featured in the poetry forum March 6, 2016  :: 0 comments

On any Sunday morning in your mind,
Probably in winter, a man steps in
To a large baptismal font, or as we
Much preferred, tank. “The old now cast away
For the new. The old ways of sin now purged
For the new life of grace. Baptism just
An outward sign, but a sign nonetheless.
Let us pray.” The rolled up shirt sleeves, in lieu
Of his normal jacket and tie, tell us
That today a few of us will put on

The incorruptible. “Jason, join me,
Would you?” Jason we have known for years and
Works part-time at the local Petro Can.
Nervous at first, he tells us why he’s here.
“When my mother drank too much, we hid. My
Dad left early. He could not take it, so
My sisters and I, we kept hiding. Jill
Got married and so did Laurie. It was
Just me now, hard to hide when there’s only
You. I came to this church because….” He points

But doesn’t need to. “I… Greg invited
Me.” He motions his head shyly towards
Greg, in the same pew eight years, with the same
Yellow brown tie. They exchange smiles. “This church
Took me in and cared. Nobody else cared.
No one. Then Jesus took away my sin.
It rolled away… and now I am, now I
Am—” “Free,” our pastor whispers into his
Mic, in tears himself, as are many. The
Hurt of only knowing slightly, when you

Should know deeply, stings. A few seconds pass,
Very still. On a nod, Jason pinches
His nose and tilts his head, the pastor taking
Him in his arms, and after he has said
“In the name of the father, the son, and
The holy ghost,” briefly dips him in the
Water. Once Jason is back on his feet,
Winds whip up high. “Praise Jesus! Thank you God!”
He bounds out of the tank and we can hear
A soul leap free forever. A child sees

This and sees the hand of the Lord wiping
Away all tears. Later, when age gives what
You hope is wisdom, you think you’re either
Lucky, born into a family who
Cares, or you have Jason’s mother, in which
Case no sleep is ever sound enough. They
Don’t often baptize at the old church now;
Like speaking in tongues, or singing “There’s pow’r
In the blood of the lamb,” people have moved
On. Perhaps corruptible was always
A better fit. Or they’ve lost the eyes of
A child, who saw grace falling all day
Everywhere, as snow deep in winter.

editors note:

Salvation in sanctuary. All god’s chillun jus’ wanna be safe! – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum September 23, 2015  :: 0 comments

All the old tricks in place, no real change. Still
The earnest toupeed man with the deep voice
Implores you to send him your money right
Now, in God’s holy name. By faith alone
Can your small gift be made into the Lord’s
Temple. Depressed? Sick? Simply call this toll
Free line and God, or his word on this earth,
Will answer. He shall supply all your needs.

Easy enough to laugh at these moron
Frauds and their idiot donors, each one
Dumber than the last. So who is calling
These numbers? Who builds these tributes to greed?
The poet said “In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love”
Nothing would ever shake it and nothing
Would cure it. For some lucky ones it all

Fits somehow and, being blessed, bless. Some flail
About for no cause, not caring whence they came
Nor where they go. And others – born into
A world far too severe – must watch The Man
From Toupee in the hope he can bring what
They never found by things seen with unseen
Things too far to help; as if part of man
Is programmed to be unhappy, and takes

No consolation from love past or love
To come, what they hold dear, or how bright their
Light might glow. As if part of us indicts
The dark. Which could be how the preacher from
The Church Of The Airport Marriott sleeps
At night, knowing he fools no one who sees,
That his funds come from those so lost they trust
Cash sent by mail means a revelation,
One that was always good and always true.

editors note:

I’ll sell you faith. With that and your dollars, I can buy a toupee. – mh clay


featured in the poetry forum July 6, 2015  :: 1 comment

(“This is the second of our reign.”)

What flew through the air today was sight not sound,
Although the trees swayed anyhow,
Stunned. Light broke through these dull
Clouds late, as if even the air around us
Had had enough of brooding, scowling skies,

Skies with no light or hope. And my wife
Out there for a walk as a metaphor for
All this, unplanned and unasked. For my
Long week she will find an excuse to treat
Me like I could be the only thing that

Matters, this instant and forever. On the most
Mundane Monday she finds ways to
Bring small lights and grace notes to a
Life otherwise contingent—deals on the phone
With those not in my control.

