you can't spell COURAGE without RAGE

In 06, I was working for Elmer Morris and the calendar on my desk had been purchased from the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of America. The image for the month of May, pictured below, socked me right in the guts. Another painting referenced in the poem is "Peaceful Harbor" by Jean Michalski but I was unable to Googlemance it out just now. The artist who created the painting below is a Portugese lady named Daniela Cristina Caburro; you can go check out her gallery at her website.

She makes a living as a painter
without the use of her arms. This lady is a ROCKSTAR. I'm so glad I found this poem again. It's not quite a sonnet: it doesn't follow the sonnet rules perfectly. But you know what? Things don't need to be perfect. Just beautiful.

Girl Gathering Flowers by Daniela Cristina Caburro

Works painted with the mouth, slow careful strokes
show beauty, rich in detail; emphasize
though limbs hang limp from spinal cords that broke,
more than mere puppets watch from our keen eyes.
Each petal's sharp, like flowers etched in metal.
Boats, stone-fast, stand in harbors; roofs slide off
into the sky. What's solid melts, unsettled.
What floats grows petrified, no longer soft.
One little girl stands in a field of blooms,
her legs obscured by solid greenery,
her hat askew, white as a skull entombed,
her gaze rapt at what only she can see.
I see a woman twisting flowers, beneath
which blur long-lost arms, painted through clenched teeth.

a verrrry old dream log

Going through all my old boxes full of books and papers turns up lots of surprises. Ran across my old bachelor's thesis, on Philip K. Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch", for example. This, though, is a thing all its own, written from myself to myself and put to action. It was from a brief period where I wasn't writing dates on stuff so I only know, from the other content of that yellow legal pad, that it came about in midsummer of '03. A good (though kinda freaky!) piece of writing at least, and about where my head was at, at the time. Thank God I'm somewhere even nicer now. The dream itself is followed up by a couple of short analysis paragraphs which are from the same pages.

A beach of broken pebbles and cracked clams leads up to the House of Broken Things. The door is ajar. No board in its floor is unsplintered, no windowpane whole; even the rocking chair on the front porch is missing a leg. Out from under the porch darts a cat. Feral and lightning fast, its yellow eyes seem wise though they see the mouse in me. Tufts of fur missing to scars, tattered ears--is its fur grey?--it pads before me to the door of the house whose windows stand half-open like idiot mouths. The cat's tail twitches as it slides out from under my hand. I don't think I touched it. Brass knob, tarnished, old, turns with both hands and a thunk--I thought the door was ajar?--hinges creak. One comes loose, and I think the door is going to come off in my hand.
It doesn't.
Inside I think there is only one hallway, and there is, but my vision of it shifts and falsifies: I am left with an impression of winding crazed wood angles, locked, open, half-open doorways. A glance in one doorway reveals the unchanging, a gap-toothed piano with metal threads curled up under its wing, dolls with one eye that glares smirking. Another shows an empty bed, mattress stuck with its own rusted springs, cracked leather belts and a tongueless shoe that looks violent, a shadowy closet door. A few steps forward a girl's face peeks out, thin fingers wrap the wood just below the keyhole, cheeks smeared with tear-streaked dust, eyes achingly familiar. She darts back in, covers her retreat with a slam, but by now I know better than to follow. A draft whispers over my toes; I look up to see yellow eyes in the distance. The cat blinks once, twice, and I run to follow. Walls try to whisper their ancient cackles and though I cannot close my ears I don't listen.
The last doorway is locked but not closed. As I stammer, combing fingers through my hair, the cat wanders off, crooked tail slung low. The password comes back to me. Tunnelvision, I say to the dusty wood. It swings open and I hear my heart beat: this, the monster of my dreams. Blank whiteness. Viscous like the goop in a lava lamp, moving, its bulk fills the doorway and tentacles congeal, reach for me. My mouth chock full of a scream that keeps my teeth bound together. Don't encourage it, I tell myself. Out of the whiteness eyes roll down, lidless, and lips writhe into a mouth. Now only the tongue holds its ghost, the purples and greens of a clown face--not colors but hues bent wrong. I remember the dream that freed me from this face; I remember Atreyu between the sphinxes. I step through. So simple to say.
Looking forward, forward, up ahead a narrow chimney climbs up a cliffside, the path freckled with pointed stones, the angle of ascent maybe sixty degrees. I must keep my eyes on the ground so as not to slip or step on a sharp stone and injure my feet. I climb for what feels like hours, panting; soon my only thoughts are of the next step, the next handhold, for which I am distinctly grateful. Grey stone eases its way into russet, another geological age, and overhead I hear the rough voice of a crow. A fiber in my heart loosens. It is safe now to look back, I say almost out loud, and grabbing a handhold, turn to look over my shoulder. Down and down beneath the rockfalls, between the pitted forearms of the stern-faced hillside, a tiny ramshackle thing with a half-shingled roof gapes into the wind. On the stoop a white figure, spangled in what might have been frills but at this distance looks like dirt has its face turned unerringly towards me, foolish hat notwithstanding. I fancy I can see its mouth open at the touch of my eyes, and yet I'm deeply, madly grateful its running is running in place. I turn to face forward. There, the path spikes up and seems to end in the blue sky, the crow wheeling near beneath wisps of cloud. Clambering the last few steps, I fetch up somehow on my feet.
The plateau is a valley in the center of a circle of stones, great mountains that stand in the distance and remember. Behind me I cannot find the path I came by amid the boulders and sparse underbrush, and I decide that this is a good thing. To my right and left and behind me the mountains are gathering up their skirts, evergreens here and there, and on one hilltop a ways away I think a mountain goat springs from one crag to another. Ahead, there is no path, but a wide expanse of stone worn smooth by rain and wind and the passing of many feet. I step forward onto it and see, perhaps a hundred yards off, a circle of monoliths laid on monoliths like the great circle in England. I walk forward unhurried, feeling the wind through my fingers and the sun gently pressing the crown of my head.
There seated by the nearest of the twice eleven gates is a dragon, coiled around and over himself, silver-blue and blood-colored with eyes bright as a distant star. He winks at me, this old wyrm of the earth and sky--old to my eyes anyway. His rumbling voice is like drumbeats, joyous and solemn.
About time, he says.
I got a little hung up, I reply, dashing fingers through my hair. If I was too long in arriving he forgives me, and I am glad.


They are fools who think surrender is defeat.
A wise person knows that any endeavor can proceed either around an obstacle or through it, and can survive retreat if it is kept in order and those involved keep their goals firmly in mind. Of course the most glorious surrender is that which marks the transformation of an adversary into an ally--but this is a rare privilege and difficult to describe. I will say that apparent surrender, that is, misdirection, is a valuable tool in clever hands and can be used to thwart even a cunning opponent. But apparent surrender is not true surrender and is no fit replacement for it. This you should bear in mind in love as well as conflict, in friendship as in enmity. For one who consistently substitutes false surrender for true is no fit companion.


I began looking for a way, and as I went, the path sprang up around me.

wound so tight v2.0

The ending is muuuuch better than in v1.0! :D Must...arrange...recording session again soon! *wag*

panic rises up so suddenly within me
crease my brows and purse my lips and I look old
like an origami spider up a chimney
I will fall into the fire if I unfold

wound so tight
wound so tight
because everything else is unraveling

we throw away the things we own
the clothes, the books the telephone
devices we use every day
and statues we cannot display

but like a camel full of water
knowing I'm my Father's daughter
swells my back, makes me look muscular and strong
still I can't carry all this gear
I'm just a snarl of will and fear and hope
suspended from a filament of song

wound so tight
wound so tight
because everything else is unraveling

why do I clutch myself so tight?
it isn't any use
only my hands can reach inside
of me and cut me loose
all blessings wait for me if I
can find the will to choose
to let them in

only my God, my world, my loved ones
truly satisfy
the thirst in me that turning inward
would have drained me dry
I hold to all things but in fact
I do not have to try
only begin

wound so tight
wound so tight
still when everything else is unraveling

the tigress

When I was over at Lexy's on Sunday, she was slicing up an onion to sautee (pasta and white wine sauce with clams! supar nummeh!) and the first line popped into my head. I told it to her and she laughed. For anyone coming out of a difficult time, working their way out of a funk so to speak, a big part of the challenge is dispelling the negative illusions in the "what kind of a person am I?" part of our thinking. This is a pretty bold and brassy sonnet--but it's supposed to be, as an encouragement and a counter to illusions. :D "You go, girl."

The kind of woman who makes onions cry
because she did not slice them thin enough;
who'll answer pat when lovers ask her why
their anxious favors met her cool rebuff.
She sleeps with novels written for her friends,
and when dreams misbehave, she cuts them loose.
I'd load my straining back to serve her ends,
but bowing, weary, to her is no use.
Bright, like a tigress throned among the sheep,
who do not satisfy, yet genuflect,
she calmly conquers but won't deign to keep
those who don't find the strength to show respect.
But for the lucky few who understand,
she'll sheath her claws, smile soft--open her hands.

more fun at Christian Taoism

Odd that my last good stimulus-response thing over there was also about limits, the boundaries between interiority and exteriority. I think that boundary is always going to be an overarching theme of my work. In much the same way, and for much the same reason, that authenticity and degrees of reality are an overarching theme of Myke's.

