As a boy, I dreamed of jungles wild with beasts . . .
but dreams will fade with time and failing sight.
Now contacts cover my eyes (like plastic scales)
and the only beasts I see are caged or leashed.
Yet near a park in the city’s maze last night
while walking home, lost in the day’s details
a lens fell from my eye and a film of tears
transformed the park into a jungle of trees.
All things seemed to melt and flow together:
my eyes were flooded, lights became like spears—
the lion wind roared through trembling leaves,
the rainy street became a brackish river
and while I wandered down its banks half-blind
the world was wild again and lost in time.
The Church of Right Now
Whether it’s Saturday night or Sunday morning
or a weekday afternoon at Kaimana Beach
a work lunch, birthday dinner or weekend brunch
we celebrate the holy Sabbath of our friendship
whenever and wherever we are gathered together
in the church of what’s happening right now.
We are a diverse lot of expats, locals and pilgrims
with different creeds, cultures and dietary needs—
Christians, Jews, hoales, Asians, vegans and omnivores
we wear jeans, dresses, business suits and bikinis
but we all follow the lead of our inner naked yoginis.
We have straight, curly, blond, brown and black hair
some thick, some thinning and some with none at all.
We ride bikes and motorcycles, drive SUV’s and EV’s
and run or swim with the rising and setting of the sun.
We are movers and skaters, surfers and soccer players
ultimate athletes and dancers always in motion.
We are enviros, foodies, fashionistas, writers, teachers
and consultants of health, wealth and sustainability.
We don’t make lots of money but do make a difference.
We are hip and funky but not too cool for grad school.
We are the Kaimana Krew and we get Canadian drunk
when there’s a birthday, holiday or any excuse to party
as different and unique as each of us is, we share
a love of each other and our eccentric personalities
a hunger for good conversation, music and art after dark
a thirst for wine and song, whiskey and poetry
and a lust for eating, drinking, laughing and dancing—
followed by a day of rest at the beach so we can recover.
So raise your glasses to each other and let’s celebrate
the flowing spirit of friendship that brings us together
in the holy church and sacred temple of right here and now.
And in thanks we say, Amen, Aloha, Shalom and Namaste.
It is late and you are gone
and only the gecko remains
hidden somewhere in this room.
With his star-fingered hands
he wriggles across the walls
as if scribbling a secret message
making his sad chirping sound
which is his cry and mating call.
His pale, transparent body
and dark, vulnerable eyes
watched over us once witness
to our many nights together.
But tonight he is in hiding
and his sad call echoes off the walls
like the clicking of a restless clock
as if he too were missing you.
The King’s Dream
(For My Father)
Many years ago on a hot summer day
under the gaze of the great emancipator
the King came to the capitol of his country
and spoke to large crowds about his dream
about people of all colors being united
when sons of former slaves and slave owners
would sit down together at the same table.
His words brought back your childhood friend
Sonny, the sharecropper’s boy, who was
like a brother on your grandfather’s farm
a former plantation. You played and ate
together till they told you it was time to part
because Sonny was black and not your kind.
But he always remained in your heart.
You once tried to reach out to the King.
You were both young ministers in Atlanta
each with four kids on opposite sides of town
and you had called him to make a connection
trying again to break through the barriers
of the color line that divided the country.
But that meeting never happened because
you were called to a church in Charleston
and the slow road toward integration
while the King traveled across the country
caught in the crosshairs of history
till called home at last in a flash of glory.
After the King was killed his words haunted
and inspired you and all those he had touched.
As we pause to honor this man let us return
to the capitol where he once spoke and hear
the nation’s first black leader pay homage
to the King and the great emancipator.
Because our country is divided once again
and greed still reigns over those in need
while kids are gunned down in the streets
and bullets rain down upon the innocents.
Though justice seems like a distant dream today
we still seek comfort and courage in his words
Knowing that we will be free one day.
The King is gone but his dream lives on.
We were wrong—the world
is not black and white
or so many shades
of gray— it is more
colorful than we
What we saw touched us
that day on the beach
and though both of us
had seen countless suns
sink into the sea
neither of us had seen
the mystical green flash
until that evening
when the red sun sank
into the blue sea
and a sigh of wind
breathed over us both—
there for one moment
a green flash hovered
on the horizon
glowing in our eyes
and though some will say
it was an illusion
like magic or love
(a trick of the eye,
a game of the heart)
I know it was real—
as real as you, me
the sun and the sea.
Disguises of God
If we were really made in God’s likeness
something strange occurred during evolution
making us stranger with each generation
and now I wonder if She’d even like us.
