continue to watch your golf tournament
Throughout the mayhem,
Spooning down your Dream Whip.
The monkeys learn quickly.
They go find the sun.
He is still raging, burning up every cloud in the sky.
Flying is easy.
These monkeys learn fast.
The sun sees them coming.
Oh, it’s those pesky monkeys who have come to play with me.
But now they are really smart pesky monkeys.
The sun is thinking of what to do.
I will burn their tushes and send them home!
Not so fast.
These monkey’s have a plan.
They sneak around back with a clay pot.
They fill this pot at the rain spout.
Rap-a-tap-tap, using their wings, they tap-dance on the door.
Let us in!
We are scared of heights!
(They snicker to each other.)
Sun decides to be in a nice mood.
Those monkeys visiting will make a pleasant distraction.
Come in.
The monkeys come in.
They are hiding their little water-pot.
They are hiding their wings beneath their jackets too.
The sun thinks he has them now.
You have come a long way.
Do you want to play?
The monkeys look at each other and pretend to be nervous.
What game do you suggest?
How about dice.
We don’t gamble, say the monkeys innocently.
Well, just this once maybe, says the sun.
What are the stakes?
Oh, how about your tails.
Oh, that’s a funny idea.
And what will you put up? ask the little monkeys.
The sun has never lost in a million years.
How about my house.
The monkeys look around.
They like what they see.
It’s a deal.
Whoever gets the highest doubles in three roles wins.
First the sun roles and he gets two fives.
The monkeys roll and they get two fives.
The sun rolls and he gets a six and a one.
Monkeys roll and they get six and one.
They say, You are a good teacher for us.
The sun is feeling queasy but he is quick-witted.
Why don’t we take a nice break now.
But really he is thinking: What am I going to do about these monkeys!
The monkeys begin looking over their new digs.
The sun says, Oh look, its Ameise down below.
She is calling to her dear little monkeys to come home.
Maybe you should leave now.
The monkeys pretend to be fooled.
They look down.
Where is her house?
Oh, there is it, that charred pile of smoldering wood.
I wonder how that happened!
Now the sun is ashamed because it was he who burned it down.
But he really wants those monkeys to leave.
They are reminding him of what a jerk he is.
We are homesick now, they say.
Let us finish our game.
They sit and sun rolls.
He gets two fives again.
Monkeys roll.
They both get two sixes.
Good-bye, they say.
Oh, you are leaving? asks Sun with relief.
No, you are leaving, say the monkeys.
This is our house now.
Sun leaves, hanging his huge head.
Monkeys fly down and get Ameise.
They also get her TV and her Dream Whip.
It will be fun living in the Sun’s house.
Ameise is happy to see that her monkeys are grown up.
Hey, you forgot something, shout the monkeys to Sun.
He is setting with a chip on his shoulder.
What now?
They throw the little clay pot of water at Sun.
It hits him square on his forehead just as he is ducking behind a hill.
Well, that takes care of him for a while.
Ameise and the monkeys sit back and watch the golf tournament.
reflection: (Inspired by Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary and Norman Mailer’s novel, “Why are we in Vietnam?”.) Sometimes I use poetry as a way to tell myself stories that are happening in a parallel universe in a part of my imagination that seems to be alive and well. What happens in these poems makes no logical sense, but amounts to a kind of complex metaphor that compensates for a world that has lost its depth or meaning for me, at least temporarily. Poems like these are my way of pushing a reset button. This poem made me laugh out loud when I wrote it. The gambling scene is influenced by Native American tales and the monkeys, as tricksters, are borrowed from Chinese wisdom tales. (The chaos they sow, in some strange way, ultimately set things right.) The way they get the better of the sun and are able to restore order to Ameise’s world is reassuring to me on a deep level. The Sun is a Trump-like character: power-hungry, self-centered, spoiled, and dangerous. Ameise (“ant” in German) is a version of my own aunt Margery, who kept men at bay in her long, long life, and she actually did own monkeys (and Nubian goats). In this poem she is a mythical person, a kind of faery or the distant descendant of an earth-deity. She is the opposite of the sun and cannot be destroyed by his rampages, but he can make her suffer much the way the feminine is threatened by adolescent patriarchal demigogues who seem to be hell-bent on wrecking the planet.

Mudslide and a brief reflection


It rained hard all night.
I was at my aunt’s.
I was getting some rice.
It was for the children.
The hill came down during the night.
There was a big bang.
It sounded like a million sticks of dynamite.
I tried to get out but the door wouldn’t open.
It was blocked by mud and rushing water.
There was a hole in the roof.
I made it bigger.
I climbed out.
Everything was crooked, buried, gone.
It was like the end of the world.
I prayed right then.
I don’t know what I said.
I was crazy-scared.
My house was moving.
It was like it was alive.
I just sat tight.
I called out in fear.
My voice sounded like a bird.
I was an eagle.
I swooped over what was left of the hill.
I saw some people looking up.
They saw me.
They waved.
It was very sad.
I watched them waving.
I think it was my uncle.
What could I do for him?
I flew away.

Reflection: This is a new poetic form I am experimenting with. Each line is a sentence. It seems to trigger a simpler, more naive and open voice. The mudslide in Sierra Leone was much more than that. For the people who lost loved ones, friends and neighbors, it was an indescribable catastrophe. I read a first-person account by a survivor who was care-taking a house at the base of the hill. Like other survivors, his story resembled a nightmarish dream of chaos, upheaval, collapse and numbing disbelief. His account inspired this poem which I see as a metaphor of world collapse, which many of us might be able to identify with as we experience the structures of our own world shifting, collapsing and dissolving around us. The bird is a symbol of the human spirit that is neither victim nor perpetrator in this chapter of American dysfunction. Perhaps things have to fail before they can get better.