Rules of the Game

Political pundit on the
news says our wars
work best when we have
skin in the game

Skin in the game,
as if wars happen
any other
way

brown skin
black skin
white skin
bodies of
boys and girls
soldier bodies
breathing and
not

the tight animal
fear of bloody
sleepless nights and
days of
no bread
no school
no work
no sense of
safety
at
all.

Skin in the game.

Bright American lives
women and men
with mad skillz and
dedicated hearts.

Our skin in the game.

Until they return
home to our
indifference, our
distance from
their pain,
the pain they
caused, the pain
they know that
cuts through
every cord of
stable hope,
every shred of
soul’s gentle
desire.

Skin in the game.

Endangered bodies of
other lands trying to live
their daily lives.
Hoping for
clean sheets,
ample meals with a
bit of wine
music lessons
soul-settling worship
a good doctor for a
child ill with some
easy disease,
perhaps pinkeye,
as the worst thing
that happened today.

Their skin in our game.

In our games we play
Risk and Battleship
without popcorn and laughter,
writ large across the
map of black-ink
borders and language.
Minecraft with
real mines
that take off legs
at the knee
at best.

We play them like a game.

But there is – always –
skin in the
game.
That is how war is
played.

For some there can be
no forgetting.

Equilibrium

I learned
to wrap myself in time.
To breathe in the pages of the book
I did not read
before it was due.
To let the juice of the melon
drip to the ground
as I meander in the market,
sampling,
one large chunk
after another
in the shimmering summer heat.
To be satisfied with
dancing steps in the
bread aisle
to the beat of some absurd song
of my young years.
To let a smile that
begins in the eyes
fill my soul as the cardinal pair skims
the wire outside my window
while the light grey clouds bloom into day.
I understand now –
these hours are
born into the
illusion of possession.
My fisted grip
softens.
What before I dreamed
of dictating,
let the blessed moments
control.

Second Chances: Mark 10: 17-31

Jesus has on
ladybug slippers said
sweet Maria, age four
as we discussed the
rich man
squeezed from heaven by the
needle’s eye and his own
love of money.

We agreed cats might be
found within the
Gospel narrative, as I saw
no reason to question that
Jesus would pause to
give the man a chance to
reconsider and while
he waited,
hoping for a
conversion moment to
surpass the weight of
accumulated riches,
there might be cats.

And being Jesus, he could
find them food and would
of course because in this story
no one goes hungry
unless he can’t set
down the
bags of gold to open his
hand to the
real riches
promised
but available only
when we let go and
offer our
unclenched palms to the
sky.

Faith at the Front Door

The bell signaled
Jehovah’s Witnesses
on my porch.

Polite, older, black women in
neat dresses.
Umbrellas tucked under one arm,
tracts under the other.
Prepared.

They looked disconcerted
to hear that I,
barefoot,
in coffee-stained pajamas,
already had a a vision of
heaven, that I was
studying God at that very moment at
my computer before the
bell rang and the dogs loudly
raised the alarm.

I studied God
in them
in that odd minute.

I don’t know that they were pleased.
But I was.

God was beautiful.

Asphalt Chronicles: An Afternoon at Wildwood Centre

I am learning to love parking lots
to see the beauty –
small scraps of hope
flashes of green holly and red berries
a hint of a crape myrtle in the
tortured trunk and tiny sprouts.
Squirrel, mourning dove, crow,
stranded oak.
Maples
root-bound yet
determined in their
circumscribed islands of soil.

I am learning to love parking lots, to
forgive the harsh word, the
rude gesture, the
impatient insistence of dominance, the
thwarted intention.
To watch the care as parent reaches for child’s hand,
not judge the car that straddles the line or the
rapid reach for the cell phone and the
peril averted just in time or the
cart full of Fruit Loops and Cheetos.
Or the memory of what grew here before.

This is what is.

The song says we paved paradise.
The deed done,
asphalt laid,
now cracked, faded stripes,
ghosts of a meadow and creek.

Parking – a
gift? right? privilege? requirement?

Multiculturalism in the
Honda
Dodge
Audi
Ford
Jaguar row.
Intersectionality at the intersection.
Saabs and Jeeps and Chevrolets.
We’ll take our diversity in the form of
paint colors,
model years,
features we want or
what we can afford.
Consumer choice.
Do our wheels speak to
one another in accents of the land in which
they were made?

I must learn to love this,
this world here.

Two yellow cars fringe a row of
more mundane shades.
For a moment the eye can dance.
Alice Walker guides us in this place:
live frugally on surprise.
What happens if
you start with expectations low,
eyes open?

Windows down, the
rain begins.

Fall colors
Taco Bell bags
chocolate bar wrappers
gnarled plastic straws.
Black pavement
beige buildings
white faces and brown faces.
Nary a pastel in sight.

Nuns at Wal-mart,
old people buying useful old people things and ice cream.

A man leans against his car, smoking, his
old brown hat angled,
knife case secure on his belt.
He waits,
not with patience.
Man and car both need a bath.

A woman hesitates.
To carry her coat or not –
what matters most?
Freezing for short minutes
between car and store?
Or the weight of the coat
as she shops?

Zoning, shopping, crime and naps.
It’s all here.
Of us and we of it.
Heat and cold alike radiate,
water washes
off in torrents
drains trash and streaks of oil.

