Book of Fire {a poem}

Photo: Rey Seven

To you
hurt in the crossfire
of my confusion
I’m sorry

To you
harmed in the chaos
of my coming out
I’m sorry

To you
hit by the clamor
of my clarity
I’m sorry

To you
for telling me
to take up all the room
thank you

To you
for emboldening me
to be my own witness
thank you

To you
for bearing witness
when I was so frightened
thank you

To you
for believing (in) me
when I startled awake
thank you

To you
reading these words
stand in your own bold knowing
stop beating yourself up
and make right what you can

Let her go
who holds you hostage
in a room with no doors

Let him be
for his own growing

Trust yourself
and stay close
to the places where sustenance
comes easily
the woods
ice cream
the voice
of that one friend
who always answers

and self-forgiveness
have their own fan club
for two
check under your door
for a personal invitation
today only
and tomorrow, too
and the next day
as long as it takes

The keys
the answers
the way

These are in you
as sure
as the air
you breathe
and the poison
you exhale thirty thousand times
every day

To you
who waited
and watched
and loved me
as I learned to be still
thank you

I will return
this gift
even as it dissolves
into daylight

I will practice
listening hard
looking closely
laughing freely
and raging
with reason
on your behalf

We are not the same
you know
but our roots are tangled
the frozen winter ground

there’s a book of fire
a desert
a crossing
a circle of dancers
a tribe of scholars
a place where
we stood
before the earth
shifted and we had to choose

the broken spaces
where borders became
perilous thresholds
still remember
our suffering
and our joy

To you
who wakes
with a glimmer
of memory

To who
who makes
coffee the night before
and brings it to your lover
in bed
to you who longs for
a lover
to you who left your lover

To you who said I can’t
to you who said I won’t
to you who said no more
to you who said I’m sorry
to you who said I’m not sorry
to you who said nothing
and regretted it later
to you who said nothing
to save your life
or another’s

the embers

What Darkness Does

before-darkLike when you are camping and slip inside
your sleeping bag as night falls, let’s say it’s late
and October brings ankle-deep leaves and hush
of woods behind barn.

Sure, you could turn the lights on in this little house.
Choose instead the rhythm of darkness

as you wonder what verb could describe
its way of moving, if you can even call it movement,
though “falling” is wrong and it doesn’t exactly take
the light away, either.

No, it just comes. A kind of absence of light
we need a name for, and with it, the reminder:

You, too, are an animal whose body would find
a warm hollow, a den, a place to burrow in,
close and curled around her kin.
We are not designed to stay up past dark,

nor is sleeping alone exactly survival.
Oh, but instinct would have you build walls.

Walls to show your love, inside of which you fire
up the stove and stretch cotton blankets
over winter beds. Come sleep with me now.
I’ll wake you with coffee,

I’ll touch you with sprigs of something green,
at the first signs of an early spring.

The Thing I Thought He Should Know

Unfurling Tattoo

It is morning and I am writing
about a book from 1940 about sex
and men and women and the rules
that no longer apply to me
and maybe never did.

And suddenly it’s 1997, July:
I’m remembering that first time
he and I swam across the pond
together — my 23 to his 31.

How right about in the middle
I stopped to catch my breath
and, treading water, looked at him
and said, gravely,
“There is something you should know.”

He waited, eager to know
all the things about me
that would seal some agreement
we didn’t even know we were making.

(I look up from the writing
for a moment at my wife,
who is stretching side to side,
her naked body soft and mine,
the undone tree inked on her back —

a reminder that
we don’t always finish what we started
in the way we planned way back when.)
I swim at this pond all summer long,
and sometimes, when I am floating

on my back in the middle,
I remember that moment
when I told him I’d been bulimic.
I shake my head in such a way

that you wouldn’t even notice,
marveling at the way life
unfurls and we, with it, as if thrust
from the unfolding itself

into the thing behind the thing
that I didn’t know yet
and so didn’t say:
“You’re really nice,
but I’m really gay.”

What I Mean When I Say “Big Love”

9-fried-potatoesI was frying potatoes.
Contemplating the meaning of life.
For real, I am not making this up.
Feeling small. Ponderous.
What is my message?
What is my purpose?

And then I stirred the potatoes.
They were dinner for my wife
who can eat 14 things now,
including water and salt
and sugar and coffee,
rice and chicken
and oats and organic Gala apples
and blueberries, boiled,
and whole milk and best of all
butter. Also seltzer and Pom juice,
her new elixir of choice.

And I remember when it was only rice
and Coke
and she was losing weight and scaring
us both and everyone else
and someone asked if she was dying
and I went crazy in my head
at the question, which I knew was
not unreasonable given her rapid
precipitous decline but still could not
hear, could not accept, could not bear
when everything in me was existing
to keep her here and help her live.

So frying potatoes, you see,
really did have me contemplating
the meaning of life, and the meaning
of survival, the meaning of joy,
the meaning of thriving, the meaning
of healing, the meaning of marriage,
the purpose of loving, the message
of resilience, of learning how to give
and of learning how to receive,
of being forced so far out
of our comfortable roles
that we both had to grow
into bigger, more complete humans.

And in the growing, so much became
available — poems and dreams
and going all the way into the dark
that we wouldn’t let claim us
and seeing each other
there, eyes lit by eyes
and hearts by hearts
and knowing
that to be given another chance
is nothing to sneeze at or spit at,
nothing to miss even a minute of
to self-pity or regret or doubt
or envy. We get to be here.

That’s it. That’s my purpose.
That’s my message.
We get to be here.
And if it’s not working for you,
change something.
Because you can.

Can’t Everlasting


Day began with bells from St. Bridget’s
Songbirds who are clearly morning people
Rocket fuel coffee and me on the hammock swing
I keep hoping the former downstairs neighbors
will forget to come back for.

With Jane Kenyon and dull right temple
headache and base of neck throb
the kind you want to rub a crystal on
like the ones my wife ordered, a chakra spread
for our more woo-woo days.

With daughter pilfering moms’ wardrobe
rocking the cute-boy look, backwards
baseball hat, with bleeding so heavily
I had to turn around not a block from home
With headache still not subsiding.

With Roar Sessions and good morning, writers
Hot hot sun and windows down, Diet Coke
Cool Ranch Doritos in the car pretending
I was on the beach topless preferably eating
the most American thing I could crave.

With business partner and mind if we cancel
Back into bed, splayed out like an outline
right arm up and left arm down, legs
akimbo, belly against mattress breathing
sweaty deep summer hormone sleep.

With attempt at doing day met by “can’t”
Twinge of panic (what if can’t is everlasting?)
Reiki Master woman I married, I ask her
Baby, can you help me? She can, she does
with so much love and more sleep comes.

Day ends full circle surrender to ride
not fight waves like these, not to try
to keep up when that feels like crawling
across hot sand, trusting nothing
will be lost by listening to the body

that knows what she needs, knows
only sleep will come as cure for ache
and waiting till too late always comes
to no good. Might as well let the day
have its way with you and the night
breeze in through open window.

Photo credit: Tom van Hoogstraten