Fourth floor, Antwerp Hilton, night encasing the Schelde, ragout of boar and claret slowly regurgitating, I pause ancient words, stutteringly said, hand on my head a shoddy cover two parts of eight fully remembered one section only in part, turning East or a best guess. I ask nothing, or perhaps too much it is hard to know, CNN International offers no clue, no guidance, head bowed, knees bent the carpet has a burn hole, Ani, I am, I do hear I always hear, now rest and share my peace.
First Appeared in Oasis: A Literary Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 2, October-December 1997.
The old man peers at the yellowing book
then places it on the arm of the chair.
He gives the walker a sad, angry look,
and still struggling, looks up in mocking prayer.
Clutching the book, he limps to the table
and sinks onto the chair, risking a fall
that could reshatter his hip. Unable
to hear, he shouts to his wife, down the hall,
who brings the hearing aid and his glasses.
His eyes glow as the ancient words bring fire
to his voice, arms dance as though his class is
full of young minds that are his to inspire.
He settles into the chair, bent by age
and curses his body, now more a cage.
First published in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008)
She could barely move her head the cancer climbed her spine reaching upward, clutching vertebrae reaching out, tendrils grasping tearing fragile organs. She would cry, but that would be an admission of defeat, a welcome to death.
I cried out for her, entreated our God for compassion that she might stand by her sons when they uttered the ancient words, by her daughter, adjusting the white lace veil, but he would not answer, drawn into catatonia, seeing severed limbs of children littering the streets of Sarajevo.
She clings tenuously to life as I cling tenuously to faith.
First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006
We bow our heads and utter words not to the cicada speaking through a spring night or the beetle crawling slowly across the leaf searching for the edge. We bid the crow silent, the cat mewling his hunger, just to crawl under a porch awaiting morning, the child to sleep. The stream flows slowly by, carrying a blade of grass and the early fallen leaf.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
We have decided to skip the viewing to say our farewells in thought without needing to see her face frozen in the morticians best attempt at placidity, erasing the anger, the fear, the frustration, the pain that made leaving easier for her than remaining. We will say the prayers, most of them, she with fervent hope that they are heard, I as a member of the chorus. Some will invoke both the father and son and spirits will be moved, and I will reflect, will listen politely and hope the universe is receptive to one who is now in transit.
Today’s prayer shall be recited in silence total, not even the breath indicating a longing for action. Nor will it invoke a holy spirit without us for it is we we must inveigh to attain the desired actions for which we seek holy intervention, casting off free will, an accreting poor decisions, a goat where where seek scape and atonement for the sins of all the others. Today’s prayer shall not be recited at all, but it is this prayer in which we find absolution.
Autumn came on hard today the drop in temperature not unexpected in these climes, but still unwanted, forcing the closing of windows. Still, as the afternoon faded, I shouted toward the window a reminder not to go gently into night to fight the soon approaching dark. The squirrel on the lawn outside the window stood, forepaws held together as if deep in prayer and stared back at me, seemingly incredulous, so I loudly repeated my entreaty. He shook both head and tail, then said, “For God’s sake man, if you want to be the next Dylan Thomas have several more drinks, and please next time try and get the lines right!” He turned and headed up the old maple.
If you ask, she says, you take away the chance of ever getting a miracle. If you ask and it happens you reduce it to a simple prayer answered, no matter how surprising the outcome. You don’t see, he said it’s not the final act that is the miracle, it’s that it actually happens to someone presumptuous enough to believe themselves deserving.