Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Hózhó náhásdlíí

 A Christmas Eve poem for all who walk in darkness.
John Hwang : Skid Row

Beauty before you, in darkness;
In darkness, beauty behind you.
Beauty above you, in darkness;
In darkness, beauty around you.

In the back of your mind
you know it
and yet as you run against this dark current
you can’t even breathe.

In the back of your mind
there is a way that winds forward,
toward open road, still waters, nights of kind rest—
the kind others speak of as a common starling on a wire,
little knowing a rare bird has come to bless them again with presence.

You could go crazy
imagining the darkness embrace you 
with such love instead of betrayal, 
because now it slices you open,
stabs you again and again,
rejects you for the millionth time.

You could go crazy
remembering light, remembering a time
when light on the water touched you,
made you feel something;
when light in the valley
broke open your heart and nourished it.

Instead the cruel yoke 
bends you toward asphalt,
down to kiss the dirt and pay it homage.
Instead the iron rod
beats you into a cell half the size of your
burst hopes shriveled dreams
so that you long to evaporate.

Instead your shoulders
fold inward as you carry endless piles of coal
that fuel nothing that feeds you.
Instead your luminous face—
if only you still could see it—
is cloaked by an executioner
who kills without giving its name.

This is why I send the light toward you
to meet you in the valley at the center of the ocean floor.
It rushes like a fury of lava even now,
though you don’t see it,
though your senses are shrouded in exacting poison.
Fur-tongued, muscles seized, plugged, cloud-blinded—
even in paralysis you reach,
second by millimeter by aeon by mile.

This is why I send the light toward you
as you reach, whether you know it or not. 
It climbs the winter cliffs as the city sleeps in misery,
its gentle hands moving over each frozen cell
and calling them back to life.
It weaves this way around
every battered reed, every shivering seed
all is not lost;
everything is never lost;
anything that is lost can be made whole,
can be called into being out of what was not.

And so this is how I come for you.
This is how you walk in beauty.
In darkness beauty walks;
Beauty walks in darkness.
It has become beauty again.
It has become beauty again.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A gift, any way you look at it

The hawk didn’t fly by itself. Something was pulling its 
feathers through the air current, making it soar like 
ink from an ancient brush.

Something was making the old oaks sigh in 
five-part traditional folk song, and
it wasn’t the wind.

When the dancers flew around the circle as though their
legacy depended on speed, it was something 
spinning their father’s father’s father’s 
unerasable DNA. 

These are forces that go ignored in three dimensions, maybe four.

These are the sounds you only hear deep underwater as you drown.

This is the wheel you walk in, too big for you to notice as any pattern.

Don’t you know your every word that flows into the sieve of the
microphone flies direct in one hundred simultaneous translations?

You fail to see the full scale of your fingerprint, wonder of the world.

Even as you lay there, kept locked out of the sleep you’re thirsting for,
bees make honey in the chambers of your pumping heart.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Everything is shared.

The lump in the throat
The bruise on your crushed face
The echo in your belly
The lines of prophecy on your hands

Everything is shared.

The simmering question that drove you into this alley
The doubt that you will ever be known
The childhood knowledge that you could run on air, through treetops
Tender things your father never said

Everything is shared.

Days sinking into white hot sand
Steel-spined walls keeping you locked in step
Your endless loss of blood and breath
Each undisclosed transfusion that brings you back from the edge

Everything is shared.

Afternoon, midnight, fracture-just-before-dawn fears that paralyze
Nameless desire that sinks you to the bottom of a well that draws fire from deep below
The framework of sorrow that breaks your bones one by one, daring you to want anything again
Other dangerous abstractions like hope

Everything is shared.

The fibers of your food, your absent shelter
Strange rain that keeps you alive long after you’ve quit caring
Light that shows you a picture of your secret heart spread across magazine pages
The static, the spaces, invisible frequencies surrounding your odd voice with compassion

Everything is shared.

