ONE STEP TOO FAR

“As you get older,” he said,
“the body grows remarkably
adept at telling you when
you have done too much,
or done something you shouldn’t.”

What he didn’t say, the critical
piece of advice I wish I heard,
is that the body only speaks
well after the fact, a lecture
surely, but never a warning.

No one wants to go a step
short, to miss whatever mark
someone randomly established,
but the price of a step too far
is high and often long lasting.

My back sat me down this
morning , and with that smirk
told me the lifting yesterday
could be paid for over a week,
and my arthritic knees nodded.

AND UNDER THIS ROCK

There is one thing that none
of the books on discovering
who you are when you are
adopted bother to tell you.

If they did, it wouldn’t change
anything, but it is a burden
you assumed you’d easily bear
that grows heavy with time.

What they don’t warn you is
that you will discover yourself,
your heritage that was denied
to you for one engrafted on.

But you will not be prepared
for the hidden tax that is levied
with that knowledge, for your
mourning is too soon doubled.

ON THIS DAY

It is December, and in this
part of Florida that simply means
that a morning jacket is advised,
and rain comes as a bit of a surprise.
A neighbour was surprised to be told
that they decorated like a Northerner,
but assumed that it was a bit of a dig,
though they thought the inflatable snowman
and reindeer captured the season’s spirit.
We laugh at the red hat wearing
flamingo’s and the Christmas alligators,
the lighted palm trees seem appropriate
and snowflakes, even lit ones, know
better than to appear, for the mocking
of ibis and egrets can be unmerciful.
So we’ll settle for our odd little tree
with its lifetime of ornaments, each
carrying with it the spirit of a day
when we ought to ask ourselves what
we can do to prepare the world
for the generations we hope will follow.

First published in The Poet: Christmas, December 2020 (United Kingdom)

FOOTHILLS

The clouds well up
over the foothills
casting a gray pall,
bearing the angry spirits
of the chindi who dance
amid the scrub juniper.
Brother Serra, was this
what you found, wandering
along the coast, tending
the odd sheep, Indian
and whatever else
crossed your path?

The blue bird
hopping across the dried grasses
puffing its grey breastplate and cape
sitting back, its long tail feathers
a perfect counterbalance.
It stares at the oppressing clouds
and senses the impending rain.
The horses wandering the hill
pausing to graze
on the sparse green grasses.
The roan mare
stares at the colt
dashing among the trees
then returns to her meal,
awaiting the onset of evening.

The chindi await
the fall of night
when they are free to roam
and steal other souls.
Was your water rite
more powerful
than the blessing chants?
Did you ward off their evil
and purify the breeze
of the mountains?

First published in Progenitor, Vol. 55, 2020

ON LOSSES

By the way, the headstone is lovely,
designed by your niece, it pays tribute
to you as aunt, as sister, as friend.

I do wish it had said mother as well
but I know I’m the one secret you thought
would fit into a corner of the pine box,
buried with you, to be, like you, reclaimed
by the rocky soil of West Virginia.

Little could you have imagined that
a few cc’s of saliva could expose
what you so carefully hid, and you
were helpless to avoid it regardless.

My adoptive father, the second one,
slipped away slowly, dying before death,
under the living eyes of aides and nurses.

You just lived your life your way,
answered to yourself and perhaps God,
and decided it was time to go, needed
no permission, made no farewells,
and in that regard, I am one of the family.

EYES HAVE IT

It is the eyes that fall in love,
the heart that follows like
an always faithful shadow,
and the mind and reason that
are bound to darkness and silence.

That is what I learned in my dream
last night, or my recollection of it, for dreams
may fade in the sharp light of morning.

But dreams have a potent magic, a holiness
really, for there I can resurrect the dead
and if the mood is right, bend back
the arrow of time, render it dimensionless,
all the while I remain constant, but certain
with any luck, in someone else’s dream, I
may be a child, a young man, or any
of a thousand other roles I cannot imagine.

PHOTOGRAPH

I saw a picture of you today, although
I can’t be certain when it was taken,
and while I can easily say that you
look exactly as I remember you,
that is saying nothing really,
for moments after I took the picture
we said goodbye to each other,
intending to meet again, knowing
the chances of that were minuscule.

I have returned your picture
to a place of safekeeping where,
some months or years from now,
I will pull it out and remark that
you look exactly as I remember you,
but more importantly, perhaps,
I will be keeping you alive, and
in this fraught world, that is something
to be appreciated, even if you
haven’t the vaguest idea it is happening

Be well dear friend, and if not,
be eternal for a bit longer,
be you dead or much alive.

LESSONS

The most important lessons he taught
were in those moments when he was
absolutely silent, the smile across
his face shouting across the background
din of everyday life, his eyes wide
with a sort of childish awe that I had
long since given up as adolescent.

The child sees everything for the first time
regardless how many times she has
gazed at what we adults are certain
is the same scene, a pure iteration,
hears each call of the cardinal as
a never-before-heard song, not
the now boring chorus of a too long
repeated lyric, its melody now painful.

His lessons too easily slipped away,
as he did a few years later, mourning
a poor substitute for memories that
eased into the damp ground with him,
but the smile of my granddaughter
at seemingly everything and nothing,
her laughter at the squirrel inverted
from the crook arm of the bird feeder
defying the shield below to stop
his constant thefts, the giggles
at the clouds filling the sky with
characters I could not hope to see,
brought him back, and with him
the joys of my childhood long suppressed.

ABIDING

The dawning sun brings forth the birds’
morning chorus, their song glides
through the windows, no words
are needed, their meaning heard
and through it all, morning simply abides.

We are left to shelter within, to gird
ourselves against the unseen tide
that has washed over us undeterred,
rendered all once normal absurd
and through it all, morning simply abides.

We cannot change what has occurred,
our faith has ebbed, been cast aside
in this battle, our lives deferred
yet certain we will get the last word,
and through it all, morning simply abides.

So we turn to you, dream ourselves birds,
with the freedom of flight, to glide
above it all and sing, move forward,
and pray for a blessing to be conferred
and through it all, morning simply abides.

First Published in Dreich, Issue 10, Autumn 2020 (Scotland)

A VISIT

I’ve always imagined that one of these nights
I’d see my mother’s ghost. I would welcome the sight
welcome she that bore me, not she that stepped in
in a way,absolving my birth mother of her sin,
while assuming adopting me would make her complete.

She hasn’t visited yet, neither has done so,
but I hold out hope, it is after all the last to go,
and I do hear her voice, faint and all too distant,
sounding very much like my own one instant
and then no more than a faint whisper in retreat.

I don’t need a long conversation, a few words would
more than suffice, but some at least, a child should
in advancing age hear the sound of a mother’s voice,
if only to find solace in the fact that her choice
to yield the child was made from love not defeat.