3. Poems for Sacred Grounds



I watch her selecting her outfit

for the day of teaching

Giotto and Michelangelo.

She stands thinking, this top, grey,

this skirt, black, asks me what I say and I say

You look beautiful! and she smiles, love.

I am one in a long line of witnesses, honored

beyond Michelangelo and Giotto, say I,

beyond the lithe imaginings

of Leonardo.  I’d like to think

they’ll study us one day,

testing knowledge of her style,

her makeup, hair and quietude standing there,

the line of her back,

the tune she sings,

her shoes, her sweet underthings.







Yesterday we got a tree, me and my

daughter, home for the holidays, like we

always do.  This year we hunted

far afield till we found the

full gnarled man of winter.  He stands

at a tilt, his top’s been broken,

the wave of needles flows

freely to one side, the mountain

has bent him but he

has survived.  It seems

a shame we have cut him down.

I know he was marketed to us, I can see

the economics and the waste, but overall

the pagan energy I harbor

wants to see the naked

green man standing next to the stone

and wood of the house,

and my daughter feels it too.  All these

wild things

that I love.  Still,

I am not without respect for the God of Heaven,

I have kept Christmas as

well as solstice,

not so much for the birth of the child

as for the observance

of my daughter and me

drifting away from Bethlehem.








He’s been off dialysis 4 days.

Mom is out opening a checking account in her name only.

He is resting in bed.

I asked him what he is thinking about, he said, Nothing.

Last night I told him he’s been a great father but mostly

we talked about fishing trips,

the big salmon he caught at the wide bend on Haida Gwaii —

that brought a smile to him —

and the golden trout we hiked after —

that was a year after the bypass when he nearly

died on the golf course. He’s caught

all the fish he wanted

so it’s okay to leave the river

to the sun and rocks,

the bugs and crows, hatches so profuse you’ll breathe one in

if you’re not careful,

the weedbeds trailing pure as a beloved’s green hair, a slow

tailing of fishy water,

and mostly the flashes of silver or gold against the far

green. I told him I’d catch fish

with his old cane rod but I think he doesn’t care. He’s walking

the bank of a stream I’ve never fished,

seeing flashes in water I’ve never touched.







The air has run perfumed and glorious these two weeks.

It enters my lungs, expands,

it tires me with life, that and the death watch.

He is shrinking, his bony

knees, his skin is emptying, the old warrior,

he does not rally to the recent

good spring come upon us, the red dirt does not inspire

planting, the open road has not lured him campaigning, the clear

runoff, the buzzing hatches, he is not oiling

his reel, cleaning his line —

this, my friend, is the shrinking. It comes

after you have lived with a woman

or cast bread and watched it float away

because you did

the best you could and got no laughs

till you found Pancho.

I’m not him. I got my own shrinking to deal with,

Please write me. Tell me your adventures,

your loves, your small objects, the vehicles you’ve had.

Be a good writer.

Let us hear what has not shrunk.

It’s just play, all these things we sought and that sought us,

that were meant to build us up and sometimes

did and sometimes didn’t. We are left either way

looking foolish. That is fitting, that

is the life for a man shrinking:

to honor the grave foolishness that animates us, lest our anger

dishonor those who went before us,

who disappeared into the ballooning








It’s taking longer than he thought, his

dying. He said so himself.

I had thought he was so tired

the thumping of the staff would be welcome.

Now I see, the whirlwind is not so easy

to leave. Your old friends

have come to see you, you are surrounded

by grandchildren, your son sits by your bed

and sketches his rock garden, your daughters

rub your neck and feet, your wife remembers

when you first came calling as a young man, your

friend remembers your baptism

down by the river — all this

for you, old man. We are eating

and drinking, laughing and crying,

telling stories and thinking of our own deaths,

scared and grateful, having moments

with you and each other.

Some of us have come that hardly showed

before, thinking it’s safe now,

what does it matter? he hardly knows us.

Whether we come for you

or for us, it doesn’t matter, it’s nearly over.

We’re having a drink on you, Dad,

and I know you’re okay with that

because the earth is cold, no

hurry, really. No matter when the world ends.

It’s your party.









The first

poem this Spring

drips on ashes.

They have burned

off the flesh. Before that I lifted

his stiff body for the damn bureaucrats,

and earlier felt his heat fading

but no breath.


he is somewhere else. I wonder,

does grass come up

in Spring

where there is no

earth? Let him

have his garden, let him

plant his tomatoes and nasubi.

He would’ve planted by now.

He is late this season.

We did not

let him go

so easily.







The stream is completed.

It runs through the yard

and spreads water direct

to the springy dirt. Unlike other

streams, this one was built

from grief. I

have finally tired of building.


Time floods me.

It’s time we only sit and listen.

Listening honors

the lovely riffle.

It’s time we only sit and listen

for the movement

of whatever moves in the stream

that is not water.

I go senseless with love

when the moment blazes.








The Duke was there and the Count was counting out Lush Life

on his streaming keys for Bumpty who’s way uptown,

up in his heavenly loft with his women and his smooth and his loneliness

finally come together.  You can see his women on the album covers he left,

hundreds of them calling out like sirens brown

and white, all made up for the day they met him and he

according to their charm and gifts showered them in lushness and

life and what he had to offer he loved the sirens and the warriors

too the hard boppers and soft crooners

the lovers the rockers and Hispanics and Sibelius and island music

of all oceans and country boys of all colors . . .

and if that was your night move with your own love tapes, Mantovani.

He had every mood covered for lovin and

carrying the soul of man

woman on the wind what a jam what a prayer.

Dear heavenly mother father brother daughter here’s what we sound like —

Please this day accept us for the sound we make, not the perfect wind

you sent into the trees or the rollers come in from the sea or the beasts

or the whales but this

noise our prayer our

essentially positive shout that echoes all through our lush

lives and all we could have kept silent about . . .

the suffering and fear and let us at least love tonight . . . to hold off

the dread silence.  At the end he knew


he didn’t look so good and went to sleep one night

and woke up jammin in perfect sunshine and no appointment with the blood

machine and damn he said to himself damn that was

a weird long dream.  I had a son I hardly knew — he’s a man now —

and I fell into the lush life with Billy Strayhorn himself and his horn

and the bubbling of time.

I made lots of custom tapes for my customers that we played and played

and played till the oxide wore thin and the roller caught up

and jammed it and jammed it and jammed it while the ladies and me

were jammin and workin it but


here I’ve woke up all smooth no effort no loneliness now straight

and honey sweet Lady all Day all night it’s really you and me

here in this all nighter.  But that weird long dream . . .

if I dream it again tonight and I see my son in it . . . I’ll tell him how it is

to wake up jammin in pure sunshine


for Phil Singer, Sr, deceased 3/7/04