Words that break open a cell, a rock, a tinderbox full of flint and fire
Keys to the codes that can’t be cracked in a single language
Microscopic movements collaborating in a long play of intricate foreshadowing
The building blocks of an apocalypse, of resurrection that would astound you

Everything is shared.

Your heart of ashes and feathers; part coal, part glint of wondrous stone
Your heart a planet; moving waters, hovering spirit, unrelenting green
Your heart the quark and the atom; your heart dark matter
Your heart breaking atmosphere; your heart a traveler

Everything is shared.

Everything is shared.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Old Land

Robert Frost once said something about a poem usually starting as a lump in the throat, a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy lovesicknessand he is right. This simple poem is, like others, a song of sorts for the many hearts in this world bearing the weight of costly experience. If you feel that weight, too, it is also for you.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Art of Survival

You say it is waste—and you have a good case.
Your fire for life, for its wine on your tongue—
you’ve had to shut it down. Push it far beyond the
mines at your foundation to just keep breathing.
                                  one – two   three – out —
To forget yet keep the card catalog—that is the
torture that puts 40-watt light in your eyes, pushes
your blood forward, keeps it creeping toward your
heart and
you know you can never go back.
All the beautiful plays left unplayed—
bellowing risks simmered down into
a quiet poultice to be clapped on your
wounds at night—tiny battles of
five typed words won underwater
as the rest of the world sleeps, weightless.

This art kills you, you think.
You think it’s killing you cell by cell—
when you think about it—whenever
you see your vanished past leap
into the well backwards, on rewind,
to play out its phantom storylines.

And yet these shackles—
you believe it—breathing
                               — in – one    two – out —
are something else—not wings, not
some false coffer of visible wealth—
but roots, maybe, not just roots that tear
down to the heart of the earth unseen—
but roots, also, that crack the pavement
breath by hair’s breadth, planning to
overthrow a great wall, a great mountain
one day—in a second—splitting kingdoms
with wide boughs that stretch out to
welcome in every rare living thing
to come build its home.

             breathingall breathing—
              then this art will turn
that corner on which destruction
is revealed to have strange design,
on which bitter pathways gnawed
by insect, fire, disease—will turn
into a labyrinth—a waterway—a
motherboard of wonder—a home—
and this time you will live—
                                            and breathe
                                and move
             and have being
—and you will
finally lose the argument
that death had its way
in this longest of winters.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

New eyes for the unseen town

If this was all there is—all there is—just 
the 2-D screens and flipping pages, the dotted 

lines and shredded tire treads thrown to the sides—the
looping jingle that wakes you over and over, the clouds and their 

cloned shapes—if this is all there is—all you are—the punch 
in punch out and the same food on the table—oh that is a lie, betrayed by

open earth, open sky—by down-rushing water at the end of the stepped
trail, by the million echoing surfaces of chipped-away cave, the

dynamite-cleft tunnels and glide of pure music through its grooved
lines—this is just a shadow, a movement, a circumference only.

The outline of glory. Failure as the first cut of a glory-worn dress that
would only overwhelm the girl were she to fit in it now.

Oh gasping town with your raggedy trailers and shut-down 
restaurant doors, your trees are your glory. You outshine

the next worn-eyed town over in its gray lines
blank spaces and poor, false trees.

May you see your own beauty—when you lay
down your life to save the place you first kissed in,

where you played games with mystery when you were young—
every dawn she’s coming alive over your sleeping body whether you

notice or not. In the valley the light uncovers the textures of your heart,
your many-layered riches. So what that your trucks are always dying,

always at risk when night masks the road as they run their miles down
your spine. What matters is travel, and see, your blood pumps

through you unhindered, even as it still did
splattered across the mountains during your last war.

You’ve never quit being worthy of love,
and even now, the wildest of winds pursues you

as if you were the only one 
in the entire world.

