Starving Polar Bear

Starving Polar Bear
Where phantom bears hunt vanished ice. Image by Andreas Weith - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Monday, February 28, 2011

Two-Thirty Bedside Blues

The night following a special B-52’s concert at the Athens Classic Center.*
Athens, Georgia
February 19, 2010; revised August 1, 2015

I was butt-called by a stranger
in the middle of the night.
Been butt-called by a stranger
in the middle of the night.
My cell phone line was playing,
I could feel the bodies swaying,
it was hours after turning out my light.

I sipped a bit of sweet tea
in the banquet hall last night;
an endless hit of sweet tea
in the banquet hall last night.
I could hear the priestess preaching
a progressive Bible teaching
in a room of earnest dreamers seeking light.

My mind was all a-flutter
in the banquet hall last night 
with my hip-credentials cluttered
by the middle of the night 
for I sat a room removed
from the rockin’ ’52’s
while upholding old commitments way too tight.

I got the sweet tea sipping
hipster cred slipping
microphone squealing
monkey mind congealing
higher brain a-thirsting
bladder filled to bursting
Bible on the night stand
sleeping through the big band
banquet hall buffet night blues.

So when I get a butt-call 
from a stranger in the night; 
when my life comes calling
in the  middle of the night,
I take to righteous dreaming
but I feel the need for swinging
through the banquet hall buffet night blues.

*With apologies to Barbara Brown Taylor, whose writings and lectures inspire.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egyptian Sunrise

Athens, Georgia
February 8, 201; revised April 23, 2014
A memory of Egypt, May 1982. Dedicated to the youth of Egypt.

Forgive me Amal, not knowing     
your name, but it could not
arise in our improvised
game, that two-penny drama
played three decades past

When we came to
Upper Kingdom elegance,
peers of a genteel breed
served thick bitter coffee
in tiny cups with a side
of sugar. Such a gracious land

Of ruins and restaurants
fallucas on the Nile, sunsets
deep red with the dust of Sahara.
Of gentle dawns by slow waters 
lapping riverbank reeds 
where slave women once hid
baskets from Pharaoh’s baleful
gaze. The Pharaoh’s eyes

Still gaze unblinking
as he worships the gray
god Stability, secured
with burnt offerings –
the soul of a kingdom
locked down and torn
by the call of the dollar
and the call of the muezzin

In a mean land of dirt
and bribes, where swarms
of flies sip tears about
the soft brown eyes
of passive babes, born
to lives of hustling squalor.
Of grade school entrepreneurs
Like you, Amal, rude son
of the Lower Kingdom,
your dark eyes discerning
where an impulse to kindness
might be mobilized to sustain

Another day trolling tourists,
trading dignity for dollars
on dry sandstone bluffs
where must-see monuments
mark slow millennia
above the sprawl of Cairo.

You latched to us like desert flies
and even though we meant you
well, my bride and I could brook
no urge to mount tame camels
and make cheap postcards
to please people back home.
So we tipped you a bit to be
on your way, but please 

And no are just weak
bids, and kind rejection
signals softness to sons
of Egypt, ever working
the tourist for just a bit
more. Dignity is a divide,
and no do-overs can bridge
culture and time. In the end

Amal, what is a pyramid
but a large pile of rock
burdened with too much
history? And what is man
that Thou art mindful of him?
Of you, Amal. Even you.

So if I could return
I would take you aside,
buy you bitter coffee,
the sweetest bread
and know a new soul,
both yours and my own.

I had not then read
Les Mis, or surely
would have recognized
le brun petit Gavroche,
so charming on the page,
but God help the mighty

When you turn your attention
from tourist to master
and meet the gaze of Pharaoh.
Did I see your son in Tahrir
Square, standing with the young
elite? Was that your girl
who turned a bronze cheek

To reclaim the honor
of Egypt? Dream big,
Amal, but know the score
pathways to liberty
are negotiated on the back
of tigers that care not

For your dreams.
They leave youthful
bodies, empty fathers
and hollow mothers
who nevermore live
whole. So be whole
Amal, bold child

Of the human tribe.
May we meet once
more on the trembling
bridge that links time
and faith. Let me
shake your hand
this time around.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Waking to Vertigo

Athens, Georgia
January 5, 2011; revised July 2, 2012

From the darkness
that ushers first light
my tattered faith fights for birth
        to a new day –
a new day spinning off an unstable axis.

To a new day, cold
with calculated rage, honed
        by hardened voices
sharpened on diamond-edged ideals
clawing at the heart of power.

To a new day, hot
with ill-tempered ignorance
and tinny pride, thinly trumpeted
        by vuvuzela
pretending to the sweetness
of Marsalis, or of angels
with all the redemptive depth
        of ground bees
swarming in distress before their phantom fears.

To a new day so broken
        the blessed redeemer
is repurposed  for vengeance
strapped to the white warhorse
        locked and loaded
goaded by a band of furies
playing in the proud key of certainty.

And redemption? Earmarked
        for the mighty
while wrapped in weakness,
the tender teacher
healing rabbi
kind-eyed spirit who would save the world
fades into ether
        excarnated again
from the empire of strength
spinning in the midst of the whirlwind.

This is the day
it is always the day
that whispers blessings from beyond
the breaking news, beyond
the tight smile and firm jaw, beyond
        the clenched heart –
love lurks in robust fragility.

Confronting ignorance
it is extinguished in darkness
        only to rise
as the midsummer sun
to illuminate hollows enshrouded by night.

Confronting hatred
it is crushed underfoot
        only to rise
through the soles of the jackboot
to soften the callus encrusting the heart.

Ideas fight for incarnation
through the living media
        of our messy lives.
And we are finally redeemed
but not by knowledge
nor by theology, clever
        though they be
but by the intangible ideals
incubating in the heartland
of our emerging soul.