Life

Contents
And Death Walked a Few Steps Behind
Drink is a Thing Most Odd

The Gold Miner’s Industry
Happiness
The Heat
Hope
The Hopeful and the Damned
The Housefire

The Immortal Rose
My Time is Made for Wasting
One of Those Nights
Our Absurd, Wonderful World
The Poet

The Prison
Ranching
The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses
Salted
The Stars Above

Steady Winds and Blooming Flowers
Thinking on Thought

To Hell with Sadness
Torture
Washington, D.C. at Dusk

The Wedding Ring
What Happened by the Half-Light
When Your Back is to the Wall


And Death Walked a Few Steps Behind
Well, I walk hand-in-hand with Life,
And Death walks a few steps behind,
And wherever I go, and wherever I lead,
Death is sure to follow.
So I had a few words a few years ago,
With that reaper known as Death.
I said, “So long as you’re coming wherever I go,
I’ll go wherever I want.”
He said in reply, “That’s a very fine view,
Just keep in mind, my friend:
When your time comes,
I’ll take you away,
You cannot run too far or too fast.”
So I nodded and considered,
And I went on my way.
And Death walked a few steps behind.


Drink is a Thing Most Odd
Drink is a thing most odd.
Although merry-making, it is flawed
For the odd drink
Leads to a merry think
And merry drinking
Leads to flawed thinking
Which means odd drinking.
For sure, drink is a thing most odd!
Though merry-making, it is flawed:
Even rightly put down, bottle and cup,
They’re best not stood straightly, but bottom’s up!


The Gold Miner’s Industry
Under the naphtha torch’s light lie tailings of ore.
Shadows flicker on a collapsed mine shaft
Which fell one night like a melancholy piano score
On men whose lungs tore each time they laughed.

And here the mercury man’s shop stands on mud.
His skin’s peeling off. His ankles are deathly thin.
He washes gold in a mercury-filled pan of wood
Then sets that metal in fire to burn away its silver skin.

What will become of him?
He will work for little, until he dies.
He will lie, cold and grim,
Amid the gold that draws our eyes.


Happiness
What is it that makes people be happy?
Is it firelight, candles, or something sappy?
Perhaps mountains, nature, or autumnal light?
Or a day seeing children flying a kite?
Some poor folk are happy, some rich ones too.
Some people stay cheerful while others stay blue.
Scientists say it’s genetics and place,
A mix of the two in our human race.
It’s a complex formula, their studies show,
To end with an answer that we already know:
That happiness comes from without and within
And sharing it is as easy as giving a grin.


The Heat
In this heat,
With the cicadas buzzing
Like chainsaws
And the dogs panting
Like lovers
There is nothing to do
But sweat
And sleep
Sweat
And sleep
Sweat
And sleep
Until you wash yourself
In the warm ocean
Until the rain falls
And turns the land green
Until the moon rises
And the heat
Like a cat
Curls up for a nap.
And then, only then,
Can you breathe.


Hope
He’s got nowhere to go
Nothing to live for
Nothing left to show
Nothing in his core

He walks like a ghost
Silent, unseen
Like something from the past
That might never have been.

Now the wind in the alley
Blows paper in the gutter
There’s shadows in the valley
And a dark rumbling mutter.

It’s another cold night
In this cruel broken place
With unlit street lights
On each haggard face.

Now arrives dawn
The treacherous night ends again
We start with a yawn
Then hurl ourselves in.


The Hopeful and the Damned
There are some of us moths flying into flame,
Burned and burning yet unwilling to give a damn,
Propelled by a force that we cannot name
To escape, to wander this wondrous land.
We set off, in uneven times, with a strangled cry,
despite a prudent fear of the unknown—
There is sure loss of life for those that will not try
To flee the far, far greater peril of the known.
There’s risk in staying still: yawning to death,
Softening, or miserable suffocation.
Such hope for new life and free breath,
Brings us, panting, to the platform of a station.
And God knows we miss some things left behind:
The work unfinished, the plans unstarted,
Sentimental things, a cherished friend so kind,
The people and the animals, the heavenly departed.
But life is short. It is astoundingly, unflinchingly short.
It is but a blink in the universe, here and then gone,
It flashes by so quickly there is little time to sort
The nursery from the hospice, the sunset from the dawn.


The Housefire
She had skin
As smooth
As a watermelon’s
And eyes
As bright
As butterflies.
She stood,
Frozen for a moment,
With her mouth open,
So that her round white teeth
And the tip of her pretty
Pink tongue
Were just visible.

Her arm was outstretched,
Like a medusa
Under a deep sea.

I could understand her.

I suppose that’s
How
I might stand too
If I came home,
And I, like her,
Found my home
Burning.


The Immortal Rose
There’s deceitful beauty where trees grow twisty
In a somber forest that’s shadowed and misty
Where light shines through in arrowlike shafts
And leaves stir faintly from gentle drafts.
There in a clearing stands a crystal bell jar
With a red rose inside that glows like a star.
For centuries not a single petal has fallen—
Neither in snowy seasons nor times of spring’s pollen.
Young trees around it have grown old and died,
Yet the rose has not wilted, faded, or dried.
Deathless, perpetual, unfading, enduring:
Without change, the rose has no chance of maturing.


