Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two Poems for Autumn

These are some old autumn poems for Autumn to celebrate its first day. Ave Autumn!

Sonnet: To Autumn

A stream of sunshine swirls upon the breeze
And wends its way between the waving leaves,
But all the wonders that the eye may seize
Seem trifles next to what the heart perceives.
These gifts you give must drop and turn to dust
Beneath the feet and paws that pass them by
Or scatter like a daydream in a gust
That sweeps them skyward, careless where they fly.
You lay your patchwork quilt upon the soil
To wrap in warmth each tender, sleeping seed
And bring to fruit another season’s toil:
The great repast on which your children feed.
Your glory falls--but thus proclaims your name;
Its embers fade--but set our hearts aflame.

The Gift of Gold

Autumn has only one color
Late in the season
When sunlight clothes
The otherwise drearily naked forms
Of everything and anything it can
In auras of gossamer gold.

The limbs of the trees, bare
Except for an occasional straggler,
Gradually lose their voices
Whenever the wind walks by for a chat;
But below, a cacophonous carpet
Cries out at the touch of the tiniest foot

And raises a storm of acrid dust--
A dazzling shower of gemstones
Alight in the swirls of the air,
Whirlpools of afternoon sun
That suck out each hesitant breath
And capture each word in the breast.

The bitterness stinging nostrils and tongue
Disappears in this sweet, ambrosial draught
Raining down from the heavens,
Every particle a flood washing through
The eyes, bathing clean and brilliant
Once again the heart and the mind.

These gifts of the seasons--gold, green, or white--
Have been offered each morning with kindness
And love like a parent's for one
Special child, one twinkling babe
Who at last crawls awake with a smile
And blinks in a halo of light.

Once, I found a ring of purest gold
On the floor of the forest, hiding there
Just beneath a layer of leaves.
And I carried it from door to door,
But no one would claim or receive what I held,
So I buried it back in the leaves after dusk.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the Road Back to Home

This is an old one, but it is one of my favorites. I wrote it while driving (literally) on Interstate 64, coming back to Virginia from California.

On the Road Back to Home

The name is but a word we speak
Sometimes with sweetness, letting it float
In the air on the tailwinds of a sigh
And the endless trail of a stinging tear;
Or sometimes it gets spat out from the depths
Of the throat like phlegm less bitter by far
On the tongue than it is on the heart
Though still painful as, puffing, we breathe.

No name could ever speak the truth
Of all the treasures found upon this land
That lies between two shores and two vast seas that seem
Themselves to sigh the name
From “Ah!” to “Ah!” with each wave’s crash,
The rest sung forth before the dawn
In myriad morning melodies
With winged notes that ride the light
That shows the sun its ancient path
And all its footprints made before.

My feet have left much less a mark
Upon this fertile, fragile soil,
My soles too tender, my legs too weak
To race the sun and see what it has seen
So often, yet returning day by day;
Mine has been a much more humble course
Than that of him we honor as we say

But still I’ve rambled, seen what I could see
From sea to sighing sea,
And on this journey, driven on by love
Of every jewel that makes the sunlight gleam,
The many winding paths I’ve walked,
The countless bridges quickly crossed
Have often left me scared and lost
Within the forest, by an icy stream,
In some far corner of America.

So hungry, bleeding, tired, and cold
I stand at last upon this stretching road
That leads me to the doorstep left behind,
Both sidewalks decorated now
With lamps of crimson, orange, gold, and green
That light the way from where I’ve been
And guide me, sparkling for a season, back to home—
Though now I pause, behold this autumn’s flare,
And sink as rain back into sacred ground.

Image credit: pfly, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Monday, September 14, 2009



The hours of time, in silent waves,
Break on the shore and wear it down;
They sweep it outward and apart,
Each cell like flesh dissolved and drowned.
The foam has faces, fleeting forms
That float and then break on the sand;
They scatter, misty, and are gone,
Are lost as sighs in winter wind.
The water ripples, swells like thoughts,
When stirred above or far below,
Its waves dispersing, crashing down,
But silent in the scattered foam.
The faces fly, white butterflies
That swirl in water and in sky
And swim upon the silent sea
Of hours that laps the sighing shores.

Image credit: Elena Campos Cea, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." (John 12:24)


Two spent rubbers--
Not one, but a pair--
Lie in the gutter
Of a rain-slick street
And glisten in the moonlight,
Perhaps from the rain,
Twisted and tangled
In slithering coils.

On this Sunday,
The Lord's Day,
His houses are filled
With the faithful,
Arisen to praise
Him with the dawn.

But here in the street,
These sacred vessels
Of a different faith
Have been cast away,
Like tokens of shame
Or a one-night fling.

The voices of choirs
Ring out and lift up,
And angels awake
And circle the sun
As if to give thanks
For life on this day.

But here on the street,
Are these chalices
Filled with the blood
Of God in the flesh?

Friday, September 11, 2009

To the White Rabbit

Where has all the madness gone?

To the White Rabbit

Beware, White Rabbit, someone plugged your hole!
You better find another spot and dig
Your way to Wonderland, a hole to home,
For even now you make the Red Queen wait,
And you'll have hell to pay for being late.
So move your tail, get hopping now, and dig!
Just use those paws and stain that white fur brown.
There's not a second more to stall and stay.

