Saturday, February 3, 2018

In the early morning I drifted from your heart. As if I were grey smoke weaving free through clouds of fog.

I could hear you sleeping—gentle, peaceful; the rhythm of your lungs drawing as a lullaby. You told me once your father was an outlaw—he died in prison. But you never told me much more. Where he’d been. What he did. Only that he was always on the run. Maybe you masked you family hurt with kindness. Or maybe there was no hurt at all and kindness was what you are. That is why I left you in quiet; because I never knew for sure if you would turn back the clock.

I carried my canvas backpack and stepped slowly on the hard wood. I thought I could feel your sleeping breath as I softly closed the screen door. The autumn dawn was cool. A dew settled on the grass.  Soon your summer windows would need to close against the winter air, and I wouldn’t be there to place a ladder along your wall—but you had brothers; a male cousin to help.

As I walked along the roadway gravel I foresaw you awakening alone— your plaintive hand stroking the empty half of our bed.

I made it to the two lane black top that ran along your home. The country highway seemed to shimmer like a frozen creek--as if I could skate away on thin ice breaking behind my feet. I rested my heavy backpack against my right leg. My out stretched thumb lured a car.

An old Buick parked beside me. A large man with half a grin told me to get in. I sat with my heavy pack in the back seat.

“Where you headed to?” the man asked.

“Anywhere is OK.”

“Oh. Well I’m going to the city. It should take me a couple of hours. I can drop you off there.”

“That’ll be fine. I can catch a Greyhound bus out of town.”

The car lurched forward onto the highway. I caught my bag as it slid along the seat

“You from around here?” he asked.

“Born and raised.” I said.

“So why you leaving? None of my business, of course.”

“Me and my girl drifted apart.”

“Ah, I see. I was young once.”

I was going to ask if the car was stolen. But I saw the tag on his vest turned up against the back of his neck. I knew the fat man didn’t have what it takes to be a thief. That despite what he said about his youth, he never stole a woman's heart.

It was six a.m., and the fat man left me at the Greyhound station. As I shut the car door I thanked him over the sound of idling buses and belching clouds of diesel that made my eyes tear up and my throat burn.

The next bus to the coast would leave at seven a.m. The station was nearly empty expect for straggling travelers in country clothes--the worn dungarees--the worn steel toed boots. They had the heaviness of men who worked hard in the fields and smoked too much and drank too much and had fallen out of love with their wives and never really spoke to anyone about the emptiness of a life without dreams.

Were they why I was leaving you?

I watched an old Mexican janitor wash the floor with long, rhythmic strokes of a worn out mop. He whistled softly as he placed the mop in the bucket and squeezed its excess water. He looked like he once had tilled the soil. Like he bent over to pick cash crops for rich farmers who spoke of how their success came from ingenuity and hard work. Now the Mexican seemed too old to work the fields. Perhaps bitter but grateful he had a job cleaning bus station floors till he was too old to work at all. Till he could no longer purse his lips and whistle Spanish songs of a better life.

Maybe I was leaving you because of him.

I promised myself when I got to the coast I would write to you--maybe call you. Try somehow to ease your pain. You said your father died a prisoner. I wondered if he tried to break out. If he died falling from a prison gate.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Fifty Years
It was the Velvet Underground...
Waiting for the Man
I remember being eleven years old in '68.
Waiting for Frank Brown's brother, a wounded soldier from Vietnam. I was a kid and he was eighteen. He had a bullet in his leg, and he limped round with a painful gate as we all laughed when we ate blanched American cake.
I didn't say this to Frank, how I was eleven and I didn't want to go to Vietnam.
There was that neighbor across the street, he got shot in a jungle, an enemy bullet pierced his spine. He grew his hair long and danced on his wheelchair like a helicopter. I don't remember his name, just that he was a man.
In 1968 they shot that Negro Preacher in Memphis, they killed America's King.
I was eleven years old, the black kids came to our Sacred school. The principal said don't go outside. I saw out the window they had ghetto clubs and ghetto chains. They wanted to hurt us like we hurt them. The police sirens scared 'em away. Me and Frank Brown ran home. "Frank," I said. "I don't want to go to Vietnam." I had fear in my heart, but no malice or hate.
Bobby Bitner's father aimed his rifle up and down our White street. "Don't you worry, I'll shoot any Niggers that come up and touches our ivory gates." Poor Bobby and his brother Rodney, I'd see their dad beat 'em red. The brothers hated black people too. But white and black soldiers died in jungle lands.
It was the Velvet Underground...
Waiting for the Man
They killed RFK, and I saw the outpouring of grief. But Bobby Bitner's Dad gloated, like he soldiered America's War of Hate.
I was eleven years old and I didn't want to go to Vietnam.
It's fifty years since '68, and I still don't want to go to that land.
Like the Velvet Underground,
I'm still Waiting for the Man