My Time is Made for Wasting
I know there are some others
Who still prefer nature’s sweet light
To the glare of the television set
And who like mournful Tom Waits songs
And can imagine what life was like
Centuries before the Industrial Revolution,
When the Natives on the plains
Lived in teepees and the Mayans
Were still constructing pyramids.

Sometimes I see a hummingbird flying
And I remember hearing about
How quickly its swift heart beats
And I see the moon in the daytime
Behind hammerhead clouds that still,
With effort, look like floating castles.

I guess that the world’s just gotten tougher.
The facts squeeze the youth
Right out of you.  Genocides, war, pollution,
Disease, global warming, you name it—
Everyone’s got an opinion and wants you to take a side.
Hell, even the people who bury their heads
In the sand and don’t harm a soul
Get outed for not helping. 
But it makes it a little better somehow, to listen to old jazz
With the music turned down real low
And a hand-rolled cigarette between your fingers
With a little bit of lamplight and
A half-decent book written by a barely decent man,
And a cold bottle of beer,
To steal a few seconds from the world—
It’s a guilty pleasure, made all the worse by knowing
That outside the world is going up in flames,
And you’re nestled in to the semi-darkness
Enjoying a few moment’s peace.


One of Those Nights

It was one of those nights
Where we were laying on our backs
Looking up towards the end of the universe
And talking nonsense about stars and life
When I had this unshakeable and illogical feeling
That I was falling in love.

I wondered if I should ask her to marry.

But for heaven’s sake, I barely knew the girl.
We didn’t get along that well.
Well, we didn’t not get along either, but, I mean to say,
What the hell was my heart doing
Trying to get me to marry this girl?
She wasn’t my type; she was too young,
Still figuring things out.
You’ve met the type: college dropout,
Wanderer, finding themselves on the road.
I used to be that way once myself,
But I outgrew it.  Most of us do,
And the ones that don’t, well,
They are who were meant to be.

Anyway, the stars were shining and I was
Wondering why I’d even considered
Marrying this girl, as she prattled on—
Something about Kant, and then on to Archimedes,
And then into a bit of astrophysics that,
Even in my state, one skewered through the brain
By Cupid’s arrow, I knew she did not understand—
When I came to realize why I thought of falling in love:
Here she was, beneath the blanket next to me,
Baring her soul to me: a virtual stranger.

There was something admirable about that.
Something profoundly lovable.
I could have asked her to marry me,
And it wouldn’t have been half as mad
As the mysteries of the universe.


Our Absurd, Wonderful World
Again, again, and again the sun rises and sets
On this place without memory that never forgets.
It is baffling how in a town so slow
How very quickly the years do go.


The Poet
The able word-smithy
Ought to be pithy
And must write well
For his clientele.
He should have felt sadness,
And had spells of madness,
Yet still kept some humor
For his consumer—
Because nothing beats levity
Except, of course, brevity. 


The Prison
It was just a little prison,
But its walls were hard as iron
And its jailers were resolute bastards.
They hung men, day and night,
Hung them even in my dreams
So that as I lay sleeping, fearful,
I watched ghostly rebels
Swinging by their necks,
Dozens of them,
Swinging through the mists,
From nightmare gallows.

It was just a little prison,
But it kept me from being free.
It stopped me from doing
The things that I wanted to do.

It was just a little prison,
But I made it bigger
With bricks of fear
And mortar made of doubt.
The bars were of ignorance,
And I paved the floor
With missed opportunity.
I roofed the ceiling
With a broad sheet of discomposure
That covered up the sky.
Because why the hell not?
I thought I might as well.
I can’t see any distance anyway,
When I lose my temper.

It was just a little prison,
But at least I was my own warden,
And my own jailer too.
I could deny those visitors,
Courage and wisdom.
It was just a little prison,
But I made it
All by myself.


Ranching
Past the plums and bushes of blueberries
Then through the hollow’s fog, thick and heavy,
At dawn when the whippoorwill’s song carries,
I drive the rutted road in my old red Chevy.

I have not slept the night, for I was out upon the trail
Driving cattle on my horse along the dark terrain,
The hours marked by distant whistlings of the locomotive on the rail,
The deepest night made cold and bitter by unrelenting rain.

The heater’s blowing ghostly hot air on my hands,
And the truck is bumping slowly along the road to home.
I take a tired look at the good lands
That wear my heart raw to work and roam.


The Rope Fence of the Pastel Houses
I pass a seashell of no significance
as I follow the curves of a whitewashed fence
and the uneven coastline of the sea.

The fence is jagged, hardly even, somewhat ragged,
with braided rope in place of slats,
stretching further than I can see.

Above my head, squawking shrilly, are hoary seagulls on the wing—
circling, circling, flitting, snatching, snatching at a crust of bread
then aloft again to form a ring.

