If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
I step into the painting of the four blue horses.
I am not even surprised that I can do this.
One of the horses walks toward me.
His blue nose noses me lightly. I put my arm
over his blue mane, not holding on, just
He allows me my pleasure.
Franz Marc died a young man, shrapnel in his
I would rather die than explain to the blue horses
what war is.
They would either faint in horror, or simply
find it impossible to believe.
I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.
Now all four horses have come closer,
are bending their faces toward me
as if they have secrets to tell.
I don’t expect them to speak, and they don’t.
If being so beautiful isn’t enough, what
could they possibly say?
Now we will all count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
For all the hardships that life throws at us, I have always felt that life keeps living. Perhaps not in the same form or in a way that is recognizable. But life keeps pulsing under everything. And no matter the pain or confusion I face, something in me keeps reaching for that irrepressible pulse. This poem comes from my reaching.
A FEW TURNS OF THE MOON
From the balcony of this restaurant, I watch
a hundred lives below: burrowing and laughing
and finding their way. And perhaps because
I’ve lost my father and our beloved dog in the
last year, perhaps because at sixty-three, I see
over the final hill more clearly, I also see the
hundreds on the other side, still burrowing
and laughing and finding their way. I don’t
know if this is alarming or a comfort: that
we go on the same, that the gleam pressed
out of every hardship is the jewel of existence,
here and on the other side. So I spoon my
soup and sip my wine, knowing the balcony
is the gutter and the gutter is the balcony,
that the dark waits all curled up in the light,
and the light, thank God, waits all curled up
in the dark.
When you doubt the world
look at the undivided darkness
look at Wheeler Peak
cliffs like suspended prayers
contemplate the cerulean
the gleaming limestone
the frozen shades
look at the bristlecone pine
a labyrinth to winding wonders
listen to the caves
remember the smell of sagebrush
after a thunderstorm
that Lexington Arch
is a bridge of questions
in the solitude of dreams
distances disturb desire
to deliver a collision of breaths
the desert echoes
in this dark night sky
stars reveal the way
a heart can light a world.
About This Poem
“I’m an urbanite but when I started teaching at the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and discovered the numinous openness of Nevada, something unnamed untangled me. Standing under the crisp golden-red light then the infinite dark at Great Basin for the first time felt like being in the middle of my heart and asking, where do I go from here? Where does one go after they’ve lived wars, been too close to death’s shadows, and then sees a version of heaven? Can we give ourselves permission to inhale its glory without betraying those who couldn’t flee, or didn’t survive? Perhaps we are meant to see such wonder to inform us of how beauty resists.”
It was a sunny day
and I went to the park
and sat on a bench. I was
one of many coming out
from under our rocks
to warm and lengthen.
He was two benches down,
a gentle older man
staring off into the place
between things, beyond
any simple past, staring
into the beginning or the end,
it was hard to say.
When he came up
our eyes met
and he knew I’d seen him
journey there and back.
There was no point in looking away.
And so, he shuffled over
and sat beside me. The sun
moved behind the one cloud
and he finally said
in half a quiver, “How
can we go there together?”
I searched my small mind
for an answer. At this,
he looked away and the sun came out
and I realized this is what the lonely
sages of China were talking about,
what the moon has whispered
before turning full for centuries,
what dancers leap for, what violinists
dream after fevering their last note.
But I was awkward and unsure.
He stared, as if to search my will,
and after several minutes,
he just patted my knee
I watched him
darken and brighten in the sun,
and vowed to look
in the folds of every cry
for a way through,
and hope someday
to meet him there.
My greatest fear is that I will pass away before my time,
only to exist long into the future in a dank fog of worries
and drowsy superficialities that grudgingly hold down by the throat
all the joys that surge to live in me from beneath the sadnesses
that I talk, talk, talk at rather than gather myself to sit before
when they have need to speak to me enduringly
of what I have forgotten to feel.