Monday, August 18, 2014

When We were Holy

When we were holy
I was just a kid.
The preacher pranced
on the camp meeting stage
in a building so large it
resembled Noah's Ark
left upside down to dry.
Emotions came in waves,
washing over us as we
sat passively on long
benches of wooden slats,
like a multitude of life boats
bobbing on a troubled sea.
His voice rose and fell,
whispers and shouts,
a Bible flopped open
in his raised palm
like a dead bird.

When we were holy
a young man ran the aisles
leaping and whooping with abandon.
An old man shuffled along
shaking a hanky over his head,
his eyes closed and tears
running down his cheeks.
The women in long dresses,
hair up in buns or beehives,
fanned themselves furiously
in the late summer heat.

When we were holy
the power to see other's sins
was granted to us,
tell tale signs to distinguish
sinner from saved.
We were not like them,
the Bible told us so.
We traveled to church
three times a week
secure in the knowledge
of our personal salvation,
even as our hearts
withered in our homes,
hidden behind drapes of denial.

When we were holy
I was just a kid.

Monday, August 11, 2014


The wind brings children's voices
caught in the filter of leaves and
dropped into my lap under this tree,
like bruised and over ripe fruit.

They rot in a melancholic disposition,
remembering the powerlessness
of being small and frail amongst
a host of unscrupulous giants.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Vienna After Hours

It was supposed to be a day trip into Vienna from Bratislava by train, but it didn't quite work out that way.

I'd taken a bus from Paris to Bratislava the week previous to visit my best friend from college, Shane, who had moved there after graduation the year before.  He had hooked up with some other idealists from our school and was providing educational resources (read: English lessons) for local college-aged kids out of a couple of rooms at the YMCA (or "em-ka" as it was called locally).  I'd spent a week or so in London, then the same amount of time in Paris before realizing my limited money supply was dwindling at an alarming rate.  It was the summer of 1994 and Eastern Europe was only recently out from under Communism making it very much on the affordable side of things.  My plan was to flee there and regroup for a few weeks before any further travel plans were to be made.

My arrival at the Bratislava bus station was made memorable by an elderly babushka I passed on my way into the men's restroom.  As I stood using a urinal I  heard her enter the room and start rummaging in a closet about ten feet behind me.  This made me uncomfortable and so I finished my business quickly and headed for the exit.  I was immediately cut off from leaving by the babushka who now had a broomstick in one hand and the other extended towards me, palm facing upward.  She was saying something to me and I just looked at her in dumb surprise.  Thinking she might be mentally ill, I attempted to go around her.  She immediately cut me off from the exit and started yelling while poking her hand at me.  It dawned on me that she was very likely the restroom custodian and that this is how she got paid, so I fished some coins out of my pocket and placed them in her hand one at a time until she was satisfied and let me pass.

So, the day trip.  Shane and I swept into Vienna on the early train planning to wander the city all day and catch the last train back in the evening.  The wandering part went according to plan.  I remember visiting St. Stephen's Cathedral, promenading through spacious parks , and posing with an imposing statue of Goethe out of feelings of guilt that "Faust" was the only assigned work in my college World Literature class that I had not read to the end.  I seem to recollect the devil was involved in a wager of some sort and a cat figured into it, but I'm not wholly sure about the cat part.  I may be conflating it with Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita."  I remember the buildings being old and tall, but not too tall, with carved stone facades.  I couldn't afford the pastries that Vienna is famous for and may have even found a McDonalds to eat at for lunch, fer shame.

So, the day progressed and the evening arrived with us making our way back to the train station only to find we'd missed the last train to Bratislava and no accommodations were found to soften the blow.  Having been in similar circumstances on previous misadventures, I was a little miffed at Shane but not wholly undone.  I knew it was going to be a very long night with a fair bit of unpleasantness due to a chill in the air and no sleeping bags.  Not to mention the fact we'd spent the entire day walking through the city and now were sore and tired.