Here I've tried to do that thing which I learned from GK Chesterton. Take a seemingly unanswerable question and turn it inside out, and more often than not you'll find the answer was simple and good and lovely and--in retrospect--blindingly obvious.

HK Stewart: Reaching the Bottom

I can see the bottom of a creek.
I can touch the bottom of a stream.
I can swim to the bottom of a river.
I can dive to the bottom of the sea.
How do I reach the bottom of the Tao?


I open, a bloom:
the honeybee lights on me,
touches the inmost.
When I receive, I'm carried
forth from myself, and give life.

ah, there is is

Something odd happened just now when I posted up the sonnet I got this morning on Facebook. I'm usually fanatical about typos, but for some reason while I was transcribing it out of my notebook I made the same typo, twice. Which altered the meaning of the lines slightly without detracting from them: "there it is" became "there is is," not once but twice. Emphatically. So I think I'm going to make that accidental change permanent. And come to think of it, do it one better and change "all of it is true" to "all of is is true" in the third line from the end!

To all that passes through my hands which is in any sense alive, I wish to allow, to the extent I can, the same freedom I myself relish. And ultimately even a poem only passes through my hands and out into the world, whose citizen I am and which I love with a towering passion.

Ah, there is is, the universe again
Just when I had it narrowed to a point
Tight-gripped in thumb and finger like a pen
Round, nestled down the first and second joint
There is is now, the world again made fresh
I roll out wet upon it with a slap
To see the dreams of all I love made flesh
And hot coals heaped in our Opponent's lap
No mortal soul can match the Maker's art
What lives is dense with riches, through and through
I would be straining at the leash to start
But I am free, and all of is is true
Flung wide, all me gives thanks to Him in whom
The living live - I roar - "Make room - Make room!"


Killer was the first.

Or at least the first in this little area of time, in this particular season. She wasn't, as people tend to count things, a member of the family. Just a tiny, shy gray and white kitty who lived inside the liquor store where a good friend of Pearl's works. When we visited there, she was in a bad way already. We walked down the aisle lined with glass refrigerated cases packed with beer and there she was, motionless, alone, a little bundle of fur and bones curled up against the heat vents underneath the doors. So we did the natural and proper thing; knelt down on the floor, petted and made much of her, carefully brushed the layers of caked and matted dirt out of her fur, told her she was a good kitty and a pretty kitty, said with our hands and the fact of our presence that somebody loved her.

She died a few days later, and from what I'm told she didn't die easy. I'm glad I got to see her first.

My late former boss, Elmer Morris, taught me a wonderful Jewish word: dayenu. There's a song around it that's part of the end-of-the-year holiday. He didn't teach me the song--at 96, after years of not attending religious services, he didn't remember it--but he told me what the word means: Enough. Enough for us. Both in the sense of, "it's enough, we're full, we can't eat another bite or we'll explode!" and in the sense of, "we've done all we can, given all we've got--oh God, please let it be enough."

I know just a little bit of the tune, though, the one word and the scrap of melody. And on the way home last night on the train, relieved and much healed and full of happiness, I sang it over and over when the song of the wheels was loud enough to cover it and wrap it up from other ears than mine. Daaayenu, dayenuuu...daaayenu, dayenuuu. And I smiled that smile in the darkness of the tunnel and the peace of God settled over my soul.

Shashi didn't die easy either. As soon as Amber called me up and told me to come, I could hear in her voice how bad it was. That the vet's more hopeful prognosis was almost certainly mistaken. I made it up there on the last train of the night. Mom and Amber were there for me and hugged me and made sure I ate and had tea. They'd been watching over the cat all night and did all they could, held her and tried to squirt water down her throat, even hydrated her with the IVs they have to care for the other cats. And when it was clear that she wasn't going to get better, Amber did the needful and called me up, took up the mantle once again of the bearer of unbearable news. I got there in time.

She was panting for breath, hot to the touch, like someone who'd just run a mile with a heavy backpack in full summer. When I petted her, when my hands were on her, it seemed to ease the panic a little. Her eyes were unfocused though, the third lid pulled in across the eye and bloodshot with strain, and when I looked into them she didn't see me. I looked anyway. I thought of Myke, and what he always says about the difficult things, the unavoidable suffering that comes of living in a flawed and imperfect universe: I do not look away. I do not, ever, look away.

It took more than two hours, though, and I was so tired. Mom and Amber had gone to bed--we all agreed it was best not to wake Pearl, who'd been inconsolable when her own cat died last month. They didn't want to leave me, but in a way I kind of wanted to focus, to not divide my attention, to be able not to look away. When Mom finally went into her room, hurting for me, I said, "Don't worry, Mom. Don't worry." At that hour of the night all the vets were closed. There's emergency clinics out there you can go to at all hours but a last-minute visit costs more than a hundred dollars. So there was no shot, no way to make it quick. Mercy enough that I had the train fare to even get up there.

When it got to the point where my grip on consciousness was starting to slip, she was far gone enough that even my hands on her body didn't seem to register anymore. So I took her off the cushion, lay back on the couch and held her on my chest. Every breath had a raspy little moan in it, but in spite of everything my head drooped and I started to doze. I was so tired. It startled me awake when of a sudden she thrashed, yowling for a moment as if she fought something, voided what little fluid was left in her out of both ends. I suppose that was the moment, but it almost didn't seem real. She was still as warm and fluffy and soft as ever. But when I put my hand on her body all I could hear was the echo of my own heartbeat passing through her tiny frame. After awhile I set her body down on the cushion which was on the floor next to the couch and covered it with a blanket, got up and rooted in Mom's dresser for a clean shirt, went to the bathroom. Before I went to sleep at last I had to reach under the blanket a couple times, just to be sure, for my hands to be sure; no pulse, no breathing. Real, but in a sense not real at all anymore--a body without the life in it, the living being that I'd loved. Baggage, empty of the treasure it had borne.

"All true wealth," Lois Bujold once wrote, "is biological." What lives is what matters, and while we who live are alive we are priceless. Life is the only anentropic force in the universe, the only thing which draws order out of disorder, which slows and inverts decay, which blooms and makes beautiful. Decay itself, I think, is principally beautiful because it exposes the fingerprints life left behind, shows in naked silence the glory and the victory and the majesty of what was, of what has come to pass, though not to stay. However small it may seem as people tend to count things. It is life which makes the universe a place worth inhabiting, and love which makes any life a treasure to be savored rather than a burden to be endured.

When I got home to Chicago on Tuesday, I knew my roommate Don was in the process of breaking up with, and kicking out, his second Craigslist girlfriend. Based on the hash he (and to be fair, Pennee also) made of the first Craigslist relationship attempt, I knew I was in no shape to deal with it that day. And I had already arranged with my good friend Lexy to get together and celebrate her birthday after meeting Tuesday morning with the building manager of the place where I'm trying to move. Since it was bitterly cold and we didn't feel like going out, I ended up crashing at her place after spending the whole day together. It was healing for both of us. She's been depressed and sort of away from her usual dynamic self this past while. But she's a brilliant and incredibly resilient person, who reminds me of no one so much as my big sister Amber, the sort of person who walks through mountains when the mountains fail to respond to a polite request that they move out of the way. And I've been rocked out of balance by endings and beginnings, wonder and dread, grief and joy all crashing into each other. But I love a lot and with grace and help am learning to love more and I'm good to be around. Friends are friends because they help each other. Getting back to the place I currently live and walking into that situation, though it wasn't really mine to solve, was something for which I had to prepare. And when I got back after work on Wednesday I was prepared.

Don got up in the middle of the night to grab some iced tea, and I sat him down at the kitchen table and got a talk going. He'd been totally freaked about me moving; he's part owner of the building here and without my rent he and his business partner don't really have another way to keep up the mortgage payments. And finding a good, reliable tenant during winter in Chicago--let alone smack in the middle of the holidays--verges on the impossible. That on top of his own impending breakup had knocked him for a loop and I wanted to help him out of it. I don't want to destroy anything when I leave. I don't want to leave anybody hanging in the wind. I don't want to see anybody lose, anybody suffer, any good thing die, if there's anything at all I can do. With any kind or degree or mode of relationship, however personal or economic, however large or small. I have enough, and more than enough, to live my life and be the person I'm becoming. I will do all I can in all directions at once and ask and joyfully accept the help of everyone involved and pray God it is enough that no one loses. He was comforted.

Yesterday, as today, I had the day off work, and with my new-minted equilibrium turned with a will to the task of sorting out some of my possessions. Cutting down on my own baggage. Don had cut off the internet, fearing I would leave--as I'd originally planned to do--today, in the first week of December. He'd've had to vacate the place himself if I had, and likely the first floor tenants as well and sell the building in a down market. None of that was especially real or pressing to Debra, the second Craigslist girlfriend, though. Without a phone of her own, without internet access, and without even--because Don went into her purse and took them, the cause of their big fight yesterday--the keys to the apartment to get back in if she left, she had nowhere to go and no way to get out of here either.

