On This Umbilical Earth

Gratitude and I had an argument, then went walking together, that morning when I felt a kinship with those turtles sunning themselves on a log.

The wisdom of not being industrious truly belongs to them, but I picked up a strand of it as if by osmosis or magnetism.

To cast aside all that seems necessary at a given time – a choice not to be confused with squandering.

Given, as is all our time.  Every scrap of it a shining gift, a new blessing, another last chance to take up a little space, to take up some room

on this umbilical earth.


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?



You never know when you might see yourself in the mirror – not glance, not look, but see – and what once seemed solid appears translucent.  What once looked like perfect strength, by common definition, now strikes you as fragile.

The cup you are drinking from slips out of your hand, deconstructing at your feet.  Not bothering to collect the broom and dustpan, you pack the car.  You pack the car lightly and go.

You take everything they thought they knew about you, and you take every last little scrap of how they think you should be, of who they think you should be, and you just burn it.

Holding the gray-white tresses of ash in the cradle of your upturned palm, you blow.

Window down, foot on the pedal.


The Other Side of Years

You look so much like she did,

I cannot stop watching.

Mysterious, sweet, a little ragged,

preparing coffee the same way,

tilting your head the same way.

Are the gods throwing dice?


To think it began the way it did,

only to end the way it did,

like a pilgrimage

or the red leaves of October.

How we felt,

who we were,

how you spoke to me

with the wind among the trees,

how I changed.


What it led to

after all this time,

altering the lives of others,

the ripples of our choices

still in motion,

the notions of the heart

still revealing terrible lessons.


The Middle Way

May we not lose courage, may we open the flower of our own nature.  If we go or if we stay, may we find the Middle Way.

May we overcome contradiction without trying to resolve it.  May we feel what we’re feeling without needing to dissolve it.

Everything I thought I knew is just a stroke of brilliant blue, baptized by the earth and clouds.  Sparkle in my blind eye flatters, sightless seeing all that matters.  Every moment amazes once you’ve learned to sing the praises.

Wood and water, stone and leaf, time’s a terribly quiet thief.  World turning, changing me, all that I will ever be is sea and stars, primordial soup, tattoos and scars, then bones, bare bones, among the sleeping broken stones.

May we trust in gratitude, learn compassion, seek forgiveness.



Big Bad World

It’s easy to feel grateful when things are going well.  Much harder when things are unraveling around you.   I recall trying for gratitude when I was 17, but it was tough to really feel it after losing my mom, who had basically been my best friend growing up.  I went to high school in a town comprised of a K-thru-12 school and a rundown bar, about an hour’s drive from the Oregon coast.  My mom passed away just as I was finishing my junior year, and I went to live with my dad in the city that summer.  Away from my friends (all three of them), I turned 17 and began my senior year in a school whose halls were so long I had to squint to see the opposite end.  “It sucked” would serve as a good in-depth summary.  I donned a black trench-coat and roamed the streets of Portland in the rain with my earphones cranked, a flask in my pocket, and a cigarette hanging from my teen-angst lips.

To live in northwest Oregon, where I grew up, is to have an understanding of rain in your bone marrow.  But I was used to that.  Somehow I pulled through until graduation, when – eager to start my life – I rushed across the stage and collected my diploma.  How I was going to start my life, I had about as good an idea as any teenager who didn’t want to go to college – none.  I hiked part of the Oregon Coast Trail with my best friend from the sticks, and then I just bailed.  My hair was getting past my shoulders and I had my tie-dyed Moody Blues shirt.  I’d read all about hippies and had a hippie upbringing so, predictably, I found myself walking along the side of the road with my backpacking gear, a hatchet hanging from my waist, and my thumb out.  I didn’t give a damn that everyone said the days of hitchhiking were long gone – I was gonna do it anyway, and see where I ended up.

A guy named Mike, in his late twenties, slowed his VW bus to pick me up.  Mike was from Stockton, California, and had hit the road after having a nuclear meltdown with his wife.  I hopped eagerly into the clunky seat two inches from the almost-flat windshield.  He fired up a joint, handed it to me, and thus began our “bromance”.

We traveled together for three weeks or so, doing odd-jobs to make enough cash for food and gas.  We went to these amazing hot springs in the Cascades east of Eugene and helped some dude drink his home-brew…until a cop showed up.  Note to self: never drink home-brew in a hot spring for longer than ten seconds.  We crawled reeling from the spring in the dark while the cop shined his flashlight in our eyes.  I’m pretty sure I received a fine that I never paid.  Who the hell knows.

From there, we wound our way to Crater Lake, around southern Oregon and down into northern California.  We lived out of his bus for a week outside of Eureka, out on the south jetty with a bunch of other vagabonds, eating government peanut butter and listening to Crosby Stills and Nash.  Finally, he returned to his wife, and I went on to San Jose, where I spent a night behind a Denny’s up in a tree with enormous limbs.  How many trees are there in San Jose?  Sometimes I think that might have been the only one.  It sure felt like the only one at the time.

I rode the BART into San Francisco and bummed around a while, deciding I wanted to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge.  A cop stopped me and took away my hatchet.  “You can’t be walking around here with that,” he scolded me.  I walked across the bridge, wind blowing against my face.  At the other side was a viewing area.  I chillaxed there for an hour or so, and wouldn’t you know two deadhead girls appeared and we started talking.  They had partied the weekend away in the city and were headed north.  A few minutes later I was riding in their back seat listening to American Beauty, on the way to Cave Junction, Oregon – their hometown.  I spent at least a night and a day with them, but then comes a hole in my memory.

The next thing I remember, I’m swollen with shame, calling my old man.  I ask him if he’ll buy me a bus ticket to come home.  It’s out of my system, I say, I’m not quite ready for the big bad world.  He buys me a ticket and I go home with my tail temporarily tucked between my legs, where I end up getting a job in a restaurant and sign up for community college on the first day of the rest of my life.




Side Effects

Your life is no longer insulated. There’s a draft getting in through the creaky floorboards. Sleep eludes you like a hunted animal. You are in someone else’s body living someone else’s life in someone else’s house. You are a mess in the corner of a room. People do not tread carefully. They stampede like caribou, busting up hearts and paying no attention. They do not notice. The open heart gives freely and is butchered ten thousand times. How to keep it from closing?

Every-day-is-just-the-same blues smear soot on your face in a not-beautiful way. What might have been is hidden away beneath stones of circumstance. The stones are too heavy to lift, and you wobble like a coin that has finished rolling. Dig for broken dreams or turn and walk away?

A mouse takes advice from the nearness of a cat. An egg likes its toast. The waitress rose at 4:30 to work the morning shift, serving breakfast to sweethearts and pricks.  The man who smelled of wet dog ordered pancakes.  It’s only time, it doesn’t matter, a steady climb, a pitter-patter of rain upon the windowsill, singing of a whippoorwill. What’s all the fuss about?