Sunday, February 22, 2015

Learning to Color Outside the Lines

In the third grade I kept a diary.  One entry was preceeded by a Bible verse:  "Be ye perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect."  Underneath I recorded my intention that from that moment on I was going to be perfect.  I would color inside the lines, always be places on time, do my chores cheerfully, treat grownups with respect and courtesy, get straight As in school et al.  I actually succeeded pretty well at most of those goals - I had a lot riding on it and I was a stubborn kid.  But no one can be perfect.  Nevertheless, the sincerity of my intention was recorded in a letter to God, requesting that He take me back to Heaven, so that I would no longer be driving my grandmother into an early grave, as she frequently mentioned me doing.

"You are driving me into an early grave" is a statement most of the children of North Bennington had hurled at them from time to time, from harried mothers.  No one in North Bennington was in therapy.  If someone became a raving lunatic and ran down the middle of the street in their underwear, screaming, that person would be hauled off to the state mental hospital.  Everyone who fell short of that was still walking the streets, raising children, teaching school, standing behind the counter at the store et al.  It was a treacherous world. 

The early grave accusation had some extra punch at my house, because it was often followed by my grandmother sinking on to the couch, clasping her bony chest, and croaking, "Go get me my pills.  Hurry!"  I was indeed a murderer in the making.

My grandmother lived to be almost 80, back in a day and a time when that was considered an unusually long life.  I went on to try, during the 1960s, to be as imperfect as I possibly could.  I have had a long and interesting life that has not ostensibly been ruled by attempts to be perfect.  Nevertheless, when I really look at my life, I find underlying it all an enormous glacier of would-be-perfection that never stops whispering to me or silently tying my muscles into knots.  Some part of me is still trying to color inside the lines, to get it right, to meet other people's expectations.  I have even managed to aquire a massively bogus reputation as the "Angel of the Homeless", or  "Mother Theresa of Gainesville" because I volunteer in the homeless community.  The desire to help homeless people is very real, but the giant dog and pony show I created to out-service all those other do-gooders out there (not a conscious goal) may have been from a child who was trying to be perfect.  It doesn't matter.  Most human projects are the result of mixed and ambivalent goals, ranging from the altruistic to other, hidden, agendas.  The Home Van has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life and I would never trade it in for purity of motives.

A few years ago I took up painting.  My early paintings are really, really bad because everything was perfectly colored inside the lines.  Coloring books from WalMart would be more interesting as art than those early paintings.  Finally, the epiphany came - forget the f***king lines - be wild!  As I continue to paint, as I turn in my pink slip to the Mother Theresa Employment Agency (except for a small food pantry - I still need that connection to my homeless friends), as I walk into a scary world outside the lines, I find myself needing to trust God.  For me, God is outside the lines.  And blessed be!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Allness, The Isness

webbed feet across a field of stones,
a fall of water, a tin tub,
a tuba, a tumescence,
a time when larks fall from the sky,
cries of the dying gathered in
barrels full of marmalade she made
that summer of the bitter oranges.

Lamb of God who taketh away the
bins of the world, have mercy on these
bins of sins.
Bless us Brother Broccoli,
Bless us Sister Stone,
Bless us old men who live alone,

for we have walked ten thousand miles
through stars, giraffes, and pocket combs,
 we're going home,
we're going home.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Southern poetry is sold

from backs of pickup trucks on country roads.
Hand-lettered signs for miles say

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Heavell and Hen

God I howl
for friends who are dead,
for friends who are dying,
for children of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine,
for all children.,
for polar bears drowning
who have no ice,
for blizzards, tornadoes, flood,
for those who die in cars
on interstate highways to the sky
that day, some days, any day.
For those addicted to pills, to booze,
to heroin and crack,
for all those who can't find the road home.

Help us keep looking for the road home,
help us keep looking for the road home,
help us keep looking for the road home.

Beloved God you have named the road home.
Friends who are dead,
friends who are dying,
children of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine,
all children,
all polar bears,
blizzards, tornadoes,
all cars,
all highways,
pills, booze, heroin, crack,
all the road home,
all the road home,
(and yes)
rainbows and unicorns,
all the road home.
as our hearts are purified,
as our spirits grow strong,
all the road home.

Friday, January 9, 2015


You've been a mean year.
Mudslides, floods, blizzards,
heat waves, earthquakes, tsunamis,
so many gone we loved so much
when you arrived.
Robin Williams left us
one lonely morning when
no-one else was home.
Bill Cosby, the only dad
some of us ever had,
is lost behind a cloud of allegation,
dark fog that rise will never
above the sound of fading laughter.
The year of the One Percent
I just don't get, I wonder so
how many pairs of diamond-crusted pants
I could put on one leg at a time?
Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden,
Michael Brown,
Iraq, Afghanistan.

And still I see
a full moon rise
above the live oaks,
above the collards and the broccoli.

It all means what the stars are singing,
lullabies we can't quite hear.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gray Day

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m entertaining ghosts:
Uncle Seth drunkenly carving a turkey, 
one eye on his old beat-up TV set.  
Aunt Florence screaming at my shrieking, circling cousins, 
mashing potatoes with one hand, draining turnips with the other. 
My Baptist grandmother threatening to leave, doesn't need a ride home, will walk,
just found out wine is going to be served with dinner.   
She probably would, strengthened by the enormity of her moral rectitude, 
except her house is five miles down the road and it’s bitching cold. 

I never thought I would miss them, but I do today, 
just a little. 
We were alive then and our little circle of purgatory enfolded by a gray and silver world,
 by tapestries of black branches, by winter birds.   
We had dreams.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Big Words

Armageddon stretches out
a long judgmental arm,
Geddon!  Geddon!
Little Babylon!
Darwinian canticle of embryonic destinations,
Frankensteins in farthingales,
Geddon!  Geddon!
Gesthemene’s gossoon,
His howling hallelujahs
Kaleidoscopic meditations,
Salvation’s tintinnabulations,
Geddon!  Geddon!