Notre Dame

Like you, I watched Notre Dame burn –
a thousand years of prayer in the rafters
feeding fires hotter than devotion, 
a millennia’s fervor of hands and fingers 
pressed together like a flame.

“Our Mother” indeed. Though not mine.
Nations did not watch, no helicopters overhead filmed
what burned in her, how her brilliance 
consumed and engulfed the prayers of my family,
all the wreckage once that light was out.

What part of the flame, what color, what heat
is insanity? The blue? The white?
What raging fuel in the mind – 
timbers and rafters of the past? Gargoyles 
like whispering gas jets?

They said when she was a girl on the ranch
she built a shrine in a corner of the chicken yard
and prayed to Jesus every day, on her knees in the dirt,
before her brother honked the horn 
of the school bus he drove at 14.

And we mourn. And for a moment together
we all pray for something holy to rise back
from the ashes. If not our souls, that the stones
holding up our walls
might be saved.

Originally here.

Where the Keys Are

I'm supposed to list my obsessions. OK, fine:
  1. The ferry maintenance depot near my apartment.
  2. The human body personified as root vegetables – potatoes, turnips, rutabagas.
  3. I can’t remember Jack Shit, though I’ve met him often enough.
Mostly the last one – it's like trolls under the bridge have custody of my memory. Pay the fee in princess skin or thou shalt not pass. I look in my wallet, but no Ben Franklin. That look of his makes me think he feels sultry in his lingerie, hidden under his coat. I feel pretty too, Ben.
Maybe my missing to-do lists and kodak moments are lost in a time warp – if we rip the veneer of space away will we expose its mechanism, its springs and bomb wires? What if lost time is a pendulum swinging in the clock case with its balls cut off – fixed like a steer so it can't reproduce. Or memory baked into adobe bricks, daubed with mud, stacked into walls in reenactments of the Alamo, where we always lose.
Someone said it’s the journey, not the destination, blah blah blah. I feel miles itchy with distance under my skin, yet the tundra of my kneecaps and knuckles are insurmountable. The rocks quit, the mountains quit, even the pavement quits before it ends down the block. With light pollution the milky way is only a candy bar. Nowhere to go from here.
Just once, contemplate Powell in 1869 – shooting the fevered waters of the Colorado river in wooden boats. Make the shift from your first gear to fifth, fourteenth, infinity. From darkness to light to fugue to black holes that leave you breathless on a far shore.

For Shay’s Word Garden and The Sunday Muse

Veteran

Rue de Rivoli – "It's you! Assassin! Mon frère! 
Ah, we were but children when we joined the Legion,
marching from Algiers under Rollet – 'Honneur et Fidélité,' eh?
You, brave flower, fighting like a tiger in the alleyways,
and me, bragging open brothel doors.
The Devil or God (And which is which, in the desert?)
a coward when we blindfolded him,
rag carnation in his mouth,
we shot him with our Berthiers,
bolt-actions genuflecting in the sun.
Did we sin? We were fools!
We ate our bitter hearts out in that desert,
boiled our souls with thorns and thickets.
Riders with wind and sand rasping between our saddles and thighs…
Oh the melody they make – say it! Sirocco!
Now, over there, to your left, Diguet and his Montagnards
who gave so much blood at Tuyên Quang,
'Français par le sang versé.'
Now I merely puzzle the streets of Paris,
a toad who buries himself in cafes.
You say you garden now? Shadows of songbirds
against the barn, netting and dressing them
for your pies.
Here! Violets for your dear wife. Tomorrow it will rain.
Treat your blindness with care. Adieu!"

For Shay’s Word Garden and The Sunday Muse

On Reading Four Small Bees

On Reading: Four Small Bees Found Living in a Woman’s Eye

He could see in her eyes 
she'd been sweeping graves.
 
Memory and duty – incense 
and a yarrow-stalk broom
 
worrying away leaves and dirt. 
Unearthed, bees flew 
 
to her sweat, her sorrow. 
They knew no pollen 
 
could yield such honey –
love, so smoked with grief 
 
that it was holy.
Ancestral manna
 
to feed her, and
keep watch.