This is what we wanted.

This is what we were told we asked for.

To Be in the Audience

I wrote this poem after attending a play one night. Thinking, however, about all this season’s graduations, it could apply there as well.

To Be in the Audience

What does it mean to give
your body wholly to something?

To lean forward as the curtain is drawn,
shadows of bodies
frame the stage.

To be down,
waiting,
can’t wait
to get up.

The itch of art
until the deed’s done
the day’s done.

Missed cues and muffled lines,
accents and
grace and power,
speed.

To watch the single prop transformed,
a swirl of color and light,
cradled like a toy,
whipped through the air,
tied at the shoulder.

Every show needs an audience.

Is it art if no one watches,
dearth of applause,
empty of appreciation?

Well,
yes,
but
showing up
helps.

Asphalt Chronicles: Adventures in Traffic

Upon hitting the city at 5:00
on Friday night –
smack into a
slow rush hour,
on the roads of a
Southern city with
no public transit to
speak of.

We descend the twisting ramp to an
8-lane parking lot
going north,
radio announcing where we’ll find
brake lights.
No worries there –
we’re drowning in them.
Red washing over fragile metal,
progress measured in feet, in
single speedometer digits.

What we find before we know we’re seeking:

One – a landmark midtown tavern I’d always meant to visit.
I tell the kid to look old.
She drinks a coke and reads her book.
I sip a draft – only 1 – and write a friend.

Two – Ethiopian drive-thru.
Spongy bread,
spiced cabbage,
red lentils,
potato stew
to go.
The kid passes me neatly
scooped handfuls at
stop lights.

Three – a vast outdoor store with
stuff on sale.
Tons of tempting items
promising adventure.
We mark items off her camp list
before returning to the road,
dark now with
headlights and
street lights and
stars.

Saturday on the Pediatric Rehab Unit

Written a while back, but for me it still speaks to bearing witness to difficult times – and there’s a whole lot of difficulty in our world right now.

Saturday on the Pediatric Rehab Unit

One sobbing 2-year old with burned hands.

One dislodged NG tube.

One baby’s blood on my shirt.

One young man obsessed with Mountain Dew.

One exploding gas line burns one house
and three people in it.

One rescue inhaler missing meant one heart stopped and one brain died, almost died, died to
the life that it knew, to the life his mother dreamed.
And now I stretch his stiff, sweaty limbs,
curling into knots
and watch his eyes for silent screams.

One smiling, unspeaking 16-year old, who
lives with a body that has turned on itself,
lives with her sister’s ex-boyfriend,
lives with a mass of knotted wig on her head, which her mother refuses to comb.

One breathing tube out. Finally.

One 5 year-old with the flu,
and a brain tumor,
just diagnosed,
inoperable,
and a mother who fears
the father who hates.
A thin sheet of pretense veils the room.

One boy who set afire a string on his shirt
and his shirt
and his arm
and his back
and his chest
I don’t go back to my mama’s, he says.
She throwed toys at me.

One boy with clay on his hands
a fresh scar dancing across his head
from the car that hit him
as he danced across the road.
His mother, tested for drugs, will not return.
His father, older, bearded, country, doting,
slices through plastic packaging
to open more clay, more crayons, more games and paint brushes.
Whatever he can give
to heal his boy
While you’re here, I’m going to go smoke,
he pleads.
I’ll be back, son, he says to the boy looking at solid food, meant for him,
for the first time in a week.
Pizza and grape juice,
of course.
Trembling fingers pluck thin strips of meat from each piece,
stretch out for the straw.
I roll the clay in my fingers and remind him:
Small bite.
Chew.
Swallow.
Sip.
Repeat.
We watch the day end,
the pizza disappear,
the quiet hope of the night stop by this room
for just one moment.

Dog in the Morning

Smart dog Harriet knows that
when the door locks
the kid is gone,
the day begun.
Still time though
to leap to the window.
Paws at rest,
lean into the life outside,
lean close,
nose to pane
holding the moment,
until, kid onboard, the car crests the hill and
vanishes into the light.

Marathon Bombs

What sick soul builds bombs
aimed at the feet of those
who run?

How do we pray for
those whose
most evident gift is that of
destruction, who find
delight in carnage, who
crave blood and bone
belonging to another?

Thirteen-year old Isaiah
stood beside me that morning,
arms outstretched,
part way through a
psych stay.

I can control the wind
he said.
Like this.
He dropped his arms like wings,
pulled them to his sides,
turned them palm up.

Later,
driving past entire hedge rows of
blooming azaleas
I listened to stories of
police chasing bombers through Boston,
radio squawking with
cordoned streets and lockdown.
Twitter feeds full of
rumor, fear, the
restless exhilaration of
near proximity to
disaster.

They scoured the streets
searching
house to house.
Shot Tamerlan Tsarnaev while I
slept.
Shut down a city while I
showered, while I
stopped at the bank,
filled out raffle tickets for the school.

SWAT teams while I watered the plants.
House to house while I returned phone calls,
spoke to a board meeting
full of young blonde women and
one brunette
one man
one black woman.

I drove through a village
hatchback open
left safely untended then
filled with dozens of tulips.
A feast of cut flowers.

I wished them on a frightened city far away.
I wished them on a frightened murderous young man
days ago
before this happened.