Underneath

I know it’s not real.
I know.
My father told me so,
and I believe him.

He always tells the truth.

So I know
that when my father
turns off the light,
and it’s quiet
(at first)
and then I hear the scritch,
       scritch,
               scritching,
I know
that it’s all in my head.

And I know
that when I call out,
“Stop!
Stop scritch,
        scritch,
                scritching
underneath my bed!”

and I hear in reply,
       no, little poppet
       you do not want me
           to stop
       because if I stop
           scritching
       then I will begin
           chewing
I know
that too
is all in my head.

My head
is clearly not right,
but I do not want it
to be chewed
off my neck.

So I don’t try to stop
the scritching
anymore.

It has been
one hundred and eight days
since I last slept.

And now,
because my nails
have grown
so fine and sharp,
and my teeth
       all in my head
       all in my head
have become
so long and cruel,

I know that
it is time for me to leave.
It is time for me to go
and find another child’s bed
to scritch
        scritch
                scritch
underneath.

concrete and iron

my feet are encased in concrete
massive blocks of my own casting
the left is named “befuddlement”
the right is called “craven fear”
they’re easy to pour but hard to lift

that’s why i don’t move forward
or do anything worth mentioning
to remedy this present situation
to disrupt our shared delusion
of deeply cutting separation

i cherish my cement shoes
they make me rooted and safe
but my harridan heart keeps nagging
to lift them high and bring them down
smashing them to bits as i run

before another perfect shining child
emerges from the womb’s embrace
and holds out her trembling wrists
to receive those rusty iron shackles
forged from scarcity and shame

Prayer of the Trinity

Source of all creation!
Within your love,
within your being,
you bear everything there is to bear.

Every one of us.
Each of our hurts,
each of our joys,
each of our awakenings to you,
each of our violations of one another.

You enfold the whole universe,
and in you the universe is made one.

And could it have been
that your creation took the form
of an undifferentiated reality,
uniform and pristine,
perfect and unmarred by ruin?

Perhaps.
But it is not that.
It is not that kind of creation.

So you became incarnate!
You took individual shape,
formed of solid bone and muscle,
and you became the beloved child.

And your beloved child…
missed you.

But your beloved remembered
where to find you:

at the time of baptism,
and at the table,
and day after day,
in stillness,
and in prayer,

your child encounters your spirit!
And your child discovers wholeness –
finds integration with you.

Source, and child, and spirit:
three in one,
and one in love.

Captivity

By the rivers of Babylon

by the rushing waters of Prosperity,
and the mighty flood of Security

there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

At least, we thought we remembered.
We had this picture in our heads anyway,
clear as day
of a world, a nation, a life
permeated with Shalom.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

But then these punk teenagers stole our harps –
plucked them right off the trees!
(Kids these days have no respect for private property.)
And they started singing a new song.

And it reminded us
(some of us, the more honest among us)
of the songs of Zion.
The tunes were familiar,
yet more generous and varied,
and the beat was more ingenious
and insistent.

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Then a girl with dark brown skin
said to me,
I will teach your right hand a new cunning.
I will show you how to play this song.

Your tongue can learn to sing this melody.
It does not need to remain
cleaved.

Do not be afraid.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said,
Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones
against the stones.

I remember now.
I, child of Edom.
I, daughter of Babylon.
I remember saying “raze it, raze it”.
I did not shout it in the street.
I did not even vote for it.
But I bought in.

“Prosperity, Security.”
I floated along these mighty rivers
untouched by the cries
of the people on the banks.

And now,
as I sit and weep
beside these waters,
I turn to this young girl
and I say,
Teach me.

Three

So far, I’ve lived through three tumultuous seasons
engulfed within the tsunami called conversion.
The first time, that hot and hasty summer of ’99,
I met the Buddha in the form of an exiled monk
who taught me to take refuge in the Triple Gem,
and to confront my anger, ignorance, and fear.
I didn’t know that my ecstasy was fueled by mania;
nonetheless, all of my prostrations were sincere.

The second time, I came home to the Church,
having been astonished by some Arizona Baptists.
When those red Episcopalian doors opened wide,
it felt like coming home. And me? For years I was all in.
I gave myself to God, to the Church, to my church,
until slowly, in the opposite order, they betrayed me,
and I wandered in the wilderness for forty years.
OK – six years staring at my own unkempt backyard.

The third time was long after I had given up, and
it was occasioned by admitting defeat to my friends.
The very moment I told my church I was a nonbeliever,
my atheism was doomed to live no more than a month.
I’m still an atheist – what I’m not is a reliable narrator.
But I’m a queer heathen, given my trinitarian streak.
So yeah, now I call myself a “scientific pantheist”,
and I think we’re all one, and the universe is sacred.

Weird, I know.

