That Dream Where I Stopped Fearing My Feelings

A river flows away from all the stones
That hold me on the ground beneath my feet
It carries in its current more unknowns
It holds me in its arms, and moves so fleet
So fleet that I can scarce come up for air
No chance to grab onto the wall of rock
I must allow the river now to bear
My flailing body far too weak to walk
I float away until I reach the sea
I have no means to keep my head afloat
The waves of feeling lash and flail at me
And I will drown, the water fills my throat
     But all at once, I let the waves crash through
     And gills appear where only lungs once grew

She Purred

She purred and purred her thoughts away
She purred them into her kittens every day
She purred her love
She purred her sacrifices
She purred her hunting techniques
She purred her hopes
She purred her fears
She purred her thoughts for their futures

She purred each kitten into being, into life
She purred each personality into place
So that once they got old enough
To grow into themselves
They would each grow into the person
That she knew they would best become

There was a little grey tabby girl
As fluffy as she was smart
She purred into that tabby girl
That she would have a heart
She purred that she’d be swift enough
To outrun unwanted toms
She purred that she’d be smart enough
To share her kittens with any mom
She purred that she’d be fierce
A protector of kittens and humans alike
She purred and she purred and she purred

There was a little black boy
Whose coat was short and sleek
She purred into that little black boy
That he’d be kind and meek
She purred that he’d be loving
That he’d always make friends
She purred that he’d be caring
Always ready to make amends
She purred that he’d be socially skilled
The glue that held the family together
And she purred and she purred and she purred

There was a little calico girl
As agile as can be
She purred in some more agility
So she’d never fall from a tree
She purred into her curiosity
With just the right measure of fear
She purred mechanical ability
So she’d try to work out what turns a gear
She purred that she’d alway wonder
What made the world turn
And she purred and she purred and she purred

There was fluffy black tuxedo girl
Who had a heart of amber and molten lava
She purred into her liquid sunlight
Just to make her light even brighter
She purred into her wisdom
So her instincts would lead her right
She purred into her excellent eyes
So she could see in the blackest of nights
She purred into her charisma
So that other cats would heed her warnings
She purred, she purred, she purred till morning

And if you could ask her
She’d say
“I took what was already there.
I purred a little here
And I purred a little there.
I gave them nothing they didn’t already have
I just purred more into their strengths
And I purred less into their faults
Except when they needed their faults
Then I purred a little there, too.
I purred them songs in their sleep
I purred them stories as they nursed
I purred them complicated Cattish rhythms
That only a cat understands”

And then the kittens started purring back
They purred to their mother
And they purred to each other
And their purrs got more complex every day
And they blended with each other
And they blended with their mother
Until all their purrs were a giant harmony

And the little grey tabby grew into
A fierce and shrewd mother
And the sleek black boy grew into
The heart of the littermates’ family
And the little calico grew into
A feline engineer
And the black tuxedo girl grew into
A visionary cat

And they all loved each other
And they all had respect
For the roles their mother purred
Into their hearts
And they all slept together in a pile
And they purred
And they purred
And the purrs melded together
In perfect rhythm and harmony
As if they were designed that way
And they purred complicated Cattish rhythms
That only a Cat can understand
And they purred and they purred and they purred

Sometimes, Restrictions Only Increase Life’s Richness

I spent six years in bed, six years I found
The richness of the love surrounding me
A tree outside my window so profound
From detail comes familiarity
They say that all restriction is a curse
A nightmare from which folks can never wake
But we exalt our highest forms of verse
Like sonnets, which restrict which form to take
And always those who could, would hurry past
Without a glance at me, or at the tree
The richness that they missed, they moved too fast
To see what I and other slow folks see
For life is rich to infinite degree
It’s found in sonnets, and in folks like me

Time Travel

Books are time travel
Because I can meet
Frederick Douglass and Madeleine L’Engle
At the same time

When I was a child
I didn’t understand
That authors could be dead
They seemed alive to me
As long as their books were printed

People showed me dates
Copyright © 1951
As if this was supposed to mean
The book died before I was even born
I couldn’t understand
The book seemed alive to me
And 1951 was just
An incomprehensible string of numbers

George MacDonald and Julian of Norwich
Teresa of Avila and Sherman Alexie
Sojourner Truth and Diane Duane
Donna Williams and Saint John of the Cross
Lao Tsu and J. R. R. Tolkien

These are people who would never
Just decide to get together
But you can read them side by side
And it’s like meeting all of them
Sitting round a table
And talking to them
About their ideas

Much has been written
In lofty language
About the immortality of the page
But I was living it directly
In written words
Long before anyone taught me
The sonnets of Shakespeare:

“Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmear’d with sluttish time.”*

You will go to the moon
No one has been there yet”**
Reads a book that I cherished as a child
But how could it lie to me
When Neil Armstrong had been there
Many years before my birth?

