“Rhyme or Reason.”

I wrote this poem tonight, in rapid response to Trump’s barbaric and bizarre “national emergency” policy (or whatever it is). I haven’t stopped crying at any point in the last twenty minutes.

I hope you appreciate it.

Rhyme or Reason

We live in a state of emergency,
A state of paranoia, of burdening the refugee,
Of shutting doors on those who long to be free,
Of rising evil and decreasing empathy…

But without refugees, where would we be?
Who are we without the solemn serenity
Of Latin hymn and German symphony,
Arabic prayer and Jewish nativity?
Why can’t the top brass in this country see
The lack of rhyme or reason in their policy?

This war on immigrants makes zero sense to me,
Because each culture is part of a tapestry.
All those who flee war deserve our sympathy,
Because we make our homes out of affinity,
Out of the shared goods between You and Me.
Plus, every human life has sanctity,
Not just those blessed with wealth and productivity…

So I decry the rude barbarity
Of any policy that sunders me
From Spanish guitar and Cuban melody,
From Sanskrit texts that bow before Infinity,
And from my friends’ bodily integrity.
Intensive reading in theology
And years of good “progressive” liturgy
Show me the following priority:
I stand with those who need my empathy,
Because each person is my family.
If ICE would like my friends, they have to come through me.

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“Basil and Wine.”

The night that I wrote this one–October 15th, 2018–I was very tired. I hope it feels placid to you, rather than just confused and cynical, which is how it felt when I wrote it.


Basil and Wine

The words are falling off the somnolent page,

Soft-footing through my dank and weary mind.

I travel through the chilly ontic fog,

Selecting every step like an arranged marriage

Between my crabby heel and wandering toe.

Amidst the shades of London fog, I hear the kettle-drums.

 

No cockney flowers grow beneath my feet;

No saxophone will sound my solemn eulogy.

I feel no spirit’s spark inside myself,

And hear no whispered winds or tongues of flame.

I taste the searing basil and lulling wine,

Collapsing in a heap at 12 a.m.

 

Of course, awakened by the manic glow

Of Alcatel at stirring five o’clock,

I quash my angry groan, and rise to pray.

I thrust so many fiery feelings down;

Of course. Of course they’ll burst right off my pen.

I feel the stars go nova in my soul

And fall into old Saturn’s blessed dark.

 

My resignation swallows all my joy.

Why must I feel behind and out of step?

Is life one ceaseless hurry through dark rooms,

Or is there sometimes space for candlelight,

And laughter like pealing bells, and wine?

I cannot turn away from mystery,

And so I tiptoe softly through the hall,

Turn off the running tap, and douse the light.

“Paper Flowers.”

…and this was the first of October 2018, which was (on reflection) the turning point. I appreciate your attention. 🙂


Paper Flowers

I press the azure flower to my face, and I sniff.

I’m not sure why—I guess I just thought

That the pulpy blossom would impart to me

The pollen of its paltry paper heart.

 

Nonetheless, I know the flowers are a gift.

They have no scent, in terms of outward sense,

But they contain the strong aroma of memory.

One touch of the false nightshade on my lips,

And I can taste that muffuletta on the beach,

And hear the liquid lines of his guitar

As he launches into the air with Springsteen’s best song.

I can feel my best friend’s hand

Firmly in mine as we spin about the floor.

 

Another lungful of the floweret’s starchy scent,

And I’m back on one of innumerable beaches.

I crest the hill in Malibu, and I can see it shining there…

The azure water of Cortez’s callous conquest,

Still soaked in Monsignor Romero’s blood,

Still glowing with the inner light of possibility.

 

One more pass through the olfactory nerve,

And I’m sitting on my ottoman, stunned and sick.

I can’t believe what I just fucking heard.

It surprises me how quickly the world revolves

Onto its side, how I’m sidelined by a few words.

It shocks me how easily Ouranos strikes

With his thousand-year-old lightning spear.

It strikes me how quickly Satan slithers in,

Sauntering into the room with his reddened lion’s jaw.

How do I digest this devil’s discourse?

I block my heart off with the highest wall,

And I begin to read again, and to write my fevered hand.

I breathe in, clambering up upon the bar;

I breathe out, and step down, and then I fall…

 

I fall back onto my dark-grey floor,

And I know that this all happened. Yeah, I’ve been here before.

There’s no conclusion to the convoluted lotus flower,

Just as the rainbow has no depth or end.

