Saturday, December 15, 2012

Esther: The Sunday School Version

I never understood the story. I thought it was weird when I first heard it in Sunday school, and I still do. I was right about most things then, except guacamole—while it may be green and gross looking, that stuff is delicious.

Esther is a story that doesn’t make easy sense. The heroes aren’t obvious. Everyone is a victim or a villain. The story doesn’t make sense, but it sticks with you like peanut butter on a dog’s tongue. The villain sets a trap for the apparent hero, and then the trap is turned on him. One mass murder is traded for another, because of one woman doing what her uncle told her to. And God takes a breather through the whole story, comes back in the next book, Job—which another weird one.

But these stories are in bible, so we have to preach about them, we have to extract morals, we have to reduce them to three-point propositional statements that don’t lead to more questions—there’s too much ambiguity and questions in our lives already, we don’t come to Church for more complications. So ignore the blood bath at the end, and the less-than consensual sex—make Esther a children’s story where Esther the Hebrew Barbie and her wise uncle Mordecai save the Jews from ancient Hitler. Simple. Easy. Moral. And this helps us Sunday school kids understand and cope with the world we find ourselves in. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lost Keys

At the mission drop-in center
I stand and stare half-asleep
into half-light as clients
shuffle-in, leave garbage bags
as place holders before lining-up
for coffee and sugar.

They smell like the street—
mouthwash, liquor, and sweat.
Addicted and tired with problems
beyond us. But we try,
we do what little we can--
which for me includes 
handing out socks, coffee,
and the occasional bag-lunch.

After they sit-down again
a chorus of heavy-breathing
and snores hum under
Christmas music—
I continue half-sleep prayers.

A rush of sweatpants
rages past—“I’ll fucken kill ‘em,
I don’t even fucking care.”
I ask a stupid question—“Hey man,
how’s it going?” And he answers
with a parade of expletives. His keys.
He left his house keys by the computer.
And they weren’t even his keys.
And now they’re gone.

Receipts erupt from fleece pockets,
no keys. The phone area is hastily reorganized,
no keys. Steps retraced, condescending questions asked
“Are you sure. . .” All we could do is done. And still
no keys.

He looks at us like we have a secret
room in the back where we keep spare keys
for everyone who comes into the drop-in center;
if he asks the right way, in earnest, convincing us
of the gravity of the situation—
then we would solve this problem.

But we have no secret room,
no mysterious connection with the Divine
to guide us to the whereabouts of the lost
keys. They were lost and beyond us.

We offer the obvious,
boring, and responsible.
And he realizes we have no magic,
and walks to the corner,
stares out at the other clients
mumbling to himself and
running his hands through his hair.

I return to half-sleep prayers,
wondering if I was asking
in the right way, if God knew
the gravity of the situation.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Gnostics on a Bus

She gets up—
short running tights,
tight and a little too short.

She gets up,
walks past men barely present, staring
through the ceiling like it was an illusion,
men trying to escape the confines of the 99 B-line,
men deep in gnostic meditation, separating mind from body,
letting the former drift like a balloon on a blustery day,
while the later remains a shell on an overcrowded bus.

She gets up,
walks past with tight black smelling-salt:
eyes fall from the ceiling
from shoulders to waist to. . .
Men return to consciousness
minds remember their tether. 

Some regain composure quickly,
eyes bouncing up from baser instincts
to ads for burritos above windows;
others follow short tights to the exit,
savoring their embodiment for a moment
before returning to their mediations. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012


No one noticed when my heart pissed blood;
my sweater hid the accident, no drips stained your pristine carpet.
I’ve never used a catheter, but these last few weeks
it’s been happening more frequently. First, it was only a drop or two,
then it was maybe a half-cup, now it’s gallons and I get light-headed.
I excuse myself with polite eye-contact, a half-smile, and nod.
In the restroom I use two rolls to clean-up, hiding the soiled tissue
at the bottom of the garbage, change shirts
(I keep spares in all of my close friends’ bathrooms)
and return to the party. No one’s the wiser, they just assume
I drank one-too-many glasses of wine, and made a quiet mess
of my best Christmas sweater. I study your face tipsy. Back and forth,
my mind wanders between blue eyes
and a subtraction problem—the sweaters I have left
minus social engagements we will both be attending. I’ll be fine,
at least until the end of January. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Roll On Columbia

or Sometimes I get pissed there aren't giant trees and salmon everywhere, and I blame old people

You could walk across the river on their backs;
it took teams of horses to haul them out of Lake Washington;
used to be you could hold out a net and Chinook salmon
the size of a junior high boy would jump in.

