The faith grew from inside my bones, starting with incense, candles, and bells. I loved the magic of my church. First down the aisle came the Verger. Then came the majestic candles and banners, singers and acolytes, and the hypnotic clouds of incense from a swinging ball. Then came the Assisting Father, the bearer of the holy Gospels, and lastly the Celebrant Father. The sweet fog of the incense hung in the air like a cloud of God, making everything in my head holy… making me, myself, holy. Holy: as in whole, complete, well-loved.
It all helped me pray. I prayed for lots of things, on my knees, eyes closed, hands together, kneeling in the pew. I just knew someday I would live in a convent castle, and be the bride of Jesus. But at the same time I was always a tiny bit afraid I might speak out loud; what if I said a bad word? Even in elementary school, I understood this fear should be irrational and unlikely.
But it wasn’t! My little brother had once, when he was under the age of two, shouted the word “fuck” while the Congregation knelt with their heads-bowed, palms pressed, in one of the dramatic kneeling sections of the service. And my baby brother’s voice was so bright, so free, so joyous… that even the Celebrant Father couldn’t keep from laughing.
Everybody laughed. Including the Assisting Father, who was round as a ball and wore his red hair shaggy, and had round, hippie glasses. It may have been High Church Episcopalian, but it was still Fort Lauderdale in the 60s. Thank god my little brother didn’t do that when I got Confirmed by the Bishop was my only thought!
“Jesus loved children,” said the Celebrant Father, and the service flowed on without a hitch.
Filed under bible, childhood, christian, compassion, eternal, faith, family, fiction, forgiveness, god, good, kindness, love
The woman sits up all night, listening to it rain. The woman has often sat up all night waiting for one thing or another to either leave or arrive: bandaged fingers, whooping cough, her own lookalike grandchildren. When she can, she sleeps next to her dying mother in the king-sized bed; she bangs her own shins on the high rails, climbing in. Her arms and hands are able to lift the wasted body of her dying mother with amazing ease.
She watches & waters the great rack of African violets in the living room; grows wheat grass for her mother’s cat. Other times, she sits in a high-backed wooden chair, needlepointing forests in wool, chain-smoking for hours. Her mother will die very soon; then the daughter will put on her navy dress with a large, elaborate organdy collar and fail to draw a deep breath for several days. The woman’s several brothers and their children will fly in from all over the country, and flower offerings will dwarf the grave itself.
After the burial, the woman will pack all sorts of mementoes into her mother’s old cedar “hope” chest: yearbooks, diaries, photographs, diplomas, invitations, programs, baby booties, baby spoons, baby cups, even a rather grisly alligator purse, complete with the head, legs, tail & feet and sharp black claws. When she has nightmares, more often now, she sits up all night, her fluffy gray tabby queen on her lap like a hot-water bottle. The cat’s purring leads the woman away from the perilous mountain passes & rocky cliffsides inside her head and back to level ground, so she can help her mother die properly. That is what proper love looks like, she thinks.
Filed under beauty, blood, cancer, compassion, daughter, daughters, death, development, dream, dreams, eternal, eternity, everything, faith, family, fiction, forgiveness, god, grief, heart, hope, human beings, humanity, identity, karma, kindness, life, loss, love, mama, Uncategorized
Empire State Building
Twenty years ago we finally went to see the sights,
riding the train through flashing dim green suburb,
glassy sharp-edged slum, the skin stretched
pale and tight over your fine cheekbones —
you didn’t really know how to be afraid of death,
simply of heights and under-grounds:
you wanted always to be on the surface of the earth.
Your demise was still an abstraction,
discussed in the evening while sucking cool mints —
the natural order of things. I dragged you
all the way to the city under the water from Hoboken,
then marched you up to the roof of what was the tallest
building in the whole world when you were young.
I haven’t been here since it was built, you said,
and though the blood sank to your innards in panic,
you kept walking; I kept pushing and pulling you
forward, propelling your solid weight like a cart
loaded with spring lambs. Your hand, soft
wrinkled palm, roughened fingers speckled white
around the knuckles, gripped mine, but I showed
no mercy; I was forcing you to confront the bitter
end ahead of schedule. I was being cruel
to make you go look at the thin sparkling air
of the heavens and you knew it. But later,
my love, as you lay sweating, heavy and motionless
in your bed as though carved of wood, deprived
for weeks of even the common decency of words,
weren’t you glad you went with me once more to the top?
Filed under beauty, compassion, courage, daughter, daughters, death, empire, enlightenment, eternal, eternity, faith, family, fear, grief, heart, hope, human beings, humanity, kindness, loss, love, mama, memoir, mortality, mother, mothers, mourning, mysterious, poetry, soul, spirit, spiritual, spirituality, transcendence, transitions, tribute, truth, universe, wish
Conceived on Valentine’s Day, a poem
In the beginning, I almost hated them for bringing me into the world…
alone as egg, one floats weightless, drifting peacefully like a helium balloon,
and as sperm, one swims in ever-widening circles with serene joy.
I never approved the union: his tiny-tailed kamikaze wriggling to oblivion,
smashing headfirst into the mammalian membrane of her egg.
