Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Way to Galilee

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.
Mark 14:28

Through stained glass we learned
to picture the path to the cross—
our imaginations organized the
familiar details till the worn road
was more memory than image.

We know those steps like our own.
We recognize echoes hospital gowns—
emaciated and gaunt.

We know the way to Golgotha:
death defeats life.
But what of the unseen steps?

Those first foreign footfalls from an empty tomb:
did the disfigured feet limp slow,
reacquainting themselves with his weight, or
did they lift him lightly from the grave
moving out nimble and quick?

What new paths did dawn find
that first pioneer wandering?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Autumn and Basement Living

Inflatable mattress amidst hills of clutter:
half-read books, twice worn
shirts waiting for laundry,
miscellaneous outdoor gear.

Energy leaks out slow,
dank thoughts seep in:
broken appliances ignored
by distant landlords never seen
seldom heard from, I have no skills or tools;
hope of quick repair fades.

Sun goes down earlier each day,
leaves collect in gutters, mold waits
patiently outside the door.

Crisp air brings football,
pumpkin ales, and thanksgiving.
Late afternoon, sprawled
amongst mess and errands,
I weigh these things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lake Louise 1990

[Happy birthday Bec!]

We sneak ahead and wait behind
signs dug out from snow banks.
Listen close. Footsteps crunch through
old snow. Munition perfectly packed,
molded to mittened hands. We bite our lips
to keep from giggling and giving away our position.

Prey passes unaware, we emerge,
aim carefully at a black-wool coat,
then let loose the dogs of war.

My sister yells “look Jake,
a white-backed mommy!”
and we sprint off into the deep,
where heavier legs labor to follow.


Brown eyes face
away from the altar. Little hands wander
through combed hair. She stands up
on the seat, head barely peaking above the pew,
searching unfamiliar faces until she finds one
she knows. Starts to bounce.
Hands wave. Fingers wiggle. Eyes get big!

Her mom walks tired
to the edge of the row,
hasn’t even sat down before
an elated toddler nuzzles deep into her lap.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

This is the Day

Red cheeks bounce in splash-boots
connecting scattered puddles
through a parking-lot map-of-the-world
pristine Sunday-bests collect leftover rain
for deposit in church pews.

A caffeinated congregation emerges
from gor-tex jackets to sing—this
is the Day the Lord has made,

we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Believe

[This poem is best read in conversation with this song. I wrote it after listening to the story of how two of my professors (married to each other) met.]

Sometimes I make believe
I’m a grizzly bear:
eating slabs of pink-fleshed salmon,
napping in hopes of hibernation.

Other times I make believe my bed is a space ship
flying me through the milky-way to planet Soul Food
where consuming a breakfast of chicken-fried steak and gravy
is my coronation as king of the breakfast-gravy-galaxy.

Sometimes I like to pretend
the waitresses are actually flirting with me;
and if I asked them on a date they would
pretend to be busy until I thought of something
charming to say, and they’d say no;
but when they gave me the check they’d smile
and their number would be on the back.

When I catch my beautiful friends
stealing sideways glances, studying my expression,
I like to make believe they think I’m cute
with big-eyed grimaces, lip biting nods, and the like.

When I play basketball I make believe I’m Shawn Kemp—
the Reign Man, but not when he was with the Sonics,
when he was with the Blazers, and his knees were shot,
and he was eating his way out of the league, and could no longer jump.
My shots are rejected, and macho posturing ensues,
but I have fun.

Every once in a while I wake-up smiling
from a dream where we’re old
and you’re telling the story of how we met
to a group of youngsters—
the story familiar and practiced, with scripted interruptions.
We take turns wearing proud smirks and chuckling to ourselves
as we banter back and forth with feigned annoyance.

Sometimes I wish I could hibernate.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Memphis Blues

Maybe Memphis—I went there
once in the fall, but it was still
90 degrees. And they have barbeque
and blues music and more fried-chicken
than the stars in the sky. I could watch
the barges float by the absurd glass pyramid
and think mellon collie like it was nostalgia.

Do you remember the time
Huck saw the house floating in the river?
I wonder where all those homes and barns ended up—
some col de sac in Louisiana where kids skateboard oblivious
of the history under plastic siding? Or, more likely
splintered in the mud with catfish and eels
disintegrated into bottom.

They say trying to swim to
Arkansas is committing suicide. I remember looking
across from a bluff. Arkansas didn’t seem all that bad.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mosquito-Eaters Love Il Postino Too

A mosquito-eater bounces
on a flat-screen, hovers
over the Italian coast
just before the credits;

none of us had the heart to explain
the soft waves lapping
on a gravel beach underneath
overhanging cliffs were only images
captured, we empathized with the bug.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why Didn't You Call Back?

A pack of handsome Coyotes met
just after dusk under a fallen fir
near the edge of the arboretum
to discuss why you never called back,
and what this could mean.

They cleaned their bushy bushy tails
asked each other for assurance that
their tails were attractive. Why didn’t you call back?
It was probably that thing they said last Saturday
about women’s basketball—they were just trying to be funny,
and they were nervous—but they do respect women’s athletics.

