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Tuesday, November 06, 2018

I Pray for the Birds

Every night
I walk past the cage,
dim the lights,
bring my palms together
and solemnly pray:

“I pray for the birds:
please watch over them,
keep them safe,
keep them comforted,
help me to provide for them.

Also,
help them to
be kind to one another
share their food,
clean water,
may they enjoy
the sweet brace
of fresh air.

While they are in
temporary cages,
may they one day
fly again,
and when they do,
may they
glorify Your name
and sing Your praises.”

I pray for
the birds,
as I pray for all
of us,

with our feathers ruffled,
songs screeching,
and confused expressions,

for we are no more
grand than
Your birds.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Two Things

Two things I
I know:

Stay humble
or God will keep you
humble,

and don't
bullshit yourself.

I try to be
honorable,
virtuous,
Christ-like

but I know
the soul
inside this
unassuming
shell,

and I keep
waiting
waiting
waiting

for that other
cosmic shoe
to drop.

Friday, November 02, 2018

The Darkest Hour

It wasn’t
the darkest hour
when I found out
he died.

I prayed
it was merely
a week-long nightmare
from which
I’d awaken.

Still,
I’d cried, laughed
written a eulogy
but mostly
that week
I held my breath
magically thinking
I’d awaken
and not be
fatherless.

The darkest hour
came later
when my widowed mother
couldn’t bear
to let anyone
go home.

The funeral was done.
The reception was finished.
Her house was empty.

Crushed
by the weight
of his absence
the darkest hour
that started
in 1999

still isn’t finished
yet.


Thursday, November 01, 2018

Curve

I exhale
and watch
the vapor
in it's lazy,
coiled
heavenward
spiral,

the curve,
of the ocean wave
the tremble clef,
her ass,

this abstract
geometry
points
to the beauty
and the mystery
of the Divine.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

A Life Like Crystal

Dear Heavenly Father
(for lack of a better term),

Thank You for giving me this day.
Thank You for all the lousy things
that will happen
because they will remind me
of how much
I need your help.

Thank You
for the unsolvable problems of
hatred
racism
sexism
fear.

These poisons
keep me
needing You,
keep me grounded
in my faith.

I want
to keep You
in the forefront,
center stage
of my mind
when things 
are going well,
but when life is
smooth and transparent
like crystal,
I think
I don’t need You,
and I don’t
remember You.

Just like crystal,
it’s all very
beautiful and fragile,
but just one shift,
be it tectonic
or a raised eyebrow
can cause a crash,
a system shutdown,
a flood of tears
with no dam(n)
in sight.

I hate that
I only remember
to call on You
in my time
of need,
my rabbit-eyed fear,
but that’s when
I feel closest
to You.

So
thank You for all
the misery,
the bad fortune,
the unintended amputations,

without them,
I’d never seek
You out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Siren

The first time
she shared Julie London’s
smooth, rich siren,
that illicit thrill
drew me to
a world anew,
or maybe it was
just my ears
hearing a song
which I recognize
from before
I was born.

Offering her hand,
she led me into
an undiscovered
tropical paradise
hidden within my soul,
and while it all ended
without blood
or acrimony,
she forced me to see
how everything else
was colorless,
flavorless,
and I could never return
to the sad, impotent
monster I knew.

These days,
her visits are infrequent,
but when I hear that song
buried memories materialize,
so I keep that song
in abeyance
for when I need
reminding of the unexpected,
unanticipated good and surprise
in this world,

and how
sometimes it comes
in the form of a
warm cinnamon roll,
with middle Eastern eyes,
a lazy tongue
and a reflection
richer
than I could ever
make.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Staring Down the Mirror

I’m staring down the mirror
and neither of us
is blinking.

“I see through you”
I think.

I continue staring
half-hoping I’ll find
someone else
without the mundane imperfection
of moles and pores
stray gray hair
and engraved wrinkles
that stay long after the
laughter has died.

And what of this mouth
keeper of secrets and teller of lies
and those sad date eyes?

Suddenly I want to do away with him

and my rhinoceros nostrils flare
as I clench my jaw
and we begin the contest
to prove
who can hold his breath
the longest.

His face becomes red
but I push myself past slight fear
into gentle internal hysteria.

My suffocation from within
is taking its toll on my competitor
as his body starts quivering
and his face becomes an
unpleasant crimson.

I push myself more
more
and one more second
just one more
as I see him
clutch the bathroom basin
I hear the voice
“don’t give up,
one more second!