Monday, August 19, 2013

To Darkness, To Perfect Sight

There was a time when we were thrilled
to not know whether the universe would
collapse or go on forever. The uncertainty
was exquisite, with notes of amber, sage, 
sweetgrass, early summer honeysuckle nectar,
tangerine, smoke, and pine needles dripping
rain from who knows what ocean. And so on.

And then we lost ourselves in cognitive dissonance.
In carbon dating and the ten-year plan. It takes
spectacular death to take one back to the realm of
unknown asteroids and the other side of the black
hole you wish to name after all your grandchildren's
grandchildren and their children. A blacked-out sky
and a neighborhood blackout to finally hear the
movement of these particles of air you swore you
could see secretly singing when you were small.

It's almost unbearable, this rush of quiet that besieges
your slight body as you first break through the skin of
space, and then the loudest sound coming out from
your heart, that roar that surrounded you in the galaxy
inside your mother. And here is where you go mad
with love for the infinite dark, where you finally
want to live on and on, never knowing everything,
because time is no longer your country, and you're
no longer a stranger in this everlasting house.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

What would the past say?

Cliff Grego : Study in Pizzicato .

It would say that it
does not mock you.

The past is always sober
in its gaze. The past would

say that you have lived, that you
never knew how many trees were

planted in your honor. It would say that
your backbreaking work was thwarted only 

as in a Noh play, as in a surface war; air between
the motions of force set against you, your fight what

built your muscles into grace that became dance that became
a sword that cut precisely. That could winnow the grain in a single

motion, that could slice a mountain from top to hollow and send its
halves rolling into the sea. It would say that even now you are unaware

of how you appear to the unseen world, how the arc of your life is pages,
pages longer than any schedule you had mapped out, any diary of your failure.

It would tell you things you know nothing about; it would bring up the precious
scrolls in jars you left in caves and ran from. The past would say it knows you

better than you begin to imagine you know it. It would trace those lines on
your body with a blinding needle till you saw pictures emerge that would

throttle your regret without mercy. It would call you out—crescendo
of beats rising with the tension—and you’d have nothing left to

say so that you’d finally hear the single string plucked that
would give the answer for you. It would tell you what

was stored in caverns as you squandered your
poverty, thinking it gold you threw away. It

would say, raising its voice, that it does
not know what you’re talking about

when you say waste. It would say
it cannot feel sorry for you, you

who rides the wind without
knowing your own wings.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Escape Artist in Reverse

Royce Bair : Iron Rod Art

The landscape you run from is not desert, not blue hills, not
jail cell, not electric barbed-wire fence; it is within. Where your
hunger brawls at night, paper for supper doing nothing but make you
dream of tractors that fly, helicopters digging tunnels to China. Or
the other side of the Black Plague, where the sick get well in droves.

It is where you don’t want to go. Where your father fails to come home
again, take you fishing, watch you say three lines in the school play,
make you put on socks before you put your cowboy boots on. It’s where
fire smolders tire rubber in the barn, where someone you love presses a
gun barrel to the vein on your temple, pulsing syncopated heartbeat.
You have to go there. There is no parole till you do.

And when you finally decide to do the fast, to let God be your mother’s
brother who takes you to the wilderness to wait for the vision that will
name you, you’ll still want to run. But this time your hunger will be
the merciful handcuffs with the lock you can’t pick, the prison jumpsuit
you can’t slip out from—if only because it wants you to live. Your heart
will grow legs instead and take you, plodding, even, to the center of that
black hole that whirrs in a roar, as it did in your mother’s womb, when
you first thought to steal in order to live. And if you do fall—relinquish
to gravity with tears and loud cries like those of the Son of Man.

You’ll finally see around you the translucent house you live in that
flies silent over the city in the hills, where your true home hides from
you now in its shyness. Your thirst will wrap its arms around you  
in a braid of safety, risk, and safety you can never escapetill you 
drink what you think is a mirage of water guarded by a desert 
lion. Your healing’s on the other side of time, that is to say, now.

