Uggianaqtuq Is Inuit for a Friend Behaving Strangely

–from The Guardian, August 13, 2019

people & animals

living on the Arctic ecological frontlines

find food more scarce

ice less thick

people are homesick even when they are home

an Australian made the word for this: “solastalgia”

are we becoming a planet

not of cultures

not of people

not of families

not of forests

not of salmon

not of coral

not of bees

not of rhinos

not of skinny dogs

but a Planet of Life

that is not without its planet

but its habitat, its home?

and are we deluded

in thinking that this is the end

are we deluded

crying this is only the beginning—

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Tinnitus II

head static, hissing in the ears

like watching snow on TV in the ’70s–

a few seconds of it

becomes an unbearable roar of confetti

chopped up black-and-white photos screaming

unemotional

 

impersonal

a gateway to something we aren’t supposed to know:

perfect machines of that which is notlife

where you fear you will end up by following snow

the liminality of your own static

yearning for humansound, humanrhythm

In Speaking to the Dead

1

in speaking to the dead,

you do not open your mouth

no need to say the obvious

thus wax-grey mottled skin

says merely time

 

but that was weeks ago

in speaking to the dead today

the underside of heaven promises

to give you keepsakes

in the honest reality of ashes

 

like a membrane dividing two worlds

distinct from each other

permeable only in dreams

and only when you squint your ears

yet this pious Earth rotates

 

2

paycheck to paycheck the days churn

how do we make relevant

the working class lives

the aspirations upward

recognized as such and the hollowness

of economic instability always aiming at prosperity—

my god can you ever stop the hissing in your ears?

the chimes, singing bowls

castanets, cash registers

all going off as the struggle to scale Maslow’s pyramid

continues but does not evolve

never far from our mind’s dollar-bill-green eye

and there’s a morning now

coming in on filaments of shadow

ghost robes, shrouds

the after-effects of a bad night’s sleep

dreams by the side of the bed

with the hubcaps gone

Suite of Grief

The Hospice Meeting

Them

in my father’s hospital room

me

at my desk a thousand miles away

us

in disbelief

 

 

 

What My Father Said

He said to her,

Just let the lawn be,

no need to drag hoses around,

get upset over it.

This way you don’t have to fool

with the mower,

or get a grandkid to do it.

The grass will go brown,

but it’ll come back.

 

 

Deciding on a Last-Minute Flight

Don’t nobody understand like a woman understands—you got no right to break an old guy’s heart—he lights up. If there’s the possibility of saying goodbye in person, baby, you go– 

 

You Are Not Your Thoughts

(it feels like living in the time of great musicians dying…it feels like culture fading, the world known via rhythm and lyric and song is going, the time of my father’s voice growing faint…)

 

 

Parataxis

I’m seeing my father

in the mind’s eye

thinner than believable

knowing his time in this present world is short, shorter

than is bearable. He’s ready to go—

suffering and lingering just aren’t his style

inhumane

ideas ideas abstractions

abstractions—death, dying

abstractions until you see

fictions until you hear

your mother’s choked-up words I’m going to miss him.

When he says I suppose your mother will sell the house

and thank you for taking Johnny’s pistol

I am not ready to be grown up

not ready for the elders to go

nor ready to take their places.

 

 

PHX to MFR

Gratitude for the Bob Ross t-shirt

because people smile & say I remember him on TV,

& they say awesome shirt

thus removing me from the grief inside

so a shirt walks around gate C17

with me inside it

where the magma-core pain lives

I’m about to say goodbye

to my bedridden father, the first man I loved,

the only one whose heart I refuse to break,

shamed that I ever did,

if I ever did.

I’m sure I did.

 

 

Haze

Haze from the fires in California and Oregon.

Mountains barely visible in the basin.

A buck nibbles his way through the back field, Boris meows.

This is as normal as it can be, for now,

but I’ve been in my parent’s bedroom,

perched on the neat-as-a-pin bed

that neither of them use now.

He’s still asleep in his hospital bed in the living room

and she’s across the room on the sofa.

They’re both sleeping in—already 6:30.

The sky is a version of rose gold,

the late-summer landscape mostly yellow.

Mom let the lawn die, too much to take care of

and Dad her priority. Haze closes us

in its weird blanket, telling us this is how the weather is changing,

coming between us and the blue sky,

even though we’re still grateful for any light at all.