But then dams and logging and legions of nets and canneries
and lawn fertilizers and meth-heads and warmer temperatures
and erosion and population explosions and mining.

Diners in small towns on state highways still hang pictures,
black and white artifacts: five or six men posed
at the base of a sky-scraper fir, wedge cut out
two men laying down inside, five or six men holding
strings of dozens of kings, looking serious
in their civil-war moustaches and suspenders

The old-timers tell their fish stories:
“used to be you’d catch two steelhead a day
now you’re lucky to get two in a season,”
a not-so-subtle hint of generation blame in their nostalgia—
as if the facebook, cell-phones and MTV were responsible.

Listening to Woody Guthrie on my Ipod
sing songs about dams on the Columbia:
leaping salmon playing in the locks,
I get the urge to trample
some local geriatrics azaleas.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Patriarchs

Here's a collection of poems that work together. I feel they are more or less finished now--both the individual poems and the collection.

Then the Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Genesis 18:10

The Lord delivered with a straight face:
without a wink, or smirk. Still,
Sarah chuckled to herself.

He had a quirky sense of timing,
building tension to the absurd:
the Lord delivered with a straight face.

It was ridiculous—she was old,
a desert, withered and used-up,
Sarah chuckled to herself.

God’s humor was dry,
with unexpected punch-lines
the Lord delivered with a straight face.

When her son was brought out
from a barren place,
Sarah chuckled to herself:

With Israel He’d use a mighty hand
and an outstretched arm; but Isaac,
the Lord delivered with a straight face,
Sarah chuckled to herself.

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Genesis 22:7

Abraham believed God,
was credited as righteous;
Isaac was unconvinced.

A slow, quiet ascent
stiff with anxiety; still
Abraham believed God.

If God could provide the lamb,
why make them take the trip?
Isaac was unconvinced.

Reminding himself
the Lord was gracious,
Abraham believed God.

Queer words tested faith,
still there was the promise.
Isaac was unconvinced.

Despite harsh pedagogy,
God blessed Abraham and
Abraham believed God;
Isaac was unconvinced.

“The first one emerged red, like hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau.”
Gen. 25:25

After a bright red billow pad
came out of such a tender place
no wonder she favored the smooth son
no wonder she stopped after the twins.

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. That little shit
was good at grasping.
I still walk with a limp.

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 a father who gave it away,
and a mother who nagged me about
how Jacob would have done things:
it’s better to work smart than hard. 

I wrestled
with visions of my brother
wearing his hand-me-down blessing
in a land of milk and honey.
I spent my time revising:
if only I had packed a lunch.
I put my muscle against these thoughts,
and won only exhaustion. 

I threw up my hands:
enough is enough.
I learned to let go,
that is my blessing.

Now, I make my own lentil stew.
I eat it every day.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.
Genesis 32:24

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 muscle, finds contests
where victory is assured.

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

That night was quiet:
no moon or stars, only black.
I was alone with no trick 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—
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
he was 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.

Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, 
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 how his kids 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,
comforted with simple affirmations:
she was beautiful, she was blessed.

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, October 11, 2012

Angry On A Bike In Everett

Airport Way and 99 are not built for bikes, five-lane highways
crowded with rusted-out sedans and an endless variety of suvs,
shoulders covered with sand from last winter’s
black-ice and broken bottles of malt liquor,
bike lanes and side-walks illustrating
quantum physics—bursting into and out-of existence,
windows rolled down with middle-fingers
displayed: “get a fucking car asshole.”