The common thread through all of these conversions
is – my God – how I’ve always excessively loved liturgy.
I mean, Tibetan Buddhism is “smells and bells” Dharma,
with incense and chanting, icons and ritual pomp.
And my Anglican church tradition is justly known as
“Catholicism lite”, on account of the litanies and thurifers.
And now? Well, this naturalistic mystic sure does dig
a Eucharistic liturgy or a Vajrasattva purification mantra.

So what’s the unifying thread, making all these motley
pieces of me groove to the funky rhythms of sacrament?
I think it might be emptiness. Because liturgy is poetry,
which is shaped by the space between words, and lines.
To Buddhists, emptiness – shunyata – is the ultimate truth.
To Christian mystics, emptying self reveals God’s fullness.
All this is just crazy philosophy, but in my bones I believe
That the space we perceive between us is actually sinew.

It’s weird,
I know.

enmeshment

when he reached the age of twenty-nine
the shakya prince
with golden skin
and raven hair
threw wide the door
of his jeweled cage
and forever left behind
the entrapment of his birth

so began his deep involvement
with the people
for the first time the prince met
the daughters and the grandmothers
and the small muddy boys

he laughed with them
and cried with them
he touched their sores
and their corpses
and for the first time
the prince knew sorrow
and suffered embroilment in grief

he knew he could not go back
to the palace of ignorance
but nor could he bear
entanglement in this life
of anguish

so the prince sought teachers
to set him free a second time
not from unknowing bliss
but from knowledge of pain
and in each of their teachings
of self-abnegation
he found only further ensnarement

when he reached the age of thirty-five
the shakya prince
with golden skin
and raven hair
sat down beneath a tree
and vowed not to rise
until he had overcome
every trap
and snare
and tangle

and the prince sat
with singular focus
until he could see with utter clarity
the delicate mechanisms
of quantum entanglement
and his own perfect enmeshment
with every other being
in the universe

and the buddha rose
with a smile
and began to teach

behind the waterfall

do you remember the time
when we were simple

we went to the place
back in the woods
behind your parents’ house
where that creek
the one with all the crawfish
rushes down
over jagged rocks

and if you get down low
and make like a caterpillar
who doesn’t mind getting wet
you can wriggle your body
or maybe two bodies
if they are close friends
into the cavelike space
behind the cascade

we did that
me and you
my brown-eyed girl

we slipped and slid
got mud in our hair
messed up our bluejeans
seriously

a broken stick
jabbed you in the arm
it bled a little
but you didn’t care

then we lay down
and cuddled close
in that cool and cozy
damp cocoon

and looking out
we saw golden light
streaming through the fountain
fashioning each droplet
into a tiny prism

rainbow showers
dappling down
over a green canvas
reminding us of verdant life
in the wood beyond

we held each other
in the midst of magic
for a brief forever
until our sogginess
broke the spell

and we squirmed out
filthy hands clasped tight
shining in the summer sun
and ran back home
laughing

driving

ever since i was a child
i’ve been having the same dream

i’m driving
(even as a little boy
i dreamed of driving)
over a suspension bridge
the kind where the road curves up
to a summit
and then back down
to rendezvous with the far bank

except

in my dream
when i reach the top of the arch
i can see
there will be no meeting at the shore

the road ends at a drop
i’m going too fast
and i plunge
screaming
into the cold dark water

over the years
my dream has mutated
and sometimes
rather than a bridge
the highway forms a towering parabola
or a roller-coaster loop
which even the most skillful driver
could not hope to negotiate
without falling
screaming
into the depths

each time i have this dream
it is terrible
and as i see the behemoth approach
my heart is filled with fear
yet i am powerless to turn away

last night
i had the dream again

i recognized the road i was traveling on
i knew well what was coming
yet i was powerless to turn away

i saw the colossal arc of skyway
which i knew
no sane driver
would attempt to traverse

i saw the wave-licked surface
of inky waters below

it was sunny in my dream
a beautiful day
other drivers on this road seemed
unperturbed

it’s always like that
in this dream

and i knew i could not stop
and i could not turn
and i had no choice
but to try and fail
and fall
and die

i was cold

but at the feet of the leviathan
i closed my eyes
and pressed the pedal to the floor
and i whispered a prayer
(though i do not ever pray
like that
i do not pray for rescue)

and then
and then…
i don’t know

my brain moved on
to another province of sleep
leaving me suspended
with hands on the wheel
eyes shut tight
gravity pressing me
compressing me
back into the seat

did i make it?
or did i hurtle downward
to the indigo water
as i’ve done in so many
dreams before?

i don’t know
i honestly don’t know

but i know
that i closed my eyes
and i said a prayer
i pushed the gas pedal hard
and i told my fear

honey
you can have the back seat
this time around
and i recommend
that you buckle up