In Search Of Joy

2018 was the worst year of my life. I say this not knowing how it will end, but I dare-say I was not happy. Maybe this is because happiness so often is reliant upon circumstance, and as someone with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and borderline personality disorder- the odds are rarely in my favor. Yet, here I am writing this. Because of joy. Because in the dark spaces I chased it, until my life was sore, until I was dancing cheek to cheek with that yellow grace. Joy, in its purest form is reliant on nothing but awe and openness to something other than our perception of our present selves. While similar, it is far from happiness, and thankfully neither is fully invested in the other’s presence—they exist, with or without each other. In the dark places, you must store joy where it is accessible for when it is necessary. This is where I found myself—in the dark. Driving way too fast on a highway past sun-down, my friend Emily in the passenger seat, together screaming the lyrics to Augustana’s "Boston"… and I woke back into my life, out of the nightmare, out of the vast plain of dark—I was alive again, and the stars… they were everywhere.

I Am Alive in Los Angeles!

          I am alive in Los Angeles!
          I am alive in Los Angeles!
Here in the wild, wild west..
The warm wind hits my face,
I walk across stained concrete,
I cry tears of joy on Flower Street..
I watch families dancing
on their porches on Christmas Eve.
I smile widely.
I move thru the city,
my heart beating swiftly
as sirens speed by me.
I revel in the sadness—my soul is deep
I take full responsibility.
Give me everything!
It hurts—it's so beautiful!
The universal
Soulful multicultural
Emerging worldwide
tribe people
          I am alive in Los Angeles!

          I am alive in Los Angeles!
Where the angles change like isosceles.
Citywide topographies
undulate across massive landscape
moving from chain-link to palatial gates into
separate economic states with rising birth rates
below hilltops in the streetscapes.
One can barely even equivocate
the fluctuations in rent so evident
all across from block to block to block.
Extravagance and adversity interlock:
palatial spots, crosswalks, burrito shops,
housekeepers are hanging out at bus stops,
the Country Club's all walled off.
The city's blowing up like a molotov
even when I'm in the shower
I hear the horns honk.
          I am alive in Los Angeles!
Whether I’m listening to Miles Davis
or electronic music
I move thru traffic
loving the inner-city dynamics
the midcity magic moves
from happiness to tragic,
adversity to extravagance
like seeing Korean grandparents moving slowly
Catholic school children crossing fearlessly
I saw a stray dog that looked like Spuds Mackenzie
by the Belmont Tunnel on 2nd Street
live and direct in the Rampart District.
          I am alive in Los Angeles!

All the people stopped stifled up in gridlock.
Everywhere roadblocks cause charged reactions.
Waves of chaos are collapsing
keeping people bottled up.
Tempers are rising up,
desperate drivers look for shortcuts.
There's no way around it.
Congested walls keep surrounding,
surrounding coming down around us.
Claustrophobic intensity
stuck in the web of density,
people have a propensity to have anxiety.
It's daily with so many people in one place.
Interacting face to face to face
with different destinations.
Everybody keeps racing
in this fast-paced nation.
          I AM ALIVE IN Los Angeles!

The neon crowns glow
above the City of Angels,
haze hovers after another
nuclear sunset, I love it all.

          I AM ALIVE IN Los Angeles!

Every Blessed Day

First with a glass of water
tasting of iron and then
with more and colder water
over his head he gasps himself
awake. He hears the cheep
of winter birds searching
the snow for crumbs of garbage
and knows exactly how much light
and how much darkness is there
before the dawn, gray and weak,
slips between the buildings.
Closing the door behind him,
he thinks of places he
has never seen but heard
about, of the great desert
his father said was like
no sea he had ever crossed
and how at dusk or dawn
it held all the shades of red
and blue in its merging shadows,
and though his life was then
a prison he had come to live
for these suspended moments.
Waiting at the corner he feels
the cold at his back and stamps
himself awake again. Seven miles
from the frozen, narrow river.
Even before he looks he knows
the faces on the bus, some
going to work and some coming back,
but each sealed in its hunger
for a different life, a lost life.
Where he's going or who he is
he doesn't ask himself, he
doesn't know and doesn't know
it matters. He gets off
at the familiar corner, crosses
the emptying parking lots
toward Chevy Gear & Axle # 3.
In a few minutes he will hold
his time card above a clock,
and he can drop it in
and hear the moment crunching
down, or he can not, for
either way the day will last
forever. So he lets it fall.
If he feels the elusive calm
his father spoke of and searched
for all his short life, there's
no way of telling, for now he's
laughing among them, older men
and kids. He's saying, "Damn,
we've got it made." He's
lighting up or chewing with
the others, thousands of miles
from their forgotten homes, each
and every one his father's son.
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On Kindness