But now I love my frail universe; evidence of their short, fraught marriage.
They cooked me in the kitchen, first upon a midcentury, glitter-red dinette set,
then on gleaming, spotless black & white linoleum. I remember my mother
at that exact moment, the way she arched dizzily beneath him half-clothed…
her strapless formal askew, her silk stockings awry, her feet bare
after kicking off her spike heels. Barefoot & pregnant in the kitchen, she learned
quickly to live with organized madness. A love collision, a soft accident, birthed me.
She opened her soul to my father like a flower opening to the sun & he did the same;
my hands, my feet, my face suddenly called into existence by heat & explosions.
Filed under beauty, childbirth, daughter, daughters, dream, dreams, eternal, eternity, evolution, faith, family, father, fatherhood, fathers, heart, hope, love, mama, marriage, mortality, mother, mothers, mysterious, nature, parenting, passion, poetry, pregnancy, relationships, sex, soul, spirit, spiritual, spirituality, transcendence, tribute, truth, warmth, wish, woman, women
(Statements in italics taken from Ethics, by Baruch de Spinoza)
Look farther and farther toward thin blue sky, until the green feathery tops of the trees are like the northern pole on some dream planet. Put the anger back in its bottle. These trees are generous. Hatred can never be good.
Your carsickness from the ride up the mountain begins to fade, leaving behind a breathless, weepy echo not unlike your first religious fervor. Hatred is increased through return of hatred, but may be destroyed by love.
When have you not been afraid? The random can be scrutinized for meaning, the puzzle solved, when surveyed long & carefully enough. Anything may be accidentally the cause of either hope or fear.
These trees have plenty of time. As a child, you stared at Jesus’ sad face for hours, wishing you could marry him — wondering what it was that made him love you. Could you sacrifice yourself for the sins of the world, if it was that simple & necessary? Cathedrals turn us small and vulnerable again, for reasons both blessed & cursed. Devotion is love towards an object which astonishes us.
Vague, starry eyes like yours feel at home here; the air is weighty, burdensome & solemn. You’ve loved trees before; this is different. These trees have plenty of time – more time than you. If we love a thing which is like ourselves, we endeavor as much as possible to make it love us in return.
Your nerves are suddenly frozen, by the unaccustomed richness of perfect light. Your guide is tall & slender, hesitant to speak. Her mother has the tattooed forearm of a Polish Jew of a certain age. The knowledge of good and evil is nothing but an idea of joy or sorrow. Sorrow is [a hu]man’s passage from a greater to a less perfection.
These trees have plenty of time. She touches your wrist, and for a moment, you, too, want to grow taller, leaving the surface of the earth behind forever. Shyly, she picks up a tiny pinecone, smaller than a toy. You both laugh when she tells you this is their seed. Joy is [a hu]man’s passage from a less to a greater perfection.
These trees have plenty of time. And all around, their wise, fallen, hollow bodies litter the ground like the bones of saints. Childlike, you understand a wish to die here, never to leave this hush. They’re only trees – your neck bent back as far as it will go; only trees, yet wondering if the giants can hear your thoughts. Love is joy, with the accompanying idea of an external cause. Love and desire may be excessive. When the mind imagines its own weakness, it necessarily sorrows.
Is there anything we have less power over than our own tongues? These trees have plenty of time, growing wise as the Buddha, in their silence.
Filed under absent father, acceptance, addiction, adolescence, adult children of alcoholics, adultery, alcoholism, anthem, anthropology, apologia, apology, appeals, art, art history, baby, baha'i, beauty, bible, birth, black, blood, born again, boys, buddhist, Catholic, charity, child abuse, child neglect, childbirth, childhood, children of alcoholics, christian, civil rights, compassion, courage, death, development, dream, dreams, earth, enlightenment, eternal, eternity, everything, evolution, faith, family, father, fatherhood, fathers, flowers, for children, forgiveness, friendship, girls, god, good, graduation, grief, he, health, heart, hindu, history, hope, human beings, humanity, humor, jesus, jewish, justice, karma, kindness, law, life, logic, loss, love, mama, man, manhood, manifesto, maturity, men, mitochondria, mortality, mother, mothers, mourning, museums, muslim, mysterious, nature, parenting, paris, passion, peace, personal responsibility, personification, poetry, politics, pregnancy, prose poetry, rastafarian, redhead, regret, relationships, Saint Teresa, science, sex, sisters, soul, spirit, spiritual, spirituality, spring, transcendence, transitions, travel, tribute, truth, universe, warmth, wish, woman, women, wood, world, zoroastrian
Conjoined Twins, a poem
Her entire pregnancy was uneventful until the second stage
of labor. Mother pushed and pushed, but we babies could not
budge. Surgeons came, made quick cuts necessary to disengage
us from the womb — found our joined skulls, an impudent topknot.
Mother wouldn’t let them separate us, she said the risk
outweighed the benefits. We learned to walk as best we
could; I, the taller, faced front in hopeful arabesque
while Sister followed. She didn’t mind, droll legatee
of my cranium, girl I never see. Despite our closeness,
we live in opposite ways; I view her face only in mirrors,
with my one good eye — our skin melts together, flawless,
pearly. A nice thing is, we never suffered night terrors.
