HOLLYWOOD & HIGHLAND

featured in the poetry forum June 13, 2022  :: 0 comments

On a hot Friday afternoon a man
Walks from block to block, with a sign saying
Only ROMANS 6:23. His clothes
Are designed to protect skin from sun; it’s
Clear he’s done this before. He is a voice
Of one. Most come to Hollywood to be
A star, or, just for now, imagine they
Rule the earth. All the sirens call here.

He plays the same loud tape over and over,
An urgent man who says our time is short,
And the walk of the Lord is the walk
Of light. I wonder if, apart from me,
Anyone takes in the sign: he is used
To being ignored, makes no attempt
At eye contact. People bypass him gently,
Polite, relieved he is not panhandling,

And he gets indulgent stares, as if his
Sign was written in Klingon. To believe
What Paul wrote in his letter was once
Dangerous, you paid with your life, as he
Did. Then it took hold of much of Europe
And the Americas. In time out of mind
There was a learned, stubborn Jew rotting
In a stinking Roman jail. On the last

Day he spoke the last words. Death was coming.
If he was lucky, he would meet Peter’s
Fate. “Write this… write this down. Out of the mouth
Of the lion have I escaped. Our Lord
Will deliver me yet. Jesus, I come
Unto your kingdom; bless me and all men,
Except that son of a whore, Alexander,
And the other jackal, Demas. You will

Judge them according to their works: God is
Not mocked. I… I have kept the faith, my course
Is run. Jesus, stand fast by Timothy.
Grace be with you.” And when the end came, did
He dream dreams? Which one would have a sharper
Sting? First, he’d see men put to the torch
For believing in God differently
Than other men, love no longer the law.
The second prophecy might cut deeper still.
There would be a man in Hollywood who
Called out the wages of sin, and no one
Cared, and a soul on fire for Christ was now
Simply quaint, odd, just another crazy
Person on this crazy street. Like the heart
Can only cling to hope for so long, as
If faith itself has a time limit, stricter
Than the hold on your ATM card.

editors note:

It takes a lot of polish to keep a shine on faith. (This poem comes from Brian’s recently released collection, Zen In Beverly Hills. Congrats on that, Brian! We can get our copies here.) – mh clay

Blockbuster

featured in the poetry forum March 6, 2022  :: 0 comments

So easy to spot, for each film
Costs one billion dollars and by
Rule has one helicopter chase.
The title is White House Down Sky
Fall Jason Bourne Ultimatum.
Each cliché takes its rightful place.

They fill the cast with broad types, not
People. The villains used to be
Russian communists but now are
Russian plutocrats. Usually
They are jejune dead-eyed men, caught
By hammer, sickle, gold red star.

The women are bleached blonde dull: their
Job is to stand speechless, in awe
Of our hero, as he takes on
That mass of men who break the law.
All their shots miss and they stand there,
Nicely, waiting to be mowed down.

The plot? The Woman He Loves is
Killed in act one of the sequel,
White House Down Again. The villain
Has a speech about the evil
U.S. and then our hero throws
Him thru broken blue windowpane.

When the yellow curtain comes down,
I sometimes wonder, or don’t, why
We watch. As if we need a far
Off place, where our rules don’t apply,
And we’d be dreaming of our own
Hammer, sickle, a gold red star.

editors note:

Meanwhile, just east of the west, a villain enacts his evil plan while we watch. – mh clay

NOTES & TESTIMONIALS

featured in the poetry forum September 29, 2021  :: 0 comments

I am a medium, I speak with the dead,
But you, the skeptic, don’t believe.
That is why my web page is filled
With real testimony from r e a l
People who’ve been blessed by my sight.

Here is a note from the Gresbachs that I got
In April of this year–“Dear Trish, with love
And my thanks. I don’t know if you remember
Me, we went to your reading in March.
Somehow my shaking tears told you there was
Sorrow in my life. You asked if anyone
Close to me had passed. I kept sobbing.
You said ‘Father?’ and I shook, yes.

‘I see his spirit. He is here. He says he
Loves you and always will.’ My husband
Laughed, and said this was just secular
Church, but I could hear my father in her
Words. There was a spirit. I know because
Of the paperbacks you sold to me.
With love, the Gresbachs.”

If this woman believes, why don’t you?
What I do brings relief, comfort, and joy.
The dead do hear. They care. They want
Us to be happy. Our great suspicion–
That they are just rotting somewhere,
Unknowing, unfeeling– is foolish.
There is a spirit. Let me share one more.

“Dear Trish, it’s Valerie from Comox. I
Was at your reading in the spring. I
Sure wasn’t there by choice, my boss
Asked me to “volunteer” and I owe her
Too many favors to say no. So there I
Was, pouring coffee and collecting empty
Cups. I looked down and made no eye
Contact, especially not with you.