She's been more than depressed for more than a little while, and coming here and trying to build something with Don was sort of a last-ditch effort in a situation where all other doors seemed closed. And it wasn't working out. They bickered almost constantly and had each basically given up on the other. I was on the phone much of the early part of the day, in my room and the storage area I've got up here, sorting out all my clothes and figuring what to keep and what to give away. But I overheard her say, loud enough to carry through my door, "I will never again trust another living soul." And involved or not, my problem or not, it hit me like a rabbit punch. Later when I was off the phone I stepped back into the thought of that moment, stopped stock still in my tracks and prayed--for wisdom, for mercy, for everyone involved. For a problem that I most definitely did not have the right to impose myself upon but it hurt to watch, especially for a second time, with a person so far sunk in her own esteem she couldn't even get angry enough to fight it. She spent most of the day curled up on the couch hardly moving; after awhile she covered up her face with a blanket because, I think, she didn't want to have to look at me or Don as we walked by.

I even left the building for a time. Unlike Debra I have keys, and I really, really wanted to get to the library and use the internet there. On the way I dropped off a little bag with a blanket and some warm socks at the bus terminal. There's a homeless lady there I've talked to a time or two, pretty lucid, spunky as all get out, considering, and I figured since I'm giving so much stuff away I might as well cut out the middleman and give a few things to someone I know. She wasn't there, but I left it with a couple of other guys. They let me know her name, or rather what everybody in the homeless community there calls her, which is Mama. I know a couple times a year Don will put together a feast and bring it over there--where else is the homeless community going to get a feast?--and it cheered me up a little to learn Mama's name and that she's a known and in a certain sense respected citizen among them.

And at the library I got to send off a sonnet I'd written earlier in the day, to the hopeful comfort of its intended recipient. Won't reproduce the whole thing here, but the first line goes:
They know in hell, and they are terrified.

Much later, after Don had left to go hang out with a drinking buddy of his, Debra knocked on my door and asked to use my phone. Which was my in, though she was so anxious and feeling so unworthy that she hardly even registered how glad I was to have permission. I sat with her for a good long while and talked--I mostly listened, caught her terms and turned them over and put them in perspective. Told her lots of stories, quoted quotables, let her vent and pull up her astonishment and anger and fear and just look at them, see them for what they were and not have to run from the fact that she felt them. Sang her movin' down in the world and it made her laugh.

It helped, actually, a lot that she was so angry at Don. Drinking has been a major issue for her for awhile, made it impossible for her to stay with her son's family, made her unwilling to go stay with her parents, who are teetotalers living in a dry county. But she looked over at the fridge and shook her head and pointed and said, "That man--he makes me so angry. I know there's beer in that fridge and I'm not even gonna drink it, because I'm fed up, I've had enough of this crap, and I don't want anything of his."

The plan was for her parents--she's middle-aged, they're elderly--to drive up from Kentucky and pick her up this morning. But her son called up and said that wasn't going to work. It'd be a brutal drive, Kentucky to Chicago and back, even in daylight in nice weather, and at night in the cold he didn't want to ask that of them. He offered to buy her a bus ticket over the phone, so she could take the Greyhound down there and have them pick her up. And I watched her slip right back into panic, I watched her face pressed up to my phone as she said, "I can't. I can't." She'd have to leave everything behind, all her little meager possessions that were her only link to the life she used to have before everything went to hell. She'd have to leave the pieces of herself, worth more to her for so long than her actual self, here in this house, in the custody of a man she despises more than she needs drinking. And here I was trying to get rid of all my baggage, with another day off work coming up, and I know how to get to the bus station. I started bouncing up and down in my seat and it was hard not to laugh; she would have taken that as mockery in the face of her despair. "This is totally doable! Yes it is! We can carry it all between the two of us, and I know how to get to the bus station, and it's totally doable! Wait right here!"

I went and took a peek at her stuff, in boxes on the living room floor and in the front closet, then dashed back into my closet and got all the duffels I had, tossed them on the floor next to the boxen. By this time she was off the phone, and when I was at the door heading for the basement where I had some more duffels, she stood up from her chair in the kitchen and asked me, "I don't understand. Why are you doing this?" Till then I had passed everything off with no problem, my pleasure, not a big deal, no worries. That time, though, I grinned and bounced on my toes and said, "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. I'm takin' it literally. As it should be!"

(Just now--literally just now, while I was typing this--the agent from the new building called up to tell me that my application to take over my good friend Nabeel's lease has been approved. :D God's timing.)

When I came back up the stairs singing "These boots are made for walkin" she had already started pulling her stuff out of the closet and taking it off the hangers. She'd gotten so very upset with Don earlier for going in her purse, it seemed wise to me to just sit at the table and let her get everything arranged for herself. I rolled cigarettes and told more stories, and she started to focus less on venting and more on the prospect of being able to escape. I copied out the lyrics to movin' down and wrote on the back of it, "It's been wonderful to know you, though I wish the circumstances had been better. This was the last song I ever sang to my father. It was sad then, but it's happy now. May there always be a road." Then I folded it up and she put it in her purse. I hope she reads it on the bus. Thinking of bus reading time--Chicago to Kentucky is a long trip!--I went in my room and got Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! which is extremely funny and uplifting, and is one of the few books I own myself rather than having had it lent to me.

She started to set aside a few things to add to my Salvation Army bags, since she did have more clothes and things than even two people could reasonably carry on their backs. And I told her about leaving some stuff in the station for Mama and about the socks, which stuck in her imagination. So we put together another little bag to leave along the way. She had way warmer socks than the ones I'd left earlier and it made her feel good to be giving stuff away to someone who'd appreciate it. She also gave me a lovely button-down comfy sweater with pockets, which is very nice but too big for her and too bulky to carry. (I'm wearing it now, in fact. I told that to Don earlier this afternoon and he said it had made her look old, but on me it looks really sharp.) And I showed her how you carry multiple duffel bags, straps crossed over the chest to distribute the weight, with a smaller bag in each hand. After getting rid of a few items there was just enough that between the two of us we could carry it.

The walk to the bus terminal was incredibly hard for her and slow going. She'd never done anything remotely like it before; her back muscles weren't used to the strain and on her tiny frame the straps kept slipping out of alignment. We had to stop and rest a few times--it's about a mile from here to the terminal--but we made it, in good time and in good spirits. The train ride down she was talking even more hopefully, focusing on getting out, getting independence, having a chance to start off all new. When we got to the stop I actually didn't recognize it at first--I'd usually gone to a different Greyhound station--but a fellow commuter pointed out the correct street to us and within half a block down it I knew exactly where we were.

There was a bad moment at the ticket counter. She had seven bags altogether, and due to rising fuel costs Greyhound's policy is that you get one carryon, one bag in the overhead compartment on the bus and one under the bus for the price of the ticket. Second bag under the bus is ten dollars, third and each bag thereafter is another thirty-five. She got a little panicked again; I could feel it rising in her. I said, gently as I needed to, "Debra. It's just stuff. You're getting out." And I looked in my wallet and I had thirty, so I took two fives and slapped them on the counter. She was flabbergasted all over again but we hunkered down, zipped open all the bags and tried to empty out at least one, consolidate some more, stuff the already packed bags a little tighter. And she took some of the smaller bags and put them inside each other to make a single massive carryon. After all that, she'd sorted out and selected a half-full bag's worth of stuff she could bear to get rid of, and I gave it to the Greyhound guy to add to the station's donation bin. He and the ticket agent said they'd give her a break, since after all it was duffels and not hard luggage, and let her have an extra bag under the bus. Though they warned her that when it came time to change buses in Cincinnati, the driver of the next bus might not let her take along all of it from there. They tagged what she had and I helped her carry it over to the line of other people's luggage waiting for the 3:40am, and I hugged her and wished her well and she thanked me again.

I hope she pitched that extra bag in Cincinnati. I hope she laughed and the wall of panic in her laugh broke suddenly out from under her and let her into that great big bright wide beyond it. And I hope she pitched that baggage in the bin and got back on the bus and rode all the way home to a dry county with a great big grin on her face and the cold air of Kentucky felt delicious in her lungs because there's so, so much of it, and it's free.

When I got back to the bus terminal Mama was there, in her usual spot on the little ledge next to the payphone. The bag we'd left behind was nowhere in sight, but some of the things that had been in it were peeking out of her other luggage and I think she was wearing Debbie's socks. And I smiled the smile again, much bigger this time, and skipped all the way across the terminal to Dunkin Donuts and bought myself a bagel. With cream cheese.

giving thanks

In love there is no low or high point,
neither consciousness, nor the lack of it.
There is no leader, no shaikh, no follower,
but there are hidden ways, sleight of hand, and revelry.

~Jalaluddin Rumi, Rubaiyat 674

I wished a lot of customers Happy Thanksgiving yesterday, but I didn't post or write anything on the subject of giving thanks.

Since I started praying every day, I have tried--sometimes failed, when other feelings or thoughts intruded--to start each day by giving thanks. It is a shift in attitude which makes it possible to find and appreciate the good things in life, and pulls the mind away from worry about the future or brooding on the past. The presence of God, or if you prefer, the light of active joy which illuminates the experience of time, exists only in the present. A human being is in a sense a doorway through which change flows into the world. You are what you do, as Lois Bujold wrote. Choose again, and change.

