Midtown

Every Saturday I go to church.
It’s not what you think.
My non-traditional tradition, this ritual,
Calling me each week.
I could sleep in, but no–
I am pulled to be there
in community with this particular congregation,
To receive the blessings it offers me.
There are no pews, but tables in a U-shape, chairs,
No pulpit but a microphone passed around
No altar but a box of paper prompts,
Our communion is our writing,
words scribbled in notebooks,
Then read aloud, no matter how profane
Or tender, absurd or banal.
The sharing makes it nothing less than holy.
This sacred passion we share for words, books, writing,
Intensifies as we gather, emboldens us to grow,
Makes us more than we might be praying
with our pens in our rooms alone.

Every week we write it, minutes at a time. The gospel according to me, to you.
All true, none of it true, so help me God.

On Sundays

The kids arrived after lunch

on Sundays.

There were usually one or two buses,

but it was mostly mini-vans and

Japanese cars.

Mom and Dad dropped off their young Lutherans

for a week of Jesus and mischief and

I was their counselor.

I was there to help,

to teach them,

make their faith stronger.

However,

I was a train wreck.

I was a time bomb.

Usually when I met the kids

I was still sweating out the weekend,

hard, hazy chaos and blackouts.

My friends would tell me what I did

on Saturday night.

I would nod, say,

Yes, that sounds like me.

I wore a Miller Lite t-shirt (seriously?) and

I snuck cigarettes in

whenever I could get away for 5 minutes.

I was a horrible counselor, but

man,

I loved those kids.

They were wide open,

funny, fearless, full of life,

5 foot heroes with big, high voices.

I would be cool when I met them, but

later I would yell at someone for something,

so they would be a little bit afraid of me.

In theory,

I was there to teach them, but

in reality, they taught me.

They were little stars

at camp universe.

God pumped them up

like birthday balloons and

they flew into the sky.

I am thankful for those lessons.

Yep, on Sundays the parents

dropped off their wise little children.

We became a family for one week,

holding hands, hitting baseballs,

swimming in our miniature sea.

At night we sang praises

as the fire sent sparks up to join the stars.

I can still see the world

through those 12 year old eyes,

running, laughing,

shouting with joy

like puppies barking.

Thanks to them,

I’m still innocent somehow.

I’m still enchanted by this life.

I’m still hypnotized by the orange, gold glow of

the summer sun dissolving into that silver lake.

 

 

 

 

  • Copyright Timothy Downs

Sharp Wolves Call

Below the hill rested a warren of rabbits, sleepily opening their eyes. Dawn had arrived a few hours before, but the north side residents slept in. Chickadees hopped and chirped around the entrance of the warren. Little ears emerged into the warm daylight. The smell of fresh, wet grass raised the family appetite.

Sharp Wolves Call in the night. It is simultaneously lonesome and collective. These wolves suffer a group think of loneliness that blankets that countryside and frightens the prey. The sound of sharp wolves cross over the hill and faintly echoes under it, disturbing the rabbits.

I came this far to tell you of what became of those rabbits beneath the hill. The cynics believe that the humans came to excavate the hill and build condos on it. Would you believe that the sharp wolves haunted the development? Can the rabbits be heard at the legislative hearings? Perhaps coyotes, raccoons, bats and crows will take over things after we’re gone.

I came this far to tell you that the meek shall inherit the earth.

Poems From Last Weekend

Numbing the Hand

Warm hands, warm heart
Cold hands, warm heart
Numb hands, numb heart.

The hand that feeds
Is numb to your desires.
The desires of the heart
Are not felt in the outer extremities.

A rose with thorns
Leaves no sting on numb hands.
The companionship of held hands
Numbed.

Numb hands, numb heart.

 

Love Is Something So Divine

Love is something so divine
That it overlooks these numb hands of mine.
No ice melt water or slushy churn
Can halt me from the unflinching burn
Of that passionate halo – Love.

 

In Dreams You Appeared

In dreams you appeared
In flammable seaweed
Walking to shore with a cigarette in hand.

You light your cigarette
Setting yourself and all the shoreline on fire.

You represent the oil spill of my life
Contaminating my essence
Destroying the love that is divine.

Bonding

I was determined to go to the farmer’s market, bum ankle be damned.

A crutch under each arm, I tick-clomped, tick-clomped down the sidewalk, following your patient shadow. I stop. You stop. My armpits ache and sweat slides down my forehead.

I will make it to the farmer’s market. I will buy a goddamn bundle of radishes.

The world conspired against me a day earlier. It tilted the sidewalk; it dug out a crevice for my foot to slide into. It bucked me bronco-style onto the sidewalk.

I cried when it happened–partly out of pain, but mostly out of self-pity. I’m an active person. It’s one of the outlines that defines my shape. And a sprained or twisted or whatever-the-hell ankle is not good for the inevitable malaise I feel when I can’t be outside, when I can’t move around.

I feel a second (third? fourth?) wind swell within me and I step forward, into your shadow. I prattle at you and laugh at nothing, hysterical with the pain/pity cycling through my brain. You say nothing, but let me chatter. As is your way.

Two more blocks. I see the white canopies. I can smell fried momos and kettle corn.

You try to adjust my crutches and I get snappy. As is my way.