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Burning Flames
Sitting around the fire.
Smoke began to burn our eyes.
We turned away from the dancing flames,
The autumn logs cracked small jokes against the chilly air.
Passing around our hearts
I recited my poem in tongues
My feet hurt so bad, hiking all day
My worn fingers were once cold, but felt warmer now
To these stranger friends I met nimbly on the road, I dedicate:
To a fugitive drifter who said he was running like his father once did from a crazy men and a crazy war.
"But none was declared," A west coast girl cried.
"You just wait," Her sister replied.
One young man threw his draft card to the dancing flames,
and so did another.
An ole' miner of sand and gold said: I don't know your fathers, but I remember them well. When we danced with burning cards and the smoke tried to chase us away. Like burning forests in Europe. And orange jungles in 'Nam.
One kid runaway said she never heard of 'Nam. But saw on TV Ghandi's funeral pyre.
"They shot him, too." The fire said
Bobby, Martin, John...
They hung them from trees,
Dragged 'em in the street,
They hit them with rocks and bricks and the mortar and shrapnel tore at their flesh. The whole world exploded in rage and hatred. Tribalism against tribalism. A whole century of war. Of Aushwitz. Of May Lai. A century of Europe. Of Asia, Of Africa, Of America. A whole century of jazz. Of hope and prayer. And justice rolling like a river. That was the promise on Lincoln's steps. Justice will come in a dream.
They say trauma gets passed from generation to generation to generation, just like we passed our broken, afraid hearts around that fire. But fires burn out. Or they get extinguished in the rain. Or they never get lit. But there are always fires. There will always be drifters who warm their fingers to dancing flames and laugh along burning embers.  Just as in the morning there is a road to follow along a rolling river.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Pocket
Stolen gas in a stolen car, I ran through the night. I turned on the radio, I heard the wail of sirens. The rear view mirror showed police lights. I calmed my nerves, arrested my fear. The police cars drove past me, hunting another man.

I pulled the car to the side of the road and parked it behind a billboard that said a church was close by. I walked 3 miles into town and prayed to the plastic Jesus I stole from the dashboard and asked for his forgiveness.

The next Sunday morning I hitchhiked out of town. An old car that looked familiar picked me up.  The old minister said last night his car was stolen and they found it behind a billboard for his church. "It was strange," he said. "The gas tank was nearly full, and someone stole my plastic Jesus."

"Criminals work in mysterious ways," I quipped. The old minister turned his head. He dropped me off at the police station and prayed for me as they put me in cuffs.

"How'd you know," I asked.

"The plastic Jesus was sticking out of your pocket. And the jeans you stole, they fit too big. I'll pray for you. You keep the plastic Jesus."

I said I'd pray for him. "You keep the stolen gas."

Me and the cops laughed. It took a moment, but the minister did the same.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Time Passing Time
Sitting at a window, I held a photo in my hand.
An early morning waitress brought me apple pie sweetened with honey, and  coffee curdled with cream. Her brown name tag had no name.
Visions overtook me as if I was sleeping.
Empty chairs looked like prison bars.
Running archers raced with flaming arrows.
The window shook with fear.
I called the waitress over. I took the photo from my hand. "This is me when I was young."
A small smile spread narrowly across her face. She pulled a picture from her blouse. "I was beautiful once."
With kindred words I asked if visions overtook her, as if she were still asleep.
She said yes, yes. She could see fear. She could see danger. Right now she saw prison bars and rising archers with arrows on fire. But she knew that visions would not harm her. But time passing time always would.
I asked her for her name. She touched her name tag and said: "See, it's right here."
I said So long, Anonymous. She smiled and said I was the first to call her that. She bemoaned: My feet hurt bad sometimes. My knees and legs, too. The owner wants a young girl, good for business. I got a grown daughter from a man I didn't know. She wasn't born right and I take care of her at home.
The tip I left her was worth more than the meal. I walked slowly. Sometimes I couldn't sleep at night. I had visions of time racing past itself and colliding in between tragedy and emptiness. I didn't tell this to the waitress. She had a heart, and there was no point to break it. No point to curdle her kindness before the early morn.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Water as Music
A night coo awakens me.
My dreams submerged in that silky summer of Asia.
A Taiko drum plays as a beating heart.
The warm July rain.
Women in beautiful kimonos, I dreamed inside a dream.
We passed that youthful season through Tori Gates.
We bowed under red paper lanterns to draw up Buddhist smoke to our white faces; our round eyes closed; our nostrils pulled narrowly upward.

Sometimes we were hungover to our spiritualist.
Sometimes we pretended to be as spiritual as the holy water we ladled with wooden spoons.
Sometimes we really were touched by those Gods, but too young to carry their lightness with us.

I was submerged in that summer of my youth. The sounds of city trains riding along small towers where people slept and awakened. The sounds of my footsteps on narrow streets as I walked and listened to the nearness of voices through thin walls. A mother talked to a child... I assume. A lover talked angrily...I assume. But I know the sound of holy water as it flowed down pipes and made me feel musical. I know the story of red neon signs as they reflected off Tokyo streets made wet by rain. I know the sensual taste of those rain drops as I dried my lips with my tongue.

The morning dove arrives too early. Hours before its name suggests.
Its cooing awakens me in the night. As if to remind me that I am here.

I arise from my western bed. I drink a single cup of water. I close my round eyes and hope to weave that silky dream once more. But it escapes me as it has, except for this one night, for thirty years.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Me. My heart is so cold.
My veins are rivulets of ice
I need to take the warm bath of your love to melt me. To get this blood to flow. Please, heal me! Take your steady female hands. Pour warm water over me. You baptize me and love me as you have before.  I radiate with our vibrant souls. But I too am godless. I too know as with winter's return, as with December's frozen ponds, you and I will freeze our hearts once more. But as atheists we pray to the secret wholeness of warm spring water. We take comfort in the coolness that comes with falling leaves, before the dead cycle of winter's cold.