Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Family Man

When my brother was discharged from the army,
he went to work in the engine factory in Rivertown.
He had wanted to be a hero to get a good wife,
but he had been just an ordinary foot soldier.

One day he went hunting. He crossed the fields
and went alone into the birch woods in the valley
and went up the mountainside into the snow
where a deer was below in the scrub on the ridge.

He tracked it in the snow down into the trees
and killed it in the brush in a berry meadow.
And he rested; then on his knees he skinned the animal
but disposed of the skinned flesh in a dry ditch.

He bundled the skin and, carrying it under his arm,
he marched toward home. He had not traveled far
when the skin unfurled and spread over him.
Inside were violent palpitations of darkness and light.

After a time he emerged out of skin and blood.
The struggle had been hard. He still worked at the factory.
Then he was enabled to choose a young woman
of the town who consented to become his wife.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Legend of a New Age

In the most distant field strode a great horse.
In the horse's belly a cell was impregnated.
The cell grew and became a human boy.
The boy thrived in the great horse's power.

Then a woman of the town was chosen
for it was time the boy come open.
She went alone into the distant field
on a green knoll rising from the salt marsh.

When the horse saw her, he lay on his side.
She severed his pale belly and in blood soaked arms
she drew the child unto her swollen breasts.
Then she wrapped him in a blanket and went home.

At the death of the great horse a mist came
and a powerful storm swept in from the ocean
while the ground heaved and gently enveloped him.
Then the rich built on this land great houses.

When the boy became a man he doubted,
he doubted his father and they fought terribly.
Even when the great houses covered the field,
it remained sacred and taught him to imagine.

He doubted everything and terribly he fought
but light laughter stole in like a horse.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Reflecting on Love

Her flesh was so neatly trimmed about her pale bones
and her clothes so fit
you'd think her angry.

Where did she bend to sit peacefully to think?

Perhaps some man held her,
raised her before she wanted
and made her cry?

But since she's straddled it
more than she has memory of
and dared to love
and come into her dusted house
a pregnancy
that has untrimmed her finally,
this child
sometimes startles her belly
and wakes her with suggestions
of the cold space...

Listen, Mother, her husband teased as he kissed her
in the good day, I married you for your curves,
but six months more of this softness will do me in.

She valued it to blush and giggle.
She tugged on his collar.

And when he left her safe in their blessed peace,
she waited for the baby to stir,
she read a book about child care.
And she waited.
And she thought:
what comes for me that I can ask enter,
if I am neither beautiful nor brilliant,
but love?

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Return

When my brother went up to the holy mountain,
I stayed on the farm with our herd of goats.
In his absence our goats became speckled,
and they were fat and rich with milk.

I used to study the horizon for a sign.
I wanted my brother to come back,
come back in a cloud of white light.
But he didn't come back.

For many years I lighted the incense,
and prepared the house. There was great love,
and all our goats were in order in the barn.
But my brother did not come back.

Our barn was rich with milk. Love was in the house,
and our goats were fat and rich with milk.
Then one day, weary and sick from searching,
lo, my brother came back. He came back!

He came back in a cloud of light.
The cloud was white and his face pale.
He was ragged and lean and pale.
He had been wandering and searching.

And then it became different. We struggled,
my brother and I. Love paled, became dark.
Our goats bowed down, trembled and died.
Their throats rattled and they died.

So my brother and I went up to the mountain.
I don't know who is tending our house.
Sometimes I see a herd on the distant plain.
They know not us, but they thrive. They thrive!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hitching the Durham Road

