Restful Meditations on a Spanish Word
Pronounce the vowels
clearly in the Spanish way,
slowly in the Mexican way:
clipping off the "oh" at the end before
it collapses into our English dipthong.
The word means "rest/ relaxation"--
"de-tiring." Me canse' de rogarle. I got tired
of pleading with him--or her.
Cansar: to tire.
Descansar: to relax, to rest.
Tengo que descansarme un rato:
I need to kick back for a while.
However, a descanso
is also a memorial to someone
mis-fortunate enough to die
in an accident
either along a highway,
or, as I saw once at Moro Bay,
a wreath with a photograph
of two boys
swept out to sea
by a rogue wave.
(A note on the wreath explained
that one body
had been tossed back on the beach;
in the case of the other,
the sea got too tired,
not to return him to shore.)
A Descanso is a Latino tradition
helping to slow us down
at certain dangerous corners
as we travel
in the fast lane of American life.
from Beyond Modesto
first published by Calapooya Collage/19 (Summer, 1995)
At El Escorial,
in another wing of the palace,
you're likely to be herded
too quickly past another painting--
this one of Goliath sprawling
all his massive weight
unconscious on the ground,
and of a slender boy David
still trailing his lucky sling
and straddling with wide-legged effort
a bulky opponent.
From the fear in his hollow eyes
it is clear that David
knows the potential of brute strength
to arise, shake off minor scrapes,
and slaughter again.
So he prepares to budge
Goliath's own sword,
and with one swift blow
sever the trunk-like throat,
turning those unsightly sinews,
finally at peace, into
mounds of Mother Earth.
from Beyond Modesto, first published in Contexts South (1994)
An Attempt to Account for the Tardy Return
of Moha, Martin, and me
from the Medina in Fez (1 December 1991)
You might add it up this way:
we spent the afternoon looking for a shepherd.
What we got, at first--not too surprising--
` were Moorish arches (Bab Boub Jeloud)
leading to many busy shops, along a lane,
descending to our right,
where "unofficial guides" leapt from the crowd,
offering to direct us toward discovery.
As professors--all three--
we could share an old debate: should we proceed
"farther" or "further"? -- each step another entrance
into our private mental mazes, where doors and donkeys
might startle us--BELLECK!-- back
to ancient walls, or leap ahead to something
we had in common with the unknown,
with the future, with the past.
Putting it down another way:
we were departing for our origins, as well as from them, winding
down those paths past leather workers,
guilds of silversmiths, bronze and iron--
jewelry, daggers, gold, silk, jalabas, dates, walnuts, postcards,
radio shacks, audio cassettes and videos next to schools
and mosques full of people praying, open fountains,
many-colored costumed water carriers offering
shiny bronze cups; barbers, beggars--
all vendors of anything that might be of some value
to someone, at some point in time.
Yet another way to cipher:
I never glanced at the watch in my pocket,
even after I collided into Abdellatif Kayati,
who invited us for coffee.
What I valued was the chance
to glimpse past the present:
how life "must have been lived"
in that "some other place"
in that "some other time"--yet still to be knocking
up against the presence
of the workers of those streets, outside and inside
who still bargained with the value of their actions,
who still bargained for the value of our emotions.
The "unofficial guides" had it right:
there were miracles behind doors,
and a labyrinth full of shepherds
wearing many hats; shepherdesses,
behind many veils--and I can't even speak
for myself to tell you the price
I might be willing to pay
to find a way through,
to find a way out,
to find a way back, forgetting about time,
forgetting the bottom line. BSSAHA!
from Beyond Modesto, first published in Calapooya Collage/17 (Summer 1993)
Watching For Whales
Slick black-skinned fish
in Sea-World tanks,
surfacing, smiling, squealing
for our applause
or the trainers' feed.
"Killers," they said
to call them:
but we were deceived by fog
into looking for gray islands,
fellow mammals of a larger size
that travel north.
Or human swimmers
in an indoor pool,
taking their laps slowly,
their whole weight foundering
in our lane. One kick from them
meant an ocean of water
in the face.
Evolution, even in a lifetime,
defies binocular vision. Today,
aboard a ship off Anacapa,
everyone hears the captain:
"Whales are shy; we try
to charge up on them real slow."