The sun is a red inferno in the east;

Always this time of year, oppression literally hangs in the air.

But this is not a regular fire season—

it came early and might linger another month—

so his last summer does not blaze,

it smolders and coughs,

it lies still and stiller.

Maybe hope exists because we believe in the earth’s

turning and turning. The gifts of night and day

are still here, geese fly in Vs.

I just wish fire season would end.

 

 

Grieving His Body (I Didn’t Expect This)

the bone bone bone

the never-to-heal sores

red heels

twin stomas and plastic bag hookups

teeth so long, receding gums

lips that stick to tissue as I wipe them gently

thin skin (not a metaphor)

rigid cold toes cold elbows

purple and clammy hands

eternally unbreathing chest

 

Bottomless

there’s no bottom to grief, no stopping the tree’s fall down to the center of the earth

in mourning the soul performs its many dissertations upon the soul

if Time is an apple corer, I am hollowed, only intellectually believing in Time’s green spring, someday

he belongs to the past now—and the deepest present, the internalized now, fully oxygenated red blood cells circulating, the atoms of carbon, the protein strands of my hair, the refrain measure twice, cut once

“…we thought we was gettin’ away with somethin’” he said, about borrowing Neal’s big brother’s motorcycle without permission, back in high school; they taught themselves to lean into the road’s curves, no helmet, never fell

The Granddaughter

A poem from 1996. My father, Jim, died today. Felt right to post this now.

 

Granddaughter of many immigrants, I

belong only to this land,

this language, by the grace of time.

I’ve dreamt the speech of my ancestors:

Swedish, German and Italian,

each struggling to recall its homeland,

when my tongue, unconscious,

remembers.

Today, I learned of a place

off the Sycan Road where a rock

resembles a wrinkled face of a woman;

she sits surrounded by sage,

junipers dotting the hills,

and some go there to pray.

Rub her back with your palm

I am told

by an Indian man with a long black ponytail,

do not ask her for money

or strength to hurt another.

Ask instead for help

Ask for the power to think

Have the courage to pray

your own prayers, he said.

My father, logger by trade,

lover of the forest by nature,

told me: The woods are your church.

A sentence to be uttered only once;

otherwise, it loses its magic.

This I know by instinct;

the same slow fire in my gut

that burns when I hear

of a stone grandmother, watching

over high desert trees;

oil of many palms

worked into the rock

in circular fashion,

thoughts of many in trouble

have rested upon her

wrinkling like years

of water upon the earth.

Her magic is still good.

I hope she watches over loggers, too.

* * *

My father rose daily at four a.m.

pulled on cumbrous black steel-toes

wool, flannel, denim, and a baseball cap,

ate fried eggs at Denny’s

and drove two hours into the woods

stopping at dawn to watch the sunrise

over railroad tracks,

sip coffee from a thermos.

Even in his fifties he is limber

and quick, moving uphill burdened

with saw, engine oil, and canteen.

He is faster than men half his age,

a pace-setter, wrinkled from sun

and wise as the woman in the rock.

The woods are your church.

This is the first man I loved:

the one who taught me to cut stained glass,

who gave me two simple words: have patience.

After his workday we drove

another mile to Leins’ grocery

and bought banana popscicles.

Eating the sugary ice in the pickup

going home, I memorized the smell

of pine shavings, saw oil, spilled coffee.

The scents of lonely workdays,

bizarre holy incense offered

to spirits of trees,

to America in its good times,

to a little girl who loves her father.

 

When other children asked me

if I believed in their God, in their savior,

I lied.

Emerson believed that cathedrals

were meant to emulate the forest

with their tall vaulted canopies

their detailed carvings, intricate

as the paths cut by worms

or wind or water.

This is an easy connection for me

this swift link between the sacred ground

called woods and the one called church.

There is a religion without a name

that rises early, silent,

with the scent of dew on sage;

the shape of logger’s boots

in cinder dust, the trail of deer;

wheeltracks of pickups;

the long ocean passage to Ellis Island

and a homestead at Rocky Point;

an ancient clan of treefolk

singing Solstice praises;

all are heavy with meaning,

all are memory and longing.

* * *

No blessed phrases will fall off my tongue,

only the plain words of a language I love.

