Lot's Wife

Lot’s wife,
    she knew. 
But how little
    we learn about her.
Some say
    she was named Edith, but later
she may have
    taken a different name, a
different language,    
    in another country. Was she
sad, as they claimed,
    and disobedient to turn and look? 
Was she punished, as they claimed,
    and became a pillar of salt?

Some say she
and the others
    had seen it coming, 
    long before the two angels
    with their warning of

God would try and fail


    The old methods, napalm,
    mass slaughter,
would lead where
they usually led: guerrilla war,
resistance that lasts for
centuries; underground
    where pleasure makes its own
    rules, identities are hidden and
    the labyrinth of tunnels grows
    ever longer and

I leave it for you to decide. The supposed winners
    write these tales.

Some say
    she was part of the underground
    and her disguise worked and she
vanished into history leaving
    behind only a story still taken as a warning
and a truth.


The Loneliness of Men

I caught a cab to the Montreal airport
and the driver, a middle-aged man, 
weary looking and badly shaved, 
asked how I was. “Tired,” I said, 
“haven’t slept well. Too much family.” 

We stopped at a long light. 
Men were arguing in French. I saw a young woman
in a purple skirt who was smiling at someone. 
“O,” the driver said, “tried sleeping pills?” 
“Yeah,” I said, “and they weren’t all that effective.” 
He turned: “I haven’t gotten much sleep in three years.” 

People started blowing their horns. 
He pulled into the slow lane.Then came the story: 
his wife’s breast cancer and how
she wanted him to sit by her at night during the treatments. 
She lost one breast then the other. 
Two years night after night, she cried
and held his hand. They’d never had children. 

The airport came into view -
curved glass and hubbub. 
“How is she?” I asked. 
“She died a year ago,” he replied.
 “I still can’t sleep. I lie there
listening to the radio and I can’t let go.” 
He turned toward me again. 
“Have you tried Xanax,” I suggested, “or Ativan?” 
“Definitely, he said, “but I got addicted, 
used more and more and it scared me.”
“Yeah,” I said, “yeah.”  

“It’s the lot of men to be lonely,” he said, 
“that’s just the way it is.”
“No,” I said, “maybe you can talk to someone. 
You’ve been through a lot.” 
“Sure,” he said.

We were there. I checked for my ticket, 
took hold of the suitcase. We shook hands
and I rushed to the security line.
When I got home I was unpacking
and thought of writing him, but realized
I had not even asked his name.

The Sessions

“We paint on a vanishing canvas.”
          Jim Carpenter, psychotherapist

Here’s a moment -
                   this sparkling resonance
and suddenly
it’s gone.

The blank canvas
         splattered with globs of red and black
then rubbed away by the stained rag
of confusion.

One day, I sense we are making
tiny pastel
         brushstrokes -
subtle understanding words -
         and suddenly it comes
together in the clarity
of a bright Impressionist moment.

Or there may be hours, exquisitely sensual: 
         a Renoir figure
enters the room
lies down and makes herself known
         - the body accepted
in its adorable and ferocious needs.

And sometimes as the early dark
comes on, there’s a somber winter landscape
- a Brueghel canvas evolving
         with dog and hunter coming out of the woods.
And we are forced to step back
and become aware
         of the distant village
and the bare trees
                  of an entire life.

And of course, so many failed canvases,
the half-started,
         the endless doodle, someone
         refuses to speak,
or puts the canvas on the floor,
stomps it and forgets it.

But maybe that was for the good,
         maybe we can recover, 
         come back together, make
the small gestures,
         sessions of listening
and questioning
         -the deep cobalt
of insight, stinging white of grief.

And if we paint well, the careful
         underlayer may form, slowly,
colors of trust, 
         perhaps a glowing silence.

Then suddenly, unexpectedly, 
after weeks of waiting,
         you make a bold black
brushstroke -
         and I follow -
         - a Chinese ink drawing:
two restless, dancing spirits, 
         playing with destiny.

And no one will see this.
We ourselves
         will barely recall.
It will pass through
         into our bodies,
charcoal networks of memory:
         mutually created
and gone,
yet there
         - intricate, healing, open,
puzzling, hopeful....
what's the word?

Freud, 1938, Vienna

“...men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved...; they are on the contrary, 
creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned
a powerful share of aggressiveness.”
    Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Vienna, 1938, Freud, 82.
Nazis and their allies parade in the streets,
flag after flag and those raised arms, 
ceaseless enthusiasm and hatred of the Jews. 
Incoherent fury of centuries alive once more. 
They called the old analyst’s work 
”a pornographic Jewish specialty.”

He’d worked fifty years in the exquisite old city
struggling to free the human spirit.
Lately, he’d become more pessimistic.
Neurosis was the price of civilization. 

The Nazis insisted he absolved the police 
before they allowed him to leave. 
“I can heartily recommend the Gestapo 
to anyone,” he wrote.
And the old Jewish pessimist,
leaving Vienna remarked: “Today 
they are content with burning
my books. In the Middle Ages 
they would have burned me.”