Tuesday, August 30, 2022

poem

 Op Note 30

He was one of my favorite patients. He and his wife were so loving and tender together. She never left his side. She slept on the couch in his hospital room and greeted me in the mornings on rounds in a fuzzy robe and furry slippers. They always let me know they saw what I was trying to do. You really care, that’s what’s different about you, she used to say. In the way she said it, it somehow wasn't cringe at all. Watch this man closely, she used to tell my medical students. I felt seen. Isn’t that wild? Here I am, making it all about me. But that’s ok. They wouldn’t have minded. They always knew what was real.  I think they were both very religious. About some people you can just tell. A certain manner and grace, no matter the circumstances of life. Holiness without a lick of sternness. They never asked me to pray.  Just to tell the truth.  They noticed that I listened. That I remembered things. They brought me old books from his collection because they knew I liked to read. He was a retired college professor, philosophy and literature. I think there is a textbook somewhere with his name on it.  He was always happy to see me. His eyes widened like a child's. Even though I hadn’t been able to cut it all out. His wife looked at me like a long lost son, the son who never called, who left under a cloud of suspicion but came back just in time for Christmas the year before it was too late. Always grasped my hand with her two hands. All this time I worried she was mad. She was always so kind. Elevated me.  And me, just shit, not deserving one bit. I wish everyone in my life was like them. I wish they were more than just my patient. I wish she was the bored teller at the bank. The hospital president who doesn't even know my name. The angry guy flicking me off in traffic. The old lady in front of me at the grocery, writing a check for eggs and milk. I wish he was my uncle.  My dad. Or a guy I got to see everyday like the old hospital valet. Man, they were so much better than me.  Man, I could have learned so much more from them. Man, I wish I was even ten percent as good as they seemed to believe. I wish they were everywhere and everyone.  Maybe then, the giant trespassing bullshit tumor wrapped around his aorta and infiltrating the rest of his abdomen would get spliced up into a billion little harmless tiny pieces and parceled out amongst all the good and willing of the world. I’d ask to carry a few pieces too.  Would be the least that I could do.

8/30/22

Saturday, August 27, 2022

poem

 Word Count

Love is a book

Which has exactly 237 pages

I am 51.8% of the way through.

I paid for this book with pennies and dimes

Banked from years of 9 to 5 loneliness 

When I finish, the book will belong to me

And then I will share some of it with you 

I will read it out loud

I will reenact certain passages 

But you won't be able to touch it 

Or even look at it

You will have to get your own


I’ve measured its length and width

And yes it fits perfectly on the bookcase

At home. I can read it as often as I wish

But someone has to cast a spell

In order to turn the page

And something has to happen

To the space around my heart

If I want to understand it well


I'm not explaining it very well

There are things beyond 

The reach of novice pedantry 

Everyone has to read it themselves 


Here’s what they don’t teach:

If you read it just once, it stops being a book

It becomes a dusty space on a shelf

An empty slot where I’d put all my hopes 


A giant tome of everything

That can't be written down 


An absence that is the sum

Of all its words added up


8/27/22

Monday, August 22, 2022

poem

 Rainbow

Low plumes of white clouds on the horizon suggest a distant fire. I'm always driving toward conflagration. I’m drawn to all blazes. I chase after storms. Chuck stones at hornet’s nests.  Wave my hand over the licking flames.  Always getting a little too close. Fascinated by the flickerings of fire, the way it turns good wood to ash.  My first word was “hot”, learned the hard way, touching the orange glow of our electric stove. Mom said I hissed it like a feral cat. I watch the shivering people at bus stops in the winter and their little misted clouds of exhalation tell me everything will be alright.  That everyone still has a fire burning inside.  Chimneys spewing smoke reassure me. I feel safe. We’re all burning what we can to keep warm. Musings on my own death bring me around to the idea of cremation. I’d be a quick clean burn. Dry as the August grass. Spare the earth a long fetid rotting. May we all end in fire rather than ice. Dispersed like salt from ocean bluffs, drifting on the wind. Nothing for the worms and bacteria to desecrate. Terrified billionaires and their cryonic dreams of reanimation. Heaven is worse. No end at all. God gave fire to the devil as a gift to the damned. Smoldering for eons to an ashen residue. But at least it ends. Rain is how the world puts out its irrepressible wildfires. Rain is giving up. Rain is starting over. Drenching the earth in regret. Rainbows aren’t apologies. Rainbows are a reminder that even light can be broken, fractured into its component parts. I take the good and don’t make it better. I've screwed everything up.  No recourse but to burn it all down. Light it on fire once again. I’m getting closer and closer. Maybe I’ll get lucky this time. Maybe it’s all just big beautiful white clouds. 


