Before grieving

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Before grieving

I could hear but heard the past most clearly, the voices in the moment
Warped like waves at a puddle’s edge bouncing backward

I could move but was walking ahead of myself, my feet traveling
over a landscape I could not feel beneath me

I could see but saw only context, I could smell but smelled only
The rainy earth of medicine

I felt time pass but my fear was a half-second quicker
than my certainty though they walked with the same shadow

I understood but like understanding a letter written to someone else
Or a message that once understood cannot be answered

I remembered but I remembered like a book where I’d underlined
every word leaving me with all significance and no sense of direction

I could tell the dying his own death story but in the telling fell
Out of my own life a stranger holding his father’s hand

July afternoons

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July afternoons

1.

God stays happy by not holding
Onto heavy thoughts.

Thirty minutes into snarled traffic on I-81.
Twenty feet above us. One white egret.

A flag across the dark gray sky.

2.

A dozen swallows scry the squeezed space
Between roof and rain clouds.

Later, we walked up the street
To see fireworks rise, explode,

Penetrate into clouds which shimmered
For a moment like they’d been told

A secret they weren’t ready to tell.

3.

The lightning shot through the house
Like the bead on the line on the monitor

Of a flatlining patient. In through the back porch’s
Sliding glass window and out the glass front door.

A moment later the house shook with sound,
Twice, as if God had a sudden thought

Too heavy to hold onto, then another.

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At a parent’s wake, November 2017

You arrive, as at the unfamiliar railroad station

Through which your own memories pass
As the luggage of real people, familiar but

Changed by all the time they have spent
Away from you. Sometimes one of the people

Will reach into their backpack and bring out
Their own memory of your parent, showing

Something you have never known. Then,
As real people do, they leave the station for connections

That will take them to their own lives again.
Your line does not move. Outside, swallows,

Those early summer infidels, bank with reckless
Accuracy against the momentum of all the invisible

Forgotten things.

Diagnosis [series of dreams 2]

When somebody’s wearing a mask, he’s gonna tell you the truth.
When he’s not wearing a mask, it’s highly unlikely.
-Dylan

Strike through the mask.
-Melville

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Diagnosis [Series of dreams 2]

For years I tried on my father’s face but it never fit.
I did not know how many faces I had left when the word

Found its way through the eye holes
And I saw the future blink back

As if it were the one surprised, as if
It were anything more than the grit of time

In a tear. My mother had vision, my dad had clarity
Like a pair of glasses you forget is there

Because to see the thing that made it clear
You’d have to give back what felt like yours

All along. Seven years after she left
The surface of the world my mother died,

The one who’d told me the only time she saw
Her husband cry was when his father lay

Caved in by cancer, his last breath as much
A mystery to the five year old me as the giant sycamore tree

In our front yard, so big I could never see
It all at once, no matter how far away I got.

No one would see it complete in my eyes. My dying father’s face
Looks at me in the mirror, giving away nothing.

When I go see him this last time before
His brittle blood flags I know he’ll show me

Nothing different. I’ll ask him about mom and
When he pauses not looking I’ll switch faces and he’ll

Never know what I gave him, this quiet gratitude,
This empty mask I’ve been preparing for years.

 

 

mask by Stephen Schwaner

Skylark [series of dreams 1]

Life isn’t about finding yourself, or finding anything.
Life is about creating yourself, and creating things.
-Dylan

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Skylark / series of dreams 1

O spirit I never wanted to catch you
And you never wanted to be caught

Like the small owl my son and I found
In my father’s garage in last night’s

Dream the door open like a diagnosis
The strange bird looking out at us

Sitting on an old office chair
We rolled it out into the driveway

Where I spent so many hours
Playing basketball and one new

Year’s eve climbed the pole and stepped
Over to the garage roof and watched

The new year’s silent entrance the sky
Unchanged for my gratitude and unchanged

To this day I can still remember it the steel
Cold dark the pinholes of stars the blinding

Emptiness overflowing the horizon
Inside the muffled whoops and in the lowlands

Of the suburbs assorted firecrackers snapped
Like small minds and while i remember that step

From the pole of childhood to the roof of my second
Decade I still do not remember

Ever coming back down and below there in the dream
Through the open garage door the owl

Flew with a silent explosion of motion
Across the street and then came back

Night song

Night song

Your god is the back of a bluebird
Song of the inside of night’s clear lid

Your god is the thing before it’s seen
Color of waking from the dream

With an image cooling like lava
Into the shape of an empty hand

as full of air as the starling’s wing
Yet solid as the slow shore of dying

Your faith the driftwood to which I cling
Established proof of land if not direction

Broken map of the edge of each breath
And the way back to morning

*

Note: Last night my wife Mary was preparing for her first Sunday as a eucharistic minister, Pentecost Sunday being a fitting time to start such a journey. As someone who has long ago abandoned any sort of communal religious ritual, I nevertheless find that many of my closest friends are those that undertake spiritual paths whose directions seem authentic to me in a way I can’t quite register but can feel. This poem was a nod of respect and admiration for how others’ faiths often keep me afloat.