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.


How is it possible? followed by reflection on the eclipse

How is this possible?
How pale the light,
how still things have grown.
Dusk at 2:30.
People are lined up
at the telescopes
happily sharing glasses
that blind them to everything
but the sun
that is being devoured by a dragon.
There is a group over there,
talking to a man in a black pirate hat
who is showing off
pieces of the meteor
that broke all the windows in Chelyabinsk.
One little boy is eating a wild apple,
spitting out the rosy skin.
A woman with a British accent
is secretly laughing at my jokes.
I never tell jokes!
All this happiness is strange
like something from out there.
Like the smell of a flower
that blooms only during an eclipse.
I love being this happy.
Soon the world will return to its old ways.
People will forget
that the sun was eaten.
They will go back to their lives,
whatever they do
between eclipses.
How is this possible?
How pale the light.

Reflection: So, I wrote to my friend in Wales: The eclipse was a very huge deal here. People experienced it as a quasi-mythical event. My son and his girlfriend drove to the path of totality south of Portland, OR. They avoided the high desert to the east where there were three huge solstice festivals. One had to be evacuated because of a wildfire, so they were smart. Even in the small town where they camped out, there were plenty of random groups of people. I think the whole beleaguered country took a holiday!

Rainy Day Poems (poems followed by brief reflection on their writing)

Rainy day poems

A squirrel leaps from a low-lying raincloud.
It lands on the tip of a big maple.
It begins running down a long branch.
The branch is a path to the ground.
It is a magic squirrel.
Now maybe things will begin to change for the better.
Everything always gets better with magic.

In my dream

In my dream I was a doctor.
I wrote you a prescription.
You got better.
You bought a boat.
We went sailing.
We landed on an island.
There was a little hut on the island.
A man came out to welcome us.
We couldn’t understand him.
We had sea-water in our ears.
He said something and his face beamed.
He began laughing so hard he fell down.
It must have been a good joke.

The Pope

I dreamed that the Pope wrote something.
He buried it in a dump.
I dug it up.
There was a picture too.
The picture was all squiggly inside a circle.
It turned into a journal.
I gave the journal to some young people on top of a building.
There was a lizard under the carpet.
It bit me on the neck.

I am upstairs writing

I am typing on my computer.
What will I type?
I smell breakfast.
Shirley is cooking a frittata.
So that is what I am writing about.
It is a good smell
It gets better and better until it is done.

Ayla, my cat

My cat, Ayla, sits under the car and watches the woodpile.
She is watching for a chipmunk to appear.
If it appears she will try and catch it.
If she catches it she will carry it around in her mouth.
It will appear to be dead.
If I see her carrying the chipmunk I will try to rescue it.
I will run outside and try to startle her.
If I succeed she will drop it.
Sometimes it really is dead.
Sometimes it revives.
That makes me happy.
It makes Ayla mad.
She doesn’t catch that many after all.

Ayla, my cat
Ayla has a boxtop with her name on it.
When she sits in it no one can touch her.
She goes there when she doesn’t want to be bothered.
The force field around the box is very powerful.
It has never failed her.

My phone calls me
Gary, I have an urgent message.
What is it now?
Somebody needs your money.
They only need ten dollars.
What do you mean No?
My phone gets angry.
It tells me to stop hoarding.
I say, What I do with my money is none of your business!
My phone hangs up on me.

What love looks like
I send out a photo of a baby elephant and it’s mother.
The baby is pressing its trunk against its mother’s trunk.
The look it their eyes is heartwarming.
I send this photo to a short list of my favorite people.
I include the caption: This is what loves looks like.
My sister writes back: That’s what Ed and I look like.
I don’t ask her which is Ed.

I am a Shambhala warrior

Today I am taking a break from being a warrior.
I am writing silly poems.
I am feeling sorry for myself.
The day is dark and wet.
We have a guest staying with us.
He is a through-hiker of the Appalachian Trail.
He is a wonderful young man.
I am a powerful shambhala warrior.
Today I am taking a break.

Ten people
Ten people want to be my friend on Facebook.
They all have the same face.
I am suspicious.
Why would ten identical people want to be my friend?

My god was a butterfly

I sat in my house made of string and bark.
I made a religion of light and dark.
My god was a butterfly.
He was more colorful than a tie-dye.
He had limited power.
He made me a lover.
She lived on a flower.
A strong wind caught her.
It blew her to sea
I set sail in the pod of a pea.
I sailed until I came back around.
Somewhere near Peapod I ran aground.
Everyone there was just like me.
They all had wives named Mary-lee.
I searched both far and wide.
I missed my tiny bride.
If you see her, send her my way.
I’ll give you a donkey that doesn’t bray.