Copyright © 1959, said the book
But this had no meaning to me
If the book existed now
How could it fail
To have modern knowledge?

Later, I learned that books
Are the only form of time travel
Available to human beings
Encapsulated in each page
Is the time and place
Where the author wrote the words

So Lao Tsu and Harriet McBryde Johnson
Can sit side by side on my bookshelf
And side by side in time
And I can travel from modern Charleston
To ancient China and back
In the blink of an eye

* William Shakespeare, Sonnet 55
** You Will Go To The Moon, Mae and Ira Freeman, 1959

The Rock In My Hand (circa 2005)

Hand holding a rock

Hand holding a rock

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That things will not disappear

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That things will not disappear

The rock in my hand sings an avalanche song
To the rocks in the ground all around
It sings fearful power and boldest delight
And of death and of sand and of love

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That things will not disappear

The rock in my hand tells me
That there is a world out here in this swirl
The rock in my hand tells me
That the world has a place I belong

Hand holding a rock

Hand holding a rock

We Fear The Coming of Winter

My father has terminal cancer
My mother has myasthenia and neuropathy
And a list of conditions so long
It would fill a whole page

They live in the backwoods of the mountains
Where there are no home care programs
And my mother takes care of him
As well as herself

She does this because she loves him
She does this because there’s no other choice
She does this because they’ve been together
Over fifty years now and are still in love

She drives with one hand at a time, sometimes
Because the other one has given out
Then she switches hands, hoping by then
The other has the strength to tough it out

Her eyes close so tight they’re like slits
She holds them open with her hands
By pulling up on her forehead
Or putting her fingers on her eyelids

Sometimes she needs oxygen
Sometimes she’s landed in the ICU
One time she stopped breathing
And they had to call a code blue

And every morning I wake up
And I wonder if she’s still alive
Every morning I reach out with my mind
And try to see what I can find

Because sometimes she feels like a cloud
That could dissipate in the morning breeze
And sometimes she feels like a film of ice
That could crack into pieces on top of a creek

And sometimes she feels like a tiny star
Too far away to see
And I wonder if she’ll get the chance
To say goodbye to me

Does she know that we all know
The sacrifice that she is making?
Does she know that we all fear
That taking care of dad will kill her?

Does she know that sometimes she looks
Like a shadow dissipating in the noontime sun?
Does she know that sometimes she looks
Like a story ending before it’s begun?

And she’s always been stronger than strong
When I was young she worked two or three jobs
Just to give us kids more opportunities
Coming home too late to see her drive in

She’s doing the same thing now
Taking care of my dad, herself, and the house
That’s three jobs at a time, still
It’s still that sacrifice

But I am so scared she will melt with the snow
I am so scared she will crack like a frozen branch
I am scared this time she won’t have the strength
In those huge reserves she’s so often tapped

She has love and grit and determination
But can those things be enough
When you can’t even open your eyes
Without using your fingers?

The winter is coming and that’s what we all fear
The winter is coming and will she disappear?
The winter is coming and what can we do?
The winter is coming and I love you

I love you more than the frost loves the ground
I love you more than the ice loves the branch
I love you more than the snow loves to whirl
I love you more than blizzards could ever destroy

Love may not save you but love will hold you up
Love may not keep you alive forever
But it will keep something of us all alive
But, love or not, the winter scares us all

But, then, winter or not, we have love
And winter or not, we have strength
And winter or not we have a bond so close
It’s impossible to break

We all fear this coming winter
But we all love our mom
And maybe that love will be enough
Maybe something will be enough

Mom, I hope you know we love you
That every single one of us
Knows the things you do
To make Dad’s last days as good as they can

We know what you are sacrificing
We know what you are risking
We know how scared you are of the winter
We love you every day

I love you more than I could ever say
I want you to survive my father’s death
I want to be able to see you every day
I love you more than I could say