I don’t know where I am, but I know why

I’m brought here through the haze of cannabis;

I feel my purpose in chourizo’s golden smell,

And know my destiny in the stilted trip and hop

Of old-school, gloomy Nordic grooves.

I can lie here, and listen to the rain,

And if I wake at stinging, burning four a.m.,

I’ll know the memories will still preserve me,

And plant more paper flowers in my heart.

“Pilgrim’s Cloak.”

This one I wrote in late September, too. It was probably the worst mental-illness point I’d felt since I came to Chicago. I was very likely doing too much work, and had very few connections…

So this was the result. I hope you appreciate it. 🙂


Pilgrim’s Cloak

A day’s long effort leaves me pained and numb,

Although my words sent sparks into the air;

I missed the meaning, or it didn’t come,

And right now I’m too tired and sore to care.

 

I’ve trekked to the oasis, and I’ve seen

The angel of the Lord by Mamre’s trees.

I’ve swum the Jordan, and I’ve come up clean,

And heard Hebraic hymns in each soft breeze…

 

What good are ancient texts of prophecy?

The prophets bear no promise I can claim.

The Hillel psalms are meaningless to me

When I am stalked by shadows without name.

 

The spectres hover just beyond my gaze.

They swirl round the page; they don’t cohere.

They whisper, sapping joy from all my days,

And fill my restless, aching heart with fear.

 

Like Moses, I fear that my tripping tongue

Will mix up all the messages I hear;

Like Jeremiah, I still feel too young

To speak the words that fall upon my ear.

 

The voices echo in my ringing heart

As daily I lie on my couch and cry;

I turn each moment’s anguish into art.

I pick myself up off the floor. I try.

 

I long for healing. Healing may not be…

Not fully…but I find support in song.

From grief and pain I can’t be truly free,

But I can love, and in love I belong.

 

My loneliness may never go away,

And others may not break my solitude,

But I can do some little work each day

To shape my part of our uncommon good.

 

The message might get mangled. That’s all right;

Diversity still writes the clearest hymn.

I can hang up my pilgrim’s cloak each night,

And still my mind, and rest my weary limb.

 

I may not be as strong as I would claim.

I’m neither genius nor superstar.

Sometimes, I dissolve without form or name,

A thing of naught to shame the things that are.

 

And yet…sometimes I feel a supple strength

That flows through me, like Jordan’s rolling stream.

It fills my fragile frame, both breadth and length,

And I attain the longing of my dream:

 

I can hear Cockburn’s chiming melody

And feel embrace in solid bread and wine.

The gift of life is then most real to me.

If not now, someday. Someday, I’ll be fine.

“Collapse and Cacophony.”

In late September, as things started to turn around REALLY slowly, I felt overworked…much like I do now. This was part of the result of that overwork.

I’d love your insights.


Collapse and Cacophony

Tonight, I lay next to my couch in pain,

And watched the darkness swirl through my thoughts

Like cloaks of storm-clouds over Lake Michigan,

Like locusts swarming over Canaan’s fields.

Sometimes, the darkness is a tidal wave,

Engulfing all my hopes in cast obsidian;

Sometimes, it is a glowing onyx polygon,

Too large to lift, and cold with bleak December’s chill.

 

Does naming it really make it better? Well, no,

For naming it is not relief; not by itself.

The panacea is polyglottal; its many tongues

Speak in cogent and caring cacophonies.

Because I am a priest, I speak in sacrament;

My healing dwells in silence too, and song,

And string and stealthy snare-drum soothe my soul.

Although my mind will flash its rainbow colours every day,

I must spend time in solemn stillness too,

To listen to the whisper of the stars.

 

I find fulfillment in good friends and food.

Both bacon-wrapped dates and baklava can buoy me;

And although rum is stranger more than friend,

And flights of wine are rarely fanciful,

I know that wine makes glad the human heart,

And liquor leads to laughter and sweet song.

Sometimes, when I can hear no hymnody,

A piece of bread reminds me of my life,

And soft cool water restores my aching cells.

 

When I am lost beneath stern sorrow’s solemn waves,

I stand before my mirror, and I recall my life.

Although every day is not a treatise on my tenacity,

I can find meaning in the smallest things.

Although I can’t always scale the city walls,

I place my feet upon the poignant pilgrim’s path.

My erstwhile mania and my present psychic flares

Send up their sonic signals every night.

 

I try too hard, of course. I know I do…

But it’s in trying that we’re born to diurnal life.

The secret is attention, and waiting for the whispered word

That wends our way from every raging waterfall.