Don’t let him win!”

just one more…

Then
PFFFHHWWT!
out blasts
a mouthful of stale air
as my knees buckle
and my face changes
red to pink to brown.

I giggle
at my lightheadedness,

leaning forward
face to face with the mirror
still panting and laughing
I offer my vanquished foe
the only consolation
I can think of:

“Happy Birthday, Schmucko.”

[It's not my birthday, but I pulled an old writing out for https://dversepoets.com/2018/09/06/openlinknight-227/ ]

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Beckoning Doorways

I’ve gotten to a point where
I don’t need to walk through
every beckoning doorway.

Most doorways really
do not offer
anything new anyways.

Should I leave the comforts
of my room just to
dance in some fiery meadow
merely because it is new
and looks exciting?

Going from room to room
I’ll never know more than
newness
and while newness
is its own intoxicant
it has also a built-in
obsolescence.

Still,
staying put
and never venturing out
into the throng of sticky and sweaty humanity,
I’ll never know who I am,
never see my reflection
in the faces of the weary and the hopeful.

This desire,
longing for connection
is proof of my humanity

and ultimately
I am a hostage
as we all are,

trapped somewhere between
peering through doorways
and yearning to enter
and moving quietly
in my room
among my books and things

content in my solitude,

as my mind
races on to the next thing

struggling to rest.

[Posted for Dverse Poets' Open Link Night.]

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Do Not Fight It

It's not
scientific.

It's not even
profound,
but it is
the truth:

when your body
feels the rhythm,
starts moving along
with the beat,

jangling in time
with something bigger,
something more certain
and powerful
than you,

do not fight it,
even if you can,

give in,
indulge,
enjoy.

That is the presence,
that is the essence
of God.

Even if the sound
is but a memory
replaying on a
mental musical loop
and all you can do
is tap your finger,
or jiggle your foot,

do not fight it,
that is God
telling you
that all will be fine
all is good.

Listen
and believe

and
be alive.

[Written for D'Verse Poets at https://dversepoets.com/2018/08/07/unseen-things/ ]

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

His Simple and Wise Voice

Their dad moved to Montana
the weekend before
Father’s Day.

The two teenagers
acted like it was no big deal
but I knew the truth.

My Little Blonde Talking Monkey
reacted with her expected
shower of tears
and guilty anxiety.

She tells me
“Dad deserves to be happy too”
as I rock her crying heaving
body.

I suggested they each
pick out a Father’s Day
card for him
so he wouldn’t be forgotten
in Montana

(the reason he left:
“there was
nothing for him
in California”

uncomfortably long pause

“except you kids”).

The teenagers
were noncommittal
as they selected their
cards and then went about
dreaming of cell phones
and new clothes.

Sarah couldn’t decide
on a card so
I helped her
read the sentiments:

“Dad, you’ve helped me 
in so many ways…”

"I’ll never be able to thank you
for all that you’ve given me…”

each card flowing
with sentiment so undeserved

“Dad, you’re my best friend.”

I could tell Sarah
was getting bored by the search
but I wasn’t.

I was getting angry.

As I read each card
I kept thinking
Why isn’t my Pop here?

He deserves to be here
and I want to thank him
and I want to hear his laughter again
his simple and wise voice,

but each card tugged
and sometimes ripped
at my heart,

the injustice of it all
was taunting me:

here I am
eating my heart out
picking out Father’s Day cards
for an emotionally deadbeat dad
and I’ll have to
pay for the card too.

Why am I doing this?

Then I heard his voice:
“because you know
it’s the right thing to do, mijo.

That’s what I’d do.”

He was right.

So we left Target
and went home
and mailed off the cards.

Thanks, Pop,
I sure do miss your voice.

[Posted for Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, written in 2007.  Legally, the children in this story were my stepchildren.  Emotionally, they're my children.]


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Acting In (For Sarah)

She struggles,
a naked, electric nerve
looking for reassurance,
calming succor
that may never come.

Some days
she is braver
and walks onto
the battlefield of
self-hating bullets
and grenades
whizzing by,
landing,
close enough to destroy,
but luckily,
not quite yet.

When they're younger,
we discipline children
into reigning in
their acting out.

When they’re older,
with access to weapons,
booze,
manipulative hustlers and pimps,
I worry about her
acting in –
cutting and suicide –
and beg her to reach out.

On the plus,
she did not renew
the domain name
and website
where she chronicled
her erstwhile journey
to self-destruction.

Whatever tipped that
decision
in her favor,

whether it was
her beloved nephew Oliver,

or the promise of
things unbidden and unseen,

or she just
forgot about it,

good.

