Day After Day

We say, "That man is dead,"
Who we were before;
And we are the children of our
     former selves,
The splitting image, same voice,
     same traits,
Yet new and different, better,
     more aware,
Condemning the old man to the grave
     day after day.

A Gift

The boy paced around the pile of coal.  His skin was nearly as dark as coal and covered in coal dust.  The air was thick with smoke from the many coal fires in the camp—about as many fires as there were families—and a haze of soot filled in the places where the smoke did not reach.  All around, filthy pigs snorted and chuffed, hanging their snouts just inches above the ashen dirt, and mangy dogs—the other source of protein for the miners and their families—lounged on the hard ground and gazed at the hot piles of coal.

He was waiting for his father.  It was four in the afternoon and his father would be returning any moment.  Everyday as far back as the boy could remember he and his father burned coal until long after dark.  His father would take the basket of coal down from his head and dump the coal on the pile and then father and son would do a kind of dance around the pile, lunging in to poke it with their long sticks.  Once the flames rose out of the pile and the heat grew, father and son would make a wider path around the fire and when they dashed in to stoke it they’d turn their faces away from the awful heat.  It would go on for hours, sometimes six, however long it took to burn the coal down into coke, a fuel they would use to cook their dinner and also take to market.  At first his father would be exhausted from his ten hours in the mine, but the fire and—the boy hoped—being with his son would soon invigorate him and it’d be a pleasant time.

So the boy waited, and waited.  It was not unusual for his father to be late and the boy was not worried, only eager.  He prodded the pile of spent coal and circled it.  His mother and three sisters were there too, swaying outside their tent.  Even with the film of soot on their faces and frilled dresses, they were sundara, which is Hindi for beautiful; pulled back out of their faces their black hair was long and thick, and their thin bodies were womanly despite the slenderness.  They wore turquoise dresses and stood there braiding bracelets, except the mother who cradled an infant.

But the boy paid no attention to them.  He looked in the direction from which he expected his father and now he saw a group of men appear out of the haze and smoke.  There were four or five of them and that was unusual because the shifts ended in ten minute intervals and the miners typically straggled into camp one at a time.  The boy rose his hand to greet them, assuming one to be his father, but none returned the gesture or as much as smiled and the boy realized his father was not among them.  He stoked the pile with his stick and looped around it, and ignored the men as they approached his mother.  He thought that if his father did not soon return he must himself find a basket and head to the mine for some spilled chunks of coal.  There must be a fire.  If it was not started soon the coke would not be ready until very late and then his father would get very little rest before his shift started again and tired his father would not be as productive and would need to work late to meet his two-ton quota and then, and then and then.

And then the boy felt something hard and heavy on his shoulder.  He at once flinched away from it and reached up to touch it.  His bony but strong fingers grazed the blunt tip of the pick as it fell from his shoulder and bit into the baked earth.  He turned and looked down at it.  Around the neck of the pick were several of the colorful thread bracelets that his sisters wove.  He looked up the handle to the hand that held it, a hand like his father’s, but not, and his eyes fixed on the hand.  It tilted the pick toward him, and a voice said, “Take it, Bandhu.  It’s yours now.  It’s a gift.”

Death and Life

Like the Psyche, le Papillon, the Butterfly
That was less,
A crawling creature still hungry, always eating,
Never satisfied, could never rest,
That wallowed in the cocoon,
Apparently in no way blessed,
Who in that bleak sarcophagus said no more
Breathed no more breaths
And then awoke and burst forth with wings--
     That is death.

Life that dream that flesh that time of I while the Other sleeps
And dreams of touch and taste
And pain,
Bound by gravity unlike Pure Thought
Who the Other __, existing on the immaterial plane,
Where Ideas are born,
When it ends Pure Thought awakes
And goes about the Eternal Day.

