water in the desert

meaningful or meaningless?
looking back on it now

I often think the Church should have
aborted me while it had the chance

there’d been no full welcome at that point
more a dull acceptance of a dull person
of no good use

a waste of all our time

I was almost out the door, just a year to go
packing a scholastic acceptance and that’s perhaps all

considering a very different path
not seeing myself as one of them

the new pastor’s daughter began following me
like a friendly puppy, wanting to do all kinds of things

and not all of them good or safe, which concerned me
a form of yes therapy, yes to everything — let’s go!

me with my foot on the brake — constantly reading faces
saying I think we should go now, finally firmly insisting 

her father never blinked, or gave useful advice
he brought me home, brought me along, made lame jokes

the most non-invasive pastor I’ve ever met, to this day
come along really did mean come along, let’s do things together

let’s watch T.V., let’s go to a movie, let’s go out for supper; 
here, you drive — I need a nap. who is this? this is my other daughter

the only person who would have ever endorsed me
to attend any religious institution anywhere, much less there

I believe that’s true

his instructions on my arrival were simply
to go see a black man and tell him who sent me

he didn’t teach what I was eventually taught
the relationship never being teacher-student

he could be faulted for that, I suppose
and was for some things

there are no quotes I recall, no scriptures I remember
him sharing. I remember his laugh, his inclusive disinterest

it wasn’t odd I was there, it wasn’t special either
it was normal, I was never treated like company

I was a member of his family
in a way I haven’t been since

a family that did not yell, no one threatening to shoot anything
road rage, rage, threats, rants, non-existent

a family where children made bad choices
and were quietly returned home when he came for them

which for an Italian man I still think
must be a bit different than the norm

unless there’s a big difference between north and south,
between Florence and Palermo, I had other Italian friends

he was the first person who anointed me for an illness,
a simple matter of fact gesture, for such pain, now go to sleep

a fluke, I think of it now

a pastor who didn’t quote me scripture, a psychologist
who didn’t name my issues or diagnose me out loud

or look at me as if he expected something bad to happen
hurt people hurt people never came from his lips

the first to tell my mother divorce would be understandable
that my father did not respect women

and let his daughter tag along with us
despite knowing us more fully than few ever did

was it intentional, or simply responsive? did he know
I needed a father, a brother, a sister and an ocean of calm?

I don’t know. I know it was rare
and needful

these many years later, her father is gone, her brother, too
she still says when you left I missed you so much

which I still don’t expect

and things I don’t remember at all
like how I made my mother laugh


with a capital K

you have one life
and the crazies can only take it

if you fill it up
with what they’re shoveling

out the barn door
as fast as it falls to the ground

if you buy what’s selling
at the prices they charge

the four horsemen fully rendered
delivered straight to your door

if you pay attention to me
and only me, every eye

feasting on me and mine
buying all the goods on display

if you keep the fear close
preach it, teach it, share it

if you give me the power
to spread it farther

than it’s ever gone before

if you give it up
to the crazy that wants

to rule the world
and every single part of you

that loves the rush
of approving and denying

your faith, your hope
your work, your family

your body, your mind
your skin, your hair

your face, your arms
your hips, your thighs

your dreams, your fears
your mother, your father

your wife, your husband
your brother, your sister

your child, your DNA
your colour, your kind

every thought, every choice
every single cell that is you

in the hands of no one
who loves or cares

beyond the cost of caring
for you and your kind

that glories above all else
in naming and shaming and blaming

pointing out where you belong
how much you’re worth

forging a sullen army
of namers, shamers, and blamers

waiting for the call
to run for the hills or to fight

they’re coming
not the British, just them

them, not you
them, always them

all of them
coming for you

if you give it over
to the crazy that wants

to own you, to use you
to brand you, to nail you

to borrow everything inside
and never bring it back

wanted dead or alive
whichever serves

the world will burn
with or without you

if we burn, we burn
but not today

today, we serve
whoever walks in the door


crazy like a fox

he started to sing
just another silly song
another strange dream

mad King George 
back from the dead
back on the throne
slinging it left and right
flying that flag of convenience
that could stand for anything

the great patriots
bowing and groveling at his feet
backing away from the throne
watching every hand for a knife
threatening to take it all back
to wherever it came from

hear ye, hear ye
bow the neck or else
bow to the king
or pay the price

as I go under
I hear the pockets
jingling

the last thing you hear
are keys and coins

always keys and coins

::

Someone said, Didn’t they fight a revolution to lose this guy? Why would they go back to this? Who would believe they ever fought for freedom?

