Liquid Jade

The ocean runs like liquid jade
Poured between fingers, pure and clean
Empty like I wish to be long enough
To settle between ears that heard too much.

God poured his glass of water here
So that I could see the bottom
A reminder of spots that can be touched
But many more that remain to dive for.

Should I take a break from these poems –
Lyrics to songs I sing alone –
Try to dance to a song everyone knows?
Not to give the night to conformity

Just to break the darkness
With a light from wax,
Words melted with a flame,
A spark that smells familiar, if foul.

Did the child wonder,
That darkness would not scare him?
Did the chid wonder
What darkness would inspire?

Image: Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

Into My Own: My Story as a Writer, Part II – Why I Wrote (1986)

I began my autobiography as a writer with an essay that explained how I began writing. It told the story of how I wrote my first poem in a note to a friend and how intoxicating those early days felt after finding this vehicle for getting things out of my head into the world. In reality, I had no idea what that world was all about let alone how to communicate with it. I had merely discovered a tool for getting my thoughts out of my own head, perhaps simply to communicate with myself. So, why did I write? This communication proved invaluable for me to understand who I was. It took another half dozen years for me to learn the phrase introvert and what it meant and probably another dozen or more for me to really understand what the definition truly meant in real terms. I did know that my head got stuck on things that other people didn’t seem too interested in and I was labeled as Serious.

Like any teenage boy, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and needed to figure out how to fix this discomfort. Funny that none of my poetry about teenage emotional angst survived that fateful move that lost my enumerated, sacred early works. While this may have its merits in quality control, its merits in understanding what things plagued me are distinctly absent. Now, I only have a few remaining poems that I took the time to transcribe into the computer when I got to college, so they must have mattered more than the others, either because I thought they were of better quality or they meant something significant to me. They each offer different clues to answer the riddle of why I wrote (note, that I still kept the exact dates they were written, a helpful convenience today).

The Dreams of Coronus
May 25, 1986

Looking up from below
He stands high above me
I search in the heavens
As the world will see
Wherever I search,
He stands beside me
His hands support my soul
The dreams of Coronus
The dream of Peace
He watches
He understands
I feel the presence of Heaven

Aside from revealing my poor conjugating ability, what this really reveals is a significant clue into why I wrote. First, for clarity, Coronus is me; my name being Stephen, Stephen meaning crown in the original Greek, and Corona being the word for crown in Latin, the language I took in high school. I will let the pretentiousness speak for itself, but at the very least this serves as an early indication of being unable to reconcile this inner being who wrote with the outer being everyone knew as Steve. Not yet 16, I was writing about God, grappling with faith and finding confidence in my beliefs. This didn’t feel normal to me back then. Maybe it was normal, maybe it wasn’t.

I do know this confidence in my beliefs reflected in “Dreams of Coronus,” gave me confidence to reject a lot of the things that other kids were exploring at that age, like drugs and alcohol. The neighborhood I grew up in was a little more remote and off a too-busy and unsafe highway to walk down into town to hang out with the bulk of the kids. As a result, I grew up a little more isolated; not alone, by any stretch, it was still a neighborhood with neighborhood kids and regular activities like sledding and capture the flag, but it was far removed from the party culture that grew up elsewhere. In the end, this never bothered me, and the distance proved crucial in my development as a writer as well as a young adult. Plus, I became interested in Serious things, like God and peace.

The Child
June 19, 1986

Bullets pierce and echo the air
Villagers abandon their flaming homes
The king cannot see, only the Lord sees
Reasons do not matter as bloodshed begins

On a hilltop the one flag quivers in the wind
Tears pour into the Child’s innocent eyes
His brother has died in the flames of war-
Horror from what was once so grand

Unnoticed, underfoot our freedom drifts
We, sightless, block our ears from the Child’s wail
His father has died in the ocean of war
Only to be as us- free

The fire rages across the countryside
The Child is shot in his tears
The memory of his brother burns
The memory of his father drowns

One man fills his jars with tears
His son fills dreams with fears
Both are dead, burned by lead
Nothing left, there is no son

Nothing left, there is no village
At dawn the flames consumed the last morsel
On a hillside the one flag quivers
The stars shine, the bullets pierce the air

We bury the Child under the flag
His father would have won the flag
They bled too long for
A reason too wrong

Bullets pierce and echo the air
The village burnt to the ground
Does any flesh mourn the Child?
Oh Lord…

Reasons do not matter when innocence sheds blood.

