plans i haven’t made.

October 29, 2009

the subject of my non-existent thesis,
which will cap off the imaginary post-graduate
career i share with my collegiate
contemporaries. moving to chicago and becoming
a really really real writer instead of a
talker dreamer schemer imposter
blogger. marriage. or for that matter,
engagement. or dating. or asking.
where i’m going to move when my lease is up.
how i’m going to make ends meet next month.
how i’m going to handle not sharing my
thoughts and feelings with you. what i’m
going to say when i call.

(cross-posted from pbb, written 2/16/06)

she’s a brave girl, putting her life
in boxes and loading the pieces
into a trailer and driving away.
it’s a big step, not just in location
but situation and relation. she’s
embracing change like her long-lost
lover, or the brother she welcomes
back from over the seas, clean-shaven
and dressed in military whites.
there may be nights when she stares at the
lights passing through the blinds and casting
bars on the walls, but she will see them
as piano keys playing the melody of some
sweet future song, arias of hope,
refrains of gentle assurance. she knows her
journey is being conducted by a Wise Hand,
who wants His child to be happy and fully alive.

she will thrive there, in the tall grasses.
she will grow. and the flat, dusty landscape
will rise up and call her blessed.

(cross-posted from pbb, written 03/07/06)

hope is madness, so i shun sanity;
give me simple, bright-colored dreams to replace the cold grey day.
i’d rather live oblivious than in oblivion.
let me sound foolish as i discuss possibility,
and put your “likelihood”s and “probable”s back in your black billfold.
i’ve lived too long in the land of foolish dreaming
to change my address because of one more disappointment.

let there be feasting without reason!
let there be celebration without solid cause!
let us dance to hear of one dim possibility,
for it has the greatest chance of saving us.

(let us pray that Love will save us.)

too soon the shadow draws in, squeezing
each bright note from bluebirds’ songs;
so sing, scream sonnets, with blue birds–
or black birds if you must–
but sing desparately, with the conviction that foolish wishes
are more beautiful a sound than silence.
sing now, before your light grows dark
and accepts that the doubting, dampening voices
know what they’re talking about.

get your hopes up! count your hatchless chickens!
enjoy the rosy glow of not knowing
as long as such sweet fog lasts,
and when the heat of day burns it off,
mourn its passing and pray for
more reasons to grow unjustified hope
in your back garden, like contraband plants,
like coca.

let hope be your illegal drug,
smuggle it through your life,
spread it around,
and smoke what you sell.

[rage, rage against the dying of hope.]

(cross-posted from pbb, written 03/21/06)

open letter

October 29, 2009

consider this an open invitation,
dear brothers and sisters who share
the first part of this wasted century:
take a deep breath, say a quick prayer,
and step down off your dismissal-box.
toss off the cynic-mask, and take a walk
bare-toed through soft grass. accept that
nothing will be as hip as you expect, that the
cutting-edge of “cool” is a cold and lonely place, and
that drowning your mind-meals in irony-sauce
only makes things harder to swallow in the long run.

here’s the open call: embrace the lameness within you.
acknowledge that your veneer of detachment is just
a fascade to hide your awkward adjustment into maturity. learn to weigh created things on their own merits, and stop trying to decide if you are “allowed” by your “good taste” to enjoy them. and for the love of all that is bright and true in this scarred, sad world, stop trying to impress your peers with five-dollar terminology, invented by a half-baked sociology grad-student fifteen years ago. “Post-modernism” is just as much a construct as “modernism” was. Big shock–everything old is new again, and everything new is written off as “the garbage produced by corporate sell-outs.” Don’t talk about the “emergent” church as if it’s something new and different. If anything, it’s a retreating church, emerging backwards–and that’s okay, too.
Be bold, fellow wanderers, have the courage to say
that your forefathers may have actually done some things right! Don’t let the fear of being called “backwards” or “medieval” cage up your desire to seek the right path in familiar places.

Let’s take the shiny wrapping off the concept of “new,” shall we? Because that propaganda’s been spread long
enough. New isn’t automatically improved, whether in thought or speech or religious practice. Divorce the false definition; “new” is not a moral condition, simply a chronological designation. The new ways aren’t new, anyway, so stop fooling yourself.

And finally, in conclusion, know that you are loved by God. You are adored by Him. You don’t have to be “smart enough” or “pretty enough” or “strong and successful enough.” So much of our striving is for
approval that is already offered. Just be, brothers. Just rest, sisters. You are loved by God. Be at peace. Accept that love. Don’t try to impress it or earn it or justify it. It cannot be wrested that way. Just accept it. Be thankful for it. Let it be your life.

