of the twisted elbows
of the praying mantis
on a torn canvas
on Mount Sinai—
by God and eternal fire
Of expectant hands tremble in tension, hang before me
Into a question mark:
“What will you give?” Pounding pupils
Beat like a pulse of a monstrous need.
An intractable migraine of giving.
“What have you bought, made? What token
Of lasting affection?”
This is the time of rustling.
Time of giving, they call it. Presents
Travel in an unending, jammed holiday traffic,
Wrapped and bowed, past me, rainbow-shined,
crinkled paper, sizes and shapes.
Smiles and thanks.
Some seem sincere.
A tinseled object of nicety,
Receiver of timely kindness, considered and sized and given good things,
In their whirpooled midst like a pillar of petrified breath.
A mossed spruce in a magic forest.
I stand empty-handed, the source of nothing.
But what I’ve been given.
But what I’ve been made.
Trembling hands are waiting, and I give
What isn’t mine.
A destined conduit of gifts,
A divinely designed re-gifter.
Like a soup kitchen server who gives away somebody else’s charity,
I keep the line moving along.
Here, a taste of God’s love I have drunk at the foot of the cross –
For you, in a simple, blue plastic cup.
An oath of fidelity wrapped in a foil, I learned it from my Betrothed.
I put in a box my worry and care – my family gave them to me.
The labor of two thin-wristed hands – a meager, emergency portion.
A piece of my heart, unwrapped.
It leaves a scarlet, untidy smudge
In each trembling hand.
Over dust-crusted plains.
Past the walls, through the winds. Blurry
Visions—mirages of the undead.
On the shady dunes of our past
I spilled my rains.
I begin to forget.
To Jesus the Apple Tree
I wasn’t thinking of your care
But of the me that passed away
With scarlet flags and visions burned alive
Atop my ruined faith.
Your frail, decaying leaf
Brushed by my cheek and nodded
In consolation that transcends the order
Of human giving.
I could ask for nothing.
I ask for nothing but for all that’s happened.
I ask for everything that has now happened
And then for everything that’s yet to come.
THE GOOD SON
Their women’s chores under the desert sun –
A clucking coop of hens, annoyed and proud,
They argued which had better raised her son.
One said, “My boy
Slew in a fearless fight alone
A Roman goy!”
Around them lay a Roman-ravaged Judah –
Kin killing kin and cutting wood for kin,
And crosses lined the roads, as if they’d stood there
Since Genesis, gaunt monuments to sin.
But Jewish mothers mended clothes
And talked about their sons, of course.
Not since the Greeks would you have seen such sport!
And for a wife we found him such a pretty
That children are for sure to please the Lord.
And has such love
For his old mother that the heavens
Shatter up above!”
“Mine loves me too!” the first exclaimed,
“He brings me trophies from his fights!
Ah, mercy be, The Name…”
The day wore on and bent to the horizon.
Much was discussed, and many chores were done
In little isles of mothers’ pride, surrounded
By images of loving Jewish sons.
“My youngest,” said
One, braiding bread,
“Sings songs to me so fine!”
“At my request
Turned water into wine.”
Faces only you and none but you may see
In that silent final scene.
But of phantoms in the night be not afraid.
There’s no sin
Holding on to a looking glass.
Past is shallow as a mirror in your hand.
Night is falling upon us,
But I can see.
Let me lead you through the shadows of the dead
To the sea,
Storming sea that lies ahead.
My hands first and eyes,
In streams from the skies.
Their purses and ran. A nice,
Dignified lady said, “Poor
Dear, you’re soaked!
You really now ought to
Come out of the rain!”
The world’s sodden branches,
Drops – holy water! –
Washed into my ears and my mouth, and my shirt
Became second skin just as naked and wet
As we come to our births and our deaths.
Looked at me askance and slipped in the dirt.
My dance and my breath
Mix with my tears and exhaust, dissolve
Into whisper and simmering kiss,
Trembling, watery lips –
Nothing but this…
And carried me softly, the careless daughter
Of ancient, defiant savants,
Through His rustling baptismal font –
As it filled and it tipped,
The above and below,
As it flowed,
Here I go.
I stood in the rain.
At the time they tell her,
Proceeds with caution.
Hand movements follow.
Rituals drop like tokens.
The story’s been read.
Breathe it in.
This Story is always.
Out of time.
The Word Being Spoken.
Blood is heating the veins.
Here it goes.
Up to the Heavens.
Smoke and spices.
Here it goes.
When I met you…
I was on my usual everyday trek from the heights of despair to the depths of sorrow.
Trod and familiar path.
When I saw you,
I knew that I knew you but not that I’d known you. And I did not know then why.
In your features
I saw every promise I’d ever been made, every curve of the Earth, in your eyes
I saw every color and shade of the light that makes the world seen.
And I stopped.
You asked me,
“What you are doing, child? Day in and day out, here?”
“Plummeting, climbing, day in and day out and on through the nights,” I said.
“Plummeting, climbing. This is my trek. Plummeting, climbing, again.”
When you touched me,
I felt in your hand the warmth that has moved the universe into existence.
And I knew that I’d known you always.
And you answered,
“Waiting for you.”
On April Fool’s Day
Falling toward the spring earth,
Leaving no trace.
Weighting down pine needles
With heavy droplets. Is it snow
That pretends to be rain – or rain
That pretends to be snow?
A silly white lie
On a silly day.
My heavenly lover
In the mood to play.
Dancing for me.
Shall I just watch?
Waited for me.
Looked out into a thousand greens,
Clovery beard flowing under a sunny spell.
Waited for me.
