She grabbed my hand –
caught, like a tufted
grove of hazy branches –
there were promises unspoken.
The full English –
an edible morning rainbow.
Then, it’s heads down, cell phone
It’s the skin-tight suits
the ‘please watch me not watching you’
as we shoot through this
time tested colon –
speeding train of Tartarus,
emerging once again,
Chuffed, checkered, intermittent
assigns us together in the march,
a soldiery of urban totems.
1980s yoga pants
like validation tattoos – a rite of passage
for all who feed the push, heed
the pull, hunt the posh, herald their
Miles of scarves, stairs, scars, and stares (downward) –
brogues, bulimic beauties, and burkas –
pumps, peacoats, pints, and paces –
faces down, chins up,
clacking heals, turning heads
chasing oil on water –
pooling from the duck’s back.
How much faster can we go
to get to where we always go
but have never seen,
here in jolly ole…?
Is there anything after London?
I love the world as she has loved me –
she to me, a globule; I, to her, infinity.
She unpacks her bags each morning,
with equal fanfare, but no pretense.
She always was a generous friend –
a giver of pleasure,
waitress to my doubt,
bearer of my pain.
And, in her bosom? That longed for, long
home-s t r e t c h of the driver’s road.
Her knowing neck waits for my tears.
She sends reminders for me to
clap the dirt clods from my dusty hands
before I scratch out memories in clouds
or bend my knees to the great silence.
Toast her first, take her elder hand, look deep
inside her intuition – then ravage seems less likely.
“You pinch and toss, diminish and deride,
hoarding stolen jewels for your banality.
But I’ve borne you on my back,
wrapped you in my folded skin,
planted you in places
you’ve known, some not.
You’ve nursed these ancient breasts
into the submission of harmony,
the blessing of acceptance.”
So I come to rest in her scholarly pain.
There is a certain ennui in my small experience
that shows up when I meet her gaze.
And any of my rumpled thoughts or faces
meant as caves and shields
cannot cast shadows longer than the sum of her days.
I smile and we shimmy down the park bench
of years and stories told and lies perfected.
And she smiles because she knows everything
I’ve forgotten or discarded
or chosen to remember poorly.
I’ve bruised her.
She blesses me.
I love the world as she has loved me –
she to me, a mother; I to her, a child.
Like under-inflated tires meant for better roads,
the sheen wears off until tracks become ruts
and steering makes no sense.
Now they wonder out loud if pitch and yaw can match
the swoop and dive of former days.
And they ask themselves the only questions
worthy of easier breathing and potato salad,
fresher still than the arrival of these moments –
unbearably skint of certainty,
but crouching in the dew of possibility.
This is no John Steinbeck novel they chuckle uneasily.
But it sure bears a resemblance to those sullen characters
pulled from page to thought, from thought to talk
and back again.
And even Oklahoma dust tastes good in a mouth
full of hope, conversations pointed in.
So, like throats yearning for rain,
they steer the bow of an old truck into new wind.
An uneasy road curls herself, snakelike,
hiding just underneath – not so much friend
Unlikely companions, no longer in remission,
make plans on the yawning road before them.
Somewhere down among the sheets,
between the spaces in loose gravel from nighttime sweats
lies the answer to an unasked question.
Somewhere underneath the skin of things
is poised another wrinkle, adding suggestions
to the game of chances only played by winners in drag
or posers lost in long hallways.
Somewhere up among the heights of nether
is held packages of days, a fistful of years
soon to be released upon the cold, dark land.
Somewhere you awaken from the same nightmare
everyone has, standing before a crowd
leaning forward to listen, and you with pants at your ankles,
a mouth full of sand.
But the nightmare is real, you are not.
And it’s the speech you can’t remember,
adding salt to the wound,
grease to the pole,
fire to a barrel bottom.
What of it? he said.
What of it? he says.
What if there were the solemn chance of a reprise
to a time, long forgotten but fresh-remembered?
A chorus to a bad song?
A bad song on repeat?
Old onions on ice cream?
Frozen water in the pipes
when all you need is a drink?
Surely there can be one straw long enough
to snatch from the fist?
Or are they there just to tease you for
the risk of un-lived truth?
Relief that the ground will still catch you?
Under-thought high dives into a dry pool?
Over-thought reasons for the same?
Somewhere, around the perimeter, is a chorus-line
taunting from a finish-line you did not paint
in a race you never trained for.
Somewhere, you’ve stopped running to find it.
Somewhere has found you.
I think often, and occasionally pontificate, on the spiritual practice of creativity; the places they mutually inform and intersect, the artesian possibilities of art-making. It has been for me a means of keeping a few useful items on my mental table, known to topple over from time to time. It means reading. Lots of reading. Further, it means writing about and because of what I read.
Some of the best stuff gets a chance to percolate, and then regurgitate back onto the page. In the process, some of that wordy goodness forces its way into me. Into who I am becoming. Why I am becoming. And for whom.
Two prevalent ideas in American society are mutually exclusive: spirituality and capitalism. They are the philosophical bed-mates of spirituality and profitability (otherwise known as the New Age Movement or the Christian publishing industry), or sex and time management (although it would be fun to explore the correlation).