These poems explain a lot about what this Serious late-15 year old boy was concerned about and goes a long way to confirming how Serious I was. My mother always called me Too Serious, a comment that felt more disparaging than she meant it to be as she longed for me to be healthy and happy. However, she was right. I was too serious to really fit in with my peers and really struggled with the right and wrong of feeling out of place in my own skin. With “The Child,” I began to tap into the compassion that I felt as an essential element of my Catholic lessons, and still do.

When I read these words today, I hear the voice of a young man compelled to write as a vehicle for expressing things he couldn’t just talk about in casual conversation. After all, who really wants to talk about war and God in between 200s at swim practices or while trading baseball cards or while sneaking looks at the latest Swimsuit edition? Thus writing became an essential vehicle to figure out how my beliefs defined my reactions to a growing awareness of the world and the great tragedies that were the by-products of historic events, here the death of children in war.

Vision of Tomorrow
July 31, 1986

The world is restless under my feet
I haven’t seen the sun in days
Black clouds hover the ground I walk
Yet there is no one to see what I see

The world rots in universal entropy
No light finds the grass I walk
Heaven’s tears flood the pours of my dry skin
Heaven’s roars frighten the tiny children

Here in this isolated town sleeps a naive soul
Blind by youth to the world in his eyes
He knows none see his visions
He knows he speaks false words

Here in this isolated town I sleep
Blind by youth to the mad world in my eyes
I worry of love and other bittersweet passions
I will rise above to see the world

Over the Appalachians and through the pines
I long to have the vision of years
Yet only through time will God grant my wish
I will still dream of mares in the night, and white stallions.

Lightning flashes in my eyes
The princes and slaves, two-faced societies
The land ahead is covered by clouds
I run onward in spite of my blindness

Does she on the blue-green hilltop have sight
Are the stars above hers to gaze in a dreamy awe
Does she lie blind like the naive soul I am
She is one of the merry youth

A naive child searching through the attic
I look for the key to open my sight
Soon I will find it and unlock the door
Open my eyes to the winds eluding me

The key has been stolen
The door opens before my naive eyes
The wind’s howl threatens the lies in my life
Of sweet music and star filled skies

Shut the door- my eyes burn
My ears long for the sweet music
Reality is upon the blue-green hilltop
The stars are ours in a dreamy awe

Is this my sight?
Are these mountains only my visions?
Will you look with me or sit alone?
I, naive child dare to be an adult

There she rests alone on the blue-green hilltop
She has the stars in her gaze of dreamy awe
If only the stars were not behind the clouds
I would trap the stars in her gaze

The world rushes behind the drag of my feet
The light of the sky is hidden for me to find
I write these words never to be understood
Like the scream of a child in a moonless night

Please let me gaze at a starlit sky
One last chance to wish upon my naive falling star
Soon the truth will burn this naiveté
My child will crumble in the heap of an adult

She sits with me on the blue-green hilltop
The stars are ours to gaze in a dreamy awe
The sun will shine upon our new days
The blackness of night will pass

Will the world wait for me?
I gaze my dreamy awe one last time
Run from the hilltop with me, dream and weep
Soon the world will turn in the palm of your warm hand.

The final poem rescued from those floppy discs perhaps tells the most about who this 15-year-old boy version of me was – and clearly, there is a lot of confusion in this mess of a poem. The loneliness of being Serious screams out as well as the isolation and the longing to understand why. There is arrogance directed at my peers and frustration about being young and naïve. There is longing for adventure and there is romance and there is longing for a mysterious “she” on a hill that will understand me and gaze up at the same stars I saw.  Maybe this she was the blonde runner I idealized and had a crush on or maybe this “she” is poetry or The Muse.

In these words, I find a boy who wanted almost too badly to be an adult without any real understanding of what that meant, but was fairly prescient about it “My child will crumple in the heap of an adult.” Clearly, not being Serious wasn’t a real option to me, and I was bound and determined to figure out why and what I was serous about.