With thanks, I open the door in myself to the best things in the world of the possible. And by choosing to rest myself in thanks and appreciation rather than blame or regret, I give myself permission to pour this possibility forth into time, to make it real. Every second I live, every moment in which blood and breath flow through my body, is another opportunity to choose, to change, to become a gate through which heaven can enter earth. That is why I give thanks every day. That is why no matter what happens, whatever grief or difficulty or challenge I must face within the circle of a day, for the time, for the gift, for the privilege and responsibility of bringing something good into the world through myself--for this I give thanks.

Today, in about half an hour, Dave will come over and pick up those possessions of his that I've been holding. We will look each other in the eye and know in person what I told him and we spoke of on the phone twelve days ago: that our partnership is over, that we are no longer a couple. I give thanks that I had the opportunity to be with him and for all that we shared; I give thanks because we are both truly much better people for having known each other. I grieve that it is over. I am sorry and I regret that I did not find ways to do more to stop what was between us from fading away as it did. At this point the best I can do with that regret is express it, and be resolved never to fail again as I did. But I still look back and give thanks that our partnership was what it was, that it was worth doing much and more to try to save, that it is worth grieving now in its end.

Honor to that which is no more. Honor to we who live and in living are given the gift of the chance to choose, to become, to pour forth, to change.


It's over now. We said goodbye, we agreed we were better people for having been together, and with that closure came forgiveness and mutual wishes for the best life has to offer. I will treasure the good there was in the time we had and he will do the same. When it comes to a moment where goodbye needs to be said, no one could ask for more. I give thanks.

a fool's ambition

A new song, first in awhile. I have said many times and will say again that I'm a fool (as I've quoted elsewhere--a fool for love, and other things). Though that's not necessarily always a good thing, in the context of this song it kind of is. One must be at least a bit of a fool to hope for and have faith in things which are not, on the face of them, humanly possible.
This is a true rocker; it also contains one swear.

flies under glass
stomachs in line
stones in the bedspread
moments in time

a blade unbended
a scale well measured
a foe befriended
a soft heart treasured
a vast loudspeaker
a friend who listens

a fool's ambition
a fool's ambition
a fool's ambition
a fool's ambition

dreams splashed with blood
too hot to touch
I'm only human
love, be my crutch

a promise proven
a road not taken
a sight so soothin'
a true temptation
love all ten billion
keep one for kissin'

a fool's ambition
a fool's ambition
a fool's ambition
a fool's ambition

I feel like shit
just for drawing this line
but you've got to admit you can never be mine
if you only can change by tearing yourself down
love, I want you, I want you, I want you around
till the sun burns blue
till the dream comes true

a work of fire

I yelled at Myke today, for the reasons listed below. He is understandably excited, as he has just gotten into the groove of writing short stories and submitting them to contests. I should--he is most correct!--be doing the same thing with poetry contests. Money can be won by this method, especially if one possesses competitively good product, which both of us do in our respective fields. However, I feel that the method he employed today to encourage me to move faster on this was...not the best method. ;D So there you go, Myke. You've been wondering why I haven't written a song about you--it's cause you hadn't annoyed me in the right way till today!

brother man, we are equal
and you of all people
ought to know
that the letters I've sent
bout my food stamps and rent
had to go
now you encourage me
next to send poetry
it is so

you say smash through your inertia
cause the past it cannot hurt ya
you say make room in your income
you will earn it back and then some
you say do not drag your stupid feet
just get your work out on the street
before the time expires

cause this is a work
this is a work
this is a work of fire

brother man, what's your hurry
you're awfully sure the
fix ain't on
I'm recording my tracks
I have piled up my back
with words and song
busting out all that's mine
at the same time
is taking too long

I don't dare to take a breather
because I don't like it either
in our sleep we grow like flowers
I would kill for six straight hours
you don't ask me what I've done, you
of all people are the one who
would name me my desires

but this is my work
this is a work
this is a work of fire

I just began to pray again
said, Lord, teach me to burn
threw everything away again
I thought that I had learned
my sparks are flying everywhere
let something catch
don't lecture me like I don't care
hand me a match

cause this is work
this is a work
this is a work of fire

the end of the world

This story is true.

I love every train
for the sound of its wheels
there's an ache in my chest
that it heals

but for you
it's the sound of the end of the world

the driver stomps hard on the brakes a block early
and calls out
"last stop for the red line!
last stop for the red line!"
until all of us spill out, confused,
to round the corner on a street
flanked with fire engines, sirens;
commuters perspiring, turned away from Berwyn's gates
I gaze up at the platform, the train's gaping doors,
the uniformed men's heavy steps on the boards
they have summoned a piece of the world's end for you
our red line halts in mourning for yours

cause for you it's the end of the world

a man tells me you hurled
yourself onto the tracks
a woman, he says, old or young, white or black he can't say
no one there knows your name
and I say, it's a shame
it's a shame

that for you it's the end of the world

once I listened to Metra conductors
another world ended
by metal momentum, they said
in the moment before you were dead
you looked the train conductor in the eye
you made it her business
you made her bear

and all I'll say is, it's a shame

because men lay tracks
and men build engines
and men write schedules
but God made trains
because all of his children have somewhere to go

and I weep as I walk down the street, cause I know
that for you it's the end of the world.

love's irrational

Only reason sentences aren't capitalized is 'cause my n and b keys, as I've mentioned often, are broken, and I am lazy. And many sentences begin with n. The first line is something I've had bouncing around in my head for years; I'm as surprised as you at the work it finally led into.
Oh, divine desire and desire divine. That which pulls us outside of self, into eternity which brought forth time. :D And all good things.

as many names as thunderstorms have legs
what is the shape of this, its boundary?
make me a puddle, dripping, coiled, who begs
for one more drop to slip inside of me.
slit through the tape, free this multiplicand
to wriggle, slick, down every integer.
we smear out reams, but our weak, human hands
cramp, tremble. still. no sequences recur.
no rational intention makes desire
or fractions it, divides it to an end.
for this all reasons labor, yearn, perspire
till all we are is blood and ink to spend,
to pour out, helplessly demanding more.
come, reason; bring us near what we adore.

one question

Amber just lent me G.K. Chesterton's Heretics. XD I'm not even finished with chapter 1 yet. Unregardless, it's sonnet time. These events all occurred, but gradually, over the past couple months in different contexts. I cherry-picked 'em to make for a cohesive group of images. That is poetic license.

I've never been there, but for what it's worth,
I've sipped its nectar when my throat was parched.
And I say heaven is invading earth,
and I exist to speed its forward march.
The bread inside the cupboard has grown stale.
The mop I drag across the floor trails dirt.
The funds I sent were stolen from the mail.
The words I said, meant to uplift you, hurt.
Let's bite down hard--we did not starve today.
The floor stands solid underneath the grime.
God grant me grace, to earn what I must pay,
and you, to launch forgiveness into time.
It falls to us to answer, if we dare,
one question. Heaven can exist--but where?

how much is left

Really, I have very little to complain about. Hit the schedule jackpot this weekend--got two weekend days off in a row, which never ever happens for retail employees in a 24 hour store, am I right? Got to hang out with Dave and also Mom and Amber, and good times were had by all.
At work today, though, I was not my usual dynamic self. The negativity of people around me seemed more noticeable than usual, which I think reflects a change in me rather than them. I ended up starting a lot of conversations that couldn't quite get finished because urgent tasks interrupted. Happens all the time; today I just noticed it more.
This song obviously rose out of personal feeling, but it comes from a frustration which we all experience. When faced with many things worth doing and many people worth spending time on, how do we choose? How can we slice out a little time to relax, or to do things which please only ourselves, without feeling like we're stealing that time?

Here's how the chords go. For my reference as much as anyone's. XD

Am D

Bm(7fr) D
G(7fr) D
Bm(7fr) D
G (7fr) D B

F# A(5fr)
D(5fr) B

Lyrics follow.

(v)I draw the meat across the blade
look at the pretty slice I made
it's perfect for your sandwiches
one thing you never ask me is

(ch)how much is left
how much is left
how much is left
how much is left when you're gone

(v)of course of course I love to be your friend
it doesn't work if I ever pretend
I want to see God's skeleton within
the personality under your skin
though I make every single second count
I never get a different amount
I want to be a friend to myself too
but cannot bring myself to say to you

(ch)how much is left
how much is left

(br)sprinkle the blood around the roots
when will my heart be soft as soil
I salivate for life's first fruits
moments before they spoil

(ch)how much is left
how much is left
how much is left
how much is left

how much is left
how much is left
how much is left
how much is left till they're gone

Johnny the Greek

Kinda unsure about this one. Morally, rather than poetically. This is a real man, and a true story, but I would not say these things to him in person. Because they are angry things. To his credit, since I stopped speaking to him, he has not come over to my area to yammer at me. Which means, I think, that he gets that I am not speaking to him. This is an amount of consideration greater than zero.
Hopefully having written this, I've gotten my own frustrations off my chest. And I hope this guy finds a good way out of the place that he's in.

Head held up and back, till your chin
folds into your neck, chest puffed out
with every one of Alexander's victories, you wear
your ridiculous hats as if
you'd personally invented the Olympics, and received
a much-deserved reward.