And in the distance, softly scratching their stemmed backs upon the posts,
are coastal grasses, likely latching their seeds upon white painted posts,
for the wind to blow and foster breeding.

To my left are pastel houses, built on stilts with reading nooks
and oriels for those with books
to put their backs to while they thumb through pages of Of Mice and Men.

While from a cattail, singing sweetly, warbles warmly the gentle wren
Brown and round and barred so drably, yet still considered very fair,
The pleasant wren makes moving music then flies upon a gust of air.

I continue on my road, whistling with the wandering wind,
Going just as quickly as those folk who have in mind no certain end,
And speaking with an amiable neighbor, I’m kindly told a thing or two
That when traveling over any distance, it’s but common sense to enjoy the view.


Salted
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than here by the sea
Where the birds are singing all day.
All my worries and cares
Drift away on sea airs
And I’m left to do nothing but play.

The world may be burning
And it’s certainly turning
But here every day feels the same.
I wake and I write
From morning to night
And at times I forget my own name.


The Stars Above
And when I to suit my fancy lie
Beneath the tree and darkened sky
And watch with wondering eyes the stars
That glimmer through the night’s short hours
And find there the constellations bright
With Grecian myths of astral light
I wonder if in the twinkling air
There might be other life up there
For while I lay thinking on our great world
One not much larger than an azure pearl
I send my thoughts to a far, empyrean shore
Where no manmade craft has gone before
And stretching out my hand and mind
I hope to greet one of like kind
One whose curiosity about space
Extends beyond the limits of their race
And lets them dream of far-off lands
With quiescent oceans and rocky sands


Steady Winds and Blooming Flowers
To be convinced of the strength of far-off powers—
Of deities and entities and potencies—
Is to stick and wallow for wasted hours.
Better to trust one’s own competency,
Or to steady winds and blooming flowers.


Thinking on Thought
An unhappy mind
Makes the day unkind:
It ties our thoughts
In the strictest knots
And makes the soundest plots
Come to noughts.


To Hell with Sadness
Here we work like a mill
Striding every day uphill.
Our hands are callused, our backs half-broke,
We chuckle at hope, that indecent joke;
We grin at love as it slips away,
Laugh at life and the hard day
Because the words to the song of gladness
Go like this: C’est la vie and to hell with sadness!


Torture
Listen! Listen. The voice was once tenor:
now, soprano.
Imagine—yes, and just consider—yesterday he was silent.
Our clips snap tightly, our pliers are handy,
our clamps are unforgiving, our machines
well greased.
Some things are working right around here.

We don’t even have to be too cautious.
As with all open secrets there is a
wink, a nudge to the vacillators, a cold
hard ethical argument to the protestors, and then
the show goes on.
The show must go on.

On the one hand we sit at a round table
and discuss the pros and morals of
torture. This, while people’s
worlds are being unraveled, a skein of
yarn held by a thread, dropped from a
tall building.
The demolition of a sturdy warm home,
tall, distinguished, memories in every cranny.
All that is left is the thread, the
foundation.
The skein, the home, the soul—deconstructed.
It is the metamorphosis of butterfly—
vividly colored, light—into caterpillar.
From caterpillar to cocoon. Cocoon to seed.
It is a human eclipse.
It is a vanishing.


Washington, D.C. at Dusk
In April when the cherry trees bloom,
City folk are reflected in the spring rain’s puddles,
By water that serves as mirrors for impressions.
Wind whips billowy clouds into an approaching eastern gloom,
While upon the shiny street, a poor wayfarer huddles
Beneath imposing windows that reflect metropolitan professions.
The sunbeams leave long, plum-shaded shadows beyond buildings
Whose western walls are washed by beams in apricot and tangerine
While in this gleaming twilight, a black cat’s lime-gold eyes glint,
And hazy rays catch the rich institutions’ burnished gilding.
Night falls abruptly upon folk fat and merry, lonely and lean.
The cat leaps, and houses’ windows glow with a lemony tint.
People’s reflections disappear.
Darkness washes the edifices in shades of coal and emery.
In the night, people’s luminous private lives appear,
And the recollection of the day disintegrates to circadian memory.


The Wedding Ring
They say that marriage is a worthy thing
And that may very well be!
But sometimes I want to take off this ring
And be on my own and free.


What Happened by the Half-Light
For but a short while has she lingered in the gloaming
Standing careless by the blooming hyacinths
Whose delicate petals sway in the easy wind by the door.
The filtered air and haze of autumn twilight
Send warm zephyrs to churn the crinkling leaves
And rustle the golden wheat in the harvest store
While her soul rests easy in the faltering marbled light
And the men and women make their labored ways slowly home
Through clusters of fragrant lilacs and fields of ocher brome.


When Your Back is to the Wall
When your back’s to the wall
And guns point at your heart
Then show them all
You won’t fall apart.

They’ll do their worst
So now you should spit,
Give them a curse,
And the hell with it.

Curse all their mothers
And die with a sneer,
For they are not brothers
And will not die here.