“I can do it myself, thank you.”

A sarcastic thank you, and I immediately regret it. You’re only trying to help me travel the vast distance between home and vegetables. You didn’t have to come along.

“Sorry,” I say. “I’m an asshole when I’m injured.”

You shrug. “Yeah, kind of.”

We laugh. I tick-clomp on.

When we reach the farmer’s market, I let out a sigh and feel some of my pain dissipate into a bundle of almandine-colored beets. It’s hard to be mad at the world when it gives you treasures from the soil.

The pace is slow here. No stretches of mean, straight sidewalk. I take my time, looking at the green offerings, smelling the basil, eyeing homemade jars of jam that would only sit next to my other jars of unopened homemade jam (but they’re so pretty in their jewel tones, posing behind mason jar glass!)

I reach one of the stands and pause to examine a bundle of collard greens. A woman stops at my left side. She’s fine-boned and stretches just above five feet; a field of thick gray hair tickles her shoulders. She is leaning on a cane.

We exchange a glance, eyeing each other’s walking aids.

“The struggle is real,” I say.

She laughs. “The struggle is real.”

I tick-clomp on. A sliver of my heart remains tangled in her wild hair.

On a Hill, Overlooking a Strawberry Farm

I stood on that hill overlooking the pond at the strawberry farm; there had been a few small rain drops and a slight threat of rain, so I flippantly stated we were going to go ahead with the ceremony in spite of the threat to those who’d gathered to witness the union between me and my love. The air was sweet, and the breeze light, flowing through the trees with a subtle hush. From behind me the sultry, honest tones of a cello and the yearning, mellow notes from a violin danced in my ear. I looked into the eyes of many of my friends, some of whom I’ve not seen in a while and some far longer. I glanced back to my left and then to my right to see the confident smile in my sons face and my lovely daughter’s who’ve chosen to share in this moment with me, they didn’t have to, but it means the world to me that they came together to celebrate as members of Shira and my wedding party, and waiting proud and graceful, the maid of honor. Then my eyes went to the sky, to the clouds over the fields around us, I thought of how beautiful this day has turned out to be, how proud my father might be of me and how I wished he were alive to be here, to share in this moment.

My palms began to sweat and my mind was awash with thoughts of fantasy and wonder at what the future might bring for my bride and me. As the ring bearers, handsome and proper took their seats and the flower girl made her way up the aisle, meandering and innocently curious what all the fuss was about as she dropped rose petals onto the cool green grass, I noticed a flock of blackbirds take sudden flight from the trees above us.

There was a moment of quiet, short and daunting, and from the guests seated there came a murmuring, then shallow gasps as they all turned around. Abruptly a quiet ringing entered my ear, a new song began to play and then everything was silent but for the guttural and fluid sounds of the beating of my own heart. And there, from behind a grand oak tree stepped out the most wondrous sight, the image of all that is good and decent and strong and magnificent, I was floored, as I watched her step to the back of the seats, I looked at her and nothing else in the world mattered to me in that moment. She stood elegant, poised in her wedding dress, and I just soaked in her image, her lips and her face.

Then, from somewhere deep inside of me a small boy, one whose been hiding for so long, slowly climbed down from his tree, stepped out onto the shoreline along the river and cast upon the cool dark waters his sail boat without care. He stood and watched as the small craft that’d been docked for so long, waiting for him, glided freely on the current, swiftly out of site. When the boy turned and looked at me I knew him, I felt him and as he stepped away, leaving no tracks in the sand I didn’t fall apart, I was no longer afraid, I no longer felt alone. Instead I felt empowered and free.

My heart had stopped but for a minute, I wanted to run to her when the tears began to roll along her cheeks, but she came to me, in the arms of her mother and her father, under a beautiful sky, amongst friends and family, she came to me and took my hand and we looked at each other, we saw each other, we shared in that moment all of our hopes and dreams and embraced a new beginning for each other, for us together. Everything appeared to be perfect, she seemed perfect, but with all of it stripped away, the people, the hill, the sun and the exquisite clothes, the symphony of pomp and circumstance, it was just us, alone and together, with our hearts and souls in each other’s arms. It was altogether, simply and extravagantly beautiful. It was indeed perfect.

 

Lottery Ticket

Remember

back in the day,

crossing Tower Avenue

between the Cove and

the Casablanca?

You would ask a girl to dance.

It was terrifying.

It was so loud that

you had to scream into her ear:

DO YOU WANNA DANCE?

After,

if you were lucky,

you got her number.

She would say,

Do you have a pen?

You would ask the bartender or

the waitress to borrow theirs.

She would write her name and number

on a cocktail napkin.

You’d thank her,

tell her you’d give her a call.

She would smile and

disappear back onto the dance floor.

You would look at this number

like it was a launch code,

valuable and

dangerous.

You would try to memorize it quickly,

in case the napkin was lost or torn.

It was a like a lottery ticket

in your pocket.

When you got home,

you would set it

carefully

on the dresser and

promise yourself

not to call too soon.

Heather, you would say to yourself,

dreamy and sleepy as

you faded slowly into slumber.

Her name is Heather.

In the morning,

the first thing you would do is

check the dresser,

make sure

it was

real.

 

 

 

  • Copyright Timothy Downs