learning to play the banjo

there’s a lot to learn
about this twangy contraption
of mahogany and rosewood
mylar and steel
screwed together like an ikea end-table

i’m cramming my head
with musical knowledge
of strings and frets
chords and rolls
the gray matter’s working extra hard

but my fingers
my poor fumbling fingers
like beer-bellied sluggards
trying olympic gymnastics
scoff, you call what you’re doing learning?

brain, please

love ’em or leave ’em

you have two choices
said my master
when people and animals
objects and ideas
causes and conditions
drift into your life
like clouds on a breezy day

you may love them
and sit with them
listen to their story
and truly see their worth
embrace them
and share life with them

or you may let them go
and watch as they
drift out of your life
like storm clouds in a gale
or like dissipating mist

but master
i inquired with some anxiety
what of those clouds
which i cannot love
and which yet
refuse to leave?

ah, young one
for that kind of cloud
you will need this
said the master
as i was suddenly blasted
by the thunder and wind
of her carefully concealed
leaf blower

seen

do you want to know my superpower?
it’s a really awesome superpower
yep
i’m invisible

stop laughing at me
stop telling me you can see me just fine

you don’t see me

it’s ok though
i don’t want you to see me
that’s why i’m using my superpower

i can’t trust you enough to show you
i can’t trust you unless i know
you’re really here

i can’t trust you until you show me
that if you see me
you’ll see the real me
the deep me

not just these scars
and burns
and discolorations

so please stop
stop trying to see me
you can’t see me yet

not until i can see you

bird brain

the little grey bird
twittering on a branch
outside my window
as i sit to meditate
has ants in its pants

it can’t seem to stop
shaking its tail feathers

is it thinking about sex?
or does it literally have
bugs on its bottom?

maybe it’s boogie fever
i can’t say

eventually
it flutters to a higher place
and settles down

eventually
however briefly
i do the same

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

Nevertheless,
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.

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

Entering the Stream

(three versions)

 

entering the stream

perhaps
i’ll wade in
despite
my flaws

perhaps
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
underwater.

Or maybe
simply
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.

fourfold

called to embrace life
though permeated by suffering
it’s dappled with beauty
this is all real

empowered to release reactions
watching clouds take shape
letting them drift away
they don’t snag me

delighted to glimpse clarity
seeing beyond habitual responses
compassionate freedom opens wide
ah, clear blue sky!

prepared to journey onward
twisting path conceals much
that is tomorrow’s business
here is step one

listening

it doesn’t matter if i listen
i said to her

if i listen
or if i do not listen
when my body has something to say to me
it will certainly make itself heard

if my body wants to convey ANXIETY
then my chest will clench
as if the teenage iguana
that lives inside it
woke up and uncurled
stretched out its spikey legs
and bit down on my esophagus
hard

if my body wishes to say DESIRE
then it will vanish all my ambivalence
about my maleness
in a coup of utter control
directing my eyes
and other parts
toward the object of its infatuation

if my body would communicate DESPAIR
it will do so
and my face and shoulders and heart
will all follow its lead
drooping and sliding
into the deep

so you see
it doesn’t matter if i listen
or not