8/22/22

Thursday, August 18, 2022

poem

 Op Note XXIX

I introduced myself as the surgeon.  The room was darkened.  The curtains were drawn. The patient was pale and waifish in the bed.  Nurses had layered her in blankets.  All you could see was her head.  She was 95 years old. So the chart said. She still lived alone.  Her wince when I pressed her abdomen confirmed the suspicion.  What to do?  She smiled at me, a pink edentulous grin, and whispered “ask them”, nodding toward the pleather couch by the window.  Funny, I hadn't noticed anyone when I came in.  But there they were: a little girl in a tartan dress whispering to a raggedy cloth doll, a young pregnant lady distractedly playing with the curls of her own hair, a silver haired woman holding a basket of freshly baked bread.  Family? I asked.  No, the old woman said, it’s all me.  The room began to fill up with figures of various ages.  It was getting rather crowded.  Which of you will know?  Who should I ask? I went up to each and every one. Hours passed. The old crone started laughing.  Oh doctor, you should have been here yesterday.  The person you’re looking for is already gone. No one here will know. I looked around just to be sure and turned back to an empty bed. The blankets were folded. I saw myself from five minutes ago listening to an old woman’s heart.   I was beginning to think everyone here was already dead.  


8/18/22

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

poem

 Punching Bag

After the rower I start punching the bag. Someone told me it was a healthy outlet for aggression.  It can be a face, a minor slight, a missed chance, a dull thud of repressed rage. I’m bashing it all into submission, pounding precordial thumps to bring myself back to life. Ten jabs with the left, then ten with the right, followed by a series of combinations. I do this over and over.  By the end I can barely raise my arms. I’m a bare chest sheened in sweat rapidly evaporating to a cool dryness like the recently deceased. It’s back to being just a leather bag hanging from a chain.  Smeared with blood from my knuckles in an inspissated pattern of abstract art that no one will ever be able to interpret. I need someone to lick my wounds, taste the bitter salt of my flesh. I’ve got nothing left. If I had to protect myself now I’d curl up into a ball. Just play dead.

8/16/22

Monday, August 15, 2022

poem

Template For My Elegy
    - to be completed by my children upon my death


Dad was a ______ man who lived without _____.  He collected ____ and never clung to a single  ____.  When it rained he had a tendency to _____.  At his best he was a desert storm: brief, cataclysmic, quenching but____.  When _____ , the world seemed brighter and he was the first to point out why. I remember him reading  ____ to me at night.   Afterward he would sing _____. He hated ____ adverbs. He emphasized ____ and form.  His best qualities were ___ and _____, which rarely occurred together and when they did it became his worst quality.  He was secretly _____ when I stopped calling him daddy.  When he played with me I felt the _____ of his attention. He noticed how ____ always led to ____. He would say, watch, listen. Look at that. Pay attention. He liked to conjure an imaginary world of  ____ that everyone else could ignore, at their peril.  When he went to work I used to think _____.  When he came home it was like ____ at the end of a long ____.   He made us laugh. He was ____ at the hospital and sort of  ____ when he came home, eating his re-heated dinner alone, late at night, bleary eyed,  surgeon cap hair sticking up.  He would sit in the garage and watch the rain. He thought he was good at ____ and no one had the nerve to tell him otherwise.  His ____ used to drive us insane.  Once, I looked out my window during a ______ and he was _____.  When he was on, we all experienced an electrifying ______. He could make time disappear.  His clouds cast darker shadows than most, though. His thunder was guttural, the volcanic rumble just before the deluge. Sometimes we looked for arks. When he was sad he reached for ____. When he cried he was like a little boy who had lost his favorite  _____.  He told us we could discern the important things from the unimportant by the ____ of  their ____.  He ____ joyously.  He surreptitiously ____. He was afraid of ____. The best thing he ever gave me was a _____ that he had saved from  _____. He made me promise never to waste it on anything ____.  He was a conceptualist.  He hated things. He lived in _____  ideas. He mourned the immaterial. Sometimes he made us feel like ghosts.  He blamed his loss of faith on ____. I wish he had told me more about _____ and _____ and _____ and less about____.  So much left unsaid. So many long wasted silences. He was reticent. He was shy. He didn’t fully believe in himself. He only believed in time. He never wore a ____. He used silence as a _____. He practiced long monologues in the car by whispering to himself. I used to pretend I didn’t hear. I wish I’d asked him to speak louder. He was hard on himself.  He felt he was meant to suffer.  He was hard on ____. He was ____.  He was ____.  He was ____.  He was ____. He tried his best. He did suffer. He had a gaze that was tactile. He fiddled with his hands when ____. He loved his ______ .  He loved _____.   He loved. 

