Human Condition, 2020 – Part I

I started the day
with a poem
which got interrupted
by something,
important,
that got
interrupted,
which then was
interrupted
by something
important
that got interrupted
by something
else,
important,
leaving me
late to
where I was
supposed
to be.

Several
interruptions
followed. 

And then came
more
important
interruptions
stacked
one
on
top
of
the
other.

Facing west,
late (again)
to the next
important thing,
the sunset
stretched orange
across the
full
sky,
interrupting
my hurry,
leaving me
breathing,
with my poems
tucked neatly
in my pocket
til there is time.

 

The Not Cult of Not Celebrity

History has forgotten
those I admire
most. Even I
can’t call
their names.

People of the daily
who because it
needed to be done
tended wounds,
spoke truths,
opened doors to
hungry people,
appreciated beauty
and found it often,
lived lightly
on the Earth,
flinched not while
challenging
brutality,
or flinched,
but remained
steadfast anyway,
sang with abandon,
died when
it was time.

Deeds undocumented
by any textbook.
No image
for posterity.
Nothing left counted
by the common
measures of man.

They who mended the world
over and over again,
alive in the not-known.

Go Fourth

I cannot celebrate a
country so relentlessly
rich in willful
oblivion concerning the
suffering upon which
it was built
back then

Back then
meaning centuries
decades
yesterday

Back then
meaning
an hour
ago

Today I celebrate instead –

the open hearts of so many
genuine kindness found in passing
radical solidarity with exiles from domination’s favor

the art of rejoicing at beauty
those who give in to the weighty gifts of mutuality
good books

days spent in honest work
the courage of witness in the face of power
friends who think with me

this one ripe peach

In the Shadow of Honky Tonk Central

Half a crowded block
away I heard him

Tourists seeking
downtown drinks
and country covers
no match for his
volume:

“WHORE!”

That much
I caught
before sight
of the pair

Her head down,
with what?
fear, shame,
or the sure
certainty that hope
has no place in
hell here

His body vibrating
with noisy rage

Yet together
they walked,
breaking stride only

beside me,
ignored with effort
by every single soul
especially the sidewalk cop
bouncer taking no note of my
desperate wish that he would
fix things
send this man
on his way 

as he keeps
smashing words
walking away
          coming back for more

smashing words
walking away
          coming back for more

smashing words
walking away
          coming back for more

Rage in a torn green t-shirt

They are dirty, lean, distant
even in the crowd

A world within some
private
compelling
hell

I have nothing to offer
No answers
protection
dollar bills
wisdom
magic
not a useful thing
except to stop and stand
praying that
he will not turn again
she will cross the
street and
go
away

Knowing the feel of fists
I can’t leave and
can’t do a thing
but choke on
dry words of fervent
pleading

Go
away

Either one of
you

East
North
or
an angled move
with the light
and the crush of
people
oblivious by intent

There I stand
feet leaden
muttering silent
prayers as –
finally –
gravity tugs him
toward the river and
she turns
swallowed in neon
and vanishes
into the night.

Ash Wednesday

With Lent approaching, memories of a different year –

I sat with a
suddenly dead man
for three hours
beside his partner of
28 years who
doubled over
like the doctor
had just
punched him
instead of
offering apologies and
soft words.

‘I had someone to die’
I had to
tell the
homeless man
I couldn’t
drive to get
his phone
though I said
I would.

Texted the lost child
gone home
to her
hateful parents
because
she still
craves their love
so bad she’s been
snorting heroin
as a substitute.
Don’t worry,
she said, I didn’t
inject it.

One man had a stroke
and didn’t tell me
but he’s home I hear.
Another I went to visit
but couldn’t see
past the swarm of nurses
torturing him
to re-place the
feeding tube
his wandering
hands found.

Ashes and dust
water and spirit.

Another school shooting.

No poetry there.

Only blood that
drowns us in our sins.

Create in me a clean heart,
O God

So I can do it all again
tomorrow.

Amen

The Time It Takes to Decide

I left a homeless man across town

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time and I didn’t have any other ideas for him

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time and I didn’t have any other ideas for him and I gave him bus fare in case he needed to get back

I left a homeless man across town at a rescue mission that might not have a bed but he wanted to try anyway because he knows the guy that runs it and he asked me to and I had time and I didn’t have any other ideas for him and I gave him bus fare in case he needed to get back and a small red umbrella because it
started
to
rain.

The Truth

Midweek I sat
fingering purple plastic
prayer beads strung
by the faithful
for those passing
through a hospital
chapel, who slip
them in a
coat pocket so
as to find
them by touch –

sitting in a
county courtroom populated
by shackled black
men in faded
prison stripes –
irony feasting on
the wall portrait
framing an old
white man in
his impeccable regimental
striped tie and
gleaming cufflinks –

A repeat felon,
facing new charges,
urged to plea
lest he face
mandatory life without
parole –

“No, your honor,
I ain’t going
to plead to
nothing
I
didn’t
do.”

But the moment
that makes us
all bow our
heads –

the young blonde
prosecutor clears her
throat,
hesitates,
before explaining that
no, they can’t
reschedule for Monday
for a man
trying to keep
his job because
it’s the
Jefferson Davis
holiday.

One-Time Shot Logic

death
smells like poisonous gas
feels like fire from
bombs dropped
between busy hours
of laundry,
bathing children,
signatures on significant
documents,
dollars trading
hands for bread,
medicine,
safety,
a promise.

death
tastes like Flint’s water
scalding the skin
mirage of clean
burned to bone
thirst quenched by
dangerous illusions
sounds like self-checkout registers
turning jobs
into vapor

death
looks like hell,
run by callous men
But really –
You know death
when you see it.

Communion, Room 304

“Are you my sister?”
asked the white-haired
woman stretched out
in bed as I
stepped
from the harsh
light of the noisy
hallway to
her side.

Blinds drawn tight.
A pair of highback
wheelchairs parked
on hard tile
against the doors
of dark
wooden
closets,
set as out
of the way
as they
could be.

“No ma’am
I’m from
the church.
I came
to visit.”

She smiled then
returned to
some distress
I could
not see.

Moving a chair
beside her bed
I tried to
reassure.

We spoke of the
sleeping woman
in the
bed next to
her own.

“Maybe she’s
my sister.”

“Maybe
I want
something
to eat.”

“I brought
communion but
that might not
be enough?
We’ll see
I guess.”

I dipped the
dry wafer in
the juice and
placed it in
her mouth.

She chewed
silently for one
moment, then
another.

“How about we pray?”
I asked.

She touched
my hand.
“Your hands
are cold”
she said.

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

“So cold. Let me
warm them.”

She took
my hands
and cradled
them in
hers.

That
was
our
prayer.