I'm walking in the lights of the road
out of town, past the factories in the night
the railroad trestle spanned.
I'm going back to Durham to the school
but I can't stop feeling
that I'm lost somehow.
When I came to the traffic circle,
dodging the angry headlights,
I crossed to the exit led to the Durham Road,
stood there,
and thumbed a beat-up Vw, finally.
I jumps in the passenger door.
There is nobody
but the man driving inside.
Stepping on it, pulling back out,
he says, “Where you going?”
His dark face glimmered,
wrestling with the shadows passing.
But his voice had a bright echo.
I had a time telling where I was goin:
my heart didn't want my tongue to.
Then he says, “I'm going down this road,
       but I'm tired of driving. Wish
       I could find somebody'd help me
       to drive. How'd you like to?”
I told him I would but where I was goin
was only a little way.
And he said, “I don't know where I'm goin.
What's goin on there?”
I said I didn't know, which I truly didn't.
He laughed and says, “I don't know how much farther
     I can go.”
The man was driving the fast lane.
At the last exit
before the interstate,
he let me out.
That was when I had to walk
because now I was covered
in the darkness on the road.
It curved right down
a hill through the trees
and beyond the bend came out
at the river where there was a bridge
I started to cross.
The river was swollen.
The currents swirled around the buttresses.
The music of a dark light was dragging me in.
I grabbed the rail.
Man, I was just hanging on.
Man, them currents sang to me.
A car pulls over and stops.
Somebody got out, I don't know who,
a teacher at the school.
He spoke to me kindly,
“Come with me. I'll give you a lift.”
Too often in my life I did what I was told.
He took me down the road
but I knew he would never
go farther than where he lived.
“You shouldn't stand there in the dark,” he says.
I told him I wasn't happy.
It was the simplest way I could put it.
“I'm sorry,” he says, “but you have to do your best
     the short time you have on this earth.
     You have to work hard.”
“But how can I know where I am going,” I says,
“until I get there?”
“There are principles,” he says.
I don't know; I got mad.
“What principles,” I says. “Prove it.”
“It is necessary,” he says.
He left me off where he lived,
which was what I figured.
But it was just a short walk to school.
The old halls were nothin,
they didn't have nothin to say to me.
But the roads.
They were like rivers.
They curved through the mountains
and across the plains
toward the light glowing
on the distant rim.

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Father Prayer

(Thanks to Henry Scott-Holland for a few of the lines. I have always loved this idea.)

Our father has set sail to another place.
Whatever we were to each other, we still are.
Call him by his old familiar name.
Wear no forced air of solemnity and sorrow.
But why should he be out of mind?
He is only out of our sight.
He is waiting for us.
Watch the ship sail. The ship fades on the horizon.
Someone shouts, "It is gone."
Gone where? Gone from our sight, that's all.
We think the ship is gone.
But just at that moment
another is watching the ship coming over the horizon.
Other voices take up a glad shout.
There is my mother shouting gladly for her husband.
This horizon is just the limit of our sight.
Our father has just landed in another place.
Live virtuously as he did.
I pray to follow him.
But now I must carry on.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Small House

How can I go into the big house?
My boots are always muddy from my work.
I have a little cabin behind the barn.
That is my house.

My boots are always muddy. I go into the big
house and I have to scrub them on the doorstep
and I have to scrape them and leave the mud
of my work outside.

Inside they become angry because I track up
the carpet, and I take off my boots
and leave them in the doorway.

It is complicated. It wearies me to think
about it. My hands are dirty, too.
It is my life, my work.
They are angry at me.
Why should they be angry at me?
So I stay outside, and I live in the cabin
behind the barn.

I have forgotten,
I have not entered in so long,
who lives in the big house?
Is anybody at home?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Better Backwards

Face this truth, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee, where is there anyone on this planet who understands sin? Do you know what you are doing? Are you sure you did enough? Is what you are doing in your life a sin? When you are dangling in life a few seconds before death how many sins will you have to count? Who says you won't end up in Hell? Most people seem dumbfounded. Are you sure you know where you are? People imagine themselves in a dream or a nightmare in which everything is made up. They imagine that they will be the last generation on this planet, so they dig holes in the Earth, then they deny the obvious. They imagine that all is well if it is in their interest. And even more ridiculous they look to the future for progress! Sometimes when I watch them haranguing on the TV or on the street I could swear they are all drunk. But I once met a man deeply concerned about sin. It bothered him and tormented him no end up and down his daily works. He used to be a school teacher, then he went to work at the chicken processor on Sleeper Street. He didn't like the kids, then he worried about them night and day. His name was Norman Dubrovski, though they called him Chicky. You cannot deny that I knew him. I will now follow him, Chicky, and we will follow him abroad on Everett Avenue in Chelsea, Massachusetts on this Sunday morning.