We have never been alone. When they say, look, Siamese
twins, I want to scream. That is not the proper name for
our arrangement. Sister says, let them talk — I think she’s
crazy to let it pass, but I don’t say that. A big furor
won’t help at all. One trick we are good at is peace.
Negotiation has been our forte since that first incomplete
division; the moment each cell refused the other’s release.
We have minds of our own, thank god, and life is sweet
when you know where you’re bound. I go off to work,
Sister goes too. I sing while I type up my data, she reads
her mysteries, we break for lunch. My boss goes berserk
every once in a while; he’s got the same kinds of needs
for perfection we all possess. The one worry I have
not tamed is which of us will die first. I hope
it’s not me — how would she walk? I am the brave
one, the one who catches bugs. I would try to cope
without her. Once, in the night when she fell sick
with the flu, I held her until the shaking stopped,
until the fever broke. I wondered then, all dyadic
jokes aside, what if we had been cut apart, clipped
early into two separate forms? If it ever comes, will life
on my own be any easier? I’d save some of her long hair,
for sweet remembrance. She’d be a sharp phantom pain, a wolf-
gray stone with my birthday — my head a floating solitaire.
Filed under courage, faith, family, hope, human beings, humanity, identity, life, loss, love, maturity, mortality, mysterious, nature, poetry, relationships, science, sisters, soul, spirit, spiritual, spirituality, transcendence, transitions, tribute, truth, universe, woman
Everyone’s caught this bug, talking to the dead, palms upturned.
Hope, long dead, the naked white bones a comfort; leaving homes,
wives, husbands, dreaming toward love; signs of birth.
People so disciplined, so filled with the rules of grammar; staying
married for life, or at least a day. A good day, kiss-filled; warm,
moist lips, not bloodless, cold & grey. How did we catch the fever?
Dreams uncatchable, passion withers; too much hope, too much
trust. Not much honesty; not much logic; a man wanted his wife
to talk to him. A woman wanted her husband to stroke her cheek
with his finger as if she was a flower, a child wanted her mommy
to drink less, wanted his daddy to stay longer… words come easier,
etched on lead sheets thrown into a sacred spring, asking favors of gods.
May he who stole my dog be plagued with gout; may she who
laughed at my husband grow warts on her nose… in a millennium,
nothing has changed except the curses, the fashion, the cheese & wine.
Filed under anthropology, development, dream, dreams, eternal, eternity, faith, family, fear, heart, karma, life, logic, loss, poetry, relationships, religion, rome, transcendence
Surveyor in New England, a prose poem
And so, since there were no detailed official maps, he named small lakes after himself, solitary hills, even shy, dusty lanes marked only by the great thumping hooves of his horse — a patient, taciturn beast, dun-colored, remarkable mainly for the seven white spots on its flank, arranged like the constellation Ursa Major.
Back then, a hundred years ago, electrical-survey men like him sweated gracefully during summer, their cheeks burnt into dark Scotch grain, their hairlines preserved white as milk under the dimpled felt of U.S.-issue hats. Though he was the youngest of the crew, his moustache grew enviably broad and full, waxed close at the tips, bowed under his classical nose like the extended wings of a pigeon.
Reining to a stop, as he slid down, he pulled from the saddle-bags yet another wooden stake flagged with a length of wrinkled red muslin, kneeling to pound it into the rocky Vermont ground, leaving it there for eternity.
As he rode on farther north — past the tall flowering weeds around Lovell Pond, the drunken bees bouncing off his boots — continuing along the route he’d laid out for the electric poles to follow, he thought of his mother: the way her fierce blue eyes glittered on foggy mornings, the way his father caressed her wrist at the dinner table, and, above all, how skillfully she ironed, gripping the rag-wrapped handle, fluttering the heavy, blunt-nosed tool over the damp white cotton of his shirts in rhythms as comforting and certain and lovely as the slow tick of a butterfly’s wings as it feeds from the bright center of a blossom.
Filed under faith, family, father, fatherhood, fathers, flowers, forgiveness, good, he, heart, history, hope, human beings, humanity, identity, justice, karma, kindness, life, logic, love, man, manhood, maturity, memoir, men, mortality, mysterious, nature, peace, poetry, Uncategorized
PRETZELS & CHOCOLATE
(rented room, cigarettes)
I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs
with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue
(rented room, cigarettes)
so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate
sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine
my body molds to yours
(rented room, cigarettes)
retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth
I am eating chocolate
thinking of us
(rented room, cigarettes)
Filed under acceptance, adolescence, adult children of alcoholics, ancient history, apology, appeals, artistic failures, assholes, beauty, birth, black, blood, Catholic, child abuse, child neglect, childbirth, childhood, children of alcoholics, christian, compassion, con man, daughter, death, development, divorce, dream, dreams, enlightenment, eternal, eternity, faith, family, father, fatherhood, fathers, fear, fiction, for children, forgiveness, friendship, funeral, gay marriage, god, grief, he, health, Uncategorized