Ballast

Sometimes we turn to the darkness
as we stand on the edge
of oncoming, anticipated light
not because it is preferable
or necessary, but because
it comforts and gives a sense
of belonging to the things we carry
and wonder if they have a place
among the changes that are coming.
We mourn all deaths,
even those of what had never been
good for us, those that had been
slowly killing us the whole time.
Realizing they are lost to us
after all the pain of coming
to terms with their presence
and the makeshift beauty
we’ve contrived from the ways
they had made us suffer is
a fear and a melancholy of its own,
and a guilt too, almost
for a time outweighing our relief
for not having to suffer anymore.
Like the passing of a hero,
or the need for one,
making us again ordinary
and searching for the next
difficult thing to live for
so we could feel keenly alive.
When they call it self-preservation
we think about staying the same.
And then we call it a loss,
shedding the things that only
weigh us down. But to live
is to not drown, and at some point
we realize we are surrounded
by water. We get high on breathing
because the perilous tide outside
us is made of the same stuff
as the part liquid our spirits are.
We forget that we are souls
that have bodies. Our intimacy
with gravity and falling belies
how majestically we can rise
without denouncing the ground.

Claustrophobia

It’s easy to feel limited
when you’re surrounded
by walls and a low ceiling
characteristic of houses
built in the 1960s
and half of the floor space
covered in Mega Bloks
and monster trucks

and three-fourths of the silence
eaten up by toddler talk
and most of your time
promised to the husband
and child
and making it work.

And if it weren’t for
the size of my past
I would definitely feel small.

Before this I was just
an idea away
from taking the world

but today I am a universe
of thoughts germinating
inside a woman’s body
an aleph of grand visions
whose hands are busy
with menial chores
and whose freedom is
hanging out to dry
on porch railings
of this suburban home

just one of many
alive and listening
to fugitive winds
and the clock ticking
awaiting my turn.

A Rock Legend’s Origin Story

They made a patchwork pattern
of magenta, turquoise and daffodil
rectangles, taped on the inside
of a bar’s street-side window.
The colors of paper commonly
used by photocopy centers.
I imagine there are at least
a hundred identical copies
flying all over the city.
On bus stops and lampposts,
on windshields and the loops
on wrought iron fences.
Each bearing a name
agonized over for many days
by the members of the band,
trying to round up their identity
and the message of their music
in four words or less,
printed in bold, slightly edgy letters
with maybe a creative portrait
of the aspiring musicians
in the background,
looking at you
or looking off the distance

where they are maybe dreaming
of Grammys and world tours
sold-out concert halls
and platinum discs
mounted on their walls
their hit song becoming an anthem
for an entire generation
and maybe even a spread
on Rolling Stone
because they’re pretty awesome
and they have the spark
and are willing to stand together
in a cold alley by the bar’s back door
hugging their instruments
listening to their inner cues
while waiting for their turn
to play for the Thursday night crowd
at this establishment that agreed
to give them a spot at the window
and one shot to show
the world what they got.

On the Banks of the Rubicon at Dawn

And if we never see the world

if we never slow dance with the sky
or sweet talk with the clouds
or get intimate with a virgin sea

if we never get carried
by bullet trains to places
that will rewrite this life
for our weary eyes

if we never find
our storybook adventure
or lay our heads
in the cashmere of twilight
with ephemeral diamonds

if we never share a table
with fame and fortune
to get drunk off liquid temptations
and bottles of expensive sin

if we never change the course
of history, or touch
the hearts of millions

if we miss the chance
to write our names on walls
where we will be remembered

may we be wise enough to see
that the love we found
has always been enough
to feed our dreams
and our sense of wonder

that inside it we have a kingdom
and the wind blows like
satin mysteries over the miles
of our inner journeys
where we have traveled far
and seen plenty

that we are worthy

that here,
we did something that measures up
to the prestige of ancient
civilizations we never witnessed
and the glamour of foreign
languages we never spoke

that our choices to drop
our anchors at this shore,
to build a home and over the years
keep repainting these same walls
so we could hope to feel new,
have all been rewarded by voices
and footsteps and little handprints
of postcard-worthy moments

that over this old familiar horizon
we have seen sunrises and constellations
each different from the one before
each beautiful

that what’s outside
of the universe we’ve created
may be lovely, but
it can be sung with
a few well-chosen verses
and vicariously lived
in quiet contentment
through the words and lenses
of those who walked
a different path from ours,

without regret

and with my hand
clasped in yours

Wildcard

Before you can conquer the city
the city must first occupy you:
break your spirit
into weightless feathers
that go whichever way
the wind blows,
overwhelm your heart
with a crushing,
liberating sense of smallness
and overtake your purpose
with the haste of strangers
crowding the downtown streets.
It will first exhilarate you
scathe you with the dignity
of its loneliness
and worry you that you
might never quite fit in
with a voice no one has heard
and a music only you
can distill from the chaos.
Before you can own the dream
its price must first
claim you as one of its pawns
and scatter your pieces
on the snow
and make you retell your story
over and over
until you’ve unmasked
all the traitors
and run out of excuses
for all your bad choices.
You can’t take a bite
from the apple until
you’ve been baptized
with your strongest convictions.
Before you can hold
the world in your hands
you must first learn to dance
with the hunger
and the missing parts
of a cold, unforgiving night
and lay your truths down naked
among hardened egos
and their unspoken prayers
for an early spring,
where they might burn
as passion’s sacrifice
and help usher in
the next sunrise.

Western Sunrise

A great adventure
is about to take hold of me,
in the form of a strong wind
and half moons over trees
and the brick homes
of a thousand unspent dreams.
It bears the scent of a new age
and an unharvested wisdom,
petals on the pavement
where I walk
like a pregnant prophecy
and a shining city unconquered
mature and experienced
but virgin
to the brand of magic
that pours words into my prayers,
open for conversation

where I, unnamed,
unknown and untested,
am surrounded by icons
and iconoclasts
heroes and hustlers
healers and hopefuls and Homers
the nine-to-five-just-to-get-bys
and the Fortune 500
cruising the edge
of the structured madness
within the 45 speed limit
along the lake shore,
a few shifts of gears from ready
to infuse my rhythm into
these sophisticated streets
and mean traffic
uncompromising and destined
to penetrate the heart
of the metropolis
like a bullet train
levitating over tracks
forged in legends
and uncorrupted suns.