Visitation

A rotten day.
Reaching high for the cookies,
they all fall to the floor,
of course.
Furious. . .

Then, out of nowhere,
a Presence inside,
watching Chuck fume,
radiating deep unconcerned care.
More “me” than me, in a way that can’t be described.
But it’s clear as day
that he’s never gone, merely hidden
—these luminous moments excepted.

Taken under his wing,
basking in his presence,
fury evaporates.

Who was that “masked man”?
And how do I get him to come back?. . .

                *

And come back he did one evening,
this time staying longer,
showing me more directly
what was possible.
As he took unquestioned control
of my inner world,
all defenses, all worry, all pretenses, all fears
simply vanished
into his complete equanimity—
the boundaries of ‘who I am’
stretched beyond recognition. . .

Finally, he departed as he had come,
but leaving me with a model
and an inestimable gift,
the reflection of which lives
in these poems of inquiry and hope.

An Inner Monastery

Part One

The abbot speaks:
“All the world is maya,
but that word originally meant
‘standing in for,’ not ‘illusion.’ ”

These words leave his lips,
then quietly reverberate through the hall.
The monks realize what that means
        (a deeper, richer world, behind,
        living within, this one).
They see it right in front of them,
inside themselves too,
the joy of recognition dawning.

They go down the stairs for tea.
The steps come up to greet them.
The walls lovingly hold them in their embrace.
The plum blossoms in the courtyard
whisper sweet nothingness in their ears.
The air crisp,
yet almost liquid at the same time.
Time slowing down,
hearts rising up
to greet the next moment’s offering.

Time for real
(but real quiet)
celebration!

Part Two

Later, the monks glide down the hall,
looks of gratitude on their faces,
exchanging glances of recognition
of their shared good fortune to be here.

They seem to know a secret about the world—
perhaps that our normal view
of life is two-dimensional, flat,
or thin, like the gruel given to prisoners,
as we remain locked inside
our everyday minds.

But within these walls,
surrendering,
the monks reside in a special glow
that shines through everything,
even themselves­.

They pray, they chant, they sit,
they breathe together,
they bring the world behind this one
closer to the surface,
slowly but inexorably replacing
the broken-down, throw-away world
we have left as our legacy.

As we sit with them,
we absorb the peace they emanate,
and an understanding—
that the moments of full awareness
given to us are never wasted.

They endure,
forever blossoming,
like love.

A Perfect Time

How will I die? Not the cause—no need
to know how it will occur, or when, or where.
But will it be with eyes open, all avoidance
evaporated, a stillness at the core in those
final moments—seeing how they reflect back,
illuminating a whole life, the whole world?

Or will I die like a dog, cringing from the lash,
making feeble, futile gestures of resistance?
Or a monkey, yakking to itself, caught
in its cage of words, its second-hand life?
Better to depart with my humanity intact,
bowing to my fate, at peace.

And since the end could come at any moment,
perhaps now is a perfect time to face life
as if I was facing death unafraid.

Perhaps now is a perfect time to resign
from the ranks of the walking wounded,
to stand up straight, resolute, grateful—
to kiss the world that gave birth to me,
and will, just as fairly,
take that life back again one day—
in its own perfect time.

The Invisible Cage

Looking around a group of trusted compatriots,
suddenly seeing how finite and circumscribed
their personalities are, like everyone.
How exquisitely limited their options at any point,
how those limitations
have etched themselves into their faces,
as in stone.

Then looking inward,
to my own etched-in-stone face,
bound like Prometheus to the rock
of ‘a decent supply of self-worth
and the reasonable esteem of others,’
an invisible cage around
the spark inside me
sent down from the stars.

Like any other junkie, these monkeys
howl, demanding to be fed,
and regularly.
But do I have to obey?
Is it possible to stand back a bit
from that ingrained impulse,
and just watch it try to work
its seedy magic?
Was I sent down from the heavens
specifically to toughen up
enough to resist that siren’s call?
Can this seeing
be used to
slowly unlatch
the invisible cage
around me?

Internal Movements

He left his dream lying on the floor.
He kicked it once—it moaned.
When it finally expired, instead of being
devastated, he actually felt relieved.
People, in all their ordinariness,
seemed more like his brothers and sisters,
once he wasn’t trying to scrabble up above the crowd.

                        *

The wind whipped at his back,
pushing him in its own direction.
Walking without much of an aim anyway,
this was not of great concern
until he found himself at the edge of a cliff,
the bones of previous travelers far below.

                        *

Hungry for more, he ends up precariously
perched on the end of a limb, inside himself.
No recourse but to clamber down,
take a deep breath, brush off, and start over.
Simply feeling his need, he stands chastened—
hands empty, arms open, heart ablaze.

                        *

Clearly unable to live up to its advertised ability
to be able to figure everything out, sooner or later,
the mind decides to fire itself—to no ill effect
that we can tell.

                        *

Early one morning—his reborn consciousness
unobstructed, buoyant, receptive to instruction—
a realization suddenly dawned that he didn’t need
anything else from the world; that his life was
(and always had been) more than sufficient. Beaming
like a wee one waking up on Christmas morning,
his concerns about any possible shortages
simply became irrelevant. . . and vanished.

                        *

Like a blind sculptor exploring every contour of a
face with delicate fingertips, he feels each tension,
each emotion, the mass of himself inside—
all creating a three-dimensional portrait,
ever-shifting, deepening over time.

                        *

One day, looking deep into his internal mirror,
shocked to find that he did not particularly like
the person there—at least at that moment. The sign
said, ‘No Exchanges Allowed,’ leaving him quizzical,
but determined not to bury the impression.

                        *

At any point, he realized, he could either pursue happiness
or—by genuine acceptance—see down into each moment.
But he could not do both at the same time.
Pondering the implications, internal shifts began.

The Runaway

He looked up the railroad tracks,
melancholy descending onto his shoulders,
like blackbirds on a power line.

Running away, trading one set
of ambiguities for another,
was no solution, he knew.
Yet no worse than slowly suffocating—
gossamer threads binding him
ever tighter, heading inevitably
toward a death-like visage,
frozen, immobile.

Stepping outside his own situation,
just a pace, just enough to see
the intractability of it,
the uselessness of struggle,
he felt something like hope emerge.
A new vision—silent, stronger, free—
began to take its rightful place
among his array of selves. . .

But as he walked along the tracks,
the sense of possibilities now lost
welled up, and a tear slowly
dropped down to his feet. . .
then the crunch of boots in the silence,
embers glowing behind him,
lighting his way forward,
into the dark.

A Great Fountain

There is in man a great fountain.
It bubbles underground, underneath our lives,
until one day we feel it swirling there and
know we have to find the means to set it free.

If you can speak, fountain, reveal to us truths
too subtle for tongue to tell. Speak to us
of the source of things, the sweetness of waters
waiting to be willed into life. Tell us of a sky
full of balloons too full to be kept from flying free,
of wonderment suspended in silence.

We hear too much of parched lands from starched spines
decrying—denying us our birthright. Tell us what we
know resides beneath the crippling weight of our history.
Tell us of the beauty we can be, that we are, that we
will be after this desert dream has dreamed its last.
Then speak to us of what might be, if we dare—
of a new past, a new history one day,
a richer realm, deep down—
underneath, inside,
here, waiting,
awakening.

A Natural Dance

Subtly, tensions gather force inside,
            tied to charged memories,
            or future imaginings.
They come to the surface,
            release their energy, descend again.
A natural dance—beautiful, the way anything in nature is,
            if seen in quiet,
            from inside, yet still a short distance away.

A gate shuts.
A dog howls.
Someone complains.

From our internal perch,
            we see these outside forces
            creating other movements
            of tension and release.
We put them in their
            own separate channel inside,
            like different density substances in a lava lamp,
            rising and falling.

No longer an impingement, just interplay,
and a feeling of freedom—
            as we dance with it,
            as in nature,
            as in who we are underneath.

Veteran of Internal Wars

The mood descends.
It flows into his body,
as it has before,
like a grey gas,
filling his pores,
wrapping him in its cocoon,
shutting down other emotions,
quietly turning off the alarm
so no one will see it appear.

The veteran sees anyway.
Resistance forms.
A struggle ensues,
the veteran fighting
to keep himself separate,
watching, unengulfed.
They both stake out their positions.
Inside, he remains awake.

The grey gas doesn’t like
being in the searchlight.
It withdraws to its hiding place.

The veteran is relieved to have
the upper hand, even temporarily.
He dreams of happier times.
The dream puts him to sleep again.

Under cover of his slumber,
the mood gathers its forces,
its troops of psychic vampires—
self-pity, resignation, victimization—
waiting to drain his spirit dry.

The veteran sees that too, now.
There are skirmishes
on the edges of consciousness. . .

The veteran has a crucial ally—
his wish to be here,
as he is, present, alive,
and not chased away,
hypnotized by fears
conjured up, salvos
sent from the other side.

This wish takes up residence
in another corner of his being,
keeping an eye on its enemy.

The smoke clears.
Another day starts,
calling him to sally forth.

Even as he is called
to other battlefields,
he watches and waits
on this one.

Meanwhile, he stores up
munitions for the next round—
munitions which are the fruits
of his awareness,
of these experiences of seeing,
of his wish—regardless of the opposition—
to meet life
facing forward.

The Necessity of Opposition

At a gallery, stunned by
“The Buddha at the Moment of
Supreme Enlightenment.”
The most beatific smile
as all around him fierce demons attack,
throwing spears and knives.
Entering his aura, the weapons
transform into flowers,
petals drifting slowly to his side—
the impression embedded for a lifetime:
no attack, no flowers.

Day in, day out,
my system reacts,
attracted or repelled,
stung or comforted
by each next thing.
Finding a moment of
intimate distance
from both flowers and thorns,
each are seen as being
absolutely essential
to me, down to the smallest detail. . .
Knowing that,
even when the thorns
blossom into a crown,
can it be worn gracefully
with eyes wide open?

Illumination

Night time, without light I am left
stranded, immobilized in the darkness.
I need illumination, like breath.

Internal lights too,
the source of their power
lying beyond my view.
A callous word, a thoughtless act—
these lights flicker, darken—and my heart sinks.
As conscience awakens, the lights surge—
and my world is revealed to me.

I know that light bulbs with loose debris,
rattling, can guide me no longer.
Inside, too, I sense forces
—body, mind, heart, spirit—
unrelated to each other, orphaned,
unable to light my way until they are
aligned, interwoven, synchronous.

I can only take baby steps
toward this vision,
but I have no recourse:
I align them as I can,
in the dark—reaching out
beyond my knowing,
in the direction of where
my own light’s source
might be. . .
must be. . .
is.