"Oh god here he comes," groan the men,
but you're not even watching
"it's that creepy guy," wince the women,
though I doubt you would care, if you knew

When you speak to God he answers you, Johnny,
in the warm bemused tones of one grown accustomed
to hearing his own words spill from someone else's lips--
the favored son of a favored race, less to blame
for Christ's death than the Romans
(who after all did the crucifying)
and all who follow the church of Rome
damned in your eyes by,
let's call it

But you, Johnny, you
are guileless, guiltless from the get-go.
You recount with a face full of glee
the sins of those you say that God will not forgive
and fantasize his wrath
and it's easy for you, Johnny,
cause you've never trespassed against anyone.

You keep to public places.
Like the place I work.

I sling potato salad, and you serve
heaping spoonfuls of your wisdom
to everyone who fails
to make good their escape.

Ernest, who sits in the sun, smokes roll-ups like I do,
he's working on his GED, hitting the gym, and if he mutters
angrily to himself all day as the curb softens under his angles,
and I don't know the story of his scars,
he is my friend.

Aldona, who is sweet and takes a hint, wears purple, reads much
and wants to chat
and some of us run from the friendly, lonely, white-haired lady
with the shaggy dog stories, but she
is most definitely my friend.

Where you work, you say, it's all
chemicals and corpses and exacting
sanitation standards, and though I respect
you do an unpleasant and difficult job,
I bet cadavers listen best of all,
and never ever ever interrupt.

Upstairs in the breakroom, we have a television.
It is always on, always
at maximum volume, only gets one channel--
Cheaters, judge shows, Raymond, Lopez, King of Queens--
and I have to walk past and the sound won't stay down and I can't
turn it off,
and you are that television, Johnny

and I
have lost patience with you.
You bully all the world in self-defense.
You've made yourself an argument against.

And so, dear John, though I can't say we're friends
I know you will get all this off your chest
lay down among your perfect audience
and that will be the first day of the rest

no limits (response)

I've been having a blast over at Christian Taoism. Go read it if the name seems a little weird--or, really just go read it. All the posts are short meditative poems, and, following the lead of the other regular commenter there, responses are most often in the form of a poem. Which is the big draw for me! You all know how I love to write from prompts. So far I've resisted the impulse repost an HK Stewart poem plus my response to it here, but this, I think, is the one where I'm just too happy with the way mine turned out to keep it off my own blog. XD
My poem is both a response to HK's poem entitled no limits, and to the concept of the lack of limits.

There are
no limits,
no borders,
no boundaries,
no edges
in your
spiritual life.

still, I have to cross a ford
where I end and you begin.
I can't name till I've explored
that strange land beneath your skin.

here are places god has breathed,
like dawn's light makes mountains gold,
spilled from silhouettes, unsheathed.
here you, rapt, tremble to hold

snow-capped peaks against the blue,
wider than you now, cool, pale.
love, we know not what we do.
love, we know we must not fail.

trust messages

This despite appearances is a straight up love song. Wink, wink, say no more, as the fella says.
There's a reference in chorus 2 to a scene in Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, in which the main character, alone in the post office at night, has an overpowering vision. All the undelivered mail with which the building is stuffed cries out to be--literally--delivered. I hope it's an image I'll get to refer to again and again in many works, because it affected me profoundly.

pain is a message
that something's broken
pain is a message
you have to open
sometimes, true
you have to wait for
it to get through
to get what you paid for
get what you paid for
what you paid for

cry it out loud
you don't have to be nervous
or frightened or proud
it's just customer service
customer service, customer service
customer service

love is desiring
your lover's freedom
if they hunger for feedback
you get to feed 'em
sometimes, yes
the answer is no
that is your test
how will you say so
how will you say so
will you say so

we tremble to write
down the message love gives to us
letters at night
they all whisper, deliver us
deliver us, deliver us
deliver us

trust is a language
two minds make slowly
in tongues of fire
in pain made holy
what you give
does not reduce you
our love lives
you let me choose you
you let me choose you
let me choose you

body's electricity
run through dust
we are all that we see
laid on all that we trust
baby, whom do you trust
do you trust, do you trust
baby whom do you, whom do you trust

ode to Chicago 2.0

Version 1.0 of this poem had the same first half. The end is completely different, and it's much better now.
The older version was meant to be read aloud, too. It may hark back to the days of my callow youth, when I delighted in the Old Testament prophets as my principal source of poetry. Those guys really knew how to personify a city and whip the pants off it. Metaphorically speaking.
I'm not so hard-nosed in this one.

with your Parade cake makeup
and your bleach-blonde
dried up, double-tongued
harridan of a city
shameless, straddling a river, riding high on
commerce, baby, the starch-pressed minds
of billionaires and all their filthy
politicking, how you dote on them.

you lift your skirts up to them
like a napkin; they wipe red hands clean
of old men who shake Dunkin Donuts cups at passersby
of beggars who lack even strength to prophesy

but look as cool as you, baby,
when you pull the sheet up over
another still, small, face, and light your
slow cigarette.

I love your pigeonshit train tracks
and your crew-cut sidewalk
activists, I love
your rust-riddled bridges and the buses
that run under them all night,
the harmless little restaurants that change hands twice a year
the callous that the slicer handle left
right here

and you love me like a January sidewalk loves my ass, a fuel tank loves the letter E, leaky taps love insomniacs and rotten meat loves flies
I can see it in your eyes, baby,
baby, you love

open mic night postgame

This waketime was my second-ever trip to my local poetry open mic. Which as I've learned since is actually the birthplace of the entire poetry slam movement, and as such attracts traveling poets as well as skillful people from around here. It's not the poetry big leagues; more on the order of a respectable AAA affiliate.

Let me briefly explain to you how awesome this place is. In a four-person poetry slam competition (grand prize: $10), I came in 3rd. Reading "composition" in the first round and reciting "residual categories" in the second. And that was a completely fair verdict! I know that I am a good poet. As the book of Proverbs says, however, iron sharpens iron. And finding a whole scene full of other poets who are themselves good in many different and magnificent ways gives me the opportunity to aim at becoming great.

This makes me inexpressibly happy. There is a place in the world where I fit in, even if I don't really know anybody yet. Where people do the stuff I do and care about the stuff I care about to such a degree that despite all the work I've put into it I'm just. about. normal. Best of all this place is not merely out there in the world somewhere, but just on my doorstep, on my bus route, within arm's reach. All I need is the occasional night off work, and the discipline to work the modest expense involved into my budget.

Oh yes. Also the nakedness of spirit to start learning to write again from scratch. Which I don't mean in the negative "ahh I'm doing everything wrong!" sense at all. It's more like the transition from classical music to jazz, or (here's where i read it) as Bruce Lee said about martial arts: "Learn technique. Practice technique. Forget technique."

There are a whole host of habits, necessities, little skills which go into writing "on paper" poetry which must apply differently to "live performance" poetry. They're still useful tools--but you use a screwdriver one way when installing a set of shelves and another when assembling a swingset, say. And there are a whole host of basic, basic things about live poetry regarding which I've just recently become aware of the depth of my ignorance.

Which, again. Awesome.

There was extra time at the end ("we didn't run long, we ran short!") so they had the band play while people randomly stepped up to the mic and said whatever they chose. As opposed to the open mic, wherein people are called up one by one according to an order the MC decides on his own.
Anyway during this last part I improv'd a thing which I attempt to reconstitute here. XD Mostly so I can give this post the "poetry and lyrics" tab.

these are the same streets
I used to go get lost in
just to figure out where the hell I was,
and I found my way
I stumble out onto a sidewalk that smells of banjo music
and barbeque sauce,
glance back over my shoulder at a long low room
full of better poets than I am

and I say, "you fool! how small your world,
how small the circle of yourself!
you dared to think that poetry was dead,
when it was you who could not see
beyond the lip of the grave you dug!"

oh let me catch a smooth round edge
on a sharpened piece of someone else's mind
and dash out through these streets, laughing, naked,
unraveling the borders of my old, small self
at a time.
what's a prison is a cradle,
and hands on the bars
will grow.

shiny things: not shiny at all

All right.

That's it.

I've had enough.

It is time for another edition of shiny things.

Today's theme: shiny things which are, in fact, not shiny.

squid hat by obeymybrain of etsy

Awhile back Pearl let me know about a funny YouTube series called The Guild. It is now apparently a Thing which people watch. I can only approve if it involves the wearing of such hats. Apparently some squid hats were specifically designed for the show; there are many varieties available. This particular one is my favorite, and while I can't conceive of likely a situation in which I would wear it, it makes me wish that I could!

I think squid, especially cartoonish blue ones, are inherently happy-making to contemplate. However, it certainly counts as fluffy rather than shiny.

There is such a thing as a liger. Think about that when things seem frustrating in your daily routine. Somewhere--perhaps nearer than you think--is a magnificent, impossible half-lion half-tiger, and it is not impossible that someone is petting it. It is also very, very unlikely that someone is being mauled by it. Petting yes; mauling, no. The classic win / no lose scenario! Which I just now made up.

Humans do all sorts of crazy things--some of them awesome, others downright terrifying--but occasionally something ridiculously unlikely to have occurred in nature turns out downright cool.

Raise your hand if you want a pet one of these!
And, ah, lots of goats to feed it.
Perhaps a vet on call with a fully paid retainer.

