It's the breakfast buffet at 7:45,
with scrambled eggs in watery pans,
toast curling by the instant coffee,
home fries tossed in sodden heaps.
The couple at the window table are not
speaking. Her gaze is fastened on
the parking lot: his eyes are with the waitress.
"American Pie" sings goodbye from somewhere.
When he was fourteen, she was twelve;
they spent the summer running in and out
of each other's yards. They climbed up to
his treehouse, sticky palms from oozing sap,
thunder rolling down like boulders, his father
yelling from the porch to get their asses
back inside before the lightning fried 'em alive.
She kissed him on the cheek and ran for home.
He squinted through the rain
at her flashing legs and knew
he'd always follow. He would trace
her face's shape down to her smile.
He'd been sparing with his words;
he'd pared it down to simple touch.
But forty years along the kids are gone,
the business sold,
and he knows what she will say
and she's heard everything he knows,
and there isn't any cause
to look for wonder any more.
I am a connoisseur of words,
selecting this one over that,
preferring, usually, the ones aged
in constant use over this year's crop.
I show my age and era: bad meant bad
when I was young and good was opposite
of bad. I still am up for something my
younger friends are down with.
But like them, I do not care if
I end a sentence with with. Although
I draw the line at doubling up a word
for emphasis emphasis.
In contrast to some teenaged girls,
my claims upon a personal god
are kept within my silent prayers —
not chattered up in shopping malls.
I do enjoy a Latinate embellishment at times,
luxuriate in polysyllabic morphings now and then.
But sturdy Anglo-Saxon words will do just fine
for everything but obscurantist bureaucratese.
Words are given that we might create,
and having created we can say
that we have lived, and having lived
return in gratitude the life we have received
when it is done.
In the old stories the knight waits for the lady,
who may know of his waiting or not.
This waiting is a hunger. It is not necessary
that the lady know. But it could help.
We wait between one note and the next,
a heartbeat or two. The shape of loneliness
fills any space.
You can wait for the world to change,
but I don't think it will. Those tracks
were laid long ago. Large souls arrive
among us; we linger in their shadows.
Here is a waiting of leaning forward,
another of turning back, wistfully. Practice
a waiting that moves toward your hunger.
In the Psalms it says, "Wait for the Lord."
With the Lord, a thousand years are as a day.
It takes courage to wait for the Lord.
That is in the old stories too.
These latter days bring me full around
the turn to time. The beating heart of it.
The steady drip of it from the eaves
before the light rises through the trees.
The rings of it in the tree
snapped like a twig.
The whirling storm of it.
Time in my hands, a gift.
The spending of it.
I saw myself today from a distance.
A boy I could have been, might have been,
jumping the fence so lovingly built
for my protection.
To ascend the primal mountain,
day extends its glistening hand
from the creation of the world.
My missteps are mine to learn from.
I wonder now if they are ours to share
as we step into those polished grooves,
as we wear the world upon our backs
like an old and rumpled flannel shirt,
thin at the elbows, rolled-up sleeves,
the faint scent of all Eve's children
still an evening's warmth within it.
In the order of things we line up
alphabetically; we read from left to right.
Power's talons grip from top to bottom,
greater over lesser, from richer
to poorer. But then, we can delight in how
a tree lives all the way down to its roots,
how water seeks the lowest point.
Up from the bottom,
counting the layers of sediment,
Paleolithic to now,
the first responders up the stairs
in a building dying from the
top down, shedding light and
lives, profit and loss statements
floating like feathers. Photos of wives,
brother, children, freed to wing
across the city, caught up to drift,
light upon light, ashes to dust,
scudding street-wise, lastly
swept up against the bus stop.
And then there is time, measured out
in spoonfuls — the stray loose minutes
before the alarm, the tension now and yet again
vibrating like the filament in a light:
grief before joy, pain before release, apocalypse
now, revelation then. And death, always death.
But then, life.
I closed my eyes and fell into a dream.
Someone was complaining about
the bother of a person who saw the world
as it is and insisted on changing it.
"She'll never fit in," he said,
"She'll always be a few steps off the path."
Then another voice, this one attached to a body
slanting up the hill toward me.
I sensed a strength, but I could not see a face.
"Everybody has a piece of God in them"
said the voice. "Even her?" scoffed the other.
"Especially her!" said the voice.
From the hill we could see
far down across the roofs of the town
to the ocean, a shining sliver of silver
just under the sky.
Something so vast poured
into the thinnest horizon line . . .
but that was all we needed
to know it was there.
Take the good as you find it;
don't set down a marker to say,
'This far and no farther' or nothing
may come to you that you could recognize.
And if you could recognize it
you would be saying, 'Hello, old friend,
I wondered if I'd see you again.' But then
how to find the new, the good newness
that is out there, slipped in between
the hard rocks of experience, the sudden
shiver on the water's surface, the quiet
breath of the person next to you leaning
into the vast open vault of forgiveness
there for the taking, not depleted,
a spring of everlasting life, a seeing
through the grime and dust to something
beautiful, ancient, original —
Why does every bright day with wind
arrive like San Francisco in '68?
The fog pouring in like horses
over the Golden Gate and the cough
of seals down at Fisherman's Wharf.
City Lights opens its narrow stair
and Ferlinghetti is there at the top
to turn and welcome you
with his slow smile. And the feeling
of reaching toward the bread
of something substantial, the bread
not yet broken, the sacrifice not yet made,
the world still a kingdom to be discovered.
The rain began precisely when
the weather app said it would.
First, the street was spattered, then
the drops crowded in like tourists.
I never believed I could lay claim to anybody,
to say, "You are mine," like they do in
all the songs we knew. This is serious,
what we call love. Maybe it is rare.
I don't want to overthink it; I do that
too much already. There was no one
to say, "Watch now, this is how you do it,
this is how you love without tethering someone."
So, I fail, fail gloriously. Fail at arm's length
and fail up close. The rain begins and begins,
and all the while the bodhisattvas among us
wait patiently. They will not enter Nirvana
until all have found their way.