Courting Failure

I can trace our falling out
To the day she failed to hear me
When I said, “I am afraid of failure
But the prize is worth the risk,”
And, said she, wholeheartedly,
“I agree, that nothing’s worse
than failure.”

I failed to hear her first, of course,
As she had not heard me,
And so I blundered on and said
I needed her beside me
To push me on, despite the chance
That I might stumble and collapse
Into the mire of failure.

She took my hand and smiled at me
And said, “Of course, I’ll do anything
To keep you from the airy paths,
To pull you back when you come, free,
To the precipice of failure.”

And so our road divided when
We faced a choice of cliff or fen:
I said, “Well, push me on,” and she
Cried out, “no, wait, come back to me!”
We curse each other still, and wince
At failures that have followed since
From follies that could not be seen
For fear of courting failure.


This is not the poem
That I was supposed to write
With little nymphly parallels and
Bold colorful allusions

This is simply to apologize
For the poem I could not write
I could not compress it into
Any kind of form but
Wild, ungainly prose

It’s sitting on my desk now
Wishing it were elegant
Wishing I were elegant
Wishing it were anything but prose

This is how rebellions foment:
A tentative discontent
With the order of the world
A first realization that perhaps
Our gods are not quite big enough
To make us what we want

I do not wish to go about
Putting limiters on God
But perhaps He also finds himself
As frail as I am

Before my work of art
Not so much unable but unwilling
To make the kinds of cuts and dissolutions
That would please another artist
Or even the unnamed longings of the work itself

What can my poem do
To work revenge on me
For never quite creating it
So little power has a piece of art
Over its creator

What can a poem do
But resist my gentle molding
Denying there has ever been
Such a thing as poetry?

Living Fires

I read somewhere
that a flame
is identical to respiration:
The chemical combination
of oxygen with any other thing
both requires and releases heat.

Iron, carbon, nitrogen,
anything combines
when the time is hot enough.
And the turbulent re-creation
is limited only by a lack
of fresh new things to burn.

Like the legend of the man
who fought and fell, and as he died,
instead of growing cold and hard
his body burst to flames.
Intensity alone
makes a flame to glow,

forces us to breathe,
and draws a little line
to separate the living
from what’s only ash and smoke.

One Hundred Baths In 50 Days

I remind myself, as I turn the tap,
Of the masculine image of bathing,
The wild-west ideal: public bath-houses
With cavernous tubs and nearly naked
Women to bring the towels and cigars.
As if I could ever endure the smoke;
As if I could ever let someone close,
So close and nearly naked next to me.

I still take showers for cleanliness sake,
but once I’m clean and dry, I find myself
Kneeling once again before the faucet.
I lied to myself when I said I was
Better, that the shadows of last autumn
Had finally slipped from the washbed of
My mind, like rotted leaves into the soil.

Instead, I find I’m languishing, stretching
Little bits of work to weeks and longer—
Even months. So feminine to pretend
That pleasure leads to action, that languor
Can be transformed into desire, that if
I lie here just a little longer, I
eventually will want to rise again.

It just takes so long sometimes, after a
Little trauma, to learn to breathe again.
It’s so much easier to slip under
The water, to watch the little pieces
Of oil and skin swirling and floating to
The surface, to pretend that standing
water can somehow lead to cleanliness.

I’ve taken one hundred baths in fifty
Days, lying in the water, trying through
Excessive inundation to restore
The fields of memory to something green.
As if such unmanly activity
Could soak out the tiredness from my insides;
As if the bathtub faucet were a spring
Of Lethe that could soothe my troubled mind;
As if I would do almost anything
To keep myself from doing anything.

Man Made Shores

Today I sat on man made shores
and watched a little river flowing
In the course that we had cut for it

I lay down and felt the current
and listened to the water laughing
as it fed the marsh-plants
In the clefts of man made rocks

I glanced left where cat tails stood
four feet high
waving at the wind
gripping the remains
of some prior earthquake

and wondered who gave them leave
to rest there, and who
had bound me in

Watching and Waiting

I would like to rest here for a while
If I could only keep my heart from rising up
But I can see the mountaintops
And eagles on the breeze
And I can hardly keep myself
From yearning…
Oh me! Oh my rising heart! But down!

Sometimes it is difficult
To constantly have to remind myself
That now is not the time
I want to stretch my wounded wings
And fly.

This poem perhaps requires some explanation. I’m trying to think of the best way to go about it, and it seems to me that the best way is the long way around.

