instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Poem of My Life

Viejas Mountain, 2007

I have dreamt and I have planned.
Been a husband.
Am a father.
I have held the pieces of my heart in my hands and
 known that I am the cause of their breaking.
I am still here.

* * *

I have been to England, to Scotland, to Italy.
On Mauna Kea in the waning light and growing
 cold I have seen the telescopes come alive;
 seen the curvature of the Earth.
I have driven to Alaska.
Danced in Jerusalem.

I have poured concrete, driven 16-penny greencoats,
 built houses.
I have pumped gas, tended bar, made a million
 margaritas. Maybe more.
I have hypothesized, randomized, and analyzed.
Been stung by a stingray.
Changed a clutch.

I have bathed in mountain waters that tautened
 my skin — that remembered for weeks.
 That remembers still.
I have worked in the sun and the heat and the dirt; sweat; and ended my days encakeded in salt.

I have lamented choices made and not made.
I have made bread.

I have sown seeds and shared what I have grown. I have made sauce with my Italian neighbors.
I have walked on the beach in the sun with a bare-breasted woman;
 walked alone on the interstate at night in the rain.

I have been discouraged; been in despair.
I have sat with my father-in-law as he died, seen my best friend drink himself to death.
Watched the birth of my son.

I have eaten live oysters on tidal flats at summer solstice;
 seen red-tailed hawks harry bald eagles and crows harry red-tailed hawks.

I have been used; lied to; stolen from; known betrayal; been made a fool.
Been foolish.

I have seen the milky waters of glacier-fed rivers, seen the Northern Lights shimmer and dance,
 raced an on-coming storm across a lake in a canoe.
Earned a graduate degree.

To the woman I first loved, I lost my virginity.
This is a loss I have never regretted.

From pop bottles redeemed at three and five cents, from mowing lawns, feeding cats,
 delivering papers; from all this and more I have saved, bought an emerald-green
 Peugot with ten speeds, and flipped head-over-handlebars when a baseball lodged
 in the spokes and caught in the fork.

I have seen Sandy Koufax pitch and Willie Mays hit and I was there when Tony Gwynn
 played his first game.
And his last.

In a Tuscan castle I have drunk grappa and listened to Elmar Oliveira play duets with his wife,
 he dressed in flip-flops and shorts.
I have held a Stradivari.

I have seen the piled bones of the Capuchin monks; have roasted coffee and made cappuccino.

I have written.
Not of cabbages, not of kings.
But yes, of many things.
 Of tomatoes and neighbors; of doctors and dying kids.
 Of fathers and sons; piano tuners and violin makers.
 Of bras, breasts, and sewers.
 Of David Douglas, for whom they named the Doug fir; who changed landscapes the
 world over and died on the slopes of a Hawaiian volcano, nearly blind, gored by a bull.
True stuff.
All of it, true.

I have won prizes and awards.
 Not the Nobel.
 Not the Pulitzer.
 Not a Caldecott or an O'Henry.
But yes, I have plaques upon the wall.

I have reflected on Oscar Wilde's long morning's struggle over whether to put in a comma,
 and his even longer struggle over whether to take it out.
I have marveled that David Foster Wallace could make literature out of footnotes.

Of a woman he fancied, I have heard a man say — and this, too, is true — that he would
 "Crawl over a mountain of broken glass just to suck on one of the lug nuts of the truck
 that hauled her dirty laundry."
And I have been damned impressed.

I have cried without warning at a symphony's first notes of the Eroica.

From a tide pool I have plucked and held a sea slug, Aplysia californica — wet, slippery,
 gelatinous and purple, a living lump of grape jelly, moving by oozing, harmless —
 as my son with pudgy finger stroked its back.

I have courted women and been rejected.
And accepted.

I have planted acorns, ...
 watered oaks, ...
 waited, ...
 had faith, ...
 and imagined.

I have squandered time, money, and love.
Give or take a few, I have slept 56 × 365 × 8 = 163,520 hours in my life.
I have overslept.

I have worked 60 hours nonstop to meet a deadline.
I have been rich with love and rich with youth.
I have been responsible.
A volunteer.

Rarely, I have been content.

I have laughed.
Had a mouth dry with fear.
Been impatient.
Seen the Black Hills.

I have seen a salami two feet in diameter and Calder's fountain of mercury, both in Barcelona.
I have eaten bull balls sliced and fried.

I have read Moby Dick.

I have left the car lights on and returned to find the battery dead.
 And I have cursed.
I have seen my son grow up.

I remember the first time I spent $100 on groceries — two carts' worth and so much that we
 surprised the clerk, who told the next clerk over,
 "That's a hundred dollars worth of groceries!"
No one is surprised at this anymore.

I have been seasick at home in the shower, hours after the boat had docked.
I have ridden a freight train through the Sierras, from Sacramento to Salt Lake City and home
 through Las Vegas, where a stranger let me use her shower.
I have thumbed a ride from a trucker carrying forty tons of onions.
Seen a Guernsey cow in Guernsey.
Heard the music of children's laughter.

I have not put down the duckie; never played the saxophone.
Never danced the tarantella.

In my backyard I have seen a row of seven coyotes.
On Denali from afar — far, far afar — I have seen a grizzly.

I have started and not finished.
I have tried and failed.
Tried and succeeded.
Tried. Failed. Tried.
Come half-way. All that.

I have been foolish — I did say I had been foolish.
I have worn silly hats; hats that embarrassed my son.

I have seen the sign of a realtor named January Riddle.
I have not seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
I have seen a cobble break loose of its own and roll down a canyonside.
Geology in action.

I have run a half-marathon, owned a ' 56 Chevy, and stood at Dante's tomb.

I have been less than forthright.
Shaded the truth.
Been ashamed.
Been — though not in many years — cruel.
Committed schadenfreude.

I have quit jobs, useless jobs.
Been a dumbfuck.
Never been fired.

I have slept with a cat in the crook of my arm.
Seen the plays at Ashland.
Fired a shotgun.
I have never scudded or used the word "scudding."
Clouds scud.

I have fixed a sewer line.
Had a nasogastric tube pushed up my nose.
Been given morphine.

Today I saw a bluebird in the park and a kite high on a string.
I saw the Knights turn a triple play.
I worked on this poem.

I have been appalled, repulsed, mortified, and disgusted.
I have been irritated.
Did I say I have been irritated?

I have never held a patent.
Never been a patent holder.

I have said "Yes" when my son called to say he'd spent all night in line to buy playoff tickets
 and did I want to fly 3,000 miles to be his guest at Yankee Stadium?
"Yes," I have said. "Yes."

I have pulled off the road to behold a double rainbow; dug up wild hyacinth bulbs;
 eaten cactus; tasted breadfruit; gathered seeds from Rosa californica, our native rose.

I have cataloged my joys.

* * *

I have dreamt and I have planned.
I am still here.
Still have more to do.

"Poem of My Life" was first published in the April 2012 issue of Chest.