Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Courage All Around

When Marrianne and Brendan and I first got to Washington, I'd go a couple of times a year to Bus Boys and Poets open-mic night. It was always very exciting. Most of the poets who made it to the mic were rappers. They were driven by rhymes and rhythms and an apparent need to get up on the stage and say who they were and what they cared about.

And every once in a while I'd get up and try to rumble a few lines, injecting a little blank verse, substituting assonance or alliteration for rhyme and, quite obviously, an occasional longer word when a shorter one might have done. The audience was always patient, but usually hungry for the next rapper. 

In the upshot, I learned far more from them than they learned from me. And, watching the risks they took, I learned that I needed to take more risks, too, and put more heart into speaking my poems. I wrote "The Courage All Around" for them:

Late-night honest
with myself
My boy shames me
The courage he shows
drumming at the Metro
Spare change pours in
Folded bills drifting like
snow covering his lap

Ten years old, first
sharing a buck
with a woman who asks,
then shooing her away
when she won’t stop
asking for more

He goes about his business,
a lionheart tending his
pride of intentions,
while I flinch at the work
before me, at stepping up
before you, at speaking my piece

But where he’s heading,
where heart and skill
and the company of others,
the company of you,
colleagues with an instinct
to be movement and reach

we can believe in,
that place, that thought, swells
my heart The world you will build
beckons and beguiles
and because the heart is
a complicated thing
I feel no shame here
I feel the courage all around 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I Am Your Journeyman

I am no poet of the
   interior voyage.
But I am a journeyman,
   giving good effort
for wages or food.

I know the paths
    through caves and forests.
I know the edible fruit
    along the way.
I’ll show you the shallow fords
   across the river of tears.

Follow me
    picking the way through the woods
on black days. Heed this moonlight
    exalting the heart even through
this night of fear.

Caution now,
    there may be need for stealth.
Keep pace.
Keep close.
Keep faith.
Savor this good bread,
    considering without regret
the choices you have made.

We’ll arrive safely soon enough,
    resting on Thursday,
moving on, refreshed, on Friday.
    Along the way,
we’ll learn more trust,
   celebrating dews and frosts and thunder.

(This poem was included in Wild Once and Captured)