Holding Onto My Last Breath

I’m told there will come a time
when all will be revealed,
that moment just before you leave
where the Universe gives it up
to your virgin consciousness
and you go, ahhhhh….
And as great as that sounds,
you’ll note that your expression
of finally acquiring that enlightenment
comes in an exhalation,
more than likely your last.
I know that doesn’t sound fair,
but once you discover what
all this back-breaking, toil
and trouble life was for,
let alone about, what else is there
but to sound a short A?
Unless it’s a long ohhhhhh.
I suppose that’s why I intend
to hold my breath like a five-year-old
who won’t eat his Brussels sprouts
on that day when the Universe
comes a’knocking with my serving
of The Way, as the Buddhists might
intone. They call it nirvāṇa,
which is Sanskrit for “blowing out.”
That’s kind of what I’ve been saying,
only with an ahhhhh rather than an ohmmm.
Another translation is “liberation,”
which sounds so much better, because
I’d rather be freed from this
troubled coil, than blown out again
like a rotten basketball team,
or permanently, like a candle.
Ohm, shanti, shanti, shanti, y’all.
(Just in case.)

For those of us who don’t know Sanskrit, and I only know enough to get through a beginner’s yoga practice video, “Shanti” means “Peace.” So, I bid you all peace because we sure as hell need it. And so do I. So do I.

Another Dash of You

This is something you may not wish to hear,
or maybe you won’t even care at all.
See, I can’t think of you without a tear,
crawling from my eye down my cheeks to fall.

This is my problem, I do understand,
and shouldn’t concern you too much, I guess.
You’ve got your own sadness, and demons, too,
and, really, who needs someone else’s mess?

But you were the one who stirred this old pot,
burnt by other fires many times before.
Recipe for disaster cold or hot,
and I’ve been the failed chef, no less, no more.

If I think of you, it’s strictly my fault,
and one more tear’s fine, this dish needs more salt.

Another sonnet?!? I guess so. Seems I just need the structure and the challenge to help me out of this current dead zone of creativity. Hopefully, y’all don’t mind the rhyming, limping march of iambic pentameter to get me from here to there.

Leftovers Again?!

The late November snow,
its gesso spread confidently,
had designs on December,
to make it out past Black Friday
or even Cyber Monday.
But this year rains came
and picked it away
like my brothers would
a leftover turkey carcass.
The crows didn’t mind that at all,
noted pickers that they are,
and in fact reveled
in those muddy wounds upon
the momentarily forgotten grass.
The cars wear their patinas
of salty schmutz, a pasty
dry-rub instead of a brining,
as their drivers sit in jams
with tired eyes, like they’ve
shopped all night on that old
information superhighway.
But what’s that I see
upon my windshield fallen?
A white crystal unlike
its next and next and next,
each a unique hex and hex and hex.
And so it is, the snow’s returned,
nature like a cook with no plan.
The forecaster never saw it coming,
in fact this crap weather he spurned,
a turkey basted in climate change.
Oh, man!

If I Could Feel, This Is How It Feels

Am I blind, since I can’t see you these days?
Not even in my mind’s eye can I find you.
Where once there was at least a blurry haze,
not a shadow’s left, which your outline drew.

Am I deaf, since I do not hear your voice
even in dreams where once we laughed and talked?
In my sightless world, there’s nary a noise
that I might find you by the steps you’ve walked.

I’m cold-fact sure I’ve lost my sense of touch,
when out I reach to once more feel your skin.
With no sight, nor hearing, that leaves not much
with which I might find you and that’s a sin.

So now I exist in this empty shell;
without you’s not life, just a living hell.

I was asked not too long ago to write something about deep loss, since it might as well be my métier. And, to tell you the truth, the losses I’ve experienced in the last year have stopped up the drip-drop of inspiration I’ve been able to wring out of the dry seabed of my imagination. But today I give you this, another rhyming sonnet, something I never really liked to do. But just like how we never can tell who we’ll love and who we’ll lose, sometimes something comes along to cut you and some other kind of drip-drop hits the page.

You and Yours and Mine

When all you’ve ever known are
Thanksgiving and Christmas Days full of family,
I wonder how they still occur when family is gone.
Does turkey still push pumpkin pie
from the top of the aroma food chain by midday
on the fourth November Thursday?
Does a tree covered in bright-colored bulbs
and sparkling ornaments still
light the heart as well as the room?
Does Christmas morning still happen
if the sound of children tearing through
gaudy paper and cardboard boxes
and making a joyful noise are only
distant echoes of those dawns gone by?
The easy answer is of course they do.
Calendars will always show those squares
on their eleventh and twelfth pages.
But those are data points, not the points
of light on a conical swatch of green
in the corner of the living room.
Those are cold numbers in the twenties,
instead of the number of warm places surrounding
a table starring a roasted bird or ham,
snow drifts of potatoes and drifting conversations
about family past and present, but always family.
They will remain the topping on my pumpkin pie
and shining stars upon my life’s tree.
Thanksgiving and Christmas will always
come around for everyone else, but holidays
won’t really be holidays without you.
And you and you and yours. And mine.

