“The next three words–you, read, will–set the tone
For what awaits you in the coming year.”
Twelve months to navigate with those alone
To guide and comfort me? Facebook, it’s clear,
Believes your influence, benign or ill,
Cannot be overstated; should I need
More proof–though, since it’s you, I doubt I will—
I’m sure to find it when I read my feed.
If skepticism dressed in khaki slacks
And running shoes, just those who know me well
Enough to find me in the used book stacks
I’m wont to haunt, our differences could tell.
It’s Facebook, after all, that thinks it’s true
That I will read their quiz, but that was you.
I’m thankful for the opportunity
Bestowed upon me each Thanksgiving Day
To quote myself before my family
And friends. But I still don’t know what to say.
I love that we don’t argue, scream, or fight;
That politics and sports don’t spoil the meal;
That most of us would choose a quiet night
To one in which we slur the words we feel.
I’m thankful that I’m looking forward to
Our late-November gathering of clans,
And that the trope of kin-without-a-clue
Has never reared its head: We’re family fans.
The difficulty is, it’s always thus.
Are there new ways to say I’m glad we’re us?
The carpenter gets credit for the house
And not the saw, the hammer, nails, or wood,
So after each mass shooting we espouse
That tools should not be blamed, that guns are good.
It’s hard to argue: Piled on a site
In heaps, unhanded tools will never build
A home for humans; likewise, in a fight
Between two armories, no gun gets killed.
Absent our capacity to plan
A tool or gun is just a pointless thing.
(Well, nails have points, but, still.) Without a man,
A crown is just a hat and not a king.
And yet, unless he’s paving roads to Hell,
An artisan sans tools won’t do too well.
I talk to squirrels. They don’t speak to me.
I say, “Good morning! What a lovely tail!”
As if a cedar room inside their tree
Held options: Fuzzy, flat, or bought-on-sale.
I tell the squirrels what I’d hope to hear
From them if our respective roles were swapped
And they were benched and sipping brown-bagged beer
While I scrounged hopefully for scraps they’d dropped.
They chitter, chirp, and squawk, but that’s not speech.
They talk amongst themselves like I’m not there,
But when I try to imitate their screech
They stop their conversations cold, and stare.
I’d like to teach the squirrels empathy
And algebra, but they don’t speak to me.
Because, of course, it’s up to me, I say:
That isn’t music, that’s just noise with words.
Music is the thing musicians play,
Or Nature, like with waterfalls or birds.
Because it’s up to me, I’ll make this clear:
Your so-called “god” is just a made-up tale.
The real God — mine — inspires faith and fear,
And tells us what it’s like inside a whale.
It’s up to me to tell you what is good,
And so it’s good for you I’m glad to share
My perfect grasp of how a person should
Behave; such generosity is rare.
It’s up to me to tell you how to act,
Except in science class. A fact’s a fact.
Upon the summit, or so nearly there
That he can taste it, the late trickster king
Stands straight to rub his aching shoulder where
It chafes the boulder, savoring the Spring.
On heights of depths he stretches, knowing well
How brief the respite is before the Fall.
Does he malinger, strolling back to Hell?
His past is endless prologue, after all.
Does Sisyphus, condemned for cleverness,
Muse on erosion as he makes his way
Back down the path? Does it seem slightly less
Sisyphean today than yesterday?
If not the man, the rock or mountain must
Before eternity be ground to dust.
No one I know did not come home from war.
The first not forced to fight in Vietnam,
We got to choose what we were fighting for;
The draft had crashed and burned before our prom.
I’ve lost some classmates from Annapolis
But none whom I would know by more than name.
Two warless decades surely helped with this;
My children’s peers, perhaps, can’t say the same.
I’ve friends who went to war. They all returned,
But most of those to whom I’m close I met
After their younger selves had gone and learned
What steel does from the stone on which it’s whet.
This holiday we honor those who fell.
How many walk among us? Who can tell?