The Stuff I’m Made Of

65% oxygen, so I may inspire
18% carbon, to help me form diamonds
10% hydrogen, to ignite my combustion
3% nitrogen, so I’m a high-protein snack
1.4% calcium, to fortify my chompers
1.1% phosphorus, making me luminous
73% muscle, ’cause I eats me spinach
22% fat, ’cause I scarfs me donuts
3% bone – thank you, calcium!
58% water swelling my ugly bag of skin
patches of hair keeping bits of me warm
a score of shiny nails to dig in the mud
a couple of grimy spirit-windows
two feet that stumble on smooth floors
ten fingers that flounder over keys
a derriere well-adapted to sitting still
a heart like a neodymium magnet
a durable web that binds me to you
a little dog, desperate for approval
a pirate who gives away his booty
a child at storytime, lost in wonder
an octillion of this universe’s molecules
and approximately one of creation’s souls

Lord of Miracles

A ruined cathedral, partially buried by lava rock, against a background of blue sky, clouds, and tree-covered hills.

Paricutin Cathedral – Photo credit: Daniel Tapia. Some rights reserved.

In 1943, two Mexican towns were consumed by a sudden yet gradual volcanic eruption. All of the townspeople’s lives were spared, together with most of the nearby cathedral.

Lord of Miracles

the north tower thrusts toward heaven
a gnarled and knobby index finger
jabbing, accusing,
hissing, “You did not lay me low.

Oh, you tried,
on the day you wrapped your
gentle, burning arms
around my brother and me.
You reached up, and you held me,
and you pulled my stone
toward yours,
yet still I stand.”

Its sibling to the south says nothing,
its throat and mouth having plunged
to mingle with the jagged tumble
of dark lava-rock
surrounding and permeating
the cathedral that was,
the sacred place that is,
sixty-five years after
God’s hot embrace.

Behind those brothers –
one tall, one reduced
to stubby fingers reaching up,
an open hand to receive the gifts
of the sky – is the chapel
with three walls and no top.
It too is ready
to accept heaven’s favors
even if they descend from above
as a slow avalanche of fire.

Pilgrims fill the chapel –
seekers dressed in yellow and red,
in green as vibrant as the brush
that ekes out life upon this
snaggy, igneous landscape.
They come for the icon enshrined within –
el Señor de los Milagros.

And were there ever miracles here?
Was it love that was raining down
when the people of two towns
lost their homes,
yet thanks to the slow tenderness
of God’s scorching grasp,
not a single soul lost her life?

El Señor hangs upon his tree –
the ruin at which he eventually arrived –
as the women who loved him weep.
He seems to gaze upward
at the similar cross
that sits proudly atop the northern spire.
In the late afternoon sun
the tower’s stone and brick skin is black
and brown, tan and red like flame,
like human flesh.

And in the sunlight,
it stands.

A Christmas Villanelle

They say, one time, eternity took form.
The story’s told again this time each year –
a tale which, in December, keeps us warm.

Amidst a world that’s often uniform,
can my uniqueness be belov’d and dear?
They say, one time, eternity took form.

Society compels us to conform,
yet each of us has quirks that make us queer,
a tale which, in December, keeps us warm.

Our difference makes us separate from the norm,
yet in our incarnation, God is near.
They say, one time, eternity took form.

Connection holds the power to transform,
unveiling mystery that makes things clear –
a tale which, in December, keeps us warm.

Together, we can overcome this storm.
United, we can conquer pain and fear.
They say, one time, eternity took form,
a tale which, in December, keeps us warm.

A Christmas Glosa

Alone – with one fair star for company,
The loveliest star among the hosts of night,
While the grey tide ebbs with the ebbing light –
I pace along the darkening wintry sea.

December shadows lengthen, bringing cold.
Sometimes it feels like that’s what life will be:
More dark and chill, as we grow sad and old –
Alone – with one fair star for company.

But when the sky is dimmest, lift your gaze
And view this cloudless heaven with clear sight.
That lonesome orb can light our twisting ways –
The loveliest star among the hosts of night.

A distant candle shows the way to hope,
Reminding us that love will win despite;
Igniting flame within to strive and cope,
While the grey tide ebbs with the ebbing light.