God only knows.

::


retreat



it is a strange thing
to hear the Church speak of giving up
when it was not there

lots of places it was
but it was not there

maybe it’s like when science
thought it knew it all

that there was no more to learn

everything that could be seen
had been seen and named and indexed

all right there in the card catalogue

::

how do you leave
where you have not been?

::

I wander all the streets I’ve ever lived
looking for you, searching for some sign of you

did that well-tended building
give the sense someone was present?

or available? I never saw anyone back then

did sharing a town’s name or anyone’s
indicate there’s a loving relationship?

did the sign on the lawn, or the card
say everything you wanted or needed to say?

or could have said? was it just your name?

did the flyer stuffed in the door and eaten by the dog
give a strong feeling of connection?

a sense of concern for someone’s well-being?

did you know my neighbour said the best way to deal with ’em
was to come to the door naked? now that made me laugh

did you really, deep down, want just anyone to attend?
were the invitations a limited run?

were some postal codes, some homes, exempt?
I know just how expensive it is to make a connection

how often did you walk or drive by the past decade or so?
did you say, oh them, they wouldn’t care

stuffing mailboxes and inboxes year after year
mourning the lack of response

the lack of concern
for what really matters

we can all say that

::

how can you leave or abandon
someone you were not with?

::

does being bad news or in bad news
mean there’s no good news left to share?

that it can’t be shared with grace?
without a retraction or defence prepared?

does being shamed and dishonoured mean
anyone shamed and dishonoured should choose a cave?

if you’re leaving because we suck
what does that say about what you say to us

when we say the same?

oh, that’s just denominations, shake it off
it’s uncomfortable and awkward, always has been

big talk for church and community
not applicable to nations and all of humanity?

::

when some exhausted person declines an invitation
to a morality lecture, to being better and better

to how much more there is to change
maybe the way you feel reading this

do they hate you or are they tired?
and tired of not being good enough.

when another exhausted person declines an invitation
to a pep rally for Jesus, to more rah rah rah

to adding another energy requirement to the day
a crowd with mega-expectations, not a life-giving thing

do they hate you and Jesus and your mama?
or are they tired of faking fake fakeness

in making the effort to always look good
do you look too good to ever enjoy my company?

does seeing what’s liked most make real seem hard
does hearing what’s laughed at make it seem harder

delighted when folks fail right before your eyes
devoted to finding something for next to nothing

seeing all the likes for all kinds of reality TV
real Christians faking imperfection perfectly

just like you and me, in a setting more perfect
than anything I’ve ever been, had or seen

you’ve been dishing out a constant stream of being me
being real, throwing it hard at someone outside the frame

with quaint calls of don’t judge in mock voices of celebrities
and characters I’ll be thrown in a heap with

if I ever disagree across some party line
it’s all good fun to mimic, a shame to be them

strange how you know all the words and I don’t,
how I’m lumped in with someone you can quote verbatim

with the best of intentions, through and through
and taking good care of everyone close by

a whole lot of good mixed in with other things
that looks and feels good a lot of the time

::

my imperfections, no more or less than theirs
were enough to leave every stone unturned

in the pursuit of anything intentional, missional,
relational, relevant, real and all the others that followed

resilient is the word I learned, the one that stuck
resistant to, aware of, false terms of endearment

reinforcing the fact that I’m not that
I never will be, and that is what is real

leaving the strongest impression that a recall
would never be pursued, that exile was the preference

::

when recruiting for bodies in the hopes
of selling love, joy and connection

or maybe just more hands on deck

have they heard locals report on the in-fighting
and will do anything to avoid a repeat?

have they heard the stress in your voice
and feel they already have enough stress?

when I hear it now, my chest starts to catch and hold
before I know it, I’m not breathing. I can’t move

