What Now?

Thoughts and Poetic Direction

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. Yogi Berra

No matter what age you are or what stage of life you are in you will come to Berra’s forks in the road. Most folks have four prongs pointing forward, none to the past unless you turn the fork on yourself and stick it in you to see if you’re done. People ask me all the time, “When will I be done?” My silly reply has always been the same, “Only steaks get done.”

Alright you’ve lost a relationship, parent, career, your youth, or a home. I, by the way, have lost all of these the last couple of years and I’ve asked myself this question every day: “So what now?” 

For many this question gets harder the older some of us get. But most of us are driven to seek out the answers anyway. Some of us go slowly and tease the answers out like pulling cotton from its stubborn boll or taking a pearl out of an oyster that doesn’t want you to have the “great prize.” Others attack the question like a bull in the china shop only to get hooked by our own horns – hooked on drugs or alcohol or other numbing processes to make us think we’re really searching for the answers, but we’re not.

To put all of this in a more poetic way, if we’re not careful during these difficult times we may, to quote William Stafford, “following the wrong god home we may miss our star.”

Perhaps you are having to do what I’m doing – drawing on the support of new and old friends even though sometimes making contact using my 300-pound cell phone to call them when I’d rather pull my comforter over my head and go back to sleep. I’ve also enlisted the help of a new therapist – nope, I’m not done with therapy or 12-step meetings.

I also have to keep cultivating good crops of patience, something I don’t grow very well because I want the answers to “What now?” When? Now, damit!

Then I re-read T.S. Eliot’s words one more time:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

Another thing I try to remember is to pay deep attention to my body and a little less to my mind – thank you T.S.

I recall the words of the Sufi poet Rumi: “Let the body speak openly now without your saying a word, as a student’s walking behind a teacher says, this one knows more clearly the way.”

And if I don’t listen to my body during these tough transitional times and slow everything down I will commit way too many errors in my impulsive decision making and end up like another of Rumi’s poems:

  Who makes these changes?

  I shoot an arrow right.

  It lands left.

  I ride after a deer and find myself

  Chased by a hog.

  I plot to get what I want

  And end up in prison.

  I dig pits to trap others

  And fall in.

  I should be suspicious

  Of what I want.

Translated by Coleman Bark

So I hope this short post, while not answering yours or my question: “What now?” provides a little comfort and some poetic pointers to the way forward.

You are not alone and I’ll give Rilke the last words for now: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror…” and “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…”

A Collection of Poems from a new book, “Five Friends on Sunday Afternoons”

Book Release Celebration and Reading at Malvern Books – Friday Oct 5 at 7 pm

John Lee will be celebrating the release of, and reading from, a new collection of poems, “Five Friends on Sunday Afternoons,” along with authors, Lyman Grant, Bill Jeffers, David Jewell and John Oakley McElhenney. Please join them at 7 PM CDT at Malvern Books located at 613 W 29th Street in Austin, TX 78705.

Lee will be reading two of his poems, A Thunderstorm in Mentone and Holding On, that were written in his sweet cottage on Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama as part of his way of letting go of a place that has been so dear to his heart for almost three decades.

A THUNDERSTORM IN MENTONE 

A thunderstorm in Mentone.

The wind is different tonight.

The leaves on the trees move easily.

Summer rain cleans the horses

grazing in the pasture

across the road.

I saw lightning for the first time 

in months. It looked like a ragged

tuning fork, and I felt the thunder

roll through my body.

Today, in a house a hundred miles

away I saw my father for the first

time in ten years.

He sat beside me with his bare shoulder

against mine as we looked at a map.

Years ago I would have wanted more to

happen and felt a disappointment,

but this meeting moved easily.

A part of me (the part that always wanted more)

felt cleaned. The lightning comes down in jagged

lines and then separates into its tines. A tuning

fork and a father and son

are like that too.

We talked about gas mileage; then

he showed me the peas he’s grown in his

garden.

This is the most affection I’m going

To get, I thought.

Today this amount of affection was finally enough.

HOLDING ON

There is always one leaf

that hangs on to certain trees

even in mid-January – wind

blowing thirty miles an hour.

