Baright Library Poetry Reading

Here are the seven poems that I read for the Ralston, Baright Library Reading. I hope everyone enjoys them. They were a joy to write and a pleasure to read.

Resting on black haunches in the shadows

Weeds

Grew taller when I was a boy

beneath the humid heart of Texas.

Adventure crouched in the dappled

shade cast by broad green leaves,

where I sought monsters through sultry heat.

I knew them by their chipped green

scales or rust-orange armor as they

rested on black haunches in the shadows,

waiting to feed on heroes like me.

Red augers, rising brontosaurus

necks lifted above the jungle weeds,

felt the terrible slice of my cypress

sword and thrust of sugar cane lance.

Across the accursed land, treasure

after treasure and dozens of thankful

damsels were freed from taloned

clutches—just in the nick of time.

In the fields and lots no one tends,

creatures still lurk in the shade of

velvet leaf, bindweed, and fleabane.

Squint your eyes just so and you

will see chrome grimaces and grills

of forgotten menace, waiting for heroes like you.

 

Gingilos dreams of white foam on shallow blue seas.

Musing Over Stone: Mt Gingilos, Crete

Lost time rains on my spirit

and beads on its white feathers,

then I wake to find dew on my bed.

A watery sky arches above me

and mountainous silhouettes

strain for what nobody knows.

I rise from my nylon nest,

half-asleep on unsteady feet,

shivering in the mountain’s shadow.

A fleece shirt buffers the chill,

but nothing need warm my spirit,

ready for its climb in the sun.

 

Gray expanses fall at my waiting feet,

great eyelids sealed over ages of sleep,

their lashes of grass touching the seam

of talus and earth. I imagine, beneath

the blocky grit, Gingilos dreams

of white foam on shallow blue seas.

When my fingers brush the layered dust

on that vital first hold, time seeps

through my skin, slow as the glacier

that groaned past this place

ten thousand years before I awoke.

The eons enter my restless blood

and grind my bones to dust.

 

Cosmic clocks have only moments

of time for me, so I edge upward,

across the face, shifting my weight,

focusing hold to hold. I rise—

a mist of fog—leaving hardly

a trace to remember, soon to evaporate

in the first rays of morning sun.

A thousand feet higher, my heart dizzies

at the vista. Each vertical step

has drawn back the horizon. From here

I glimpse the truth: I am a dust mote,

with an ego large as the star that birthed it.

 

Pausing on a ledge wide as my foot,

I dip my hands into a bag of chalk

belted to my waist. Wisps of white powder

drift away on the wind, disappear

into inner space, part of something

larger—different somehow.

Like me—yesterday.

A thousand feet further on,

at the peak, I breathe cool air,

smell the pines’ tang on the wind,

but their sharpness quickly dulls;

taut senses fall slack off the edge.

The risk—skin in the game—keeps

every tenuous hour precious,

and my spirit above the ground.

The bright rope, running untangled and free, reminds us our fate is tied to one another.

Rope

drapes around my feet,

like an old, faithful dog.

It ties us to this vertical stage

we dance upon as we perform

our rising, brutal ballet for

no one but ourselves.

We push and pull our way

upward in turns, minds

focused and taut, hearts

soothed within the harmony

of rock, line, and movement.

We and the rope knot our fists

against gravity’s strong current,

as each man ascends alone:

lost in the stone’s sharp grit,

the impulsive voice of the wind,

and the silent distance below.

The bright rope, running

untangled and free, reminds us

our fate is tied to one another.

Rope binds us like blood:

woven with faith, unfrayed by fear,

made brave by love.

Under the scornful weight of her near defeated will, she pushes on in hope.

Sisyphus

She envelops the chair across

the desk from me, glancing

up with eyes a little wide

and a wrinkled, hopeful brow.

 

She’s sat in places like this

a hundred times. The pattern,

like a millstone, has worn

a groove in her life;

she no longer sees an escape.

 

Her fight against foraging

in aisles laden with chips

and freezers of custard

regenerates unchanged

as Cosmo mocks her

through the checkout.

 

Still, under the scornful weight

of her near defeated will,

from far behind every

short, gasping breath,

She pushes on in hope.

