Playing Outside

A bald head.
A red coat. Two black eyes. Short brown eyebrows.
OshKosh B’gosh overalls and a long-sleeved shirt—

small dolls sinking into the earth itself—
a wormhole of foliage, laughing at nothing
but the act of knowing that sometimes it is good
to laugh at nothing, we played
outside in the fawn-brown mystery
of brittle leaves
in December.


a small child
yet to master
the written word

knows beauty
when they see
their mother
walk through the door,
home from work.

A wordless set
of hieroglyphics

their brain


Empty-Handed Strangers

We are everyone
Presented to us

That we do not have
Time to know.

Like birds feeding
From the bowls of

Our palms, we stay
Long enough to know

That we must leave
as empty-handed strangers.

Looking Through the Heart

(for Rumi)

The eyes are not where
we think they are.

When we see, we are really
looking through the heart,

but only when it is not locked
away and down, by the charred

and veined barriers, the ones that
have nothing to do with other people

or the grimacing regrets we can’t
seem to erase with a timed smile.

The durable ones, like Hadrian’s
Wall or a recycled piece of rubber.


YES!!!! God, I love Whitman.
He was a comet burning fiercely
across the sky. I love him even
more because he spent time with
wounded soldiers in the hospitals
during the Civil War.

He never uttered a single syllable
that was not accredited by the sweat
and tears of a life lived in the trenches
of total commitment.

The Firebrands

(after the Greek myth of Prometheus)

What is the real reason Jupiter
did not let humans have fire?
When the brutal winters came,
he saw that they were unhappy.
Was it to make them suffer, out of joy
or boredom, in the rotting, barkless cold?
Was it to merely expose their interiors
as hollow space for veiled, powdery, pinkish-
salmon, gill-like phobias? Was it just a dark
game between them—an omniscient god
purchasing back what he already owned?
A quid pro quo of loyalty and suffering for
a life of obedience. Of course, there was Prometheus,
who did not believe in the necessity of suffering,
at least not if it can be avoided through courageous invention.
So much like Buddha and Christ, wasn’t he?
Even descending deep
under the Earth to persuade Vulcan
to let go of one of his trade secrets:
This one was how to brandish fire.
Fire. Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Power. The Tree of Eden. Protection.
Satisfaction. Capsized in the black resinous
warmth of flesh-staining flames, the predators
of the night were kept at bay.
Yet, Jupiter, it has been said,
declared that fire is not for the people of Earth.
Why did Jupiter fear humanity on fire?
Is it because he loved them and knew
that they would destroy themselves?
Or was it about control?
Simply maintaining influence.
Isn’t that what it always comes down
to in the end? Between colours and worlds,
as old as fish dying on the hot sands,
because the gods are jealous and concerned
about us, we are stuck to a diamond-shaped rock
of slate, just like any saviour who came
by ship and went—
we are sacks of pepper and lambchops
for fierce, hungry birds flying around our heads.
Year after year, chained to a lonely rock,
picked at by vultures until the underground
tissue of our brains become tinted violet
and gelatinous.

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image: George Payne

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