Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Elegy for a Foe

I am old enough to remember the world.
It was a place – a thing apart from us.
Not changing at a whim, but hard and sure:
Bright, cold, indifferent, beautiful and strange.

Now all I see is me, reflected back
From every glowing surface, large and small:
My face, my name, my hobbies and beliefs,
And what I will know next, love next, and buy.

It’s all so easy.  But where is the world?
It’s still there somewhere, I assume – but how,
In all this tailored seamlessness, can I,
A man like any other, find a thing
That isn’t what I’m seeking?  Should I try?

Maybe it doesn’t matter.  After all,
We’ve always sought out burrows, havens, towns,
The better to keep out that hungry world
That loved us not, nor trembled if we died.

So why not, then, this haven of the mind?
This customized existence, made for me,
And lovingly adjusted as I move?
Why not enjoy this latest victory
Over the fierce place that gave us only life?

Still, I’m old enough to miss the world.
Just old enough to miss the world.
Those barely younger won’t know what I mean
When I extol the virtues of a place

That never knew us, or attempted to,
But shaped us, coined us, made us what we were.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

In Praise of Swamps

Swamps are the glory of the fall -
Their blaze defiant, profligate, obscene.
In lurid reds and jaundice-yellows, bright
With luminous decay, they flaunt themselves,

While stately wooded hills, too cramped and smooth,
March boldly on, in proud, in tedious ranks,
And lone trees high in pastures reach
Their peak too quickly, and are scarecrow-bare.

Give swamps their season; give them this, their due.
No foot will find its comfort where they lie,
Nor will a straight and questing tower break
Their mucky earth, and thereby breach the sky;

But this distinction they uniquely claim:
To be the jewel in autumn's crown of flame.

[October 2016]

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Moment

What a joy to be in a specific place
At a specific time!
No other place is quite like this,
Nor any other time like this here time.

That moment I extolled is gone, but now
See what a moment has taken its place!
This is a fine, fine, moment – not more fine,
Perhaps, than that one there before,
But no less fine, I'll warrant! And this one
Is even more the-same-and-different. Blessed day!

We're all just ostriches. You'll see what I mean.
We keep our faces buried in the sand –
But sand is where the roots are, and the bugs,
Which are, to us, delicious (since we're ostriches).

It's only now and then that we have time
To point our sandy faces at the sky
And thank the blank, brute mystery for this –
This one all-precious moment, which is gone.

Then roots and bugs will call us back again;
What blinds us, feeds us – and the rest is grace.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Chris Cornell

I thought I didn't have a Chris Cornell story to share, but then I remembered going with Rob Tawse to see Mike Ford play piano at the Adam's Mark Hotel in Philadelphia – back in the early 2000s, let's say? I knew Mike did a great version of "Black Hole Sun," and I requested it, and the music that emerged from under his fingers was haunting, heartbreaking, and transcendently beautiful. What a great song, and what a glorious musical moment. Thank you for living, Chris Cornell. You are already missed.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Good News Is Also the Bad News

We do sign our names to the stories of our lives –
However time and rain might blur them.
We do call “I am!” at the chasm of eternity,
But other echoes echo there as well –
Some fiercer, maybe, than our tender voice,
And Chance perhaps the loudest of them all,
Crying its hopeless gibberish to the stars,
Who hardly even blink in any case
To hear that wild, strange cacophony.

You are the architect of all you are –
But how closely were the plans followed?
Did fate skimp on the materials?
Were the union guys on strike the day your dreams were built –
Or just too expensive to begin with –
And did the making of your fortunes fall
To tender novices or slapdash hacks?

It doesn’t matter.  Life is not so short.
Unlucky?  Grieve it; then design again.

Design again.  Your time is not yet past.
And when you sign your name the final time,
Don’t ratify the chronicle of your slights,
But sign your life.  Be bold, and sign your life.
Your signature is on it either way.

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Tourist

I’ve been thinking I’d like to be a permanent tourist.  Not only when I’m not traveling; I mean all the time.  I’d like to think like a tourist and feel like a tourist and look up at the world around me like a tourist and maybe even breathe like a tourist too.
I’m aware that the word tourist has come to have a negative connotation – or perhaps it always did.  People associate it with ignorance, with vulgarity, with a kind of superficial engagement with the world.  Of course, it’s true that tourists sometimes exhibit these characteristics.  The irony is, when sophisticated travelers insist that they’re looking for “non-touristy” experiences, what they really mean is that they’re looking for the ultimate tourist experience – something rich, deep and pure that gets to the heart of why we travel in the first place.  They are looking to forget how achingly cosmopolitan and jaded they are and to remember that first pure jolt of sheer touristic joy experienced by the novice traveler who stumbles upon the Coliseum at some odd hour and is convinced, for a few giddy moments, that he has discovered something new and wondrous.  (He has, of course – not new to the world, perhaps, but new to him, and of course that’s the main thing.)
The tourist is the one who stares in wonder at places and things that may strike the local as quite ordinary and even banal.  Not just churches and statues, but fruit markets, wheelbarrows, children playing in the streets, cattle being driven to pasture, women in bright clothing.  These things all exist where he comes from, but not quite in the same form – or perhaps it is only the jet lag that makes him see them anew.  It doesn’t matter.  He sees them anew, that’s the point.  This is why it isn’t necessary to travel at all to be a tourist.  You only have to open your eyes.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Winter Colors

You might think snow would flatten out the world –
Smother in white the pale remains of fall
And make a grayness – blank and unrelieved –
Which only spring can bring again to bloom.

It’s quite the opposite.  That whiteness frames
The greens, the distant purples, and the reds,
And by the magic of its contrast lights
Their failing fires, and they blaze again.

A second autumn, this first fall of snow –
A festive memory of warmer times.
There may come days when white is all the world,
And color is a near-forgotten dream,

But for today, the eye drinks full delight
From barren fields grown rich, and boldly bright.