"Don't watch where the bubbles are;
that's where the whale has been."
And on cue, at one o'clock:
a white spout, a loud snort, and rolling
then a barnacled fluke wave.
"This is the captain speaking again:
life just doesn't get any greater than that!"
from Beyond Modesto
A Four-Door '57 Chevy Sedan
Besanc,on, France, June 1989
From the outside
all I'm seeing
is another "classic car"--
the hyped nostalgia for an era
I survived in a distant place. Say, man,
those '50s were good times in the USA,
but I need to travel on.
But from the inside
I brake. All that room!
on a seat made comfortable for three,
in a "body made by Fisher,"
looking over the same
black metal dashboard
that overheated so often in California.
One time, on our way home
from the beach, Susan sat in the middle,
leaving an empty space
on her right-hand side
pregnant with meaning.
And out the window right now
it's Besanc,on's narrow streets,
and fortifications, with present-day
pedestrians hopping back
onto the sidewalks
to avoid our swift passage
from Beyond Modesto, first published in Calapooya Collage/14 (Summer 1990)
All day long our muscles
know the tug; we push
from time to time against
its pull; we measure
what feels light or
weighty; we perform
basic calisthenics, such as
standing on two legs
or sitting down with
a kind of spasmodic
art" in certain quarters.
In fact, however, we never
knew another way
or needed to describe one
until a late-sixties moon
landing beamed back
those bouncy Armstrongs
in glossy suits, termed
"light-hearted" and "heroic,"
or later, quite shocking,
space-station Mir floaters
common earthly bonds.
To think that Isaac Newton
should have to explain
the obvious. Any child
can see that apples fall!
But it takes adolescence
to understand attraction
as a constant, our strength
maintained most often by
resistance: playing hard to get.
But late some nights, clearly
middle-aged, and two
millennia behind us,
we cast our aging bodies--
still objects in Love's odd game--
on a tight-sheeted mattress,
where we are even
fastened and unfastened,
semi-conscious of the stars.
from Beyond Modesto, first published in The Moorpark Review (Spring 2001)
Old L.A. Palms:
rotting elephants toes,
no deep roots,
but long, gray, spindly legs--more likely a giraffe's
how they tower
a hundred feet above
two-story buildings or any other tree
how they cast
even longer shadows,
and wave their floppy, foldable fans--more like
frayed elephant ears
how their years
outstretch the competition
from eucalyptus and telephone poles
how they bob
their heads and buffet--
so unlikely--the hot, dry winds
such awkwardly tall,
ugly plants now,
when compared to royal palm or date
for more than a moment
at sunset, they rock and roll
any reality check
from Beyond Modesto, first published in The Moorpark Review (Spring 2002)
Morning Becomes Coyote
In dry September fields, at the crossing
of two roads, two brown pools of water--the eyes
of the gray-brown fields--the first sparkles
in dawning light.
So little water this time of year,
but on-going life. A wake-up call to renew
the gamble of the morning in the Malibu hills.
And those two pools, dwarfed by two tall
horn-shaped ears--or ear-shaped horns
(because they breathe in quiet sounds)--
preserving, not alarming the tranquility.
Keen-smelling nostrils. Truly-mouthed speech
in standing still, remaining silently alert so long.
Daring the fields not to make false moves.
Becoming a seamless, brown-gray coat.
from Beyond Modesto, first published in The Moorpark Review (Spring 2003)
Brain washed? Who wouldn't want that total immersion
into those still-to-be-discovered ethereal formulae
hosed from all angles and lathered, then rub-a-dub
scrubbed through each and every synapse, scouring the rough
edges of Depression, Envy, Wrath, Avarice, and other
misfiring misconnections including Youth's smooth illusions,
age's tarnished mythologies?
If a few vivid memories get
shaved clean in the process, then grow back prickly stubble,
how much better than the encrusted porcupine quills of cliche'd
thinking! A completely new Pantheon of Poets, journalists,
politicians and non-Talking Heads--like new-born children,
now full grown adults, after a long swim, taking first steps
on a shore where the first person they hug is their significant
Other--a warm-blooded animal, breathless, who, for a time,
won't need to talk back. from Beyond Modesto
"their life is hidden with God"
"Hey, coach, how
'm I doin'?" my one-month-old
seems to say--his eyes milking light
from the big-leaf maples, as we drive by
the creek in the park--he facing backwards
in his car-seat carrier, legally buckled; I
with one eye on the road ahead (but also quite often
turning around: a two-eyed glance at him).