Triptych

Part I – Attending

I see myself move through the world,
move through time.
It’s clear that there are only a finite number
of moments allotted to me,
each one irreplaceable—good, bad,
or indifferent does not matter.
It only matters that they do not pass by unattended.
Judgment simply dissolves into silence—
life being lived, experienced, one frame into the next.
   
Part II – Unfolding Inside

In the crisp Dutch air, I see row after row
of gorgeous tulips bending in the breeze—
red ones, gold, lemon-yellow, shouting out
their silent songs of gratitude for life.
As I stand watching, the feeling of being
in the presence of perfect beauty wells up—
ecstasy swirls around me.
The softest of bells rings.

Then, like a Russian doll within a doll,
another level unfolds inside—allowing me
to feel, from the inside, who I am, over and over,
to see my deep connections with everything around me,
to know that I have a right to exist that cannot
be taken from me, that I am my own kind of flower,
unique, alive and perfect, even the imperfections.

Silent reverberations hang in the air. . .
Time stops.
The softest of bells rings, and rings.
   
Part III – The Part That’s Never Gone

There’s a person inside me who’s always here—
the thread connecting one moment to the next.
He’s hidden in plain sight,
so if I know what to look for,
there he is (I am) again.

He’s not my strong self, not my happy self,
not my worried self, not my enlightened self.
He’s none of them and all of them.
He’s everything I am—and all I need.
He’s there just for the asking, anytime,
every time, because he’s the Me inside of me.

He does not replace my various personalities.
They are still here, as always.
Yet they feel more free to be who they are,
knowing they are not my final destination.

Once I’ve seen him, it’s OK to lose him—
he’ll be at the end of this sequence of events, too—
the part of me that’s never gone,
the Being inside my being,
the Life inside my life.

Now is All We Have

Somewhere inside, here,
everything we’ve learned resides.
Like looking for the car keys
when they are in our other hand,
do we have to keep searching
for what we already have?

Or can we simply feel
the existence of our inner world,
know that we can trust it to live and grow—
if we just get out of the way?

Like re-booting a computer,
but instantaneous,
this re-dedication of ourselves,
this knowing that Now is all we have—
all we will ever need.

Snapshots

     
Dinner, the sun setting, multiple currents swirling around,
pulling us, leaving us feeling torn between elation
at being alive and melancholy from the inkling that
we’ve been given tickets for the winding down of the world.

                        *

The angels are homeless tonight,
waiting for humanity to wake up,
to see the invisible writing on the wall,
feel the messengers around us,
helping us be true to a vision of grace
which we know exists inside.

                        *

I don’t have a face—one available to my vision, anyway.
Others see me, but I am in the dark
and have to uncover an image from the inside.
A picture emerges momentarily, then fades again—
waiting until the carousel’s next time around
to dig a little deeper into who I am.

                        *

He had strayed from the path just a bit too far,
and now found himself in odd, unfamiliar surroundings.
Yet his heart was also buoyed by a feeling
of being enveloped, protected even,
as he proceeded on some necessary mission—
but one whose goal was unknown, unknowable.

                        *

Cracks in the psyche expand, then contract.
We need to see what repairs them,
and what leaves them open—exposing
their inner workings to air, to the bustle around us—
when what they need is sanctuary,
stillness, in order to heal.

                        *

He stood in the courtyard at Buchenwald,
reciting every poem he could recall. Men gathered
around him, hearts opening like the beaks of baby birds,
murmuring, weeping, his words their lifeline.

                        *

The tender-hearted woman gently probes
beneath the surface of her life, gingerly extricating
shards and their surrounding circumstances.
Like an expert surgeon, she must be careful
to remove them without hooking onto
delicate tissue, too easily torn.

                        *

Like going to the theater with a loved one,
can I accompany myself from one moment to the next?
First, a simple ‘being with,’ then the quiet
dissolution of internal walls, barriers to being,
erected in the distant past for unknown purposes.
No security, no final answers, no assurances
of what will be found there, just an endless unfolding—
yet worth bearing anything, as long as we are arm in arm.

A Hint of Freedom

The smile of a future recognition comes to his face.
He feels the beginnings of a different kind of life—
like a just-opened book, full of great emotion,
but whose ending has yet to be written.

He looks around his internal room—
hope and uncertainty lying there, each waiting
their turn to dress him up in their likeness.
He sees the bed of his past that he lies in,
feels the fetid, overused air around it.
Rising, he opens the shutters, takes in the loveliness
of the flowers outside his window.
As he opens it, currents pull at him—one backwards,
down gullies, unsteady as it careens around corners.
Another one pulling him up, allowing him to lift off
the floor, toes waving goodbye to earth, heart full
of intimations of burdens easing, long-standing restraints
starting to recede, leaving a new feeling—like freedom,
but just the hint, the possibility, the smell of freedom
in the air, the sweet taste of a coming newness.

The old view, the ‘what could have been’ one, its regrets,
starts to recede like a tide going out, taking tensions with it,
even ones long-held, slipping further away as some other self
starts to take shape—slowly, oh so slowly, holding onto
its life by sheer desire, sheer hope in these thin
threads emerging from a decades-long sleep,
as they begin to give birth to. . . just me,
just a simple human being,
but this particular one—
this new, old self,
this feeling of
being reborn,

as myself,
at last.

No Atheists in a Foxhole

(Upon the arising of yet another untenable situation,
we find ourselves. . .)

Enslaved, trapped in a cauldron of boiling reactions—
both of us thrown hither and yon, welts rising
from the impact with immovable walls, insides
squeezed by the relentless pressure of these forces.
Coping mechanisms in place, sure,
but that doesn’t release us
from the bondage that ties us down,
ropes burning into all-too-tender skin—
deadly sins not just words on paper anymore. . .

In a moment of respite, we see that
toughening up is a welcome by-product
of these internal battles, but still,
not the keystone that could hold
our flesh and spirit building aloft.

But as soon as we enter the Venetian cathedral,
we are stunned, transported, and gradually see
that it points to its own way out of our common
dilemma—the vaulted ceilings, angels flying
in mid-air, halos sending beams of pure light
down on us, pulling us up—up out of our
bondage, up into more rarefied air, allowing us
to see the illusory nature of the chains
that have long held us in seeming slavery,
allowing us to stand tall, stand in awe
of the nobility our kind can possess.

Even down here on the ground, we can
see that a context for surety exists,
something that actually is our own,
that will be our staff, hold us up,
so we can face what we have long avoided—
our punishment? our liberation? ourselves?

Surrounded by an aura of stillness, we leave
the sanctuary feeling cleansed, sobered, resolute;
perhaps chastened, too,
but now intimate with forces equal to the task
of being our own cornerstone,
from which our own cathedral can be built.

Like a sculpture coming to life, chipping away
at the rock surrounding who we really are,
leaving us pointing both upward and
towards our own kingdom of heaven within.

The Abandoned Workshop

Terminally unprepared for public speaking,
the safety glass of my invisibility shattered by
the lasers of a hundred eyes focused in­,
what was beauty fragmenting into useless shards.
Simply one insult too many—and a dam breaks.

An optimistic self, then a reflective one,
next a determined one, others in sequence—
all start to unravel inside, springs uncoiling
in super-slow motion. . .
At first, glorying in the self-destructive
pleasure of their dissolution, then an
unsettled sour-smile appears as they spiral apart—
abandoning years of painstaking work
cobbling together a self worth inhabiting,
leaving a workshop full of little gears,
sheared, coiled metal lying on the floor.
Would anyone mind if they were just swept up,
instead of attempting to reassemble them?
And what to do with the parts that need to be discarded,
like old Kleenex, but stick to your fingers
even as you try to throw them away?. . .

Instead, what are the odds of simply
walking outside into the fresh air,
putting all the debris onto a little boat,
then letting it float downstream, the losses unmourned?
And what if this process took a minute instead of a day?
There’s something to head for, it seems.
Or is that just another distraction from what is true now,
another little boat stuck to clinging fingers?

Buried Questions

Where does the beauty of music come from?
Where do startling thoughts come from?
Where do feelings of love and compassion come from?
All experience these, yet we seldom ask,
What is their source? Who do we thank?
Such an immense potential,
sometimes realized,
in the human spirit.
Where does this potential come from?
And where do we go to tap into it?

Our daily lives, our normal frame of mind
create layers on top of these buried questions,
so that it is hard to even remember
that we need to know.

Maybe if we just kept on asking,
kept looking for more illumination,
for a glimpse behind the veil,
kept wondering what lies hidden beneath the surface—
maybe those questions, by themselves,
would lead us closer to the source,
the something sacred
at the heart of things.

Instructions Inside

I am a human being,
fresh out of the box of my past,
ready to be brand new, yet again.

It is best to refrain from judgment
or manipulation in an attempt
to turn me into the someone else
you might have been hoping for.

My registration papers say that,
since we are all created out of the same mold,
I have an exactly equal right to exist as anyone else,
to develop along the path I’ve been given.
This is a fact worth contemplating,
beneath the surface of the words.

Although I can do otherwise,
I function best when I am seen,
then accepted, for what I am—
limited, but beautiful,
a whole world of feelings,
carrying out my part
of this universal project,
just like you.

We both came from the same factory—
earth, water, DNA—a most flexible,
yet delicate mechanism,
put in motion by
a spark of our common creator,
whomever that might turn out to be.

Seeing our common humanity,
and in deference to our common source—
it is requested that you treat me as if
it were you on the receiving end.
Simple enough in theory,
but supremely easy to ignore in practice.
You are hereby encouraged
to help me reciprocate.

I am a human being,
the subject of my world,
just as you are the subject of yours.
It is hard to overemphasize
the importance of this,
and the rarity of it being seen
and acted upon.

Enjoy our interchanges,
as long as they last,
which we understand
will not be forever.

Beyond Words

Just as with great music,
insights granted us
need to be perceived, held,
by something more
than just the surface mind.
Otherwise, we find them too quickly gone—
as at a train station,
watching a loved one depart.

In response, can we think beyond words?
Can we hold a thought, a question inside,
not pin it down with language,
like a butterfly on a board?

Can we open up room in our inner world
for a place where words simply dissolve—
but awareness remains?
Then sense its subtle presence,
lighting our way forward?

If so, when a realization,
or even a word
—an echo of a truth perceived—
comes as a reminder,
let the door swing open,
and keep on walking,
into that silent place inside,
where meaning and light
can permeate through us,
into our day.

A Card-Carrying Old Person

Medicare card in hand,
my body slowly aging.
I watch brown spots appear,
goatee now white,
energies inside downshift,
bones a bit creaky, tendons stiff,
hands worn by time.