 

She begs for freedom’s taste,

to walk swift, with grace,

down any street, path, or aisle,

to turn her head and maybe–

see an admiring face.

 

I proffer my open hand,

choosing to be caught

in her endless task

that’s likely too large

for either of us to push aside.

It is my curse to try.

Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Take This Moment

Stand beside rippling water
running shallow over glacial sand.
Feel your blood fall into steady
rhythms to match the low whisper
of water moving through the reeds.

Breathe deep, expand your caged body
into fall skies etched with cirrus;
expand beyond the branches
of ash and cottonwood that stretch
sleeping buds into the distant blue.

Fall into the slow march of this world
where time slides by and nothing cares
where it’s from, nor where it goes:
grasses go dormant; water turns to ice;
rocks grind to loess, and bones turn to stone.

Drink this tiny sip of God’s eternity,
feel how it whets your thirsty soul,
set your roots under the mud
and feed from the layers of the land.
Take this precious moment—it belongs to you.

Old Gods

shuffle into the cobbled piazza

dressed in loose brown tweed

and slouching hats that hide

eyes dark with loss.

They sink onto wrought iron

benches below the silent campanile

and toss crumbs of stale grace

from paper sacks to adoring flocks,

pink-footed believers who never

seem sated as they preen and mill

about their gods’ leather soled feet

heads cocked, eyeing for more.

Selfie

Shuffle through the streets,

careful not to trip and fail,

a splash in Trevi fountain.

Look up, “Oh! A cute kitty!

Cup the phone in your palm

hold it at arm’s length,

compose your personal emoji:

cock your head a touch,

drop a shoulder, tuck your chin

whisper “prune” or smile.

“Look at me!”

Click and whirr the shot

Bring the phone back,

cup it with your body.

Chimp your masterpiece:

face in focus, no bombs,

the kitty looks pretty too.

The world returns to periphery.

“Where was I?” Facebook,

Flikr, Snapchat, Twitter.

“Someone liked my post!”

Writing boldly Toward the Stars

It’s a long, dark road

As I drive along the dirt road home, thoughts settle over me like a high cloud cover. Right now, those thoughts center on how to reach more people with my writing. It’s a New Year, so my mind, like many other peoples’, has turned toward improvement. I’ve been putting in the time, but for years now, whenever I post, all I hear are crickets.

I don’t always post enough, and that’s one of my resolutions–to write more blogs and poems. Nevertheless, I’ve ridden this creative road for a long time, and I feel like a kid who’s driving his parents crazy with questions like,  “Where are we going?” and “When are we gonna get there?” The problem is, I’m the kid, plus the driver, and I don’t have any answers.

With each passing year, it seems to grow less possible to penetrate the time-consuming barriers of school sports, televised entertainment, and social media. Even friends and family report back to me that they can’t spare the five-minutes it would take to read a blog post. They’re caught up in a whirlwind of activity gluttony, filling the belly of their day with so much to do that a wafer thin five minutes would cause it to explode.

Maybe, I’m just whining, but sometimes I think when people say they don’t have time to read my blog, it’s the equivalent of those times when a woman would tell me, “I can’t go out with you. You’re too good a friend.” Yeah. Uh Huh. Sure.

Maybe I’m talking to the wrong audience or not speaking the cultural dialect. Perhaps I’m missing something crucial about where to set up my soap box. Or maybe I’m just not good enough of a writer to hold anyone’s interest. That one scares me the most.

In response to those fears, I have signed up for a four-week course on blogging, plus a couple of short video courses on writing non-fiction and memoir. So, rather than just sitting on my hands and wishing for solutions, I am making attempts toward learning more and gaining some experience. However, what I still fear is that it’s not a skill issue, but more of being one tiny voice in a sea of voices. I sometime’s feel like  a low-magnitude star over the bright lights of a city. Even if the residents look up, they aren’t going to see me.

Boldly going–Nowhere

Above me as I drive, a break in the clouds appears and a few stars shine through. Here in the country, they are bright and clear. An achy feeling, like the pang that rises to meet the lonesome sound of a train whistle, stabs me. Any time I see the stars so clear that I feel like I could touch them, that same ache expands in my chest. I’ve always wanted to be like the crew of the Starship Enterprise and “boldly go where no one has gone before.” So far, no luck. I haven’t gone anywhere.

