Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hiding from the War

I hid from the war
behind the walls
of an Army compound
in Northern Iraq,
hearing occasional gunfire,
explosions, and
the constant drone
of gas-powered generators.

I hid from the war
in our concrete-encased clinic,
shooting hoops in the
shrapnel-scarred courtyard
or throwing the football
with a volunteered
enlisted soldier who had
better things to do.

I hid from the war
in my sand-bagged cell,
lost in my laptop of
photoshop manipulations
and the writing of poems
to feel connected
to my son turning two
six thousand miles away.

I hid from the war
singing karaoke on a couch
in the Commander's office
laughing, as a car bomb
detonated in the distance
and the black hawks
lifted from the tarmac
to retrieve what was left.

I hid from the war
until called to see a detainee
standing in his underwear
on an ice-cold concrete slab,
crying and shivering,
while I stood before him
in insulated boots and
wrapped in layers of warmness.

And I could no longer hide.


Monday, November 23, 2015

The Storm

When the storm comes,
the heart becomes a cave
in which to hide from danger.
When the storm comes,
the world closes off and
we feed ourselves on anger.
When the storm comes,
love grows cold and
all becomes a stranger.
When the storm comes,
Wisdom is a homeless girl
that cries and we harangue her.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Murderer

He was a murderer from the beginning, 
and he will kill your body and soul if he can.  
Do not partner with him or those with him.
Resist in whatever way you can, with humility, 
 with patience, and most importantly, with love,
a selfless love achieved only through action,
not always feeling it, but always doing it.
Your strength will grow, become death-defying, 
thoroughly destroying the work of him who 
was a murderer from the beginning.


Monday, November 09, 2015

baby ate him like a man

We visited our optometrist's office this weekend where there is a children's nook full of books and toys.  Anya and Elias decided to occupy themselves with building a castle out of blocks, working from opposite sides.  This kind of sibling simpatico is more rare than I'd like it to be, but an absolute joy to my heart when it occurs.

While they placed block on block I squeezed past them and into the nook.  I discovered a bookshelf that was hidden around the corner that is not visible from the waiting room proper.  On a middle shelf was an old weathered set of Childcraft books with an "annual" from 1973.  This placed the collection squarely in my early childhood and as I read the titles I felt the surreal sensation of time bending in my brain.

I pulled out a volume or two and flipped through the pages.  The images were vaguely familiar, but did not elicit any strong feelings.  Then I spied the volume "Poems & Rhymes" and I felt my heart skip a beat.  Every image on every page brought on a torrent of memories.  This was the volume that I'd spent the most time going through as a rambunctious boy.  It had held my attention and taught me the traditional poems and rhymes of youth.

One picture in particular has remained crystal clear in my memory since that time in the early seventies.  It was the Fishy-Fishy in the Brook poem.  It fascinated me because it was a real picture taken with a camera, not a flat illustration.  I wasn't sure how it had been made which was part of the fascination.  It had reminded me  of claymation films, like "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" that was on TV every winter.

In the late eighties I was a student at Indiana Wesleyan University and took a World Literature class with Mary Brown.  I was an avid reader and this class felt more like a fun college interlude than a course requirement.  Some of my classmates would brag about how little they'd read of the assigned literature which for me was like having a gourmet meal set before you and
thinking it was cool that you'd only eaten a few peas from the plate.

That first day of class Prof Brown had a handful of cutout goldfish that she was giving out as rewards for students being able to finish a poem/rhyme/lyric that was on the theme of "fish."  I secured my first fish by finishing a line from Dan Fogelberg's song "Longer."  A few fish awards later she recited the first half of Fishy-Fishy in the Brook.  I think mine was the only hand to go up for this one and that image from the Childcraft book came vividly to mind as I finished the line  "...Mommy fried him in a pan, and baby ate him like a man."


Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Autumn Years

In the Autumn years
full of hopes and fears
when the heart grows bold
with the ease of tears.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


When the tower appeared in the midst of the city, it was the homeless who made first contact.  The evacuations had begun almost immediately, but those who lived on the streets had their own favorite places to tuck themselves away for protection. These were magical places created of a necessity by paranoid imaginations.  They were abandoned and left to their own devices, hiding under bridges and in dumpsters.

A handful of days passed under a hard gray sky, but nothing happened.  The tower sat overlooking the empty city, impassive and brooding, like it had been there for a thousand years thinking its lofty thoughts.

Hunger and boredom eventually brought out the city's forgotten. Resources had become available in the form of abandoned stores and buildings.  It was a windfall of sorts, a close encounter of the scavenging kind.  They had been rejected by society and felt they had nothing to lose by approaching and even entering the alien structure. Some of them heard voices bidding them to do so. Solar Sam was the first to attempt it, and it is his story that I wish to tell.


