Arrested in the spider’s sticky strings,
a butterfly appeared suspended where
the web was hung; she worked her fragile wings
of gold and black upon the autumn air
like eyelids blinking in a sudden light.
But sails of vibrant dust were never meant
to hoist more than ideas to any height –
her form entangled soon and she was spent.
A half a minute let me justify
my interference, for no spider came.
I dashed outside to free that butterfly,
but never did I touch her wings or aim
for any other thing than liberty
for butterflies in spider webs, and me.
If I, for fifteen minutes every day,
assign myself an exercise in prose,
it’s probable I’ll find some things to say,
for doing drives declaring. I’ll compose
a quarter hour’s words before it’s night,
and then I’ll set it free to multiply.
The muse instructs me, now’s the time to write,
and doesn’t yet care what – just that I try.
I’ll put a pen to paper, or I’ll sit
before a keyboard and computer screen.
I’ll string together words appropriate
or maybe not, to get at what I mean.
If nothing else, I’ll force my work to birth
and learn before too long or late, its worth.
The color leaves of sycamore become
before they fall – the pale of wild grass
that dries to hay beneath the August sun –
these tones describe my dog. From burnished brass
her aging coat now whitens at her chin,
and fondled ripples like the desert sand
before the evening breeze: as warm within,
as fine as lint, as soft as shadowed tan.
My mind is purple but my wisdom’s green.
I don’t believe I dream in black and white.
I had to study 30 years to learn
the color of my silence. Now between
assertions I allow a little light,
and let the spectrum of ideas return.
It’s mattress time again – the season when
the sidewalks draw the sleeping pads outside.
As if attractive law induces men
and women to adorn a pavement tide,
assisting their old mattresses to move,
to rest on edge against a parkway tree
or front yard fence; the passing days will prove
no mattress lingers stiff or vertically.
It’s mattress time, when students swap their rooms,
and I am skirting furniture today –
side-stepping broken desks, exhausted brooms,
with futons and some box springs in my way.
I’d best not fret. Once I was young myself.
And maybe I can use that corner shelf…
I used to read voraciously, and all
of it was fictional, but lately I’m
attracted to the study of the small
details of hormones, and the marks of time
on islands, and the history of thought.
I don’t know what’s become of me; I’m more
than old but hunger to be better taught,
to get more than I ever did before.
Today I am in charge of teaching me;
no longer will this student go to schools.
I learned so quickly then, but I was bound
in processes and judged statistically,
corralled by standards of pedantic rules.
Today I blaze my course on open ground.
“No Exit” neon-signaled through a wall
of glass a dozen floors above the ground.
And we inside that conference room were all
like passengers within a lifeboat, bound
upon a sea of stress to any berth,
intense around the table top to know,
a hundred fifty feet above the earth,
to where the day’s discovery would go.
As if we were survivors of a storm,
an intimacy grew among the eight
within that space. Tenacity and warm
amazing patience took us to a late
relief, and finally I understood
their cowardice, and they allowed me good.
For 16 months I saw a pendant sword
above my head, and felt the weight of stone
around my neck compress my collar bone,
so though I knew the lawyers there were bored,
and plaintiff nonsense couldn’t be ignored,
still I was glad to meet the bad unknown.
I witnessed how complaints to action grown
were shrunk by truth to pebbles in a gourd.
The stone around my neck was then a top
the table showed, its surface flecked with reams
of photocopied evidence in piles.
And long before the pointed sword could drop,
our questions redirected it to dreams,
so light and safe I left that place in smiles.
I joke about how boring water is.
My father says his father bade him think
how many nasty things are done by fish
in it; he said to choose a different drink.
My mother didn’t serve it with our meal –
I thought that ritual for restaurants
and Protestants. It rarely had appeal,
for sedentary me knew other wants.
Four days ago, I learned the taste of death
on parchment tongue. Too little water taught
me hiking what a torture is each step
when every cell is screaming thirst and water
is withheld. Recovered, I can’t get
enough of water’s clean transparent wet.
My childhood occurred when I was small,
and left a large impression on my soul.
A paltry twenty years it ran, but all
its lessons last in me. My self-control
my parents held as if they were trustees,
accusing me of none they could perceive,
until by disobedient degrees
I captured power and I took my leave.
Of course I won’t forget my childhood;
the acid etches deepest on the new,
and none of us matures without its score.
But what was it my parents understood,
those years? Compared to me, they traveled through
accelerating presents they ignored.
I marvel, when some client tries to cow
me into doing what they have in mind,
or when a uniform directs me how
I must proceed with forms or humankind,
or when attempts are made to guide my course
at Disneyland, or school, or in a bank,
that even Dad could not impose his force
on me, by carrot, stick, caress, or spank.
Obedience will never be my suit;
I won’t be rude but I can’t self-efface.
Compliance doesn’t fit me, and its fruit
will never tempt me. I won’t hide my face
or brain or nerve in any century:
Obedience cannot be found in me.