But I guess you were looking, and may
Have seen my Snoopy t-shirt, Littlest
Hobo belt buckle, and the loose dog
Hairs on my jacket, and sensed I was
A dog person. You said my dog died
A month ago and I was very unhappy.

I dropped everything, all the coffee cups,
Full and empty, and shook. I couldn’t
Sit or stand or be in one place.
My boss thought I was having a stroke,
But you said “It’s grief, and deep, and won’t
Go away anytime soon. The death of our pets
Cuts harder somehow.”

I bought one of your books, The Life Beyond,
And you write, quote, nothing that lives
Ever really dies, unquote. Until I met you, I
Would never have believed that. Thank
You again.”

I hear a voice; I hear a spirit; I bring water
To the desert, hope to the hopeless. I use
No force, no law requires you to be at my
Readings. The police do not care if you
Love me or hate me. The books out front
Are reasonably priced.

To those who love, I return your love
In full. To those who hate, remember
The choices. You can believe there
Is a spirit, and we live forever, and love
Is the light of the world, or you can believe

That this, this cesspool, is it. That some
Friday you die in a ward everyone avoids,
And some bored intern ticks a chart, and another
Intern takes you downstairs to a room
Full of people who have stopped breathing,
Stopped thinking, stopped seeing.

That someday all the pictures will end.

editors note:

Between eternal bliss and the abrupt nothing rests a happy medium. – mh clay

Beautiful For Situation

featured in the poetry forum January 19, 2021  :: 0 comments

For some reason this poem takes
You out of place, out of time. For
Some other reason when you think
Of this hymn, it is a warm night,
A Sunday, all three windows flung
Open, and we stand together,
And sing together, in a shy
A cappella. And a few times
I remember our pastor’s wife,
To help us out, would softly play
Her piano, to keep some of
Us in tune, and she’d smile every
Once in awhile, and tell her husband
He’d given us the wrong key. He
Would wink, grinning. “Ok, right, then
‘Great is the Lord, and greatly…’”

And today she died and I don’t
Know what will happen to this thought,
Just something from my mind, some field
With no taxonomy. Alone
By law in the ICU, did
She sing? Could she see Mount Zion,
On the sides of the north, city
Of a great king? Before death came,
And waited, so kindly, so nicely,
Was she in rapture, her joy
The whole earth?

The piece in the paper will say
Suddenly this last Monday, she
Is survived by a devoted
Husband, loving son, two cherished
Daughters: in lieu of flowers, please
Send to this fund.
They will not add
This strange dream of June evensong….
Still, in ways beyond calling, part
Of me hopes that when she closed her
Eyes, she left the ward, and never
Came back; and for her it was years
Ago, a warm evening, and she
Played a stately F major, her
Soul all song, and the last words,
City of a great king, kept ringing.

editors note:

Wishing eternal citizenship for her (and for us). – mh clay

RELAPSE

featured in the poetry forum January 25, 2020  :: 0 comments

It is late and the sun will not be up
For hours yet. At my age dreams are more dull
Than fantastic. In that half trance of
The not asleep I reach for a book I
Read in school, hoping its famously long
Sentences lull me to sleep. And early
In his text he says good and evil we
Know in the field of this world grow up
Together, and are so mixed, it is hard
To tell one from another.

Was he listening? Did he hear my call
Last week? I phoned a friend of mine, someone
I had known for years, and for years she’d
Been sober. But not today: one of those
Calls you wish you had never made: sometimes
You lose just by trying. She is screaming
And raging and boiling. When her brother
Died a light went out and the room stayed dark:
As if death is a wake-up call and your
Phone never stops ringing.

It does not help that he killed himself, which
Her parents lied about, and he left no
Note, no final thoughts, no apologia
Pro vita sua
for the vita he could
Not rid himself of fast enough. The booze
Makes her think she is coping but she is
Instead screaming to me about her rent,
Her parents, her landlord, the new mayor,
A hydro bill, and the chairman of North
Korea. A stew of misery.

A runner on her days off, ten miles
At a time or more, this she can’t outrun.
I wonder… if she goes to work Tuesday,
At Vichy, the godforsaken French bistro
She works at in Hollywood, will people
Notice her cassoulet of rage, resentment,
And hangover? But strangers are smoked glass
To us, thick; too late we learn that good means
How good they are to us. And evil
Just as far as we don’t care.

