For a few years now, I’ve had an ongoing schtick where I invite people to give me a one-word cue for poetry. It’s a blatant cribbing of an idea I first saw in the movie, Before Sunrise, when the two main characters come across a gondola captain who does the same for them.
The cue-words were whatever people wished to send in, ranging from the ordinary to the deliberately difficult. Usually written within 15-30 minutes and tailored to resonate with the person they were written for.
Seeing how they’re stored in an inbox with fixed storage space where they will someday fade into the ether, perhaps it’s better to memorialize them here over time, instead.
Part 2 will be all the ones written in the second half of 2011.
* * *
“I have three things I’d like to say today.
First, while you were sleeping last night,
30,000 kids died of starvation
or diseases related to malnutrition.
Second, most of you don’t give a shit.
What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit
than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.” –Tony Campolo
Sickness, sickness, sickness unto death
The sufferings of the innocent, many
The broken bones, they whimper
Under the weight they carry
Lesion, boil, scar, puncture
Carbuncle burns–burned…can’t function
Limb and muscle, withered to nothing
In the heart of Africa, there is a parasite
that burrows into eyes, and eats them from the inside out
Tell me, what motherfucking purpose can you claim for something like this
On an earth created by a loving God?
When the world cries daily in its pain,
A grieving child, orphaned, alone,
Its anguish unattended, ignored
Tell me how all can be well
In your bubble of a suburb
Where your churches spend their money
On their music, on their lighting
On the theatrics, their people driving
through the ghettos in their SUVs
Windows rolled up, doors locked
Too scared to look at those who need him most?
When your worlds are divorced that moment
your remote control garage door closes,
The bridge across the moat drawn,
Your tiny little castle now safe
Amongst the fifteen hundred other little castles
A community in name alone, whose concerns
extend only those “like me”?
What Xanadu, what pleasure-dome is this?
What Babylon, what Sodom of thy compassion-less living
dare you freely choose to live?
How can it be that “everything sad is coming untrue”?
No…take up your hearts of compassion
Take up your shield of faith
Take up your helmet of salvation
Rally all those whose hearts burn for the world to be made right
Speak to them of the kingdom come to earth,
Of diseases cured
Of hearts and hands mended
Of people come together, that none should be let to perish
Of a law not by coercion but by allegiance
Of a love that will triumph over the world’s evils
That they may indeed know, that they may trust,
That they may believe in heart and head
That, truly, everything sad is indeed coming untrue
And that we, the people of a love divine,
The bearers of those broken hearts mended
We will partake in that world made right, its creation,
And when the battle is won, the sickness no more
The banqueting table will bring us all together,
One kingdom under God.
* * *
So you want to enter this world.
Welcome. Take up your badge of isolation.
It’ll come in handy here.
You’ll find you’ll never use it.
You’ll find you’re always using it.
You’ll be everywhere, be with everyone
Be in twenty thousand conversations
In fifty five different settings
You’ll be the invisible one.
The walls, they bleed of
Sordid, squalid, sulfuric scents
They speak, they do
Of magic, of wonder,
Of scientific sorcery that no one understands
Of the heavens made bright
With the crackle of a million branches
reaching towards the sky
Yet never quite touching them.
You will lay the foundations for the world
The purist, seldom tainted by the evils of letters
Of accounts, of markets and of Menlo.
You have courage in you to endure this life
Though it will take all your harvests,
Take all your first fruits, and spread them to the wind
Your children will become your ghosts,
Your eyes and ears, too tired to receive them.
You will be remembered, but only by the learned.
This is the life you will live.
Do you accept it?
* * *
Captain Cook! I do decree
That in the distance, land I see
An enigmatic symmetry
That speaks a fine name, “Botany”
The land is pasture, open, free
Its vines, of beauty, made for me
And though improbable, can it be
That sinner, I, be saved by He?
* * *
Nutsack is a word
That implies a lot of slack
* * *
Speak of sine: an oscillation
Solars: rich in constellation
Water: surf and massive flow
Telco: towers, row on row
Many of these waves transverse
Rarefaction sound, though, will disperse
The science of a structured motion
In these we find…some favored notion.