Old Woman, I still belong,

in a strange and hideous way, to this land, like you.

I have a holy place that will contain me,

but its walls are ether, cloud,

lodged halfway between forest

and heaven. A place to visit alone,

to think, to pray for patience.

Whorl

Still revolving around a dream of Six Flags loop-de-loops

you discover the water has been on all night. Out back a shallow puddle

collars the mesquite and brown rabbits flash their white egg-tails

as they hop to drink. The green snake of hose reminds you

that only some circles have no beginning and no end—

what about those that do? Traffic circles

wheel and release you from intersections, round mouths

devour bagels before a hand ticks past tardy,

the wedding bands of divorcees now symbolize time swirling clockwise

down a North American drain. Twirling the crank on the plastic hose caddy

you realize there’s not much within your control,

not even this coiling—which physics could explain to you. You,

with faint mistrust in backyards and roller coaster bolts—

you with your dreams and waters.

Found Between Pages of My Grandmother’s 1964 Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, Which I Have Possessed Since 2012 When She Moved to Assisted Living

And what good are words but to assist the living?

What better memory care than to place the snippets

of a life between pages thinner than old skin?

These are in my possession now,

but I am a keeper, merely. What is always hers:

A pressed mountain lily, vanilla-colored,

whose brittle stem has come loose.

My little cousin’s early practice

writing his name in green marker, BENBENBEN.

Scratch paper with variant spellings of “gauche” in red ballpoint —

squint and you can still see her blue-veined hand

working it out before consulting Webster’s and getting it right.

Clippings from the Klamath Falls Herald and News,

during the late 1970s and early 1980s,

browning UPI articles on the danger of nuclear power,

on refueling the Trojan plant, on nuclear waste,

and one gleefully reporting that we still have time

to figure it all out. Reports on fish and timber

and park concerts and the state and local Democrats.

 

Two national headlines on one side of a cutout:

Inflation jumps 1.2 percent, Unemployment 6 percent,

and on the other side, 72-year-old Wayne Negus of Paisley, Ore.,

inducted into the Trappers Hall of Fame—

I believe she meant to save both sides.

Long articles on Unitarianism, agnosticism.

Mt. St. Helens one year post-eruption.

 

Ken Kesey speaking at the Southern Oregon Writer’s Conference

proclaiming, “I still believe in the revolution.”

 

Collage of Prayer

The prayer at 4 a.m. belongs not to you or to God

but to your Indo-European ancestors

who made ancient words to pray with.

Having outlasted, the prayer has its own kind of survivor’s guilt.

The relevant details of the prayer begin

in a dream written down on a train.

The prayer includes wishing birds were here,

and dandelions, and childhood’s assorted deceased pets buried in the backyard.

The prayer forgives anxieties and absolves party games.

The prayer belongs to furious volcanic wilderness

where you’ve posed as a tourist and thus became one.

The prayer regrets that your grandmother was not Gertrude Stein.

 

The prayer is about as delicate as plutonium.

 

So early in the morning, the prayer is witness

to voicelessness, percussion, zaar.

The prayer is a door to the soul’s delicatessen

left ajar, awaiting a child prodigy in a black tank top,

husbands, wives, springtime—all subject to change.

Ekphrasis: Bird Market of Kabul

–Inspired by photos in The Guardian, 09 February 2018

 

Cages everywhere

some wood some metal

some draped with fabric.

Quail, partridges, parrots, canaries.

A woman in a purple burka

somehow both beautiful and unnerving.

Men weary and persevering.

A child surrounded by bags of seed for sale.

A red gauze-covered cage

held by a man missing an eye.

Cockfighting, thrall.

The birds, objectified, ordinary, exotic,

soothing and fantastically terrifying—

 

(always I am troubled by caging,

and by the academic distance between photographs and me—

an excuse poor and justifiable as clipped wings.

To be a bird, to be caged in a land of cages—

 

the market stalls might show me off,

an old man might keep and admire me

the faceless burka-clad woman might sing to me thereby reversing roles

of women and birds. I see outside, I am outside,

but only in the shaded space between bars,

and I might fly just enough to hate confinement,

if I know how to hate.

If I think thoughts,

if I am knowable to you by jittery

human or avian eyes,

back and forth assessing, discerning,

what should I do but wait and dream,

rehearsing the moment you lift the latch and turn away—)