At the Detroit Metro Airport
with the turtle-hours to spare
between now & my flight, there is
such a thing as the kindness
of the conveyor belt who lends me
its slow, strange mollusk foot
as I stand quiet, exhausted, having been
alone in my bed for days now, sleeping
in hotels, having spent months, now,
without seeing the faces of my family, somehow
its slow & quiet carrying of the load
reminds me of the kindness of donkeys,
& this kindness returns me to myself.
It reminds me of the kindness of other things I love
like the kindness of sisters who send mail,
wherever you are, &, speaking of mail, there is
the special kindness of the mail lady
who says, “Hi, baby” to everyone, at first
I thought it was just to me, but now I know
she says “Hi, baby” to everyone. That is kindness.
Too, there is the kindness of windows, & of dogs.
& then there was that extraordinary Sunday
back at the house, I heard a woman screaming
about how she was lonely & so lonely
she didn’t know what she’d do, maybe kill
herself, she said, over & over like a parrot
in a cage, a parrot whose human parent
only taught it that one sentence. I looked out
the window & saw her from behind, the way she flung
her arms like she was desperate & being killed
or eaten by an invisible predator, like a tiger or a lion, in the chest.
& her voice seemed fogged out with methadone, I don’t know,
something, & I walked away from the window
& sat, angry with her for screaming, & sad,
& not long after, I heard her saying,
What’d you say? What’d you say to me?
& a man’s voice, low, I could not tell if it was kind.
& she said, I’ll kill myself, I’m so lonely.
& did I tell you, yet, that it was Mother’s Day?
Flowers & mothers, flowers & mothers all day long.
& the woman saying, I’m so lonely. I could kill myself.
& then quiet. & the man’s voice saying, it’s okay.
It’s okay. I love you, it’s okay.

& this made me get up, put my face, again, to the window
to see my landlord’s nephew outside, just hugging her so, as if
it were his mother, I mean, as if he belonged to her,
& then, again, quiet, I left the window but sat
in the silence of the house, hidden by shutters, & was amazed.
When the front door of the brownstone opened up
& let the tall nephew in with his sad & cougar eyes,
handsome & tall in his Carolina-Brooklyn swagger, I heard
him start to climb the stairs above me, & my own hand
opened up my own front door,
& though it was none of my business
I asked him, Do you know that woman out there?
& do you know what happened next?
He said, No. The nephew said no, he didn’t know
the woman out there. & he told me Happy Mother’s Day
as he climbed the rest of the stairs. & I can’t stop seeing them
hugging on the street, under trees, it was spring, but cold,
& sometimes in the memory his head is touching hers
& sometimes in the memory his eyes are closed,
& sometimes she is holding him
& singing to him I love you. It’s okay.
I mean to tell you that everywhere I go
I hear us singing to each other. This way. I mean to tell you
that I have witnessed such great kindnesses as this,
in this, my true life, you must believe me.
I mean, on a Sunday, when nobody was supposed to be
watching. Nobody at all. I saw this happen, the two
of them hugging, when nobody was supposed to be
watching, but not a secret either, public
as the street, not for glory & not for a joke,
the landlord’s nephew ready to stand there for the woman
like a brother or a sister or a husband or son,
or none of those at all, but a stranger,
a stranger who, like her, is an earthling.
Perhaps this thing I am calling kindness
is more simple than kindness, rather, recognition
of the neighbor & the blue, shared earth
& the common circumstance of being here:
what remains living of the last
two million, impossible years…
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The Facts of Life

That you were born
and you will die.

That you will sometimes love enough
and sometimes not.

That you will lie
if only to yourself.

That you will get tired.

That you will learn most from the situations
you did not choose.

That there will be some things that move you
more than you can say.

That you will live
that you must be loved.

That you will avoid questions most urgently in need of
your attention.

That you began as the fusion of a sperm and an egg
of two people who once were strangers
and may well still be.

That life isn’t fair.
That life is sometimes good
and sometimes better than good.

That life is often not so good.

That life is real
and if you can survive it, well,
survive it well
with love
and art
and meaning given
where meaning’s scarce.

That you will learn to live with regret.
That you will learn to live with respect.

That the structures that constrict you
may not be permanently constraining.

That you will probably be okay.

That you must accept change
before you die
but you will die anyway.

So you might as well live
and you might as well love.
You might as well love.
You might as well love.

A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
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Starlight Elsewhere

Hunger is an old story, a threadbare afternoon,
torn open as if by mice in the bones of a cold house.

The family, that weird station, that series of events—
we will never be enough. Kick yourself off

on another adventure. Whatever story you need
can shout itself loudest over the gutted rooms.

This is not fate, this is firewood. You are not lost,
you are transposed—you are starlight, elsewhere,

someone’s grass-stained child overrun
with rain, a taste of bitterness. Your red mouth

and weak eyes. You are not gone, not vanished,
you are flying, hair blown back,

and in this posture, this constant motion, look
how suddenly you belong. How old circumstances

fit you like bad shoes, same as anyone.
Even before you reach the pier, it is plain

sky broke its promises and crumbled into sea.
How light becomes a kingdom of salt. How the sea

continues, restless and tossing. Your name within it,
a small muscle, a smooth and silent stone.