poems-max-reif-recoveryRECOVERY

He had been drowning for a long time.
Lately, he’s felt his feet
touching, actually walking on, the bottom.

The bottom.
Hitting bottom, yes.
But now, able to walk
and breathe.

It’s not easy
to keep this.
Careful with
every thought,
every word.

Almost superstitious, like
a baseball player who MUST
pick up a handful of dust
as he enters the batter’s box.
You have to do everything
just so.

And you can never
forget.
Every thought must refer
to where you are—
to the program,
to the addiction,
to the world without
a shred of mercy
for people like you.

Every thought, to stay aware
and keep treading gingerly.
Every thought, black and white.
The world black and white.

This is how things are
right now.
How they must be.
Like living in a world
that was molten, unlivable,
not long ago.

If you do things
the way you did,
it will happen again.
The conflagration.
No place to stand.

Now, a world just hardening, cooling,
just being
created.

No rocking the boat now.
Do what it says, now.
And maybe you’ll have a world
some day.

 

 

CANADA, 1971

We travelled across Canada that summer.
One night we stayed with a couple
who had a little girl—
Sault Ste. Marie? Sudbury?
I don’t remember how we met them.
Very spiritual they were, and I
still on my spiritual honeymoon.

The fellow was Catholic.
He had Novena candles burning,
dozens of tall ones, all over the apartment.
He didn’t seem fully present,
and I had a strong impression
he was hiding some secret guilt,
trying to expiate it with the candles.
Did he want to leave, but felt
ashamed to abandon the child?

Question: how many external candles
does it take to expiate
an inner guilt?
Answer: can’t be done,
without a change of
heart.

 

 

SATURDAY EVENING, TODOS SANTOS PARK

Two drummers, one black, one white,
sit on the low wall and pound out rhythm
on their djembes, clashing not at all

with the recorded classical music
from the speakers up by the bandstand.

I’ve entered a cubist painting,
everything happening at once.

A yellow badminton bird
lands beside me.
A girl plays peekaboo
high in a leafy tree,
A boy does flips,
families walk holding ice cream cones,
a brother and sister play tag,
couples sit on benches,
boys do martial arts,
skateboarders roll,
people in their wheelchairs
are out for a stroll with attendants,
picnic on the lawn,
children slide at the playground.

The djembe rhythm changes:
da DUM, da DUM, da DUM.
Everything seems to slow down,
but probably hasn’t.

On this green postage-stamp park
in the cooling air,
so many
angels dance!

 

 

I TOOK A STEP

“Man can stand anything but a succession of ordinary days.”—Goethe

So, yesterday when I realized everything,
everything was frozen, all up and down the line
of my inner life,
I took a step.

I could not rationalize the step.
I mean, I left the cat and the dog
of the opposing sides of my rational mind
fighting it out on a raft
sailing down the River of Oblivion,

and I took a step
forward without a map.

I know it was the right step, because
there was no other step possible
from the corner
into which
I’d painted myself.

It was a step
into a new room,
or an old room
unused for many years.
Because it was the only
possible step, and I took it,
it was a stand!

Now, I wait on You, Lord,
to find me here
in my predicament in
this world so riddled
with souls—

to lead me down
the path that leaves
appearances where they
shall always be,
playing their Shell Game
out on Broadway;

and moves me
along the mainline toward
Myself.

 

by Max Reif