I can’t walk in the door of another space filled
with all of that, ‘with the grim’ my first thought

not your fault — really it’s not, it’s everywhere
not enough, never enough people, money, time

the same people, the able willing volunteers
pulled in a dozen directions, wearing thin

none of it means you’re not doing good
or not doing well

we haven’t seen it all, even when
it seems it does beat all

::

and when someone you call left or liberal
believes you’re the source of all evil

and fights you every step of the way
to the courthouse and back again

like a dog with a bone, not letting go in this lifetime
tying in to everything that’s wrong with you

is that different from when we thought
all those others were the source of all evil

and did everything we could to bring them to justice
to make them pay for their evil, sinful ways

to keep them separate and distinct, apart
so nothing of them touches any part of us?

we have been intense and dogged in pursuit
of what we believed to be just and right and good

we knew just why it was so, and we’d tell
any so and so what was right and what was wrong

were they just supposed to forget and forgive
just how loud and angry, how vicious we were

when we can’t seem to remember it ourselves
or discount it, somehow managing to cut our losses

in a way that works for us, that restores our pride
depreciating the purchase, and disabling resident memory

this town chased the Catholics out
a generation ago, and burned the church down

Catholics not welcome, Jews not welcome,
not a good or kind word for anyone not us

different could expect to be the butt of jokes
and had better be ready to fight to stay in line

boots, bats, no holds barred — a generation ago, that’s all
true and not true for them is true and not true for us

is a generation or two, too long for us
to wait for what we know to be just and true

to wait for someone to join us, to champion us
to speak up for us, for how we have been wronged?

these many long years

::

I sit here wondering
why would you give up on you

when I haven’t given up on you?

a few hours later, I realise
it’s not you, it’s me

you’re not giving up
you’re giving up on me

or someone like me
or someone like them

::

in the years I spent
learning everything you could teach

I could not have imagined
you would come to this

only in recent years do I realise
how much more there was to learn

a brief few years of not being on top
and we feel the world is lost, and mourn

just how important did we think we were
the whole world has to stop and pay attention

give us our due, just the way we like it
just the way we like to hear it

deference, is that what it expect?
after how hard we’ve worked

after how much we’ve given
after going without for so long

there should be some reward
for our labour, our value recognised

we shouldn’t have to fight for this
we built this country after all

if it all goes to hell, if it gets real hard
we shouldn’t have to stick around

He should know we’re just can’t take this
we can’t take much more, we need help

there’d better be a safe place, some place
we can go to escape pain and suffering

pain teaches faith and perseverance
and teaches us how to care for each other

no amount of pain or lack of care
is ever too much to desire death or escape

you used to have the best little sayings
about unanswered prayers, about fear

amazing what could be pulled from thin air
when the world was collapsing around me

I’m not sure what to say if what you said to me
has no holding power for you

::

these days you’re posting scriptures only
testament? witness? to a strategic withdrawal

back to basics perhaps, or maybe believing
it will be a sign to folks like me

then hear our call appears in all caps
as if He has vanished

you told me He was always there
and I believed you

that I believed

::

in the end if all your fears come true
and everything you’ve fought against or for arrives

when you and I are taken, together, as if we were one
and locked away, with only each other for company

the key to survival, they say, will be reaching over
touching, tending, feeding, calming, listening, breathing

an abundance of presence in the total absence
of everything else, of anything we thought worth fighting for

something we could have done long before it came to this
the simplest of solutions in the face of every final solution

::

it was that day you called us fools, these ones I’d served
not that we’d ever been the best of friends or companions

simply that we’d been called together to be together
whoever, whatever we were, and were committed to each other

putting up with all manner of stupid, to hold it together
to find a way through a mess of humans being human

and there you stood calling us out, fools for kneeling
and washing one another’s feet, fools for serving out of time

fools for taking bread and wine now when we could
take it any time, mocking, jeering, us, symbols, sacrament

on the day we call a fast, I heard you did it again
calling them out, forcing bread and wine down the throat

as if they were all moneychangers and you with a whip
to clear them out, laying down some new letter of the law

shaming them, while speaking of abundance, overflow
extravagance, a river drying up for me as fast as it was spoken

what got me through that night, after the bread and the wine
were the motions, of kneeling, washing one foot then the other