This road, city, county,
built to funnel union workers
one-by-one in gas chugging monstrosities
to and from the largest building in the world—

unwilling to share cars that seat six,
or a five-lane highway.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Binding the Strong Man

And Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied "My name is Legion, for we are many." 
Mark 5:9

The emaciated voice crept naked amongst tombs,
dark skin clung to bones set unnatural, broken and bent
body hijacked, thrown to the ground in convulsions.
Dark skin accented with violet bruises, crimson cuts—
a legion of scars collected dust, unable to heal.
This was past, present, and future.

Then the voice became a man, and the man ran to tell
a future interrupted, an empire disturbed, a prisoner free,
a corpse alive: ominous happy news.

The testimony came days later along the lakeshore,
the beach littered with dead pigs, black clouds buzzed above
each rotting carcass, clothed with dark green hairs
undulating in the current, hooves lifted up,
bellies bloated and bobbing, bodies partially decomposed,
A drowned army washed-up along the Galilee.

And this was good news of great joy for all people. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

What Poems May Come

The orcas were all dead
stomachs vomited out
lying exposed on the rocks.

But it was ok, the children
informed me, it was Tuesday,
these things happen on Tuesdays;
tomorrow will be Wednesday,
then I’ll see—everything
will be back to normal.

I dismissed my class,
reclined back in a barnacle bed,
draped bulb-kelp over myself
prepared for a nap. A purple crab
scuttled out from under the covers,
found another purple crab, and the two
scuttled off together. Two beautiful friends
who decided to cameo in this dream
told me they understood,

it had been a hard day, but
I had done something real good,
purple crabs are rare, and don’t often mate.
This was a special day.

I looked at them, confused by their presence,
decided that this would make better sense
after sleep. I awoke under a flannel comforter,
concluded that even crustacean love
is nothing but mystery, also,
I should not eat curry so close to bedtime.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

July Rain (Nothing Lasts Forever)

For newcomers,
the first summer spent
away from home
(warmer and colder parts
of the country or globe)
begins in grumbling:

Jackets in late June!
Three straight days of rain,
It’s July!
Where is the sun?

Some who grew up here
suffer from an annual amnesia,
every July they marvel
at the unseasonable wet.

But I remember Fourth-of July’s
spent shivering under a wool blanket
damp from drizzle,
waiting for fireworks to finish
so we could pile into a minivan,
crank the heat, and go home.

I remember red and yellow leaves
against blue skies,
swimming in late September,
crisp and tan lawns
waiting for October
to finally bring back the grey.

Summers here are often tardy
but seldom truant—though
it is September 27th,
and I’m in shorts and t-shirt:

I wonder how well I’ll remember
in a raincoat in mid-July.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Something Worth Seeing

Princess Louisa Inlet

The inlet was a secret room, like God
had made it to hide people from the Nazi’s:
cliffs studded with trees on with either side
careened recklessly into eerily still waters.

At the end of the hallway
a grey mountain climbed up
with a toothy smile and poked at the clouds.
The peak was a water balloon spraying out
dozens of waterfalls that fell hundreds of feet.

The mountain’s elbow cradled
an angry white ribbon that cascaded
into the glassy sea like a burst water-main.

No mermaids bathed in the mist,
there were no centaurs wandering
through the ancient forests;
but the old hemlocks looked down
smug in their green sweaters, as if 

we had just missed something worth seeing.


Everything in our house
has been in her mouth.

She wasn’t even our dog,
just a puppy on loan

with paws that didn’t fit,
eyes that didn’t match
staring up puzzled:
why would anyone
not want to play?

Always a frantic stagger:
stumbling down stairs,
sliding across floorboards
slamming into walls--
a daily race to the door
to lick and nuzzle, and rest
her head against our calves,
just to welcome us home.

She hadn’t learned
games aren’t meant for the street--or
how to recognize a frightened command
from a playful tease--or
the difference between cars and toys.
She was just a pup.

She wasn’t even our dog,
but what does that matter?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snow Angels

Wet snow plops down outside
on bushes and shrubs, as I choose
which words to send up to the Lord.

I wonder if he has a system
for filing my prayers, or if
he just relies on omniscience,

leaving my prayers in piles
till they cover heaven’s front yard
and excited angels run-out
with sleds, toques, and mittens

while the Holy Ghost and Christ watch,
humming to themselves by the window
waiting for the water to boil
to make tea and hot chocolate.