My mind, too, is sliding down
a long downhill slope,
synapses simulating a lighter
now low on fuel, clicking.

Yet something inside is not merely
resigned to all this, it loves it—
because it loves everything.

It loves slowing down,
feeling maturity settle in,
having the years needed
for a long-range view.

It loves the sense of dignity
gained from lessons learned—
knowing what’s important,
and what can be let go of.

It loves each stage of being alive,
regardless of diminishments.

A quiet joy comes,
realizing that it will be here
to my last breath—this Self of mine—
inside me (and you, too)
watching all the changes,
thrilled with the gift of life, in any form—
an inner compass, teaching me slowly
where true North is.

And in the end,
no matter what transpires,
we’ll go down together,
my Self and I,
and go down swinging,
          singing,
It was good to the very last drop.

For Those of Us Who. . .

(For those of us who sometimes have trouble
being comfortable in our own skins. . .)

A personality can be as heavy
to lug around as an ailing body—
like an aging vaudeville performer,
taking his bag of tricks town to town,
hoping for one last round of applause
before he expires.

But is it possible, voluntarily,
to climb up on our own individual cross:
the cross of our finite, limited personality
cobbled together over the years, battered
and ragged as it might be?
Can we climb up and suffer the simple reality
of what is actually true for us,
true of us,
without flinching,
without hiding or
rationalizing,
without crying out at injustices done
or planning solutions?

If we pay in advance, pay voluntarily like this,
a certain magic can happen.
Our situation becomes not only bearable,
but transformed.
The burden becomes almost weightless,
a joy even, in its own tender, bittersweet way.
We see that we are all perfect examples
of humanity—flawed, tossed about
by life’s pummelling, reacting
without understanding what hit us. . .
And yet—still noble somehow, still carrying
the ancient torch that our life has meaning,
that our struggles are valuable, win or lose.

Let us then offer up our shortcomings
on the alter of Pure Seeing. There the fires
will turn them into courage,
the courage needed to carry out our sacred duty,
to climb our own personal Golgotha
with our head held high.

Flight Preparation

Wings open, testing their tensile strength,
seeing if spirit is ready to fly beyond our world.
Like a baby chick’s, they beat the air
to no avail, then settle back down into flesh.
Her breath catches, but otherwise she remains
unaware of this aborted flight.

Sitting back in her rocker,
she finds herself being carried off to a realm
far removed from this one—Depression-era
De Sotos in the yard, rockers on rickety porches,
fireflies lighting the way as a jalopy
brings supplies back from town.

Feeling her connection to this world
diminishing, the wings start beating again.
Flesh and spirit both make
innumerable unseen calculations.
Sputtering flames look for air to breathe,
all systems on alert for subtle signs
of impending motion forward.

She only feels the end result of all this
internal movement—exhaustion—
as she lays her head down on the pillow.
Willingly consigning her future to whatever
must happen, she closes her eyes.
Grateful for the felt sense that forces
beyond her control are taking care of her,
all her muscles begin to let go,
her spirit quietly flutters, moth-like,
as it peruses its long-time abode,
as it prepares for its departure.

Meditation I

(to be recited to oneself, one stanza at a time)

Add whatever I am now
to whatever I was.
Let it all sink in.
It is all true.
I am all of this.

Add the sensations of being alive inside my body.
            Let those sink in.
            I am this, too.

Add whatever emotions emerge inside me.
            Let those sink in.
            I am this, too.

Add each perception, each experience of the world around me.
            Let those sink in.
            I am this, too.

Add each reaction I have to whatever occurs.
            Let those sink in.
            I am this, too.

Add each impression of myself that appears.
            Let those sink in.
            I am this, too.

Add all the thoughts coming and going.
(Thoughts won’t get in the way of this larger entity that I am.
Once felt, it is too real, too strong to be obliterated by mere thought.)
           
            Let the reality of all of it sink in.
            Feeling more alive, more like myself, with every breath.

Much more than the sum of all these parts,
            I am a living whole,
            a reflection of the Living Whole
            that is everything.

As things slow down inside,
each breath becomes an avowal
of the sacred fact of existence—

even as the mystery
at the core of it remains.

Portraits

Heading off into each moment,
like an explorer of unknown territory,
all baggage jettisoned,
internal wind in his hair.

                        *

Her gesture accompanying
the setting down of the tea cup—
holding the world at arm’s length,
the years of choices made
without real options.
Only a moment in time,
but lasting forever,
even as it disappears.

                        *

A sad sight, ego puffed up like a balloon,
exuding, extruding onto anyone nearby,
tentacles ceaselessly attempting
to pull all life forms he can into his domain,
his mouth connected to a black hole,
extending downward, forever.

                        *

Valiant, irrepressible, she rolls
with life’s peaks and troughs,
like the vinyl punching bag clown
we had as kids—its face always
coming back up to greet us, smiling.

                        *

Laying down her judgments of others,
she sounds so reasonable, persuasive.
But then we notice the slight tension
in her jaw, her eyes,
her hands too poised to be trusted.

                        *

Her computer keys
sing with deep frivolity.
They dance, rejoicing in the marriage
of flesh, machine, meaning, sun,
the life outside her window.

                        *

The sun finally breaks through the clouds
revealing a landscape just like the one
seen when the sky threatened.
“Don’t judge a moment by its cover, son,”
the man says, chopping wood as before.

                        *

Setting up his cook stove,
whistling, wondering why people can’t see
the gifts laying free of charge before them—
air, sun, beauty—life wiggling, rolling,
swooping, turning cartwheels in the sky.
He dances a little jig himself.
A happy camper, for sure.

                        *

The lie passes his lips.
And before it even has a chance
to form itself in his mind
as an ‘incident,’ it is re-packaged,
prettied-up, wrapped with a bow,
and called something else.
“That’s how it is,” he says, believing it.

Portraits II

He didn’t say the first thing
that came into his head
when I told him about you.
On principle, he took the trouble
to find out how it looked
from where I sat.
“Of course,” he said, smiling
through his own tears.

                        *

Facing death, his eyes still twinkled,
his nose crinkled with laughter as
he did his mundane daily tasks with
a quiet, almost mischievous joy—
one foot in heaven already.

                        *

Seeing just a reflection of his own face
bouncing off the inside of his sunglasses,
he wondered why he kept bumping into things,
why the world looked dark.

                        *

The Official Arbiter of People’s Worth
sat at her desk, full of self-satisfaction,
her only problem in the world being
tendonitis of the knee, from stepping once
too often on the trap door button shunting
people off to her personal Realm of Oblivion.

                        *

The woman smiled, grimaced,
bore down, reached inside herself
for strength beyond her control,
as she felt the poem
make its way through her passages,
heedless of her own cries.

                        *

The rotund man pointed out our absurdities,
lovingly tweaked our noses,
then left his calling card.
“Denizen of the Deep,” it said,
as he skipped away, juggling
several balls on the end of his cane.

                        *

One day, looking deep into her internal mirror,
shocked to find that she did not particularly like
the person there, at least at that moment. The sign
said, “No Exchanges Allowed,” leaving her quizzical,
but determined not to bury the impression.

                        *

Wrap-around shades, tough-guy jaw,
unsmiling cold stare on his face,
flag decal on the truck, pit bull
straining at his chains in the back.
“Whew! Quite an unfriendly planet
you have here,” the extraterrestrial
noted, shaking his heads.

                        *

Heart on her sleeve, sleeves rolled up,
she ministers to everyone, simply
passing along the love she has found
at the core of everything.

                        *

Steering the boat as best he can,
winds howling around him,
he keeps a vigilant eye out for hidden rocks.
Not pulled off course even by the
rather large sea creature sighted alongside,
he relishes the ocean spray in his face
as he heads for safer waters, and home.

Portraits III

Standing in an interminable line at the post office,
I complain about the delay, my busy schedule.
With a little twinkle in her eye, an old woman
ahead of us turns around, smiles, and says,
“No one can waste your time but you, my dear.”

                        *

Trying to recall what she possibly could have done
to deserve her fate this lifetime, she realizes that she
can’t find any words in her mind at all. “Rough,”
the dog says, licking herself.

                        *

Removing all the space between things,
the speed freak rushes from point A to point B,
unable to see that even an infinite series
of points cannot create a life worth living.

                        *

The saxophonist raises his horn to heaven,
lets the stream of notes flow through him,
and out his horn. He takes a breath,
feels the pulse go by and launches into
yet another reason why the sun feels
called on to rise in the sky each morning.

                        *

The shopkeeper looks up, his head frozen at an odd angle,
hands bent inward, torso stiff, uncooperative.
But with genuine warmth, he asks, “Can I help you?”
In that moment, it is crystal clear that he just has.

                        *

Tripping on acid in the Museum of Natural History,
the young man sees that there are a group of natives
ready to launch their spears his way.
Turning 180 degrees to sneak away, he is confronted
by three huge brown bears standing on
their hind legs, teeth bared. “Shit,” he says.

                        *

Rebounding from one unfulfillment
to the next, hopes not so much shattered
as gradually dissolving into thin air, I wonder
how long the human heart can keep going
simply on the fumes of love remembered.

                        *

The honeymoon couple, in a tin motor boat,
hundreds of yards out into the ocean, sun setting,
five-foot white caps suddenly appearing.
The bride, in the front of the boat, stands up,
turns around and asks, “Are we going to be all right?”
“Unbelievable,” he thinks, wondering what possessed him.

Two Ways to Get to Now

What if I am not responsible,
in some fundamental way,
for all the myriad versions of myself
that have come and gone,
(including the one a second ago)?
What if all that
was just to get me here?
What if I refuse to be dragged backwards
to justify, explain, pretty-up all that happened?
What if all of it—both the good and the bad—
were simply cut loose, inside?
What would remain? . . .

                        *

What if I knew, and accepted,
that I would disappear from this earth
60 seconds from now?
What would be left of me during that minute,
if there was no future to plan for?
No past to justify?

Just me, here, now,
with these perceptions, these feelings.
A human being—quietly pulsing with life,
filled with gratitude for just that.

His Final Gift

The old man looked up, his rheumy eyes glistening.
With labored breath, but full of passion nonetheless,
he spoke. I sat listening, watching
his wizened face crinkle in the light
filtering through his bedroom window.

“Let me relay a few things to you, if that’s OK,
so you’ll know what lies in store for you
at the end of the road.
Your body will start to shut down,
way before the very end.
Try to not mind the pain.
(Maybe that’s why God created poppies, eh?)
Don’t mind your abilities winding
down—finally only being able to lie here,
see your room, call for water.
Don’t mind the blank slate that often appears
where your memories once were.
Don’t mind the longing for the laughter,
the gaiety of earlier times.”