     Chicky has risen early from the bed of his dear wife of many years, May Janney, whom most people call Ma. Ma Janney, born in Caribou, was a Mi'kmaq indian. Her cheekbones were high and her skin was brown as the ancient people. They were a well known couple in Chelsea.
     Chicky has read the Sunday “Globe”. He reads the papers in detail each day because he is interested in the world. He reads books too, though keeping his distrust in them to himself. Now he has gone out into the morning sun to wander about in this land of numerous opportunities. He is neatly dressed in sport coat and slacks, and he walks with unhurried gravity. A tan Panama hat protects his balding head. Now he enters Polaski's Bar on Everett Avenue in Chelsea, Massachusetts. (This was before the great Chelsea fire roared through that neighborhood. The fire started in the waste paper plant on Sleeper Street, and the Polaski building was one of the first that it consumed.) Polaski, his friend of at least thirty years, has fallen asleep on the stool behind the bar. Polaski is a rugged, square-shouldered old man, broad like a barrel. He nods off with a serene expression on his face. His face is round like a button, and his little red nose sticks out dryly. Chicky walks around the bar and pours himself a glass of beer from “the udder”. Polaski wakes up slowly from the disturbance.
​     “What are you doing, ya nut?” Says Polaski. (Actually he used a Polish word whose meaning nobody is very sure of. But I think it means “nut” or “shithead”.)
     And Chicky says, “Shithead yourself, you old bassud. I'm happy. It's Sunday, no work, no church, no God: nothing is everything.”
     “Idiot!” Says Polaski, “You're going straight to hell the way you talk.”
     “If it's on Sunday, I'll be happy. On Sunday no work in Hell. How can there be work in Hell on Sunday?”
​     This mysterious question bemuses old Polaski. Then he grumbles, “Work in Hell at all? No work? What is it to be happy? Retirement! I'm sick of the smell of liquor. I'm sick of the sudden appearance of bassuds like you, my friend of too many years.”
     “The way things are going, Polaski, you old fool, you'll never be able to retire. They dare you to get sick, never mind retire.” Chicky snorts comically, and laps the foam off his glass of beer. Then he says, “Death is interesting though. I'd settle for death. It's certain, at least, while everything else is up in the air, and half the time no rhyme or reason to it. God, who doesn't exist, made a big mistake when he had us born young to go out into the world and get old and retire. Wouldn't it have been better if we were born old? Think of the eternal nightmare of kid flimflamming we would have avoided! Think of the sins that would come into our eyes in such a way that they could be avoided, as we advance backwards into the womb!”
     “Go home to mother?” Polaski wondered. He raised his eyes and appeared to think. But maybe he wasn't amused either, because Polaski had seen too much to theorize about anything unnecessarily. It certainly was an odd notion, this of Chicky Dubrovski, butcher of vast numbers of chickens. What could it mean?
​     “Sure. Advance backwards into the womb, then backwards farther into the space of the great circle. Get taken up into the great circle. Go round in a big confusion, of course, and at the top of the great circle you come to heaven, in which is God's digs. Now, you will have to listen carefully and consider, if you have any consideration left. For a long time the souls...they have become souls after having gone backward into the womb and farther backward, as I say into the great circle; then they are taken up into the great circle, and the great circle takes them to, as I say, first they go back to the womb, then they go to heaven. And that is the truth. All the souls go to heaven first. Makes sense to me. And do you know why they go to heaven first? Even Hitler went up there first, just like FDR. In fact Hitler, the old fart, was given the best treatment you could imagine. He was greeted by God just as God will greet you, you old bar dwelling custodian of lusty and drunken revelries. And do you know why God bestowed so much of his attention on the soul of Hitler? Because after a time, a few days, months, years or whatever, God says to him, which they've actually become pretty good friends during this time...”
     “Of course, mister know it all.” Polaski got up from his stool. He was wide awake now. There were glasses to wash. Polaski grumbled, running water to wash the glasses in. He was as a wrestler before heaven, cunning and practical; no student of fantastical notions. “Hitler was...” Polaski did most of his cussing in Polish. In Polish he must have known quite a few cuss words. “Someday I will tell you how it was. I know a thing or two about this, mister.”
     “I know, I know, but listen to me, listen to me carefully, I have something to say about this that will interest you. Now this soul, Hitler, for the souls retain their names, that's the only thing they retain, since he was evil, could not have been happy, for in this better world I have thought up he was forever living his life backwards. He was going backwards forever through his sins, backwards eternally into ​the cradle and backwards into the loving arms of an innocent young mother. Could you imagine the nightmare of guilt? As he was doomed to look upward into the innocent eyes of his loving mother after all the shit he had done? Think of it, companion of numerous infamies! The thought brings to one palpitations of the heart, just to think of it. I once stole a quarter. As I live my life backwards, the way it should be in my perfect world, I would have to look in my mother's dear eyes and confess to her, 'Mother, I once stole a quarter from a beggar.'”