something to do that has meaning, that retains meaning
when the ship is sinking, when your people are silent

and still, wondering, not speaking. dumbfounded. looking
left and right, unsure what to say, where to speak. trying

to understand and be understood. in silence
a form of silence with lots of words, the air full of them

great heaping gaps between and around. sharp pointy blanks
not filled. jarred and disoriented from walking into the unseen

you tried to speak to us of rabbits and eggs that night
as soon as you spoke, I remembered that bloodied rabbit

three or four I was, at Stone Mountain, in the spring
that great big jackrabbit leaping across the yard, and I turned

my father still gripped by the urge to kill whatever moved
quickly across his sight, grabbed a rock and threw it hard

blood pouring from the rabbit’s head, not yet dead
still trying to leap away into the woods, away from us

I was sent to look for eggs, to fill a basket with eggs
and every time I remember blood pouring from that rabbit

sometimes it’s just the colours, bright green, pink, blue
a plastic mold, lace-edged socks, a whiff of patent leather

spring, pines, red clay, how quickly I would run or turn
to show him something that caught my eye, and learned

a boy-child lived there who killed birds and rabbits for fun
and for a time, many times, laughed when they fell

until one day he didn’t any more. he began to paint them
and put the guns and arrows away, never touched them again

and what lived or died only lives here, a bit of current
flickering now and then, that will go when I go

whatever meaning or purpose it served



the message



the child listened
for something, anything

and heard

when asking questions
to figure out what was wrong
with her body, why things hurt

to understand what sex was
what all the questions were about

not knowing the right words
only what she’s heard from them

to not use those words
to stop talking filth

when trying to avoid him, them
get up, come here, pick up the phone

I’m not making excuses for you again
I’m sick of this

I hate this place
I can’t take it anymore

I can’t do this anymore
we’re leaving

we’re moving
we’re going back

when trying to hide everything
from view, the head exploding

the teacher laughing
and the whole class turning to look

cut your hair, you’re a mess
you look like a dog

you’re not trying
you look ridiculous

the pastor wanting to know
(if he realizes they’re there

if you’re there sometimes,
not all the time, you’re not real)

why I’m not friendly
and outgoing, and ready to cheer

after moving a dozen times
and now this

the head full up to here
with ranting and sadness

with a beaming smile
he quotes scriptures on friends

like he has imparted wisdom
and that’s all it takes

I’m thinking car salesman
or maybe insurance, it has that vibe

enthusiasm he says is to be full of,
full up with God, obviously I must not be

even there, they’re pairing off and enthusiastic
friends enthusiastically want you to, so they can

to be friends I must pretend to like
others more than I do, until I just can’t

until I say no, and friends angrily vanish
for not going along so they can get along

my mother offering an old copy of
How to Win Friends and Influence People

I would like to sleep a good long time
that’s what I would like to do

I’m not trying to win anyone
I’m not trying to influence anyone

Do you have a book on vanishing?
Do you have one that isn’t trying to fix me?

when my father came home
the rant through news, sports and weather

then about coworkers shacking up
and nothing good about women

(if I knew then what I know now
I’d find that strange)

as he racks up another DWI
and all the reasons it’s unfair

cousins laugh and ask
when are they going to start growing

auntie grabs them
and says she thinks something’s there

then thank God
some hippie socialist feminist freak

under protest from every side
advocated for a sex-ed class and won

and I finally learned something
I needed to know desperately

and could rest

.
.

just two look me in the eye
and ask what’s wrong

not what’s wrong with me

and before I answer with nothing
tell me what’s good about me

as if they’ve been compiling a list
all my life, like there’s a scroll

spilling out, like they can’t wait
to tell me every word, now, right now

one a recovering drunk, divorced and unemployed
the other intersex, trying to make a marriage work

just two, who never knew exactly
who knew enough to say just enough


seeing the future



separate the child from the parent
humiliate the parent, harm the parent
shame the culture, shame the child
and some day the child will come for you

I keep wondering how you can be so unaware


hand in hand



Rape entered the syllabus
the month we learned Oak Ridge
would be one of the first to go
and we would go with it.