Solar Sam beamed in the full length mirror, turning left then right to capture his appearance from different angles.  He was wearing a linen suit and panama hat procured in the empty clothing store in which he stood.  His long unkempt beard was gone, replaced by a goatee and mustache framed by smooth cheeks.  His hair flowed over his shoulders, clean and wavy.

It had been at least a few weeks since the tower had appeared and the city had emptied of its inhabitants.  He had hidden himself away in a cardboard recycling bin until the need for food and water forced him to return to the streets he knew so well, streets which now felt alien to him in their near absolute silence.

He had set himself up in a nice high-rise apartment with a view of the city that had never been available to him before.  A bird's eye view required money, to live high or fly.  The water and electricity still worked, though he was not sure how much longer that would be the case.  The first thing he'd done was eat his fill from the refrigerator, then take a shower and shave.  He could not remember the last time he'd been able to do these things in his own space without other people around.  A keen sense of wariness borne of equal parts street smarts and psychosis had assured that he remain unshowered and unshaved for long periods of time.

The tower sat not far off with its bulbous head visible from every room, craning its neck to peek through his windows.  He avoided those rooms as best he could.

Back at the apartment in his new duds he popped a cork from a wine bottle and took a swig.  A voice addressed him, "You are welcome."  He recognized the voice and did not bother to look around.  When the tower had appeared he'd headed for the bin without returning to the homeless shelter where all his worldly possessions resided in a canvas bag.  His medications had been in that bag and after a two-week lull the voices had returned right on cue.


The elevator waited patiently for Solar Sam.  It had no one to call it elsewhere and so, like an obedient dog, it opened to him immediately when he pushed the button.  As the doors slid open he heard music, "Blinded by the light, revved up like a Deuce, another runner in the night..."  He knew it was not his voices because those confounded things never sang to him.  It was a catchy tune and he found himself smiling for the first time in forever.  It reminded him of his childhood before mental illness had insinuated itself into his life.

He was well liked and well known in the homeless community of this city, but he never felt comfortable with this kind of familiarity if not pseudo-fame.  Keeping a positive outlook was a constant struggle, but it was an effort he felt kept him from the precipice of self-destructive thoughts.  He'd lost too many friends on the street to overdoses, some intentional and some not.   His struggle to connect and ease the suffering of others when he could was a rare attribute among those who tended to be self-consumed and self-medicated in their misery.  He suspected this was not a problem confined to street people.

The elevator door opened to reveal a woman facing him just a few feet away.  She was wearing clothing that was multicolored, layered and raggedy, her hair long and tangled.  Her bony fingers were covered with gaudy rings which she waved from her elbow like a metronome, her cracked face drawn up in a smile.

"Hey Solar Sam, you're lookin' mighty spiffy."


"Oh, hey Mary."  He looked around to see if there might be others, suddenly feeling silly in his clothes.  He took off his hat and fiddled with it, clearing his throat, "How have you been?"

"Oh, you know, wandering the streets and lookin' for trouble."

"That's good.  You always know how to find trouble, Mary."  He forced a smile.

It was a bit shocking to see another human being.  If he were honest with himself, he had grown to enjoy his solitude and Mary's appearance was a bit of an irritant.

"How you been holding up?" he asked.  He knew this would open the door for her to bury him in an avalanche of words, but he could not do otherwise.

"Have you visited the tower, Sam?"  She paused long enough to take in a quick breath and as he started to answer, she started talking again before a sound could escape his mouth.

"Mercy me, Sam.  That thing is huge.  Where did it come from?  I was in the park feeding my squirrels when it felt like a wall of wind hit me and there it was!  Next thing I know, the squirrels are gone, the people are gone, and I'm left alone starin' up at this thing and gettin' a crick in my neck."

Sam remembered where he'd been when the tower appeared.  He'd been on the third floor of an abandoned warehouse polishing off a fifth of gin in front of a window of mostly broken panes reaching almost from floor to ceiling.  He'd crumpled a large cardboard box to function as his recliner with a view of the city's skyline.  The skyscrapers formed a dark and jagged line as the sun rose behind them, painting lovely shades of pink over scattered clouds.

And then, there it was, a black spike dominating the scene.  It was half again as tall as the tallest building.  He remembered rubbing his eyes vigorously, sure that it was just an artifact of bleariness and alcohol.  It did not go away.  He stumbled up off of the crumpled box and staggered to the window where he stood swaying.  He felt his insides quivering as tears began streaming from his eyes and a pool of urine formed around his feet...

"Where'd you go Sam?  I lost you there for a second."

"I'm sorry Mary, but I need to be alone."  He walked past her and exited the building without looking back.  On the street, he tried to avoid looking in the direction of the tower but then the voice came again, "You are welcome."