Unregardless! I want one.

I sincerely hope the inherent blurriness of cameraphone pictures does not prevent that nametag from being legible. It says "HELLO! My name is Superman!"

The guy in the pic is one of the courtesy clerks (read: bagger, mopper and cart patrol) at my store. He is a pretty smart and nice guy who has come up with an ingenious way to compensate for the fact that his limited English robs him of what I read to be customary eloquence. On that one you have to trust me. I talk a great deal and listen slightly more than I talk. And what people are about to say, most of the time, is at least half of what they're saying. Sometimes you can even tell what it is!

And this guy has a running joke that despite its simplicity never fails to amuse me. Or him, either, which only raises my opinion of him.

Most days of the week, he greets all coworkers by saying "Hello! I'm, today, Superman." Witty responses are encouraged but not required. The comically exaggerated expression on his face makes it virtually impossible not to laugh or at least smile.
Then, whenever someone gets on the PA to call him for bagging assistance up front, wet cleanup in aisle 2 etc., I can think "aha, they are calling superman to the rescue!"

Sometimes he'll switch it up and say, "I'm, today, Manager!" On Fridays he used to be Dracula, which lent an element of danger to the first of the ridiculously busy weekend days and gave me an opportunity to use the phrase "stainless steel scarf" in real life. Alas, one of the actual managers told him not to say he was going to be Dracula anymore, as it might creep somebody out. I say that's a shame. Anyone creeped out, rather than uplifted, after meeting Behrouz is most certainly not paying attention.

Shiny, no. Fluffy, only in the hair department. Awesome? 100%.

If you have ever washed dishes, this is something I hope you've had a chance to experience. If you've never washed dishes in a commercial sink, let me tell you, it makes an everyday chore a pretty dynamic experience. Properly appreciated, a sink such as ours can make even a day full of ridiculousness more fun. Who can say no to a high-speed jet of water, its temperature almost infinitely adjustable? Sure, it's inadvisable to spray it on floor, coworkers, salads in process etc. Yet there is a certain amount of visceral satisfaction involved in just spraying the living daylights out of stuff--have I mentioned there is also hot and cold running soap solution?--until it's clean enough for food to be eaten off of it.

This pic is from last winter, but trust me, this is a very, very important part of my day. Surfing lolcats is an occasional--very occasional--pleasure and/or vice. Surfing the internet generally, even if it's just to play KoL, is something best accomplished with the cat leaning her head over my wrist and demanding I pet her instead of the keyboard.

She may not be a liger. But she fits on my desk!

home no more

This will definitely not end up on the album tentatively titled "where home is." It is sort of off in the opposite direction from the sonnets. Used to be I'd write poems about grumpy things and songs about uplifting ones; lately it seems the other way around.

Started out thinking abut all the prep myself and the roomies are doing to clear out an infestation of what turns out to be only grain beetles. Which is what I'd been saying for weeks. They're not roaches, fleas, ticks or bedbugs; I've seen all those and these are mostly harmless. Prep continues tonight and bombing is tomorrow.

At work, though, I listened to one of my co-workers break up with her boyfriend over the phone. (He was a lying fool unworthy of her and the breakup was long past time, in my unsolicited opinion. Details will not follow.) It got me thinking about problems, issues and situations and so forth. Thinking, in other words, about those times in life where I've had to wrestle with things that I really, really don't like to think about. It was hard enough for Fay to tell that louse that he was the one who screwed up, while still retaining the self control to finish out the rest of her shift. We all have to do tough stuff like that from time to time, and the feelings we want to feel about it have to be dealt with very carefully!

The musical sound was partly inspired by Jenny Owen Young's track "Clean break." Which I really, really like, and if you have YouTube you should go check it out. I had some chords worked out this morning, but they were weird and dissonant and I'm'a have to reconstitute them from scratch, alas, for I have forgotten them.

Jenny O. Y. got her start through Kickstarter, which Myke insists is a viable option for me & various willing accompanists. I feel my foster brother's estimates of time and cost involved are, shall we say, optimistic, but I do still think this thing is doable. Eventually.

now I'm moving my chair
and I'm moving my desk
pile 'em up on my bed
till there's no place to rest
there was something
scuttling across my floor

knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
cause I ain't home no more

I pull all my novels
down off of the shelf
got to find role models
some freakin where else
guess I'll pick some up next time
I go to the store

knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
cause I ain't home no more

I washed all of my clothes
with hot water and bleach
hung them up in the yard
to keep them within reach
but soon as I put some on
it started to pour

knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
cause I ain't home no more

I won't unplug the phone
in the back of my skull
but I'm tired and I'm mad
and my mailbox is full
can't one thing happen that I
get to ignore

knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
cause I ain't home no more

why don't you all come in
I will leave on the light
work it out 'mongst yourselves
if it comes to a fight
I'll be back to soothe you when you're
beat up and sore

knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
knock, knock, knock on my door
cause I ain't home no more

five sonnets on interior design

Now God, we say, is infinitely wise.
I pray he'll stoop to spread a dab on me
as I rub sweaty palms along my thighs
and wonder why I act so foolishly.
A word's a sword, and to the wise, enough
to unlock doors which can't be battered through.
It edges slice out calloused thoughts, grown tough,
long pressed against old frames, turned like a screw.
We fasten habits to a mighty name,
then pace round boarded corridors of "ought",
lock all our doors, and wail that no one came
to see our works and cry "what hath God wrought?"
I ask, for aching feet and empty hands,
a sword, a lever, and a place to stand.

I ask for aching feet and empty hands--
to go far, and give everything away.
Replace the dragons on the map with lands
whose scents I treasure, though I cannot stay.
Let me learn each thing's name in its own tongue.
I'll keep those languages inside of me:
a rack of balanced weapons, gently hung,
drawn only to deter, to heal, to free
a pathway through the hedge of every keep
where, shaded by some wide, green, timeless tree,
the hearts of friends, like spellbound princes, sleep.
Let me then sheath my sword, and bend a knee.
This too I pray, let me remember this:
in secret places, silence is a kiss.

This too I pray, let me remember thus:
what moves the world is moved by it in turn.
Why Christ's a gentleman is obvious--
why trample what he paid so much to earn?
Whom you can grasp, you'll lose without the right
to hold them, if their true consent you lack.
That voice which forged the universe with light
poured itself into flesh, to bring light back.
So do no less. To move, you must be moved;
to change a mind, permit yourself to doubt.
To earn trust, demonstrate what can't be proved.
To exorcise--first let the demons out.
Release your fists; let all you hold go free.
What fills an empty hand? Infinity.

Release your fists; let all you held go free.
What's left is where you've come--and here you are.
Knit branch and leaf together; that's a tree.
And every man and woman is a star.
Sing out, however gnarled and bare your perch.
Breathe gently on new-blooming wisps of flame.
Three friends around a table is a church--
a grin, flashed up through blood and tears, a Name.
Transform your mere location to a place
where death's defied, and all things are made new:
where nothing's lost, though much may go to waste.
The power to create resides in you.
Leave all you touch more holy than before.
Where ground gives out beneath you, build a floor.

Leave all you touch more holy than before;
become someone whose every word may bless.
I've made my watchword stewardship, not war.
Inside me is the Earth's last wilderness.
It stares out of my mirror, shadowed, vast,
and dares me to make more than what I've been.
I will dig deep, and build myself to last,
to write upon the world what's wrought within.
I pray I'll have the strength to still my spade
when some green seedling interrupts my eye.
Let me throw over everything I've made
to leave that center open to the sky.
If God is love, and all these things are true,
then make yourself. Then make yourself anew.


This poem was a birthday present for Biljana, one of the ladies who works at the Starbucks in my store. Last week I'd read "composition" to her right after I wrote it. She really liked it, and since her birthday was this week she asked me to write one for and about her. I accepted with glee! She just turned either 19 or 20 (I forget XD) but this sort of touches on most of the things she's shared with me about her life. I made several attempts at a poem for her, none of which really seemed right. On the way to work on the bus yesterday, I finally hammered this out. It ended up being from an emotional place pretty close to things I feel now too, but it's written as though she's the speaker. And she liked it! Win!

Perhaps one day I'll have enough poems by or about people or written by request to have a "poems for people" collection. That would rule.

expectations lie. I've given up
my vision of the time
when the respect I earn is truly mine
when you see what I work so hard to show
when you know what I know. I know
it's too much to expect
the same consideration
I bend over to extend. so I reject
my expectations.
maybe now we can be friends.

since everything you break, you buy,
now that I'm done expecting, I
can only hope, and try to see
in you what you won't view in me.

I'm young, but I still have the power
to fight for every working hour
to reach for love like every flower
turns its face to the sun.
don't bother getting in my face
I doubt you have the time to waste
it's my--and no one else's--place
to tell me when I'm done.

and I am done with expectations--
yours or mine, small or great.
I'll overcome my situation.
just you wait.

cherubim of the lord

Seriously, this never happens.

