The Song

My father lies upon his bed in afternoon sun
Hands on stomach, fingers splayed as if still holding the oboe
Eyes closed, chest rattling his coda of half notes and half rests.

A year on, and my son sits in his cafeteria,
Holds the euphonium, breathes his first note.
Is that his own breath in that brass,
Or is he some new mouthpiece of my father,
Invisibly tweaking his embouchure
Adjusting his posture
Dilating his airway
That the Song might go on
Another verse if not forever?

And does my son hear the ancestral call
Of Wagner, fox hunt, shofar, didgeridoo
Back and back and back to the first
Who stood clad in the ram’s hide on a hilltop
And blew through something louder than his throat,
That the stars might know
We are here.


Cows. Who knew.

We all thought the end of days
Would be a flash and then
Encircling ash and nuclear haze
Would spell the end of man

Or maybe it would be a virus
Taking us out by billions
Returning Earth back to the reign
Of unfeeling reptillians

Who would have thought that in the end
It would not be a battle
But the apocalypse that brought us low
Would come from gaseous cattle?

A mushroom cloud would have been
A damn sight more dramatic
Than this quite lame extinction
From bovines aromatic.

I think that I can safely say
That even nuclear accidents
Would have been more fitting
Than death by heifer flatulence

Where in the Bible does it say
That Armageddon would be
A bunch of livestock breaking wind
And raising up the sea?

Such an epic history
Cannot have an ending
That is so very juvenile
And something so offending.

What can we do to stem the tide
Of this bacterial comeuppance?
Perhaps the only answer is
Bean-O in great abundance.

Angus, Hereford, Jersey
Charolais and Holsteins too —
Who knew that the Four Horsemen
Would actually say “moo”?

Can’t we invent a vehicle
Perhaps a fancy airplane
Or some efficient automobile
That runs on Elsie’s methane?

We can name it Taurus
In honor of the brutes
That threatened to end the world itself
With unceremonious toots.

Can all of civilization
Be wiped out by a toxin
That emanates astern the legs
Of volatilized oxen?

No, we cannot be done in,
This cannot be our parting.
The history of humanity
Can’t end with some cow farting.


For Time Is Short

And now, my sons,
Let us speak of weighty things,
For time is short.
Let us not speak of weather, but climate.
Let us not speak of fish, but whales.
Nor of celebrity, nor sport, nor even bodily health.

Let us speak of history, or better, mystery.
Let us speak of prophets and their promises.
Let us speak of what we see in clouds,
For these are visions, and visions are the future.

Time is short so let us turn from screens that filter reality,
And instead hurry to the forest to hear the owls echoing at dusk
And see the night wood sparkle with fireflies,
A galaxy writ low and close
That we might fly through it
With our feet on the ground

Time is short so let us climb the nearest mountain,
Not the highest,
And speak of nothing.
Our footfalls crunching out our purpose and meaning are enough.
Let us float down the widening river and submit to its pace
And surrender to its wisdom.

Time is short, so behold the arc of history,
Then seize your segment of it, and twist.
Do not be passive or soft or incurious,
But keep a fierce heart within a hardened chest,
And a restless mind within a bowed head,
That you might matter beyond your suburb,
And at the end of days the Maker might say
We were worth the effort.

My sons, let us speak of weighty things,
For I am dying.
As are you.
As are we all.
Oh my sons, time is short,
So let us live.
And when we speak,
Then let it be of the only wisdom:
Let it be of love.

What Grace Is

Under ancient live oaks
My son and I hang in hammocks
Opposite edges of the campsite
Like fruit,
His small green hammock having ripened
Into my double-wide red one
As if a time-lapse split-screen.

Two-thirty a.m.
And the ash still invisibly exhales
A feeble tendril of smoke between us
The gentle rain,
Barely more than mist,
Begins to fall.

Silently — I cannot wake the scouts or other dads —
I rise to sitting
Slip my feet into hiking boots like house slippers
Shuffle clumsily to him.
I move the camp chair that holds his sneakers
Under his tarp.
Now they will be dry for him
When he stirs in five hours.

