LIKE DANNY RAND’S IRON FIST

Esteem is non-transferable
Maybe a life of ambition has netted accomplishments which are admired
And you’re proud of what you’ve amounted to,
Honors, awards, and achievements amassed and acquired in college
You list them in an early resumé but not in maturity,
Their merit fades like ability with age, fading skillsets
And the memory of what you once were, once could do is not the same
As the ability itself and proficiency, even if at one time
It was your own, was who you are, what you are, were
One can measure age by abilities one has lost
Maybe we have rested on our esteem too long,
Taking credit instead for actual ability

—Then there may be other considerations—

But respect from mastery of a discipline is a non-transferable asset
That status of my Harvard degree in religion and culture doesn’t translate
Onto the dance floor from the digital keyboard of my piano to listeners
It’s the actuality of tonal rhythm my technique must generate.
Into every new world an expansive soul is summoned because it is new
Esteem cannot be imported but must be earned afresh as Danny Rand
Fought the mythic dragon and earned by his own efforts The Iron Fist
Contending to master arts of new disciplines in answer to wisdom’s howl
The expansive soul’s ventures grow comfortable in unfamiliar realms
Didn’t Leonardo’s poetry, inventions, astronomy, and architecture color
The brushstrokes of the Mona Lisa?  And Newton wrote theology;
Bach taught Latin; Einstein played the violin; not cowering before
The daunting other, the ignominy of beginning, the risk of failed esteem
And my Kung Fu master was going to ask me to leave his studio
Because I wasn’t getting it.  Much later, he made me star in videos
He filmed for newcomers as promos at his New Year’s celebration
And another student and I were teaching assistants when we brought him
To Harvard phys-ed and packed the gym.  At the Chinese Cultural Center
One of the senior students watched me and made signs, as his English
Wasn’t good, imitating my awkward beginnings there and how I am now
The nobility of my experiences with behavior health sciences,
Contending with the fog of a mind touched with fire, sedated by meds
Swimming through barely functioning, losing excellences I once knew
Or my 26 years clean and sober and serenity’s radical recast of success
Now I awaken nude in incompetence, wishing for nobility to transfer
Into a world that never knew me before,
Who I was, what I was, what I could do
Only my performance in this iteration of identity

YOUR SINGULAR, SURE VOICE

My world unravels now you are away
Your love is away; nothing embraces me
Trust fails around me and sincerity
Our love’s sanctuary is gone today

I’m a stranger lost in language games
I miss the meaning others fail to say
Who don’t remember me from yesterday
My social life comes down to merely memes

The world that is your singular, sure voice
Fractures in a plural mixed up sound
I lose my footing, stagger on shifting ground
Our duet drowned out by static noise

I learned the story of Tristan and Isolde
When all I did alone in school was read
They lived in love’s cathedral, love their creed
And so we lived so long our love will hold

My mind rehearses thoughts of you like a song
And all my memories join in harmony
Although apart, I feel you here with me
And I’ll be with you there however long

PARKING LOT

“FUCK!”  “Come over here and say that, FAGGOT!”
“Are you staring at me?”  He yelled, throwing pieces of furniture
Echoing off the cavernous dumpsters they hit, Hip-Hop music blaring
Out the apartment that let him crash there, so loud my walls vibrate
Wandering around in the parking lot and it’s three o’clock AM
He watched my every move from my car to the Condo Complex door
And I left my 14-year-old Honda Civic—too dented for insurance—
In the parking lot with him, and only two weeks ago we ran up to him
After I photographed him breaking into my friend’s Dakota pick-up truck
My 911 call brought two police cruisers to the parking lot that afternoon
I emailed the station my photographs along with my report, yet here he is
Wandering around the parking lot yelling, “FUCK!” and hollering
Hip-Hop blaring, and it’s three o’clock AM again, like two nights ago
When my 911 call brought a police cruiser to the parking lot
He was inside that night and taunted the police out his sliding glass door
On the second floor, he knew the police couldn’t gain access to him
Last night, my 911 call brought three police cruisers to the parking lot,
The smiling, indifferent condo owner, and two men in military uniform.
It’s quiet, tonight.  Peaceful.  Only the occasional cavernous clang
Of a homeless person digging in the dumpster, or a shopping cart’s rattle
Across the parking lot, as I reflect out my 3rd floor sliding glass door
I wonder about the Asian families with children who live here

