We stood in a circle of make-believe stones, waiting for the man we built from mud and twigs to rise. He’d turn us into zombies, replace tooth fairies with shrunken heads. We’d find fingers in gumbo soup. We called it a day. We found the man of mud and twigs in our basements, our closets, in pictures from geography textbooks–he walked right out of the page and shrunk himself to fit our idea of him as portable and lonely. One by one, our teachers disappeared. Our dreams turned to rancid butter. We hunted the darkness in packs of scavenger sevens. Telephone wires spilled dead voices. We whispered the names of ghost towns to our sickly grandmothers. They crossed themselves and died. When the great blizzard finally hit, we locked ourselves in our rooms. We grew bigger than our own shadows.
He said the bad tooth
was so deep he needed night goggles.
After the extraction,
I could not be un-numbed.
Perhaps I’m nothing but
a calcified hallucination
under too much anesthesia.
The day never woke from itself.
Under a mask of skin,
I dreamt of a flashlight
without a face,
a voice begging for jawbreakers,
and a new father
with a gaggle of soft fingers.
during the ragtime of the prairie you had
a dance band in the family to counter
the bleating neighing and lowing of the yard
with a piano a fiddle a guitar
and a drum
your days not any one of mine
and I am not hearing you or sitting in
but I have crestfallen in the hayrick too
next to the wheat fields you knew and worked until
three of you surviving the music
and drying on beyond my childhood might not
have objected to the clarinet I tried
our only falling out the matter of
so I fellow you to honor all
you sheaved by note or by heart and the poster
will make you every one of me that I
tack up on the wall in my raggeder time
My grandfather was a mystic, who often spoke of his eternal life
in terms of ‘Buddha dreams’ and’ passing clouds’,
and like the clouds, my grandfather passes.
I. One day when I was young, my grandfather yelled at my father, “You son of a bitch! Can’t you see I’ll die
in that place?” My father had just told him he was to be put into a home for the elderly. I wonder what
it was that enabled me and not my father to see in my grandfather’s eyes that even with his sealed fate
and failing lungs, deep down, deep within those guised still water’s surface calm, there was yet raging,
a youthful yet stormy, surge, and stir—deep down, deep down, in my grandfather’s heart a passionate
eruption of the soul.
I now recall those ancient photos taken of him as a young man, how he resembled that day in our living
room, the young man at the coal mine yelling orders down a shaft; the man we used to laugh at whose
ears stuck straight out; photos of him and his dad ruggedly dragging up stumps behind a team of horses
where the old farmhouse stands to this day; the ones of him flying that old crop duster before he crashed
it to the ground. That was long ago, before I was born, before I ever came to be thirteen, but on that day,
reason had whispered in my ear: time hadn’t flown away—the man who stood up to yell at my father was
still the man he used to be, and in his eyes was the look of a tiger who had been cornered; the look of
something fearsome and subterranean encountered on a frightful expedition into a rain forest soul.
Yet, I was much too young then to understand just what had happened, I lacked the strength, courage
and wisdom to prevent my father from sending the old man away. And soon, trapped as it were, just as
he had predicted my grandfather succumbed to his fate amongst the shriveling sterility of dominoes,
checkerboards, hymnals and white clad nurse’s aids who shoved pills down his throat and thermometers
up his ass.
II. One time, in the home, my father, brother, sister, and I stood beside my grandfather waiting for him to
wake up—his gray head dipping into obscurity and unconsciousness, up and down like a fishing-bobber—
maybe that’s what he was dreaming, or maybe it was of celestial bodies or seasonal patterns or crop
rotation or checkerboard games; either way, awakened by my father, he watched television with us and
we drank soda pops—he drank coffee, declaring, as he did that it was bitter without cream: he complained
a lot he said just to pass time. In lucid moments, he spoke loftily of the comforts he enjoyed, like fishing
mountain streams, relaxing on rainy days, or peering out steamy windows and dreaming of spring. His eyes
glowed bright when he remembered faraway places and things, telling us tales and childhood stories—
golden times were precious for him, one could tell by his eyes.
Then he looked at us profoundly and said, “Grandchildren, listen to me, I have something to say.” And we
all listened, “Always remember,” he said, “Life is a wonderful thing, to be alive like the Buddha dreaming,
as endless as flowing rivers, drifting tides, and passing clouds…” I stared out the window as he spoke so he
wouldn’t me cry, my tears welling up as I saw the grounds outside the building were just like a dream, just
as my dad had said, it weould be one day and iIt made me feel better somehow. When my gaze returned,
everyone was smiling at me.
III. When I saw my grandfather for the last time, he was pale and motionless and could speak no more, but
by the grip of his hand on mine I knew for sure there burned still a fire in his heart, one he had pursued
his entire life and he fell asleep holding my hand that day. Later, I dreamt he and I were at play in the
universe, cresting like waves and wrestling with the wind, casting our nets upon the deep we were in a
stormy sea and breaking at last upon some distant cosmic shores, but then he said to me he had to return
to the sea while I waved goodbye from the shore.
I think now of him and realize his waves have danced across time into the twilight of my life, echoing the
cries of old mystics that went down long before him and still more I have come to know over the years and
his spirit has joined with them in one great oceanic swell; at times, I can feel it wafting up from dark tidal
halls and for a spell he shows me the wonders of the shallow rows and the treasures of the deep and then
it departs again, leaving life empty, yet fuller, like Buddha dreams and passing clouds.
A crow on the streetlight
tilts its confused head.
How do you answer it?
We must practice darkness for parity.
Blacken those red blotches we see
even after the closure of our eyelids.
You can hear the bird’s explanation on this.
It contains its days into small garbage bags,
Inside the tunnel of brown haze,
the road is road uncomfortable,
as most worth traveling are.
Through open windows
magnificent scenes fill
this resilient old Jeep.
Music heightens the air,
from the desert breeze.
Beauty pulls rain.
I sometimes miss the taste
of sweet showers
or bitter tears.
The country is parched.
Maybe the earth needs a good cry.
can be unearthed here,
like it could be in rapture.
The land is home.
I have been released
with the knowledge
that I must return.
But from my prison
of block buildings
and hollow agendas,
I can see
of never-ending prairie
ruled by mountains,
and take comfort
that I can escape
to this abandoned heaven.