The Homecoming

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When you were in Vietnam
we got your letters, two or three at once
and then the whole house buzzed like a nest
of honey drunk bees as we poured over
your every word.

We kids imagined you, strong, tough,
blazing with righteous American fury
cutting down those dirty commies,

but Mom and Dad
read each letter more slowly
glancing at each other
with darker looks.

Then one day we got the recording you made,
tiny plastic reels, shiny brown tape wound
in fragile loops; your voice!
just like you were in the room, speaking
re-assuring, everyday chat about R&R
and shopping in Bangkok. Finally,
the tape nearly spent, you said that
you were coming home soon.

And one bright July morning
you came home! Your hat was rakishly tilted,
a Lucky cigarette carelessly drooping
from the corner of your grinning mouth,
all paratrooper swagger, gold braid running
through your buttoned shoulder loops,
colored ribbons and medals all over your chest.

As you walked through the door
I stood aside, awestruck, shy.
You sat like a visitor in your own home
and we opened the packages you brought for us,
Christmas in July, as one by one we held
our Asian wonders, and watched
as Mom held your hand and
Dad searched your eyes.

But you were tired, so upstairs in my room
you took a midday nap, and when Mom told me
to wake you up for supper, I nudged your shoulder
and you bolted,
breathless,
down the steps,
into the quiet street
and stood at tense attention,
(the neighbors all gawking),
as you waved your M-16
made of air
and memory,

and waited
for the morters
to fall
and kill us all.

Then the light returned to your eyes.
Slowly you walked back to the house
and gently took me by my shoulders
and told me to never,
never
touch you when you were asleep,

and I never asked you why.

(11/11/2010)

Lament for the Children of Syria

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“We must begin by frankly admitting that the first place in which to go looking for the world is not outside us but in ourselves. We are the world.” Thomas Merton

I do not seek you
where the children peer
into the burning night;

fire, false dawn
consumes their eyes,
rages through thin skin.

I do not know
where you go when
the gas softly flows
through the shelter;

have you left us here
in this veil of tears, fear-
full and alone?

Oh, where may I seek you
but in this green shade
of whitened bone

(1 October 2013)

Vicksberg

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The river glints
in the morning light
as we slowly drive
past the guard-gate
and into the rolling hills
of the Vicksburg Battleground.

But there are no battles here today
in this ringing forest ,
on these wrinkled meadows;

These cannons spit no fire
into this soft Mississippi morning,
and no soldier falls, sighing
into these cool, dark earthworks.

Slowly we drive the winding road
past a bronze soldier
grasping his bronze rifle,
tensely gazing
into the empty distance, waiting
for the screaming charge,
of his deadly brothers.

But all anger spent,
they sleep now
under smart ranks
of gleaming stone;

Now they lie,
unknown soldiers,
lulled by whispering
Southern magnolias
far from forgotten
Northern homes.

(5 Aug 2011)

America

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Deep thunder shakes this warm July evening
and lightning flashes over the waterfront
filling the clear, starry sky with acrid clouds and glimmering rain
falling to the water as children gaze
in shock and awe,
waiting for the next big one to explode.

False bombardment as celebration:

such fits my nation, founded in genocide and slavery,
this nation baptized in the blood and tears
of Navaho and Cherokee and all the tribes of the American holocaust
a nation that devoured one quarter of its sons
in four short, blood-soaked years; my nation,
a nation of efficient bigots and hungry hypocrites,
giving the world Gettysburg and the Trail of Tears
as models for problem-solving;
a nation unlike any other, not able to live up to its promises
because no other nation dares make such promises.

The bright violence of rockets’ red glare lights our sky
like the bold Declaration ignited the world, and thunder
rocked mighty kings from complacent belief in their divine rights,
rocked the people of Europe, thirsting for their own rights
and land and a chance to pursue a little happiness;
yes, rocked even distant Asia, deep in its ancient dream
foolish men joyfully following the distant thunder
to seek the fabled Golden Mountain.

The promise was made and broken and made yet again,
and the anger of betrayal torched the cities of the sixties,
and singed our hearts
and in the redeeming pain of change
made them a little less impure.
Yes, we are imperfect,
but we know our sins
and pay for them over and over again,

and to remind ourselves of the debt yet unsatisfied,
every summer we celebrate in the only way fitting for such a nation;
In the starry sky fiercely glowing with liberty
and in the transcendent thunder
of the Promise.

(4 July 2011)

Cain

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The delicate action of grace in the soul is profoundly disturbed by all human violence. Passion, when it is inordinate, does violence to the spirit and its most dangerous violence is that in which we seem to find peace. Violence is not completely fatal until it ceases to disturb us.

Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude.

———————–

Like a delicate wind
your grace shaped my infant soul
filled my emptiness
with angelic form

and I was beautiful
and good

until, jealous for your love,
I slew my brother.

Now I fear the abyss
that opens beneath me
the grave
of my sin-withered soul.

To you I pray
forgive me! bring me back
from the numbing peace
of careless, empty
days.

(1 February 2013)

September 11

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“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.”  Thomas Merton

Rushing from shower to sink, I heard the TV
blare its usual chatter of news and advertising
as we made our hurried preparations
for another busy day,
when I saw it:
dark smoke rising into the blue New York sky.

And I stopped, all schedules forgotten, transfixed
by high flames scorching glass and steel.

Calmly, the newsman speculated
about airliners and tragic accidents,
when the passive camera caught it, the black spot
flying straight and sure as a bullet, piercing
the second tower in a shower of orange flame and shattered glass.

This was no accident,then, this morning violence, and I wondered
how many people were already at work when,
pinned by burning jet fuel and melting steel, their busy day
suddenly ceased in searing red pain and numb darkness?

I wanted to go on with my own day,
to hide in the comfort of my routine,
but I could not turn away when I saw jumpers
drop to merciful deaths;

I saw a suited businessman,
pale in white dust, slowly plodding
through a deluge of drifting memos,
clutching his briefcase like a life preserver;

I heard the shrill, muffled
sirens of ambulance and fire-trucks,
lost in the dirty fog of terror.

And I knew in that moment
that we all are New Yorkers,

we all are falling into our dark, quiet center
where, sinless and without fear,
we encounter God, Yahweh, Allah,

The Eternal,

as our shattered bodies rise
through flames of anger
into the pure, cool, forgiving
September air.

(9/11/2011)

The Sadness of Holy Saturday

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Through the moonless night
clouds choke receding light

and the world descends
into darkness.

Where are you
as winter’s chill pierces my hands?

Oh, where have you gone?

Do you not care that I decay
without your gentle breath,
that without your light
I wane like the failing sun?

Why have you abandoned me?

Through my tears I see
two millenia of agony,
the six million slain,
all the fallen generations
newly free, heavy nails
at last released.

(for James Foley)