8/15/22

poem

 Stomach

Sometimes it seems the world is churning

Around us like we were trapped in a giant stomach,

Like something large had swallowed us,

So ravenously hungry it forgot to chew  

And now we’re all being slowly digested

Tossed and frothed in a peptic darkness

Sorrows and joys, hair and bone

Dissolving in the hydrochloric acid 

Of a burning inevitability.  

But all to good purposes—

Corroding us into a bilious muck

That improbably nourishes.


8/15/22

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

poem

 The Force of Time

Holding this ball over the precipice

Assuming it's the law of gravity 

That takes over if I let go.

Everyone knows this.


But if I stopped time

The loosed ball doesn’t fall

No matter how much gravity pulls 


All happenings of applied force

Are subject to the dominion of time 


Without time

Nothing happens  

Nobody reaches

There is no kiss


I see you down below me

Wondering when I’ll come

It isn’t electricity that attracted me

It isn’t gravity that I fear 


I just need a little more time

To take me away from here 


8/9/11

Sunday, August 7, 2022

poem

 Desert Silence


The dead silence of the desert

Draws us here for the serenity


But most cannot bear for long

Such soundless deaf austerity


Sometimes it’s so quiet

I start to hear things


That aren’t really there

Just to fill in the void


Brain unable to weather

The utter absconsion of sound


From this scorching desolation

Unfurling to brown mountains 


In far off hazy distances

It gets to be too much


I have to retreat 

From all the noise


And return to the benign 

Tumult of life as we know it


8/7/22

poem

 Op Note XXVIII

Well there comes a time when you have to just cut it all out.  All the grit and gristle. The uncooked fat. The bad dad. The bad husband. Bad son. That’s me. Never mastered any of it. Time for a little chop chop. Terrible poet so this will be the last one. All the others I’ll change author status to anonymous. Too embarrassing. Can’t run anymore, ankles breaking like balsa sticks. Cut the gym membership card in half. Burned out surgeon. Give it a rest.  A nest of gray on my chest at the barber shop. Bad drinker.  Bad tipper. Bad road trip companion. Bad friend. Bad at golf. All the balls in the pond. Terrible taste in fashion. Button down collars fraying. Ridiculous pants. Holes in the heels of all of my socks. Clean it all out.  Make piles for pyres.  Rip up the carpet. Smash all the plates. Hire someone to pack it all away in crates. What’s left? Nothing worth mentioning. Just this scrunched face in the mirror shaking slowly left to right, right to left. Even when the head is still.


8/7/22

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

poem

 The Nominalist

We’re all seeking it 

Can't quite put a finger on it

Not sure what to call it.

Try to name it and there’s a gap

A skip in the record

A sigh instead of soothing words

A pause when the poet 

Runs out of breath before

She can conjure the next rhyme 


Leave some spaces on the pages

Where the words can breathe

And figure out for themselves 

What they really want to mean 


But that’s a lie.

The best pauses

Lack all meaning 

While remaining indispensable.

Em dash periods of ellipses 

Frantic gestures of her hands

Cutting and twirling through empty airs

Amplifying the clumsiness

Of hollow desiccated words 


Some mutter my god, my lord, my savior

Not to knock prayer but 

Silence is even better.