Ever the guard, weathered heavenly moods.
From the skin-shredding passion of gales –
God’s gusty panting –
Soaking into your feet
Thunderous spills of the cosmic orgasms,
Shielded your wandering son,
Waited for me.
On the day of my virgin birth,
You did not welcome me as a guest
Into your warm embrace.
Never did groom for me,
Nothing did hide,
Tears and bleedings ‘n all.
You let me touch your scars,
Tend to the heart of you,
Keep it aflame.
Look – I am your child, I am your lover.
I am your guardian hand.
One must be first.
Some one discolored leaf,
a closing vein, a draining life. A shred
of dying beauty.
A yellow leaf, the first of millions—billions—
One must be first wherever there are many.
A drop of rain, the first to cut a pinprick
in choked and dusty lands before a deluge
sweeps every living thing
away in waves.
One tear, on the morning of a day
of wailing for a loss.
One soldier’s name,
first on the list of losses
in this, a millionth, list.
One child. A single round.
that opened wide millennia ago
to roar a hoarse and fearsome call to our
first ever war.
What troubles the water?
What troubles a willow’s branches,
bothers the delicate leaves
into uneasy whispering?
A gust of the wind, and another.
The first rush of a distant but coming storm.
The first touch of tomorrow’s worry.
The future troubles our minds.
And then the wind touches my face.
The rush of a distant storm
is a caress,
The feel of your tenderest hand —
It is bursting with moist aromas
and the cool of an autumn twilight.
It is peaceful and cleansing, much as a sigh.
Tomorrow, the future will come,
but, the Heart of my Heart,
I am yours
What troubles the air, distorts,
makes everything shimmer and tremble
in the unsteady night?
not at peace in the quiet hours?
Slow fires, the flames of the past.
Flickers of memories scorching.
Sparks of the haunting and unforgettable,
phantom worlds of the travelled paths —
Burning our restless hearts through and through.
What ifs… What abouts…
And then the flame touches my face.
Slow fire of memories past
is your warmth and your light, now.
Your breath on the raw of my burns —
And they heal.
Yesterday came and went.
Oh, but, the Heart of my Heart,
I am yours
All this time on my hands –
Every hour of every day,
Dripping from my hands,
Tracing my steps –
Empty places I walk,
Soaking the ground behind me
In a cauldron pot
Boil your volcanic potion.
Swirls of emerald poison in
A pool of blinding indigo.
Mix in the herbs from the distant fields—
Bitter grasses to ward off lies,
Sour leaves to shorten lives,
For fragrance—velvet bergamot.
Stir in the dust from a sinner’s footprint,
Medicine for regret.
Drop in a scroll and steep the words—
Ancient as Jupiter, scolding as Venus, foreign as Pluto, constant.
Constant as all the stars.
Above your head, the clock will strike—
Another eon has passed.
I will come through the writhing mob
To taste your ultimate deed, and through
The walls to hear the screams.
Oh, they wail in terror —
One hundred thousand mouths.
Two hundred thousand eyes contort.
Ten hundred thousand fingers clench.
“Poison! Death! Deception!
Magic will split the world!”
Pour your potion into our
Let us let out to freedom
The one who sees, the one who sings,
The one who wanders. Let us
Step onto a windowsill,
Touch the pane, find it unlocked, and, shocked,
Fly into the salty sky.
Into the hole your blood has burned
Through the goose-down world.
It is time
In this time
Unroll your keys
Black on white
Sing to the Lord
Joy and dirge
Hymns and whispers
Advent and Lent
Stir them together now
Into a purple swirl
Sing and whisper
To the unsung divinity
Of the humanity
Red and brown
Over the wall
Under the skulls
At the foot of Golgotha
Pushing itself through the church concrete
Wear your robes
Christmas and Easter
Friday and Sunday
Desperate Sabbath of waiting
Stir them together
Into a purple swirl
Colors of every season
Colors of every day
Colors of every soul
Colors of my
In the end
Originally published in Mad Poets Review 22 (2008).
A season of in-between.
Hazy grayishness of the fall —
The reign of reversible death.
Creatures in waiting,
They know their hopes are false. In a pile
Of beige autumn leaves a skunk is romancing a cat.
Forbidden Shakespearean passion
Is piercing the air, accentuated
By garbage cans and the smell of burned tires. By morning
The rain will have soaked away
Traces of courage and sin. Black and yellow
Shoes, carrying businesslike bodies
Cursing dispassionately at the weather,
Will step and slip through a battlefield where
Each night the ironclad laws of Nature
Are slain in a sweaty and merciless fight
By fury, desire, and faith.
To See the Wonder
The thread that stretched and spanned
From my unending hand
Into the trembling, vibrant skies.
And, losing breath in awe,
I mouthed the words of old,
My Love, this ever wondrous world!
Look what you’ve made,”
And then He whispered in my soul,
“I see the wonder through your eyes.”
The overwhelming tears of grief
For every day of all the years
Spent in the dark and torturous night,
And of relief
At bathing in this cleansing light
And in the warmest tears
I’d ever cried.
And, losing breath, I sent a silent call.
“My Love, look what you’ve made,”
And then He whispered in my ear,
“I see the wonder through your eyes.”
A step, and then another through the valley
Of the shadow of the dead.
And on the other side,
Emerging battered, wrecked, and bleeding from the head
And from the heart, into the bliss
Of trembling skies,
He wiped away my blood with fleece.
“My Love, I’ve made
Every wrong choice after wrong choice.
Why have you made me as I am?
Why have you made me so unwise?”
And then I heard a still, small voice.
“To see the wonder through your eyes.”