He paused while his past flooded in on him,
overwhelming him with pictures of his childhood,
his adult years, his long-suffering yet joyous wife,
his personal achievements, his love of being alive.

He slowly came back into the room.
As he opened his eyes and looked at me,
something inside him glowed.
Almost on fire, he continued.

“Listen. While you still can, store up moments,
like a squirrel stores up nuts for the winter.
Store up moments of deep feeling,
good or bad doesn’t matter.
Store up moments of clear vision;
of genuine questioning;
of real connection with people;
times of being completely at home
in your own life, exactly as you are.
Store them up inside, here,” he said,
patting his chest. “This is your real wealth,
more important than your bank account.”

He managed a grin, knowing he’d caught me on that one.

“I ask myself every day, ‘When was the last time
I felt completely alive, completely here,
absorbing everything?’
Don’t let the minutes turn into hours,
don’t let the hours turn into days,
before you open your heart and pray,
however you can,
to be let into the light
shining on the other side
of some veil inside you.”

His strength was being pushed to its limits now
by being the messenger for these words
which seemed to come from somewhere beyond him.
But he finally went on:

“When you are in your last bed,
in your last room,
these treasures stored up
will come back­—
not the memories, even,
but the soul of them.
They will come back and feed your soul,
nourishment you’ll need more than anything else.

Don’t wait.
Don’t procrastinate.
Don’t put off digging down into
what this day might hold for you.
Because by tomorrow, today will have
simply disappeared.
And one day there will be no tomorrow.
Don’t wait.”

Then he gently closed his eyes.

A Cautionary Tale

In this version of the old story, as Gepetto
put the finishing touches on Pinocchio
and the puppet awoke,
Pinocchio looked around and said,
“Oh, thanks, Papa for giving me life. . .
But I wonder if you might be able to fix a few things?
Like the joints on my arms are stiff.
It hurts to move them.
And I can see, but not very far.
Also, I think I need some companionship—
can you make me a mate? (A cute one, please!)
And is there any way you could tell those
dang hippies next door to cut out all the racket!?”

Gepetto listened to a bit more of this, then put
Pinocchio back in the box, closed the lid and
locked it.

Be forewarned.

Three Views of a Secret

(with thanks to Jaco)

The four-year-old aims, then shoots a plane
out of the sky. As it explodes, he is both thrilled
and terrified by his power.
He tells no one.

The grown-up white-knuckles his way
through the airplane’s turbulence,
secretly harboring the four-year-old inside.
Thoughts of crashing are forcibly sequestered
in subterranean caverns, too far away
to work their grisly magic. But then he sees
the price he pays for being their jailer,
for allowing the four-year-old to go unchallenged.
Smiling, he repeats the words, like a mantra,
“Personally, I want a nice, smooth flight.”
His hands unclench, breathing releases,
his fears simply vanishing into the very thin air
at 35,000 feet.

Wise with years, the elder sits,
chuckling or grimacing, as the case may be,
at his thoughts and emotions.
He lets them all pass through him, unimpeded.
With nothing to ensnare him,
in love with life,
he soars free inside himself,
blue skies above.

There are Two Kinds

There are two kinds of happiness.
One at the top of the Ferris wheel,
and one happy to be riding at all.

There are two kinds of ‘ready for anything.’
One, like a tiger, hunting, eyes blazing.
And one, like the Zen master, given LSD,
at its peak saying, ‘Ahh, this!’

There are two kinds of ‘not caring.’
One, a wall built around
the tender places inside,
inviolable. And one because
no matter what comes,
it is yet another chance to feel alive.

There are two kinds of ache in the heart.
One a weeping for ourselves,
for others, our pain.
And one the ache of beauty,
knowing the finitude of things,
that all must pass.

There are two kinds of quiet inside.
One achieved by force of will, like a monk
sitting silently for endless hours.
And one reached by simply accepting what is,
without comment.

There are two kinds of love.
One where we complete each other.
And one a spontaneous giving of
something already complete inside.

But are there two kinds of awakening?
Or is there just awake,
and then awakening yet again
to the beauty and mystery of life?

Who’s Looking Out of My Eyes?

Who’s looking out of my eyes?
Sometimes it’s a person full of worry,
then later, amusement;
someone enthralled with himself,
or not.

Sometimes it’s a disenchanted soul,
then an inquisitive one.
It could be a person captivated
by a sudden realization,
or someone’s eyes.

The longer I watch the procession,
the clearer it is that the content
doesn’t matter very much,
since it’s all going to change anyway—
even subtle changes, second to second.

For the moment, just keeping track of
who’s looking out of my eyes this time,
seems to be all that’s needed
to feel like myself,
alive.

Snapshots II

The two lovers come together in the kitchen,
weary from the day’s travails. They hug,
resting in each other’s arms, but, more importantly,
resting in the web of invisible connections woven
between them from years of being each other’s
consolation, sustenance, unearthed treasure.

                                    *

Dusk comes, peers into the shadows,
checking out its future home. It settles in his room,
creating both melancholy and peace. The world outside,
oddly enough, takes this as a signal to come alive—
kids screaming at the soccer match down the road,
cars headed home towards dinner,
the light in her eyes glowing with love.

                                    *

Like a freshly beheaded chicken taking a last run
around the farmyard before its final collapse,
the ex-poet keeps his pen moving, brow furrowed,
hoping against hope for a resurrection of the muse,
for one more descent of beauty wafting down from the heavens.

                                    *

Her breasts looked back at him through the muslin blouse.
They read his mind, giggled and thanked him
for the compliments, but balked when it got to ‘succulent.’
“Not by you, cowboy,” they replied.

                                    *

Finding himself swept up in a fit of self-recrimination,
he looks around for someone to accept his apology for breathing,
for taking up his square foot of the earth’s surface.
But ‘sorry’ isn’t enough when what one is sorry about is systemic—
like being deaf, or terminally ill, or who he sees himself to be.

                                    *

Bones underneath flesh speak out, proclaim my mortality.
Like watching grass grow, but in reverse, I can feel my
hair thinning, imperceptibly heading towards an ancient
version of myself inside—doddering, hunched over my cane,
but eyes sparkling, toothless grin spreading from ear to ear.

                                    *

When Jack talked, it was an uphill trudge,
scared of ursurping people’s time without their consent,
so even good ideas fell flat. Jill spoke afterward—
endless arabesques tumbling out, signifying nothing—
heedless of the wishes of her captive audience.
‘Two sides of one coin?’ he wonders.

                                    *

The blind prisoner at Buchenwald was the sole source of hope for
the starving inmates, huddled in corners—consoling them, sharing
what he could of the gift that sightlessness had given him:
his own internal source of light, his own unquenchable
connection with the source of life inside everything.*

                                    *

Our mother stared out the window,
thoughts too inscrutable to decipher
written on her face—not marring
the slightly faded loveliness there,
but instead giving it a richer, enigmatic hue.
What we wouldn’t give to ask her now
what we were too young to conceive of then—
unable to fathom the depths, the ambiguities of the human heart.

 
(*see Jacques Lusseyran’s “And There Was Light”)

Homeless

The man holds out his hat, waves of sorrow
breaking along the shorelines of his grizzled face.
As people avoid his glance, he sees
—just for a moment—with the eyes of
a god. He sees us afraid
of simple human contact,
as if his afflictions were contagious.
He pities us for our weakness.

Another man, also without shelter,
bedraggled, alone,
nods his head to the first man,
bums a cigarette, asks about beds for the night.
The two share an understanding of the frailties
of life, of the weaknesses of the flesh,
of the burning of bridges, of hopes
—quiet or wild­—beyond what we might
be able to reach if we were in their shoes.

We see them talking. We do not understand
what subtleties pass between them,
our animal fear trumping human feeling.
Then, like dominoes, some long-standing barriers
within us suddenly dissolve.
We momentarily see
with god-like eyes ourselves—
see the prisons we carry inside,
see that opening to the unknown
in a simple daily occurrence like this
is actually within our grasp.

We know that if God exists,
then He exists in this moment, this encounter—
that there is no scenario we couldn’t handle
with dignity, if our eyes were not averted,
if we knew that what we have been
looking for
all our lives
might come in just
this unexpected package,
waiting for us to unwrap it
with Christmas eyes.

Rebirthday

Sitting in a hotel room in Milwaukee one afternoon,
suddenly knowing I had absolutely
no control over anything
of any importance
in my life,
at all.

Not the whirling thoughts;
nor the continuously recycled,
short list of emotions;
not the impressions that
the assemblage of persons inside me made on others;
and, catalyst for this crisis,
certainly not over my own flesh and blood,
spiraling down their young, self-destructive paths.

“Then who is running the show?” I asked. . .
“I am,” It answered—the hard, knotted nub
of neuroses entrenched in my psyche—
the shock of it shaking me to the core.
Then its image appears—a bird of prey,
its myriad talons stuck in my skull
making my head go this way and that,
looking out of my eyes,
talking out of my mouth,
using my life energy to play out its obsessions.

But miraculously, simultaneously, inside,
a deep knowledge emerged
—that the power of this vision of
The Way Things Are
contained within itself
the seeds of freedom from it;
that there was, lo and behold,
someone actually here experiencing this tableau,
someone somehow separate from all that, watching.

In the act of seeing,
in that moment,
hope and resolution were both born,
the beginning of the lifetimes-long,
painstakingly slow process
of gently
pulling the talons out,
one
by
one.

Pen in Hand

The call to write arises,
as if people were emerging
out of a cloud in a steam room,
asking where you’ve been, saying
they have something to tell you.
Then, with your blessings,
they walk right inside you,
telling their stories, but using your mind,
your wellspring of emotions,
your memories, your life energy.
The words flow out of you,
sometimes dripping slowly,
like honey poured from a jar,
sometimes electrified, rushing so fast that
your hand cramps with the need to keep up.

An inexhaustible storehouse of beauty,
these visitors, calling forth deep care,
reverence even, inside—as you
fulfill your obligation, and privilege,
to assist these denizens from another world,
to help them come alive here—
so we can feel their breath
and flesh and smiles and wisdom,
their sinews climbing up impassable
mountains, struggling to be born—
until they finally unfurl themselves,
spread their wings, and sail
onto the paper
under your fingers.

The Terrain

The terrain is rough. Days go by.
He clambers over rocks in his path.
Gnarled, overgrown branches above him
snag his shirt, cut into already scarred skin.
He knows only that he must forge ahead.
He sees that the creek he’s been following
is drying up and wonders what other way
forward will be possible.

