Some sort of a prayer

I gave a rambling talk recently and a long line of teenagers came
Up to speak to me afterward and it was instantly clear that every
Single one of them wanted to ask me something while ostensibly
Asking me something else, or say one thing while seeming to say
Something else. I was so instantly moved I could hardly stammer
Any sort of answer. I tried hard to hear what they were not saying
Aloud but were saying with remarkable courage. It takes startling
Courage to be a teenager, you know. There are so many theatrical
Personas to try, but masks and disguises can get stuck. Or you get
Trapped behind walls that begin as protective but become prisons.
One kid in particular stays with me. He’s tall and shy and nervous.
He says How do you deal with rejection? and somehow I instantly
Get it that he does not mean essays and stories and poems and how
You handle people saying steadily bluntly no to your insistent yes!
He’s asking me about hope and despair and lovers and heartbreaks.
He’s asking about the girl or boy he adores who does not love him.
He’s staring at me. The other kids wait politely. I want to reach up
And cup his face in my hands as if he was my son, but you have to
Be honest with kids, you cannot merely bloviate and issue arrogant
Pomposity, so I tell him you have to learn to be neighborly with no.
You are going to see it every day and you might as well be friendly
With the concept. Someone else’s no doesn’t actually kill your yes;
It only means that someone else’s yes is still out there waiting. You
See where I am going here? There’s more yes than no, is what I am
Trying to say. I suppose that’s what we mean by faith. Faith’s a big
Word, bigger than any religion. It means yes where everything sure
Looks like no as far as you can see. Am I making the slightest sense
Here, son? I actually call him son. The other kids must have thought
I was being avuncular but for a brief moment he was indeed my son,
And yours too. We shook hands and he held only my hands just a bit
Longer than the usual thing, which I took to be some sort of a prayer.

Sad little patriarch, rubbing his gloved hands together

“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the
 dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?”
                                                                                    —Psalm 88

Some days I feel as old as father Abraham,
doddering father of a teen-aged daughter
who last week attended her first “real” concert,
at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown.
When will my own days feel real again,
the frozen clock hands begin to turn again?
When will this chemical burning in the veins
stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed?
I wear this long wool coat against the cold
that hurts me, covered with two scarves,
my face covered to avoid any feeling
of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling
like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin.
There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling.
Maybe that is why the winter mask,
last week found at Target, most accurately
resembles a terrorist accessory, all black-
hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it,
I would appear on campus like an ISIS
recruit, no doubt a proud servant
in his mind, clouded by the violence
of the mission and sentence he honors.
O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes
occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled
at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood,
guise of a hangman (not the one hanged),
I fear that campus security would target me,
bucolic space locked down in emergency
protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist,
strapped with the various wires of my sickness.

The soul just wants to live now

Christ knows how we loved her.
Now there’s just that field
Where the light is still
Blown like a first leaf.
It is a fir tree.
There is only one life
On earth. Love must be here,
And dying. Everything must be here.
One summer she watched the grass.
In the afternoon we sit in the car
By moving water. She shuts her eyes.
She will live forever. If I must go
Let it be like this
River with a woman watching it. Already
There is nowhere that river is not.

Pound pup makes it new

Rush frantic pup out to pee
(tenth time this blustery night),
and he sits. Still. Nose to sky.

Those waving black boughs! Rustles!
Scents! Flickering petals
with stars! First drops in the eyes!
Amazing wind chimes! Moon gate
of pine! Plane! Roar!
Huge all-billowing chill world shine!

The bees, etc., one Sunday afternoon in July

There are more urgent things to do than dig
Around thirteen astilbe plants. But I’ve
Had all my sins forgiven. Pinks and reds
Clarify in the sun. Bees whirligig
As bodied angels might: they dart and dive
At flower-spires, tending what earth soon sheds.

A plane flies over, low, jet engines screaming,
Obliterating thoughts. (Planes are routine
Here, near O’Hare.) Things are as they have been
Once quiet’s back, but they’re more real-seeming.
Things are as they have been, but now the bees
Look less angelic, more like predators—
Like weapons from some video game’s strange wars
Controlled by players safe from enemies.

I push the pitchfork deep into hard ground,
As if both feet and my full weight were needed
And innocence could thereby be expressed.
Things are as they have been. Real wars abound
With players . . . Well, I’ll get the garden weeded,
However far it is from sabbath rest.