First published Sept 2020 in the I-70 Review

Backwash

Scratch Space

You said I was to imagine a great thirst,
and then to slake it.
But I think “back at ya!” –
instead why don’t YOU imagine
you are the sea itself
with salt in your throat,
waves rolling off your tongue
tasting the brine of last night’s sleep –
the great deep trenches
deep as the pathways
of your lungs, as if we could name
your breaths Mariana, Tonga, Aleutian –

And you cannot imagine thirst
because you are nothing but thirst,
the way a fish cannot imagine water.
And you cannot imagine drinking,
because you are nothing but drink,
the way a glass cannot imagine empty
or full –

In this way you, the reader, and I
break the fourth wall of the sea –
the stone jetties and dikes,
the levees and breakwaters,
give way. Our tsunami comes then,
beyond imagination.

Miz Quickly

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Switch

The day slips away, a greased crow –
hours and minutes on fast wings, my hands slick
from trying to spell the alphabet backward,
cawing: “Mind your p’s and q’s!” and which is which

Waiting for Amazon to deliver a box of wind,
open its thermals to lift my pages,
my shuffling, flapping sorrows and anthems –
trash or wings and which is which

My wife sends me to the pharmacy, midwife
to the season's skele-ghost and fire-nurse costumes,
the mockingbird kiosk sings for my debit card –
and which witch is which

I stop in the park and thumb coins into a rose bed,
wait for autumn to brew me a coffee –
I bang on the trash bin, demand oak trees
drop their red and yellow poems, end their masquerade

Of art and life, and tell me which is which

For Shay’s Word Garden and The Sunday Muse

Wheezer

This morning I am a shuffleboard disc – 
shoes scraping across cheap playground asphalt, 
lines weathered and flaked 

I try shoving over a copy of The Waste Land, 
see if I can make points with ”hyacinth,” 
or bump off “lilacs” with ”lilies” 

But I'm too sleepy. I still have goblins 
in my fingers from last night's dreams, 
my maw dry and filled with peacock feathers 

Better, my game of folding grief like origami – 
I tear pages from the book, crease poems into 
surprise! A crown of thorns 

Forget about forgetting, 
memory steeps in tea bags of the past, 
dried peels and scabs of 1970 in tiny paper sachets 

"Are we having fun yet?" 
Outside again, the sun slowly slides 
Into scoring position, aloft 

Above the mirrored river, 
wings choppy as waves, 
geese wheeze south for winter 

For Shay’s Word Garden and The Sunday Muse

Beekeeping

Sleepy, when my arm went over you,
the trapdoor slipped open
as always

And we fell in stuttered flight,
like bees drowning in sugar water
set out in the lids of jars

Tongues and stingers
slurred with nectar,
our waggle-dance instead a stumble

Drunken semaphores to the Sandman –
Instead of: "follow this way to forage, 
to hive, to hoard"

He reads: “Turn left at Chicago,
ride the ferry in your dwarf costume,
and meet us in the Shatterproof Café”

Which becomes someone else's dream tonight
while we linger on the veranda,
our bower draped in honeycomb

For Shay’s Word Garden and The Sunday Muse

East of the Garden State Parkway

The same way rain betrays 
a newspaper 
left on the bench – 

Water kissing the cheek
of headlines under a grey paste sky
drained of news – 

I finger my coffee mug like a rosary, 
rubbing the face of Christ
from the stains

In my best Judas voice
I ask to you please pass a napkin
and a pen

What will I erase between the lines,
between you and me,
What will I leave hanging

For Shay’s Word Garden

Waiting for Rain

Anne Sexton wrote:
"God has a brown voice,
full and soft as beer."

But I think no, 
more a shot of cask-strength bourbon – 
"Wow, shit. Woo! Hoo boy." 
Or "Hoo-ah!" like Al Pacino
in Scent of a Woman.

Holy – fiery midnight 
tossed back without sentiment,
the stars sway and shake
as they did at creation.

No sotto-voce stage-right, 
no sorry Romeo in crestfallen overcoat,
no sentimental trombones
stepping on valentine shoes
doing the boxing-step waltz.

Or if God has a soft voice,
maybe like asphalt gone formless
on a burning hot day,
the sky a void – 
no place for bare feet
on the road.
Waiting for weather.
Waiting for thunder and rain.

For Shay’s Word Garden