Not all compacts endure. But this one
Does, its essence an ionic bond,
And I can’t wait till you come back,
Though it has been mere minutes.
My soul pants after you, as the psalmist
Said. There could be no other analogy,

No other synecdoche, nothing on this
Earth has Rachel stand in for anything
Else. Even metaphor, Rachel as the
Sun, say, gets only so close. If there
Is the perfect word canvas, look at

A prayer wheel, set on fire with hope, where others see only
Dark; picture a murmuration of starlings
Where others see only shapes against
A late winter sky.

editors note:

Here speaks love as love, not metaphor; sweet.! (In the light of recent Independence Day celebrations, a fine write on Brian’s page; words from any president, two and a half terms in – check it out!) – mh clay

What It’s Like Being President

July 6, 2015  :: 0 comments

It is strange, this work of being a man
And a nation. When I took the oath six
Years back, I became not just me but this
Country. I was its face. I would fly to
Other lands and my mere presence, and our
Flag, stood for USA. Until there was

A new president, for better or for
Worse, I was us. This is one thing abroad
And another here. Away, people in
Foreign countries hold back a bit, give you
The benefit of not knowing for sure.
At home there are no doubts. Millions did

Not vote for me and never would, and the
Millions who did mean nothing. We love
Our country so much we forget others
Might. Voting for not-my-guy is the wrong
Vote, not just thinking different. Something
Like that in every soul. Millions

Hate me and more millions yet will hate
My successor. To get this job is to
Accept free-flow hate, hate looking for home,
Boiling over, hissing. I could give a
Speech saying water was wet and my mail
Next day will be full of stuff about how

My kids can rot in hell, my wife can go
There too, plus you hope my dog gets killed. So
I (kind of) look forward to the head of
State days, when I am more symbol than man.
Today though is its own challenge, at the
Veterans’ hospital, giving what aid

I can to our soldiers injured on my
Watch. Some will live and some will sleep. I talk
With those who would and read to men whose speech
Has stopped. A little boy asks me why I
Weep, but no words come. Together we read
His father’s citation for bravery.

We say it again and then a third. On
My way out, a Marine’s mother holds her
Hands up, defiant—“Why does Y O U R child live,
While mine rots in Arlington?” I start to
Speak but wisdom tells me to be still. Her
Words are white hot and far from done and far

From quiet. She calls me every foul word
She knows and this is when all of my staff
Stops hoping to be president. The man
In me revolts at this but the nation
That lives in me must stand and wait. I stare
Into a fury undiminished. My

Role is to take this, be the face of wrong,
And everything wrong with everything,
Our first sin and last bad act, living proof
Nothing here could ever break right. Now her
Husband can only take so much grief, and
Leads his wife into the closest chair; his

Eyes have some pity, man to man, but on
My watch, on my watch, he lost his son, and
I must know the wages. On our way home
My staff says little. I say less, except
‘That woman hates me with an undying
Fire.’ No one disagrees. I wonder if

Tonight, when I see her son in sleep, when
I see him wandering in the shades, if
My sight will be pierced by the salvation
We hope saves those who perished from faith, or
My eyes blinded by the freedom purchased
At so high a price by soldiers sent too
Far away, and just one day too long.


featured in the poetry forum April 17, 2015  :: 0 comments

When I was a child, I spoke as a child,
I understood as a child and would act
Out my own version of Pilgrim’s Progress
On the beach, on vacation. My brother
Would get bored and wander off, so I’d be
Christian up against a Worldly Wiseman,
Fighting Giant Despair, and I’d walk the
Wall of Salvation. You know your childhood
Was odd when Bunyan is fun, yet he was
To me. At least I wasn’t in school: the

Beach was better than another church, and
No more preaching for an instant, sweeter
Still. Blessed in many ways, I never feared
Mother would sneak drinks, or Father leaving
As soon as he could. I only feared what
I heard on Sundays, God’s disgust with my
Sins; how all sin was the same sin, and you
Were as bad, if not worse, than your neighbor:
The Lord saw clean thru you; his hatred of
Sin was perfect, enduring forever.

My wife, late one night, described playing “Class
Struggle” with her Dad. The board game had been
Invented by someone, I am guessing,
With way too much spare time and students who
Slept thru his pensées. Instead of what her
Friends played—where you moved pieces around a
Board and with any luck won all the deeds
To the hotels and the money and the
Railroads–Rachel did not get to pick a
Token, since “No one chooses which class they

Are born into.” This game was severe: you
Lost points for pitying workers or blaming
Blacks or Jews. To win really big you had
To know your Marx, even the early pamphlets.
When she was a bad token all she could
Do was start wars or crush a union: the
Rules were strict. A good token meant she could
Be a shop steward who made ATU
Proud, whiter than snow, and got more rolls of
The dice for caring about poverty.

I wonder if her father actually
Enjoyed this game: Worker v Parasite
Is always rigged one way or the other,
And, just like my Sunday school lessons, dull.
At some point in each life the child must wake
Up and know his mother human, and his
Father, fallible, and yet we seldom
See someone who truly breaks from what
They learned from the first teachers. My Father-
In-law had troubles with the unions;

They were rough with him, then rougher. But he
Made sure his daughter knew the words to Pete
Seeger songs and she’d never take work, or
The people who did real work, for granted.
I go to no church: and won’t, and yet each
Poem of mine owes something to Psalms I
No longer sing. There’s more to that book than
We see—the poet lays down his bed in
Hell, and “thou art there.” No one outruns what
Made them new. Just today I get an email

