Living by Vow

Pressing fingertips together, I wonder:
What blessing am I asking for? To whom am I shriven?
Where is the holy in these chewed fingernails,
Those faint trails on my palm that lead to no shrine?
And what is the truth in this psalm of mine?
Out the window, tree skeletons press against the sky,
The night comes so quiet. And is the One who willed the quiet
The One I make promises to now, my bare bowed head 
Chanting the Four Vows of the Bodhisattva:
Endless delusions to end, numberless beings to free,
Boundless gates to open, becoming “enlightened,”
Such a flowery word, sopped with perfume,
It makes me laugh at myself, 
Mouthing my solemn, impossible oaths
As the bared bones of the trees dissolve in black. 
I bow, tipping myself forward like a cursed pitcher,
Pouring into the night all of my doubt, my self-parody, 
My endless questioning of my own chosen truth,
And yet I affirm it again. Then sit in silence.
Then wash the dirty dishes in the sink.
The most honest vow I know is from Genesis:
And there was evening and there was morning,
Another day.

Baby Sparrow

While mowing the back yard, a sudden glance
  at something hunched in the garden -
  a baby sparrow, beak in perpetual frown.

All around a storm of noise:
  airplanes, garbage trucks, the warfare of jays.

I go into the house for a drink,
  return to find it stiff on its side 
  as if tipped over, eyes blank as bricks,

A puff of sudden, bewildered life
  blown between squirming eggstuff and flight.

Where the Night Stays

It is morning everywhere but here.
The blinds press the windows like anxious hands.
I’m half asleep or half awake, a fraction of something,
My monsters from last night still in shadow,
Shifting on scaly claws, hissing to each other:
Sssssso … are we still chasing him?
I wonder what the blinds are holding back:
That girl who windmills her arms as she jogs,
The frantic hunt for the furious renegade terrier,
Pete’s kids on bikes, screaming pointlessly.
The neighbors look at my house, wonder if
I’ll ever get up, do something with myself.
Well, little do they know I'm working hard on spells
To block the day outside, trap it for them
To catch and release. It’s not easy.
But it’s early yet, and this room feels perfect.
There’s a reason they’re called blinds.


Gardening for Dummies

Pot by pot across the patio,
I’m failing at this god thing.
The marigolds raise orange fists in protest.
I gave them all a home, however cramped,
And I water them when I'm not too busy.

Clearly it is not enough,
Not even for the macho rosemary.
The brown stems, the shriveled leaves,
All drooped in prayerful mockery.
They are not impressed with me.
How to be the druid of my dreams
In a temple of blooming perfection?

While over my slumping shoulders,
The oak tree's mistakes on proud display:
Look at me, it implores endlessly.
See how my branches never make sense.
Some of me giving birth, some of me dying,
All of me right now. What other way to be?



Even near the weary turn of the last skeptical century,
An old Welshman claimed his father had slain draig-talamh,
The earth dragons. He swore he had seen them in his youth:
Scales crusty with jewels, crests flaring in rainbows.
When disturbed, he said, they slid away to hide -
Seeking dark tumuli reeking of earth and damp,
Sowed with the sacred weapons of men.

Still coiled deep in that muck, a dying claw curls
Around a naked thing that snuffles and squirms,
Veined skin shiny, thin as tissue:
That delicate treasure, the old Welshman's belief.
Tiny lungs suck rot and mold, pink stubs paw weakly in mire.

Someone expecting anything must dig fast through that grit,
Be brave enough to tell what they never saw.