And so I wrote.

Never Be Weak, Son

Darkness coats the room,
A slippery cloak donned by hiding.

Men look for a lost piece so hard
They must destroy everything,

Build around them, an armor:
Never be weak, son, never.

The tissue that constructs us,
Rolling like clouds out of ether

Blown by God into shapes that fit
Alongside everything else

Is weak, so weak it needs bones:
Never be weak, son, never.

Image: Light In The Darkness by Jarmo Korhonen aka Jarko

Song of the Week – The National “Afraid of Everyone” and a response “Whisper to the Ground”

This week’s song once again comes from The National, as I work my way backwards through their albums in anticipation of a release of a new album later this year. One can hope. This song feels very poignant to me, a song about media, alienation, and fear. Increasingly, feelings that grow inside my own soul, soul, soul, soul…. As the song reaches its passionate climax and Matt falls into a trance singing soul over and over again, it reaches inside me. See you next week.

I Whisper to the Ground

My son on my shoulders, I walk
Through the crowd at the carnival
I lift him wishing he could lift me
So we could ascend under Mary’s umbrella
When the winds shift from left to right
Together jump into a chalk paint dream
I will defend my family from the venom
I will defend my family from the hurt
I will defend my family from the drugs
Needed to sort through this red and blue
Mess. We will purple them together,
A much happier color for the new shoes
I walk in with my son on shoulders.

I whisper to the ground:

I, too, am afraid of everyone.

I, too, feel them swallowing my soul.

by Berninger, A. Dessner
[Verse 1]
Venom radio and
Venom television
I’m afraid of everyone
I’m afraid of everyone
Lay the young blue bodies
With the old red bodies
I’m afraid of everyone
I’m afraid of everyone

With my kid on my shoulders I try
Not to hurt anybody I like
But I don’t have the drugs to sort
I don’t have the drugs to sort it out
Sort it out

[Verse 2]
I defend my family
With my orange umbrella
I’m afraid of everyone
I’m afraid of everyone
With my shining new star
Spangled tennis shoes on
I’m afraid of everyone
I’m afraid of everyone

With my kid on my shoulders I try
Not to hurt anybody I like
But I don’t have the drugs to sort
I don’t have the drugs to sort it out
Sort it out
I don’t have the drugs to sort
I don’t have the drugs to sort it out
Sort it out

Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul

Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul, soul
Your voice is swallowing my soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul, soul

stolen from the wind

this quiet voice heard
stolen from the wind
wanting to take it away
to wherever wind goes
when it whispers to the dark

captured in a heart
in the beat of its four chambers,
tender, throbbing
kept safe,
given blood, given life

its echo led to a hole
sand dug by a child
with plastic shovels
in plastic pails
until deep enough to climb in

the surf filled it up
one gentle wave after another
until buried into a whisper
it began to cry out
“hear me… hear me… hear me…”

now heard
this quiet voice
surrounded by others
dug up from the sand
begins to sing

as it always has
to the gulls and dolphins
to the otters and sandpipers
to the crabs and mussels
who have been here all along

Will You Speak to Me of Monsters?

“Here I am, now, Boy, here I am.
Will you tell me about the monsters?
Will you speak to me, at all?”

Boy turns his eyes up, blank from the long absence
He opens his mouth and looks for a word to begin.
A silence slips from his tongue that tells more
Than any mash up of words can. We stare until
Eyes, blackened and dry, beg for mercy
From the desperate plea for an understanding
We cannot afford, the cost of his words too high.
On my knees, not to beg, not to pray, nothing but


His eyes follow my descent. Now something else slips
From his lips, more telling than the silence that collapsed
Me: “You. It was you.” My blackened eyes see the brown
In his. His hand reaches up and wipes sand from my cheeks.
His soft-skinned fingers bleed against the coarsest of skin.
Drops of his blood like necessary tears
To drain the black from my soul.

“What do I do now, Boy?”

“Speak to me of the monster…”

“I thought you would be safe here, so I left to defend us.”

“There was nothing to defend, without me inside you.”