TUNNEL EXIT

It’s hard to find words for joy
And who wants to read happy poems?
Poetry begins in a pang
And sings the still, sad song of humanity
But I’m done with sad
This growing blithe spirit of mine
Hail to me my blithe spirit
“O friends, no more these sad tones
“Let us instead strike up more pleasing and more joyful ones!”
But what would those joyful tones be?
I don’t know, standing here bathed in light
Just at the tunnel exit, the darkness behind me
The interminable tunnel, the darkness when you’re in it
And I’ve been in it so long, so interminably long
Don’t we coalesce in misery together like an overcast sky
This amassing thunder-cloud with its strike of God-shock
That Götterfunken Schiller revealed; Beethoven immortalized
This confrontation with misery, this visit with trauma
This release, these successive explosions of what is not
Moksha, the liberation of which the Indic speak
There is no sunshine like just after the thunder-storm
Inspiring the shepherd’s hymn of thanksgiving
I can enjoy in golden moments, enjoy playing the keys, the music
I act effortlessly at times, have drive
Not compel a soporific lethargy to get it done
The tunnel behind me reaches back in misery
Back, behind the blithe light in which I now stand
At the tunnel exit
And today I am happy, happy at this moment I want

RECOVERY FROM WHAT PEOPLE CALL MENTAL ILLNESS

I’ll always remember; I have to remember
That month behind locked psych wing doors
I also remember the grandiose ideation
When I saw my doctoral dissertation recovering
A spirituality in this dead, secular age beyond recovery
Signifiers of the bipolar diagnosis I will always have
And I am mentally ill, will be thought mentally ill
If anyone finds out, like the job application that asked what meds I’m on
Or the dentist who took a couple steps backward
And asked me when my last episode was when I disclosed bipolar meds
With sadness, I think of 27 years embracing the mental health sub-culture
Believing it was a life—king of the Drop-In Center
Devoting what drive depression and sedating meds hadn’t sapped
What intelligence still shone through medicated fog
Devoting what was left in me to behavioral health sciences;
Publishing my story in a university press; bespeaking me
At international national conferences; brought in year after year to talk
To student nurses; until one year I narrated my accomplishments, asked
“Does it make sense to call me mentally ill?” and was never asked back
Actively sought out by psychiatric treatment teams to represent us

I emerge into the ordinary world

That community which doesn’t require chronic professional helpers
Which doesn’t slouch all endeavor staring at the TV
Vacuously not really watching, when I could be practicing
Scales, arpeggios, chord voicings, playing through old standards
Like the other musicians my age who did for 27 years and they grew
While my sapped drive, called avolition in textbooks, sapped
Year after year my technique 27 years of which I envy in others
And probably will never recapture and make my own like mental illness
All manner of healing techniques and med adjustments
Release the electronic locks and I laboriously push open the doors
Into the ordinary world out of the psych wing
My will strengthens, stronger, strong as it used to be
And when you have the will, you accomplish, can accomplish anything
Not cave before thinking about rising out of bed to do
No, but to rise up from a 27-year bedridden psyche
To strive at overcoming mental lethargy, technical atrophy

Re-enter the atmosphere we call chronically normal

Like the hospital bus dropped me off on the street corner
To fend for myself when I was deemed well enough for release,
Find out what it means to be mentally ill and quarrel
Over the $50,000 bill, which I wasn’t well enough to do
With my student loan money bloating my savings account
Over indigent status and the money I owed the student loan officer
Meant I owed the hospital.  Alone on the street-corner with a $50,000

Broken mind.

It’s not as much bitterness as it is the cost of recovery
The work-out to build up a flaccid psyche, rising
Up out of sedating meds, sedated desires, to take on a world
Even Rip Van Winkle might give up trying in
And sleep another 27 years, or the rest of my life
In the Drop-In Center, where I am king
And there’s nothing you really have to do
If you don’t want

SOLSTICE LAMENT

I never noticed shadows so long
That played against the bright sunlight in a strobe effect
At 8:30 PM this longest day of the year
Driving home after the outdoor concert in a parking lot
The tree shadows against the sunlight rapid
Driving me into nearly an altered state of mind
But I had to stay in this world, as I was on the road
And the natural strobe effect could have disastrous
Consequences if I didn’t keep my mind on the road
It was no time to notice the eerie light
Almost another dimension, maybe so to Druidic Salisbury Plain
And the Stonehenge alignments break sunrise through
Enigmatic megaliths and over the heel stone only today
I’d build a monument to such another dimension of light
I wish my city had some way to reverence the Solstice
That I had some way to reverence it
That my church had some way to reverence it
So there would be more than a natural strobe effect
On my consciousness driving among blacktop and trees.
And that’s it.  Me noticing strange shadows playing against sunlight
At 8:30 PM, driving on the blacktop road

“Great God I’d rather be a pagan suckled in a creed outworn!”