Even as one who writes about this stuff quite regularly, when the best considerations come along, it behooves me to sit back and let them have at it. Besides, what follows provides much of my reading fare these days and finds its way into my own words anyway. Part of that fare is a weekly email from a website called Brain Pickings. It is dedicated to those things that titillate, inspire, educate, and sometimes enrage.
Today’s offering, excerpted from Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2016, with a Journal of a Writers Week contains a stimulating quote that makes this point.
In America, the imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work. Fantasy is for children and primitive peoples. Literacy is so you can read the operating instructions. I think the imagination is the single most useful tool mankind possesses. It beats the opposable thumb. I can imagine living without my thumbs, but not without my imagination.
I hear voices agreeing with me. “Yes, yes!” they cry. “The creative imagination is a tremendous plus in business! We value creativity, we reward it!” In the marketplace, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits. This reduction has gone on so long that the word creative can hardly be degraded further. I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists and academics to abuse as they like. But they can’t have imagination.
Imagination is not a means of making money. It has no place in the vocabulary of profit-making. It is not a weapon, though all weapons originate from it, and their use, or non-use, depends on it, as with all tools and their uses. The imagination is an essential tool of the mind, a fundamental way of thinking, an indispensable means of becoming and remaining human.
Good stuff, right?
Because I knew some excess debt-stress would be great for my spiritual development I took a master’s degree. In Spiritual Formation and Leadership. You know, ’cause…why not, right? It was the altruistic alternative to nautical knot-tying or selling chain-link fence. In truth, it was three of the best years of my adult life. But, already, I digress.
One of the courses necessary for graduation (the only one with the word leadership even attached), offered no small consternation for me. The required texts were bent on forcing spiritual practice onto corporate America like pole dancer nipple pasties (yes, I note that collective groan). I swore to the nipple gods that, should I read one more shitty leadership book that culls its guiding principles from some guy who made millions building chairs, I’d learn pole-dancing myself while reading it aloud in the village square.
For leadership, give me Desmond Tutu, Ernest Shackleton, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, Maya Angelou, or Martin Luther King, Jr. any day over these assholes. For imagination, give me the spiritual practice of creativity, art-making divorced from some lesser ideal. Teach me the riches of poetry for its own sake. Take me to the canvas because, in its pulsating emptiness, I find my fullness. Stuff words in my mouth and place me on a stage where I can act out my inadequacies. Drop me on a dance floor so I can shake out my sins and sweat out my aggression. Let our imagination provide the deus ex machina to our profit-lust, the perceived non sequitir of truth and beauty over pragmatism and effectiveness.
Lead me to beauty because the water’s good, not because it enhances my time management skills.
As morning reaches where only night had been,
dew once more settles on the brittle earth
and breath returns to one,
so all can breathe again.
You turn and look at me
maybe for the first time
or the tenth, or the thousandth time
only to see what you knew you’d find –
a man looking back, whisker’d, aging,
eyes a little dimmer but still aimed at you.
I smell your morning breath
and think to myself how perfect,
how expected, how perfectly normal
and good and welcome.
The first kiss is always best
in its unnoticed awkwardness –
maybe because of it.
The shear warmth of your body
reminds me of our shared need
for presence and company and comfort
unattainable in the strivings of our days
but remembered in uncounted moments
spread over time and times and time again.
Our sagging bodies remind us of life
lived under common skies, the unexpected usual –
and it settles into me
in a kind of daylight reverie to what is.
We make love or something like it,
and vaguely remember the youthful bump
and grind of the easier, less calendared moments,
and scoff at our glorious, happy failure.
The pieces were better, stronger, truer
but more anxious and photoshop expectant.
But this is better in all its effort
and planning, and untelevised humanity.
These moments are charged
more insistently by words boring
and daily and dull, but real
and good and dressed in old pajamas.
It is the harmony of music left to
routine and chance and time, the choir of songs
sung to the easy marching hours
and resting nights full of the brighter
skies of want made less
in the beautiful tedium of the living days.
Just about the time your legs give way
from under you, having danced all night
at a long-awaited wedding
Just about the time the advance
comes on your salary, welcome chicken
scratchings held up against a pale and hungry account
Just about the time when the last,
tired rays of sun enfold themselves
in blankets of shadow
Just about the time your increase
first parallels the centrifuge
of your necessary debts
Just about the time you roll off
your partner and unmeasured
breath matches the sound of contentment
Just about the time the needle drops
and a tiny arm caresses out music
from the dark groove of delight
Just about the time the robin sings
long enough on your lawn
to notice you noticing her
Just about the time when it’s no longer
just about the time
Then, it is enough
“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go, first be reconciled to your brother or sister…” – St. Matthew’s Gospel
* * * * *
There they sit, back to back
shoulders slumped in denial
of the frozen but not dead.
A light-year stalemate
mocks the freshness
of stolen stares
and words, a little too free.
Mouths, sealed from the inside
like jail-cell bars and chicken wire
remain closed to avoid
rusty words unfit
for newly rustling souls.
Sing the familiar songs
but not too loudly
lest the wind drown out
the blurry shape
of growing melodies.
Coax the buds of festive fare
bloated and waiting,
waiting to return
green for their grey.
Straw horses and gravel roads
offer their backs to lost
and awkward travel companions,
now, once again, stepping lightly
on sure stones.