Everything SFO

One of the men BEHIND me said, "I think there's an old Chinese proverb that goes, 'The only way to get rid of temptation is to give into it.'" Nervous thus excited people on the shuttle from the lousy Holiday Inn to the train station at SFO.  Quickly you learn to sit in the back so you can tell who's talking and write about them without anyone looking over your shoulder. 
     As the train departed the station a woman in FRONT of me shouted, "Shit!" and dashed after her big roller-suitcase--it rolled into a woman wearing a burka.  Seated in the BACK of the train car, I noted the event in my little pad.  The voice of the conductor was light-hearted and personable and tinged with absurd.  "This train is bound for ..."  AND I AM LAUGHING AT MYSELF.  "Next stop Glen Park, Glen Park ..."  AND WE ALL GOT TO WORK!  WHO EVER THOUGHT I'D BE DRIVING A TRAIN!  LITTLE JOHNNY LAPSKIN FROM BERKELEY.  I AM A GAY POET DRIVING A TRAIN!
     Walking down Sixteenth Street I admired the graffiti and murals and a tall brown-skinned man with a do-rag said to me, "What the fuck you looking at?"  Later I answered, "Everything."
     That classic red convertible Corvette, that purple Vespa, that man or woman in a filthy ski-jacket picking butts out of the weeds.  The clashing construction, the shaky rafters, the slopping paint.  That man by the bizarre who you thought asked you for money and when you turned to him reaching in your back pocket for one of the dollar bills you'd stuffed back there he said, "You looking for that crystal?"
     "No," you said.
     "Oh you want that weed.  That's me too."
     "No, I'm okay.  But thank you."
     The tourists and the hipsters in their wing-tipped shoes.  The skyscrapers and the statues--the big balls of that horse on which Bolivia sits.  The people facing outward on the trolleys and the antennae of the trolleys sparking and gliding on the wires.  That lady slumped on the sidewalk who did ask you for money and when you gave her a dollar from your back pocket she said, "I wish you'd've pulled a twenty out of there," laughing and smiling like that dark girl outside the strip crib who said, "Hey there, handsome," and you smiled and she said, "Look at that smile."  The crosswalks.  The reddish orange hand and the numbers counting down.  That young, uneasy policeman in his fresh black uniform unkindly giving directions.  That staggering old man in his stretch pants and purple halter-top.  The strong fortyish man with his life-possessions spilling from his grocery cart.  The poor in the shade with their backs against the trees.  Their weathered faces and perceptive eyes.  All the Starbucks.  All the automobiles.  All the red balloons in Chinatown.  Huge pork rinds and plastic Samurai swords and lady's slippers with flowers embroidered on the toes.  All the people on phones.  All the people taking pictures.  The blond guy with a tiny head and deep-rutted jaw pushing a stroller.  The white-skinned men trying to look good in tight jeans.  The stretch pants on the manikin's legs, the large lifted plastic buttocks.  PIZZA BY THE SLICE.  PAKISTANI CUISINE.  CENTER FOR SEX AND CULTURE.  L'EGLISE DE NOTRE DAME.  The hills.  The lingering haze.  The thin arms of that model on his bike on that billboard.  That server in that cafĂ© preparing menus.  The fishnet stockings on that woman's legs in that photo in the window of that erotic gift store.  That fountain of fountains shooting like fire hoses this way and that and that dark-skinned girl with enormous breasts posing for pictures in the fountain.
     San Fran is a city of friction, a city of lust feigning intellect, a breezy city made to blow the soul, a city that grabs you and never lets go.  A tantalizer, ruled by King Tantalus, who loves to pass on his divine punishment.  San Francisco is a throat-deep bath with fruit-laded branches hanging over it, and they recede when you reach for them.
     Temptation never goes away, it just steps out for a smoke.     

Born of Blue

Born again, born again, each day anew,
Like day itself, which is yellow born of blue.

To sleep, to dream, is to die;
To awake to be reborn, to be new;
To be fresh, to be clean, t’ve been washed
In the ocean of a dream.

Born again, born again, each day anew,
Like day itself, which is yellow born of blue.

Light comes, then goes,
You rest, you die,
Drifting in the cleansing sea-flow,
Floating until the end of time.

Yet you wake, are born, and rise anew,
Like day itself, which is yellow born of blue.

In Silence Hear

I called the children slobs.  I was not gentle with them.
     We took a noontime sail in the park.  Comme loin que le ceour peut voir des arbres.
     A train glided along the shoreline.  There were many tanks of oil that reminded me of submarines.  That rough black.  That pill shape.  The hatches.  I supposed America drank more gas than water.
     Pacific pointed out a murder of crows.  Their triangular black shape.
     We imagined sailing on a storm-thrown sea.  The grass dove in on itself.  We cut through a valley of ocean.
     We stood on large smooth stones
     And spread our wings
     Counting three, two, one
     And flew.
     Strangers spread a blanket over a picnic table and spread their lunch.  Pacific lived on the stones.  The sun shone and made a warm wind.  A woman in a white coat with black buttons paced aimlessly across the field.  The sunlight flixed off the windshields of the cars going down the hill.  The front of the car parked next to ours was smashed in.
     I took roads new and saw a beautiful sculpture of a black bear and many beautiful working-class homes.  At the grocery store we got stuck behind someone who waited five minutes for a spot to open.  A black woman with beautifully curled hair and a beautifully long nose walked in front of our car.
     Pacific wrote on his hand with a red pen.
     Pacific took a shower today.  He likes the shower now.  The shower sounds like fire.
     Kirsten and I did not get along this morning.  She was mad because I was unhelpful while she cleaned the house.  We stopped talking for an hour.
     The reasons have little to do with what you say.  Not ineffable but inexpressible.  Transcending nuance and habit.  It is the energy in the hands.  Her hand and your hand clasped that makes the shape of the heart.