Cliff Walk

There is a path in Newport, Rhode Island, named the Cliff Walk.  It stretches for three miles between rocky seashore and a string of grand mansions – architectural remnants of the city’s gilded age.

The mansions were of little interest to me.

What did interest me was the invisible stack of sandstone beneath my feet, neighbor to granite studded with pink crystals, and the view once had by wealthy aristocrats in their alcohol-drenched stupors, and staring dumbly at the sea, at a wave that came walking down its watery aisle like a bride before breaking like a pearl containing clouds.

A pair of children, speaking French, skipped to the edge of the cliff’s crown, seized the railing and fell silent, and at the same moment I noticed a small brown mouse, dead alongside the path.


These Rising Rivers

My heart moves so fast that it almost has me scrambling after it.  But no, we are connected – it can only run so far before it’s left with no choice but to wait for me, jerked to a halt, a dog reaching the end of its leash.

That said, once I’d seen you off safely and on time, I went back to the bed you slept in, still warm with the aliveness of your body, and I wept and wept.

The whole history of my life stood before me: a spiral, a cathedral, dirt road, river.  A sacred calendar, its entirety known only to me, only thought of as sacred by me.

I can withstand the sun and wind, I thought to myself.  I can withstand the intangible, the horror, the splendor.  But not this rain, these rising rivers – Oh Transcendent Energy, haven’t I seen enough rain?



Every day I make a list of things that need to be done, things that might slip through the fine mesh net of short-term memory.

Today, the list contained more items than I could possibly accomplish.  So I did what you might expect – I pushed it down into the folds of my left-hand pocket, tightened up my shoes and went walking instead, to space out and observe a planet that happens to be a perfect distance from this particular sun in order for life to exist and thrive.  I took along a pen and paper, because when you’re panning for gold, you never know what you might find.

Later, when I empty my pockets for the day, I’ll look over the list again, to see what must be transferred to tomorrow’s list.  Some items might no longer ring with such importance, and will simply be discarded.  And of course I’ll need to consider what standing I’m in with the relatives I failed to call, friends I didn’t message, professional contacts I never emailed, bills I didn’t pay, appointments I missed.

Then I’ll go outside and watch the last strands of milky light recede beyond the treetops, revealing steadfast Jupiter like a celestial anchor.  And a little ways over in the sky, the ember of Mars rocking in a luminous cradle.

And then, as if that isn’t enough, the fireflies will come out with their earthbound constellation of flashing lamps, and I’ll hear the neighbor cooking dinner through her open kitchen window.


A Measure of Grace

When you empty the wheelbarrow

of rain-wetted weeds in the spring,

when the seashells along the garden wall

inspire you to sing,

think then, old friend, of how we once were,

and how years have fallen at our feet.


When the world empties itself of me and you,

and our lifetimes dry up from their mornings of dew,

with the breath of the sun on the shimmering leaves,

remember then to say your prayers.


When the cat has his nap near the creaking porch-swing

and I’ve emptied the ‘barrow of earth in the spring,

I’ll think of you, fair weather friend,

and how there’s a measure of grace about you.


By day, a daydream ponderer who never gets his fill,

by night a barefoot wanderer who’s wandering still.

With my bamboo wind, rocks and rain,

what a lucky so-and-so I shall be.

Three Heartbreaks

The tigers kept to the shade, turned away from the onlookers and fascination-creatures on two legs.  They looked out through tiger eyes, thinking tiger thoughts.  Swish went their tails, occasionally, swish.  Primal dignity.

The elephant knew what I was feeling.  Her mind was lucid, comprehending.  With a heart greater and stronger than my own, she understood why I kept looking away, yet accepted her life with a gentle patience that, in itself, elevated the woes of humanity to something transcendent of shimmering grace.

As for the lion, he locked eyes with me.  “Why did you come here today?” he seemed to ask.  “I don’t come to watch you sleep, to watch you clean meat from the bones given you.  Go on now, do what I cannot.  Go back.  Go home.”