Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Enough mist to say

Enough mist to say
the page could be a street

the day the way
fingers please

a face

Friday, October 25, 2013

One month later

For all the world, that last evening, a few hours before Mom died, she seemed like a proud old ship ready for one last voyage. She was safe; she was strong — safe, strong, safe, strong — as if safety and strength emanated from her in greens and blues, as sleeping she declared herself to the tide.

I thought, perhaps, she would not sail until it was light the next morning. But she couldn’t wait that long. At two-thirty, the telephone rang, and I was given the news that she was gone.

Moments before, I’d been awakened by a noise in the house: a rafter creaking, a wall settling, a fir cone landing on the roof. And so I stayed awake, waiting for the call, knowing it would come, and it came.

How she loved her home. How we love it still. What a joy, like her, to be here and passing through.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Visual Response by Steven McCabe

An image within a poem will grab me
and set off a trail of associations…

And I love where the trail leads....

Royal Song
by Steven McCabe

(first in a series of companion images)

Warm thanks to multidisciplinary artist, Steven McCabe,
for his sensitive treatment of my 2011 poem, “The Chosen Ones.”

Such a fine series. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

You don’t know me but

Her grandmother, too,
made quilts every bit as fine,
and with the same deliberate patience;
we still have them, and will, long after
the wind has blown the rose.

This image was sent me by a friend
who visited my mother’s grave
a few days after her burial.

I haven’t met this friend; I know her only
through the letters we’ve exchanged
during the past several years.

This is part of what she said:

“I hope you don’t mind — I took the liberty of paying my respects to your Mother… attached is a picture of the homemade offering of two small roses we placed at her resting site. I also saw your father’s headstone and at one point stood in-between them and started my you don’t know me but story… and proceeded to tell them how we came to cross paths… what a lovely resting spot.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Spiritual Epic

Here for the record are some more observations on the life and testimony of an old friend of mine, Stephen Monroe. That testimony, of course, can be found in the tenth anniversary authorized print edition of my novel, A Listening Thing. The following note was written by Maryland writer, Curt Finch. From personal correspondence, I share it here with his kind permission:

I finished your book and what an amazing experience! As I was reading it, I was reminded especially of Emerson’s famous saying, “The ancestor of every action is a thought,” as I think Stephen, as a character, is like a man that time forgot, an optimist trying to survive in a dying world where thought, and its cousin common sense, seems to have flown out the window. Like Joyce and Dante, you understand that epics are often told in the quotidian, and I think A Listening Thing is a fine example of the spiritual epic, in much the same vein as St. Augustine’s Confessions or Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis. We are what life makes us (no matter how hard we beat against the current, the stuff of life always wins), and I think Stephen’s “conversion,” his acceptance of himself and the multitudes he contains, allows him to move past the day-to-day-drudgery of material concerns and give voice to the poet within. And for a writer, that’s what it’s all about.

A Listening Thing
Tenth Anniversary Authorized Print Edition

With new Preface & Afterword by the Author,
Extensive New Interview & Materials
from the Original Unpublished
& Online Editions

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-3-5
232 pages. 6x9. Paper. (2011)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

And be counted

In her infinite calm she hardly looked her age. Her skin was smooth and her mouth was held just so, as if she’d fallen asleep while trying to hold a sneeze, and the instant had turned into a century.

There were flowers all around, gracefully arranged. On a small table nearby were two pictures: a portrait taken during her senior year of high school, and a snapshot of her smiling on her eightieth birthday, secure in her home among cards and flowers and all the things she loved.

In her visitation book were the names of several old friends, people who had driven miles to pay their respects and see her one last time — who had left home, left work, and braved the traffic with that thought foremost in their minds. Little did they know that when we arrived after driving seven hundred miles from Oregon, their presence would still be felt in the room.

In the office, I signed papers and took care of matters related to her burial.

And then the time came for the lid of her casket to be closed forever, and the short journey across the street to her graveside.

The smell of newly cut grass arrived straight from my childhood.

For half an hour, there was a glorious general commotion as friends and relatives greeted each other and gabbed after not having met for many years. This sound she would have loved.

“I’m sorry we had to meet under such sad circumstances.”

“No,” I said, time and again. “This is beautiful, just as it should be.”

One cousin hugged me so hard he almost broke my glasses. I took them off to see if he’d twisted the frame.

Familiar hands slid the casket in place.

We were seated. The service began. She was spoken of kindly with reverence, remembered truthfully and without exaggeration for her patience, ability, unselfishness, and love. The eulogy I’d written was read. The soil once blessed, her three sons filled their right hands, and then emptied them slowly onto the lid, directly above her head.

The service came to an end.

The hubbub began again, more gently this time, softly, sounding both distant and near, as if more were speaking than were there.

In memory of my mother and friend, Laura, who passed away from causes related to Alzheimer’s disease at the age of ninety-one on the twenty-fifth day of September, in the two thousand thirteenth year. Peace.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Gazing at a painting
in a niche high above our heads,
I tell my father,

When we’re
on our knees,
the stars come out

And we marvel at this change
the master wrought,

His name long lost,

The surrounding bricks
of interest,

For red knows the best way
to and from our hearts,

Just as dreams like this
gently raise the dead,
then lay them down again.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Here I am

I still don’t own a cell phone, or whatever they’re called these days. The first time I laid hands on a computer, I was thirty-seven years old. I didn’t venture online until I was forty-five.

All through my growing-up years and well beyond, everyone I knew, I knew in person; and those I didn’t know personally, I knew by sight. When we met on the sidewalk, whether or not words were exchanged we acknowledged each other with a smile or nod. Such was life in my hometown.

Now I am fifty-seven. And while my existence is seldom acknowledged on the sidewalk, I am as ready as ever to look others in the eye, and to let them know that I know they are there. It’s a matter of common courtesy — and I mean that in the profoundest sense, because each day, each opportunity, could be our last.

These thoughts I trace to my mother’s passing — as I can most every other thought I’ve had, and action I’ve taken, these past few days. The day after she died, I was surprised once to realize that it had been only a day — so much I had done, and so many miles I’d traveled in my mind. It felt, without exaggeration, like a month. I had to stop and look at the calendar.

I know this scenario will be familiar to some, while others will grasp it through different avenues of their experience. But I think everyone will understand a dream I had last night, in which I dialed my mother on an old rotary telephone, and heard her laughing on the other end and saying she had company and was wondering what she should cook for them. For some odd reason I said, “Cabbage?” and with that the line went dead. When I was sure our connection was broken, I thought it best to go directly to her. But the way was difficult, through old buildings and along high railings and cliffs. Finally, in an elevator, my eyes opened and there the dream came to an end — except for the part of it where I now say, “Here I am.”

I’ve written her obituary. I’ve written a eulogy. I’ve composed a short ineffective verse for her little service booklet. I’ve made numerous calls, sent countless emails, signed papers, and spoken with helpful strangers. All that remains is a long out-of-state drive and her funeral — except, again, for the part where I look up and say, “Here I am.”

And I am just one of her sons, just one member of the immediate family. Each of us has traversed these last few days alone, together, while giving help and attending to details.

It’s beautiful, very much as it should be and must be. For, as my mother’s dear friend and mine, Kahlil Gibran, once said, The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. And indeed, this has been my experience going back a great many years.

May it also be yours — and I say that with all love and affection, and stand by you whatever your loss, joy, or travail may be.