Monday, January 22, 2018

The scent of not-belonging

The scent of not-belonging fills my nostrils yet again
as I contemplate a visit to that place I don't fit in.
It's been a while; I've grown and changed,
developed competencies that fuel
a sense of completion,
and still this invitation comes
and the child within me quails at the thought.

One thing for sure: I will not dress
as other than myself this time;
and comfort won't be sacrificed for style.
I am the one whose gifts shine through,
and will honor that uniqueness with a smile.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Holy communion

I remember a time,
riding a subway in New York
after visiting a home for unwed mothers
when all the narrow ads they post in that space above the windows of the train
seemed to be selling sex,
or at least using it to sell --
cars, jewelry, clothes, insurance,
everything stank of sex, and I thought --
what choice did those young women have?

And as I stared, there came into my brain
the ancient words of my old red prayerbook --
not Rite II, but Rite I --
"We are not worthy so much
as to gather up the crumbs under thy table,"
and then,
"Christ have mercy upon us,"
and somehow all of it -- the memory,
the ads, the old black woman
with her heavy sack and swollen ankles,
the angry thin young men in their hoodies,
pacing up and down,
the salesman in his shiny suit
with the pants a bit too short,
the young girls cracking gum and giggling --
everything, and everyone I saw
glowed with a kind of connecting light,
as if they all wore evanescent robes,
and sang in some celestial choir,
but then, of course, the iron wheels squealed,
the lights inside the car blinked on and off,
and we shuddered to a stop inside
some grimy white-tiled cave,
and half my choristers left the train,
still shimmering in the aftermath
of that brief Holy Communion.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A gradual subsiding

I am watching now, my brain, as it ages,
and noticing how some days
it seems to want to kick back
and take in the wholeness of things; to revel in the play of light,
the scent of green,
the texture of the paint;
while on other days it seems to grow crisp,
arranging, organizing, rejoicing
in the thrill of accomplishment,
attuned to every detail as a function of the task.

But always, in a corner,
hangs a blanket with a mind of its own.
And certain topics -- computational,
political, mathematical --
always seem to want to hide behind it.
And I'm seeing now,
as I examine the blanket more closely --
its dull pink woolen scrape against my skin --
that I've always assumed (or excused) it
as an aspect of my gender.

So now that we seem to have
so much more flexibility in that area,
I wonder if the blanket was imposed or innate.
I've just assumed it was intelligence
that carried me away from the patterns
of behavior assigned to my gender,
past the proscribed femininity of my sex;
that the part of me that questions
and is curious was male,
and the placid imprecise was the female.
But now, as I stare at the face in the mirror,
that grows more placid and imprecise --
and yet less feminine -- with age,
I have to ask: must losing our edge always imply
some descent into dullness? Is it really a loss?
Or might it be considered
a gradual and grace-filled subsiding
of the boundaries, impediments to wholeness and connection?

Friday, January 19, 2018

What losses we endure and anticipate...

Looking at your poem,
enumerating lives you'd known and lost,
I thought I'd write one, too.
I didn't think I had quite so many goodbyes to recount,
til I began to write them down.

Early on, there was Barbara,
and my grandparents, whom I barely remember,
and much later, Jeannie, from The Witness --
the first of the brains to be consumed from within --
and then that awful year,
with Martha on her birthday,
then Eston, and your mom -- two more brains, consumed --
and then my mom, and so my dad remarried,
and then died... that was hard.
There was Lou, of course, and Jon -- two more brains,
also consumed...

And then there were the children,
so very many children:
the dentist's son, who skied into a tree,
and his best friend, who later shot himself beside that grave.
Dean's son, and Garth, of course,
with all the losses that entailed;
Anne's daughter, from an overdose of drugs,
and Katie, beautiful Katie, her whole body
under attack, then lost at 12,
which set me on this path that I still follow...

And then, of course, your Dad,
who seemed to leave behind
much more than he took with him.

And there are the local ones --
Chloe's father, and then Mac,
Denise's husband, and then Frank --
but somehow those don't have quite the same impact.
Does that mean I'm growing jaded?

I don't think so, because I can feel myself
waiting for another shoe to drop.
Will it be yours? That tumor they removed
from your brain was so enormous,
that I'm awash in the memory
of all those other brains consumed,
but I'm trying to stay optimistic for your sake:
I so want all those new therapies to work.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Back to the roots

We who teach still have so much to learn.
The more confident I grow,
the likelier I am to make mistakes,
because I begin to think that I can just skip over,
overlook the simple things,
the little things that even after all the time I've spent
still function as the root that grounds our being.

It humbles me, this never-ending return to the comma,
and the verb. My gratitude to my persistent 5th grade teacher
for all that time spent writing at the blackboard,
diagramming sentences; for learning yet again
that every action needs its clarity:
its subject, and its object (if it's transitive,
and so many actions are)
and that all antecedents must be clear and not confusing;
that facts have a power all their own...

And all of this translates into clear responsibilities in life
which, when lost or abandoned, could lead, in fact,
to chaos -- even death.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


You, who call yourselves the faithful,
finding a home in the uninhabitable sky,
talk of unity, of wholeness, and relatedness,
seeking an end to dichotomies and disasporas,
keeping your sights turned up and out
so as to miss the brokenness and failure
that surrounds us closer in.

You know the air you breathe
has been inside my lungs, do you not?
You are not immune to me.
You'd see that in my eyes if you didn't look away;
you'd have tripped over my cane if you hadn't looked down
as you passed by.

Listen. My pain is a script
that's been written on your bones as well as mine.
How can you not limp with me,
echoing my scented approach
to this ragged tent that I've strung up
below the overpass?
Can you not see how my blue tarp ripples
in the wind as you drive by?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Physics or psychology?

The physicist is telling me that it's a law:
a substance can only be affected
by what it can produce.
And so of course I'm wondering
if that might somehow be tied
to that psychological phenomenon I see so often,
in myself, and in others -- you know the one --
where the behaviors you find troublesome in others
are so often behaviors that you don't see in yourself
(though others see them, and are equally troubled);
the shadow that is cast beyond the curtain of unknowing.
the things that we assume motivate others
are so often the very things that motivate ourselves...

So then I have to ask:
would we even be affected by choices others make,
or things others say,
if we'd never thought of doing or saying them ourselves?