The Outpost

Perimeter lights strain to peer through fog

as night falls,

without a sound.

I look out from my guard post

M-16 held in my hands, its plastic grip cold, unfeeling.

I take one clip, twenty rounds neatly stacked

slam it into its place with a loud click

I think,

can I kill?

Shed the life blood of another?

To pull, no,

squeeze the trigger?

I never envisaged as a kid,

playing soldier in the backyard

shooting at my imagined enemy,

here no bands played

no John Wayne heroics,

no flags fluttering in the breeze,

only the sound of the mini guns and rockets

crashing upon the shore below.

I get the call,

load one round,

HE,

M-79

the words seem distant, coldblooded.

I grab the weapon

an ugly thing,

stout.

With a flick of my thumb,

I unlatch it

it opens wide

as I slip in one round,

oblong shaped,

not even a handful

it slides into place

like a lover at night,

a sharp upward movement

and all’s ready

looking out on the dark perimeter

slowly take a deep breath

exhale

then squeeze,

there is the sharp kick

thump, then wait

wait, wait, wait

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Tea and Memories

I sitting here, 
drinking tea,
Earl Grey tea

steeped for two minutes
sugared, 
two to be exact
with a splash of milk
enough to change color
but not to make it cold.

Tea in the afternoon,
Dad drank tea
morning, noon and night
his was with sugar
Ma’s was with milk
in this cup I carry both,

it was given to me,
what I will pass along.
Sipping the last bit
a burst of sugar
hits the tongue

I think of his lunch pail,
a thermos filled with tea
enough for three cups
two breaks, 
one lunch
the only time off his feet
the machinery quiet

tea does that
breaks the routine
becoming a routine
my routine.

Nighttime in Qui Nhon

Above helicopters
circle like vultures 
propellers beating out their call,
sounding like a million bees
they spout their lethal projectiles 
raising a cloud of dirt and dust,
the angel of death has come to call
rockets flare out whooshing
no red glare, 
no bombs bursting,
just a spark of fire then gone
finding targets below
enemy hidden in a green tangle 
burrowed deep underground 
waiting out their Passover.

What is the Story?

What is the story that I want to tell, to write about here on the pages of this blog? Do I have the courage to tell that story and all that comes with the telling? So much is locked up in memory, various pictures, feelings, textures, that engages all of the senses making up that story. I have struggled trying to tell my story and not get bogged down in the telling. There is so much that needs to be sifted and examined for truth, not only truth of the story itself but the truth of how that story has made me who I am and continues to remake me each day. There is that deeper story of love and loss, of success and failure, of being a child and passing into the adult life. Memories hang along the rafters, I look above me and I don’t know which one to choose, which one do I dare to open. I write to find myself in these memories, that child waking up from a nightmare, that teen being bullied, a young soldier in a foreign land, a newly minted husband unsure of himself while trying to be strong, a dad now responsible for another human life, a priest seeking to discover where God is leading, now I sit here retired, picking through those various pieces of my life and trying to put it together. It is a great jig-saw puzzle, thousands of pieces all scattered along the table and I am looking at it all utterly daunted by the undertaking. Like with any jig-saw, it is best to start with the borders, get the edge right before moving on into the interior. Yet, even the border is hard to define, the borders of life are not static but dynamic, they’re ebb and flow through the mind, clear one minute and haze the next. Nothing is solid in memory, and so like some explorer crossing a vast ocean I must make my own way, with little or no navigation aids. What is that story? What makes mine worth the telling? Fear robs me of that courage I need to tell what I know and what I feel, yet, I can’t let that fear hold me back. Maybe, just maybe, it is in those moments of fear that I will find who I truly am and that in and by itself might just be the story I need to tell.

The Retirement Journey, So Far.