* * *
There was a time in recent past
When silence was my steed
Through brightest day and darkest night
Still forward, did I go
The house was barren, lifeless, still
A roommate, never seen
The pantry, stocked with not a meal
But a box of tangerines
The Campbell’s soup, no work of art
Not macaroni, not cheese
The freezer, fortunately spared
From death by pizza feed
Yet never quite, I be so free
To roam the earth and see
With wondrous friends I do decree
Those 20s filled with glee.
* * *
In the year that hope died,
I saw the collector, seated on a black horse,
Dark and foreboding,
With a trail of sorrow, following in his wake.
Mourners knelt before him, each having three cries:
one of grief, so tenderly observed,
one of loss, the empty sorrow that pestilence had brought upon them,
one for justice, that one day, it might indeed be served,
And one called out to the other, and said
“Pain is the megaphone to rouse a deaf world”
Then the foundations of that stale, sterile room–left unchanged,
As we said our goodbyes and let our tears fill the room.
“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly.
Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively.
But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”
Then one of the children came to me.
In her hand, a star, etched “memento mori,”
which she had taken from Peter’s keychain.
She placed it in mine, and said
“…I guess this is goodbye.”
I heard a voice ask “who will be the speaker for her life?”
And inexplicably, I said, “me.”
As I wrote and planned and remembered,
As the song played, “you give and take away”
As silence fell, and hope was lost,
And my heart echoed the words, “still yet I will praise,”
As those last words in my throat choked their way into being,
I found the courage to write.
Some of the words were blurred by lacrimation
And in some of the harder paragraphs, silence sufficed.
In the year that hope rose again,
I saw the kingdom come down to earth,
And shalom returned to the land.
In the wake of inevitable peril,
We were rescued,
We were redeemed,
We were promised that everything sad would come untrue,
And that it would happen not in an instant,
Not in an eternity,
But that each day would work to bring it to fruition.
And as I stood there and spoke of her life,
I remembered that I could afford to bear the sorrow,
I could understand its gravity,
Let it affect me,
Know that it did, in fact, matter
…and yet that all was not lost.
Everything sad is coming untrue,
The black horseman will not reign,
and the kingdom will one day take its true place on this earth.
…this, above all, is the good news that we may know;
this, above all, is the good news we will bring into the world.
* * *
Oh, the troubles of Chipotle sourcing…
Those fresh, those clean, those hormone-free
Those tubs of meat thine eye can see!
Cilantro rice and salsa three,
Those avocados, made to guacamole
With tasty chips by salt of sea
How fine a meal, made for me!
* * *
Peter didn’t know what to say
A man of wisdom, without retort
against the allegations, many.
To speak against accusers’ charges?
Certain death, a life made forfeit…
But what of Virtue? Courage? Kin?
Should these be sullied by abject sin?
What horror, did thine prophet wreak
That but one day, till he turn meek!
Amidst what he should know untrue:
That water still, thy footsteps knew
But in the moment, frailty speaks
And so grand a man, so swiftly weak.
The prophecy, its need so true
Yet painful in its path to New–
A tearful, sorrowed lack of speech
To bring a tragic end to each:
The hero lost, so early on
The stewards left on darkest dawn
To see themselves in all their ails
And mourn this revolution, failed
But no, you say? Do not despair?
That by this death, the kingdom spared?
How far this be from common lot!
The death of one, replaces naught!
For sake of ten? Perhaps a thought
But death has come, his victim bought
What good can come of what they wrought?
“To speak the truth of kingdom come
A single son, beloved, lost
To take the place of all the world
A generative hope, forever true:
That death, as destiny, no longer due
And the road to home, now made complete
By one man’s cataclysmic feat”
So grand the act, so great the news
That those who learn, not merely “choose”
How deep this love, they dared hope see
That overwhelmed, their passion be!
And Peter, too, how weak his part
Should see the strength of human art
And grand, his journey, those years in sum
To know so deeply, “thy kingdom comes”
* * *
When Nemo left to find his dad
A journey did await him
Of jellyfish and turtle surf
and sharks that were mistaken
Those frightening teeth! Those eerie grins!
Dare be he vegetarian?
“Why yes,” spoke he, a fine decree
For those averse to mayhem
And clownfish, these, a silly bunch
But loyal, sweet, and able
To travel depths of stormy seas
To craft so fine a fable