I love you
I love you more
Than I could say

Words Are Just A Carrier Wave

All you have to do is think of me
And all my love is there
All you have to do is look at my face
And all the unspoken things
I want to tell you before you die
Pour out of me and into your mind

All I have to do is think of you
And I see so much of you I’ve never seen before
All I have to do is look at your face
And all the things you can’t remember
All the things your brain won’t let you say
Are written there as if in ink

Everything we are is written on each other
Everything we need to know is there
There’s nothing more we have to say, in a way
Because everything is written on our souls

I can see you right now
Three thousand miles away
I see the light that shines inside you
I see the love that holds your body together
Even as it’s failing

That love will hold us up as you die
That love won’t disappear
No matter how bad it gets
That love is turning you into light
Even now I can see it
Turning you into light
Three thousand miles away
The love you have taken on
Is slowly turning you into light

You told me not to grieve too hard
Which is a tall order
When losing a father for the first time
But when I close my eyes to look at you
Every day I see the light shine through
Even more than it had before then
Even more than it had before

You’re becoming translucent
Your skin is just a place
For the light to shine through
For the love that has carried us this far
To shine through you and around you
I see it more every day
And there’s not a lot I can say
Because it’s already been said
And we can read it
In the love
On our bodies

“Words are just a carrier wave”
That’s what my friend Anne would say
When faced with situations like this one
But I have some memories
I want to share before you go
And maybe words will serve their purpose

I remember sitting with you
And listening for owls in the redwoods
On our back porch

I remember granite mountainsides
Heated so much by the sun
That you could smell the rock itself

I remember picking up and counting
Every salamander
On a hike from the skyline to the sea

I remember hollow logs so big that
Even adults could stand inside them
And marvel at the fungal growth

I remember picking wild blueberries
While you made pancakes out of them
Then let me ride on your shoulders

I remember playing with your beard
When I was too young to understand
Just about anything

I remember catching more fish
Than any of the rest of you
Because I liked the repetition

I remember feeling proud
When you taught me how to gut a fish
Like I learned something truly useful

I remember the glee I felt
Sorting your tangled pile of resistors
Thinking it was a game, not a chore

I remember the fresh smell of your sweat
After you came inside
From splitting wood

I remember how proud I felt
When you taught me to split wood
All by myself

I remember when I talked like you
You’d smile and call me
“My lil’ Suthun gal”

(Whenever I could be like you
My heart would burst with pride)

I remember when you took me on creek walks
With our shoes and pants on
And the water splashing us all around

I remember when you showed me
An entire wall full of electronics
And then told me, “I made this.”

I remember going to work with you
Getting to meet all the other technicians
Was better than meeting the famous physicists

I remember always stopping during a hike
At one particular spring
To make lemonade

I remember all your sayings like
“Bear food runs from bears” and
“I’m just as fine as frog fur.”

Thank you
For getting so depressed when you were drafted
That you ate too much and accidentally got too fat for the Service
(Or I might not exist.)

Thank you
For not using protection
In the woods in Henry Coe
(Or I wouldn’t exist.)

Thank you
For getting out of that snowstorm
When you hallucinated me saying I needed you
(I did. I do still. I will always.)

Thank you
For living in Redwood Terrace
When I was born
(Or I’d be a completely different person)

Thank you
For letting me hit you in the back
So I wouldn’t hit the ER nurse who had his hand up my butt
(That’s a true father)

Thank you
For forgiving me
For everything I put you through
(I can’t imagine raising me)

Thank you
For learning anger management
And then passing on the knowledge to me
(Because we both sure needed it)

Your love brought me life
Your love holds me up
Your love is everything to me
And now that you’re leaving
Love will cover us all
And love is all you will be

I will watch for your love in the stars
I will watch for your love in the sea
I will watch for your love
In the soil and the rocks
And in the sun’s light
That shines over me

But right now all I have to do
Is look at your face
To see the light shining through
And right now all you need to see
Is the love in my face
Shining right back at you

Pale-skinned person with lots of very dark hair, glasses, a unibrow, and slight facial hair.

Picture of me with my hair down and glasses slightly crooked.