Leaning into the next boulder, he sees
that he is not without choices, even here
in the wilderness. He starts to enjoy the struggle—
the sensation of sweat rising on skin,
the sudden clarity of vision as he grasps
the way past this particular impasse.
He gets the intimation that the hardships he faces
were designed specifically for him, somehow—
to give spirit something to push against,
to help muscles grow to meet the challenge.

Finally, he rests.
He sees that this is his home,
these trials are what he was made for.
Still lost, but not discouraged in the least,
he gets up and heads onward,
as he knows he must.

The Wind-Up Mouse

The mind scurries from place to place,
like a wind-up mouse in a labyrinth,
nibbling away at problems,
finding patterns, forever fixing things,
filing away solutions.

But then it runs into bigger questions:
‘Why am I here?’ ‘What about God?’
‘How to feel continually present?’
It bounces against these walls,
then falls down, over and over.
It is simply not designed
to comprehend such things,
much less climb up them to the top.

Someone else inside needs to be woken up,
someone able to breathe these questions
into life, clear that he can’t do anything
but sit, and surrender—then slowly start
to circumnavigate these eternal conundrums.

Wake him up—but then. . .
just let him be,
little mouse.

Shhh!

Part One

What would a stopwatch show if it counted the minutes
spent talking inside our heads—
rehearsing future events, conversations,
or rehashing past ones?
Living largely in our imagination,
even as we function in the world. . .

Seemingly harmless, this talking, as normal as breathing.
But, like narcotics, a certain distance appears—
subtle, yet a steel trap, closing,
the distance inserting itself between us
and our own experiences.

Behind our conscious mind, these solo conversations
also give birth to distorted offspring.
Imagining we are just a wee bit nicer or smarter
(or dumber) than is really the case,
we come to believe it as truth—
an invisible cage of subtle lies.

Once seen, this trap needs to be sprung, but how?
There’s this: Simply stop all the words, mid-sentence even.
Stop believing in them, just for a minute at a time.
No harm done pulling the plug on things living only in our mind . . .

Part Two

And if we did, what would take its place?

In the moment, the real relief of life without commentary,
without judgment—stray voices just ignored
in favor of whatever appears next.

Over time, the possibility of cumulative effects, unfolding:

Seeing and accepting what is actually true,
minute by minute—a noble path, somehow bringing
new respect just for being human.

On a good day, seeing the world and everything in it,
including ourselves, as alive, vibrating,
deliciously three-dimensional.

Watching one tension dissolve, and then another,
tied-in as they are to past and future dramas,
leaving us in peace, finally.

On occasion, the gift of a feeling of real gratitude
for just our very existence, here, at this moment. . .

And, as if in response, an impulse akin to prayer
that asks to be shown how to be of service.

And then perhaps a question waiting years to be heard,
not framed in words,
but something like,
“What would it take to be completely free of worry?”
And the equally wordless response,
bigger than the sky,
something like “God”. . .

Shhh!

Enough Already

Like a little dog
yapping at random
sounds and passersby,
the mind believes
its endless chatter
is essential.
“Be quiet now, Sweetie,”
we say,
when we’ve had enough.

Gratitude on Principle

I have one eye that works well enough.
I eat every day.
The Nazis aren’t coming tonight
            to knock down my door.
The air is breathable.
My feet are just the right size
            to fit inside my socks.
I am not mentally ill.
The birds aren’t falling out of the sky
            for no reason. . .

This list could go on and on.

And even if each of them were taken away,
            one by one,
I bet it would be possible
to start a new list that would still give me
sufficient reason to wake up
            (and not just first thing in the morning),
and simply be grateful
            that I exist
            and get to partake in this world,
            for a little while.

And when the challenges start mounting up,
            is there still a way
            to lift my inner eyes to heaven in thanks?
Even for the absurdities of life,
            and my own imperfections—
            ­for the opportunity they present?
Even for my chains—
            for the freedom lying in wait there?

Meditation on the Night Sky

Nighttime, far from human lights,
looking deep into the Milky Way,
ecstatic at the sheer immensity of it,
eyes open wider than seems possible.
Stars everywhere,
splattered completely at random,
yet at the same time,
brimming over with meaning
and incomprehensible beauty. . .

And then an overwhelming perception:
everything is linked together, held together,
—beyond description, beyond understanding—
made whole somehow
by the force of the One
we are all infinitesimal parts of—
the impression seared inside, forever.

Back on earth. . .
To see the heavens with that clarity,
the bustle of civilization must be left far behind.
For the same reason,
feeling the need for a deeper vision,
we sit in quiet.
Uncoupling from our daily affairs,
gradually three worlds take shape, one inside the other:
      The world everyone shares, sees, touches.
      Then closer in—sensations/emotions/thoughts,
      all the currents that make up “me” in each of us.
And, sometimes (even mundane moments, midday),
      residing at our core,
      simple, unalloyed consciousness
      —pristine, unshakable, watching everything. . .

We feel its awareness feeding our deepest selves,
connecting us somehow with realms
higher than anything we can know
down here on the ground.

Three worlds we live in,
each as real
as the Milky Way
on a crystal clear night,
stars blazing.

Dangling, Surrender

He saw himself
        dangling, shackled,
            twisting in the wind,
                hopelessly ensnared
                        by a thousand subtle needs,
                                a thousand entanglements—
                        his only chance of escape
                being complete surrender,
            (not once, but ongoing),
        leaving just himself. . .
silent, open, listening.

A Tale of Inner Separation

A scared little guy inside
runs much of my machinery,
I’ve noticed.
Compelled to defend himself
—in advance, no less—
against any possible hurts,
he worries and scurries through life
and takes me with him, hypnotized.

Seeing this as fact one day, I asked,
“Do you want to spend
a good chunk of your life like this?”
The response didn’t require
any pulling up of bootstraps,
no judgment, recrimination, angst—
just seeing the truth,
and making the obvious move:
I simply sat him down and told him:
      that everything was fine,
      that there was no need to be afraid,
      that he could just relax
      without that causing any harm.
“If some hassle comes our way,
we’ll deal with it then,” I said,
and he understood that we would, in fact,
be able to deal with most anything
in that fashion.

He hasn’t disappeared, of course,
but at least we’re on speaking terms,
and that’s a good thing.

Ending the Pursuit of Happiness

(with thanks to Barry Magid)

A funny drama played itself out within him.
            He wanted clarity, presence,
            the feeling of being awake,
            and sometimes he was granted such things.
            But then they disappeared.
“Why, and why so quickly,” he asked?

Inside, under the surface, forces were at work.

Like the desire for happiness, for example—
            firmly ensconced inside him.
This desire excluded ‘not happy,’
            so when ‘not happy’ came up
            (as it had a tendency to do),
            he resisted—shutting him down from
            fully feeling it, fully feeling life,
            hiding out somewhere inside until it departed.

Then suddenly one day, he saw the state he was in
            as both ‘him’ and ‘not him’ at once.
This was good. It led him to understand, directly,
            that at any point, he could pursue happiness or,
            by genuine acceptance, see down into each moment.
            But he could not do both.

He had little doubt that if he did, over time,
            end this slavery to the pursuit of happiness,
            then a deeper joy would come—
            in its own good time, of course.

But only if he honestly didn’t care,
            one way or the other.

“There’s a good koan for you,” he said,
            accepting that too,
            and looking as far down the road as he could see.

Bad Day Recipe

When the Powers-That-Be want to whip up
a tough day for us, perhaps the behind-the-scenes
preparation would look like this:

“Before we start, please note the sign above me,
‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’
Now that that’s clear, we will begin
today’s bad day recipe with a big
dollop of fears of the unknown—
either large or small ones work equally well.
Go ahead, open the box, don’t be afraid.
(He chuckles, amused at himself.)
In that same package, you’ll notice some long
strands of muscle tension that will end up around
your jaw and eyes. Throw those in the pot, too.
Then we’ll roll out the hard lump of dismay
that shows up at the disappearance of
our capacity to gracefully cope with things.
(Ah, do sit back down, sir, there’s no use
in trying the avoid this mandatory class.)
Next, let’s put in a cup of the stagnant waters
of Nowheresville Creek, where we will be
stranded all day, without a paddle in sight,
fish clicking their teeth around us.
We are allowed to leaven it a bit with
a few drops of elixir of Lessons Learned, but
if the mixture starts to rise too soon, beat it
down with some bitter disappointments—
several in sequence, if necessary.
That should do the trick.
As needed, add some more liquid from the
endless pool of tears we keep buried away
behind everything else in the fridge.
Then mix the ingredients together, but try not
to be intimidated by the big metal
tines as they whip around your head.
As the piece de resistance, we are obliged to
sit by while our born-again family members
pour saccharine advice on top.
It can be messy if the whole thing boils over,
so just try to let it all simmer under the surface
until you are completely burnt, through and through.

It might be tough to stomach, but please
do remember our earlier discussion about the
essential nutrients it contains. Bon appetit.”

Lived Moments

What could a moment contain?
We have an immediate understanding,
but does that have to be the end?
What else might be possible?

Diving beneath the surface,
we see the glint of pearls,
ways to make life come alive. . .

           “Slowing the moments down,
           knowing it’s no use to rush through life
           as if we were on the way
           to something more important.

The feeling of being like an iceberg,
our depths unknown, only the tip visible. . .

           All six senses fine-tuned,
           perceptions sharper, antennae up. . .

Discovering how to anchor ourselves in the moment,
to resist just being sucked away
to somewhere else. . .

           Open to something greater,
           we listen, in silence, for hidden voices. . .

Letting the taste of ‘what is’ linger a bit longer,
taking the bitter with the sweet, as it has to be. . .”

For any of this to happen, we’ll have to give up our
inner passivity, our somnambulance,
and actually dig down into
whatever comes, one
lived moment
into the
next.

A Natural High

(Seeing the world with psychedelic eyes,
but totally ‘on the natch,’ just high on life.)

Standing in the kitchen,
my perspective shifting,
constantly re-setting itself:
            here, inside—there, the room,
            the palpable realness of both,
each thing exactly itself—
crunching, squeaking, vibrating,
whispering, sighing relief.

Hearing bells in the distance,
feeling that distance as home, as friend,
as an extension of me—expanding
and contracting, like breath,
yet always connected to a place
further inside than I can follow.

Feeling gratitude for the simplest things—
for my heart, mostly,
for its ability to repair itself,
to climb up out of the wreckage
of mistakes made, bruised, but undaunted.

Then another gift—the multi-layered emotions
of you coming near, touching me—
the attractions, electric,
the feelings of deep bond from years of
sharing the grit and juice and sweetness
of two lives inextricably intertwined.

