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A Matter of Light

for Mark Cronk

Find rhythm in winter:
Lean into brumal wind,
long afternoon shadows.
Doze in early darkness
after a cup of warm cider,
cigar and candle light –
a symphony you’ve been

meaning to really hear.
Wake to austere and distant
sun on brown grass covered
with frost, ageless cedars
with graying blue berries,
bare limbs of cottonwoods,
an owl perched high above

stubborn leaves tan and torn
but clinging to the oaks,
low-flying geese, crows.
Solitude, books, melodies
around you, inside you,
stories half-remembered
coming into focus, old

friends, familial gossip.
Forget the chores. Think
of nothing but what comes
to you, passes through you.
Pray to those gone before,
for the overcharged or falsely
accused. Pray for peace.

Escape hype that consumes.
Become a dream. Be
nothing but dry leaves piled
on the path to your heart.
Don’t fret the loss of color.
It’s only a matter of light –
a flickering flame.

Ken Hada

Nazis in the Streets

The end of symbolism comes:
not metaphor but actual
real-life, khaki-wearing boys
self-driven to hate.

Afraid to admit how good
they’ve got it, greedy lust
consumes them. They won’t
rest until blood is spilled.

Hate should be America’s
last resort, but it’s big business.
Fools fondling flags embody
the fake news they decry.

Spleening excretion,
they’re tools of the mega-rich
who sniff, avert eyes
belied above it all.

The literal now has come
and brazenly chants
the monotone of death –
one dimension under (their) god

With the Owls

I’ll stand with the owls.
Every evening they call darkness
as sure as cloudy skies
closer than stars.

They know what they’re doing.
I envy their constancy,
their sheer belief
in the way things ought to be.

Sometimes their calls
are soft, subtle.
Sometimes they are not
but always abrupt

they bring me back
to sanity, to routine
to the goodness
God built into them.

The owls, the trees,
the darkness – this
is what matters.
This is where truth begins.

Solar Eclipse 2017: Metaphor, Mortal if Not Political

A lesser light
has his moment
while we wait
in premature shadows

but this obstacle,
this reflector
is with us for just a bit.
He will not last.
A return is coming.

As the moments darken
I smoke cigars, sip
seltzer & bitters – seems
the right thing to do –
a tribute to mortality.

Dark days befalling us
will not last. How quickly
we one another pass
and even shadows refuse
the truth of it all.

Watching My Son Play Guitar

There is a sadness in his eyes
he must have inherited
along with a an ear
from ancestors, some whom
he hardly knows.

There is a grace that I envy,
a violence sublimated
by attentive skill
I can only admire.

Sure, I’m one of those dads
that I never always wanted to be,
one that I can’t resist being.

Eyes contorted in reverent silence,
head bent close to hear his god

I cannot look away.

On (not) Forgetting

We usually assume the verb “forget” is passive,
as if something slipped away, dissolved, naturally,
beyond our control.

But we should remember that to forget is to act.
To forget is to choose to not remember,
to no longer hold something consciously,
to release responsibility.

Sometimes to forget may be beneficial,
as when we choose to no longer remember
an injury or insult someone committed against us.

But too often choosing to not remember is deceptive
and deceit is inevitably dangerous,
especially when we fail to remember how we,
the perpetrators, perpetrated anguish against another –
another person, other groups of people,
especially against those with darker skin.

When we choose to forget we do so
out of convenience.
When we choose to forget we do so
desperately clinging to privilege.

When we choose to forget, our paltry attempts
at self-justification, at self-righteousness,
put us at odds with the blood in the soil of endurance.
The soil will betray us – remember, the very soil
over which we fight will remind us.

Forgetting, then, is always temporary, never eternal
as we suppose. Those presumptive moments,
those acts of dismissing the past, this self-serving pose
of failing to remember only leads us
to a futile state of false security.

We choose to not remember, and in so doing,
we choose to build our empire on shifting sand.

To remember is to seek justice.

To remember is to be fair to our enemies,
seeking to make friends of those we have harmed.

To remember is to allow gracious possibilities.

To remember is to be honest, and honesty
is our only chance of healthy survival.

To remember is to turn death into life.

To remember is to be a true partner with the only God
we will ever know. For God remembers,
and if we choose to forget
we choose to separate ourselves from God.

If we choose to forget, we choose to lie,
and lying to ourselves, about ourselves,
is the surest sign of evil.

To remember is not pleasant; it is painful.
To remember requires courage, but courage
brings satisfying reward.

To remember is a gift we cannot afford to ignore.

Choosing to forget is to contort the imagination:

mistaking a wall for a window
bending the sun into a cavern of darkness
bathing in spring water on Mars
pretending nothing matters except one’s own thirst,
that nothing exists except this moment,
believing the rainbow only wants to be white,
that the wick survives the burning,
that the flame is a friend only to us.

Isn’t it the memory of fear that makes the deer
clear the fence in an arc of beauty?
Doesn’t the brutal brumal wind grow
the luscious fur on the wolf?

So too, only remembering the sin makes the saint.

*Ken Hada

Somebody’s Callin’ Your Name: A Disconnected Reflection on the Death of Greg Allman, and Others We Miss

My son texted me: “Greg Allman passed away.” I responded with something about missing the Midnight Rider to which he replied: “Write a poem. You’ve weaved him in your poetry before.” I thought for a moment, then remembered that it is true. More than once, I had referenced Greg Allman and/or the Allman Brothers band. So I tucked my son’s comment in the back of my mind, feeling something odd, maybe because often when I think of Allman Brothers music, I remember loss.

