ENGLISH CLASS

He had planned
the exercise for weeks,
certain this one
would allow them
to break through the wall
that had imprisoned
the metaphors within them.
It was simple, and that
was its beauty, too many
attempts had become
bogged down, mired in
the fear that words
could do the greatest harm.
The exercise is simple,
he said, and they
put pens to paper.
Later, toward the end
of class, “would one of you
be kind enough
to read to the class
your description
of a young woman’s lips?”
One boy meekly rose
and through half clenched
teeth said, “Her lips
were precisely shaped
to barely cover her teeth.”


First appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

ON 15 YEARS

Today is my 15th wedding anniversary, and that merits a special posting to the person who has completed me in ways I never imagined possible.


The sheer inadequacy of words
is made painfully manifest today.
I grasp at words: love, passion, joy
and each still falls short of its intended mark.
There is a moment each morning,
each night as the lights go out,
and every moment in between
when I am love, hope and joy,
but separate me from you
and I am none of those things fully.
Fifteen years ago I said to all gathered
that I do, and ever since I say
to myself, I am so lucky that I did.

EARLY MORNING

Early this morning
as I drove through the mist
that clings to Portland in March
like a child’s yellow slicker,
I thought of you, home,
asleep on our bed, my side
tidy, no faint indentation
of life, and I thought of
the thousands who have died to date
in Iraq, who never again will leave
a faint indentation in any bed.
It is far easier thinking of you,
of regretting the miles between us
at this moment, but knowing
that I will shortly bridge
those miles and we will tonight indent
our bed, that two thousand miles
is little more than an inconvenience,
while many of them are no more
that a dozen miles outside of
countless towns; but the effect
of that short distance is infinite
and they can only indent the thawing
earth beneath the granite stones.


For a while, I will be using Thursday’s posts to feature poems I previously had published. Today’s, Early Morning previously appeared in The Right to Depart, Plainview Press, (2008).

RIVERS

I have never been
particularly one for rivers.
Like everyone, I’ve walked
along their shores, listened to them
gurgle under remote bridges
but otherwise never
paid them much attention.

There’s an old Buddhist saying
you can’t step into
the same river twice,
but that presupposes you
step into the river the first time.

I remember city rivers most
no banks, concrete walls from which
you cannot step
so much as fall.

Once rivers were different
they sounded different
calling out clearly
if you would only listen
but we were all
Siddhartha then.

Rivers are borders
easily crossed, the Genesee
walking the railroad trestle over
the Upper Letchworth falls
the girls faces frozen in fear
until we stopped, mid bridge,
and looked down
at the water careening
over the rocks, carrying off
the bravado and childishness.

The Schelde, with
great ships down stream
at its receding docks
leaving only Antwerp’s
waterfront bars
where it is easy to stumble
one drink or many
on the cobbled streets, where
the ancient words muttered
in the old Synagogue
are mummified, placed
in sarcophagi of religious fervor.

The Sumida, four blocks
from Senso-ji, and the incense
burner from whose joss smoke
I rubbed my heart,
bowed before the temple
and, at the saffron robed
monks urging, wrote her name
on a thin paper copy
of the heart sutra which
he folded into a crane
and dropped from the bridge
watching it drift slowly
toward the sea.

 

The Afon Dwyfor, more creek
than river, where I sat
next to Lloyd George’s grave
outside, barely, Llanystumdwy
overlooking the churchyard
and we’d laugh
at the absurdity of it all,
he long dead, I in love
with a woman whose lips
I could taste from a single kiss
on a second date, and
the river whispering “tell her.”

DHARMA

In Tibet there are
more than 80 words
to describe states of consciousness,
several words to explain
the sound of prayer flags
rustling in a Himalayan breeze
that reaches up to the crest
of the peaks that lick
at the slowly gathering clouds,
all of these words never uttered.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the soft brush
of your lips across my cheek,
your hair pressed into my chest.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the faint bouquet
of soap and morning coffee
as she dries herself slowly
in the mirror that runs along the sinks.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the sound of her laugh
half giggle as we watch the kitten
roll on her back, paws up
reaching for the mote of dust
dancing on the heat rising
from the fireplace, pressed down
by the lazily spinning ceiling fan.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe her eyes as they dart
after the Monarch that flits above
the deep purple Sedum that stands
in silent prayer to the sun.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe how she cringes
at the sight of the buck
lying alongside the road
eviscerated by the fender
of the car, long gone, his horn
buried in the shallow dirt.
There are no words in Tibet
to describe the ripples of her spine
as I run my finger down her back
while she curls, grasping
at the margins of sleep.
There are no words in Tibet
for all of these, no words
to fill the room, to blanket
the lumpy mattress on which I sit
staring at the blank screen
of the TV, reflecting the neon light
of the 24 hour diner that flashes
through the gauze curtains
of room 4218 of the Hyatt,
merely the echo of another plane
lifting out of the San Jose airport.

EXPECTATIONS

You say you appreciate occasional
gifts of symbols of love.
You expect me to bring you a rose
it’s satin petals gently curling
back at the edges, always
threatening to suddenly unfold,
alluring, drawing in the eye
promising warmth and release.
I bring you an onion, wrapped tightly,
it’s papered skin, the luminescence
threatening to break out but always
just one more layer down.
I help you peel back a layer,
it comes off reluctantly, as if
letting go of this secret
could be painful or exposing.
We, both of us, shed tears
and I wipe yours with the edge
of my thumb, you watch mine
roll down my cheek and hang
perilously on the edge of my jaw.
I bring you an onion and peel it
slowly, I lift the bit to your lips.
It is sweeter than you anticipated
but still it has a fierceness
that borders on passion,
and it will cling to your lips
long after this moment
has faded into memory.