But I’m not.  Driving home, after the parking lot concert,
In bright sunlight at 8:30, noticing eerie, long shadows—
The longest I’ve ever observed before playing against the sunlight.
Too much science, too much technology, too many quotidian days,
Only small print on a wall calendar announcing the first day of summer

THERE’S NO POETRY IN BEING POOR

I thought my poverty to be dignified in an artsy sort of way
Chuckling to myself as my car sways on its worn shocks
As the poet José Julián Marti Pérez fancied,

Con los povres de la tierra
Quiero yo mi suerte echar

With the poor people of the earth
I want to place my luck

I thought my small condo in a bad part of town charming
My slim earnings noble; I can get by
And a rich aunt and friends of means to bail me out when I need
I smiled at the cursing and hollering in the parking lot at 3AM
Until crime, the bastard child of the impoverished,
That afternoon my friend limped and I ran to his pickup truck
To scatter the men—one attaching a battery charger, the other in the cab
The 911 calls, the police reports, the perpetrator cursing
In the middle of the night, rambling around our parking lot
Staring me down as I walked to my own car next afternoon
Blasting hip-hop out the window of the owner giving him safe harbor
I dim my condo lights inside so he won’t know where I live
No.  There’s no poetry in being poor, when you have to be poor,
Live in fear, in 911 calls, in crime, in poverty
My friend shook for three days straight
And I, two weeks later, might practice my keyboards
With a nightstick within reach, and my phone

FLOWERS AND SUNGLASSES

The colors of the patio flowers don’t show
When I look at them with sunglasses
The brilliant, dark violet petals almost glow
When I’m not wearing plastic, tinted lenses

They attenuate the light, which is good
When I’m driving in bright sunlight somewhere
Or in a parking lot eating fast food
With a slurpy, leaning against my car

When I’m blinking in summer sunlight
Sunglasses let me get most things done
Except when Nature’s singing to my sight
And flowers display the world made by the sun

I CAN’T PRACTICE TONIGHT

My own car is parked across town at my partner’s place
I can’t practice my keyboards tonight
Making music is a far cry from nowhere, now
In this scattered mind driven to alarmed glances out the window
Every ten minutes by anxiety from the 911 call
I made again only three days ago, and three days before that
In broad daylight the first time, and then at 4AM the second time
I was still up, reading, when they vandalized my friend’s pickup truck
They attached a charger to his battery the first time with obvious intent
Same guys, same truck, same hollering obscenities at 3AM, loud hip-hop
Blaring in the parking lot from the apartment that lets him in
We glared eye-to-eye while I walked from the doorway to my own car
Next day, and I don’t know how it would have turned out
Had it come to other than eye contact, watching my every move
It isn’t just my dimmed apartment lights
—I don’t think he knows which window is mine—
It’s more my alarmed glance out the window at every clamor
Thump, car-door shut, every yell from the parking lot, or scream
My mobile phone always within reach, my scattered nerves
—I don’t want another Night on Bald Mountain—
My own car parked across town tonight, at my partner’s place
I can’t practice my keyboards tonight

I WOULDN’T SAY REGRET

Staring absently, the waitress
Demurred to evoke words
In reply to what he thought jocose
Signifying his accidental dissonance in most anything not
Music
At the piano
A good part of the day
Notes singing out a pentatonic sequence
Which were the scales’ iteration of their name
In every key
“It’s fun!” he exclaimed
While I sat on the couch that afternoon visit
Not even a song to me or most anybody
It’s why he’s so good
I mean good
Why his accidental dissonance, maybe, in most anything not
Music

He likes to check out music stores
Why wouldn’t he?
“Listen to this lick; it modulates!” he exclaimed,
After he caught my attention
Playing the baby-grand piano upon asking my permission
In the music store I worked at back then
That day we met, that time
When two roads diverged before me
And I took a different road
Than the one we were both traveling by, then

The crowd wasn’t really listening
At the Grand Hotel’s Cupola Bar on Mackinac Island
Chit-chat, chit, chatter, chitter-chatter
Where we renewed our old friendship
It looked to me like the thrill is gone
Nor, I suppose, on the cruise ships how he makes his living now

Everybody’s got to make a buck

Prone to cults, his harmonic dissonance in everything not
Music,
Almost lost him his parents when he was 20 something
Rethinking the Christian cult’s imperative to renounce his family forever
He narrowly escaped
Now I’ve lost him to Q-Anon
Fortunately, he’s not prone to violence
If we stick to music, we can still talk
He recently sent me some interesting altered blues changes
I’m learning them on my new digital B3 organ copy
I’m going to send him a recording when I’ve got the changes down
I can still talk about music with him, though I fear I’ve lost him
But I always knew him to be out there
Scherzoid in most anything not
Music

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