Then sensing the circles we are part of—
larger and larger circles—
dozens, then hundreds, then millions of us,
the complete newness,
the uniqueness of each one,
yet our common strivings,
our need for each other,
our love of being alive.

Alive until the day when we are called on
to finally let it all go—each one of us
disappearing into the void.
Yet, as this happens, simultaneously,
the absolute ecstasy of it,
like being shot out of a cannon,
expanding,
immediately filling the entire Universe,
and more,
becoming
the Everything
we always were.

An Invitation

The outside world impinges.
We either close off or puff up.
Keeping track of the space around us,
ourselves in the middle,
creates a third possibility—
myself, fully existing in my world,
unassailable, so I can invite you in.
“Tea?”

Long Live Jazz

The bass notes emerge, evenly spaced
in the stream of time, happy to be bouncing,
bubbling, carried along by
the pulse of “Invitation.”
But not just that, containing within themselves
a call to move forward,
to reveal progressively more
of the Why of things somehow,
as the musical line unfolds,
creates itself, spirals onward, like magic.

Underneath the solo, the bass helps create
a latticework of support, made from
steel strings and tender yearnings.
The notes of all the players seem to sparkle
with a quiet joy at being transformed
from mere musical possibilities
into real, living sounds, released into the sunshine
at the outdoor gig—a touch of paradise as a greater
whole emerges out of our separate parts.

Mirroring the gentle hills around us, the music
outlines the rising and falling of a different landscape—
one where anticipation and sorrow, dignity and longing
dot the countryside like trees­—the music being our window
into a whole world of emotions usually buried
under the weight of daily cares.

Later, our brother and benefactor tells it like it is,
full of righteous indignation
at a world gone mad, and we wonder
what the value of playing music is
against the weight of all that.
But perhaps the invisible strength
of what is born within these moments
of musical bliss is just what the world needs
to veer away from self-immolation—
showing us, beyond words,
that life is worth living
and worth working to preserve.
Long Live Jazz.

The Tyranny of the Trivial

He fumes:
“What possesses people to idolize the ordinary,
to minimize the vastness of skies we all carry,
within? No doubt, every place is the center of some universe,
but isn’t there a difference, some better and worse
among the things we could be, between roads taken?
Or have I just been forsaken on a planet not of my choosing,
where two-penny thoughts are king,
and kings, like Bird, can’t win for losing?
Why can’t people strive for better, not just observe
the letter of the laws of the Universe, not just get along,
pat each other on the back for any old song, or worse?
No doubt there’s envy here, rearing its ugly head,
but isn’t high school ever done, where the dumbest goon
takes the loveliest flower to bed? And when’s the turn
for those of us with real ideas in our head to have our say?
Or should we simply—and please, nice and quietly—
slink away, pretending that it’s fine, it’s OK
to sink down into the common denominator, just say ‘later’
to hopes and dreams, to getting closer
to what things really mean, underneath?
Do we really need to ‘keep it brief, son,’
because it’s time to party, have some fun,
play Trivial Pursuits in a convivial manner,
turn on Country Hoots and blather on
about whatever, doesn’t matter?”

The Chinese herbalist, Madame Wu-Wei, listens to him rant,
shakes her head, then says in her ancient, raspy, broken English:
“You no longer young-time boy no more, sonny.
When you going stop attaching to how things turn out, eh?
Life random, like dropping marbles in top of sorting machine.
Which slot it lands, no matter. All same. What you need. All beautiful.
All ’cause of laws you no see. You keep eyes open, heart open,
someday see much more why things happen.
Try be peaceful too, behind other emotions.
Just see clear as you can each ball dropping in slot.
Be thanking something bigger than you all time you can.
Go now, smile sometimes, love as much you can this world,
All else come to you at right time, sonny. No problem, you’ll see.”

Family Contradictions

(For those of us caught in a maelstrom of family relations. . .)
           
A sugar pill with a bitter coating.
A bitter pill wrapped in honey.
Inner beauty wrapped in way too much distortion.
Even so, these distortions conceal a beating heart,
            as worthy as the next.
But then who wants to get beaten over the head
            with “Me, me, me. Give me my due.
            Have you given me my due, lately,
            again, have you?”

The maelstrom spins. . .

Dues are paid, but even that, tarnished
            by the tongue, held.
Twisted innards wrapped around love.
Love then squeezed like a balloon
            into disfigured shapes—
            disfigurement masquerading as duty.
Duties ambiguous, unclear, divided. . .

Is there a lesson to be learned here?
            That, too, remains unclear.

Thoughts banging up against an immobile lid
            on what’s boiling here.
Frustration leading to action without thought.
            Consequences set in motion.
Emotions set in concrete, but bubbling up
            just the same, seeking resolution.
Resolutions are made, then broken.
Hopes broken for freedom from
            these cycles, turning in the concrete.
“At least concrete’s not an abstraction,”
            whispered backstage.

If all’s life’s a stage,
            can I talk with the playwright, please?

Looking, then seeing, then this expression—
            then absorbing lessons, without words.
Words turning into some understanding,
            but not in words.
Words setting themselves on fire,
            sacrificing themselves so we can see.

Bittersweet

Like an obelisk of granite, melancholy just sits inside.
I avoid looking at it. I avoid exposing it to others.
I console myself with treats. I distract myself
with infinite irrelevancies.
I run into forests of imagination, anything
to postpone confronting this banal suffering.

But then a vow gradually arises from my gut:
as I am able, I will not hide from this dull pain.
I will take a spoon and consume my given portion,
bite by bittersweet bite. In silence,
the taste of it sinks down into me,
its truth quietly rousing me from my slumber—
my waking, walking sleep.

To dig down into a moment like this,
like a man, or to live and die like a dog—
the choice is presented, over and over.
And I rejoice in its clear, bracing bouquet,
door that it is to a life worth living.

Becalmed

Late in the day, becalmed,
the passengers of the sailboat
wonder what is to become of them—
miles from shore, no way to radio for help;
the different reactions to the danger they face
not yet at the boiling point of conflict.

“Looks like we’re stranded, Mark,” someone says
to the oldest, most experienced person aboard.
Mark lifts his finger to the wind, then mutters
that they should have taken some precautions.
The teenager gives up quickly, retreats
with a morose stare fixed on his face.
The others engage in fruitless discussions,
as they wait for someone to come
and miraculously rescue them.
Why don’t they figure out how to create some
paddles from the packing crate in the corner?

Instead, as the sun sets,
the boat slowly fades
into the distance
until no sounds can be heard.

Meditation II

(to be recited one stanza at a time)

As we sit, we feel the sensation of our body holding us up.

We straighten the spine so that it finds its place of perfect balance,
opening up a pathway to a higher energy, above us.

We listen to the outside world around us—
feel it pulsing with life.

We observe our thoughts and feelings with the same objectivity—
just more life, coming and going.

We feel each breath, one at a time—each one like a prayer,
leading us inward.

The world, our individual self, a finer energy inside—
all connected by the breath, over and over.

The world, our individual self, a deeper Self inside—
three worlds, all strung together like beads on the breath.

Breath. . . . silence. . . . alive.

Breath. . . . silence. . . . gratitude,
even as we open our eyes,
to quietly start our day.

Non-Judgment Day is Coming

What if, following the Sermon on the Mount,
we proclaimed one day a year
to be Non-Judgment Day?

Sponsored by
‘The Total Acceptance League,’
we would, on principle, say
‘That’s cool,’ or ‘I understand,’
or ‘If that’s true, then we’ll just deal with it
as best we can,’ to whatever anyone
thought, or felt, or said, or did,
        especially ourselves.

If someone was a drag, then they’d
get dragged off to the station house,
or be duly chastised,
        but without any rancor whatsoever.

My guess, though, is that
if we all completely accepted
the reality of who we were, minute by minute,
and felt that same acceptance by others,
        then this would be a heaven on earth.

Fantasy? Not necessarily.
What’s to prevent us from starting today,
right here at home,
        even for just this next moment?

Swinging with the Pendulum

The walls
of my inner room
are expandable.
They slowly breathe
in and out
over the course of a day.

As they contract,
the room gets heavier, denser—
moving around it a chore,
until sometimes all that is possible
is wallowing in the sludge.

But sooner or later they open—these walls,
        the ceiling—letting in light, air,
            a felt sense of the people around me,
                rivulets of real emotion,
            subtle vibrations of unknown origin,
        the ticker-tape of sensations as they
silently swirl through me.
        Now able to freely turn around inside myself, unstuck,
            slowly turning like a dervish, or a kaleidoscope,
                watching all the impressions coming in,
            and sending back out messages of beauty,
        curiosity, solidarity, hope.

Internal forces properly aligned,
I see this pendulum swinging back and forth,
see that little annoyances, big problems,
neither needs to be resisted—just dealt with,
knowing that they, too, will pass.

Like Count Basie’s band, a gentle
sense of forward motion takes over—
everything meshing smoothly.
The pendulum swings—mournful or buoyant,
each with its own kind of beauty—
like music, spreading out in all directions,
back toward its source.

The Crew

(As our personal ship of state heads out for another voyage,
let’s take a look at some of the crew members:)

George, having wrapped himself in resignation,
like a flag, peeks around the corner,
then waves, but without much enthusiasm.

Bobby exhilarates in the challenge of taking bumps
in the road in stride, avoiding derailment simply by
sheer will and a subtle joy in reaching the next moment
with something intangible inside him still intact.

We see Betty pushing around a shopping cart
filled to the top with memories of hurts sustained.
One lodges inside her chest, slowly dissolves,
dripping into a puddle, then is endlessly recycled,
like water in a fountain.

Joined to her by unseen forces, but turned around
180 degrees, Ali can sense the presence of sacred
forces helping him—with even simple advice like,
“Watch the road now,” or “Feel what she feels here,”
or “Shhh!”

Frederica catches herself daydreaming,
sees its uselessness—then stops, remains silent
inside for a minute, motionless in her mind. . .
Refreshed, she continues on into her day,
but with a bit more dignity, presence.

Still, real questions remain:
Is there a Captain of this ship­—someone who can use
all of the crew’s various energies and still be himself,
someone who is himself,
regardless of storms breaking around him?

Can the foreknowledge of his existence hasten his arrival?
Or is he already here, waiting,
inside each of the partial facets revealed?
(And if so, waiting for what?)