I focus on a point in nearest space,

Lace up my broken boots, and start to climb.

“Dusty Gods.”

…and I promise that things got better. But first, as they usually do, they got WAAAAY worse. This one demonstrates my depression, having left my home,  in a very distinct way. I thought that you’d appreciate it too.


Dusty Gods

I waken to the dance of rainbow skulls

Cascading off the wall of the taqueria

And melting in the river’s rushing stream.

I feel my sorrow’s flood of greenish tears,

The sting and ache of loss, loss, loss, loss, loss…

My garish grief explodes in bursts of song,

And bubbles up in jagged, bitter sobs.

I miss my home, and everyone I love.

 

I don’t surrender to the whirlwind. Instead,

I toss the cardboard boxes out the door,

And take my students on a winding trek

From lush Sumerian gardens into Babylon,

From Milton into middle America.

Each silent tear is like a tom-tom beat,

And each serrated wail an aching hymn

To dusty gods I left behind in Ur.

The depth of my depression waits an endless cymbal-crash,

Like rain still beating on an Irish castle wall.

 

My father is a wandering Aramean,

A Hittite shaman of the snake-charm school.

He plays his magic flute every six weeks or so,

To trick the drowsy, foolish passersby

Into believing that he’s tamed the viper’s tongue,

Into the illusion that they’re forever safe

From soft, sibilant, sibylline deceit.

I fought that surly viper, and I won;

I struck its head clean off, and though it grew anew,

I found it smaller and with fewer scales.

Its poison did not penetrate my heart.

When next it bit me, I could salt the wound,

Bind up, and shoulder my wearisome pack

To wander down to Egypt or to Luz.

 

I do not yield to swift tornadoes; no, I stand.

I stand upon the purple wooden bridge, looking down,

Collapsing all my heartache into a strident gaze,

Still searching for the verdant home I lost.

I long for ashes, and for ancient dust, the mulch

Of oak and maple trees from ’94,

The stark simplicity of enemies

(As though an enemy should make a wall,

Rather than the rich man building walls to cage

His sullen, silent, starving friends turned foes),

The gentle touch of golden callused skin.

 

Old Midas could not yearn for shining gold

The way I yearn for love in touch and taste,

And Dr. Armstrong’s age-old child’s leap

Across the lunar surface is a solid type

Of how I feel when I hear friendship’s voice.

Then newborn worlds spin beneath white suns,

And burning crosses in the Californian foothills

Feel all the grasping fingers of the rain.

When laughing friendship finds a home with me,

I spin in my true orbit through the dark.

“Cicada Hymns.”

…and this is from early August, shortly after I took the job at a seminary. I’m glad I did, but it was really hard at first. This poem dramatizes that difficulty.

I hope you enjoy it!


Cicada Hymns

Cicadas haunt my dreams, their constant buzzing hymns

Alerting me to Earth’s humility. I can’t sit still,

Although their steady song will help me sleep.

This windy city’s too loud for insect songs,

Impressing on me every hellish decibel.

 

That said, I find some solace in the noise:

The buzzing busy-ness of brightly-lit city streets

Enfolds me in its myriad purposes,

Creates in me that purity of heart

That powered old Ulysses’ wooden ships

And drove him on to strive, and seek, and find.

The strident guitars shout from Soldier Field,

And smiling women dance at Elston and Keeler,

Proclaiming loyalty to Cubs and Sox alike.

 

I vacillate between banal bureaucracies

And bright bursts of red-hot energy.

The rising sun’s soft liturgy empowers me

To scale the wall Success in solitude,

To join with all the company in praise.

Sometimes, my sluggish sorrow melts away,

Revealing all my yearning, relaxing all my fear,

Leading me to lighted Lincoln Square, to laughter

Amidst the loneliness upon my ragged floor.

 

I lie upon the piled Wayfair carpet, and I muse

About the many nights I sat alone

To numb my mind with Netflix near Little Portugal,

Or take the bus to Parkdale for a drink.

I’ve contemplated long in Christie Pits;

Can I exchange those silent walks and sunny skies

For the cicadas’ strident, surging songs

And parklands that have neither form nor name?

 

I don’t know what I want, or where I am;

The verdant sun still whispers promises to me,

Though sometimes I can’t hear them through the din.

Acceptance takes a long time; so does grace,

Enclosing me in silhouettes of sufficiency.

Mastery and meaning may be a mirage,

Buy cicada hymns still tell their lucid truth:

Beneath our hurry and our harried frames,

The molten earth still hums its songs of peace.