What did the flowers know?

One of the flowers in my chain-link fence, Omaha. Dancers performing a Mozart Requiem Mass

One of the flowers in my chain-link fence, Omaha. Dancers performing a Mozart Requiem Mass

A poem about the death of my neighbor in Omaha

 

A chain link fence
separates my dwelling from my neighbor
I barely knew her
we seldom spoke.

Last night my neighbor was on the evening news
they said she was a teacher
renown for her gardening
loved by her students.

Reporters and cameras covered the street
as did the fire trucks
their rotating lights struggled
to penetrate the oppression
acrid smoke ensnared everything.

Tiny flowers on wispy vines
cling to the fence in such profusion
they almost hide its very existence
they have strange hours
these evanescent flowers
because they only remain open in the morning.

The flowers appear for the first time each year
as the summer season is about to die
bloom explosively
early in the morning they appear
only before first light
they appear.

Lavender, magenta, rose red, and white
small fragile stars with five petals
seem fierce for their vivid colors.

The fence flowers are more profuse
than ever late this afternoon
this is strange
it never happened before.

Just before the sun reaches its zenith
the fence flowers
always quickly tighten into cones
become invisible in the dark vines.

Fire erupted in my neighbor’s house
as she slept unaware
smoke choked the life out of her
just before first light.

No one knew until it was too late
only the fence flowers witnessed it
bright, silent witnesses
lavender, magenta, rose red, and white.

When the smoke enveloped the flowers
as they awakened
at first light
did they recognize the fragrance of a soul
with an inscrutable sense
as it fled its earthly body?

They tell me that a soul flower now blooms
where we cannot see it
illuminated in brilliance
in a faraway garden
forever.

During the winter when the vines shrivel up
and fall to the dirt
you believe they can’t come back
they reunite with the earth
they’re dead
you see the end of them.

Today the flowers
are brighter than they ever were before.

 

“And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death. Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God, in a state and condition which neither the revolution of ages and centuries, nor the changes and chances of this world, can alter. It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God, His sovereignty, His dominion and power will endure. It will manifest the signs of God and His attributes, and will reveal His loving kindness and bounty.” (Baha’u’llah)

Visionary Park

Anaconda_roller_Coaster-fromwikicommons

In Whispers we read: “Where do the others live, the ones who sent us here? The ones who exiled us to the earth?”

One restless night, I dreamed about a dystopian planet where all the poets, writers, artists, and seers had been banished. Eventually they all died out and nobody grew up to replace them.

After a very short time, that world with the ironic name of Harmony withered and almost died.

It took a very long time but Harmony’s dominant species finally realized their terrible error so they tried to nurture new artists and poets. But nobody could find any books on “How to Make an Artist” or “How to Make a Poet” and definitely not “How to Make a Prophet.” They flew from Harmony out to the stars but found no thinkers that they could understand. Too long ago they had exiled their visionaries to alien worlds that were now long forgotten and out of their reach.

They built effigies and habitats. They made studio replicas. They put desks covered with pens and notebook computers in a place of memory and reverence. It was a theme park complete with carousels and a roller coaster.

They named it Visionary Park.

People thronged to see the effigies of the long-gone creative souls. Sadly all they saw were wax statues. The walls were bare. There was no art, no poetry, no books. Nobody remembered what was in them. Nobody knew how to make new ones any more.

So it was too late. And not long thereafter everyone was gone. The planet became a desert. It was dead.

The End


bloggershandbook Is this poetry or is it history? Remember the Stalinist Purges, the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian Killing Fields, the Nazi book burnings, the persecution of the Iranian Baha’is, or farther back to the Christian Inquisition, and oh so many more on a smaller scale, all in the name of maintaining social harmony.

“Art at its most significant is a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen.”
– Marshall McLuhan

Death in the Suburbs

There are intangible realities which float near us,
formless and without words;
realities which no one has thought out,
and which are excluded for lack of interpreters.
—  Natalie Clifford Barney


He was really death?
I saw Death driving a small pickup truck. His disguise was perfect. I felt safe because he wasn’t looking in his rear-view mirror at me. He was following someone else. The experience was very matter-of-fact. Death, himself, looked ordinary. Except for his black cowl, he looked just like a fresh-faced kid.

he was really Death
the genuine article

imagine Death being a kid
nobody else noticed Death
driving down 124th street

that amazed me

I suppose that they’d panic if they did
so their defenses kicked in
but I didn’t panic

he was really Death
other people have dulled senses
they’re insensitive
too disinterested
to see the threat

his name was Death
he drove a cheap pickup truck
he looked like a kid
the only thing strange
about seeing Death
driving down 124th street
was his pickup
every other time that I saw him
Death drove a Camaro


I wrote this poem in 1997 in Kirkland, Washington. I had frequently observed that aggressive or menacing drivers preferred a few specific types and makes of vehicles. This time I was driving in rush hour traffic behind one such driver.

Entering the Qiblih

The holiest spot in the Bahá’i World
i remove my shoes bow my head in respect
and perhaps in fear
and enter the Qiblih
hear the nightingales sing the praises of the Splendor
i smell the attar of roses
see the dazzling lights
hear the laughter of the Adored One

i feel the echo of his emotions
though he has not spoken in the flesh for 100 years
i feel his reality
though i have never been convinced of mine
and never shall be convinced of it

i prostrate myself at the threshold
invoke the name
of the mystery
of the lifter of veils
of the comforter
the healer
invoke the names
invoke as many names as i can remember
feel the power
beg to be freed of grief

hoping to serve
i offer the service of art
my senses are numbed with shock
in the face of this power
i try to rise but stumble
offer my gratitude
vow never to forget

all the while
a chant a flute a birdsong a lullaby
plays softly in my head


Notes: The building I described is the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, the holiest spot in the Bahá’í World. This is the point to which all Bahá’ís turn in prayer, the ‘Point of Adoration’ or Qiblih. Read more at: The Baha’i Faith Index. These are the original web pages for my two Qiblih poems:
Entering the Qiblih and Qiblih Entreaty.