Down here, the coffee gurgles as
I scribble prayers in my journal
and snow accumulates outside.

Cheesy Love Sonnet

When she laughs loud her face becomes a cartoon:
eyes shift to slits, smile stretches ear to ear.
she makes my knees wobbly, like too much beer,
the toon-ish change spreads quick to me, and soon
my jaw drops to the ground, I start to swoon;
my heart bounces whenever she is near.
I try to hide these feelings out of fear
she would see me as a creepy-weird goon.

But those feelings are too easily seen,
when she’s around my secret becomes plain;
I wear a perfect poker face in vain—
but it’s a familiar and cliché scene,
I’m like Pepe Le Pew when she walks by:
my feet float, and pink hearts drift to the sky.

Abraham and Isaac

Abraham believed God,
was credited as righteous;
Isaac was unconvinced.

A slow, quiet ascent
stiff with anxiety; still
Abraham believed God.

If God could provide the lamb,
why make them take the trip?
Isaac was unconvinced.

Reminding himself
the Lord was gracious,
Abraham believed God.

Queer words tested faith,
still there was the promise.
Isaac was unconvinced.

Despite harsh pedagogy,
God blessed Abraham and
Abraham believed God;
Isaac was unconvinced.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Showdown with Kevin

Kevin fights a case of the wiggles,
stands-up on the pew, looks back
at me—still towering over him.
We stare each other down—
like it’s high noon. The flannelled toddler laughs
like a maniac, leans into his father, flashes
his miniature teeth in a wry grin, and pokes me
in the stomach: “Big belly! Big belly! Big belly!”

Kevin jumps off and crawls under the bench.
His sister stands on her dad’s lap,
points to patches of white
in his thinning hair and giggles.

I offer a prayer of thanksgiving:
I am only their Sunday school teacher.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Snow and Insomnia

I did not sleep last night. The rat was scurrying up and down walls, laughing. Thoughts were chasing their tails. Conversations were on repeat. 2:45 in morning smiled cocky. 4:30 didn’t give me a second glance. The night was not humble in victory, and I was not magnanimous in defeat.

The morning was a snow-globe, a light dusting concealed frozen sidewalks: every step precarious. Slips triggered tantrums—impotent rage swinging to self-pity. Ice was evidence of a cosmic sadist who chuckled at the lack of security knit into the human condition.

The treachery of snow on ice put me on my ass where I surveyed the day with a shiver.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

For Anthony

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
-John 11

In Portland it rained
On Mt. Hood snow fell quiet
Dusk came too early

Anthony never came down from Mt. Hood. Two years ago, a few days before Christmas, calls came screaming from every phone that knew him. Pray for Anthony. Did you hear about Anthony? Any updates? Have they found him yet? Advent was spent waiting for the weather to clear, waiting for an affirming answer.

The slopes were silent
Night greeted more snow and fog

They found him six months later. After search and rescue shook hands with Anthony’s parents, fighting back tears. After an awkward memorial. After pitcher after pitcher was split with his best friends. After drunk tears turned to hysteric laughs then back again. After the ice that trapped him melted into rivers glutted with spring. They found Anthony six months too late.

Long nights spent waiting,
Cold mornings scraping windshields:
Spring always comes slow

At the service the preacher spoke from John 11: Christ was late. Lazarus was dead. Jesus wept. At the grave Christ spoke: “Lazarus, come out.” Two years after Anthony didn’t come back, we’re waiting for Jesus to repeat himself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Toddler's Hangover

Toddlers sipped cappuccino,
discussed hazy memories:
a night that started with good intentions,
but ended with their mothers’
blouses stained and stinking
of baby formula, sour-mix, and at least
four distinct flavors of Absolute vodka.

The dog was looking
holier than thou,
even though it wasn’t even a month
since the living room sofa had to be trashed
after Spot’s night of bingeing
on crayons and magic-markers.

Tiny sausage fingers
indicated what the toddlers thought
of Spot’s judging puppy-dog eyes.