It holds on the way a bowl holds on 

to a Buddhist monk, a Bible holds

on to a Christian; the way a cane

holds on to a blind man.

What holds on to me when it’s winter?

A poker perhaps to punch and stir the

fire, a pen that turns empty white

paper into a prayer for some company.

Every morning I sit down by

the fire. I see the poker by my hand,

the pen on the table and, outside, the

leaf still holding on.

 

Crawling Through the Grass of Grief

A Poem by John Lee


As I crawled through the tall

grass of grief I saw so many

interesting and disquieting things.

 

The priest asks us to bend our knees

and pray but doesn’t he mean crawl?

 

Crawling makes us indistinguishable

from nearly eight or ninety percent of life.

 

Ants crawled right by me yesterday

on their way to work.

 

Ants don’t take off Christmas Day

anymore; they used to when they were pagans.

 

Beetles crawled over me as I

wept my way through the tall grass of grief.

 

I heard one say “that is the first human

I’ve seen here in a long time.”

 

“Yeah,” said his partner, or wife, or son.

It is hard to tell who is whom in the beetle world.

 

“Most just go down as far as a bending

knee asking the new God to bring back whatever was lost.”

Ancient Paths

A Poem by John Lee

previously published in The Dragon’s Letters

 

Geese know the ancient path

their parents laid out for them

in the sky.

When horses are born

the first thing they do is walk,

even if their legs are like water.

Animals seem to know what to do

when it’s time.

 

I remember the first time

a woman said, “Let me hold you.”

This was a path I could not remember.

I turned and twisted my body like a

colt leaving the birth canal.

Finally I fell into the deep grass of her arms.

I lay on my left arm

till it went sound asleep.

Unlike the newborn, I didn’t care if I ever

stood on my own two feet again.

Ophelia

A POEM BY JOHN LEE

A baby’s pink and shy blue hydrangea
sit like colorful lions guarding
her steps that were made out of
field stones.

The porch was, as we say here
in the South, wop-sided to
begin with, as much of life down
here is.

The whole house sat on these
same kind of stones just high
enough for old dogs and children
to crawl under to play and sleep.

The woman who lived there,
I am pretty sure her name was
an old Shakespearean one—Ophelia
I remember you now in your bonnet.

I remember your kindness to my
frail grandmother. Unlike hers, your
back was built by long hours
chopping and picking the cotton at ten
pennies for a pound.

I have no idea why you came
and visited me this morning
during my writing time but you
have been remembered and you are always
welcome to join me again.

A Thunderstorm in Mentone – a Poem for my Father

The wind is different tonight.

The leaves on the trees move easily.

Summer rain cleans the horses

grazing the wet grass in the pasture

across the road.

I saw lightning for the first time

in months. It looked like a ragged

tuning fork, and I felt the thunder

roll through my body.

Today, in a house a hundred miles

away I saw my father for the first

time in ten years.

He sat beside me with his bare shoulder

against mine as we looked at a map.

Years ago I would have wanted more to

happen and felt a disappointment,

but this meeting moved easily.

A part of me – the part that always wanted more

felt cleaned. The lightning comes

down in straight lines and then

separates into its tines. A tuning

fork is like that too.

We talked about mileage; then

he showed me the peas he’d grown in his

garden.

This is the most affection I am going

to get, I thought.

Today, this amount of affection was finally enough.

Asking the Important Questions – Part II: by John Lee

In celebration of my 65th birthday in October, I’m going to post a couple of poems – given that I still want to be a poet when I grow up. Also in October, to celebrate getting Social Security Retirement, I’m going to be more social than usual for a dyed-in-the-wool introvert.

I will be giving a public reading entitled WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS: SPIRITUAL POETRY FROM EASTERN AND WESTERN TRADITIONS — with a few of my own poems on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. at the Moon Lake Community Library, located at 5866 E River Road in Mentone, Ala. 35984 (256-634-4113). I hope you all will come from the East and West Coasts, or at least the same county, to hear it.

I hope the library attendees, and my readers here, will like the poems.

I will go back to my more helpful posts next time.

Following, you will find “Asking the Important Questions” – Part II.

Thanks for your support.

SUMMER’S END

The sumac announces the truth

with its first flush of red.