I sit here reflecting on what retirement has meant so far as the third month slowly passes. I sit and write, I also read but I’m still on a journey, towards what, I’m not sure. These moments in life where we sit between what was and what might be are good times to take stock of what is important and what is not. Usually, when I’ve transitioned from one life event into another, I would allow the darker aspects to take root and depression would be planted. This time, I’m in a different place and although there is uncertainty, I don’t feel any anxiety or urgency just to do something. There is a certain freedom that comes when you don’t feel rushed into making a decision that may or may not be the best for that moment. Strangely, I’m okay living in this in between time. I don’t need certainty what I need is time to pray, write and reflect. Priesthood, mine in particular, had it’s moments of good and not so good which has shaped who I am. Now I have the opportunity to examine this shape, like a sculptor who examines his work once he’s chiseled away a bit of the granite. Carefully the artist takes their time to ensure that not too much is chiseled away too quickly, they also must follow the granites veins, look for what the stone is saying to them. I can examine my own life thus far in the same way, not going at it with a sledge, but carefully chiseling away at it, following the natural flow that presents itself as I work at the larger piece. There is plenty of rock to work with, it’s just knowing where to start and how much to begin working on. Writing, like any art, takes time as well as talent. Well, time I have, it’s talent that is suspect. It’s easy to read books on writing, it’s easy to get lost in the authors words of wisdom, but the real test is comes in actually writing something. Parker Palmer, author of many books filled with wisdom, said, and I paraphrase here, that writers just need to put out their stuff for all to read and see to get some idea if they have anything of worth.

My Confession

I was young

I truly believed

that we were right

things were black and white

we flew Old Glory

basking in it’s power

our patriotism was boundless

feeding our desire to do right

but in the mud and blood

the cries of children

who did no wrong

still haunt my dreams

and I’m not so I sure anymore

of being right or wrong

as voices in the streets

scream at one another

each holding Old Glory

claiming their truth

to be the only truth

and I no longer am young

belief is an illusion

being right is not a badge

that one wears proudly

as black and white

merge into patterns of gray

where we all truly live.

My Journey in Words

In the past few weeks my life has changed. First, I retired, second, I’ve moved. Now I’m trying to figure out what shape my life will take, so I offer this small piece of reflection. It’s not perfect, nor is it finished but it is where I am at the moment.

July 11, 2018

Thanks, once again to Parker Palmer I have another mystery to unravel in my attempt at the writers life. Here he quotes Henry David Thoreau:

My life has been the poem I would have writ

But I could not both live and utter it

Now what do I do with that? What is the poem I would have writ had I the time to writ what it is that needed to be writ? For me this is the struggle, to find something that grabs at me instead of these various, meteoric thoughts that fly by quickly only too burn up in the atmosphere of my thoughts. I write, to put it mildly, trash even as I long to make sense of where I am in this world. Being deeply troubled by what I read and see, how does my small voice fit in the the greater narrative? Palmer seems to have found his voice, a voice that has been honed and worked on and re-honed to what it is today. Richard Rohr, (another spiritual author I need to read) writing about Palmer and his new book writes that “Our entire culture is in need of true elders, and you can’t be one until you have arrived there — chronologically, spiritually, and intellectually. Here’s a man who has arrived, with another book that’s a generous gift to all of us.” I am far from being anywhere near from being a true elder. I might be there chronologically, but the other two criteria are woefully deficient and need a good boost, a shot of spiritual and intellectual energy. I’m not too old to not have the desire to continue in my quest and even as the days grow shorter, I don’t feel desperate or anxious to get to that mythical somewhere. Maybe, for me, the struggle is the vocation, the purpose of my writing. The honest struggle of not paying enough attention when I was younger and now finding myself in the slow lane trying to catch-up. Now I’m back to the question, what is the poem I would have writ? What are the paradoxes that surround my life and where do they fit in with what I am trying to be as a writer, as a priest, now retired from the dailyness of being out there, yet still craving that need for contact? Now that’s a paradox, a both/and that will keep any shrink in business if one ever dares to try an unravel my inner workings. Today was a day of thoughts, not really journal material, or is it? After all what is a journal other than a place to vomit the crap that is floating on the interior and exposing it all to the light of day. It ain’t pretty and sometimes it smells, but that is the only way to come to understand who I am at this time in my life. I think that the only person that really gets me is Jane, the poor girl has had to deal with my ups and downs for the past 45 years and now she’s stuck with me on a daily basis as we negotiate being retired together.