Compassion doesn’t make appointments

Why did I cry during the teleconference?
I opened my mouth and
Knew
The tears would come

As you spoke about the death of your father
I see myself on the screen in
What listening looks like:
Shiny desperation mixed with refusal

I have a primordial itch
The deep "next"
Reaching out and away from myself
To anything else

This is not suffering

"It's good, basically good. That's my life: the simple things"
The waves of pain wash you
As you tread gracefully
Accepting the world as it is

On my turn to talk
Having been touched
I can feel myself again
Your pain is all pain

My heart, speaking for me, is
Red-faced and her voice wobbly with emotion
I am a contortion of grace
That will not be silenced

Remembering to return to
The bed of fear
(Free-falling as it does)
I do not hold on

This is surrender

Under the Black Moon

I.
Mercury / black moon
Breathe

Little cat gripping the walls of the tub
Start over and trust that I can

II.
I wasn't old enough to even buy
cigarettes
Sought out trouble
The black sickness

Crouched over the hypnotic whirr of the ceramic wheel
My hands lost
in the curative water of clay slip
The clay demands perfect balance
or else warps off center

I allow perfection to emerge
from me
Until the darkness leaves once and for all

Welcome I and II

“Rose Cottage” by Helen Allingham
I.

Three crows greeted me this morning
Hopping in place on a fence as I parked my car
Strange friends I'd never seen here before

Allowing me to pass
To see me more clearly
They remained as I
Stopped to gaze back into a winking black eye

When a fourth lighted on a far wall
And with a fifth
Flew to join the others, I wondered

What had they been they waiting for? 

What is it me?

II.

If you have to quit something  
Quit the thing that
Separates you from yourself 
That feeds the gnawing doubt and casts a darkness in the center of you 

If you decide to quit 
Your path becomes renunciation 
Admitting you have lived but half your life
Not over a timeline but
in only part of each moment 

You cannot go back into this cage of your own doing
For once you brave the wilderness of
Unknown quiet fullness
You may find you lose access to the old familiar question
“can I?”

What you have gained is your wholeness
That needs no assurance 
And has cast away the map
To find yourself home


The Vulnerability of Birds

Image result for feather
I. 

Feathers follow me where I go
And show me the way
A confirmation from the other side of the veil that I’m on the right track

Wine is a thief
And steals from me moments
Yes of my life but more importantly from yours

Today on our walk 
- My first day having given up wine
We saw so many feathers on the ground
II.

I know it’s time to quit 
When my days look forward to the serum of anti-presence
And I wonder for hours whether I will
Pour the glass

Even when I knew your tiny eyes will watch 
Learning from me the lie
That there's someplace else, just a click away from here
Better than having a drink of water
Or nothing at all
A bird's nature is gentle 
And it does not wish for another moment 
It will fly, build its nest, feed its young thinking of nothing else

Even an animal who would ravish it into oblivion 
Rending it wing from wing 
Cannot take from the bird its grace because it will forever be
innocent of sin
As you can plainly see
In the forgiveness heaving in its tiny bosom struggling for a wisp of
breath
Each threatening to be its last, mercifully  

There is something heavenly in the way it lays
Surrounded by shredded plumage in a scattering of its own life
Not clinging or afraid but
Surrendering to death

In your deep way that babies have
Of not just looking but seeing 
Softly lacking the ability to assess the meaning of it all 

Not wondering about the mess feathers 
You simply inhale the world as it is
Like a flower or your mama’s smile

Wiser than I to the age-old deception that
One can escape the present moment
You teach me about the birds
Suddenly there's nowhere else to go
III. 

You don’t yet know that
These feathers are little omens to me from the ancestors 
Who, in their wisdom,
Alternately heal and warn
Drawing them to me
And me to you

Would it be too much to tell you 
That you are my reason?
To be clearly and 
Catch these moments as they pass 
Your hand swirling the air as you dance
Your silhouette hesitating akimbo in the doorframe
as you devour the landscape

If I am your ancestor 
Let my life be pure
Protecting your wholeness 
We can spend the evenings on the swing drinking in 
the air and the sunset  

We look for the crow who calls us 
From the top of the swaying pine
And caw in answer

Ghazal for Johnny

Excerpt from “A Trail of Crumbs” poetry collection, due in late 2019.

A Ghazal is a Persian poetry form using couplets that share a rhyme and a refrain. Each line must share the same meter. The writer must also reference the author’s own name and express longing in the last couplet. Written as the boy became a teen. Baton Rouge, 2008.

For my brother.

My brother, not a small one anymore not a shy boy, 
Little dude hangs loose while days grow into years on the sly, boy

There’s the mean one and the teasing one, with three big sisters
You say “Jo's the fun one” and we’ve had some good times, boy

Do you remember when you were a baby and we’d dance to
“Ob la di Ob la da” - dip low when they’d sing high, boy?

Fresh from high school now you got not much to say
That’s when we drive and play music to describe what’s inside, boy

Not to be seen as young, not to be seen as young, this strong scent
Of Ax masks childhood deeper by the night, boy

Your frame the same since you were a babe now gains mass and size
Big tough guy hugs hard to come by now, boy

Trying to be Perfect

I didn’t know at the time that acting on stage would be so crazy. Be crazy. Crazy.

“Run around the room screaming,” the director told me. I stood there a 16-year old, having just recited a monologue from Romeo & Juliet. I spoke as a mummy, tightly bound, wrapped in the concept of my own perfection as a “good actor.” Whatever that was. But I controlled the experience, and when I was done my auditioners from their seats behind the table across from where I stood at the front of the room, looked at each other. They were silent. Then one said, “run around the room, behind us in a big circle around to the front, screaming. And keep doing that until we tell you to stop.”

I did it. Flushed, humiliated, fully silly and totally out of control. Could they see the wrapping of my mummy cloth streaming behind me as I streaked around losing face, losing my cool? Crazy acting.

I screamed at first like a lost heron had stolen my voice, crowing some wild croaking. Then around the second or third lap I was an angry banshee, and as I grew tired, a keening, wailing mother in grief screamed out of me. The screams I didn’t recognize, yet they were all me. And I stopped. And they were pleased.

Panting, sweaty, hot, feeling not cute and lovely as I had been, but ugly, undone, uncool. I was not me. I was more than me. I was beyond me, beyond what had ever been possible for me before.

I could not know then, now 20 years ago, that his would be a career for me. Who knew this day would lead to a lifelong process of screaming and running in what became my way of learning? Learning what might break me free from safety and ego, would unleash me wild and true to my audience and more significantly, to myself? As perfect as I had tried to be entering the Shakespearean stage, I had no idea what perfection truly was.

I still do not know. No lifelong quest could give me the sense of rightness in my efforts to be good, or good enough. Would I have been able to predict, as I whirled around the room in a blur, sure I had colossally bombed the audition, letting go of “good acting” would be the metaphor for all creativity in my life? It’s true that because I was ultimately cast in the play, some part of me believed I had indeed found my way to perfect after all. As if screaming and running burned off the layers of control, somehow graduating me from trying to be perfect. Humbly I tell you now I seem to still think one day I will.