A Work in Life

(a broadside to be wheatpasted to the inside of one’s being)

The Internal Workers Union (IWU) Issues a Manifesto:

We want freedom.
We want freedom from the bosses of our internal world—
        all the forces that have habitually enslaved us.
We want a free attention, a clarity of vision to replace
        these conditioned responses.
We want to be free from imposing the first particle of
        ‘what should be’ on ‘what actually is.’
We want freedom from any concern about our status
        on some mythical ‘scale of being.’
We aim for freedom from needing any particular outcome of events—
        so we can follow an internal thread from one moment to the next
        without being derailed.

                In the pursuit of these goals:

We are willing to take on the extra obligation of being present inside
        ourselves for as many of the normal events of our day as possible—
        a ‘Work in Life.’

                In service to this Work in Life:

We are willing to to live without endless validation, endless self-evaluation.
We are willing, if necessary, to let any self-image crumble,
        still trusting that our lives have validity.
We are willing to absorb pain, remain steadfast in the midst of our sufferings,
        in the pursuit of a deeper meaning.

                Once seen, we hold these truths to be self-evident:

That each event has an unspoken message for us. Not in words,
        but real, nonetheless. (Like now, for instance.)
That sacrifices made will transform into blessings in their own good time.
That being awake, at any point, is a gift, not just an obligation.

                We therefore call on all Internal Workers of the World to unite—
                and first of all, within ourselves.

Losses and Losers

We talk to ourselves. We breathe half-empty air.
Our loins ache, smothered in business suits.
Our spirits struggle up through cracks
in the corporate monolith, like flowers breaking
through the concrete for their moment in the sun.
As we sit and stare out the window, we wonder
who the ‘they’ is that benefits from this travesty,
this slow train-wreck of a life.

                        *

Just on a whim one day, he drove his car off the road
and, unsuccessfully, up a tree. As if there were an
invisible virus afoot, people started acting out—
nonchalantly throwing glass bottles up in the air,
frat party-style, but stone cold sober, 10 am.
Then a nose tweak, an arm yank, the sudden
stink of smoke, smoldering underfoot.
As chaos cascaded around us—crashes, yells, moans—
we finally understood the value of civilization’s
thin veneer—too casually, and too soon, abandoned.

                        *

Playing by himself, the little boy was happy,
humming, watching the truck carom
around the corner under his fingers.
As his sister came into the room,
the world he had created quietly shut down.
They were friends, but it was a rare person
who could see the value of his world
and step into it with him.

                        *

Spirits sagging like the bulbous belly
of a bogus sidewalk Santa,
he gave his Christmas wishes
with half a heart—the other half having
been picked apart by the birds’ beaks
of repeated insults to his self-respect.

                        *

Silence reigned at the dinner table.
Thoughts emerged and were quickly expunged
by everyone present. The echoes of each one’s filtering
quietly bounced around the room, as we dealt with
the news of his demise.

                        *

The record player needle sits too lightly in its groove.
When it arrives at a slightly sticky spot, it jumps,
starting up again at a new, random, place.
Round and round it goes, but rarely seems able
to dig down and own its own revolutions.

                        *

I look around my internal room—it seems that
some Repo Man, enforcing cosmic laws too inscrutable
for me to grasp, has removed all but the barest
of furniture while I was otherwise occupied.
Having been unceremoniously dumped by my
‘reminding angels,’ all that remains is
just a whiff of their celestial scent.

                        *

He suddenly remembered what he had learned in karate—
that snapping back was the point, the aim, of any action;
that each moment had to be sacrificed, let go of,
for the next one to appear in all its fullness.

Two Plates Twirling

One day, out of the blue, he saw himself objectively,
as if he were someone else—
            the fears, the constraints,
            the incessant little needs, ‘the whole catastrophe.’
           
He saw the good parts too, but it was all
            running on its own somehow,
            controlled by forces unknown.

“Is this second-hand life all there is?” he wondered.
            So he worked, he struggled and,
            with help, over time,
            changes occurred inside.

He discovered the feeling of living in his body,
            its silent strength.

He had thoughts that left him speechless,
            just seeing.

He found that even small, mundane perceptions
            (but his own)
            could light up his day,
            like signposts.

He asked to be able to feel what he was part of,
            and the Universe opened up,
            radiating out from where he stood,
            extending forever. . .

His ordinary self didn’t disappear, of course,
            but he understood first-hand that
            two independent parts can live
            inside him at the same time.

Like two plates twirling—
            one automatic,
            one born of his wish to be present
            for his own life.

For this gift, this second chance at living,
            he felt most grateful.

And still does.

Man At Work

It seems that anything can be a ‘reminding factor,’
—a reminder to come back to ourselves,
to shake loose from our ‘waking dream.’
Come with me for a minute, if you would,
to see what I mean.

“Starting from anywhere:
the feeling of the computer keys under my fingers
leads to sensing what it is to be a living being,
inside this body. . .

Which opens up into the feeling of being a whole person,
full of sensations, thoughts, emotions, perceptions—
      each worth attending to
      each some sort of message
      from the place where Meaning comes from. . .

Which awakens a sense of being part of
an Indescribable Whole,
only lasting a second,
but mine nonetheless. . .

Then the inevitable descent
to a more ordinary state,
with all the bittersweet feelings
of finitude and loss,
resolution and constraint
that is my daily fare.
But even those—the cause of moments of real seeing,
real experiencing of what actually is. . .

Then gratitude for the soft, flesh landing
of snuggling into your arms. . .”

If anything and everything
can be a reminding factor,
then that puts us in a pretty good position—
if we’re
looking
to be
reminded.

Consciousness

There is a consciousness within us.
It sees, watches, knows exactly
what our life is like, from the inside.

We go through long stretches of time where
it is invisible, identified as we are
with every passing thought,
or emotion,
or drama outside.

But this direct, clear awareness exists
—and can coexist with our normal self—
like having a big brother inside,
keeping watch over us,
seeing everything,
impartial to gain or loss.

To experience this,
a subtle kind of effort is required,
and also a letting go. . .
internal shifts in delicate balance,
allowing two worlds to coexist within. . .

Our states ebb and flow,
but, as a pure gift from the heavens,
our inmost consciousness is always here,
waiting for us
to come home
and join it.

I Simply Am

Chuck is my project this lifetime,
but he is not me.
I share in his joys, his pain,
but I am not them.
I whisper things in his mind
that he needs to understand.
I send him the love
that was given to me
to pass on to him.
I am him
and I am not.

I simply am.

Kitchen Table Conversation

Instead of talking about love this time,
how about an understanding
that we are completely unique,
and more valuable than we
are usually able to admit?

What is it that blocks our vision,
that stands between us and a view of
the treasures that we are—like everyone?
What storehouses of feeling and beauty
lay just on the other side of some
big unseeable force, standing in the way?

Other people see our gifts,
our irreplaceable way of being,
but this lumbering whirlwind,
this big brown creature, just out of sight,
simply will not let us pass.

Is there a way to confront this creature more directly?
Can we peek behind its curtain
when it is napping someday?
Would we see it then as a frumpy old bear,
only able to fool us
by puffing itself up
into a seeming force of nature?. . .

Or, instead, perhaps we should just gambol
along the parkway, hand in hand,
letting sleeping bears lie,
warm in the coziness of years of love
piled on top of each other,
like a skyscraper made of hotcakes,
thick syrup
slowly sliding
down each one,
into our waiting mouths.

Silent Secret

What’s the point of living
in a body
if I ignore it,
except when it says, “Feed me,”
in one way or another?

Is there a silent secret here,
the answer to a riddle as yet unstated?

Could it be that I cannot really
appreciate being alive
if I don’t feel the blood lapping at my cells?

So I try, and fail,
try, and fail,
with some numinous exceptions,
to feel, down to my bones,
that I am actually incarnated
in this body.

Is just the attempt of any value
in finding clues as to why I was born?
Can I call to Heaven
to help me feel my feet
being rooted on the Earth?

Is there a silent secret here?

Suffering

There is real suffering in this world,
and plenty of it.
Physical pain, emotional traumas,
all sorts of craziness, terminal greed,
and more cases of man’s inhumanity to man
than there are stars in the sky.
Even the well-to-do suffer—pampered peacocks,
locked in their gated cages, suffocating.

Instinctively, we want to know why, why all this grief?
Some, we understand first-hand, is useful—
adversity that forces us to grow up, yet again.
But others seem incomprehensible, unjustifiable
no matter how they are viewed.
We cry out, “Why?”

This, evidently, will remain a mystery,
for reasons also unknown. . .

If we lose faith, close ourselves off
from this state of not knowing,
then a subtle cynicism comes into play—
we fall back on easier ways of being,
settle for partial victories, smaller prizes:
        we judge and judge yet again, assuming our own infallibility;
        we defend our own tribe, our positions;
        we deny the humanity of our opponents,
        the Golden Rule lying unused in a corner—
        the primordial failure of our species on stark display.

But there is another path:
allowing the unknown to reside inside us,
alleviating what suffering we can,
learning to see the immense follies
of our self-inflicted pain,
and the possibilities of undoing it.

We then see the beauty around us,
inside of us, inside others,
all pointing to a Universe of meaning and purpose,
even if largely hidden from us.
In that, we persevere, we suffer, we heal, we rejoice.

A Morality Tale

The Brother From Another Planet came back
to Earth one day, but this time as a sixth-grader.
Out on the playground, the other kids didn’t
want to let him in on their game of basketball—
because he was new, his skin was a different color,
or perhaps just because they had some power
over him and couldn’t resist the temptation to
see that power in action, in order to verify that,
indeed, they did exist.

The Brother hung around on the outskirts of the game,
chased the ball for them when it went careening away,
tried to make himself useful, pleasant. But the other boys
just smirked and left him sitting on the sidelines.
Then one day the Brother had enough. He rose up
to his real height of 10 feet tall, both heads
full of sharp teeth, claws glistening
in the afternoon sunlight. He said,
“Give me the ball, boys—now.”
They gave it to him, for sure, screaming
as they ran away. The national guard was called,
the Brother captured, sent back home.

Several of the boys understood that they had been
the root of the problem, but the others couldn’t see it.
They grew up to be councilmembers, businessmen,
pillars of their community, defenders of the American
Way of Life. But they never forgot the vision of
the 10 foot tall Brother and, at night, they remained
locked in their homes, rifles at the ready,
while many light years away,
the Brother played basketball with the stars,
shooting hoops through the rings of Saturn.

The Point of “Nothingness”

On the inner-directed path,
Nothingness is freedom from somethingness.
We are somethings,
but we didn’t create ourselves—
that was the work of all the forces we’ve been under
since Day One.
In moments of clarity, we understand
that it is not our job
to polish this something up
into a ‘better’ something.
Rather, to surrender,
and keep surrendering,
to what actually is—
as we head for freedom
from the hypnotic headlock
somethingness has us in.

