Blessed Are the Thinkers

“I always knew I’d be preaching to the choir.”
John Lithgow

Firstborn daughter
of two preachers,
I was groomed to follow
the family tradition.

I sang on stage when I was three.
By four, I was picking out songs
on mama’s piano.
If only they hadn’t taught me
to be a critical thinker,
it might have happened,
I might have been an evangelist
like Mom and her sister, Bonnie.

I might have been a pastor,
like Dad.

Comfortable on stage,
a mighty voice,
lover of words,
but some of those stories
just didn’t make sense.

I’d ask questions,
and I wasn’t always comfortable with the answers.
I preferred logic to magic,
believed faith required proof.

I knew I was a disappointment,
the discordant voice in the family choir.

Even so, I think I followed their footsteps,
ministering
to students instead of parishioners,
preaching
the importance of thinking for oneself,

I want people to find heaven on earth,
to be accepted for who they are.

Kindness and love are holy enough for me.

How Long, Exactly, Is Eternity?

“I’ve never been to heaven, but I’ve been to Oklahoma.”
–Hoyt Axton

No one I know
has made the trip to heaven
and come back to tell about it.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin
landed on the moon,
and brought back photographs.

Marco Polo came back from China
with noodles and other treasures.

Heaven, though, if it exists,
we can only imagine.
If someone tells you they know for sure,
pretty good chance, they’re lying,
or taking some other liar’s word for it.

Here’s what I’d like it to be:

Nice weather, but not the same every day.
Work to do, but not so much
that there’s no time for play.

Healthy children
with fields and forests to explore,
Dogs, cats, goats, and llamas,
Elephants, tigers, rhinos.
They’re all vegan now.

Everyone has a home,
and if they want one, a garden.
No one is shunned.
There is no such thing as cruelty.
Or boredom.
Politicians are not required.

You’re there with me, love,
as young as when we first met,
when we were in our prime,
but knowing what we know now,
how precious time is.

Moon Shadows

Life is full of losses.
Nobody warns you.
You learn,
one loss at a time.

I could lose my eyes,
my legs,
my mouth,
but I’m not as cavalier about it
as Cat Stevens. He doesn’t say
that what you really lose
with each of these losses
is your independence.

Some losses are necessary,
like innocence,
or inevitable,
like virginity.

Some people never lose
gullibility.
Politicians and salespeople count on it.

We lose our looks,
plastic surgery notwithstanding.
It’s good to have character as a backup.

We lose lovers, parents, friends,
and we cope.

We lose children,
a loss I can’t even imagine,

and memories,
a loss worse than death.

When memories are gone,
do we welcome loss of life?
No one can tell us this,
or what lies on the other side.

Like all the lessons of loss,
it requires experience,
a step into the afterlife.
Maybe it isn’t loss at all.

A Poem for Hard Times

It’s cruel to put a firefly in a bottle.
I wish I’d known this as a kid.

It’s cruel to put children in cages.
This isn’t a fairy tale, and the president is no kid.

A knee on the neck or shots in the back!
Either means someone’s daddy isn’t coming home.

Then there’s the matter of Confederate statues.
If only we could save the horses and remove the traitors.

Hiding monuments won’t fix systemic racism,
but acknowledging racism is a small first step.

The first Civil War didn’t end white supremacy.
A second Civil War won’t either. Let’s try something else.

Covid-19 isn’t classist, but the healthcare system is.
Essential workers die for capitalists’ sins.

Can you eat porridge in a mask?
If not, can you safely open restaurants during a pandemic?

You build a cottage above the treeline for the view.
You build in the trees for protection from the wind.

If you can hide away in a cottage,
you probably have other resources.

What strange times we’re living in. Dating by Zoom,
goodnight kisses are less than satisfying.

This lethargy! Is it heat or anxiety?
I guess we’ll know when winter comes.

Even Blake Would Be Confused

Do cats build campfires?
Tell stories?
Watch fireworks?

Never mind!

