Masks

Our faces emerge
so smooth and guileless.
But we learn along the way,
as those older ones
teach us how to massage
the clay from which we emerged
into a new mask to wear.
Even the fumble-fingered
can become their own Leonardo,
Rodin or Michaelangelo,
turning themselves into
something they aren’t,
until eventually, they are.

Mask after mask,
thin slip fib or thick layer lie,
we attach to our baby face,
until one day it becomes
the one we wear last.
They grow heavy
after all this time.
They’ve drawn my face down
with the gravity of their artifice.
so much so that I wish
to crack them off my
inner infant’s innocent mien.

All it takes is confession
and a smile, perhaps.
This is not me, I swear.
I am more than words,
more than the lies I’ve shaped,
more than the masks I’ve worn
and you have come to accept.
Though I am not yet that smile.
Touch me, friend.
Let me grip your finger.
I won’t let go anymore.

Waiting to Fly

The time has come
when we hang here,
dull where we used to shine,
limp and bedraggled
where strong and seamless
were our natural state.
It’s the time when
the winds no longer move us
in The Dance,
a vast corps de ballet,
moving as one to the sound
of what poets might call
an aeolian harp.
But it’s still just the wind,
maybe even of Time,
and we’re still like
those leaves out there,
waiting.
I suppose it is to fall,
to land upon the earth
and become one with the soil.
All of us, as one,
in the grand finale
of our lives’ recital.
When you think about it, though,
once we release our hold
upon that tree, for a moment,
we’re truly airborne, free,
blissfully as one
with ourselves.

One of my oldest, wisest friends reminded me today — as I sat for what seems like two years since I was able to write as I once did — of the words of our favorite poet, William Stafford. If old Bill were to come up behind me, moping and fretting here in my chair, waiting for inspiration that never seems to come, he would no doubt spin me around, look me in the eye and give me his timeless advice for a broken writer: “Lower your standards.” So I sat and just turned my fingers loose. Ten minutes later…

Thanks, Bill. And thank you, dear Helen. You’ve saved me again.

The Winds Came Up Today

The winds came up today,
shaking the old man awake
when they tousled the curtains
across his drafty window.
The winds came up today,
bending the trees,
in full late-Spring flutter,
to wave their frayed flags,
some spitting out their whirligig seeds
to fly from there to there.
The winds came up today,
tipping birds in yawing flight
from the old man’s house
to the school, where
cheering kindergartners freed
their new butterflies
each from the safety of
its cracked chrysalis.
The winds came up today
in front of the old man’s house,
tearing away the tag
on the wheelchair by the roadside
which said, “Free, no longer needed.”
“The winds came up today,”
the nurse said to the old man.
But he already knew
after they whispered him
awake from the drafty window.
The winds came up today…
Only the winds.
Only the winds.

State of Disarray

I’m certain right now we all can’t agree
that things around here surely aren’t okay.
Online attacks, shootings, guys taking a knee,
we’re messed up in a state of disarray.

I’ve seen a lot in my decades of life,
stuff that made us crazy, yet always great.
Our history reveals days full of strife,
yet we’ve survived those times of raw hate.

But right now I’m scared of what might yet come
from the Us versus Then, Win or Die throng
that shouts down compromise like it’s dumb,
“If you aren’t leaning our way you’re dead wrong.”

Dead wrong or just dead by uncivil fray,
this new United States of Disarray.

Day 14 of my NaPoWriMo poem-a-day challenge. Supposed to be a “state” poem. Fuck that. Just know that I HATE politics, having worked closely outside and inside that disgusting sausage factory. So I always make it a point to not take sides. I’m just pointing out right from wrong. Right now, too many people are just behaviorally wrong. Let’s at least try, for our nation’s (and world’s) sake, to step back, take off our myriad hats, and work together to restore this to being a nation OF the people, BY the people and FOR the people…ALL of the people. I pray we can do that before I die and my granddaughters miss out on what I was lucky enough to share (at least I believe I shared to the best of my being) in my lifetime.

This stuff is killing me, keeping me awake at night and spinning my already hideous gyre of depression into a deep-dive death spiral. It’s crippling me. If some day soon, you notice I don’t visit you anymore (as I’ve seen myself approaching more and more lately) you’ll know all of this strife has become just too much for me and I can’t be me anymore. Today’s poem was not that me. 

The Art of Losing Your Mind

The blanks outnumber the faces now.
Too many of their names were erased
by nightwind after nightwind
when I no longer talked to them,
of them.
I remember you, but not really.
You’re a placeholder of
emotion
I never understood and now
stand no chance of recapturing.
How can I recapture in this art
of artful remembering what I
never truly captured first?
And so, you are lost to me,
and so is he, she and them,
this population of my mind.

The diaspora of the beautiful
and the profane,
the angelic and the insane,
washed away by the rains
pushed over me by the fears
I tried to escape
by not closing my eyes
in this battle that’s left me old.
Even if I’m shown a
photo and reminded
“This is…”
the you I see will more than likely
be blown away
by the sleepless nightwinds
and the forgotten dawns
left to me.

Day 12 of Poem-a-Day April.

Heinous Envy

Is jealousy the pain of losing
something to another,
that rips at the heart,
tosses you about your bed
until exhaustion takes hold
and smothers you with its pillow?
Is envy the green-eyed mistress
that poets speak of who tempts
and taunts you as she walks around
with another? For those of us
who split the hairs of language,
perhaps I can best explain it this way:
When I was a youth, I jealously
cared for my black hair,
all shiny and thick, lest
any of them made a break for it
and stepped out of the line
I parted like Moses did the Red Sea.
Today, I am envious of those fellows
with all of those youthful sprouts
of keratin in their original hue.
Not that all of my white ones have made
their new kind of break for it,
choosing to follow gravity to pillow,
shoulder, floor, and shower drain.
In sum: I envy those men who
squire youth around the place,
running her hands through their locks,
playing their abs like a xylophone.
I am not envious of their language though.
And I doubt, as this poem reaches EXACTLY
200 words, they are covetous of mine.

On Day 7 of my poem-a-day NaPoWriMo quest, a poem prompted by the word “jealous.”

Leafing Through My Memory

There are times I still see You,
though surely not how you are now.
The You I see is green and supple,
bouncing upon a branch
with scores more of your kind.
And yet I see You.
But this is how it goes
with a man such as I,
who sees a You like no other.
You who have been ripped
from that tree, buffeted
and sucked dry of your youth,
now stuck in a place where
the winds will not let you go.
But I see You as you were.
Since I was always one to miss
the forest for the tree,
miss the whole tree for your leaf.
And now I miss your leaf
for the space it has left
in my mind’s sky.