I wrote a song about a current event. I didn't
mean to write a song about the oil spill. It really is about Deep Horizon--that news makes me angry and sad whenever I think about it. But it uses that horrific disaster as a way of describing any preventable disaster, anything I in my own foolishness could have stopped from happening but chose to ignore until it was too late. In fact it was my doubleplusungood times at my new day job the week before last that got this one started. And not so coincidentally gave me the right mental state for it. Mentally, I took solace in saying to Mandy in a fantasized exit interview, "well, you did help me to realize that 'cherubim of the lord' rhymes with 'omnidirectional sword.' "

After that, though, the single line (on a single note) "cherubim of the lord" was all I had for a couple of weeks. Somewhere in there I got the "we're on the inside of Eden" couplet--yet still the song refused to gel. To crystallize, if you will. I started to worry this would be another one like "teeth of the storm", which is still my record-holder for longest time between the arrival of the central line and the rest of the song, at slightly over two years.

So I was giddily relieved yesterday morning, and indeed spent some time jumping up and down going "whee! ha ha ha!". A little three-note triplet started to sound in my head as I brushed my teeth, and five seconds into it I knew exactly what it was for. A flat, B flat, C, over and over and over. The triplet holds steady but the way the song's rhythm phases around it tranforms with every line. And not just the first four lines but all the final repetitions of "cherubim..." are all sung on G natural, so the triplet itself as well as the thundering chord changes going on behind it are totally necessary to keep it interesting. Sort of a musical representation of something the song only hints at.

Orders of angels are something I have learned about variously and sundrily, so the concept of a cherubim is a pretty robust one in my mind. (Later I will look up my previous post on the subject for more info.) Cherubim are neither chubby happy babies nor angels who appear shouting "Fear not!" Angels shout "fear not" when they want you to stay where you are and listen. When a cherubim arrives it is there to DO something, and even as the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom, one of the subsidiary lessons is that when a cherubim shows up, it is wise to haul ass out of its way. The other title of this order of angels is "the strong". Not the sort of strength that comes from bulging muscles or massive metal beams, but the strong nuclear force that binds quarks together into elementary particles, the weight of the moon's mass which tugs the ocean up away from its resting place in the deeps of the earth, the forces of gravity and potential energy that pull a tree crashing over onto the forest floor even when no one is around to hear it.

This is going to be a massively difficult song to sing, play, and--unless I do it
exactly right--even tough on the ear. There are momentum changes almost every line, and most of the rising action happens in a lengthy instrumental bridge between "...fruit of the forbidden tree" and "if we have no home...." I'll need either lots and lots of layered tracks or a really good piano player to make that part work. However, if I DO manage to get it exactly right and it can sound in real life the way it does in my mind, it will be amazing.
(edit 5/20/12: Updated the lyrics slightly to match the version I recorded last week. W00t!)

oil under the water, poison under the words
oil under the water, poison under the words
we beg forgiveness, but never alter
we beg forgiveness and are ignored
she holds and never wavers, falters
holds and never wavers, falters
holds and never wavers, falters
an omnidirectional sword

you drilled down, down to where cold blood bled black
you built a cage for fire and turned your back
it rusted through
because of you
it gushes through
it trusted you
you know you knew
you know you knew
what would you have her do
what would you have her do

this ain't some story you're readin'
it's your breath and your flesh and your sea
we're on the inside of Eden
we're the fruit of the forbidden tree

if we have no home left to return to
it's cause we've been hacking away the foundation
god's messenger comes with no vengeance
she comes with only mass times acceleration

if I brought on the tempest
throw me overboard
to my earned consequences

the cherubim of the lord
the cherubim of the lord
the cherubim of the lord

the cherubim of the lord


Whenever I do a one-word title, the poem is meant as both a definition and a demonstration in text.

Today was my second day in a row of working both the jobs i have right now, and since I made the mistake of staying up past my bedtime last night to play Civ (silly girl!), I woke up dead tired. First job let me out a little early, so I had time to go sit in the library across the street from the grocery store before my shift there began. I've been reading a lovely book called "The Rest Is Noise" about classical composers of the 20th century, but I didn't feel like taking it out and reading it. And checking out another book seemed like overkill when I've got one with which I'm almost finished. Tired both emotionally and physically, the only thing I could think of to do is write. Start with stream of consciousness and hammer it into a coherent thoughtspace as it goes along. In college I would have just snuck off to the woods and sung "Time" by Phil Ochs (Tori version); the best I could do here was quote it, towards the end. Homage, baby; it's a form of currency!

This time, this brief moment in my life, is a time I've been calling "everything happens at once time." Where many strands of development, growth and work all rise into manifestation together--where I find out what I'm really made of and whether the work I've been doing is substantive or foolish. What things are made of is their composition.

So I know poems shouldn't need introductions; they should be able to speak for themselves. And the weirder, the less formally structured the poem, the
more that applies. This is because when you step outside conventional forms, by that act of abnegation you declare the thing you are trying to express to be greater than the form. To be worth abandoning form in order to get across. If the work itself fails to reach anyone, then you have failed as a maker. You have made something which is self-indulgence and only qualifies as art because intention counts.

All this to say, if this introduction is artistically superfluous, let's just consider it a hidden part of the poem that doesn't get read when I read it aloud. Or when you do, cause it sounds much, much better that way. Trust me on this.

before my engine starves, I'll carve,
I'll carve mind out of time
make it mine, make it fun, get it done.
like some mumbling turtlenecked composer
loops a tape of tables falling over and over
and wriggles between the cascading layers
of noise, noise, blankets himself, buries
the world in the sound
of the sound of the world buried
under its own secret structure.
let me roll over and fold a warm
coverlet over myself.

sleep is food and food is sleep
and fuel is fuel is fuel to keep
the engines in my ribs and head
primed, churning, turning out of bed

now this machine I've been seems natural
now all the regulations I ingest
seem, not assumptions, but chaste, factual
a cat which purrs, claws kneading at my chest

but some of it is lies! I spy surprise
disguised as expectation, meter bleeding into freeverse,
false assumptions buried
in true memory, unremembered things
mute, tugging at cut strings.
where is our engine now, they howl.
where is our engine now.

I said I lived to find the door
that opens, pouring out gold light
it may be true, but more, but more
true is that I must live to write

must build me a machine
build a machine in me
or one will grow soon as I turn my back
clickety clack
for I know and I know and I know
I go too slow, too slow, too slow
if I let speed, vibrations shake me,
rattle me apart, I'll have to start
over again, pink, naked in a mountain
of switches and levers and cold blunt
angled metal shapes wound through
with vine, live mice in bent wheels, tangles
of wire that wave their twisted little ends
like worm-heads probing for soft
cool earth or the roots of plants in
hyperfast stop-motion. this machine lives.
even the dead parts live; it thirsts, I thirst
I am hungry and tired and I crave
every element
tungsten and water, hydrogen and sunlight,
plasma and iron and the sound of a violin
played on a subway platform in a dream.

sleep is food and dreams fuel the machine
that manufactures dreams
that I ratchet together with wet spare parts,
screwdrivers and twine, bloody calluses
and time, time, time that you love
and it's time, time, time
to pour into the ground and lay down

till it blooms

it blooms

harvest of grace

My Grandma Jule sent me an awesome birthday card with a cool poem in it. I say cool because usually poems in cards are dreck, but this one was very much not dreck. It was a really thoughtful thing for her to do. All the more so because a) the pick-me-up was extremely welcome in this crazy everything-happens-at-once time, and b) she just survived a "small" heart attack and is adjusting to lifestyle changes, meds--all the stuff we all dislike medical issues for. Therefore I wrote her a poem. She'll get the original in the mail in a few days, but here for your (and perhaps her, if she gets online time) viewing pleasure is the e-text version.

Cause everyone needs a pick-me-up. Especially awesome grandmothers one doesn't get to see nearly often enough.

come on, give me a shove
so I'll do what I must
I'm one bright spark of love
gently breathed into dust

songbirds perched out of sight
and wet dew on the lawn
sing and wink in the light
and beckon me, "Come on,

don't be discouraged! Not
when the worm wriggles loose,
or the sun burns too hot
for the rain on your roots.

"There are seeds in the fields;
water deep in the soil.
We are nourished, and yield
without labor or toil."

so as I face this day
in my own little place
let me yield, and make way
for a harvest of grace.

birthday sonnet smash!

This was an exceedingly good birthday weekend. Open mic at the Theosophical Society was lots of fun (Though Paula did read the entire Dr. Seuss birthday book, which made me cringe but was very kindly meant and I appreciated it as such.) Lovely happy birthday calls, and even presents of the timely and excellent sort!

This sonnet I actually started on the 26th. I finished it on the 29th, though, so it may as well be in honor of my birthday--since like all good sonnets I've written it doesn't seem to have a title. Who knows why that is! The idea for it came together on a day when I'd gotten out early from first-job. I decided to use that extra time to sit around on the sidewalk basking in the sunlight before I got on the train and headed for second job. Started out meaning to read a book, but after awhile I just relaxed and enjoyed the moment. Felt like I was sitting in my own comfy attic chair and not on a busy city sidewalk--except it clearly
was a busy city sidewalk. Just felt that much at home there. Good times. Oh! And the poem quotes one of the pastors from the days when we attended Belmont Assembly of God--his name escapes me, but the saying "it came to pass--it did not come to stay" has stuck in my memory lo, these many years.