"Great, kid, just fine," I whisper,
remembering how I coached his mother
as she squatted, pushed through
each contraction with her chin down,
giving birth, and the top of his head dropping
a little farther each time.
"You're out in the world now,"
I might add, slowing down at corners,
thinking how lousy I was at sports
in high school (always choosing the library
for recreation). How did I, now at forty, ever
get on the coaching staff? . . . find the means,
after so many hours of storm, to lift that squirming
sea creature onto his mother's breast?
Exhausted, when asked, I declined
to cut the umbilical cord.
But, today, it's calm weather in the park.
He's already an expert at effortless
breathing, grasping, and squeezing.
He's the dairy farmer now, and poet, too,
of what goes in the mouth. I may still be
at the wheel, but he's the one
eager to get ahead, while I turn round. from Beyond Modesto
Dad's Memorial Day Sunburn
You'd think my dad would've read enough,
known the percentage
of ozone depleted each year,
lived long enough
to be a little smarter about intense
exposure to the sun.
He was there and should have listened
while my mom applied sunscreen lotion,
watched her cover my face,
arms, shoulders, the back of my neck--everywhere
thoroughly to protect my young skin.
Dad should have taken the hint, too.
But my eight-year-old enthusiasm for water
on the first hot day of summer,
and the lake still brimming, splashing a bit
over the spillway,
led my dad to near amnesia. His mind had just
adjusted to the Spring. How could
another year have gone by?
And the waterslide just opened:
that headlong essence of life
snaking down a plastic tube of Bacchanalian
shrieks before I'm dropped
just like the other children
in a turbulent blue pool, and the lifeguard shouts:
"Quick! Move out of the way!"
At eight years old, that kind of speed doesn't bother me.
I run right back upstairs, line up with the others
waiting for endless repetitions
of your new-found ecstasy
until my dad denies me that heaven
I would surely enter
if dad would only move a little faster,
out of the way of my expanding will.
Bouncing up again
against his old-fashioned limits,
eventually I settle
for a small, ice-filled cola,
happily sipping it through a straw
outdoors near flashing video games.
By night we're both exhausted, but I'll never
admit it. I'm still asking questions:
"Why do twenty-year-olds like rock and roll?"
And my dad, lobster-bodied on balding head
and shoulders, replies: "You'll see when you're old enough
and forget your sunscreen lotion."
from Beyond Modesto
full of gray eyes
searching for problems.
Those searing beams
lock on a child
who must learn
to hold their gaze
or bounce it on
to another kid.
It's a game of hot potato,
and the rules are well known.
There's always at least
one trouble maker
in every class.
Once the child is caught
turning away, apparently
refusing to listen,
out comes the ammunition:
an overkill of forms
requiring the release
of black-and-blue parental ink
In our culture
eye contact is extremely important.
When the bounce doesn't happen,
they ask: "what's the label?"
They make sure
you remember that gaze
for the rest of your life.
from Beyond Modesto
Axiology: A Study in Values
First arrival at the high-school parking lot:
an axiom in getting the day started.
Second steps out of car doors toward a time-honored,
horror-striking institution called Lycee, Gymnasium
for access to the trivium.
Third and fourth bypass of the either/or theorem: flee or fight.
Consider five architectural corollaries:
1) blacktop most everywhere, and white cement paths
leading to off-white buildings and organized-play grounds.
2) bells--no! loud buzzers--sounding every fifteen minutes.
3) some buildings labeled "English," "Science," "Social Studies."
4) interiors with long-echoing halls and collage-managed classrooms.
5) all subject matters', all paths', point: "Administration,"
lest playgrounds and libraries prove private worlds.
Luckily all tours, all enrollments, happen in space and time;
every foray is "success"--honing coping skills,
lowering anxiety levels, never ending in sixes and sevens.
Write down eight or nine "proofs" concerning discrete behavioral skills.
Don't count past ten digits, or abandon hope;
move on--only slightly-damaged goods. from Beyond Modesto