It hits me, maybe for the first time,
What grace is:
It is all that The Parent does for us
That we sleep right through,
Softly snoring sweet oblivion
Under rain-heavy clouds.
Being spared that which we never even knew
Was threatening.
Unknown unknowns.
Dry tennis shoes.

Supporting Cast

Down with a sore back
And in need of my twenty-year doctor
I look for a number,
Conjoining my city with his name
The search engine returns a patient’s comment:
“Rest in Peace, Dr. Jackson. 58 is much too young.”

And just like that, he is gone.
I check the date and blink my disbelief;
He has been dead two years.
Didn’t he adjust me six months ago?
More than seven hundred days he lived unchanged
In the white noise of my consciousness but there alive as ever
Though odd I hadn’t gotten a postcard reminder:
“Take action, call Jackson”
Nor a call from a friendly but ever new receptionist
Inquiring after my health.
My mind suspended him in the interim, no less vivid,
Gently scolding me for eschewing regular maintenance
And only coming to him in pain.
Would not God say the same in soothing tones of concern?
Was I doing my stretches?
Was I building core strength?

I scroll down his obituary.
I never knew he loved music,
That he wrote and played as did I.
How would I know to ask?
Nor did he know me outside those
Semi-annual twenty minutes
And the twin data points
Of my desk job and family.
I was one of hundreds to him,
As he was one of hundreds to me.
With a random comment and the right volley,
Who’s to say we might not have been friends?
Good friends? Best friends?

How many others, members of my supporting cast,
Touch me in the eccentric revolutions of daily life?
Bus driver waiting patiently.
Barista whose name I almost have.
They are ever present but at arm’s length
My shyness or theirs
The fact of an economic transaction
Tamping down the potential of friendship.
The ubiquity of interaction
Numbing us to the glory of genuineness,
The disease of the city.
Selling out intimacy: Welcome to Costco; I love you.

And yet they are a comfort
Until I one day circle back in pain
To find one gone
And the prospect of friendship
Gone with the transaction
Neither knew was the last.

–for Donald Vance Jackson. Thank you.

Sleeping Together

7:08 a.m. 982 Express
Odd bouquet of soaps, shampoos, bodywashes, leave-in conditioners
Not an odor, but not a fragrance you’d purchase.
A red sun breaks the horizon.
The bus lurches off toward a microscopic downtown.
Bureaucrats, IT support, paralegals, receptionists
Hipsters having just finished their painstaking dishevelment.
We extract sweaters and windbreakers
Against the icy vents.
Capsule of humanity.
Glass and steel core sample of suburban America.
In silence we read tablets, phones, textbooks, programming manuals
Chip away at that novel.

Forty-eight squirming thought-bubbles vie for space
Above the seats and down the aisle:
Work worries, romantic speculation, political outrage
Fantasy football rankings, fervent prayer, X-rated daydreams, raw grief.

A boy and girl get on, college classmates.
The silence shattered.
He does not care to hush his voice
Or dial back his enthusiasm for her
Before forty-six eavesdroppers.
He strains to extend their conversation
Just one more volley,
Laughing uproariously at his own bland observations.
She responds just enough to spare him humiliation.
We others exchange bemused glances.
We know these people.
We’ve all been one or the other.

One by one we nod off to its ceaseless rocking
And the wheeze and whine of its engine.
To each a perfected technique:
I slump under my Yellowstone cap
One leans a temple against her window
Another’s head tilts back, mouth agape.
We sleep together
And dream the dreams of humanity,
At turns profound and nonsense.
The left and right lunging is one dreamer’s downhill slolem
Another’s tank combat flashback
Another’s sea epic.

I wake to the electronic bell,
Halting automated future-chick:
“Next stop Guadaloop … AND … twenty-fourth”
I pass the paraplegic, his chair ratcheted down
Thank the driver
Fling on my backpack
Negotiate the steps
With groggy feet.