Even though I’ve been sending emails, hitting the social media, and posting more, my blog and poetry remain in dry dock, where I sIave for hours making repairs and modifications. Hoping I can get out among the stars. I haven’t made it yet, but the ache to write is still strong enough, or to be totally honest, my need for being read keeps me behind the keyboard.

Keeping on

The break in the clouds still lies overhead, and I keep an eye on the stars framed there. While random, they stir stronger emotions than any painting or teenage ballad. The stars and writing call me like  sirens. I can’t stop. And while I may be only destined to  keep going in order to be crushed on the rocks–it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep dreaming of when my personal USS Enterprise of creativity will settle on the teeming public shores and be welcomed at last.

So, I’ll keep boldly going–until I reach the stars or I run out of warp drive, whichever comes first.

Christmas in Your Heart

Only If Christmas lives in your heart, will you find it underneath your tree.

Long ago, and probably still does in some places, the first sign of Christmas emerged from the Church’s liturgical year and from behind the pulpit. Priests and pastors prepared their expectant flocks for the nativity by marking time in advent, an opportunity to contemplate the great gift of Jesus the Savior, the state of one’s worthiness, and the hope for his second coming.

During this time, the gifts, feasting, and family gatherings were physical symbols of a spiritual reality.  The entire holiday centered on and observed the birth of Jesus, God’s gift for humankind’s salvation. We feasted on God’s providence, shared those gifts, and gathered in solidarity and strength against coming winter.

Over time, as you surely know, the world grew more capitalist in nature, and those symbols became something businesses took advantage of. Our sincere spirituality and love for friends and family gave them opportunities for instilling in us a very profitable guilt.

Today, the early signs of what is called “the holiday season” begin as business men and women open the advertising floodgates from every media outlet and their stores prepare lavish displays of tinsel, lights and cottony snow. Their goal is to entice buyers to spend their earnings by making them aware of how little money they need to fulfill their dreams and how much more they’d spend elsewhere.

I cringe a little when someone asks me, “How was your Christmas?” I know they mean well, but they’re not asking me about my holiday in a spiritual sense. For many people, maybe most, Christmas is only gifts, family gatherings, and feasting. None of those are wrong. But without the underpinnings of the Christ story, they are fleeting pleasures that miss the permanence that underlays the season.

Without that permanence, there’s often a post-Christmas let down, poignantly expressed by best-selling author, Jeff Goins, as a kind of lament.  He writes, The (post-Christmas) mixed emotions collide and cloud our vision. Was it the best day of the year, or the worst? Did we find the true spirit of Christmas and recapture child-like wonder? Or did we lose another piece of our innocence to the cynicism of adulthood?” Even if you aren’t a Christian, the actions taken during Christmas depend on something deeper in order to not suffer from a cheapening futility.

There is no greater gift than to lay down one’s life for those you love.

But Christmas doesn’t have to suffer from the cheapening merchandising of the holiday. It can be revitalized by restoring the symbols and transforming our intent.

I have a suggestion. Instead of cringing, taking the easy way out and avoiding the truth, what about donating to a charity? Then you can tell people, “My holiday was good. I donated my time/my talent/my money, to Amnesty international/Women’s Shelters of America, Etc.” Wouldn’t that be better, turning yourself into a beacon of light instead of being disingenuous?

Our small efforts may seem futile in the face of searing family memories and worldly realities, but the world has always had dark places in it. And every life been touched by loss. Those realities, as Jesus said, will be with us always. We have to press on.

I’m not suggesting that these common tragedies are unworthy of deep feelings. I suggest grieving in the light instead of the shadows. Honor your lost and do something in their name, work with them side by side once more.

As far as the hard realities, shine your light of charity and love into what crannies you can reach, but don’t blacken your holiday with what’s beyond your control–leave that to a greater omniscience than your own.

The experience of every holiday is personal rather than societal. Even though I am inundated with ads and other influences, they flow over me like water because I see them for what they are. You see them truly, too. Let them pass unheeded. The experiences I share with my family have nothing to do with that falseness. I purchase gifts with a sincere eye for each person’s needs and hopes. We decorate our home to celebrate the joy of gratefulness we feel. After all, every holiday begins and ends in your own heart.