Prayer

We press the world between pointed palms,

where the weary stretch for heaven’s notice.

Our best vision, through closed eyes – steps

weightless

on scabbed knees, waiting.

Wine-soaked, bread-fed words squeeze

themselves through parched lips to

arrange with dancing in mind. But first,

they must learn the art of walking naked, blindfolded

through haunted alleys,

danger-gripped, clammy with doubt.

We stretch out long necks, seeking only glimpses, emancipation.

But, the lecherous bully of shame spends all his time

butchering the still,

small voices of light that sneak

in through backdoors where hope still keeps

windows open.

Tragic, is it not, how shades pull tight against wayward shards

of sun, the down-payment for our breath?

Like running in snow, our legs just get heavier –

too much weight tossed about over time.

A leering fatigue replaces what’s left of inadequate strength –

thickness filling muscles too weak to move past their own demise.

Still, hope is what came, long after our tight-

cinched belt of faith lost its grip

and hungry shame gave way to

garden surrender.

Only then does our Amen make sense.

Lines from a French Train

Composed on a train somewhere between Paris and Montpellier, October, 2019

Sometimes, it is easier to find the whimsy

when there is no memory of a place.

Sharp jagged edges can polish themselves

out in conversations with fellow travellers.

Their questions are better than

my unqualified answers.

Laughter jumbles out, jostling about in

the accidental chaos of shared days –

days made strong in the looking

away from the timekeepers and toward

their owners. Remember,

we must all live our lives on our heels

sometimes. Then, we unburden our-

selves in the company of strangers.

I don’t assume the elbow room was mine.

This kicking straight of cramping

knees was not an action reserved for

my taxable legs.

I don’t pretend to know the steps to a dance

composed without my song, by other tribes.

Their rainbow isn’t signed by my god.

Nor is the stretching road built with

me in mind.

I don’t expect my expectations to equal

the readiness of others to serve them.

I don’t believe, even for a minute, the whisperings

of my inserted presence, that my voice

gets top billing, priority, and loudest.

My tongue is not the first or strongest, the purest,

or even necessary.

It is only,

mine.

8

Some of my favourite poetry is that which wrestles, dances with the rich imagery at work in the Bible. It doesn’t preach. It simply tells a story. It helps us picture what the original authors might have been aiming for. This is a poem written as part of a homework assignment for a theology course I’m taking.

It plays around a bit with Psalm 8. Let’s dance. It’s always God’s idea.

8

God, you have scattered your way

among stars, heaped about in the easy

wonders of your winking eye.

Our small and stuttered stance, hands

perched on brows, we squint against

the brilliance and tuck our ignorance

inside curiosity, piqu’d at your

grand and noble gesture.

We shine bright inside your shadow.

From there, at your behest, we are noblesse oblige.

It is in the suppler clay of faces you

do your best work –

the weary eyes of fawning mothers,

the stretching yawns of nipple-fed wains,

tossed high by fathers and friends,

and high school herds, stalwart tribes

trumpeting tales of borrowed conquest.

Foe, fallow-field, and fission –

all made from the same stuff.

What careless shrug dares dismiss so noble a kiss?

Who would think it wise to cork this wine

so ably poured from heaven’s fire?

God, you have scattered

my way among stars.

February 14, 2021 ©Robert A. Rife

I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes to the Hills…

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A favourite Psalm of mine proclaims the following, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” The simple act of looking to the hills does not, of itself, bring promise. It is an act of desperation, the longing for salvation wrought of shared hopeful faith. In the end, our help doesn’t come from looking to the hills, but from the hand of God whose hills they are.

President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris will have their work cut out for them. We are in times of unprecedented division, delusion, decrepitude, and chaos. But, in all the good and hopeful things coming out of the Inauguration yesterday, none was so moving than this from young poet laureate, Amanda Gorman.

Normally I post poetry on my LitBits site. I felt it required…

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As you tell me

As you tell me

the woes of the world,

of all that is wrong and out of place,

the injustices, the unfair dues of your space

carved out of a world you help build;

as you tell me

how the air is now

too thin

to breathe,

the ground,

too heavy

to dig,

the people,

too deaf

to hear your valid cries,

too blind

to support

your team’s placards, your tribe’s war-paint,

those with the correct branding on your

well-vetted t-shirts;

as you tell me

of apocalypse and my need to

wake up, and see Jesus in your message

of #allthismatters and #allthatmatters and

#fuckyourmatters because #onlyImatter;

as you tell me

about all we’re losing

if that guys wins, or this guy wins,

or some guy wins, or we all win

if my guy wins; so, get on board

the happy train your bunch

is driving, with the right conductor

on the right track, going the right way,

for the right reasons, to make things right,

again, the way they were;

as you tell me

the world is going to hell-in-a-handbasket,

my neighbour hasn’t heard your news,

she cradles a dying child.

Viral Dailies: the end…Before and After (a poem)

My candidate for the last Viral Dailies National Poetry Month 2020 installment.