From a studiedly neutral, carefully
Bi-partisan group, telling me there is
Still time to “Fight for a world that is fair
And just,” a gospel learned from prophets, a
Pure blazon that man must always mean more
Than money. And how good to see these words,
And fair and just are what we would most love,
Even if some of those prophets saw all
Too clearly, and there’d be another great fall,
Leaving not one stone on a stone.

editors note:

Our dialectic debate ends with an unanswered question, “After the Fall, will there be left any force of will to go on?” – mh


featured in the poetry forum December 22, 2013  :: 0 comments

¿Cómo cantaremos la canción del SEÑOR
en tierra extraña? (Psalm 137:4)

We woke before the sun. The days were long,
Dusty, hot, but I didn’t care. Outside
Was where the animals were, that is, where
I needed to be. Goats, chickens, wolves, dogs,
Anything not me. I could (& did) watch
For hours. My schoolroom was my grandfather’s
Farm: the rest of the world could have melted
Away & I really couldn’t have cared
Less. Fighting an itch, not fighting an itch,
Amounts to the same thing. I fled to my

Dreams & stayed a year in San Diego,
Becoming me, but a different me.
I loved this new country: I could not speak
The tongues of my first employers, but the
Dogs I understood just fine—they wanted
Out, out, out. Until their owners hired me,
All they got was the suffocation of
Unthinking love, love that knows no bounds or
Heights. Trapped on pedestals, robbed of work or
Purpose, they bit, attacked, snarled, bared teeth, ran.

Love is free or it is nothing. But they
Were denied even that, inside all day
And all night, stuck in halls, backyards, & high
Walled dens. Love can put a hell where heaven
Would be, & these dogs were captives. In this
Place people will pay you good money to
Say the ludicrously plain; I prospered,
And moved my business to L.A; I
Am now quite wealthy. I must hire helpers
Each new year. My friends back home are happy

For me but (still) amazed. “They pay you HOW
Much to walk the dogs????” And of course it’s not
Quite so simple as that. My clients here
Have strange problems–the kind that happen when
They’re idle, bored, or alone. Yet the dog
Seems to care. So he or she is now turned
Into a miserable little thing,
Wearing tiny coats, or pink shoes, or signs
That say “I Love Peace.” They are force-fed love
Until they puke. Then the owners are stunned

When their poor dog, with no escape, turns on
Them. You should hear the calls I get! “Fluffy
Won’t eat!” “Timmy won’t wear his suit!” “Chulo
Snaps at me!” Then I get there & find a
Dog who hasn’t been for a walk in months.
We love cause/effect except when we are
The cause, the first mover. I will never
Go back to Mexico; this is home, &
The USA has heaped blessings on me,
But I wonder sometimes if we should set

Every dog free, send them to the farm
My mind visits…..where dogs were just as they
Are, no one’s special pet, chasing fireflies
In spring, guiding us through early fall nights,
Running after each other in the lakes,
A nimble reminder we live in a
Kind of paradise, to let the past be
The past; to never fear what could be, some
Note to yourself about life: our time here
Is mostly sweet & we have no idea.

editors note:

Turns out it’s not just canines who live a dog’s life. – mh


featured in the poetry forum October 16, 2013  :: 0 comments

May with its light behaving
Stirs vessel, eye & limb,
And reminds me of Amanda.

Yesterday I thought: “There is no system.
I was miserable this morning,
My mood an obnoxious thunder,
Unusually crapulent, even for me–
I hated everyone & everything.
But I sit here in English Bay, stunned
By an almost embarrassing beauty;
If Amanda was here, I would be perfect.

Anywhere she is is Eden.
She is a dance of cherry blossoms, rain washed,
Playing in ecstatic blue splendor.”

editors note:

Want to fix or find your system? Keep your Amanda close. – mh


featured in the poetry forum August 6, 2013  :: 0 comments

Mid winter, in this great expanse, you walk
Past huge stretches of empty lots, and still
A few spare clouds at nearly half past two.
Today the ocean gives off a faint chill,
And shoots one cold wave, and then many more,
On to fine, white sand. Over near the bike
Shop are vendors–many want to sell you
Pleasure, some hipness, some, curios, or
A crudely overpriced piece of tired shlock.
If you need to be here, you can sweet talk

Death, for the dead are all round; their fame knows
No end. Want your face on a big crappy
Clock? Don’t play halftimes or be a rebel
On the morning news. Don’t get fat. Don’t be
On the game shows or help some old dumb cur
Win a dance contest. When the ratings spike,
Call your dealer. Don’t have your own label
At Sears. Don’t plug your book, with all your
Deep, as-told-to, thoughts on the late night shows:
Be against war, crime, and all the other woes.

Above all, don’t be us. When they find you
In the ravine one morning, you’ll still have
A star out beyond, some distant sparkling,
Something unmet, unheard, not in or of
Us, people moved always by the letter,
Never the spirit. Redeemed, you’ll be like
That ocean just to your left, an inkling
And taste of infinity, and better
We never glimpse or guess at the vast blue
Depths your soul may never have traveled to.

editors note:

Keep seeking those vast blue depths. Immortality can wait. – mh