[For Real Toads  - Post and Read!]

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

MexiMensch

It’s inevitable,
I’m becoming
my old man.

That’s ok
he was the original.

He stood
in privileged rooms
but on the sidelines.

The inner circle
was for others
possessing the right pedigrees,
the right colleges degrees,
the right hair grease.

We both found ways
to sneak in,
to fit in
where we weren’t expected.

He was polite to a fault
and rarely traded in vulgarities,
unless there was
a conspiratorial laugh
to be harvested.

He had more
self-discipline,
but I went more places
he was afraid to go.

That fear kept him
from visiting doctors,
to avoid any bad news,
and he was finally seen
when he was in the morgue
undergoing an autopsy.

He was humble,
an outsider
a servant.

He made me laugh,
never excluded anyone
and was generous
beyond expectation.

I didn’t envy his
(now mine)
receding hair line
but I did covet
his prodigious genitalia.

Mostly,
I have his smile
and his kind heart.

He was the original
MexiMensch,
and I am but
a mere aspirant.


(For the longest time, this was our only family portrait. My Pop is the tall one on the left.  Poem written for Poets United.)

Monday, June 11, 2018

Kate and Anthony

Once again,
outside the cultural orbit,
I watch the world
mourning
Kate and Anthony.

I don't buy
designer bags,
and I rarely
travel abroad
but
I like
exotic food.

But,
strip away
all the fame,
the celebrity
stardust,
separate them
from all their
noisy, affected
followers,

and look at
their eyes,

human, weary
just like my
daughter's
when she
thankfully
failed at
doing herself in
at 11,

and I remember
my own fear,
discouraged sadness
and helplessness.

My heart weeps
for them
and those left behind,
with their
days ahead,

unwanted days
of angry rattling,
aimlessly plodding
through their souls
with unborn memories,
empty embraces,
and unanswerable questions.

[Mental illness is treatable and recovery is possible. 
If you need to talk to someone, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.]

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Yes, It's Me

Yes,
it’s me,
the one you’ve been
waiting for
but didn’t know
existed.

Yes,
I loved all
your songs
from the
open mike,
but I was even
more gobsmacked
that music
wasn’t your
first love,
but rather
your photos
that freeze
the truth,
the beauty,
the dream
simultaneously.

Yes,
let’s begin this
long courtship now,
wringing out
every new moment
until the anticipation
builds impossibly,
finally crashing over us
like a tidal wave
of butterfly orgasms
and warm electric pianos,
awakening days later
someplace safe and
alive.

Yes,
I want to consume
every inch of you,
inhale your
singular essence,
melt in
your embrace,
tingle privately
when you
whisper my name.

Yes, we can have
Thai coconut
chicken skewers in bed
and watch re-runs  of
“The Addams Family.”

Yes,
it’s me and
yes,
it’s you,
and yes
yes
yes
yes
a thousand times more

yes.

[Not sure if I understood this prompt, but here goes.]

Monday, June 04, 2018

She Cobbles a Placid Moment

With kids asleep,
hiding from
unfinished chores,
she cobbles
a placid moment,

exhaling smoke
from the bathroom window
into the cool,
unaccountable darkness.

Spying a distant,
familiar cluster
of red, white and blue
police lights,
muses,

 “I’m so glad
that’s not my life
anymore.”

[Written for de Jackson's prompt: cobble https://dversepoets.com/2018/06/04/quadrille-58-cobble-us-a-poem/]

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Disoriented, Then Surprised

I look in the mirror
expecting a reflection,
but all I get is
programming.

I stare at the TV
expecting programming,
but all I get is
my reflection.

I close my eyes
and experience
this world
with my other senses,

and I am
instantly
disoriented,
then surprised,

and eventually
awakened.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Transcending the Gray (for Tony Peluso)

On this gray day,
this slow cement
and concrete
day,

I drove home
and the magic
lay waiting
somewhere,

in the notes
yet to be played.

Then,
two and a half verses in,

Tony Peluso

summons all
that is holy,
brings the tune,
brings the fuzz,
and transcends

and my life
is finally back
in color again.
 

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Follow Me

Your lips are missed
as are the long weekends
we spent as one.

Replaying those old songs,
memories come back
stripped of any imperfection.

There was intrigue
in your kiss
and I became dizzy
with the possibilities.

I could spend an hour
holding your hand
and every moment
had the thrill
of finding
an undiscovered river.

Where there was once mystery
building a life together
has brought comfort
so I’m not asking for much,
except this:
slow down our
spinning planet of noisy obligation,
tear pages out of the calendar
and come away with me.

