I was waiting for the Max the other day.

I stood still; silently and tired in the heat- watching the tall shadows from the buildings create a tunnel around the driving cars. I wished I had my sunglasses. But they had recently met their sad demise near the blueberry muffins in my local Trader Joe's I remembered, when I had stooped to read the ingredient label and they fell from my head; and I hadn't bought new ones yet. So, I squinted in the sun. A man ambling down the street caught my demented vision and my eyes followed him as he walked my direction. He had an interesting walk; a waltz-like shuffle and hobble at the same time. I heard something. Was he singing? He crossed the street, his glazed, delirious eyes barely noticing the cars randomly passing. He was dirty and hot and looked tired. He resembled most of the other homeless men in downtown Portland. His shoes were mainly flaps held together perhaps by a miracle and his clothing was torn and filthy. I was right, he was singing. His voice was loud and clear, and people looked up from their books and paused their conversations to glance at him. In an off-key solo of haunting proportions he sang: "I'm singing the same old song, I'm singing the same old song, I'm singing the same old song..." Over and over and over and over and he sang those words. I watched his bent shoulders disappear amidst the people on the street- as his empty phrase echoed through the air, ricocheting through the shadowy tunnel of the city buildings.

Oh God, give him a new song to sing.


This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd been no room for the child.

-Madeleine L'Engle, from Weather of the Heart



The heavens weep for me. Their tears trudge this muddied earth.
The forests mourn for me, sighing; their subtle groans send fractures
through the air, gathering in hollow caves, crying.
My young heart is like acidic ink, it drips and spreads within me,
it stains my fingers and my feet, it disgraces my face; it has polluted my name.
I am drowned in my sorrow. And this sorrow- it haunts the corners of the
earth. It drags itself to the side of the seas, throwing itself in, searching for
peace, for concord- but, the oceans spit it out. And so it crawls to the mountains
and hides itself in the crevices of the cliffs, crying.

It lives. It cannot be redeemed by any hand of man or smote by the breath
of any creature. It lives within me, this guilt, this daily bread of blinking death.
I wash it from my hands, but the inky blackness swims through my veins.
I throw it from my body, but it clings to me; it cannot be pried, it cannot be bribed.
I am the typography of self satisfaction and self ruination. I am a painted portrait
of destruction. I wish I could obliterate that portrait, but it hangs for public display
and all eyes see it. Some who stare at it with glazed eyes, smile- yet tears fall down
their faces. They don't understand- yet they mourn. Those eyes should mourn
for themselves and not for me. For my nameless grief has overflown from my body
and seeps into this mortal sand, pervading the pores of the air. My pain is a havoc
to the world. All who breathe this air and walk this sand become like me.

And so the heavens weep for you also. Their tears trudge this muddied earth.
The valleys utter groans and the trees whisper their great sadness. The birds
of the air sing their songs, crying.


like a ribbon of almost blue
pour the rain into a jar
use a blanket of brightly orange
to wrap it up and toss it far.

for now.
paint me a pen
with fingers
gripping tight-
the middle
fingers curled
and sleepy,
the pointing one
the thumb
the little one
lost and


While fresh upon my legs, so long I naught require,
Except this knotty staff. Beside,
What boots it to abridge a pleasant way?
Along the labyrinth of these vales to creep,
Then scale these rocks, whence, in eternal spray,
Adown the cliffs the silvery fountains leap:
Such is the joy that seasons paths like these!
Spring weaves already in the birchen trees;
E’en the late pine-grove feels her quickening powers;
Should she not work within these limbs of ours?

Through the stones and heather springing,
Brook and brooklet haste below;
Hark the rustling! Hark the singing!
Hearken to love’s plaintive lays;
Voices of those heavenly days—
What we hope, and what we love!
Like a tale of olden time,
Echo’s voice prolongs the chime.

-Goethe (1749–1832), Faust: Part I.


So, I toted home a new book from the library. It actually isn’t very new and happens to smell a little, the pages are muted yellow and are rather stiff to the touch- stiff from a galaxy of germs, most likely. Although, I doubt many people have stormed their local library in search of this book, aching to read it. It was originally published in 1895, but this paper backed copy, the one I hold in my hands- wondering why on earth I ever wanted to read it- is obviously a little newer than that. The only reason I can remember for wanting to read it in the first place is because it is dramatically titled. It's known as, The Altar of the Dead, written by James Henry. It is one of his most famous works, labeled by critics as a “gloriously written” short story. I wonder if those critics ever read the whole thing, because if they did, I know they would have agreed with me that it is a long story, and it’s dull, and boring and confusing and rather, for lack of a more glamorous adjective- weird.

The story is a fable. It explores the protagonist’s treatment of morality and transcendence and love, by examining his unusual remembrance of “his dead,” as his deceased young fiancĂ©e and friends are called. And so he lives and breathes their deaths, memorializing their lives, eventually making the pursuit of their memory his sacred purpose and religion. The protagonist dies at the end, prostrate before the altar of his dead, and the story closes with his face showing “the whiteness of death.” He had, in the end, become one of his own dead. It is an empty story. If the secular Mr. Henry had hoped in illustrating deep spirituality and unselfish love, he wrote the wrong words. For in the end, what he successfully and even beautifully illustrated was humanity's degeneration and essential need for life- life that surpasses this tilting world.