Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Music

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

Psalm 137

Eventually, they learned to sing 
the old songs, but updated the tunes. 
The old melodies felt foreign. Even then 
the songs were nostalgic. A warm flutter 
in between the kidneys and liver for a place 
no one except the elderly had seen. Families 
wore far-away faces with glazed over eyes. 

Home was a memory 
living in holiday songs. 

Some went back, discontent.Frustrated 
in exile, longing for a home they never had. 
But those who stayed paid it no mind. 
Content to hum to themselves 
the old songs in midst of the mundane: 
washing soiled clothes, tilling tired gardens,
or taking their rest by the river. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Steady Work

The dollar store is selling your grandmother's wedding ring
and your neighbor with the dog and drinking problem
has been haggling. I waited to tell you. When he got the owner
down to 75 cents, I became worried. It's a nice ring. 

Sometimes, depending on the light, I see your uncle
in the rusted out hood of the Chevy Blazer parked out front--
I think it's fitting. There's a accidental aesthetic to it,
like the algae slurry on the lake where he lived. It's comforting.

My coffee is getting cold. Your roommate was nice
enough to make me a cup when I came over. Sucks
he's leaving soon. But I hear good things about North Carolina.
I hope you don't mind me writing this on your post-it notes. 

You need more milk. Also, I had the last of your frosted flakes.
Do you remember when your Dad would take us to the diner
after snowboarding? Breakfast all day is a beautiful thing.
My condolences by the way. Oh and congratulations 

steady work is hard to find these days. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Vancouver Christmas Story

I smelt a Christmas party
half-a-block away--mouthwash
carried on a shivering breeze.

Security guards looked uneasy
beside the doors of a mall
in the midst of a late close.

Displays dimmed in quick secession,
mannequins in formal wear were left
standing in the dark.

On the corner the party raged.
Two silhouettes sat still
backs against the light,

black lumps traced 
by white fluorescence,
with an orange highlight.

One liter of Listerine
Original--26 percent 
alcohol. Half-finished.

The light tinted in mouthwash:
a stained glass portrait,
like a scene from my bible:

a slurred nativity. I walked 
slower past the revelers.
ears perked to listen to

an unintelligible conversation
in angry tones. The two shared
gulps of the season's cocktail.

Remnants of the old neighborhood
creep out into the bright part of Vancouver
at awkward times--cold snaps

near Christmas, when people are
supposed to care about the poor,
remember the old story

of a couple pushed out,
who found no where to sleep.
And the uncouth foul-mouthed

Shepherds watching their flocks
half-drunk and stinking, abandoning
their posts and hastening to the city.

The last shoppers wandered by
under high-rises of million dollar condos
hemming in the old neighborhood

of a city trying everything
to hide an embarrassment,
or push it back to the periphery. 

The Christmas party did not have long,
security spotted the couple and 
hastened from their post to end it.

I watched a moment, then left
with a Christmas song
humming in my head. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Name Changes

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Matthew 16:18

Simon was to be a rock
thrown through a window
of an old miser, distrusted
by young girls of the col de sac.

A rock that gathered no moss.
Counter-example for the terse
stoic sensei’s proverbial lesson.
Simon was not to be an illustration.

A rock that finally cried out
to break the awkward lull
with non sequitur anecdotes
about World War 2,

caught up between toes,
disturbing the comfortable
feet in their Birkenstocks.
Simon wore socks with sandals.

Merry Christmas Vancouver!

Today warmed up
just enough to greet
rain: freezing drizzle,
the forecast realized.

A week of cold:
winds and sun,
frozen over ponds.
Concrete lawns

thawed back to damp.
Wet climbed-up wool
socks from the toes
strangled cold feet.

The anticipation of snow
slunk into puddles
that soaked through shoes:
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


These shifts are routine:
common room wipe down,
logs, laundry, shredder.

The routine is tradition, dogma. 
Unquestioned monotony:
the rhythm of the graveyard shift.

Midway through the logs
a youth wanders in,
shoes off and dressed.

Sprawled out on the couch
in the common room.
Not in a bed in his room.

I rolled my eyes,
put down my pen,
and left the office.

The laundry would have to wait.
Interruptions. At this rate
the shredding won't happen till 5.

Hey man--you're not asleep.
I am astute. People skills.
I work in social services.

Having trouble sleeping?
I have degrees in my field.
A highly qualified individual.

Yeah, just thinking
about how to save the world.
Sometimes I love my job.

Awkward Lovers

Strays prowl our yard, drawn by rats 
drawn by over-ripe apples lingering on 
tired branches or broken on unkempt lawn. 

The half-wild felines shout love songs 
down the alley. The rats shake in trees. 
Frightened to come down. The cats are tolerated.

I know one stray. A two-tone malnourished creep 
comes out of the hedge when I walk to the bus. 
He hollers raspy complaints in until I pause, 

then pushes against my calf. 
Leaves behind chunks of fur. 
He's an awkward lover. 

Yesterday he played Santa. An iridescent corpse 
sat outside my backdoor. Missing an eye, 
it's wing half-opened and bent. 

This was no easy catch. It was a swallow. 
A jet. Cutting through the morning 
swooping low over lawns at dusk. 

The gift was art. A sonnet.
The product of craft and admiration. 
I stared down, thought about misplaced affection. 

I wished he had brought it to another house; 
one with time for a cat; one that could adopt 
a stray and appreciate his craft. 

I wondered what the cat expected of me. 
Was he watching? Hoping? I sighed.
The gesture was sweet, but...