Now to make sure every drop of this bitter water’s not wasted,
the poison brine making alchemy in the maze of your intestines.  
It will be your oldest sorrow that covers you till this sandstorm, 
otherwise deadly, passes over in a terrible shifting of terrain. 
It will be your oldest pain that rocks you to sleep, this dark night 
no blazing rock in the sky reaches out to turn the waterfall gold.

The strange thing is, when you wake in the holy morning, 
having only 
slept (and slept poorly) it’s your skin—your skin!—that will be gold and new.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Finding song

Mike Robinson : Tau Zero

So leave.
Leave them for now.
You lose nothing.
Be alone.
Be nourished by all that rises to meet
your solitary shape on the plain.
As you let the sky make you small.
As power comes through your cells,
fuses into what was not
and yet was always to be.


Go, walking.

Pull yourself onto the back of this animal
that rushes into the unknown.
Don’t think of what was planned.

You are no one else.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


These great comings-together

These slight turns you made
even as a child toward this place

The scratched slide
of your mother’s record
falling from the stack,
up toward your heart,
moving in you, nearer
with every minute revolution

Ax splits wood,
separating vertical grain
it never knew it possessed

Salt water clashes on stone,
new velocity hurling
every atom with totality
of first or last time

Sure foot of your grandfather
dancing the sneak-up
lifts the unbearable weight
of a hundred generations,
reassuring earth she is seen,
known, pursued and chosen

Curvature of the mounds
one thousand, million layers deep,
bones and the exacting timbre of
each of your ancestors’ laughs,
reaching up toward your lonely back
and rolling you down the new-cut grass

The night you left camp
and climbed the wall
at the border between
these lives you could’ve led,
had you believed everyone then

Gun in hand of the robber
who haunts your house
glints diamond hard
in the moonlight streaking
through glass, your sweat,
your sun-starved skin

Stowaway spirits
in the particle smasher
lunge for each other’s throats,
the one that is for you
tearing at the jugular
in a violence of mute beauty

Steel sparks and grinds the track
in exquisite tension,
keeping the whole train
from plunging off
the edge of the world

The cracking whip
of your hair on the wind
as you spin around
to chase the demon
running after you

Sunday, June 16, 2013


A very old spokenword poem.

Coal miners, Ladrymbai

I hate that you had no dad.
No father, yeah, like a missing leg,
he should’ve been there but gangrene
was eating him. He cut himself off,
and now you hobble, magnificent, on your
one, muscle-strapped, overworked leg.

There’s no going back.
No one can sew those dead flesh years
back on your healed-over stump.
No one can make the fire-sharp pain,
the mad, thumping pain, the now dull pain
that aches in damp weather go away—
no one can make you forget he’s not there,
even if you don’t remember him.

I want to fix it. I wave my arms
furiously, muttering incantations over
the thick, synthetic trunk of a limb
deep in the night as you sleep, detached.
In the day you never seem to mind
your fake leg, but I do. Cause I see you
try to get up in your sleep, try to walk
to the kitchen on a phantom limb. I see
you cry when you fall back on your bed,
reaching for what isn’t there.

So back in the daylight
I wince every time your heavy leg bangs
into the asphalt on one end, bangs
into your scarred, hidden stump on the
other. All the things that try to keep you up
bruise you. All your highs that come down
with a crash—all your people who let you run
on them for a second and then yank
themselves away with a laugh and a bang—
yes—I wince.

'Cause I can’t walk for you, I can’t
donate one of my limbs. My dad’s my dad,
my past’s my past. And you are you.
We lose every three-legged race cause
you’re too fast for me. But here are my

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Inner Landscape of Beauty

Connemara tree
I first heard John O’Donohue’s voice during a profoundly dark season of my early adult life. I was sick as a dog, barely crawling through a brutal depression, and shut up in a proverbial dark night of the soul. My quest to save the world had been sharply aborted and turned upside-down by a mystery illness, and I’d been pretty much shipped back to a country I thought I no longer had a home in.
So there I was, very alone in a new state, working temporarily in a part-time office job someone had kindly offered me as I attempted to get treatment and maybe heal.