And too late we learn how little we know,
That all souls are blank slates unless you have
Been there on the good days, when the sun is
Up at six and on that day the light has
A way of never dying; and been there
For their bad days, when the sun waxes pale,
Weak, and hopeless, and your parents have called
To say they found your brother’s body… but
They don’t say the pills were pumped out too late,
And there was no note, nothing, and you have
The rest of time to wonder just where
He wandered to.

editors note:

Pointless, to defend what’s done, when all of life is suicide. Selah! (…but, sometimes, smile-worthy. Read a dog’s POV poem on Brian’s page – check it out!) – mh clay

A BORDER COLLIE MIX SPEAKS WITH HIS MAKER

January 25, 2020  :: 0 comments

On a Friday somewhere, so hot the streets
Were steaming, a border collie mix, who
Knew Latin and ancient scripture, went from
This life to a life to come. And one night
Weeks later the moon was so clear and still
I saw him at the table of judgment,
Speaking with his maker.

You are Pumpkin Sentes? Etiam,
Domine.
Stop showing off and answer
Me, by your word. I am Pumpkin Sentes,
Yes.
I am told you ruined many walks,
At the beach or in the woods. They tell me
You started fights for no reason. That you
Took on dogs big and small.

It is whispered, by other dogs I know,
That you were not above stealing food: and
That you were known for barking all day
At no one, and nothing. Hic et ubique?
I said, stop with the smartass remarks. What
Should I say of you, Mr. Sentes, what should
My sentence be?

I cannot praise a cloister’d virtue. (That’s
Your last warning.) At the beach or the park,
Any dog who gave me space had nothing
To fear. Food? If it fell on the floor, who
Would catch it but me? As for the barking…
Dogs see the unseen and hear things unheard
By any human.

Dogs are a kind of love poem to life
Itself. The worse I was the more my
Mother laughed, as if I was there to help
Her forget her father was not. Life comes
From nowhere and ends nowhere: and yet still
A rhapsody: just ask a dog chasing
Waves by the river.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

featured in the poetry forum December 24, 2019  :: 0 comments

For R.A.S.

Δόξα ἐν ὑψίστοις θεῷ καὶ ἐπὶ γῆς εἰρήνη ἐν ἀνθρώποις εὐδοκίας. Luke 2:14

I

The cars race along like they’re at a track meet,
Everyone in a hurry. Six o’clock. People speed
Right past you, unseeing. Just like last year…
They forgot. And now have a million things to do.
Evening rain falls on their heads, reflected in street
And car lights. “What about something for that guy
At work? I think he said a hamper. What about my
Mother? Right, she said flowers. Dad? A mere
Grunt, said ‘Anything would be fine indeed.’
Cards for relatives I don’t see. Uhm, something new

For my ‘special’ someone. Her hints are oblique…
Something like this through every head,
Even the ones so far from God they don’t mean
To even pretend to care. How could He
Matter? The ‘merely’ secular has no room for mystique.
So why the fuss? Especially all those tacky signs.
Why the shopping & the hustle & the lines
And the sighs at the cash machine?
(“I should have gone to Wal-Mart instead.”)
And why, above all, why the sudden charity?

II

Anchors who sternly tell you about Unrest In
Pakistan pause, blink once or twice emotionally,
And then earnestly wish you the best of the season;
Stores play song after song celebrating the redeemer—
A man who would shut their business down within
Seconds. Even the beer companies get profound,
The tone subdued, ancient hymns thundering in the background.
In car ads, very briefly, the shilling stops for some reason,
As the couldn’t-be-happier mixed-race family
Stares & grins at the brand new Beemer.

And goodwill towards whom? Christmas,
Just like poetry, makes nothing happen.
We can sing carols all we want, & never cease,
But the men in caves will keep planning our death;
Nor does it end hate or bring even fleeting justice
To the near, far or middle east. Fear & war always prevailing
Over the child born in Palestine, his parents fleeing
Caesar. His beginning did not bring peace,
Nor did his end. We read that he was forsaken,
Asking the unanswerable with his last breath.

III

Still, even the atheist & agnostic treasure this time,
Their trees, like the devout, a spire of hope.
Something in the season grips us, despite
The shouting ads & clanging clichés, reindeer
And a little drummer who triumphs in rhyme,
Or Mommy kissing Santa Claus at half-past two.
On that late December night, the frost reaches you,
As your breath blooms clouds, almost white,
A clear full moon reflects on the steep slope
Of snowy streets. It stops you, the frozen sheer

Beauty. You turn the corner, & someone has dazzled
Their tall cedar; the blinking lights a symphony,
Sparkling, little bubbles of rhapsody, tiny stars,
Reminders of a love so perfect no hatred could destroy.
Rachel, you are a bliss slow unfurled;
You make the old new, & the new, bright;
You were there in the beginning, daily my delight.
I hear her, in the north, singing to the auroras,
Her soul an aria, fanfare & harmony,
As she repeats a sounding joy.

editors note:

This year, let’s find our joy in someones, not somethings. – mh clay

That One Day Mid-Winter

featured in the poetry forum June 30, 2019  :: 0 comments

On your own terms, when you can go
Inside any time you like, and the sun
Is high and tall, and the wind is low,
Something dreamlike about winter,
Something of eternity.

