Outlines and Mirrors and Turning Away

I am reading
And the words go into my eyes
Into my brain
And I am connecting
Again and again
With a man I’ll never meet
Who doesn’t know I exist
But who is connecting with me
All the same
 
He is one of the rare ones
Who writes with his eyes
Into restless souls
And understands things
That he’ll never say
 
And when he turns the corner
With his mind
To avoid having to explain
I can see the outlines
Of where his words don’t go
The places his mind
Evades and avoids
And it’s as much a communication
As if he’d said it out loud
 
Is it wrong
To be grateful
For his suffering
Because it mirrors my own?
 
Maybe that does make me
A selfish monster after all
Far more than being unable
To cry
 
Or maybe we are all
Selfish monsters
Some of the time
And only believe otherwise
Because nobody is saying it
Out loud
 
And when I try to find the words
To say what’s in my heart
My mind turns away
Just like his
So as not to betray
 
If you want to really know me
Look for what I will not say
Even to say this much
Feels like handing the keys away
Handing keys to strangers
In a dangerous world
 
Well no matter
Because you need more than keys
To understand what you see
When you unlock the mind
Of a person
Like you, or like me
 
You can peer all you want
At the silhouettes formed
By my retreating thoughts
But if you come here with malice
Even just a trace
You will never understand
What’s staring you in the face
You’ll get twisted and turned
Around and around
Until you find yourself outdoors again
Dumped on the ground
 
If you come here as a friend
Then the key is all you need
Come in, you’re welcome
Let’s all plant the seed
For a tree of protection
To grow in this place
So that none of us need worry
About malicious strangers
With keys and with greed
 
You can drink the water
From the well in the ground
I will join you in a moment
And without a sound
We will look past the barriers
Look past the pain
And burrow a tunnel
To keep out the rain
 
Then you and I
Can be the kind of friends
Where the learning
And the sharing
And the joy
Never ends
 
I can feel you right now
Over thousands of miles
Hoping all the while
That there’s someone
On the other side of time
Crossing that line
Without leaving a sign
 
There are billions of people
And millions of years
And somehow we connect
In an underground village
Without fear
Without shame
Without disbelief
Though we shake like a leaf
At the wonder
 
The shadows we cast
Are taller than trees
But the light that creates them
Is brighter than anything
We can stand to see
One day we’ll meet again
Inside of that light
And there we’ll uncover
The end to all fright
 
But until then we live
In our burrow underground
And talk to each other
Without making a sound
 
And I’m no longer alone
No longer in pain
No longer imprisoned
Inside of my brain
 
I wrote my way out
I wrote my way to you
You wrote your way to me
And our life begins again:
 
Unfettered
Enriched
Unlocked
Alive
Anew
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Awe

Awe is where wonder and fear collide
And we stare out to the stars meeting the sea
And we wonder is there a place in this world for me

Awe is where my heart turns into a stone
A living, pulsating stone of many colors
That move out of the way to make room for each other

Awe is where the stones meet the ocean
In caves that took millions of years to erode
And my body tells me this is your second home

Water and earth can mean so many things
The soil of the redwood rainforests
The stone caves carved by water seeking the sea
The river rocks with holes all through them
The monsoon season in the desert rocks
The rivers carving canyons
The tiny creeks wetting tiny amounts of soil
The springs of water flowing out from in between the rocks
Waterfalls crashing down with caves behind them

And all of these things are sacred to me
And all of these things are part of me
But the one that means the most
Will always be the soil in the redwoods

Awe is where wonder and fear collide
I am where earth and water unite
I am in awe of the collision
I am in awe of you and of me
We are made of the stuff of the earth
We are made of the stuff of the water
I have only to look at you
To see a metallic daughter
With the earth kept tight inside
Like a vessel full to bursting
And I have only to look at myself
To see moistened soil from the forest floor
And I could see even more
The plants that grow, wither, and die
And decay to become part of me
The wind with a sigh brings down
Dead redwood needles and cones

And it doesn’t matter where you go
Or who you are
You have only to look at the ground
Below your feet
Or up at the stars
The clouds roll overhead
A thunderclap hits a little too close
And that beauty and awe is back
But you’d better run home

Return to sender: no longer at this address

My mother is a wizard with plants
I kind of knew it already
But when my father was upset
Because he'd never see the morning glories
Bloom again in his life
My mother secretly coaxed
A morning glory vine
Out of season
To bloom, and climb, to bloom, and climb
And she took him outside
To show him the magic she'd done
And that's how much my mother loves my dad

My flowers are my poetry
I coax the words to bloom and grow
And climb and climb into his heart
Even out of season
I use words to express the wordless
And that's one kind of magic I have
And that's how much I love my dad

But one of these days
I'm going to write a poem
It will be full of obscure mountain lakes
And treks across the mountains to the sea
And forest floors that were so much more
And owls hooting up in the trees
It will show him every place
That I could feel his love
Without the emotional bombardment
Of living in the city

And it will be a perfect poem
For that time and that place
It will certainly be better than this one
It will show him that I care for him
(As if he doesn't know by now)
It will show the depth of love
That death can dredge up when you're lucky

And then i will get a phone call or an email
It will start out:
“Go and take your dexamethasone right now.”
And I'll have a sinking feeling
But I'll take the syringe of steroids
And put it in my feeding tube
Then go back to the phone or the computer

Then they'll say
“The news is bad
Your father has passed away
He was far too tired this morning
To check your blog today.”