Just A Few Appropriate Remarks

It was a sunny and breezy day, I’m told, in that place where the headliner gave a performance of Springsteenian length, full of bombast worthy of a king…or Freddie and Queen. Then that other speaker, who’d taken the train up from points south, rose with a folded piece of paper in his hand, bareheaded, mournful, haggard and humbled by the venue, the times, the occasion and its raison d’être. And while the crowd still buzzed from the performance by first name on the marquee’s performance, the tall man presented his 271—word “appropriate remarks” in his scratchy voice, its accent many of the intelligentsia derided, while it was perfectly understood by those from the Kentucky hills and the Illinois prairie. And when he finished, he did not hear the thunder of applause, for the sky was clear, even of 21-gun cannonades. Nor did he hear the brassy fanfare of approbation, the wind only enough to move a lady’s hair across her brow. Instead, came an awkward silence and then a pitter-patter of hands reminiscent of raindrops on a gravestone. But it was a day of remembrance and there were gravestones by the thousands, most with names now long-forgotten. Not many have forgotten the first few words those remarks, nor the gist of the final ones. They are why a child learns that a score is an old word for 20. And why, deep down inside, we believe that this grand experiment of ours, this “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That is our hope. They define us. Amen.

With My Last Drop of Hope

These days I’m finding it so hard to live,
my heart empties Hope like sand from a sieve.
The only things that remain in its place
are pain and regret, since I’ve lost my race
with the man who I’ve become, dark and blue.
I look in the mirror and say “Who’re you?”
He’s not the man with confidence and spark,
who’d take on the big guys, just for a lark.
Though deep down inside, I never felt right,
worthy or good enough for the spotlight.
But always I held out Hope for my dreams,
some called obsessions, others foolish schemes.
All these losses have overcome this heart,
which always fought back, past dart after dart,
until these last blows tore it to pieces.
So now I live in a black near-ceaseless.
All day I sit in the dark much too much,
not answering calls or even the touch
of people who love me, present and past.
They don’t know this poem might be my last.
Can’t find Hope in a place with no bottom;
can’t find light when the blues say “We got him.”
So I sit in front of this screen glowing,
with its cursor blinking, my mind unknowing,
using small Hope without reason, just rhyme.
Another drop wasted. Maybe next time.

If Hope springs eternal, for some reason,
let’s pray I’ll find mine come Christmas season.

Night Passage

The light that glowed on my days so brightly
has grown so dim I grope to find my way.
So the trail I leave behind’s unsightly,
full of debris, no longer smooth highway.

When you hang your life on a single speck
of illumination, a lodestar hook,
should others’ clouds cross your bow, you might wreck,
in the wake of the blind passage they took.

I suppose my best hope to find my course
would be to rely on dead reckoning.
Instead of moping in doldrums, I’ll force
ahead on my own path come beckoning.

So with faith as my guide, and eyes wide shut
I’ll sail with hope and rely on my gut.

Never Again

Passchendaele

They say it rained fire and steel
for days at the Marne,
where forests melted from your sight
if you were crazy enough to lift
your head above the trench line.
For to do so was to risk a messy death.

History tells me some British soldiers,
Tommies they were called, sunk without
hope of rescue into murderous mud holes
during the forever rain of Passchendaele. Or,
if they were lucky, one of their mates would
shoot them first before they went under.

You know, of course, while generals pondered
their strategies of bleeding out
the other side of its youth over months
of shelling, or deciding when to send more
into the Hindenburg Line meant grinder,
thousands still lost limbs, minds and lives.

I know for a fact that flyers who climbed
skyward in crates of wood and canvas,
did so without parachutes. To survive
another day was less important than trying
to save a burning airplane, which,
they were told, had more value than they did.

This happened only a century ago,
after which most who ever felt the whiz
of bullets pass their faces, smelled the gas
that killed and the stench of the killed,
who saw friends turned to pulp
before their eyes, said “Never again.”

They said such a war was too terrible
to repeat for King and Country, for ideology,
for gains on a balance sheet or a map.
It wasn’t worth repeating that horror. Many tried.
All failed. Yet they called it The Great War.
But they aren’t, not even if you “win.”

They’re Hell.

I’m pretty sick right now. Flu, depression, and a mind that never stops yet can’t bring forth anything with meaning, even to myself. Yet, as a student of history, I felt moved today to write something about the end of the First World War, where mankind saw death and carnage on a super-industrial scale. I wish I could write more, about how the war bled out nations on so many scales. Who it Ended nations. How it began others. But, ultimately, war is about people. The men and women who served, fought and died in Belgium, France, Italy, the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere deserve better than they’re getting. It’s been one hundred years since the War to End All Wars ended and some of us don’t know, don’t care or don’t care to know or do anything about it. His loss.

Miss You

The rain taps at my window,
each drop a throat-clearing
AHEM
attempting to pull my attention
away from this desk. But,
though I’m staring right at
piles of papers, pens, and pencils,
I’m not really seeing them.
These days attention comes like
a poor man’s paycheck, slipping
through my fingers before
I can actually grasp it,
like raindrops sliding down that
drumhead pane of glass over there.
No, my attention is on a photograph,
a touch, a smell and a voice
my senses won’t again caress.
Now it’s dripping onto this paper
atop those words:
“Miss You.”