In Christmas light and Christmas love, let’s turn
And see each neighbor’s shared humanity.
So having glimpsed the peace for which I yearn,
I pace along the darkening wintry sea.

The first stanza is adapted from the poem “Christmas Even” by Mathilde Blind.

A Christmas Terza Rima Sonnet

You’d think, in forty-four Decembers’ span
Accumulated gloom would leave its stamp
And render me a melancholy man

In every heart I’ve known, grief makes its camp
It pounds its drum and hisses, “I’m the truth!”
And yet, a wick still burns in hope’s frail lamp

If anyone emerges from her youth
Still cradling that pale light within her chest
What secret keeps her safe from sorrow’s tooth?

The key comes in two parts (so I’d suggest):
Share beauty, love, and justice – bold and free
And notice how, despite your pain, you’re blest

And Christmastime? It’s opportunity
To practice both, to marvelous degree!

“Clarity” is (after Emily Dickinson)

“Clarity” is
after Emily Dickinson

“Clarity” is a mirror –
Reflecting back at me –
And shows my soul particular –
Yet never separately –

And underneath – the Clouds – is seen –
And dense must be the mist –
That could obscure the Echo pure
that promises us bliss –

I’ve seen it in the darkest night –
And in the strangest Land –
Yet – never – in the midst of Loss
It made the least – demand.

ode to the table – day one

uneven and paint-splotched
    knobbly     wobbly
you’d teeter like the tippling pals
you held upright the night before
except for the wadded-up napkins
someone jammed beneath your toes

this is no place for flawlessness
yet your mighty central pillar
elevates your broad circular surface
    welcoming     balancing
high enough above the filthy floor
to ground my nervous drumming fingers

it’s dark in this stranger-full room
and i’m sharing you with two women
    not-yet-kate    not-yet-erin
who aren’t talking to me
because although this is a sort of church
it won’t be my church for another year

so i stare down at you instead
studying your lavish ornamentation
of gum-wads and peeling/curling stickers
until the indescribable commences
    uncontainable    untameable
and i am beguiled for good

Terzanelle of the Elephant

Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion depicts the subconscious mind as an elephant, with the conscious mind as its rider. The elephant – that great big bundle of emotions, fears, neuroses, cultural conditioning, etc., – is nearly always the one who makes the decisions about where it and its rider actually go, due to its size, its strength, its intelligence, and the fact that it’s the one with its feet on the ground. The rider is then left to come up with “rational” justifications for the decisions made by the elephant, which helps him maintain the illusion that he is actually the one in charge.

He’s not.

Terzanelle of the Elephant

I see you, elephant – you cannot hide.
I know your ways. You want to be unseen.
Between my mindful moments you would slide.

My subjugation’s your banal routine,
but every now and then I catch a flash.
I know your ways. You want to be unseen.

I drive; you tell me, “Probably, you’ll crash.”
I search for courage in a land of fear,
and every now and then I catch a flash.

I see your dominance and shed a tear
for my delusions of autonomy.
I search for courage in a land of fear.

I recognize there is no solid “me”.
I mourn for my belief in virtue, and
for my delusions of autonomy.

I know now – I was never in command.
I see you, elephant. You cannot hide.
My efforts at control are built on sand.
Between my mindful moments you will slide.

Entering the Stream

(three versions)


entering the stream

i’ll wade in
my flaws

i’ll swim


Entering the Stream

I’m not ready.
I’m not worthy.
I’m a fraud.

Surely the rush of
clear, cool water
will reject me –
vomit me out.

Or maybe I do not need
to be enlightened first
before I dip in a toe.

Maybe I can wade in,
imperfect as I am –
just up to my ankles.

And then, perhaps I can
continue walking,
until the stream comes up
to my thighs,
to my belly,
to my chest…
over my head.

Until I must learn
to breathe

Or maybe
learn to swim.


Entering the Stream

I’m not prepared to wade in here.
My worth is much in doubt.
My fraudulence is all too clear.
This stream will spew me out.

Unless – perhaps I need not know
enlightenment at first.
What if I may dip in a toe?
(I’ll try…I haven’t burst!)

Now ankle-deep I venture in,
now thigh, now gut, now breast.
And now, two feet above my chin…
and terror grips my chest!

I need to learn to breathe the stream
and bear this state most grim.
Or else…perhaps a simpler scheme:
I’ll merely learn to swim.