Let the world wonder
where we’ve run off to
because I’m still me
and you’re still you

and I was sent for you.

Follow me
into the deepest
most secret part of our garden
and we’ll find a mystery
as wondrous and exciting
as the first fire.

For D'Verse Poets Open Link Night!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

All Blood is Red

The comforting illusion
is that each one of us
is separate

and the things that
separate you from me
are real.

Where my skin ends
and the air begins
and where the air ends
your skin begins
is an elaborate delusion.

Most of us see the world
as a collection of disparate
puzzle pieces,
but I’m trying
through prayer
compassion and forgiveness
to see the truth
we’ve been taught to
ignore:

from the moment
of our conception
in our mother’s womb
we are attached

we are connected;

to one another and
to all beings
and all things
at all times,
in all space.

Honoring this truly
inconvenient truth
means not looking away

at the poor babies
with swollen bellies
and hollow hope,

those disenfranchised
from the dream,

abandoned mothers

and homeless vets
with limbs stolen
in unpopular wars,

and we might need to burn
the flags and the bibles

and lay the walls down
sideways
until they become bridges,

and look not only
into the sky for our deliverance
but within
and at each other

until we know better.

It means seeing the myth,
nay, the lie
that we are each disconnected
and meeting it
head-on with prayer
compassion and
forgiveness.

It isn’t that hard.

Just remember
all blood is red
and
that is
the comforting reality.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Five Coitus

That first time
she took pity on me
but made me feel
like a king
by pouring champagne
and listening to me
babble about everything
before going again.

That midnight time
in the park
in the nose-cone
of that steel-framed
faux rocket ship
designed more for
a child's imagination
than adult coitus,
and how we had to
proceed quietly
as the cops
circled the parking lot
unaware.

That ugly time
when she was
breaking up
our marriage
to be with another man
and I pounded
angrily inside her,
hating that I still loved her
but loving that
I was hurting her
without leaving
a mark
or even caring.

That liberating time
in Seattle
after my father died,
and while I betrayed
my live-in partner,
and fell into
an impossible
secret love,
she unlocked
something
that ultimately
help free me
from my self-imposed
prison of guilt and obligation.

That last time
it was the first time
and even though
I couldn't see
the path forward
(or even the next day),
I wanted
more of her,
more of her
everyday,
and she is where
my heart has finally
landed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

We Sleep Together

We sleep together
deep through the winter
restlessly in summer.

We fall asleep holding hands,
sometimes curled like shrimp
sometimes we are a
human pretzel
of limbs
desire
dreams and exhaustion.

In between our sleeping
we nurture small triumphs,
we persevere,
we work through
misunderstanding
and unintentional hurt
but thankfully
we ripple with laughter too.

On nights
when I can’t sleep
I watch her sleeping
and smile so big
that I can almost hear it.

I study the
effortless elegance
that a thousand gifted sculptors
could never match
the inexpressible contour
and shadow
of the luminous moonlight
on her beautiful face.

Tonight makes five years
that we haven’t spent
a night apart

and that’s the plan
for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

That Lifetime Road

Every year
memories we made
get smaller
the details,
gauzier.

We didn't have much
but it was everything to
me.

If we had
gone down
that lifetime road
would we still be
together,
and
would you still be you
and would I still be me?

I don't talk about you
these days,
not because
you're a secret,

but rather,
you are a treasure
and I don't want
to break the spell,
the bubble our memories
live within.

Still, this time
of the year,
April
when the world
is alive and reborn,
is when I always
remember you.

My heart has beaten
a million, billion
times
since you set it
in motion,

but when it beat
for you,
it learned
what purpose meant,
what destiny felt like.

Those songs play
on the 80's channel
and I close my eyes
and surrender
my consciousness
to the memory
of our innocent,
undeniable love,

and feel thankful
to have known it,
and heartsick
as the pang
mercifully fades
like the sunset
we shared at
Hillcrest Park
that Friday long ago.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Your Weakness is My Strength

My superpower-
my gift from God-
is the ability to see
everyone else’s weaknesses.

Sometimes I spot it
immediately,
sometimes it takes a few words
or a telltale action
but sooner or later
everyone eventually slips.

I store all your weaknesses
and I wait for the
most opportune time
to cast them upon
my unsuspecting victims:

your vanity
and crushing self-doubt
your undersized genitalia
your neglected childhood
I immediately calculate
for later sinister use,

because I always need to know
when and where
to strike
because while I appear
modest and mild mannered
I have my moments
of black spinning evil
that overtake me,
when I’ll need to lay you out
cold
and I’ll consult
my mental Rolodex
and lookup your weakness
and strike with
dispassionate surgical precision.