I wrote this poem while visiting one of my favorite churches. It appears that right now, once again, I am looking for a new church. It’s difficult and time consuming to explain exactly why I’m leaving one church and looking for another, but: I’m looking for a new church, and I have fond memories of this church. I went to ministry school here. Ministry school was probably the most unpleasant experience of my whole life. I can’t really explain why things were unpleasant, except that “things fall apart/ the center cannot hold.” Sometimes everything just works out badly. Suffice it to say that three or so years ago I realized that I was working in the children’s church every service, not because I like children (which I do), but because I didn’t want to go to the main service. It actually hurt to go. It was painful to watch people doing the very things that I knew I was good at, but that I also knew that if I put my hand to them, they would fall apart. Everything that I did that might be recognized was a flop. Everything that I did in private was an amazing success. It was as if the hand of God was against me. Imagine trying out for the school basketball team and being a complete klutz. You can’t run; you travel; you can’t shoot, and when they throw the ball at you, you instinctively duck. Then when you’ve completely failed your chance for the team, you stand in the court after everyone has left, and make three-point shot after three-point shot. Three kids from another school show up and challenge you to a scrimmage, you against all three. You play them and you totally walk. They can’t even hold a candle to you. So you show up for tryouts the next day and you forget how to tie your shoes. You get on the court and you fumble; you trip; you travel. You don’t make a single shot. You run off the court in complete embarrassment before the tryouts are even over. And the next day you come back, when nobody’s there. You pile up the balls beside you, and just stand there in the evening heat, sweating, making three-point shot after three-point shot. That’s about what it felt like.

So now I’m visiting this church again, thinking, “gee, wouldn’t it be nice if I could end up here.” It really is an amazing church. There’s a certain kind of raw edged freedom there. Their stated goal (and they’re slowly achieving it) is to get every member to find their niche in active ministry. Creativity seems to just come flooding into you during the services. It was while I was going to school there that I got into my mind a solid plan for what I want to do with my life. I have this idea, see. I want to own a Christian bookstore. But not some cute little boutique. I want a religious version of something like Border’s, only better. I am firmly convinced that, if the Christian God is real, then Christians should be the most creative people on earth. In my mind, the only things that could be getting in the way are religious structures that don’t encourage creativity, and economics. I can’t really do much about the religious structures, but I can work with economics. So I want to create a business that searches out Christian art, literature, and music and gives financial backing to it. (This is the part where I go off the deep end and get really excited about it, and foam at the mouth and stuff.) But I’ve got everything on this long-term plan. I’m going to college for an English degree. Then I’m going to work in the business world for a while, both to pay off debts and to get some hands-on experience in planning and running a relatively large business. Somewhere in there, I plan to get married and have kids. (The I’m dating right now plans to become a doctor—this could take a while.) So sometime in the next 30 years or so, I plan to achieve this dream.

I have a point for that last little bit about my goals for my life. There’s a I knew at this ministry school I went to. She herself doesn’t draw, but she started an art in worship workshop as part of a ministry project her second year there. Similar my second year project was a poetry workshop. It was a flop. I had one person attend from another church, who never came back. Her project didn’t flop. It was a smashing success. This year she’s expanded to poetry and dance. I was there when she told the workshop people her goals. She wants to have these huge conferences for Christian artists and poets and musicians and stuff. They are planning on incorporating aspects of her little workshop into everything that the church does. I could feel the bile rising up in the back of my throat. She’s doing now what I hope to start (at the earliest) maybe in ten years.

Every time I go to that church, it’s so wonderful. I really love it there. I feel so much at home. But it always comes back to mind that other people are there doing the very things that I plan to do, only their doing it bigger, faster, better and they’re doing it now. It’s probably good for my pride, and maybe I’ll eventually get on that basketball team, but it’s still so hard to consider whether I want to go back there, because I’ll constantly have to remind myself that now is not the time.

Scientists and Poets

There is so little guise between
The poets, prophets and scientific men,
That instruments have rarely been
Available to measure there
When mortal souls met man to man
With gods.

Those great creatures, higher-ups,
Never seem to have any truck
With men who want to analyse
And take their measurements,
And quiz them on their sentiment
Of things that sometimes seem

The spiritualists and poets can’t be blamed;
They can’t control these sorts of things.
A man can only testify of what he knows:
That only moments or hours ago
There were astounding creatures
Flying everywhere.

“Yes, I know they’re not here now.
No, I can’t explain it. It’s just amazing how
Some things can always find a way to leave.
My cousin also came by today,
Or maybe it was just a plague
Upon my mind. I have been breathing
Lightly lately.”

Those pernicious gods are always
Making fools of mortal men.
And how they should be pitied, those
Who are gifted with the second sense
Of ear as well as eye:

Always hearing echoes in another realm,
The sounds of mocking laughter
Flowing steadily up and down.
Unless their hearing was acute,
There could be some misdirection.

Who is mocking whom?

It Was Oft

It was oft, when I was young
That I bit the hand that fed me
They gave me discipline with my pleasure
And fed me greens with my gravy

I thought, “The hand that feeds may also grasp
And hold me to an iron task.
They are fools who stick to their rails
And live by what is taught them.”

So I favored experience
To any kind of dissertation
I leapt on high when I should creep
And laughed at those who’d stop me

I am a little different now, I think,
A little battered for the wear
A little mud’s stuck in the ironworks
From all the times I left the rail

I’ll grant I’ve made some new roads
Where before was only trees
But what a way to forge them
And at what great cost to me!

So I find myself now lecturing
To anyone who’ll come my way
That discipline was made for pleasure:
“Listen to experience, and stick to your rails.”

There’s Just Something

There’s just something
That I’ve simply got to know
Am I breathing
Or is it really just a show
Is there a savior
Who could change the heart of me
Is there really something
To believe

I’m devoted
If I could only find a cause
I’m just hoping
For a way out of my thoughts
Am I sinking
In my castle made of sand
Is there somewhere I could
Make a stand