The truth is, I don’t know much about Greg Allman. I’m just a limited fan. Like other aging dads, I howled an attempted harmony at Ramblin Man standing in line to ride the Himalaya at Bells Amusement Park in Tulsa. I have road-tripped across New Mexico with Mountain Jam. I have (falsely) thought of myself Tied to the Whipping Post. I love Sweet Melissa like a stupid schoolboy. So, the usual jams have informed me in a superficial, sometimes significantly bluesy ways. But something else links me to Greg Allman. With the death of Greg Allman, other deaths come to mind, all linked in my mind, the way our minds splat various blots of color on a seemingly disconnected canvass.

I think of Butch, one of my dearest friends. For the thirteen, or so, years I knew him, our conversations often drifted toward music, and inevitably the Allman Brothers. Butch was a professional musician, on the road for years with various bands, and he had a unique perspective of analysis and admiration for other musicians. More than once he told me the story of his band opening for the Allman Brothers, way back when, somewhere in Mississippi. I think it was his greatest thrill in his music life. On numerous occasions he would talk in adamant detail about the tight connection that the band members exhibited when playing – “didn’t even have to look at each other,” perfect timing, etc. He would rave about their seemingly instinctive awareness of each other’s parts in the production. That opening gig was a defining moment in his life.

My friendship with Butch sort of galvanized my deepening appreciation for Allman Brothers music. We’d often talk about music. Well, he talked. I listened as he expanded on my questions, rewarding my inspired ignorance. So one day, I think it was the same year of Butch’s passing, a campus radio station in Stephenville, Texas interviewed me on a program about poetry and music. Asked for my favorite band, without much thought, I volunteered the Allman Brothers. Truth is, I don’t know if I had/have a favorite band. But Allman Brothers music is always close to me, so that’s how I answered, and it was not a fabricated response. So to color the canvass, DJ Harley Woodstock played Midnight Rider and Statesboro Blues and we had a fun visit.

Another dear friend is closely associated with Statesboro Blues. Raised in rural Georgia, Cooper saw the Allman Brothers at “the county fair” before they were famous, as he likes to tell it, emphasizing, I think, his common home-spun origins that only those who share them could understand. But oh death …

Cooper buried his mother the same week Greg Allman passed. And his brother suffers from terminal cancer. Death is always lurking; it is the eternal enemy whose drooping moods are always eroding. But the great paradox of blues music prevails! How many times have Cooper and I kept the blues away by listening to Allman Brothers cranked, a late spring afternoon, at steamy summer sunset or a chilly evening in December. The music of Greg Allman covers the seasons. A push of a button and we are alive in the momentary attempt to resist mortality.

More death! Several years ago I received an early morning phone call from my dad informing me of a suicide. I was shocked but not surprised, once reflection set in. I wandered numbly for a few days, speaking only occasionally, calling to check on my siblings. In those immediate days following this tragedy, I guess I did not grieve. Or at least I wasn’t aware of myself in a grieving process. But one evening after dinner with my girlfriend, I’m driving slowly around town. Greg Allman’s cd is playing, and Seven Turns captures me. In the quiet interior of my pickup, the haunting lyrics confront: “Sometimes, you feel like you could fly away / Sometimes, you get lost.” The music takes me some place I had never been – and the tears rolled down undammed, a stream releasing my own sense of guilt, inadequacy, fear, weakness. I drove, and I cried, and I embodied (excuse the word, I don’t know how else to say it) the lyrics:

Somebody’s callin’ your name.
Somebody’s waiting for you.
Love is all that remains the same,
That’s what it’s all comin’ to.

I never hear that song (and I play it more often than I realize) without thinking of that night, thinking of my family and our loss. Each time I hear it I know someone is forever calling my name. we are called. We can only avoid it for so long. No matter what diversions we attempt, we always answer the call, don’t we? I remember driving around town crying until finally I felt some sort of goodness filling me. How good it is to know we are not unknown!

“Greg Allman passed away” my son’s text informs me. I know better. Though I don’t know a lot about Greg Allman, I know his music has played so deeply into my psyche, as it has for countless others. But for me, these deaths, these lives, are intricately linked to his passing. Greg Allman has died, but we know better. Every time my son picks up his guitar, every time I relive Butch’s stories, every time Cooper beats percussive time on the steering wheel or the arms of his favorite wooden chair, every time I hear Seven Turns, every time I come to a cross road, every time I feel like “I could fly away but sometimes get lost,” I know better. Every time spring breaks through the grip of winter, I know. I know, even as I am known.

Birth Song

The open road
my nascent mood
between new spring
and old winter.

The early buds
emerge like hope
yet are hesitant –
brightly fixed against
stark branches.

Grass greens beneath
rude stalks – disguised
but arriving.

Uprooted – I
drive slow down
backcountry roads –
Allman Brothers
playing in the
of consciousness.

I pass through haze
that filters new
morning sun –
riffs penetrate
trying to raise,
to engender.

I drive tasting
a flavor that
floats toward my
window, that curls
around my lips.

The Way of the Wind
(Village Books Press, 2008)

Family Reunion

They lounge in chairs
on a rise above the creek
where quail and cattle

call home: a small fire
grills burgers and fish
freshly caught – the sizzle

the smell, the smoke.
A gathering of introverts:
suspicious but sentimental.

We do it for the kids
they might have said, as they
play in recently cut prairie

grass tinged with red dirt
and stickers – another says:
It’s good to be together again.

Even God sometimes needs
a time out. Sorting sheep
from goats gets old

playing hide-and-go-seek
while the setting sun
kisses the moody stars.

first published in Concho River Review
31 no1. Spring/Summer 2017

What I Cannot Do

I cannot make you love
the way rain dripping
from April sky
sharpens redbuds
like lasers dissecting
a heart with precision
a surgeon envies

a fiery fuchsia
glowing against gray
skies and drizzled bark
scattered in the brush

but I can show you
new clover as small
as drops of water
bright as an emerald
sun, under cover
of dead winter grass.