But we are blessed by angelic beings
who roam and play among us in disguise
and only when we look into their eyes
can we truly see who we were meant to be.
God hides in the hearts of these loyal creatures
who love and play with us, protect us and stay
by our sides until that day they fade away
and we say goodbye to our finest teachers.
Madonna and Child
A Trailways bus, a country highway, dusk.
The driver, a sallow old insomniac,
is intimate with each curve in the road;
he sits on a pillow, bony hands steering
his shuttle along a memorized route.
The soldier in the seat just ahead of me
stares into the darkening woods, staring
beyond his reflection into the turning trees.
The wife he left behind still waves in my mind.
The other passengers have sunken down
into their reclined seats in half-sleep,
adrift in their dreams, lulled by the engine's hum.
Across from me sits a young black woman,
her bundled infant still asleep in her lap.
The reading-light makes a vision of them.
I wonder who and where the father is...
Across the night deep in the valley below,
a dome of purple light lies over the city
like bright Atlantis many leagues away,
a world just waiting for discovery...
The mother breathes in deeply, closes her eyes
and tries to see their fate, hers and her boy's.
I whisper softly, "Let them be all right,"
wondering if anyone overheard
my unaddressed prayer. Kissing his chest,
his chin, his forehead, blessing his brown body,
she stirs him from the world of sleep to see
beyond the rushing dark and dying stars
the city's constellation—there they will
begin again. The boy's unfocused eyes
are opening about to cry but then he sees
the face (arrayed in light) that gave him life.
He feels the arms around him gently sway
and hearing her whispered words in his ear
his mouth opens in O-shaped ecstasy
(revealing toothless gums and speechless tongue)
and forms the sound of inexpressible joy.
Church of Bones
Three summers ago in Rome we wandered
into the Church of Bones and saw walls adorned
with the skeletal remains of countless monks.
There in that underground chapel you held my hand
as we slowly walked down the dirt aisle, staring
at the morbid artwork–masterpieces of bone
made from every part of the body: skull arches
above us and a delicate chandelier of tibia and fibula,
star shapes made from jaw bones and femurs,
a lei of vertebrae around a smiling skull,
a winged hour-glass made with shoulder blades
to show how time flew even in the Dark Ages,
and an ornate pattern of pelvises, hollow hips
where desire once flared and faded like a flower–
all these remains laid out by some graveyard artist
who wanted to glorify God with his brothers’ bones.
With each step, you squeezed my hand and I held
my breath wondering if love could endure such death.
Then we saw the dark sign at the end of the aisle
and stood there staring at the haunting message of those
disembodied monks who now spoke to us:
WHAT YOU ARE NOW, WE ONCE WERE.
WHAT WE ARE NOW, YOU WILL ONE DAY BE.
Alone now on my return to the Church of Bones
I recall how their words left us silent and numb.
That was their message and these are their bones
but I have a message of my own: REMEMBER–
WHAT WE ONCE WERE, WE MAY ALWAYS BE.
We walked down this dirt aisle together once, alive
and in love, our souls married in that dark sanctuary.
But now they dim the lights in the Church of Bones,
a gesture from the Brothers, it is time to move on.
(Published in The Atlanta Review, 1998)
A Last Look
From My Father’s Steeple
This is your first time and my last time
up the narrow winding stairs
where we slowly make our steep climb.
My father preached beneath this steeple.
Hands on the walls, our fingers
read the old brick like Braille.
Up the groaning wooden stairs
where your perfume lingers
we slowly continue to climb
wishing there was a rail
or something in the dark to hold on to.
As we ascend the hour draws near.
Climbing around the clockwork
we spot on the wall where years before
I'd scrawled my name—I was here.
You smile and I can only smirk.
Past the huge bells I hurry you
for the hour draws near.
Finally reaching the door,
framed and splintered with light,
I unbolt it and step on through
to show you what we came here for:
God, what a view from this height!
From my father's steeple,
we can see the entire city up here:
houses, trees and cars, people
walking in the streets below;
modern port and sunken pier;
the Cooper River Bridge, whose arcs
span over the gray water's gentle flow;
buildings, parking lots and parks.
The skyline is needled with spires.
Of the Four Corners of Law,
this church stands tallest and inspires
within me the deepest awe.
In your light-hearted way,
you tell me, I thought palms
only grew where I come from in L.A.
Then you ask me seriously,
Do you have any...you know, qualms
about moving out there?
leaving the South behind?
Watching the wind through your hair
I realize Charleston won't change my mind.
Looking around my hometown
gently squeezing your eager hand,
I hear the clock turn and then the bells
begin tolling over the time-kept land.
The hour's come and I pull you near.
There will be no final farewells
but remember, we were here.