     “Would you mind going elsewhere to disturb some other person? All in all, I am a working man.”
     “Polaski, listen and take me seriously. You and I have, well, how many days do you think we have left? Might be one, might be a thousand. Take Hitler, for example, got to get this bullshit straight before we kick off.”
     “What do you know about Hitler, you sorry, suffering, wandering dust heap that was mistakenly put on two legs?”
     “Could have been anyone, you hump-backed, over worked specimen of animal misinformation, not just Hitler, who is evil. But just take Hitler for an example. Polaski, what do you think happens when Hitler leaves God's side? God says, 'Ta, ta, old buddy.'?”
     “You're asking a man who's washing dishes what he thinks happens around heaven?”
     “Why the hell not! You work for a living. You've made your own way. Did you ever stab anybody in the back? And even if you did, so what? Remember, you're living your life backwards. Eventually you've got to face the womb. And the eyes of your mother will say, I guarantee you, 'Polaski, did you study about God and man?' Can you imagine the guilt you'll feel if you didn't? It will be horrible. So dishwasher man, you've got no choice.”
     “But no man lives life backwards, as you say,” Polaski argued. “We go forward, always forward. We progress forward toward a dubious future.”
     “Never mind that. That's another question. All this stuff about the future is an illusion. I have already told you why, but you did not listen. But now listen to this! God has said to this fellow we were talking about, this Hitler fellow, 'Ta ta, brother.' And he sends him off on the second leg of his adventure. Remember, he has left God's side, and everything they say about God is true, His majesty, His wisdom, His benevolence and gentleness. So off Hitler goes. My, it is a skid down the hill that the criminals are always talking about. All the way to the bottom where he begins to come to the burning swamps, the bleak black nightmare infested rain forests that are on the outskirts of Hell. Then we come to the image of Satan, and then nothing truly is as it seems, and so forth. Souls afire and eating each other. Need I say more? Too much energy has been wasted in description already. But that's not the point, old Polaski, my friend. The point is he has just come from God's presence. So first he has come back to the womb burdened heavy with his sins, and ​confessed to his mother's eyes, blinding her, I might add, then he has gone around in the great circle, then he has left God's presence for this. Think about it. Now that's punishment!”
     “Well,” says Polaski, thoughtfully ceasing for the time being the washing of the glasses, “I imagine that would be worse than bad. No barrooms in hell? No consolation at all?”
     “You've got it. That's exactly it! I tell you, not one in a million would see the world truly enough to ask such a question. Ask a brilliant professor of philosophy what he thinks about Hell? He'll ahem and carry on ridiculous without a clue, then he'll deny Hell, and do you know why? Because he has learned to hate. When you're living life backwards, what you see is what has already come to be. In other words the end comes to you before the beginning, when you were in your prime inventing all sorts of silly reasons to do anything. But that is my perfect world, not the real world. In the real world, all odds teach you to learn to hate. These so called great thinkers make hate feel like wisdom. That's their thing, how they get by in a world where anything goes. But in my more perfect world you have to proceed with it, take it with you straight into the womb. All that hatred, all that evil you have yourself made in this world. The horror of it. But not you Polasky, you saint among men. You ask me about barrooms in Hell, consolation! Why should you hate what has already come to be? What a futility! But if you don't care about anything, why should you care about Heaven and Hell? Just deny them both. But you, my friend, you're preparing yourself already, if worst comes to worst, to serve your comrades even in Hell.”
     “I must admit, my last friend of half a dozen,” Polaski said, “you're ideas about what'cha'ma'call it, the great circle, make a kind of strange sense, sort of, and your man Hitler certainly does get his. But in my ignorance if I may ask you this one simple question?”
     “What is your question, laughing friend of ten thousand in despair?”
    “Where do the souls come from?”
    “Minted. Newly minted in a factory several light years northwest of Paradise. And there is a certain number given over for recycling, too, with the owner's permission, of course. But that is another long story.

Yes, I am sure you will agree, Chicky was a man deeply concerned by the possibilities of sin. To wit, I have described his resolution. Though this theory of Chicky Dubrovski may seem confusing, in his life he pondered much on it and resolved many of the few confusions and loose ends. And this I present to you, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee, is an absolutely true story and I will swear to it on a stack of Bibles ten stories high. Although life is lived to the future and not the past, one day whether in heaven or hell, you will meet your dear mother, and you will have to answer to her eyes: “Child did you study about man and God beyond your self-interest?” This I promise you. The anguish if you did not will be worse than the anguish of a thousand hells.