(cross-posted from pbb, written 03/21/06)


October 29, 2009

when you see them fall, in pairs, remind yourself to
choose to be happy. do not embitter yourself, so
that their communion wine tastes of vinegar on
your tongue. even if you have to lie, lie lovingly,
and tell them you couldn’t be happier.
tell that to yourself, most of all and most often.
repeat it in your mind, over and over.
when they take their vow, think it. when they dance,
mumble it under your punched breath.
when they fly off into the future, breathe it out and in.
make yourself believe it, because
you really do love them, and though your scowling heart
seems to disagree, you want them to find their joy.

and when you return home and take off your tie or
your new dress or your uncomfortable shiny shoes,
you will be tempted to look into your vanity mirror
and ask, what’s wrong with you? do not give in to
that dark question, built on lies piled high like rubble
from bombed-out buildings, twisted rebar vines and
dust crowning desolation.

if you evade this deadly snare, you will then be tempted
to ask the next question. “what am i doing wrong?”
redirect this. ask instead, “what am i doing right?” then,
ask, “why must i do anything at all?” let the darkness
stumble to find an honest answer for that one.

remind yourself that there are other, more vital
questions to be asked than “why me?” and “why not me?”.
much more serious worries to bear.
much more important Truths to seek, than
who your missing mr. or mrs. is, the one you think you
need to find your peace.

take a breath. listen to only one sad song. then turn your
deft attention to seeking the big questions, and the big
Answers. there’s too much to do, and no time to waste
waiting for Darcy or Elizabeth to arrive at your doorstep.

write these words down, and tape them to your mirror.
remind yourself of their truth, every time you receive
that tiny white envelope by post, or see the posted
tidings of friends you’ve never met yet still feel close to,
or when your friends all seem to bear left-handed
baubles that throw off your emotional balance. in that
dreadful moment, breath the words out and in, like the
scent of lilac. inhale them and hold them in your chest:

your joy is mine also.

(cross-posted from pbb, written 05/05/06)

day without roses

October 29, 2009

he paints in strokes of blues and greens, in dashes
of yellow. he decides to add violet to
give the image weight, but discovers
he has run out of red and can’t find any more.
none is left on his palette; he has used it all up.
there was a time when he painted
ruddy murals of fields covered
in the scarlet blush of wild roses, days when he prodigally
splashed the crimson stain, spilling it on himself
like a child with fingerpaints, but his
little paint pot soon spoiled and turned a sickly brown.
he even tried vainly to paint with the spoiled red, but
the color and the stench were too awful to bear.
now he searches his spare jars, every vessel on his
wooden shelves, and comes up empty.
he tries to mix other colors, to approximate
the missing hue, but each one quickly shows
a poor imitation. he decides to use different colors, then.
he decides he doesn’t need the red, thank you.
orange. no, that won’t work. brick. no, no, think.
perhaps a mulberry? possible, but still not what he wants,
what he is needing. he looks at his unfinished canvas.
he sighs. he sets the palette down, and then sets himself down
on his chaise. he leans against the back, he leans back and
he gazes on his dark image. he cannot finish. he needs the red.
and the red is nowhere to be found.
he falls asleep, he sleeps deeply, his work undone,
and he dreams of rolling fields, blooming in the gorey blush
of wild roses.

(crossposted from pbb, written 06/28/06)

clarification, please

October 29, 2009

i remember being young and zealous
like a male joan of arc, only
less obviously crazy.

i could always feel Your presence
palpably, like the skin feeling of moving
from shadow into sunshine.
You have a particular heat about You.

even after i was over-educated, i didn’t
have the good sense to intellectualize
and abstract you into a psychological or
metaphysical or socio-narrative ghost.
i still believed in You as a living reality,
like my heartbeat–only closer.

in my adulthood, i have had religious
experiences like joan, though never seeing you
with my eyes or hearing you with my ears.
but still your voice pours in from the center
of my head and the depths of my gut
at the same time, and i cannot help but regard it.

after three days’ fast, my list of questions tightly
clenched, i thought i heard You clearly–that you
even said that I should know Your voice by now.
i wondered if that was laughter i heard in Your tone.