And all that's left of my magic
Will be words on a screen
Words he may have understood
But will never hope to read

From that point on forwards
We'll be separated by time
We both will have existed
But from that point in time onwards
I will be here and he won't

I wonder how much dexamethasone it takes
To avoid adrenal crisis when your dad dies
I wonder how much magical love it takes
To stand the pain you feel when you realize

That you will never talk to him again
You'll never hug him again
You'll never sit next to each other
With an elderly cat spread across your laps
You'll never ask the questions
You forgot to ask when he was alive
You'll never play with his beard again
And there's so little time
There's so little time

But I'm wrong
Like people are often wrong about time
Eternity is all around us
That's all the time in the world
Eternity is where love exists
Outside of time and space
So even if he never reads my best poems
He'll feel the love that went into them
Just as he feels the love
From that morning glory vine

He feels the love from his two pet dogs
He feels the love from his wife
He feels the love from his three adult children
He says he's lucky to be surrounded
By so much love

So I'm terribly sorry, Ron
If some of my poems don't reach you in time
And i'm terribly sorry Ron
If I try to Skype you and it turns out you're gone
Just know I love you more
Than even the best poet can convey
I love you more than I could ever say

And love is the magic that made my mom
Able to grow those morning glories
And love is the magic that makes me able
To write poems daily after years of dormancy
And love is the magic that connects you to me
It's the way we can feel each other's love
Without any form of contact at all

I hope the place I built for you outside of time
And filled to overflowing with my love
Will see you through

And I hope that I'll continue
Writing poetry to you
Long after you've gone

And I hope it reaches you in Eternity
Or wherever it is you're going

And I hope that even the worst of it
Conveys this message:

I love you
I love you
I love you

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

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

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.]

Lock and Key

If I could hand you just one thing
It would be a Mason jar
Filled with mud
Collected at twilight
On a rainy day
From the ground
Underneath a nurse log
In a redwood forest
In San Mateo County

If I possessed this Mason jar
It would be my most prized possession
I would sleep curled around it
Every night, all night long
I would keep it always
Closed up tight as it could close

And I would hand it to you
So that you could see all my secrets

Because only a trustworthy person
Would be able to find my deepest
And most beautiful secrets
In an old Mason jar full of mud

Anyone not fit to find them
Would never see them in the first place

Mud is the perfect lock and key to my soul

Exile’s Lullaby

I can feel the ground wet, soft, and squishy
With a rotting log beneath my head
Where the mushrooms and mycelium
Trace lines on the ancient bark
Young trees far older than I am
Grow straight from the rotting log
And I sink in deep in the blue twilight
And I rest my weary bones

And how weary human bones can get
When we move them all the time
They ache as deep as an ache can go
Till there’s no climbing, not another step

And that’s when I sink into the soil
As the nurse log cradles my head
And I will myself to become the dirt
So I can feel the redwood sorrel
Pushing one by one, towards the sun
In groups too big to count
There’s no ache so deep it can’t be helped
By becoming the dirt for awhile

I’d never have chosen exile
If there’d been another way
I’d never have chosen exile
If there’d been a way to stay

But if I close my eyes
And curl on my side
I could almost swear I’m there
And that has to be enough for a lullaby

Twilight blue is always how I see the sky
With an amethyst glow around the redwood bark
And owls you hear but never see
And mushrooms and slime molds that live inside
Logs so big you can stand up inside them and
Redwood needles and cones carpeting the ground

And that’s where I want to lie down
And that’s where I want to blend into the ground
And it’s where I want to feel every plant
Growing inside me and seeking the sun
And the rain and the mist creeping into the leaves
And mold and slugs, things that live in the damp
And all the things that say life goes on
No matter how much is lost
These things make me who I am

And maybe they’ll make me sleep tonight
Despite the ache in my bones
And the ache of exile
Maybe it’s enough of a lullaby for one night

Falling Out Of Your World

I fell out of your world today
And landed in the dirt
I knew the name of every plant
Of every tree and mushroom

You can’t know what this meant to me
This knowledge without thought
In your world, wit is easily won
It’s your solace and your weapon

In my world, it’s like flecks of soil
That pile up with each passing year
It grows slowly and naturally
My mind doesn’t soar through the clouds

I looked up at your world today
You seemed so happy up there
Because you do soar through the clouds
Your mind eats equations for breakfast

You can’t imagine life down here
It’s too slow and too ordinary
For days at a time I do nothing
But soak myself into the soil

But the soil talks to me
Like the clouds talk to you
And from the underground depths
Understanding flows up to me

I know that you love your life
Where the breeze brings you words
And the clouds carry equations
And you can dart everywhere
With a touch of your wings

But I love my life
I have deep roots in the dark places
Water springs up from the soil
And understanding can only happen
By listening to things without voices

I am a thing without a voice
Perhaps that is why I belong down here
And not up where the voice of the wind
Sings unceasing words of knowledge
To people whose heads fill with words

I fell out of your world today
And I thanked the gods of mist and soil
Of the dark and the damp
Of the roots and the trees

Because you may thrive in your world
But to me, it’s a lightning storm in my head
And I belong curled up inside the ground
At the feet of a redwood tree