Saturday, July 30, 2011

Amongst the Tombstones

Amongst the Tombstones

To Rosemary

We met one Sunday afternoon,
When all was silent, still as death,
Two spirits left alone to roam
A world that passed us by and seemed
To lead us far away from home
With every weary day and restless night.

Beneath the shade of ancient oaks,
We found each other...and some peace
Outside of time, if only for a while,
While all around the memories of lives
Gone by took on the forms of birds
And spread their wings to fly and sing.

And though the tombstones seemed to speak
Of loss, and absence, and the promised end
Of every joy that can be lived and held
For briefest moments, like a passing breeze,
Within the silence one could slightly hear
A murmuring of leaves, and breeze, and stone.

At last we reached a place upon the grass
Between those old and dirty monuments,
So worn and dulled by stubborn time,
Our journeys here too long and strange
To tell within a lifetime, though much more
Remained for each to walk, now hand in hand.

And as the hours stopped to watch us sit
Upon the grass, with life that buried death,
Our lonely spirits found some peace
That healed the wounds and many scars
Received upon the paths that led us here,
Now walking into life, with hand in hand.

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Book Is a Hungry Animal

A Book Is a Hungry Animal

To Jamba Dunn

A book is a hungry animal:

A snapper turtle
That latches on with iron jaws
And never for a moment
Will ever let you go.

A boa constrictor
That catches you unawares
And wraps you round and round,
Squeezing from the neck up.

A vampire mosquito
That buzzes in your ears,
Flies into your brain,
And slowly drinks you dry.

An ornery old elephant
That has run out of patience
And with too much prodding
Runs you right over.

A man-eating tiger
Burning bright amidst the leaves,
Prowling on seriffed feet,
And springing to attack.

A book is a fearful being:
Always hungry, never full,
Surely relentless, rarely sane;
Always-eating word devourer,
Its bark as sharp as its bite,
Speaking in tongues, in every tongue.

A book is a terrible creature:
The gargoyle on the Tower of Babel,
Gaping forth with mouth ajar:
The entryway, the threshold to cross
If the stairway would be ascended
And highest heaven reached.

A book is a hungry animal:
The snapper turtle on whose back
Four ornery elephants are poised,
Trying to keep their balance,
To keep from slipping off the shell,
To bear the weight of the wobbling world,
To keep the hungry snapping turtle
From biting off their leathery toes.

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Grief of Gethsemane

This is an old, old poem...I wrote it in 2000. It was my first experiment with the Rhyme Royal form, created by Chaucer. It is also a meditation on Christ's moment of doubt in Gethsemane, which has always been for me the most fascinating part of the Bible...being the moment in the story when he seems most human.

The Grief of Gethsemane

Ego non sum ille

As even falls, this hillside garden’s boughs
And newborn scents cannot eliminate
Dejection’s hold. The moon still keeps her vows,
And sailing heaven, guides the tides of fate.
Seductive maiden, prancing ’round her mate,
Stays chaste to tease him, mocking me as well.
Unfaithful world, your joys become my hell.

The outer darkness, seeming more than night,
Like stinking pitch upon my sweat-slick skin,
Prohibits acting on these thoughts of flight
From what shall be: there is a strength within
Enduring all, even defeat, to win.
Upon these narrow shoulders shall I bear
The curse of millions, for none other dare.

But could this moment somehow pass me by
And loose the shackles binding me to grief,
Would I choose life whilst knowing all must die?
Too bittersweet ’twould be to give relief.
Can love of self o’erpower my belief?
The end (the choice as well?) can never change
(And thereby grows this melancholy strange).

Alas! Alas! The dying breeze explains
In soft and somber sighs, “You are alone
To fight your fears so that no doubt remains
In what must be” (and this I’ve always known).
The midnight sky reveals, as etched in stone,
My path below the wandering stars and spheres,
The cross I’ll bear and water with my tears.

In sufferance my greater purpose served
To all mankind, though they be hard of heart.
The cup of wine, wherein my life’s preserved
(Together with the bread I broke apart
Between my hands), shall by my love impart
The very thing that I am soon to lose;
The cup must fill, and I cannot refuse.

For one must come to humbly face his death,
Forever called the Son of Man (and God,
So ancient stories say); ere he drew breath
As mortal man, he once with angels trod
And led them kindly with a shepherd’s rod.
But is he me? Is all that I intend
A grand illusion, or a promised end?

Thrown flat to plead upon a cold dirt bed
That warms again once golden dawn breaks through,
I’m shown my triumph, though my blood’s been shed.
Then, like the Earth, my life will stir anew
(I must believe, if all I see is true!);
And high above the weeping stars unfold
Their painful lesson, as to children told.

You children! Dozing as on summer eves
While one amongst you, with a serpent’s hiss,
Betrays for gain (but only loss receives).
Now all I’ve said and done must come to this:
In torchlight smiling, damning with a kiss,
He’ll greet me, “Rabbi!” with his serpent’s guile;
Yet as he does, I love him all the while.

I’m bound to serve, but can’t a servant feel?
His labor done, tomorrow comes anew.
Thus all he does, he does with lack of zeal
Because he must; and ’tis a pure fool who
Will greet his master with a rosy hue
Upon his cheeks, to have it beaten down.
Where are his robes, where his triumphant crown?