There were some other young international traveler-types milling about the station for a time and we took advantage of the opportunity to talk with them, sitting indian-style in a loose circle, bumming cigarettes from one another to pass the time.  The number of people and passer-throughs began to thin and eventually we were forced out of the station by security.  We found some benches in the back where the buses pull up and tried to get some sleep.  There were a few others with the same idea who appeared to be of the local homeless variety.  Just as I was starting to drift off I was tapped on the shoe by a baton.  Two uniformed men were waking everyone up and asking for tickets.  No ticket, no bench.  Shane and I gathered our things and slunk away, tired and dejected.

This was "wandering the city", part two.   By this time it was well past midnight and I had caught a second wind.  I told Shane to sleep and I would keep watch.  He found a patch of grass by some bushes beside the wrought iron fence of a large park and settled in to sleep.  I sat on a low stone wall that lined the sidewalk about twenty feet from Shane's prostrate form and pulled out a paperback to pass the time.  In those days I had a book as an almost constant companion.  These days I typically whip out the smart phone when I have unoccupied time.  Back then it was a book in a cargo pocket.  That night was almost twenty years ago to the day, but I'm nearly certain it was Dostoevsky's "The House of the Dead."  I guess reading about the privations of a Siberian prison gave me some perspective as I sat there shivering.

I don't know how long I was there reading under the street light before I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  I glanced up and saw a dark figure coming down the sidewalk a good way's off and  headed my direction.  I chose to be nonchalant about it and just pretend to read until the person passed me by.  As he came closer I could tell he was moving at quite a clip and what appeared to be a black overcoat was flapping around him.  As he approached where I was sitting I could hear him muttering to himself.

He stopped directly in front of me and I found myself looking at his  black boots over the top of the book that lay open in my lap.  I looked up not knowing what to expect and saw a weathered man likely in his upper forties with a large scraggly looking beard.  He said something to me in German and I just gazed into his face, uncomprehending.  I then noticed the unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.  I instinctively reached into my pocket, pulled out some matches, and struck one.  He cupped the flame with his large hands and lit his cigarette.  He said, "Danke" and then headed off once again into the night, leaving me with doubts that the incident had even occurred.    

When the horizon finally began to glow a pale pink, Shane and I headed back to the train station and he bought tickets for the next train to Bratislava which was not to arrive for another few hours.  We were so exhausted we made our way back to the benches we'd been evicted from earlier and laid down to sleep.  I was once again awakened by a uniformed man tapping my foot with his baton.  I was so tired I didn't even open my eyes, but pointed in Shane's direction and said loudly, "Shane!  Show him our tickets!" and rolled back over and fell asleep.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Divine Liturgy

"Blessed is the Kingdom..."
and the ship that is the
ark of salvation slips its
lines and embarks on a
timeless journey through
storm-tossed seas
of deep mystery and
translucent creatures
whose luminous eyes
frame mouths full of silence.
Incense rolls out over
the water and envelops
the candle-lit vessel
pulsing and floating
like a numinous cloud
on the eternal now.
Angels, winged and
terrible in their beauty,
circle the ship crying,
"Holy, holy, holy,
Lord of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth
are full of Thy glory."
The Father's protection
and the Mother's embrace
are made palpably present
through the five senses,
a gentle jostling of living icons
in line for bread and wine.
The ship returns to the
shores of time and
the passengers disembark
wide-eyed and blinking,
cup of coffee soon in hand.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Heartbeat of the World

De Profundis

Floating on the surface,
surrounded by the detritus
of unbridled passions
and quiet indifference,
burned by sun and
buffeted by waves.

Even so,

there are moments
of moonlit uncertainty
when I feel the
call of the deep.

Breathing slows
and deepens in
anticipation of the
rare dive,
fear and awe,
a beckoning from
what lies below.

A kick splash
signals the descent
into utter darkness,
enveloped by the
stillness of the
mother's womb,
hearing the heartbeat
of the world,
feeling the brush
of impossible creatures
traversing unknowable spaces.

A bone-crushing
melancholy wells up,
my weakness
drawing me back
to the surface,
where I once more
find myself bobbing
amongst the
litter of my life.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Heart's Eye

Beauty blooms 
full for 
the heart's eye* 
to see.

* ὁ νοῦς