“There was nothing to defend, without you inside me.
And so the monsters came, one by one, and for a time
I won, and chest decorated with medals, head praised,
Onward and deeper into the world, farther from you,
The monster who proved more intelligent than designed
Evolved to meet my defenses and slip inside them.

Once inside, it ate from the inside out until nothing
Remained of us but the poison half a man becomes
Without the boy he left behind who could steer him
Back into goodness like an anti-virus, like penicillin.
Until finally, it all collapsed, bones could bear the weight
No more, and the contorted flesh no longer fit the skin.
They all stared at me, a beast, a demon, a too human man
For the hero he pretended. There was nothing to defend.”

“Without me inside you.”

“Here I am now, boy, here I am
Will you speak to me of monsters?
Will you speak to me?”

I have no words, just my hand and weary legs.
Help me stand, help me walk, help me out of here.
Let me back inside,
I know the way to the stream
That trickled down the hill in the woods.
There we will drink clean water
To quench your thirst.”

He turns his eyes up at mine, our brown mirrors
Look inside one another and see
There was no monster.

There was no monster,
Just a child needing to know love
From the man who left to defend him
When there was nothing to defend,
Without him inside.

Image: The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Home Improvements

When we began our home improvements
The book said to rebuild the kitchen:
Get rid of old clamshell fixtures on cabinets,

Give them a fresh coat of blackboard paint

Install some LED lights in the ceiling,

Tear off the decorative box caging the pole

Rip up old linoleum, lay new Pergo floors.

But we had torn more apart,
The bath, too, stripped of fixtures,
When the money ran out,
We had just a hole in the floor
Where a toilet would be.
Now what?
Do we begin again?

Damned and determined to do it ourselves,
This space too small for a standard cabinet,
Our standards too high for just anything off the shelf.

We want to float a counter with a basin sink,
We want a skirted toilet,

On the wall, we want paper
A shadowy tree to entertain our guests –
Birds can fly out, freed of excrement.
The interior designer says this shitter
Needs to be the Jewel of the House.
The book tells us where to begin,
If we can get on the right page.

I want to use my hands,
To flush the voices inside my head;

This hole seems
Just the place to begin

When Do I Stop Writing This Poem?

I feel like bread and wine in sepulcher
The Priest will soon bless…
Body and blood
One soul
Stitched back together.

Drunk Aristophanes
Joked with Socrates:
“Love is a Mighty God!
Dear friends… Gather…
Describe for us… How…
Two become… One…!”
One soul
Wandering the earth
As halfs.

When did I begin
Writing an endless poem?
Socrates and Aristophanes,
Drunk on ouzo,
Laugh with the Priest.

Swim Inside My Words

“I want to swim in your words,”
She says and
An ocean opens inside me.
I have to pause,
As one should,
Just before testing the surf
To look with awe at the horizon.

But I will get to those words,
The depths of which takes time to expose.
Let us linger here in the echo
Of waves powerful enough to move
The rocks that make up our earth.
How do these waters hold us with such force?

“I want to swim in your words,”
She says.
At the waters edge I dig a hole
To make a pool.
My bucket filled with sand
To reclaim land elsewhere
On the island.

Speaking of pools,
Walk with me
On broken granite slabs
To where the tide collects
Life we can name
From depths now exposed
To the sun:

Sea anemone
Sea cucumber
Swim inside my words
Past the horizon.

Photo: Me, San Diego, Ocean Beach

Morning Reflections 6/8/18: Psalm One

For how long will we choose to be chaff
Allow wind to take us on its journey
Never alight in any one spot to root?
When not chaff, but seed we agree to be
Do feet find soil to root in and grow
To become that which our vocation calls
True to the spirit and with the seasons
Able to fruit when read and shed leaves
When fallen to make fertile soil underfoot
From which the next seed will emerge strong
Seeking sunlight and tasting the cool waters
That stream around us even on hottest days
When our hearts fatigue wants us to give up
To the wind go only to have the souls root stay.

image: Gustav Klimt, The Tree of Life, 1905

This morning’s reflections follow morning spiritual practice of reading Aurelius, the Bible, and meditation. The primary source of inspiration being Psalm One in a loosely sonnet-like format. This is only a second draft, so any comments or suggestions are encouraged!