Sage’s Advice

“On your worst day, prepare for your best;
and on your best day, prepare for your worst,”
a man of profound wisdom once said.

Since everything is in constant flux,
including our transitory states,
wouldn’t it be beautiful to change with it,
voluntarily, moment by moment?
Instead, always clinging with one hand
and pushing away with the other—
not a very graceful posture
to hold forever.

Imagine being free from that,
not afraid to be
wherever we are,
on the way somewhere,
instead of always
already arrived.

If I’m not mistaken,
life wants us to be
on our toes,
inside our bodies,
and attentive to everything,
in and around us.
If not this, then what was the world created for?
Just to ignore, to snore our way through?

Again and yet again,
life will wake us up,
if we let it.
How?

Be ready
for anything,

starting
now.

Eulogy for a Jazz Drummer

(eight bars of drums in front, then hi-hat. . .)

Paul died,
eyes closed here
but open wide
to another world,
mind unfurled
in wonderment
at the end.

He was our friend,
a cool cat on his drumseat perch
but more than just that—
a soul
in search,
even though prone,
the tone
of his laughter
echoing back
through time,
his goal,
his mind
entwined with ours, even after.

He played smooth by choice,
his time like butter.
But give him fours
or on his own,
he’d sing, he’d roar,
yes, all alone
he was, to say it
plain and simple,
a unique voice,
a real bad mutha.

Like Bird, he lives in our esteem,
in that feeling of swing.
He was on our team—
the good guys, bright spirit,
the world-wise,
the “let’s hear it
for the band” guys.
He had that thing. . .
and how.

Keeper of time,
lover of jazz and life,
a good cat to hang with.
He’s soaring, swinging—
beyond all his strife, now.

We’ll miss him.

An Agnostic Approaches God

He wondered about God.
Not to deny or assent to Him, necessarily,
but how to approach the questions
that rolled around inside him.

He knew first-hand that there was something
greater than himself afoot in the Universe.
But his own relation to that Something
remained a mystery.

So he asked himself:

“Can I have contact with God without ‘religion’?
(no slick TV preachers, please)
Am I already being called, but just can’t hear it?

Does God need my praise and thanks?
Do I need to give it?

Can I get the help I need here?
How might I ask for this help?
What is in the way of my asking?

How can I pray when I don’t know
if there’s anyone on the receiving end?

What happens if I simply ignore these musings?
What happens if I don’t?”
       
       
Finally, he just gave thanks for the questions,
as he kept them alive inside himself.

Two Views, One Truth

(with a nod to P.D. Ouspensky)

Funny how two contradictory viewpoints
can both have the ring of Truth.

In the Zen view,
we have no permanent,
“real” self—
all is flux,
only Now,
only the Void remaining.

Then there’s the feeling of ourselves
as actually existing through time—
yesterday,
a second ago,
now,
then another now,
and into the future—
all alive simultaneously, inside—
like being a big long snake
stretching from our conception
to our demise.

Then we see:
any moment of this long snake
can be felt as a moment in Eternity—
luminous, multi-hued,
its richness extending
in all directions,
layer upon layer
of meaning upon meaning,
the perfect version of Now.

Two views reconciled
in Eternity.

Where Do Failed Poems Go When They Die?

Where do failed poems go when they die?
They course through the brain, our veins
slowly popping, eyes getting blurry from the
editing, chop-chopping—yet still they won’t fly.

How about inept emotions found dead on the floor?
We can’t all be jailed for crimes against perfection.
Maybe there’s times when natural selection
just doesn’t apply anymore.

Where do failed friendships go? Do they cry
as they expire? We can’t make the ball
go over the net, go any higher, merely by wishing.
There’s always switching eggs to another basket,
but a mighty big task it is, to just let things die.

Where does failed music go when it’s over and done?
Ax in the bag, head for home, hang your head,
spin some wax, write a poem. But it won’t
change a note, and there’s nowhere to run.

What about the pain of a failing world?
It’s too big a job for a poet to tackle, tease into rhyme.
If we whack at the demons, or just hide, mope around,
our faculties will start to shut down from the strain,
from the loss of composure. So, please don’t give up.
It’s not done ‘til it’s over.

Wake Up Dreams

If we desire only happiness,
as the Ferris wheel turns
the full 360 degree view is missed,
scrambling to stay on top
just a bit longer.
Is there another, more noble way?

In answer, a series of dreams came to wake me up.
Unlike endless “late to the gig” ones, in these
everything attempted worked out perfectly somehow,
everything desired came to pass without any grand effort,
like having a genie with an unlimited bag of wishes. . .

But, upon waking, feelings of vague distress
and finally an understanding, ending these dreams:
The genie and his bag led only
to a slow death. . .
Like the taste of too much candy,
desires were fulfilled,
yet something inside was being starved,
withering away.

Then the realization: without opposition,
my life force slowly dissipates—
a startling idea, deep in the gut:
I need struggle to remain strong.
I need discomfort—even pain sometimes—
to shed the skins of who I am now,
allowing something else to be born.
I need all of what comes—
    every event, every reaction
    every state of mind
    every bit of inspiration from the heavens
    every kick in the behind from the fates
—all of it, without exception.

Can I, then, from some sacred place inside,
    ‘will’ each thing that occurs—
    not needing to change any outcome, even if it were possible?
Can I honestly thank each catalyst for forward motion,
    no matter what happened?
Can I avoid the temptation of wanting
    a dream life of easy successes?
Can I remember?

The Painter

Like in the fairy tales, the young painter woke up
            and saw she had a magic paintbrush
            (or was it the paints, the canvas?).
As she moved her brush, the painting itself gradually
            became transparent and just blended into her reality.

Miraculous as this was, she could not paint what she wanted,
            only what was true for her.
            So she did that.
She painted all her multi-hued emotions,
            her heart overflowed onto the canvas,
            which became inseparable from her world.

She saw that this had always been true—
            like a paint-by-numbers book
            where she would color in
            the bones of reality
            and that became how the world looked to her.

As she matured, a certain gate inside her began to unlatch.
            When she stepped outside it,
            when she saw life without blinders on,
the world became very beautiful,
            even as the blemishes,
            the limitations, appeared crystal clear.
           
Her paintings became deeper, subtler,
            taking on a life of their own.
They started glowing with an inner light,
            adopting many forms,
            but all just reflecting one source of beauty,
            the way we all reflect the light of the sun.

Finally, like the Zen masters of old,
            she saw that she didn’t need her paintbrush any more,
            that her vision of the way things are was her world,
            and had been all along.

She painted without paints,
            she loved without limits,
            she gave thanks for everything,
            she blessed the world.

Reflections

A bumbler.
Brilliant.
A complete moron.
One of God’s miracles.
These, and a thousand other attributes.
All
  equally
    true.

Defending, berating, compensating,
tilting the scales my way,
currying favor in others’ eyes,
or my own.
These, and a thousand other machinations.
All
  equally
    useless.

Instead, searching for ways to actually Be,
To watch the moments carefully,
To let them soak all the way in,
To say ‘Thanks.’

Four Haiku

Three Pillars
The world, my state, me.
All completely different,
See all three at once.

The Perfect Time
Despite the chaos,
right now is the perfect time
to sit, see clearly.

Change With It
Friendly, sad, puzzled.
No resistance to each one.
All gifts, who I am.

What’s Underneath
Behind restlessness,
unanswerable questions.
Stay with not knowing.

A Reminiscence

He rarely understood what hit him
as, battered about by life, he careened
from one misadventure to another,
moments of hope followed by
inevitable let-downs—
from one pipe dream to the next.

He hoped but didn’t learn,
fought but didn’t understand,
cared but did not know how to be that person,
knew he was outclassed by bigger fish,
yet not able to find solace,
even in resignation.

His eyes, already glazed, were doubly
glazed over, seen through the glass
of his second martini during dinner.
A spoon dropped. Everyone froze in midair,
knowing he’d hit the roof,
his tenuous balance unraveling inside.
From the simple inability to deal with
his own fractured psyche after the war,
he terrorized his own flesh and blood. . .

Of course, he had a brighter side too—
his sly, offbeat humor,
valiant efforts to grow past his craziness,
his love for beauty, for his saint of a wife—
even for his kids, when he could.
Coming from a real need inside himself,
efforts towards restitution were made,
albeit obliquely, for injuries caused.

Can we have any real understanding of the value of this life?
Are we actually in a position to be judge and jury?
Would we have done any better in his shoes?
Will our offspring stand on our shoulders, as his kids stood on his?
Will we be judged for our own shortcomings too,
massive as we know them to be?

Better to live with the questions than the judgments.

Here’s to you, Pop.
And to a brighter day.

Mining for Gold

What could it mean to ‘be myself’
            when what I am keeps changing?
Just following the whim of the moment?
            That’s problematic, as I’ve found out.
What else am I made of? Ingrained habits,
            native abilities, default emotions,
            personality traits, learned skills. . .
Are any of these ‘me,’ except accidentally—
            things resulting from what happened
            to me—genetics, history?

Who am I, then, underneath everything else?

Words can’t pin it down,
            but I know it when I feel it—
            that feeling of being here,
            inside my own skin, exactly
            the specific person I am
            and no one else—
Experiencing these thoughts, feelings, sensations,
            connections with others, the cosmos—
            not needing to judge or change anything,
            even the less-than-pleasant parts, because:

            feeling myself
            exist as a living whole
            is worth anything.

How do I get to that state of being from here?

It’s unlikely I’ll find an answer in words, I bet,
            but just the asking, the deep need to know
            might be the crucial factor,
            leading me to pure gold.
Keep digging.

Who’s Driving?

Driving down the street one day,
suddenly recognizing that we’ve been
in a daydream for who knows how long.
Then we see the pattern:
            Asleep in life. . .then momentarily awake.
            Living in imagination. . .then present and accounted for.
            Completely identified with our own trip. . .then standing back
            and watching, more objectively—like a movie, but from inside it.

These alternating modes do not have to
be problematic at all, part of us knows.
Looked at from across the threshold
into the next world, they will both be seen
as necessary, as complimentary,
as two sides of the same coin.

Nonetheless, in our gut we sense that we need to
put our shoulders to the wheel, over and over.
We need to keep the home fires burning,
the driver’s seat at our core occupied
(by someone other than everyone else).

Because our destiny is to move towards
greater awareness of everything we can sense,
    greater understanding of what moves us,
        greater feeling for the people we touch,
            greater freedom from the traps that our ego sets,
like landmines, buried deep in the very fabric of our daily lives.

For that, we need more moments awake,
—pleasant or not—
aware of what is true,
on multiple levels,
underneath the surface of things,

our antennae quivering.