Visiting Your Grave

I may never see your grave in person
But I will be there every day
That’s a promise I can keep
Every night before I sleep
As I travel to the place where you’ll lay

I will be the rain that falls on your grave
I will be the wind in the trees in the graveyard
I will be the soil that grows the plants
I will be the plants that grow from you
I will be the sky that shelters the earth
I will be the earth lying under the sky
I will be the sun shining down on the trees
I will be the trees growing over the graves
I will be the needles and leaves that fall from the trees
And carpet the ground where you lay

So don’t fear that I will never visit
I will be with you every day
I’ll be the rain and the wind
And the sun and the stars
And the earth made into clay
I will see you from above
I will see you from below
I will see you from without
I will see you from within
And if you want my flowers
Just look for the weeds
Growing at the base of your grave

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

[This is not the poem I’d been working on.  It just came out, rather quickly, all on its own.  Almost too fast to write down properly.  These pictures are the actual graveyard my father has picked for when he dies, and he has also picked out a beautiful plain pine coffin.  He loves how peaceful this tiny graveyard in the middle of the forest is.  I believe it suits him perfectly.  I will miss him terribly, but I feel better knowing his body will be laid to rest in such a wonderful place.]

My Secret Name

Everything has a secret name
That it broadcasts with all of its might
While people walk by
Not seeing a thing

If you wonder why I’m happier
With my body, my face, my life
I can see my secret name
And nothing else matters

You will find my secret name
In the hairs upon my chin
In my unibrow and the hair
That grows on my upper lip

You will find my secret name
In my double chin and the rest
Of the fat that covers my body
Especially my big belly

You will find my secret name
In my feeding tube and my Interstim
In the “artificial” implants
That keep me alive

You will find my secret name
In the bile and blood that drains
From my g-tube every day
Into cups and bags and toilets

You will find my secret name
In the fluttering of my hands
When they help me understand
What goes on around me

You will find my secret name
In the pain that fills my body
That puts me in bed some days
When I would otherwise be up

You will find my secret name
In the way my body moves
Both too slowly and too fast
At the exact same time

You will find my secret name
In the way my arms don’t swing
When I walk around
Even without a cane

You will find my secret name
In my joints that move too far
In the leg that goes behind my head
And my thumbs that bend to my wrists

You will find my secret name
In the twisting body and hand motions
That mean I’m trying to absorb
My surroundings into my body

You will find my secret name
In the words my mouth utters
When nobody is around to hear
And they don’t match up to my thoughts

You will find my secret name
In the sounds that come out of my mouth
Without any intention —
The meowing, the squealing, the strange sounds

You will find my secret name
Every time you look at me
For my every single action
Is a way of uttering it

Some people may not see it
Because they’re just not wired up that way
And that’s fine
You don’t have to see it to be my friend

And some people may not see it
Because they come to me with malice
And malice can’t see anything
On the level of depth of a secret name

My secret name can’t be spoken
It can’t be translated
It can’t be written down
It is only what it is

But if you ever look at someone
And suddenly a light clicks on
And everything about them
Suddenly makes sense

There’s a chance you’ve found their secret name
Now guard it with care
Because even they may not know
That they have it

Don’t just walk up to someone
And say “I know your secret name”
They’ll probably think you’re stoned
Or up to no good

If you must use their secret name
Use it to make interactions with them better
Use it to show them you care about them
Use it to show them you understand them

Never treat it like a piece of property
Never treat it like a prize you have won
A secret name can only be treated delicately
Because it shows you a window to their soul

And if I seem happier lately
It’s because I know my secret name
And I see it written all over my body
Especially the parts that others say are ugly

When people tease me about my double chin
Or the hair growing on it, or my unibrow
Those things are beautiful, right, and perfect
The way they are right now

Everything I used to be ashamed of
Is now beautiful to me
Because it’s part of my secret name
And that runs deeper than you can imagine

My secret name gives me permission
To be all of who I am
Even the parts people hate
Without shame, without apology

There’s a light beneath everything
And it illuminates each person from the inside
You can see it better in someone
When you know their secret name

And I’ve seen this in people
I’ve seen it in cats, trees, and rocks
But until recently
Until recently
I’d never been able to see it
In myself

Summer Balloon Mind (2004)

Forgotten fireflies in the dark
Dew shoved hot into my face
The balloons and my mind
Soared high with a short tether
Air thick with the certainty
Hypnotic draw of the unspoken
But alas, not the unspeakable

Punched holes in a muggy brain
Thrust and pinned against a tree
We bounced against the branches
Searched up in the sky
Flitted with the air currents
Chased the misty mirages
Never expected the sun