Together they let a muffled howl drift
over the horizon, hoping you’d hear it
and recognize it as an apology. They meant no offense.
The distraught canines wondered:
what more could they do?
A poem? Feats-of-strength?
Lose a few pounds?
Eat your ex-boyfriend's cat?

They sat with these questions,
occasionally letting a melancholic whimper
escape from under their breath.
The trees countenances became downcast
as they eavesdropped around the perimeter of the Coyote moot.
Coyotes can reach levels of lonesomeness
unimagined by the rest of the animal kingdom.

The tallest one stumbled
on a conclusion he found
convincing: they must wear ties.
No woman has ever ignored
a coyote wearing a tie.

Monday, September 5, 2011


or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Enough

Esau said, "What do you mean by all this company that I met?" Jacob answered, "To find favor in the sight of my lord." But Esau said, "I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself."

Genesis 33: 8-9

I was born with five tiny bruises
on my heel, the little shit
had an innate talent for grasping.
I still walk with a limp.
Some wounds never heal.

I grew up,
my brother stole
my inheritance. I would’ve killed him then,
but my mother warned him. He slunk away.
Out of reach,
not out of mind.

I was left
to look after my lost inheritance,
with an old man who gave it away,
and a mother who mocked me for losing it—
her constant nagging refrain, reminding me
how Jacob would have done things:
it’s better to work smart than hard.
But there were wiser sayings
from kinder lips:
The Lord sends rain
on the just and unjust alike.

I wrestled
with visions of my brother
wearing his hand-me-down
blessing in a land of milk and honey,
and my own slow-wits.
I spent my time revising:
if only I had said this
if only I had packed a lunch.
I put my muscle against these thoughts,
it was monotony.

I threw up
my hands: Enough is enough!
I learned to let go,
to repay evil with a hug, to recognize
enough. That is my blessing—
not marked by a new name,
but a quick exit from the story.

Now, I make my own lentil stew.
It’s delicious. I eat it every day.


[Here is one of two poems, meant to be read together. I'm still tinkering with line breaks and what not, any suggestions would be appreciated.]

My father chuckled
when he named me

My mother taught me to grow into the name,
took me under her wing, showed me
where weakness lived in the family:
the slow-witted and dim-sighted,
where and how to seize my advantage.

I quit wrestling early
after a half-dozen rug-burns
from my brother’s bristled fore-arms:
smooth skin learns to think
quick and shrewd,
looks ahead of brawn, finds contests
where victory is fore-gone.

not by right but cunning:
ill-gotten, undeserved.

That night was quiet,
darker than I expected:
no moon or stars, only black.
I did not see
or hear him coming—
I was alone and cornered,
no trick, diversion to rescue me.
Whoever he was, he matched me wit for wit,
left me no chance to slink,
no advantage to seize,
or weakness to exploit.
My hand forced,
I wrestled for my blessing.
The contest went through the night,
each move he anticipated and countered.
It was monotony, but I kept at it.
In the dim light before dawn I could see
him unfazed: no heavy breath or sweat.
He stood straight, stared at me, waiting.
I lunged one last time, he stepped aside quick,
but I caught hold of his ankle and clung to it;
I did not let go.

The Man laughed, gave me a limp and a new name.


or "The Stone the Builders Rejected"

Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb
Genesis 29:31

Jacob was a weak-eyed man,
never stopped to wonder
where his breakfast came from,
or why Leah would get up hours before dawn,
never noticed the way her laugh filled the room,
or the way his family smiled when they heard it.
Jacob never recognized the grace
he received by Laban’s deception.

Those nights Jacob spent
with the pretty one, the Lord came
to sit with Leah, to enjoy her company,
and when possible comfort her.
Common-sense affirmations,
almost cliché—but credible from Him:
“you should be cherished,”
“Jacob doesn’t see
the blessing he has.”

Leaning close,
He told her secrets:
she was the favored one,
there was surprise
yet unimagined
hidden in her.

Leah treasured all these things,
and pondered them in her heart.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

They Say a Lot of Things

They say you shouldn’t swim within an hour of eating. They say it’s always darkest before dawn. The say the best offense is a strong defense. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. They say you should dance like no one’s watching, and love like you’ve never been hurt. They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. They say a lot of things. And they always sound authoritative. Like they’re quoting scripture or the Constitution or something Ghandi said. They also said that there wouldn’t be wolves out here. And that wolves won’t bother people. But my best friend was just dismembered and consumed by a pack of wolves. I scurried up a tree just in time to see them play tug of war with his large intestine. I could even make out the remains of our lunch (summer sausage on Ritz crackers with cheese) lying on the snow partially digested, having been ripped from his lacerated stomach. I shut my eyes to block out the gruesome scene, but I could still hear them gnawing on his bones and chewing on his ample love handles. When the bastards had finished every edible part of him they encircled my tree, sat looking up with puppy-dog eyes, like dogs begging for scraps: blood still fresh on their snouts.