Friday, September 7, 2018

The Catfish King

[Written in June 2016 and submitted to that year's Maria W. Faust sonnet contest.]

Gray catfish, you who probe the waters deep
With barbels flung across the silted floor
What morsels do you find? What tastes sublime
Delight your gustatory sense, and bring
You memories fond of great repasts of slime?

The muck wherein a sullen worm may sleep
May carry hints of shrimp, of albacore,
And echo days, when in your piscine prime,
None dared to challenge you, a mighty king,
Who ruled a watery empire maritime.

Yet empires fall to dust, and you, once king,
Are now as Lear, besmirched with mud and grime;
A lunatic, who once made choirs sing,
Who now meanders, lost, at dinnertime.

Of mice and rocks

[First published on 2017-04-02 as @Maud_Pie_poet in 3 connected and numbered tweets.]

Place at your left hoof
A rock.
Place at your right hoof
A mouse.
If you close your eyes for just a minute,
Which of these will remain?

The mouse has hurried away
Eager to feed
Eager to breed
Eager to live life quickly
Before the claws and the teeth
Bring life to an end

But the rock
Waits at your left.
It will see billions of mice
And millions of ponies
Before it becomes dust.
Listen, then, to the rock.

Rock face

[First published 2017-04-07 as @Maud_Pie_poet in connected tweets]

Some days I am flinty, standing tall
Dark and hard. My obsidian face
Reflects your gaze
I am impenetrable.

Other days, I flow;
A windblown dune
Whose shape and location
Will not be the same tomorrow.

But today
I will be a canvas
Of newly dried sediment
Still moist and impressionable -

If the sandpiper skitters across me
I will feel his touch
And capture his passage,
for a time,
In hieroglyphic footprints.

If you happen to pass
Before the tide rises to wash them away
Please, send me a translation.
I do not speak Sandpiper.

Smoky Colts

[Written 2018-09-07 in reply to a cartoonist who portrayed our San Diego 1968 high school mascot, the Crawford Colt, as a pot-smoking hippie horse of a type that would have more likely been found in the San Francisco Bay area at that time.]

Horse of many colors,
wreathed with smoke that issues from
a controversial "weed"
while your one bridge burns behind you:
you are but a fantasy
of what our Crawford might have been
if "Diego" had instead
been a "Francisco" farther north.

Yes, our mascot frolicked here
in fields of fragrant grass,
but chewed and swallowed,
not inhaling.  Did we stronger grow?
Or did we too in later years
adopt that pony's happy grin
and wave a peace sign while enjoying
transcendental bliss?

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Black and white

When I was young, I saw the world
with one binary eye
in which all things were simplified
to right or wrong,
up or down,
aligned or unaligned,
ordered or di so rd er ed,
logical or emotional.

I'd roll a car window
either fully up
or fully down;
any position in-between
would make me feel uneasy
like a task left incomplete.

The same was true of lane changes.
I preferred to signal the change, and then
quickly jump to the new lane
rather than glide.

Likewise, success and failure
were absolutes, far apart.
Anything less than a total success
was a nagging failure
which demanded either a perfect fix
or a deep burial.

When my younger brother and I,
just children,
were given kits to be assembled,
just so, to make them work,
I finished mine and then I offered
to do my brother's too
not seeing that
the object of the kit was not
just to produce a working toy,
but to instruct and then reward
the student who succeeded.

Besides, I was certain that
I could do a better job;
I viewed him as unqualified
to do the task, and told myself
that it was right to save him from
the sadness that I knew he'd feel
when his attempt did not succeed.

He let me do the work
but my result did not conform
to my exacting code
that tolerated nothing less
than perfect operation.

I was crushed,
and felt enormous guilt
for having ruined his new gift
(although he really didn't care).
To fail was bad enough
but to destroy his property
was for me unpardonable,
a sign that I had overstepped
my bounds, and had,
in my enthusiasm,
damaged something valuable.

Those same feelings engulfed me
years later
when I tried to perfect the alignment
of my own toy telescope.
Instead I misaligned it;
it produced a double image
that I could not correct.
I put the toy away
and did not open it
until long years had passed;
until the pain had dulled.

Later I confessed these things
to a therapist who diagnosed my ills
and tried to help me change the way
I saw the world.
His medication helped me cope
but our discussions did not change
my attitudes about myself
and how I felt
about authority;
about responsibility.

It's not surprising that my views
determined my career.  When shown
in school a demonstration of
a small machine that, on its own,
counted up in binary
zero zero
zero one
one zero (it carried the one!)
one one
I was enthralled.
Seemingly alive, it knew
how to count from 1 to 10
and signalled its accomplishments
with lights that accurately indicated
zero or one
with no grey areas in between.

If I could build machines like that
I saw that I could place my soul into
a world where everything proceeded
logically and without fault,
endlessly predictable.  And if I
built it well enough
it would do its job forever
and would never fail.

But perfection was my bane
in many jobs
where getting products out the door
was more important than
making them so perfect that
they would never fail.

I worked long hours,
leaving my wife
and my child
home alone,
failing as a father while
practicing perfection that
no one really wanted.
And so my marriage failed,
breaking when in therapy
I told my wife
quite truthfully
I feared her accusations more
than I could return her love.

Today grey skies are overhead,
and grey hairs grow upon my face.
A grey fog clouds my brain
which still sees life as dangerous
and fears to take a single step
which might result in failure.

The failures of my past outweigh
the chances for a new success
that the present often brings.
"Not today", I say,
and close the door.

[2nd edition, 2018-11-19.]

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Kitties gathered by the window

(a song parody inspired by a friend's photo of his cats
 crowding the window above the kitchen sink on a sunny morning)


Shall we gather at the window
Where so many paws have trod,
Shining in the morning sunlight
As we're warmed by the pure grace of God?

Yes, we’ll gather at the window,
We'll warm ourselves and let our bodies simmer
In the sunlight streaming through the window
Content in the sweet love of God.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Between heaven and hell

We were born
in a temporarily safe place
poised between heaven and hell
at the bottom of a gravity well.

It has taken us 4 billion years
to wake up and realize where we are
(or where we seem to be,
for we have three-dimensional eyes
in a universe that may have four,
or many more, dimensions).

We are short-lived instances
of a self-replicating pattern
that has repeatedly and randomly
been crushed and flattened.
It's a wonder we are here at all.

Our odds for survival were greater
if we were able to see, understand,
remember, and adapt,
and so we grew a brain,
slowly and relentlessly,
until we reached our current level of consciousness.

it's pretty clear that we won't stop developing for a long time,
for we have many faults and weaknesses,
and we are quite vulnerable
both to the natural extinctions of our past,
and the man-made extinctions of our future
powered by the same understanding
that we thought would save us.

We are still apes with clubs,
defending our territory,
intent on surviving on a planet
that we still believe has
only limited resources,
with not nearly enough to share.

And so,
two trends vie to control our future:
the growth of openness and understanding,
and the growth of power and fear.
We do not know which of these will win;
as I said, we are still evolving.

We are like a plant that eagerly
spreads its leaves and grows upwards
to gather the sun's energy,
while it simultaneously, but begrudgingly,
develops a root system to anchor its growth.
We may be fine
as long as the wind doesn't blow too hard
and we don't grow so tall that we topple
under our unsteady weight.

For myself, I am content
to exist in this minute
and to share
what understandings may come to me.

Individually, none of us will be here very long;
collectively, some of us may survive.
It's all a matter of balance.