A Different Kind of Light

When I’ve eaten all the chips,
I write it on the list, 
and soon there will be more. 
This more has followed me from birth. 
The earth has tilted just so, 
has shaken the not-so-much,
the less, the never, onto other lives,
other lists. I have visited 
their houses and bare shelves,
their cardboard on the street grates,
and handed some to them,
knowing there was always more. 

O, the secret price of more—
blankets laced with smallpox,
produce picked for pennies,
blue jeans sewn in chains. 

Torches lead the way
to keep the world
on tilt to more…
we need a different 
kind of light
 to say Enough.
High Stakes  
                This is how he grows: by being defeated… 
                                                                                   — Rilke 

The angel’s office is in a mall, a storefront featuring God is Love 
t-shirts and bumper stickers— she’s a low-level seraph, stuck
 with marginal cases. We agree to a game of cards— 
less sweaty than wrestling.

The angel sits across from me and plays her first card— 
the rippled arms of a tupelo. I trump with burnt koalas,
She comes back strong with a child’s laughter,
I tender an infant caged at the border.  
Angel: The arm-around-you smell of a dog,
Me: The alcohol swab before the vet’s needle.
She slaps down dawn,
I counter with cancer.

On we grapple, the stars disappear.
Undone, bone-tired, I play my last card—grief.
The angel touches the hollow
 of my hip. I forget my name. 
The margins of her head are backlit
 by willows.

The Real Prayer

When I need to die
to my smaller self, I close
my eyes and tell my mind to say Lord,
make me an instrument of Thy peace,
without lapsing into memories
of the piano my mother played until
she got nervous, or the piece of cheesecake
left in the fridge—and after maybe twenty
minutes, the silence between the words
starts to thicken, 

and the one who needs and prays recedes
and the one who sees and hears is there
and the real prayer, which never stops, 
Only Long

If there is a real desire, if the thing desired is really light, the desire for light produces it.  
                                                                                                        — Simone Weil
We long for help and the angels awaken.
But before the fragrance of our longing
can reach their nostrils, we close the bottle.
They were just brushing their teeth.
Before the music of our need can reach their ears,
we pawn our violins. Before the fruits of our desire
can ripen, we sell the orchard. To the Friend,
this longing smells like baking bread.
Angels gather in unruly crowds
to hear the music that reminds them 
of why they have wings. What we call help
feeds on what we want to end.
Have compassion. They haven’t had their breakfast yet.  
Wells will dig themselves if only we thirst,
deep and long.

One Good Turn

I was driving with my grandson.
He was hitting me with his juice box.
I told him about the golden rule 
and he stopped.   
Later, as I said goodbye, 
I kissed the back of his head.  
He was already eating an apple 
and didn’t look up. 

As I walked to the car, 
he came to the door,
called me back     
and said,  

Pa, remember the golden rule? 
and kissed 
the back of my head.
The Blindfold’s Eyes    

for Dianna Ortiz, an American nun, kidnapped and tortured by the Guatemalan  military in 1989, under the auspices of the CIA.
Scarred back:
sacred tobacco
burnt on a nun
for the wrong gods.

How to make a machete
kill: Take a nun
31 years old
and hold her hands
on the handle... 
The blindfold sees
what can’t be told.

The stones are just
 beginning to speak
the last sounds
of the first ones
to die in the hole
in the cellar.  

White House counsel
Alberto Gonzales
swallows the cool
artesian water,
dries his hands
with a folded napkin,
takes a drag 
on his cigarette
and calls the meeting
 to order.