Reflection: I was looking out my second floor window on a rainy morning and saw a squirrel starting down a long diagonal limb that looked like a path to the ground. It seemed as if he had just appeared from somewhere higher up even though the maple he was descending was the tallest tree and there was nothing close to it, so I imagined that this squirrel came from a cloud. After I wrote this first poem, it was as if a door opened to a lighter magical space and the rest of the poems came rapid fire. As far as how they are set up, the only rule I gave myself was that each line be a simple and complete sentence. (The last poem was actually written on a sunny day.)

And there once were insects / a poem

No, I mean Insects.
They were everywhere,
like little alien life-forms right outside the door.
Walking Sticks were the largest
and they really looked like long sticks walking.
Has anyone seen one lately?
Caterpillars, colorful, furry, prickly,
barbed, horned, striped and spotted.
Daddy Long Legs – everywhere.
There were bees in flowering bushes
humming like transformers,
and they were all wild,
making honey somewhere.
So many,
I still associate the smell of certain flowers
with that electric sound of bees.
Sure I got stung, a lot,
but it never killed me.
Getting stung was just a fact of life
on a summer’s day.
And there were Writing Spiders,
literally hundreds in the field.
(Oh yeah, there were fields.)
And all kinds of jewel-encrusted dragonflies
zipping through the air.
And ants, black, red, yellow and flying,
hard-working, good citizens
of their realm.
Oh and moths,
made out of powder, or so I thought,
because every time I caught one
and held it in the round container of my hands
it would leave a smudge of powder,
white, pink or bluish-gray.
I used to go to sleep to a symphony of insects.
They tuned up as the sun was setting.
The sound was orchestral in scope
increasing and deepening
until it felt like I was being rocked to sleep
by waves of sound.
Where did they all go?
Some people call them pests.
But oh, how I cherish those memories
of being rocked to sleep
by the music of pests.

Dali’s mustache revisited

Dali’s mustache revisited

Who cares if Dali’s exhumed mustache is intact?
Who cares if a cat can say his master’s name?

Who cares if the Congressman
Thinks that NASA has a secret reason to go to Mars?

Who cares if there are nettles growing among the raspberries?
And that my friend is probably right,

That the stars are actually the tears of God
Reflecting the light of our souls.

My back hurt all night, and it still hurts
Even though my wife rubbed it with Tiger Balm.

That’s all the matters.

And when your back hurts all night,
I promise not to remind you
Of Dali’s mustache
And the sorrows of God.

Reflection: This is the first poem I have written in weeks. It was inspired by the news of Dali’s body being exhumed to prove his patrilineage. More to the point, it impressed me that they noted that his mustache was still intact. Not that is was intact, but that they noted it. I suppose I would have too; in fact I’m sure of it. Anyway, I also thought of Lazarus, risen from the dead. Poetry never dies. Sometimes it plays dead so it can disappear for a while, rooting around in the underworld, most likely bored with the pencil-thin searchlight of the conscious mind. Surrealism to the rescue of my writer’s block!

“No clue”: poem and thoughts

No Clue

If dis life meant for joy

so, at 66, I should know,

shouldn’t I?

Have somethin’ to show?

Figured out a few things,

but I’m slow,

(At least my wife says so.)

Sure, I’m slow

to let joy in

slow to bow,

to the secret in the center.

So show me how.

I’m with you.

I’m with the man with

the foolish grin,

speaking perfectly loud.

Dancing round the secret.

I’m the one

with the bug in my ear

who whispers,

move beyond fear.

And then there’s that secret smile.

Big Secret Smile.

That bug flyin off now.

I see him flying in your ear!

What’s he gunna tell you?

You let me know

while I’m still 66.

Because by 67

I plan to be a traveling puppeteer

and I don’t know

where I will be

in a year.

No clue.

A few words: Just got back from Monhegan. Now there is a magical place. What I will miss the most is the flowers. Well, the sea. The flowers and the sea. I told everyone I was building a little house in the woods there. There is some truth to that. It’s a dream house. It’s not real, but my soul says it will do for now. This poem is my attempt to stay loose, to keep the dreaming fresh, like those flowers and the sea.


Poet’s notebook: My poem, “We, the birds in the field”

We, the birds in the field

A bird flies up from the tall grass when I enter the field.
Somewhere deep in that wild place
Is a nest, I wanted to say “concealed” for the hidden rhyme
But the image is the important thing:

Me, barefoot. Bird, flying up.
Even if I were a predator
I would not be able to find her nest.
But I don’t need to find its exact location

Any more than I need to worry about rhyming.
This is a poem about a bird’s desperation
As the tractor mows closer and closer.
The farmer and I have agreed

To save one. Go around.
That is how I mow the stone circle
Where there are groups of wild daisies.
I spare a few.

The rest are sacrificed.
It’s not easy to be me
Because I know that nature is sentient.
And I know that everything wants to live.

It’s that tractor that bothers me
If you follow.
As it gets closer and closer,
I fly up.