Two Choices

Consider the ocean, the graceful flow of its give

and take. The sheer force of its forward motion, exploding

against whatever lies ahead, and the humility of its almost

instantaneous retreat.

 

Consider the jagged rocks enduring the tides, mutable

but not movable, allowing themselves to be shaped

by external forces. And still, resolved

to stand.

 

Consider the sea lions, oblivious to anything other than their most

basic needs. Struggling against their own weight. But huddled

and happy.

 

Consider the driftwood, whittled by the surf’s furious churning. Stripped, scarred,

and made beautiful by its surrender. And the fragments of shells, polished

and glistening like shiny pieces of trash that magpies steal

to decorate their nests.

 

Consider the deep silence of human footsteps on the soft paths

of redwood forest floors. The stillness of skylit mornings

and fireside nights. The nearly seamless blending of the built

with the natural.

 

Consider Mars, a glowing red dot, distant but prominent, not unlike

the fiery end of the cigarette you smoke on the deck while you contemplate

all the moments that led to this one, and whether future ones will measure up.

Before you stand on that ledge, above the swirling foam and errant logs

trapped and turning, and decide — despite everything —

to jump.

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Weather

An elderly man stands alone on a busy corner of San Francisco in the cold rain asking for help.

I don’t know his story, but here’s what I do know.

His name is David.

You can find him most days on the corner of Mission and Third, or outside the Montgomery BART station.

A coffee shop at that corner puts out tables with huge umbrellas, which he refuses to stand under even in the pouring rain, so as not to interfere with business “in any way, shape, or form.”

He’s respectful.

Also, this exact spot affords him the flow of traffic from four directions, which, he points out, would be reduced to two under the umbrellas.

He’s strategic.

He holds out a cap, the old man variety, with a vintage-looking tag sewn into the lining that suggests it’s well made.

He’ll ask your name and shake your hand. His hands are warm and smooth. They feel like padded mittens.

He won’t take the umbrella you offer.

“Don’t worry about me,” he’ll assure unprompted, as if responding to a mother’s concerned look. He’ll smile and repeat “I’ll be alright” like a mantra, blinking against the pelting rain.

Observational learning

The sea casts an aqueous net with the grasping end

of each crashing wave, as if saying, This belongs to me.

Trying to pull back into its belly all the castaway shells

and bull whip kelp it discarded in a fit of rage, realizing

it still wants these things.

 

And then it recoils, as if in humble self awareness that even its own

unknown depths can’t hold that which wishes

to be free.

At 30,000 Feet

On ascension, the land appears a dusty blue,

like a ground-up piece of pastel chalk.

 

Mounds, the shade of brown you get when you mix

all the colors together. Dotted with dark green

trees that, from this height, look like a barber’s dustpan loot

after a busy Saturday. Or a particularly active anthill

discovered under a dilapidated front porch.

 

Fields a patchwork of grass and grain, complex but orderly

like a pattern reserved for the longest-tenured blue hair

in the church basement quilting club.

 

Concentric circles of cars and houses, like breadcrumbs

dropped by a turned-around and not-yet-out-of-the-woods

Hansel and Gretel.

 

And then the mountains, white-topped like off-shore rocks

where birds go to shit. Or a moldy piece of your grandmother’s

Irish soda bread. Or the sink in a bathroom

where a child is still learning how to brush his teeth.

Amorphous bodies of water, like the blue-light shadow

of a monster in your bedroom at twilight.

 

More mountains, like vanilla ice cream cones, dropped

and melting on a swimming pool deck on the first

hot day of summer vacation. Or salt spilled

from a shaker knocked over at the dinner table

by an over-exaggerated arm motion during a heated debate

between a soon-to-be divorced couple.

 

More water, the type of blue that painters become obsessed with

and go broke to buy.

 

Rivers like streamers, twirled across and taped

to the corners of the stark white walls of an empty banquet hall.

Or a spool of thread the cat unraveled. Or the cord of a wall phone,

uncoiled and stretched across rooms, with a father yelling about triplines

from down the hall. And then that moment before the phone,

hung upside down like a baby Achilles, drops

towards the floor, tenses, and curls back onto itself.

 

Clouds floating like scum

on the surface of a hazy lake.

 

Chemtrails overhead like low-hanging backyard clotheslines, bowing

under the weight of wet linens. Or the one remaining

slack string on a thrift shop guitar.

 

Fog furiously streaming at eye level, like a laundry vent

on a sub-zero day. Or the manholes of Manhattan,

anytime. Or the smoke your dad tried to wave away

when you spotted him mid-cigarette, after he promised you

he’d stopped.

 

Small towns aglow, like colorful pegs from an overturned Lite Brite

on a playroom floor. Or the dwindling embers of a morning campfire

you thought you’d extinguished the night before.

 

Land cracked, like the vase you broke but blamed

on your brother. Spilt, like your brother’s arm after he lost control

in an alley-way bike race. Creased, like satin bedsheets

after the last night you’ll spend with someone you love

who’s going away. But they

remain.

The glittering now

I wake to the muted static of freeway traffic in the distance.

It’s comforting, like a den radio someone’s grandfather fell asleep to in a burnt orange recliner, long after last at-bats and even hours later, when they run through the highlights of the baseball game he was listening to.

Or maybe the hushed whooshing is a lone horse in the greenest of grassy pastures, serenely swatting flies with its tail. 

It’s the whispering creak of a weathered hammock, resting between two bowed birches.

It’s that cozy quiet, that contented state of being, the freeze frame inside the moving picture: before the frayed knots give way and the hammock collapses. Before the horse gets spooked and bucks clumsily into a fence post. Before the radio angrily blasts heavy metal and startles the grandfather awake.

I linger a little longer so I can commit this insignificant Sunday morning to memory: when the world was still moving but I was still. And the present remained untouched by the future. And for a brief, suspended moment, everything was perfect in the stillness of the glittering now.