Pay attention and you’re saved.
It pays to pay attention – which is not
like paying bills, the pizza delivery guy,
or the piper – wherever he may pipe.
Nor is it like paying compliments,
taxes, penalties, dues, visits, respect,
or up-down-forward-back for anything.
Crime doesn’t pay, unless it does.
Neither does arrogance when you nip
your own line to title this poem.
But when oblivion’s about to hit
pay dirt and saving’s worth a fight,
rouse attention, slumped in the doorway
of your shuttered mind. Focus its eyes
on barefaced possibilities peeking
through blossoms of an aging cherry tree.
To those of you who will not die today:
walk through your home and bless the open doors,
the table set, the breadth of sun lounging
on the Persian rug. Catalog the small
contentments you have earned: eager words vying
for a poem, work you’ll never have to do
again, backyard squirrels that entertain.
Praise every squill, crocus, and bleeding heart
that dares subvert winter’s calendar.
Invite young mysteries in and seat them
between answers you have no questions for
and ponderables still unclassified.
It goes with saying, listen attentively.
Then tomorrow, if it arrives, repeat.
To My About-to-be-Ex Therapist
About our session this afternoon, I’m confused:
you diagnosed my ergophobia with sadness
in your voice. No offense, but after 40 years
of Type-A overdrive, I’ve earned this new paradigm.
Put this in your notes: I’ve replaced chronic threats
of nothing-to-do with perfected laziness.
My fear of boredom? Relieved by mindfulness.
From my ergonomic chair, I spend hours
tracing the texture of walls and studying
slight tilts of Chinese serigraphs.
I’m happy to report the woman side-saddling
the panther’s back hasn’t slipped off yet
and the lotus pond hasn’t flooded our family room.
As for the cobwebs swaying behind the étagère?
They haven’t ceased to captivate. Anyway,
thanks for helping me define work as what
I say it is. My business suits and black pumps
are up for grabs at Goodwill; my office files
free of contracts, flight plans, and syllabi.
I’m noodling with a blog about the joys
of nothing much. Maybe you’ll subscribe.
Waiting for a Bus to the Cloisters Museum
She rushes down the brownstone steps
and asks me to zip up her floral dress
since her husband’s still asleep and she’s late
for brunch with friends whose spouses bore
them to the brink of death she says
as she pulls her hair off her neck so I can trace
the curve of her back past a half-slip’s waist
over the bra that defies gravity
to pearls announcing elegance
and I’m embarrassed by a brush
with faultless skin as my nun’s short veil tangles
with the wind from buses zipping by
and when she says without judgment
or dismay You’re a rarity it’s true –
a stranger dressed in black appearing
just in time via Providence or Chance –
and she slides into a cab leaving me
bemused by her epiphany and eager
to contemplate seven storied tapestries.
Everything Good Between Us
I have no ear for singing and seldom land on a black or white. Listen in your head, you say when I change keys five times. I’m scatting, I try. Good luck with that, your reply.
Whoever is in the driver’s seat is incompetent. My gas pedal foot never behaves and my mind strays off the road. You’re writing poems again, you call me back. Where are we going? I ask.
You strut your Nordstrom’s strut through the mall, dismissing a dozen clothing stores by the time I consider one. Quintessence of style, you lamentate my disregard for what I wear.
Everything defaults to me: the glasses you lost somewhere, the key that doesn’t fit, the celery I bought that wasn’t plump enough. Trade-off? You ignore my grumpiness.
You have to listen faster, you complain when I ask for a repeat. I can’t keep up when you allegro through health, finance, politics, and theology.
The time between a rift and a reconcile grows shorter every year. We slam doors, conjure up a laugh, reconnect to our own happiness. And, ah! there’s always that kiss.
In every grocery store, I turn right, you turn left. I’m the counter-, you’re the –wise. Inevitably, at noon or midnight we meet – you with salty, me with sweet.
When I invite you to talk about death, you reply, I haven’t tried it yet. When I say, Then talk about miracles, you smile, What’s the difference?
When chaos sneaks up and threatens our equanimity, we look it in the eye, grab each other’s hands, and dance to the music of the spheres.
When I run out of things to write, I’ll pose you against a baby grand like Barbra, Liza, or Elaine belting out show tunes to the neighborhood. Everything about you sings a poem.
Ready are you? What know you of ready?
If this were my final day on earth, I’d like to think
I’d be sitting at the kitchen table with my coffee mug,
watching the sun scramble through our winded firs,
hoping the squirrels and feral cats would walk
the backyard fence. I’d like to say goodbye.
No doubt I’d check the morning news – another night
of death-by-belief, natural and unnatural catastrophes,
sixty-five million souls adrift in un-homelands.
This misery, I’d comfort myself, will ease the letting go.
I would hear you open the bedroom door,
walk down the stairs – steady as any day
before – and look at me expectantly.
We would sit side-by-side, agreeing
there’s nothing useful in worrying,
nothing helpful in judgment or regret.
I’d memorize the cadence of your voice,
the sharpness of your deep brown eyes.
I’ll know them when we meet again.
Just so you understand, I am not afraid.
I’ve been there before. The fact remains
my last day may end tonight or in two dozen years.
For now, there’s nothing more to do than warm
my coffee up, cheer on the squirrels and cats,
and tell you I love who and where we are.
While earth counts up its scars, take my hand.
Let’s watch the sun break free above the firs.
from Thin Places
All I need
A few skyward things: one steady star
to guide, one constellation to bet
a myth upon, one quasar to break
the dark. The rest is ornament.
One mountain to announce it’s ripe
for bulbs and seeds to multiply
without a first or second thought.
Birth deserves tranquility.
A frenzy of birds at sleeptide’s ebb,
tornados of gnats at dusk’s flow.
Two feral cats. Two red-tailed hawks.
Days that warrant wilding up.
A word for grace or luck or hope
when the mountain blocks my star.
In-the-bone love for all that’s lost.
Something born to lead me home.
Salieri, after a performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute
at Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden, October, 1791
The cheap seats love the man.
Each night he lures them from slogging streets
into the pomp and pageantry of fairy tales
with music that makes the angels cry.
They love the oboes courting flutes, bassoons
entwined in clarinets; strings outracing
trombones, trumpets, tubas, horns
toward kettledrums shuddering the boards
beneath their feet. They care not for scores
or virtuosity. They want delight—
magic doors, scenes that fly,
finales—and more, und mehr.
I hide behind red drapes high
above the crowd, and watch them watch
the note-barrage shooting from his fingertips.
And when the coloratura soars
toward F above high C, I catch them catch
their breath before their “Bravos!”
seize the chandeliers where magic drips
from candle wax. The pulse-throb
of the aria vibrates my skin.
I want to cry. Divinity has voice.
But when the curtain falls
the deafening applause unhinges me.
“Encore! Encore!” reminds
this lesser child of God,
he’s fated second-best.
Heaven-hurt, I never could compose
so many notes across a page;
never could raise a mundane crowd
above its seats as that little man
with fire in his fingertips.