I went back inside to find the broom and dust-pan. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Poem for My Dad

I even miss his halitosis:
turning my nose
straight out the window
on drives to the supermarket.

The angry conversation
with TV news anchors—
the twits who could not
pronounce Pasa Robles.

Pacing the sidelines
of JV football games
wearing his fanny-pack
screaming at unpaid referees.

All the small annoyances
only family can have: fights
with a decade of back-story
occasioned by garage organization.

No one will ever get under my skin
in the same mysteriously visceral way—
or force the teeth-grinding, fist-clenched
response: God damn-it Dad,

I miss you!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Autumn, Bah!

The leaves shuffled and crunched
around my feet, left silhouettes
chalk-outlines on the cement.

The wind shoved through trees,
grabbed leaves from the ground
spun them up invisible staircases.

Birds chattered like spring;
there were even some tardy
purple azaleas lining raked lawns.

It was crisp sunshine. Somewhere
pretty children were modeling
Halloween costumes and perfect smiles,

swinging between model mothers
and fathers: uncomplicated
picture of nuclear autumn.

The whole neighborhood
wouldn’t shut-up: a miserably
picturesque bustle of October.

I kicked at the leaves,
bit my lip and prayed
for a long winter.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Galleon on the Mantle

The mantle sits in the center of our home,
between the kitchen and television: the spiritual core;
The altar in a bachelor temple; where in December,
stockings would hang if we were a family.

On the mantle is a pile of National Geographics from the 1980’s
filled with pictures thumbed through impatiently on indoor days,
a dieing formerly pink rose whose countenance is downcast,
and a thrift-store treasure: four mast wooden galleon, with bow facing out.

If the ship turns out to be enchanted, most thrift-store galleons are,
when the faery-winds change the ship will leap from it’s mount and begin
its voyage; over the flat-screen television playing season after season of
AMC’s Breaking Bad, round the rhododendron sentry outside the window,

through the Burrard Inlet, up and over mountain after mountain,
and on through oceans of flat in Canada’s belly. The sailors will sing
songs of faery-wives and children in tiny artic cottages
waiting around fireplaces glowing with green pixie-flames.

When the winds change the faery-ship crew will be dispersed
across North America; amongst the disparate places they’re from.
Soon enough the mantle will be bare, the ship will be empty,
and this house will not be our home.

Monday, June 17, 2013


The yard is over grown: plants
I don’t recognize, a wisteria choking
a decrepit fence that a herd of rats use
on their evening commute to graveyard
shifts over a drooping garage.

But our strawberries a bright,
and there is a rose plant, and apples.
Miscellaneous life groans impatient.
Who is to judge wheat from tares?

Our fence drops lifeless
limbs into the alley.
The neighbors must be talking. Still,
I am untrained in pruning, and can think of more
pressing matters than weeding—seven seasons of Star Trek:
The Next Generation on Netflix for instance.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daydreams of Putin

I hid behind sunglasses,
when tears pushed through
I thought of Vladimir Putin shirtless.

My thoughts were cloaked,
but I’m not so sure she didn’t guess. I wondered

what dreams the Russian president let go,
if he made mixed tapes
for American presidents
but kept them for himself,
if he saw Chechnya as a metaphor
for some recurrent heartbreak.

My thoughts bent around
cheap plastic rims, back
to the problems I’d been avoiding:

there was no outcome I could label success.
She was my Chechnya.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Spirit is Not Willing

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Mark 14:34

They hauled my corpse home in a wheel-barrow, planted me
under rhododendrons. I slept heavy—scowled out
at the side-walkers: stroller-mothers and joggers.
Crows chased them off with havoc
screamed from over-hanging limbs,
swooping down in sneak attacks.

I slept-in: cold, unmoved, frozen;
patiently waiting for the earth to stop.
But the ground warmed, and I dreamed
a kaleidoscope—tossed and turned
while the azaleas raced the rhododendrons.

Soon they’ll be awful pastel-ed children
giggling and rifling through budding bushes
in search of plastic eggs housing candy cloaked in foil,

and I’ll reach for the snooze button.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

How We Became Youth Pastors

We trade high school stories
of Christian rock bands,
bands that toured
with Christian rock bands,
or any band that played
all ages shows in the late 90’s--

so many questions? Do you remember
Five Iron Frenzy or Roadside Monument,
Waxwing, These Arms Are Snakes,
when we stopped liking ska,
when skanking ceased to be cool, but
hardcore dancing still, somehow, was.
Older siblings talked of Soundgarden,
Nirvana, or Modest Mouse--handmedown
musical taste mixed with youth group piety:
Church youth rooms became venues,
ping-pong tables were folded-up
frankenstein-half stack amps wheeled in,
cops called on noise complaints: the legends
that got youth pastors fired and worshipped.

More questions: were we actually cool?
When was the last time you listened
to a Tooth and Nail band? We were cool.
Thrift store Doc Martens, Dickies slacks,
and band t-shirt with unrelated graphic.
We were seeker-sensitive-missional-
emergent-artisan church before it was...

We’ll be thirty soon, and then what
will be cool? More bands? Or singers from old bands
new solo project? A collection Motown on vinyl?
Scotch whisky, homebrews, secret garage stills?
Werner Herzog documentaries? May it never be!
Will the category cease to exist, and all the scenesters
turned socially-conscious progressives
ease into poorly paid professions
dress sensibly, eat ethically
raise poorly behaved children
with aspirations to become artists,
or worse yet, poets.