contained

surrender to the stillness; be at peace. 
the fire sits contained, yet spreads its warmth, 
and you, without much striving, still can be 
the light and heat that's needed in this place. 

give in to all you do not need to do: 
find comfort and assurance in such rest 
as can take in the moment as it is: 
you need only this stretch of time and space.

{ alone lake }

HE never dreamed he'd be the last survivor, 
But one-by-one, the others left, or fell; 
The world changed colors, marking new arrival -- 
What some call autumn, but which he calls Hell 

But we don't get to pick most circumstances 
Affecting those around, their ins, their outs -- 
And it gets very hard, keeping perspective 
With no one left to reassure 

Our doubts

(Final official post of Nano Poblano 2022.)

Three Memories

Jon was the manager up front, 
When I would go, most Saturdays: 
Sh'Quan was the cashier I would choose 
Who knew the best, and quickest ways 
To ring up and to pack the food 
So it was easy to unpack: 
This place was crazy-busy, then, 
Fresh-bake on the right, fresh cut in the back. 

Jon now works at the tire store, 
He's a whole lot heavier (as am I); 
Sh'Quan, I think, must have moved away, 
As I just stopped seeing her, by-and-by. 
And I know these places come and go 
Like the squeak of a wheel on a shopping cart; 
But to be among ghosts of a grocery store 
Seems just a tad odd to this fading 

Heart


He told her there was someone else 
He wanted to be with. She told him that 
She was not surprised, and that 
Was almost true. She drove a long way 
Through the winter countryside, wondering 
What it was about her that no one 
Could seem to manage to love her; 
And cold tears fell, outside and in. 
She happened upon an abandoned barn in the snow 
With a faint sound of music coming from inside; 
That barn was me.


He told me

 about how just before he went in the Navy during WWII, 
 he rode with his older brother in a train all the way 
 from Georgia to California, passing through mountains 
 and over canyons and valleys, and looking like 
 something from a John Ford movie -- whoever he was. 

I asked him 

 about what the trains were like and if they had 
 men in hats who checked their tickets and the like, 

And he said 

 that the food was amazing in the dining car and 
 he and his brother met two sisters with
 strawberry blonde hair who were going west 
 to start a new life away from their parents, and 
 things happened on that train that 
 never happened back home and did I 
 ever date a girl with strawberry blonde hair?

And I answered 

 yes, but I had never ridden on a train or 
 fought in a war, or 
 gone across country like that, 

And he could only say 

 that I would have hated the war, but 
 loved the train and 
 really loved those girls

 

unconnected

electromagnetism streams 
across the air, and everywhere; 
we daily see each others' dreams, 
and certify them foul, or fair, 

and so we hide from prying eyes 
what we would keep protected: 
then find, to what seems poor surprise, 
we're mostly unconnected. 

we try, and sometimes do succeed, 
we do our best with what we've got: 
but true connection often comes 
from things the internet 

is not

A Painted Memory

Mornings in the lonely field, and I 
Would love the way you taught me to: 
Matching up my wobbly strength against 
What clime and time and space can do -- 

Gathering a bit of air inside 
The lungs that knew the breath of you -- 
Traveling the lonely field, and lost 
In what you didn't make it 

Through

I am six years old, and we are entering a restaurant that looks like an unpainted barn. It is even newer than I am.

The ceiling is high and sloped, and all along the walls are gigantic paintings, all beautifully painted, of horses, cowboys, and buffalo. One of them is a painting of a cowboy lighting a cigarette next to a horse in a stable on a winter night. Light from the the match is shining on their faces.

We lived in Florida, so, I had never seen snow. It was another six years before my first glimpse of it for real. I had seen horses, but never very closely; my older sister took lessons. I could immediately “feel” that painting: I felt the cold, smelled the match, smelled the horse. I still remember.

The restaurant itself had a line we moved through: we picked up drinks and salads on trays, and ordered the rest of the food that was later to be brought out to us. The place was called the “Ponderosa Steak Barn”, and was unrelated to the restaurant chain that came out a few years later with a similar name.

We ate at the restaurant countless times when I was growing up; it eventually closed. Years later, as an adult, I was back in that town working, and the building had been converted to a Chinese Palace theme. Several of us from work went to eat there for lunch. I went back to use the restroom, and in the back hall were all the old paintings — including that one.

Leaned up against a wall, in a poorly lit hallway, were paintings almost as tall as I was — twelve of them. And there was that cowboy, and that horse, and that match lighting his cigarette. And for that brief second, I felt the cold, and remembered what it was like to step into a new restaurant with my family at six years old.

It was kind of like stepping back into a different world, and even more like stepping back into a different me. Six year old me appreciated art — and food — like I never quite have, since.

My mom used to say, “you never feel things as keenly as you did when you were young.” As a kid I head this, and thought nothing. As a teen and twenty-something, I interpreted it to mean she was now numb from life. Over time, it came more and more to be an observation about the nature of things: neither sad, nor hopeful, just… factual.

There was a second winter painting of the twelve in total (the rest were warm weather paintings) that I saw all those years later in that hallway: it was of a deer standing by a tree in the snow. The photo, above, was the closest thing I could find to it online; the original painting had mountains in the background, and the edge of a nearby forest. It was, my dad remarked, one of only two of the paintings to not have a human being in it.

I thought my dad was wrong, because, clearly, WE were in it, or we couldn’t have seen it, right?

Isn’t that how empathy works?


(Nano Poblano. It stretches us to the very limits of our limit-hood, but has been worth it nonetheless.)

{ Shore }

OUT on the morning shore he walks. 
There's little of his old life left: 
He gave it all away for aught, 
And now grows old alone, bereft -- 

She loved him for the risks he took, 
Not knowing she would be one more: 
That he would venture her, and lose, 
And give up love for some cold distant 

Shore 

The Good

There was a once and long ago,  
That industry was everywhere;  
And though some hated those machines,  
We used them to increase our share 

Of all the good that this world had. 
And with those goods, we did more good: 
We sang in homes and in the bars, 
And it was simply understood 

That this was what the new world was. 
Alas, we didn't, couldn't know 
The good would move to somewhere else, 
And we'd be left with 

Long ago