What gives us life will give us death
because we are the poor, the trash,
the expendable, disposable–
a sucker for any job we can get,
whatever the cost to future health,
to future cost, to future’s future. 

Every resource we supply means we’re first to die.
That’s a known, a given, unwritten, unchanged
from the first breath drawn, to the last.
Our options are: fast or slow, now or later.
Safety? That we have to fight for, march for,
become a sea, a wall, a wave, for. Facing arms.

But then, you know that
and use that. Against/us.

Rape and assault were
the companions, the secondary infections,
the fallout of the Vietnam vet returning home
to his family, mediating pain and dispensing
justice to his wife, to his sons and his daughters
in a wild swing catching up every one of us.

Rape, assault and murder are
the companions, the secondary infections
of leaders who pass it all off as just being boys,
just going with the flow, everyone does it
and anything goes to get where you’re going.
A beacon on the hill, a shout out loud and clear,
a pot shot, a cheap shot heard round the world.

Every man feeling less than a man
seeing his way clear to being great again.
Not taking it anymore. Getting it all back.
Taking it back, by any force necessary.
Feeling strong. Not asking. Taking. Telling.
You heard me, boy. You heard me, woman.

You heard me.

Shutting them down.
Shutting her up.

Everything goes.

Beneath, within
the tent of silence.

In denials,
we know what we know
what we live
here and here.

The gods of war are calling again, shouting
glory. Great God Almighty, the glory.
Glory for a handful, by the handful.

Rape, murder, violence, destruction
for the rest. We are created for death.

The gods of war standing
at the top of the heap, boasting,
the mountain of bodies miles high.

Safe in the castle,
secure behind the wall,
he who lends his support,
he who does not object,
he who sends to war 

brings war home.

It never leaves.
It invades, it occupies
every home it touches
for life.

This life, and the next life
and the life after that.

The structure, the cells,
the immune system, the body,
the mind, the family,
the community.

The structure, the cells,
the immune system, the body,
the mind, the family,
the community.

The structure, the cells,
the immune system, the body,
the mind, the family,
the community.


unbelievable



it is the silence
above all else
that makes me sick
to heart, the justifications
an obfuscation, a negation
of the prior conversation
these many years past
the constant harping derision
now the sudden abrupt confession
that God’s on his throne
all’s right with the world
be still, and know?
(what, He wasn’t all along?
He just returned to it now?
well now, that does take the cake)
belying the continuous buzzing
day in and day out, incensed
about arrogance and uppity folk
who don’t know their place
smearing it on every surface
sneering snarling critics
counting every penny spent
noting every trip, twist and turn
the incessant sarcasm droning on and on
the ridicule of any bleeding heart come across
the constant passing of notes in class
about you know who and you know who you are
taping signs to folks so we know exactly
who and what they are, calling them names
talking over them when they speak
suddenly, we’re minding our manners
like perfect little angels, like teacher’s pets
scrambling for our seats
when the teacher returns
insisting we all be quiet and sit still
as if nothing happened? 

shh. shh. shh.

a rabbit-hole of horrors
that opens up and brings back

I remember it all
as if it were yesterday

patience, forbearance, tolerance, trust?
kindness, gentleness, meekness, faith?

a waste on them
but he’s hard done by?

don’t talk to me
about truth again


one child



this child
this stand in
for one of our own
autistic
Down’s
disabled
LGBTQ
refugee
immigrant
illegal
migrant
dreamer
orphan
abandoned
addicted
homeless
poor
furious
suicidal
in harm’s way
extraordinary
best beloved
this life
we cannot bear to lose
and see in every loss of life
what would Solomon ask?
which limb do we choose?


in an end



I realize you know this

as it was that fear
that drove you to this

it rests there
in the furrows

in every line
it is written

when this ends
whenever it ends
however it ends

in this lifetime
or another

you will bear the blame
it will be your fault

whoever, wherever you are
when the context falls

into your lap
one fine day

it is and it isn’t
as it is with most things

that won’t matter
as it does not now

matter to most that
it is and it isn’t

in most everything

it is
by choice

by definitions
it is

the all or nothing
the either or

which makes it so

the arena was always waiting
for / us

one last chance
to hang together

to see what we’re made of

and that will be
something else
entirely