His dad had been a tall beanpole of a man with a bulbous nose that was too red and too puffy from too much alcohol.  It was rare for his dad to be at home when he was awake and when he was, he sat alone in the basement, watching a small TV set attached to a wire that snaked up out of the window well, climbed the side of the chimney, and terminated in the base of a TV antenna on the roof tottering in its loose bracket.  His mom warned him not to go down there when his dad had been drinking, which was most of the time.  He typically heeded her warning but that particular night he had heard him laugh.  He imagined the sound was a sign of good will if not a good mood.  His dad was happy about something and he wanted to share in that.

He quietly made his way down the stairs and stopped halfway, peering into the flickering darkness.  "Dad?"

"Yeah, wadya want?" came a voice like a surly dog snapping at his heals.

He was afraid he'd missed his moment.  "Uh, how was your day?"

The vertical hold became unstuck and the picture on the TV began to cycle upwards.  He saw his Dad lean forward to whack the side of the TV and nearly fall out of his chair, "Goddammit!"  The enraged man who had been laughing only minutes before tromped up the stairs holding onto the handrail and passed over the boy as if he were not there.  He jumped up and followed the swearing and swaying man outside and watched him sit a ladder against the side of the house and make his way up to the antenna.

He was afraid his dad would fall and turned to go get his mom.  As he rounded the corner of the house, he heard one final loud curse, a moment of stillness, and then a sick thud.  He ran back around the corner and saw his dad lying on the ground, head tilted at an odd angle.  Above him the antenna dangled from the side of the house as a soft rain began to fall.  The frightened boy did something that he'd never done before.  He grabbed his dad and pulled him over into an embrace.  The body offered no resistance.


He felt a sort of emotional imperative compelling him to walk in the direction of the tower.  He responded by taking a wide circular route several blocks away,  moving in one block at a time with each completion of a circle.  In this way, he spiraled in little by little over the course of the day until, exhausted and foot sore, he stood at the base of the tower.

He faced a side of the tower that had not been visible from his procured apartment.  Its immensity could hardly be taken in at this close range.  A square opening the size of a garage door revealed a dark hollow interior.  Above it a translucent strip the width of the door ran up the side of the tower, terminating in the rounded structure near the top.  It was the golden hour and the light from the sinking sun shimmered up and down its length giving the appearance of a living being.

Solar Sam approached the door and stood just outside its frame.  From this closer vantage point, he could see that the scintillating strip was actually three dimensional with only one side visible to the outside.  The bottom side formed the ceiling of the room.  It too was translucent and the experience was like peering up from the depths of the ocean to the sparkling sun somewhere above.  He suddenly felt overwhelmed with it all and dropped his eyes to watch the rainbow of refracted light play on the grass at his feet, unsure of what to do next.  The voice came again, this time warmer and more resonant, echoing in the cube-shaped room, "You are welcome."

He stepped into the room and the world became fire.


Mary was watching Sam's progress from a distance, a little hurt that he'd blown her off.  It was unlike him to be so abrupt.  With so few people around she'd even entertained fantasies that they would shack up like Adam and Eve in the Garden, granted that they avoided the Tree of Knowledge that had been planted so unceremoniously in the middle of their city.  She hadn't figured on him entering the tower as part of the plan.  These thoughts evaporated when she witnessed him step inside the large opening.

His linen suit immediately began to glow and flutter, his hair flying up about his head.  Tendrils of light began to peel off him and rise into the column above.  Mary saw them ascend in a playful dance, like leaves blown up a tree trunk by a burst of wind.  Sam appeared to be unraveling and within seconds, he was no longer standing in the space under the tower.  The leaves of light swirled their way to the top of the tower and when the last one had disappeared the strip went dark and opaque.

Solar Sam had either lost consciousness or gained too much of it to make sense of the ascent.  He found himself standing in a room with a high domed ceiling encircled by windows looking out over the city far below.  He was naked but not naked.  A tall man also naked but not naked was waiting for him.  The man stepped forward and Sam wondered at how impossibly tall he was.  He felt small, like a child again.  The man leaned down and pulled him into an embrace which he did not resist.

"I've missed you, Sam."

"I've missed you too, Dad."


The green line spiked and then flattened out on the ICU monitor setting off a melancholy drone.  The man with the unkempt beard and sunburned face had been brought to the ER of this inner city hospital two weeks ago, but the damage done by the fall had proven irreparable.  Mary had been his only visitor and she was there when they pulled the life support.

She pulled a shawl up over her head and held it in place under her chin, stroking his matted hair and beard with her free hand.  "Such a lovely, lonely soul," she whispered.  "Go on home, my friend.  Go on home."

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Mermaid

I hear a mermaid and
a mermaid hears me.
She tells me her secrets
of the deep blue sea.
I tell her of my life with
a brother and a dog.
My Daddy takes a picture
and puts it on his blog.