Born During Vietnam

I was born in 1972
when the drafted were
fragging officers, rolling
grenades under cots,
because going on patrol
was pointless.

Raised by hippie teachers
who listened to Joan Baez,
had us play earth ball. That
world was better than agent
orange cancer, napalm blasts,
M-16 bullets and exit wounds.

They spoke of peace,
harmony, we held hands
and sang so many songs.
This land is made for
you and me, and it’s
alright to cry.

In my basement I still
saw my dad’s guns and
his green Marine hat
that he wore on Veteran’s Day.
We never spoke about the war,
what to say to a ten-year old
kid about sand bags, and
hearing loss?

But he took me to the
memorial, we touched
names, our dark shadows
together in the wall.

Tree Talks About Dancing

They worry about me in pounding wind,
that I might collapse, my weight crushing
fence, roof, windshield. It never crosses
their mind that I might be dancing, green
leaves, trunk, thump-shaking, swaying.
That this is my journey song, while roots
hold tight. Air my music, feel it move, groove,
and yes, one day I will topple this glory.

Seeing Saturn

Friday night with big hairy men
they could be riding Harleys
some wear bandanas as they peer through
large community college telescopes
wide silver cylinders pointed up to dotted dark
between bites of steak and cheese
they ask if I want to see Saturn
she’s clear tonight
they say like sailors looking at the moon
like Saturn sings opera
I sniff the air for beer or pot, but only smell
their sandwiches mixed with May night
they do this every Friday, search the sky
for celestial bodies, for heaven
from earth I join their shabbat
the ring, I see it, planet nestled within
I forget to breathe, then remember
that I too exist

He Pretends To Be A Poet

He pretends to be a poet, but does he even like poetry?
Sawgrass shallows, dark forests and trellises, the
language of description, erudition, evoked through so
much longing to be heard, to be read. But what does

it mean? Instead, he writes about what he knows,
which most nights seems like not a lot, sometimes silence
or that most mundane of all arts, parenting, being a dad,
or he reads half pages of zen books while munching on

frozen blueberries, while trying to remember the pickup time
for ballet. No, he doesn’t live in Paris or London, or
New York, although San Francisco is a writerly city, that frigid
foggy place where he was once young, and a real poet

in his studio apartment with Chinese takeout night after night,
the J Church train rumbling, urban soundtrack mixed with
Sonny Rollins, oh yes, he was cool, back in the day, but now
he sits in the kitchen, barefoot, wondering where his socks are.

Modern Homework

Sitting with my daughter and her iPad, we
fill in boxes that pose questions about
Greek Civilization. Art = statues, writing=
Plato, upper classes made laws, were
citizens, slaves did what they were told to
do. Box after box on the screen, covering
500 BC to 146 BC, until Rome conquers
Athens. Less than memorization, we cut and
paste words from other screens into hers. I
imagine Socrates in the agora, watching us,
wondering what happened, how we stopped
interrogating the machine, our flesh fingers,
puppets, moved to reduce everything to this.

Camp Fire California 2018

all the air isn’t air
ashes, dusty bones, charred remains
houses gone in flames
owners up with wind
Paradise lost

all the air isn’t air
hangs like fog, toxic smog
i can’t see the bridge, they say
san franciscans miles away
Paradise lost

all the air isn’t air
masks they wear masks
white covered faces after
the climate changed
Paradise lost

all the air isn’t air
endless clicking on screens
will the forecast change?
smoke only smoke
Paradise lost

Hiroshima

smudges, they became smudges, places where people
used to stand, sit, exist, before the blast, easier to 
see shadows than the melted faces, missing eyes

gay enola, little boy, happy nursery rhyme in the sky
where men dropped the end of life, bulbous war container
children in the death zone like charcoal burned with no grill

truman’s august angst, questions like grant’s total war to 
conclude inferno, force bushido to surrender their young kamikaze
suicide desperation, a nation’s emperor unwilling to stop suffering

until finished, after nagasaki, inception of nuclear era
destruction, non-fiction, we know, we know, but better
to kiss strangers in streets than think of erasing future’s time

Pontiac

my daughter already talks about the
car she wants an Audi, new, shiny
that her friends will admire like
her iPhone with apps that take
wrinkles out of faces in photos

I tell her about my maroon
dented station wagon, Pontiac
1986 Michigan-made to barely
last past puberty

I parked it with pride
my piece of remembering
that life is unreliable
always ready to
start then stop

blind to history my daughter
will never know the struggle of
driving a car that quit, gave up

for her they don’t exist
like rotary phones
like an indigenous name
turned into painted steel

Paraguayan Heaven

Sitting shotgun in a truck, 3 of us squeezed in the front (Cayo, Ernesto, Me), no seat belts, sipping yerba mate. I’m speaking Spanish, asking questions about recycling plastic and filtering water with chlorine. Cayo drives, points his finger up at the windshield, motioning to each vehicle we pass on the two lane Caazapa highway. Yvaga, he says, cielo, heaven. That’s where you will go when you die, his finger silently communicates. Watching this ritual I see the other drivers smiling at us, their fingers also pointing upward, telling us the same thing.

Cayo asks me about California. The Paraguayan campo has no cable TV, no CNN, no movie theaters. He doesn’t question me about celebrities or our president, he asks about the land, trees, animals, what the air smells like, feels like. I tell him about non-native eucalyptus trees, how they suck water out of the earth, take nourishment away from other plants. He understands. The conversation is easy, like the cumulus clouds that float like cotton above us.

Ernesto speaks and at first I think I comprehend, the cadence sounds the same, but then I’m lost in a time before Spanish, before South American roads. I close my eyes for a few seconds, a lightness takes over. I’m hearing a Guarani language not of an evangelizing church or of plundering capitalism, but of a people, a community. A few minutes later we slow down, pick up a hitchhiker, normal in this part of Paraguay. I see the guy sitting in the truck bed, a large heavy sack between his legs. A man on a journey, we both watch the road, I look out the front, he looks out the back.