The best approach if you feel

The need to speak is a lousy poem

That careens down dusty halls,

Crashes through hedges and gardens 

And tears a hole in your heart

Just before it brings it all together.


The root of all religion, in fact,

Is a poem not god,

For god is too busy

Locked in his study

Trying to find the perfect 

Rhymes for shalt and begotten.

Just write your poem

If you want to find the proof

Of whatever god has left behind.


Let’s read it together,

This triumvirate of words 

I love you I miss you

Do you like the sound of my voice

The caress of your fingers on my arm 

Doesn’t it feel nice?

Let's call this kinship

Or consider it love

So I know what to call it

When I ask myself why.

 

I’m a nominalist

I don't know a damn thing

Except the words in front of my face.

All I see is a ledger of script

Line after line after line 

Columns and rows, both sides of the page.


I see words everywhere:

In the wending together of vines

In the sprouting of weeds in asphalt cracks 

In the sullen rook perched high up in a dead tree 

The beautiful hidden language 

Where the words mean nothing

Until they are spoken,

Like magical incantations

Animating all we can possibly mean.


Point at something

I'll tell you what it is

Start crying or laughing or clenching your fist

And I’ll tell you what you feel

But that’s the extent of it.

Comfort me begins with a C

Hold me half rhymes with holy.


Can we stop using the word poetry

Can we cut the words in half

Make the page bleed

And call it collateral damage?


I keep slashing at the void

With pencils and pens 

And keyboard strikes 

A fusillade of shots, mostly blanks.

I miss my mark

And often more than twice

But fire away, I say.

Give yourself the green light.


I’m not always accurate

But I aim to be precise

For even the unnameable

Must have its own label


8/3/22

Monday, August 1, 2022

poem

 Sedona Koan

First they were mountains

For all phenomena deserve a name 

And then they became faces

Stern and forlorn like old men

Gathered in the shade of a rickety porch

Gazing upon a baked red desert

Bored and uncaring 

Seeking to name others now

Secretly considering the origin

Of their own names 

Through the process

Of dogged endurance.


First I was a boy called by a name

Then I was a man staring into a mirror, 

Whispering his name over and over 

Until it lost all meaning 

Until I became just a face in the mirror

Like a mountain against the clear blue sky 


Mountains like old men’s faces

Ring the town of Sedona

Wizened with weary resignation

Gashed with vertical creases

Bored by a million years

Of runoff rain sluicing the rock  

Of lashing winds and baked in the heat


I have come seeking wisdom

In this arid quiet place

Where thirst is never slaked 

Even when the monsoon rains come.

Here my mouth is chalked with dust

And my last canteen is empty

And there is nothing but the dry rueful sadness

Of the completely desiccated

Who have no tears left to leak


In the evening after dinner

We try to climb Bell Rock

Hand over hand as high 

As we can, the surprising cool smooth

Stone like bone against our palms 

Like reptilian skins just

Before the rattlesnake strikes 


Down below, we watched the pagans dancing 

As the sun fell beneath the orange western hills 


Mountains are holders of time

While faces trace the path of a life:

Every smile, every grimace

Every contorted cry

Captured in some wrinkled pattern.

This was an ice age

Here we see the deposition of silt

When the glaciers melted.

This is when he lost the thread.

That one deepened

In the kitchen solitude of the forsaken. 

Here is the line left behind 

When his nascent heart was first broken 


By the end of the week

The faces were mountains again

And the pain was pain again

And the loss was still 

An empty lacuna

Just where I had left it

And it was my own face

That had stiffened 

Into red tinted 

Limestone and shale

Pressed into perpetual solidity

Blood stained and hard

Resolute and intractable 

Etched where water falls

Where the tears have

Streamed down shallow channels 

Carved into cheeks 


I’ve held back long enough

Let them flow 

So the dusty earth can drink 

While I return home not to live

But to age, to tacitly persist

No longer the face

I used to be

No longer the me 

I thought would always exist


Something new rises from the horizon

Erupting from a molten pluripotent core

Frowning forever upon this sered valley of silence:


A desert range I lack the time to get to know,

That somebody here will surely blame,

That somebody else will someday name.


8/1/22