Make no mistake
I’ll know just the right thing
to make you feel small and
worthless
to rob you of your
dignity.

I’ll pull down your pants
in front of everyone
or similarly humiliate you
with the perfectly chosen word,

but
in all honestly

I've
never employed
this superpower.

I always see
the scared and quivering humanity
in their eyes
standing before me
and I cannot bring myself
to destroy
that which I cannot repair.

I cannot be the cruel
barbarian
that is my birthright.

I always succumb to
their silent and invisible tears,
remembering
the sting of humiliation
and shame
and my own
silent and invisible tears

and I cannot bring myself to do it.

So, while I have the gift
I cannot use it
and thankfully,

that is my weakness.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Disappointed

I want to deny
we ever existed
but that is
giving us
a cachet that we
did not earn.

We can admit it now:

after six years of dating
neither of us
wanted to get married
but we went on with it
anyway because we didn’t
want to lose face or
our deposit.

Even our honeymoon
in romantic San Francisco
lost its steam after
the first day.

Being married to you
was the hardest
141 days of my life.

Even as it unraveled
and I asked you to fight
for our marriage
you just defaulted out
with silent, apathetic
shrugs.

I always wanted it
to be better than it
ever was
and I was always
disappointed.

Even today,
I gave in to curiosity
and paid 10 bucks
to an Internet company
to show me your addresses
and employment history
for the past 15 years,
and all that came up
was your parents’ address.

So,
after all these years,

Lan Anh,
you’re still a big disappointment.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sunday Morning

The world is vacant
this early Sunday morning

except for the newspaper deliverer

and the liquor store
and the customer who waited for 6am.

Mostly people are inside
sleeping off hangovers

slumbering in a warm bed
of post-coital narcosis

lone desperation
passed out at a kitchen table
splayed with overdue bills
and trepidation.

Some greet the day with reluctance
some will ride bikes
and some will never know
Sunday morning exists.

As I drive my daughter
to the early church service
I pass stray tumbleweeds
the occasional roaming coyote
and a multitude of other
holy beings,
all unaware
that it is Sunday morning
or that it is January
or that it is 2009

but they are completely alive.

They are also ignorant
of their enviable

blissful

silent

existence.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Anger Island

Don’t look for me.

I’ve gone to Anger Island
and I’m not taking calls.

I hate coming here
because it’s never as good
as I think it’s going to be.

Rarely has it ever
been worth it,
but I am drawn to it
as some are drawn to
Israel or Mecca.

Anger is the bloody river
running through my soul,
separating me
from the higher aspect,
that divine sliver.

I’ve tried to resist
but the lizard brain
is in charge.

Sitting here
I try to reassemble
what this visit
has wrought.

I’ll be back
after I purchase
my return ticket
with regret.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Egg

As a former boy,
the shame impulse
returns
when I cry.

This false
Kevlar masculinity
now breaks
easier than
an egg.

I worked hard
to retrain
these dry,
stoic
eyes,

and
I don’t care
if it makes you
uneasy,

uncomfortable.

It makes me
human.

[Written for https://dversepoets.com/2018/03/26/quadrille-53-egg/]

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fire is the Best Teacher

It doesn’t waste time
with words or clucking tongues.

Fire beckons:
respect me,
use me,
warm your tired, rattling bones
by me.

The earliest memory
of my Mexican grandfather
who chain-smoked
Marlboros
was the accidental
cigarette burn
inflicted by
a tentative embrace.

I learned.

I watch wildfires
reduce drought-dry
California to crumbles
and check and double check
the burners on the stove,
the unattended curling iron.

It could all be over
just
like
that.

Fire
is passion
and force,
an overwhelming,
impossible to ignore
scream.

If you’ve only
been singed,
count yourself
lucky.

[Written for http://poetryblogroll.blogspot.com/2018/03/poets-united-midweek-motif-scream.html]

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The Last Hit

The temptation is to look back
and bask in the
two or three
positive
comments,

but that is not
what this is about.

Writing is
about moving onward,

trying to dive deeper
and scrape a little more
pyrite from the gulch.

My hero is Lenny Bruce
who felt he was a machine
if he did the same bit
night after night

in his quixotic quest
for the truth and
the uncorrupted
chuckle.

You're only as strong
as your last hit,

and that's what keeps me
going
on my quixotic quest
for the truth
and the uncorrupted
chuckle.