In the evening the Canadian geese

say it loud and clear.

canadian-geese-2

The cicada’s mournful singing

announces summer’s end.

Nature tells itself when it is

time to let go.

Lovers should have such clear

changing colors and sounds.

Cold husbands and wives would

know when to head South.

We’d fly in formation right into

the warm wind of the future.

Asking the Important Questions – Part I: by John Lee

In celebration of my 65th birthday in October, I’m going to post a couple of poems – given that I still want to be a poet when I grow up. Also in October, to celebrate getting Social Security Retirement, I’m going to be more social than usual for a dyed-in-the-wool introvert.

I will be giving a public reading entitled WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS: SPIRITUAL POETRY FROM EASTERN AND WESTERN TRADITIONS — with a few of my own poems on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m. (Central Time) at the Moon Lake Community Library, located at 5866 E River Road in Mentone, Ala. 35984 (256-634-4113). I hope you all will come from the East and West Coasts, or at least the same county, to hear it.

I also hope the library attendees, and my readers here, will like the poems.

Following, you will find “Asking the Important Questions” – Part I.

I’ll go back to my more helpful posts next time.

Thanks for your support.

 

ASKING THE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS

I asked the mountains

So what do I do now?

“Sit down, be silent and

Wait like I have for a thousand years.”

I looked to the sled dog at my feet. cropped-blog-header-template1908x26002.png

“And you? Anything to contribute?”

“Learn to pull something

Ten times your own weight.”

I stared at the chess board,

“Sometimes the king is the first to go.”

And the novels on my shelf,

“Love has no clean-cut beginning, middle, or end.”

So I turned to the poet who said,

“Once you have loved someone

You will always love them and

All you can do is say, ‘amen.’”

 

Unbecoming: From Despair to Love-Part 4

“…I don’t mind you saying I’ll die soon, even in the sound of the word soon I hear the word, you which begins every sentence of joy…Ah, you’re a thief the judge said, ‘let’s see your hands. I showed him my callous hand in court. My sentence is a thousand years of joy.”

Robert Bly

Hope is the big brother to happiness who can bully the joy right out of us. Hope is the religious hole that was dug for many of us even before birth. “I hope it is a boy.” “I hope it is a girl.” We all hope whatever the gender that the baby is healthy. Then on heartbreak occasion that the baby is not healthy, still born, where does the hope go? I fell into the hope well, as did my former wife with each successive miscarriage—four to be exact. Way before that I hoped my dad would stop drinking a million years ago now. I hoped I’d marry Phyllis Bacon. I hoped and hoped and splashed around until I almost drowned in the world’s darkest wishing well.

Hope is a well-set bear trap that we set for others almost daily. The poet Rumi says, “I shoot an arrow to the left, it lands right. I go after a deer and get chased by a wart hog. I did a pit to trap others. I should be suspicious of what I want.” We provide even the people we love with just enough false hope or encouragement on towards the impossible outcome. Hope like happiness is a turtle trying to catch and pass the hare of our desires. Hope is always in pursuit of something being some other way than the way it is.

The Indian poet Kabir said it this way:

“I talk to my inner lover and say, ‘why such a rush…the truth is you turned away yourself and decided to go into the dark alone and now you are tangled up in others and forgotten what you once knew and that is why everything you do has some weird failure in it.”

homeless-850086_1920So we hope instead of have faith and wonder why love is so elusive in our lives and why “love” fails so often. One out of two marriages will end in divorce. Again the culprit is the searching, the scanning the crowds, looking for the lover out there hoping they are looking for us. Rumi say, “The minute I heard my first love story I went looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere; they’ve been in each other all along.”

Hope is what keeps me from grieving what I once had hoping it will come back. Hope puts what we never had in a small box, wrapped and placed on the mantle above my fireplace. But it is this very grief work that “sorrow sweeps clean the house so joy may move in,” says the Persian poet.

Now put your hope in the wish for your prince to come and if he or she does then you’ll be happy. But when the mailman brings you the certified letter from the Prince saying “he is unavoidably detained and will not make it this lifetime” you’re right back in dark woods of despair. Burn the letter and the envelope it came in and let Faith turn all our heavy lead hearts through the alchemical fire into the pure gold of love.