A crown! By God so great a crown I’ll wear,
As would a king upon this hallowed throne
Of sticks and skulls, betwixt a stately pair.
This gracious court, they praise one king alone
In harmony: “Thou hast become our own
Anointed ruler!” (yet he inward mourns);
A dying king…mine is a crown of thorns.

To hang, not far beyond the morning’s prime,
Till noon draws near; and then the midday’s heat
Gives way to night, come long before its time
To wrap the land in seething dark complete.
Grim Death will ride to where these crossroads meet,
His sneering visage taunting from below
And telling stories none in life may know.

My body, raised upon a splintered pole,
Must face its beatings, stand a whipping gale
That churns the heavens as it steals the soul.
And “Desolation!” is the constant wail
It screams to torment while the temple veil
Is torn asunder, while the trembling Earth
Laments the shrieks of this demonic birth.

The premonition of this frightful day
Has one last scene that may usurp the laws
Of sanity and lead my mind away:
At last the Presence from the shrine withdraws
And guarding cherubs stand on shattered paws
Before they topple from the mercy seat,
Now fallen idols of a vain conceit.

The vision ends: on silent trees I gaze.
What power makes them strive to touch the sun?
What force compels them from the seed to raise?
No answers come; but once my deeds are done
I pray this knowledge be unknown to none.
Within those leaves that hidden secret lies;
Although it slays, a tree shall see me rise!

This moonlit garden, mute, still teaches me
About true love, a love surpassing pain.
The soft wind sighs her subtle melody
To calm my fears: no thoughts of self remain.
This garden’s grief does budding life sustain,
The bloom of Love. Dear God, I’ve chosen well:
For you, O man, thus shall I conquer hell…

…No savior, dying to redeem a race,
My life is not a myth of guilt and fear.
My strength to overcome, no gift of grace,
May fade at times, but never disappear.
Although my tale may close to his appear,
There’s no messiah in the mirror’s glass:
This flight of fancy, like the pain, will pass.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Channeling Chaos

Channeling Chaos

Existence drips like melting wax
Over the trembling surface of the self
And deep down into the dark recess
Beneath the bedrock that we stand upon,
The stable structures that are built to float
Upon a maelstrom’s maddened waves.

So look upon the shapes, the forms it takes,
Like gaping faces with hollow, empty eyes,
And hungry maws, the jaws extended far
Too far to be perceived with mortal eyes,
And pouring forth scavenging beasts and flies
To pick the bones of all the slumbering dead.

Upon their bones is this great kingdom built,
Their blood and spirits mixed like mud to form
A mortar binding all these monstrous walls
To keep the swirling shapes and faces out
And stand erect against their moaning songs
Like waves that beat against a rocky shore
And wear it down, and wash its strength away,
And make the monolith a pile of sand.

For Chaos whispers, dancing on the edge
Beyond the walls we hide behind in fear.
It calls from deep within the silent space
Beyond the dark, and speaks in ancient tongues
Too old and senseless to be understood
But striking chords within our very cells.

Yet all have listened to that music now
For ages and for eons out of time,
Those songs that fill the boundless universe
And push it farther outward, push it all apart
With darkest energy so fierce but unperceived,
An orgiastic eruption of cosmic ecstasy.

And so we come together, toil, and build
A solid ground for selves to stand upon
And live within the swirling shadows of
A primal, wild, primordial world gone mad.
But stop and listen with an open ear,
And soon you might just recognize and hear
A harmony between our labor songs
And that dark voice from where the silence sings.

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

Friday, July 8, 2011

To Sleep, on Her Last Kiss Goodbye

This is an older poem, but it is still pretty relevant at various times. And it is kind of fun...

To Sleep, on Her Last Kiss Goodbye

A frozen-hearted, virgin maid?
A wanton harlot smiling sly?
Or both at once? I know not what
To call this temptress, damsel Sleep.
I damn her to the nether-deep--
Then curse myself and beg her near!
The starry night, her ancient spell,
Creates a home of warmth for all
While I alone must suckle not
Upon the universal breast.
The fire has smoldered in the west,
Yet “day” and “night” are merely names;
My body’s numb, my mind’s a daze,
In this eternal waking death--
Where every tear and every breath
Are flawed and well-nigh worthless gems
I cast before her wandering eyes--
A gift! A tithe! A sacrifice!
Her luscious kiss, a paradise,
She seems to grant me, gained with ease:
A draught, a sip, makes heaven’s blood
The vilest dregs of bitter wine.
I think, At last her love is mine!
While fading fast, to sleep, to dream.
But when I wake, instead of her,
A wilted poppy takes her place.
This morning scene of my disgrace
Is cast and played, and played again!
And like the Fool whose part I take,
I’m none the wiser with each show.
But can you, Sleep, oh can you know,
That in your kiss there’s venom hid,
And that the ruddy of your lips
Is gotten from my dying heart?
Yet death is not yours to impart
(However much I wish it so);
Instead, I’m your Prometheus,
Enchained upon a rock of pain:
Asleep, awake, you e’er remain
My torment, feeding on my soul.
Each pick and nibble takes its toll
On one who is but mortal-born;
And every slumber traps me more
Within her web of gossamer.
I wonder if I can endure
The hope of what may never come--
Again she smiles, and strokes my cheek,
And wraps me in oblivion.
A blaze of fire! the rising sun
So rudely ends familiar dreams.
I know her, feel her in my veins,
But waking, truth is still unknown:
Was passion shared, or just my own?
I ponder as my mistress turns to go--
But through its sweetness, her last kiss
Did seem to have a biting pinch.