As anyone who’s suffered any kind of non-incidental depression knows, it was a crapton worse than any of the physical suffering I was trying to survive. I could barely think; I could barely pray; I could barely hear God or sense any kind of presence that was once so natural to breathe in. Every day after work, I’d drag myself outside to the forest by my house and trudge through the woods for half an hour in a desperate attempt to stay alive on the inside. Those days when spiritual books seemed full of dry, muted words, trudging through the forest was about as good a prayer as it got.

And then, one day a random newsprint catalog was being passed around the office advertising random overstock stuff sitting in some warehouse, calling our names. Did we want anything? I didn’t see anything interesting—except...there was this audiobook on cassette called Anam Cara. I had no idea what Anam Cara meant, but there were a bunch of Celtic knot designs on the cover along with a photo of what I [very mistakenly] thought looked like Stonehenge, and I admit I'm a sucker for Stonehenge (primarily because I’ve never seen it in real life, so they say). 

Soon, I was driving to the doctor or grocery store and sitting longer than necessary in parking lots, because I was listening to this voice with the distinct cadence of a native Irish-speaker speaking words to me about the soul, about God, about story, about pain, about connection…that I could actually hear and understand.

I probably listened to those tapes a zillion times. 

Since then, I’ve still yet to read a single book by John O’Donohue; Id get the book…but then find that I just wanted to listen to him talk about all the things he was so excited and inspired and enlivened by. (Because reading big abstract words is a shifty business, but when John O'Donohue says them as he means them, they're authentic and pulsing with life.) Somy experience of his ideas has been solely based on listening to his voice on audiobook. And because of that, when I finally heard The Inner Landscape of Beauty,* Krista Tippett’s monumental 2007 On Being interview with him shortly before he passed on, I felt I was listening to a friend. (Although I’m sure everyone else did, too.)

Anyway, beauty is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. As in beauty will save the world beauty. Of course beauty draws every human being (whether or not we’re aware), but I don’t know that you look for it or recognize your need for it quite as desperately as you do when you’re in pain. Because it’s not simply a pretty landscape; it’s a landscape of power and presence that you see as it is only when your inner eye has been opened. And that landscape can be anywhere, strangely. So…this evening as I was driving home, I listened to John O’Donohue read his incredibly profound 2003 treatise on beauty for a few minutes. And suddenly, I had to shut off the stereo, because I realized I wasn’t really seeing anything, and I needed to see. And then the light hitting the leaves on the trees lining the freeway nearly pierced my heart.

This preamble is way too long, but I had to at least try to explain a little of why this one relatively short conversation/interview meant so much to me. I could be wrong, but I think it was the last time the voice of this philosopher/poet/scholar (who really stayed a priest even after he stepped away from official priesthood) was recorded. So tonight, I couldnt help but return to it and distill a bit of his voice into another “found” poem. (Although Im not sure you can really distill his voice.*) The strangest thing was that I couldnt see these words without hearing them as hed say them...I guess his voice is still uncannily present.

Again, none of these words are technically mine—only the spaces and dots and dashes. I do take full responsibility for playing with the connections between the words to create new sentences and thoughts (and any possible mis-juxtaposing that may have occurred). So if you don’t think something works, oops. But hopefully the heart of this great poet's wisdom comes through with the same refreshing voice, just in new form.

*If you've never heard it before, listen to the whole unedited interview. Absolutely worth your time.

If you love what you hear, consider purchasing for yourself Longing and Belongingthe brilliant collection of John O'Donohue's wonderful narrated books, available through his official posthumous author website. To say tit's worth every cent is an understatement! (Although, if it's too much for your budget, let me know and I may be able to suggest an alternate source for much less, depending on your country of residence.)