As if after death your soul would
Still be dreaming, and you’d live
On as a sun dog, all the rays
Reflecting, each to each. No way
To tell which one shone the brightest
Or had the most vivid streaks.

But tough to think of this on that one day
Mid-winter when it gets dark at two,
The wind slicing, and for the last
Few minutes you’ve been looking
For the shallow end of a slush lake,
One mile long and two miles wide.

As children we are told, whether we care
Or not, that there are two parts
To every story, and each coin has two
Sides. No one believes this at heart.
No one really takes this in,

Except, maybe, in winter, that day
The sun says ‘Excuse me,’ and rises late,
And weakly. By noon you have lost all hope.
And yet after twelve the sky is so blue
Your heart leaps, catching you quite

Off guard, and the wind died down
When you weren’t looking, and
Now what snow is left on the fields
Shines so bright you can barely look,
Everything white, perfect, and forever.

editors note:

Two sides to faith when we can’t describe it; hot and cold, winter and summer, life and… – mh clay

John Allen Chau (1991-2018)

featured in the poetry forum March 6, 2019  :: 0 comments

Dear Mrs Chau, my files say, according
To reports, your son was killed carrying
Out the Great Commission, that is, and I’m
Just reading from my notes, ‘Go ye, and teach
All nations.’ We know he brought fish,
A football for the kids, and a Bible,
Waterproof. About his life there, his time
With the Sentinelese, we only wish
We knew more… except they shot him full
Of arrows and buried him on the beach.

All we know of the islanders is that
They stick to one holy creed and one fact:
No outsiders, ever. My new boss called
Me today. He told me he heard once, years
Ago, that a Christian scholar, who hired
As a go-between a local fisherman,
Did (quietly) spend a few hours with the old
Men of Sentinel. I’m told he was inspired
And on the morning he spoke the sun
Stood tall, the sky blue, bluer than the seas.

The scholar gave them great good news: Man was
Sinful from birth, and therefore the wages
Of sin,
let me re-check that quote my wife
Found, Ma’am, is death. This was no fable.
Should they beg pardon of Y-H-W-H, unseen,
Unheard, they might be spared raging, endless
Fires.
That’s when the arrows flew and the man
Of God fled. Maybe he treasured our life
Here more than the life to come; between
Our hopes and fears often a great abyss.
Mrs. Chau, be well. His great commission
Was done. I’ll call if we find his Bible.

editors note:

Not cynical to consider; one man’s “good news” is another’s anathema. – mh clay

Book Launch

featured in the poetry forum December 13, 2018  :: 0 comments

Once the author, a doctor, has finished
His preamble, he reads from his careful,
Wry book. He tells us that his wife’s cancer
Diagnosis, in her late 30s, brought
Him to a dead halt, that all the things he
Thought he knew, the rich Jewish scriptural
Tradition he was brought up in, just had
No weight. He had to ask the rabbi —nicely—
To hold off on the well-meaning pleas to
God. “My wife and I would face this cancer
Alone. For us the gods, and the stories
They inspired, were human inventions.”

He asks for questions and I smile because
The first one, from a woman who does not
Quite look at him, is not a question. “You…
Say faith is an invention, but… sometimes
At night I go for walks with my husband.
We can see the stars and the heavens. In
The summer there are birds, rabbits, sometimes
We see deer by the lake. I see… God. We
Feel his presence.” The author politely
Waits, to see if there’s more, but it seems this
Magnificat is over.

He breathes, once, twice. “What a great question. I
Don’t tell my patients to forsake their faith.
If religion, if belief makes you lead
A happy life… I’m the last guy to stand
In the way. I’ve advised many patients
To rejoin their temple or church. All I
Argue in this book is that the results
Are in, and the lab says there is no God,
And the math can tell us how we got here.
I’ll say one last thing. The more secular,
The more decent. Where do you want to live—
Sweden or Iran?”

On our way to the train we pass a man
Who’s not sitting or standing at the bus
Shelter; he is not moving at all, nor
Was he when we went by him two hours
Ago. When sober, does he think of his
State? Is it good news to him that for some
He’s safe in the loving hands of Jesus?
That he’ll know one day, even as also
He is known; and that to others he had
Too many cocktails of bad luck blended
With bad choices? What need have we of
Mercy, when there is no judgement?

editors note: What need, indeed. Selah. – mh clay