But once you make it back, be sure to leave
The hole wide open and the path well cleared
To let a little of the wonder in,
The magic madness, long since laughed away.
For here the looking glass is cold and dim,
Reflecting monsters, freaks, and fractured light,
And all the Cheshire Cats have gone extinct
And all the Hatters have been locked away.

Image credit: John Tenniel, modified by GeeAlice, from Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Un-Pursuit of Happiness

This is an old essay, which was also aired on WVTF public radio a year or so ago. Good times.

The Un-Pursuit of Happiness


In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson asserted that everyone was entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Note that last part: the pursuit of happiness...not happiness. Mr. Jefferson essentially promises us a wild goose chase; he does not promise that we will ever be happy, just that we have the right to give it our best shot. Or put another way, the wildly waddling goose never lays a golden egg but, to double my metaphors, is itself the golden egg.

Now, you may have trouble swallowing the idea that happiness can never be obtained and held like a little gilded treasure in the palm of your hand. After all, we have everything from sodas to televisions to prescription drugs to vacation packages promising us that happiness, yes HAPPINESS, can be ours with just one bite-sized charge on our credit cards—or an even more digestible payment plan. So bon app├ętit!

However, much as we celebrate the birthday of our country on July 4th, Independence Day, I believe that we can and should also celebrate our independence from the pursuit of happiness—that our life and our liberty are made stronger, more secure, when we base them upon an un-pursuit of “happiness,” however we define (or try to define) that state of mind and being.

Pursuit is a condition of restless activity, often frenetic energy and frustration, and so is the antithesis of contentment. For me, the best images of pursuing happiness are the nutty squirrels and their eternal onslaughts against my bird feeders. Let me tell you, neither side in this time-honored battle knows of true “happiness.” There is no peace; prisoners are not taken; there are no negotiations; there is no diplomacy; there are no treaties.

But if we can declare our independence from the pursuit of the idyllic ideal of happiness, then I believe we will find an endless storehouse of goodies waiting right at our paw-, er, fingertips. Why drive ourselves nuts trying to “find happiness”? Why worry ourselves into a panic attack by chanting, “Don’t worry, be happy!” like some mystical mantra? Why work ourselves into a sweat by running a marathon that only ends in some otherworldly state of bliss?

Instead, perhaps we can find happiness in the un-pursuit of happiness.

I mean, simply stop for a moment and really look at the way the sunlight sets a cardinal’s breast on fire. Pause for a moment and really feel how the bashful breeze caresses your skin on a summer day. Breathe deeply and appreciate the love that is shared in a friend’s hug, a stranger’s smile, a baby’s laugh….

We can be happy whether we have nothing or everything. We can be happy when the fireworks fade and the 5th of July dawns far too early. We need not pursue happiness. We need not seek some stealthy goose in order to pilfer its golden egg and bury it for safe keeping like those nutty, ingenious squadrons of little squirrels. We need not renounce what we own and who (we think) we are. We need not pursue happiness to be happy.

We are alive. We are at liberty. And, if we just realize these facts, then we may realize that we already are happy—standing right where we are, wherever we are.

Image credit: Jay Baldwin, from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons License.



This one was a bloody stubborn thorn in my mind...


Damn these roots, like iron they seem,
Growing down and out from me,
Grasping grass and stubborn dirt,
As greedy as a starving dog with a bone.
For every bit of life they find,
Soak up, and suck within myself,
Binds me tighter, holds me here
Beneath the swirling, rootless sky.

Damn this clinging, miserly earth,
For I can only watch the sun and moon
And stars fly over, mocking me
And calling me to come and see
What they have seen, to stand and step
And stride away from star to star.

Damn the weather, damn the spring,
And summer, autumn, winter--all!
The seasons simply tell the time
And freeze my sap with ice and snow
Or bring the warmth and make it flow
And bid me bear my rags of green
Or gold from year to year--
Year after year of servitude
With no release except for death.

These roots take ever-tighter hold
From year to year, from day to day,
And leave me here to stand on Earth
And raise my head, and reach my arms
Up to the endless, groundless sky,
And raise my silent, shrieking voice
Above the drowning din of life
That bustles just beyond my grasp.

Damn these roots, this armored trunk,
These branches flung both far and wide!
Bring me your sharpest ax or saw
And let me hack them all away,
So I may climb upon the rain
Like a ladder into the wandering clouds
And ride the lightning through the air
Instead of awaiting its fiery crash.
Or chop me down and, limb by limb,
Break me from these clinging chains.

Image credit: CopyrightFreePhotos.HQ101.com, from Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons License.


I am ambivalent about getting up on this virtual soapbox and ranting away like some silly sidewalk prophet. But so it goes. This one, "?," is fairly recent.


This is the end
The end of days
Of hours and powers
And senseless sleep.

This is the time
To stop the clock
And tell the seconds
Till they're gone.

This is the day
To grasp the sun
And paint it black
And watch it fade.
This the bed
Of nails you made
To lay yourself
Upon and rest.

This is the path
Through forests of night
And over tombs
Of trembling dead.

This is the bell
That tolls for thee
In every halting
Hissing breath.

This is the dust
That drives the wind
And wears your body
Down to bone.

This is the stream
Become the flood
Of blood now pounding
In your ears.

This is the year
Of drought and plague
That rides in screams
Of locusts' wings.

This is the hot coal
That lies on your tongue
The fire from the sky
That scorches your bowels.

This is heaven
Torn down from on high
This is hell
Dragged up to the light.

This is the sound
Of the fury set free
This is the agony
This is the way.

This is the quest
And the question...?