The poem doesn't quite work for Memorial Day, which is today. So instead I will hope for a solemn-but-happy, dignified and meaningful Memorial Day for everyone. May you be surrounded by living love and loving memory!

Chicago sun, bake, make my soul concrete,
which, everywhere you set your foot, you find.
Not like these stubbed-out butts which haunt the street
or old receipts with which trash bins are lined.
Here, that which holds up nothing, nothing tends.
A trainless track rusts, crumbles, leaved with grass.
What weight will rumble down me--to what end?
Wring me out. For the time will come--to pass;
it cannot come to stay--that I must hold
one shape against the weight of feet and light.
Now I rest, wet, new-poured into the mold.
Noon sun, stretch out your moving fingers. Write.
Draw out the stone within, which--secret, strong--
will hold me solid as the road is long.

my third decent sestina! ever!

My first two were [Persephone and the spider], which was written for a contest on Gaia, and denizen section L. (That's 50 for you non-Roman numeral lovers. I now wonder if my teenage self was making an unconscious pun there. 'Cause denizen is a long, long poem about the descent into madness, and its section numbers go from I to L. Get it? I to hell? XD Okay, it's a terrible pun. Sartre, however, was exactly wrong. Hell is the absence of even the possibility of other people.) So, typically sestinas don't rhyme. Instead they are characterized by the pattern of repeated end-words. Each sestina has six stanzas of six lines each, plus a short three-line stanza at the end called an envoy. All seven of those stanzas must use only the six chosen words at the end--or, in the case of the envoy, in the middle, according to the following pattern:
2/5, 3/4, 6/1
I make them rhyme because I like to, it's harder that way, and I think a really long form poem is boring without rhymes. Homonyms ARE allowed, so bare/bear and wear/where are totally within the rules. If homonyms weren't allowed I doubt any sestina would ever be written. Oh, and yes, I did do some grammatical fudging--there's a bunch of places where I dropped an "or" or "and" without a semicolon. Still understandable...just not
totally correct. I call poetic license!

As I just now said to Dave on AIM, I wrote this poem out of a combination of grandiosity and spite. Well, not spite exactly. Someone on the Ankhet forums told me sestinas don't exist, because they typed "sestina" into a search engine and came up dry.

My response was: 1) try "poetic form sestina" (link appended), and 2) was that...a

So, of course, I had to write one. :D Originally I meant it to be about the person who, ah, instigated its composition, but it ended up about me. Me-as-I-wish-to-be moreso than me-as-I-am, however. Foolish me!

[the explorer]

She took a pair of scissors to the map
till 'here' was shorn, 'there' was no longer there.
She had no ink to scrawl across the gap,
nor pages with brave emptiness to bare.
For she felt sure such knowledge was a trap,
said to herself, "Well, here I am; that's where

my world begins and ends. Should I beware
of dragons at the edges of a map
made by some fool who never journeyed there?"
And so she flung herself into the gap.
She yearned to see, to learn. She could not bear
to be told which paths led on; which were traps.

So, soon or late, she fell into a trap.
She gathered pride (a heavy thing to wear),
pounded it flat. There bloomed a bare new map:
a hint, a note, a hard way out of there.
In those closed walls she found a narrow gap,
sucked in a breath as deep as she could bear

and squeezed through, inch by inch. Until, scraped bare,
she stood outside that first of many traps,
breathless but whole. All she had left was where
that exit lay: her handmade, hard-won map.
Though more than once she found herself back there,
each time again she found that hidden gap.

And so she flung herself into the gap
time and again. And all that she could bear
out of that first and most familiar trap
was her own legend of the route, of where
her steps had wound--her own, her faithful map.
She cursed at first, then laughed to find it there.

Though she took comfort in its presence there,
each time she flung herself into the gap,
deep in her bones the landscape bloomed, laid bare
by constant travel--each wide path, each trap.
One day she found a fresh explorer there.
She laughed--remembered--gave away her map.

Use scissors there. My scrawling is a trap
till knowledge inks the gap wisdom scrapes bare
within you. Journey, earn; become the map.

inside outside

Sigh. Yet another set of lyrics.
So, I have a job interview tomorrow. If that doesn't work out, I am next in line for a full-time slot on the morning shift. One of the morning ladies is moving back to the old country as soon as her house sells. Either way, my situation is likely to change in the next few weeks.

Hence, another one of those songs about making tough changes. I think it really, really, really loses a lot as just a set of lyrics. However, till I get a mic that hooks up to my compy somehow, this is what I've got. Even if it is time to leave, at least I got something substantial from all my time working with slicers and knives!

the blade is the intimate thing
nothing made is made till it gets into it,
gets into it, gets into it
the blade is the intimate thing
everything it touches is surfaces,
surfaces naked

I know you, I know you
inside, I bring your
inside outside
I know you, I know you
inside, outside

the hand feels what it's touching's touching
underneath the surfaces another layer
listens, glistens, whispers like a prayer
however hard I pound and scratch
or soft, caress it I can't catch
a glimpse of it, no splinter of it
pierces through and I can't make it

I feel you, I feel you
inside, please bring what's
inside outside
I feel you, I feel you
inside, outside

throw me in the flames
pump the bellows hard
let my every surface burn to ash
and melt a puddle from the shards
pour me in the mold
draw me out with tongs
hammer, hammer, hammer, fold
hammer, hammer, hammer, fold
hammer, hammer, hammer, fold
hammer, hammer, hammer, fold

however long, however long, however long
it takes to bring

my inside outside
inside outside
inside outside

till when struck I sing
I'm the intimate thing
the intimate thing

pop music at my store: doing it wrong and doing it right

This is a post I've been meaning to do for awhile. Given that I'm starting it at about midnight (by the way--my new power cord works! my compy is back! huzzah!), it counts as both Monday and Tuesday.

At work, there is a computer upstairs which has a large playlist of songs on permanent shuffle. Most of these songs are pleasant enough. There are just a few, however, which stick in my craw. The one I have mentioned most often is a song by the band Simple Plan called "Welcome to My Life." For those of you not curious enough, or too wise, to follow the link to the full lyrics, here's the first verse and chorus:

Do you ever feel like breaking down?
Do you ever feel out of place?
Like somehow you just don't belong
And no one understands you
Do you ever wanna runaway?
Do you lock yourself in your room?
With the radio on turned up so loud
That no one hears you screaming

No you don't know what it's like
When nothing feels all right
You don't know what it's like
To be like me

To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you're down
To feel like you've been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one's there to save you
No you don't know what it's like
Welcome to my life

Awhile ago Amber explained to me the true definition of "scandal". In Catholic parlance, a scandal is something which encourages others to sin.

This particular set of lyrics is scandalous, to me, in the extreme. It encourages people to feel self-pity and resentment, and to cut themselves off from others. It promotes a bitter state of mind in which a person makes the whole world their enemy because they are feeling lonely and depressed.

It asserts that when you're feeling lonely and depressed, the solution is to isolate yourself from others and sulk among your many possessions. Also, the best way to make others like and respect you more is to angrily inform them they cannot possibly relate to the emotional pain you are experiencing. Oh, without leaving any room for the possibility that others might also experience emotional pain.

For goodness' sake, the speaker in this song has a room of his own with a door that locks. He has a radio which he can turn up to scream-drowning-out volume, presumably without adverse consequences. How many of the listeners who hear--and we may assume, empathize with--these selfish assertions lack those same comforts?

That's really the irony, though. That this song whose main message is, "wah, wah, you don't understand me and I'm all alone and will wallow in my misery" is popular because people empathize with it. In other words, many, many people can understand precisely "what it's like" because they share the same feelings of isolation and loneliness. Thus the fact that the song is popular enough to make it onto my store's iTunes refutes its main premise.

Here is another song, also on the playlist at work, which approaches almost the same set of feelings but does so in a way which is much more positive. It is "Story of my Life" by Smashmouth.

I get to the party, but I'm too late
And I got stood up on my very first date
I listen to country and everybody goes rock
I get to the dance floor, that's when the music stops

It doesn't matter what I do, I just can't seem to win
But here I go again

And I say
Hey that's the story of my life
I had a good plan but it didn't go right
Oh no I'm overdrawn
I check my account and the money's all gone
Why me I don't know what to think
I finally get aboard and the whole boat sinks
Seems to be the story of my life

Here the speaker takes an almost amused attitude towards his misfortunes. He doesn't accuse others of not being able to understand his misfortunes; rather, he describes them and implicitly invites others to share in his frustration. This is reinforced by the fact that multiple voices chime in to sing the chorus, mimicking the internal voices of listeners who see their own stories reflected in the words to the song.

There's really not much in the way of instruction or even encouragement in this song--not in so many words. Instead it comforts those who are experiencing frustration and loneliness with the message that they are not alone, that their frustration is universal. Also, I like to think there's a certain amount of self-aware irony here. "Sure, I've got troubles just like these," the listener is meant to think. "Yet the guy who wrote this is a famous musician who probably has lots of money and a hot girlfriend, so maybe things won't stay this bad!"

Which is what pop music is supposed to be all about. It doesn't make you think very hard, doesn't shake up your mind or wring out your deepest emotions. It just makes you feel a little better and a little more able to face the frustrations of the day.