I understand emojis
about as well as Blake
understood tigers.

And who is that ghost
lurking about?
Is someone framing a shot
or giving the ghost a sign?

Maybe I’ll do better
with Whitman.

Season of the Itchy Gritches

Blackberries, big as my thumb,
but for every one, expect two chiggers.
You won’t see the chiggers,
but you’ll see the little red mounds
where they’re sleeping
when you take off your socks.

They’ll wake you up in the middle of the night,
partying, I presume.

I wonder if they’re jealous
that mosquitos get all the press.
Probably not.
It’s safer to stay undercover.
There are no government spray programs
for chiggers, are there?

Are they related to the no-see-ums on the beach?
Do they know the biting flies
that share the season with them?

I should be grateful
that all the biting monsters
come in one season,
albeit a long one, spring through fall.

Through all the long months,
slather my legs with geranium oil,
careful not to miss the spots behind my knees
that itchy little seed ticks prefer.
Wear crew socks, toe-enclosed shoes,
and look forward to the first hard freeze,
just making sure, before the happy day arrives,
that all the green tomatoes are in.

No To-Do List Morning

Start fresh, sun through windows,
bright or clouded,
it doesn’t matter.

Coffee burbles into the pot.
Its acrid scent,
an empty page, and
a purring cat on the table
are enough.

Not quite silent.
Through the open door, wind
rattles limbs, sings through the leaves,
accompanied by a host of backup musicians,
crows, out-of-tune jays,
woodpeckers, those virtuoso drummers.

No one notices when I step outside
except Nike, her tail slapping air.
Birds continue their song.
Squirrels taunt my dog, walking shoes
crunch gravel in the drive,
and a story takes form in my head.
The air is cool, but not cold.

Back inside, the television is silent
and daily chores can wait.
My fingers tap, tap, tap
the keyboard,
Nike snores at my feet,
and brushing my right arm,
one hind foot resting against the laptop,
that still-purring cat.

Ekphrastic Haiku, Hour 5

Who knew the real gold
in these mountains was sunshine
and summer tourists?

Umbrellas, useful
whether it rains or sun shines,
our all-weather friends.

Heart carved into bark.
I hope the love lasts as long
as the tree counts rings.

On the cusp of night
last rays warm an empty boat
as the stars move in.

Look up into fall’s
last show, baring branches hung
with splashes of gold.

Dear Hope

Dear Hope,

Where are you?
I thought you might check in
from time to time.
I haven’t heard from you in months.

I hope you’re okay.
Maybe you are traveling,
visiting someone who needs you
more than I do.

We all need you.
Maybe you’re just tired,
or on sabbatical, maybe
in a cabin in the woods

writing your memoir.
I hope you’ll be back
before fall, before the fall,
sometime.

USA 2020: a Bop

Only half a year,
and surely we have reached some kind of limit.
How many problems can we handle at one time–
global pandemic that shows no signs of slowing,
systemic racism, another black person shot in the back,
drought, unemployment, hunger, despair!

It’s hard to find solutions
when your president’s a liar,
when the whole dang world is threatened
by his pants that are afire.

In the south, masks are seen as too liberal.
Meanwhile, the president holds a rally in Tulsa,
bringing infected staffers with him.
Science, dear people, could offer solutions,
limiting the spread of the virus and
finding alternatives to the fossil fuels
that fuel our economy, melt the permafrost. Common sense
and compassion are necessary, too.

It’s hard to find solutions
when your president’s a liar,
when the whole dang world is threatened
by his pants that are afire.

We could change the tax laws, so black kids
and poor go to well-funded schools.
We could treat addictions like the illnesses they are.
We could bail out citizens instead of corporations, provide
healthcare to the sick and PPE to essential workers.
We could offer help instead of policing, but

It’s hard to find solutions
when your president’s a liar,
when the whole dang world is threatened
by his pants that are afire.

Okay, an hour isn’t long enough, but here’s a draft, something to work on.

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