You told me that my answer was coming
and coming soon, that i would get the call
i have been praying for for weeks. but it’s
after the close of business hours now, and the
dead weight of my voiceless phone hangs in my
pocket like a millstone.

did i misunderstand You? did I jump the gun,
breaking my fast a few hours too soon, confusing
my own masquerading inner-corpse’s whisper for
Your soft shepherd’s accent? and does breaking
a fast too early negate the whole experience?
(do not pass Go, my son, and you can forget about
that $200.)

or is this Your way of really really testing my faith,
to see if I will curse You at the very moment my
Sunday certainty is shaken by the Tuesday silence?
did that ol’ Devil ask You to let him stretch his hand
out against me? cuz it sure feels like that’s what’s been
happening already. (“…and I alone escaped to tell you.”)

i never doubted You. i still don’t.
but i doubt myself.
i doubt whether i really have ears to hear, because
it seems like something was lost in the translation,
and i could use just a little bit of clarification,

(cross-posted from pbb, written 7/11/06)

ensemble station

October 29, 2009

in the hollowed husk of what
was once a shopping center
lived a few dozen wayfaring strangers,
gathering their second-hand wastebin belongings
around themselves like castoff crows’ nests
scattered around the burn-barrels that
provided heat against the occasional cold gust
of midnight wind that pierced the Texas dark.

i would see them from my window as
the train passed, shrieking and clanging.
from behind the safety of glass and metal,
i peered into their makeshift den, as they
lay still in the shade of the hundred-degree afternoon,
unable to cool themselves otherwise.

one day, as we made the usual intermediary stop
along my route from one job to another,
i looked for the old building, for the people
perched over piles of old clothes and newspapers,
faces haggard and cracked like the picture of the
Dust Bowl family that was put in my grade-school
history book to show me what poor people looked like.

in the spot where the building once stood sentinel
lay a twisted pile of steel and drywall, torn
asunder by a yellow crane, scooping away portions of
the heap and clearing the path for the trucks to come
and haul away the wreckage, mauling with claws extended
the cracked and chipped exterior of the formerly occupied

two days ago, i passed the spot again, and there was
only dirt and the odd pile of gravel and twisted metal. i don’t see
any signs to indicate why the building was demolished or
what is destined to take its place. it may simply be left a
vacant lot, and the owners just wanted to clear away the
“rubbish” and “waste,” if you catch their nodding implication.
“Property values,” you know. No one wants an “eyesore” on
their commute to the office.

i wonder where the former tenants scattered to, or if
they were simply swept up into the dumptrucks with the
debris left by the bulldozer’s hungry teeth.

(cross-posted from pbb, written 08/07/06)

What He Tells Himself.

October 29, 2009

That he shouldn’t get too excited when she tells him that she’s going to be his neighbor soon. That, for all he knows, she has a boyfriend. That she may not have any form of religious faith, or for that matter may be involved in something strange or heretical. They still haven’t even addressed that subject. That her hair is captivating. That he needs to take a breath. Or a walk. That she may just be acting nice to him, because she’s a nice person. That she probably just wants to be friends. That she would offer anyone else a nightly ride to the trainstop in her car. That it’s not that big of a deal, and he should just chill out. That she’s a really sweet girl. That asking her out would only make their work situation weird and uncomfortable–but only if she says “no.” That all these events seem to be spinning toward each other in a strangely timed manner. That he still needs to chill out and not get ahead of himself. That getting ahead of himself is what has always been his downfall, because he tries to rush through the getting-to-know-you stages and right into the future-thinking stages. That sometimes a car ride is just a car ride. That she laughs at all his stupid jokes, and he can’t figure out if it’s out of pity or something else. That surprising her with coffee that morning was a good “move,” but his motives may have been a little murky. That maybe he should just try being her friend before he starts planning how to ask her out. That he loves that she likes his favorite band. That sitting on a downtown train platform grinning like an imbecile is likely to get you beaten up, no matter what the reason. That it’s been too long since he’s felt this way about anyone, and he has really missed it. That he can’t let himself put her or anyone else up on that well-worn pedestal and hope that anything good or lasting can come of it. Never again. That he needs to stop overthinking this. That he misses seeing her and dreads it, at the same time. That he should keep all of this to himself. That he shouldn’t hit “publish.”

(cross-posted from pbb, written 10/24/06)


October 29, 2009

(written a few days ago. even now, it seems a waste not to post it. so, submitted with love and respect.)

she carries celestial satellites in her hands,
stoops to conquer, walks on water-
colored canvases to convey emotions
weaker women would bottle up in pills and
potions and quiet desperation. her courage
is a carefree aire she hums quietly as she
shakes her derrierre to the tune of her own
drummer. from her toes to tousled crown of
many colors, she is fully her own and cowed by
none. (if that’s your game, son, she ain’t
gonna play.) what could you say to such
a marvel? how do you broach the subject of
a barely-hidden affection screaming to find an
echo in her full and fiery lips? or confess the
idle dream of an eclipse, sun and moon aligned
behind your neck, and before you–home.