All Nine

Before and after

There’s this thing going around about
how we should not want to go back
to “normal” because what came before
should be – upon reflection – forsaken.
I don’t know what your normal looked like
before, but as for me, I can’t wait to
have a random unplanned conversation
with a colleague by the coffee machine
as we hover waiting our turn, stand on
the sidelines with the other soccer moms,
go to the Word Barn crowded with lovers
of poetry and listen elbow to elbow
in rapt attention to a local writer
rap about random shit, sip wine as we listen
fully and nod, walk miles back and forth
with the waves and a hundred other
beach walkers on Long Sands, browse
aimlessly in an indie bookshop – touch
every interesting cover, then wait
in the café for my husband, who will take
twice as long to…

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Viral Dailies, Penultimate

I skipped a day yesterday. A little lie to continue calling these Viral Dailies under those circumstances. But, alas, here we go all the same for National Poetry Month’s penultimate offering. Today’s comes from 2012 Washington State Poet Laureate, Kathleen Flennikan.

Kathleen Flenniken is the author of three poetry collections.  Plume (University of Washington Press, 2012) Her first book, Famous (University of Nebraska Press, 2006), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association.  Her third poetry collection, Post Romantic, has been selected by Linda Bierds for the Pacific Northwest Poetry Series and will be published by University of Washington Press in Fall 2020.

Kathleen’s awards include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and Artist Trust. She served as Washington State Poet Laureate from 2012 – 2014.

Kathleen teaches poetry in the schools through arts agencies like Writers in the Schools and Jack Straw. For 13 years she was an editor at Floating Bridge Press, a nonprofit press dedicated to publishing Washington State poets, and currently serves on the board of Jack Straw, an audio arts studio and cultural center. Kathleen holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering. She lives in Seattle.

What follows is a gorgeous recitation of her poem, “Angel” in both English and Spanish.

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Viral Dailies, Day 27

The role of art isn’t merely to inject beauty into ugliness. That’s decoration. Art plays a uniquely prophetic role in the culture. It must help us to see ourselves sufficiently to become not just self-aware, but fully aware of injustice and imbalance needing adjustment.

In this remarkable poem, written shortly after Trump’s inauguration (crowning), it holds truer today after four years of this seemingly unshakable shit-storm than it did when first published. 

Sherman Alexei, our featured poet, and those like him, we thank you for the courage of insight and setting it to the music of words.

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Hymn

Why do we measure people’s capacity

To love by how well they love their progeny?

That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted

To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.

Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.

That’s why it’s so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter-

Drowns his children. And that’s why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids — her hearth —

And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.

So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.

But I’m not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain’t that hard

To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue

Of people who are good to their next of kin —
Who somehow love people with the same chin

And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.

But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger

When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?

Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves

Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?

Hey, Trump, I know you weren’t loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed

And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,

Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse —

All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.

Or maybe you’re only a minor league
Dictator — temporary, small, and weak.

You’ve wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you’ve revealed

About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.

Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it’s honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.

They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You’ve given them permission

To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.

You’ve convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.

Of course, I’m also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I’ve caused.

I’m an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I’m a humanist who thinks that we’re all not

Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me —
A friend I love back — and how he didn’t believe

How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply

The death of any stranger, especially a star.
“It doesn’t feel real,” he said. If I could play guitar

And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs — every lick and chord —

But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see

That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.

He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I’ve measured the costs

And benefits of loving those who don’t love
Strangers. After all, I’m often the odd one —

The strangest stranger — in any field or room.
“He was weird” will be carved into my tomb.

But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.

It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.

So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet

For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?

Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?

Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?

My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.

But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist

To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.

I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.

I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.

I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.

I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.

And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.

I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.

We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.

We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.

©2017 Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexei

Spokane-based Sherman Alexie is a preeminent Native American poet, novelist, performer and filmmaker. He has garnered high praise for his poems and short stories of contemporary Native American reservation life. He has published 22 books including The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, winner of a 2007 National Book Award; War Dances, recipient of the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award; and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which earned the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book.

Viral Dailies, Day 26

Today’s poem is by Brooke Matson.

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Brooke Matson is a poet and educator in Spokane, Washington. Eight years of teaching and mentoring at-risk youth deepened her study of physical science and the psychological effects of violence and loss. Her current poems explore the intersection of physical science—particularly chemistry, physics, and astrophysics—with human experiences of loss, violence, and resilience.

Matson’s first full-length collection of poetry, The Moons, was published by Blue Begonia Press in 2012 and was also included in the 2015 Blue Begonia Press boxed set, Tell Tall Women. Her poems have most recently been accepted to Prairie Schooner, Rock & Sling, Poetry Northwest, and Crab Creek Review. The 2016 recipient of the Artist Trust GAP Award with Centrum Residency and the 2016 winner of the Spokane Arts Award for Collaboration, Matson poetry has also been selected for regional anthologies such as Railtown Almanac (Sage Hill Press), and Lilac City Fairy Tales (Scablands Books).

She currently serves as the executive director of Spark Central, a nonprofit dedicated to igniting creativity, innovation, and imagination. Find out more about her and how to purchase her work here.

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