Reluctant to Take

They say the streets are dirty
but you could eat off the sidewalks,
their names with z and k sounds,
the granite steps worn and shining
from the corn brooms they leaned on
beside the old stick chairs,
surveying passersby like invading soldiers.
My father used to lean on his rake that way,
his arms folded in a wool shirt, ankles crossed,
what was left of the farm in that pose,
the hay rakes and shovels of Ireland,
his hands callused but with a soft grip,
reluctant to take much into his hands
except the cigarette and the old rake,
the fallen leaves a ritual for him,
even when he couldn’t leave the bed
staring out the window,
the thoughts he had unspoken
until he’d ask how he looked
and I’d look away for answer enough,
and he’d say “if I weren’t sitting here I’d be fine”
as if only the pose made him ill,
if the rake were beneath him
brushing the broad maple leaves
that would keep him here and us together.
I’m almost as old as him now
finding my hand beneath my chin,
scratching my beard in the same way,
looking through the window to the gray sky
thinking if I weren’t just sitting here..
my hands not as calloused
but the same soft grip
reluctant to take too much
but wanting to stay,
to sweep the earth
and keep the thread alive.



Grandpa Mike and family


Like Rivers We Pour

The tiniest parts of us
are what appear,
stuff you can see
like clouds off the ocean
and big drop rain.
We open mountains,
dive in cold water
yet the spark of light
we give a name
is a glimmer
like snow melt
and passing leaves.
We show our faces
then are gone
and like rivers we pour.



Still I Need Darkness

I’m huddled in my cave,
a stick fire kindled
with a flickered flame
lighting the cragged walls;
outside the winter sky
blue black and full of stars,
layers of snow upon the earth,
ice covering the sleeping trees.
There is much to consider
before I cross the river,
thought and feeling like sap
waiting in the hidden root.
I hold your memory
beneath the blanket
of all that’s passed and gone.
I look out but stay within;
there is much to heal
and still I need darkness.



That Must Be Me

What do we really know
but a few days
with the traveling circus,
enjoying the elephants,
tripped up by the carneys,
in love with the girl in tights,
then the lights go down,
the wagons depart
and there’s only the stars,
the smell of animals
and someone new
that must be me.




Held Close Like a Talisman

We have rituals of innocence,
when we dress and undress,
how we lean toward each other in the night
and most of all how we’re still in the morning,
letting the quiet remain, the dark slowly fade
as we pull back the curtains looking east
to feel what may be coming
and see each other in that light.
We once saw our lives in negative,
thinking if we got the shading right
in our inner darkroom
we’d have life how we wanted
but after a while the abstraction fell away
and we had the simpler choices
of kindness and an open look,
no disguises, no giving with one hand
and taking with the other,
letting go the false sacrament
we’d learned to worship,
the idol gathering dust in some attic box
while we lend ourselves to each other,
your face a morning treasure
discovered in the dissolving dark
and held close like a talisman
while the light begins to gather.