New York: By Way of Storm

They were waiting on me to get here.
The wind.
The rain.
Soggy footsteps in dented grass.
Soldering tools.
Beer fridge.
Great lake licking shades that open by remote control.
An ambush.
A trap.
Set up in series like dominoes.
One begets the next and sets up the collapse of all the rest.
In good time.

Dog plastic clicks and floor rattles in battles against the inevitability we call gravity.
Laid in wait.
Mouth open.
Whisper breathing.
Eyes hungry and open.
As I enter a scene.
Well orchestrated and rehearsed.
All except for the part I play. Of course.
An unwitting fool. A chicken dinner.
Which goes against the oven roasted golden brown rule.

Be nobody’s chicken dinner.

If you intend to make a meal of me, you will only get thinner.
This wind blown rain spotted weather.

The long flat roads framed in soaked farmland and fresh water harbors.
Seabirds lost in lake mist and island peppered distance.
Trip wires in thinning choirs and cold church Sunday morning.
Broken boilers.
Daylight spoilers.
Cows feet caked in mud and old men with blond ponytails down their backs.

Poised.
For the attack.
Growing tired of waiting.
But now that I am here.

No one is waiting anymore.

Took New York by storm.
And it hasn’t quit since.

My Ministry

People out for the weekend were worse off than me.
Struggling. Sweat rosaries and strap stains
draped like stoles on their shoulders.
Leaned out hands together in the shelter.
Listen. They love to complain about the weather.

It is all about contrast.

Where you were yesterday gets in the way.
Sets you up for a betrayal of expectations.

And I had none. Not at that point.
Not after two months.
I was better off than them.
In that I was already broken.

Down enough to learn real truth doesn’t need to be spoken.
At least not solely by one human to another.
I learned it’s best just to let earth teach her own nature.

Surprised Still

Perched like an eagle on top of a ski hill.
Who would not have thought.
Eight hundred miles of mountains.
Would lead to here.

This dry little white one.
No more than a hill. Still.

Paid minimum wage to watch kids climb like boomerangs
come twirling throwing snow back to be whipped again.
Scarves hiding grins.
Nobody wins.
Nobody really has a gender.
Or an agenda.
Or anything better to do. Clearly.
Just surprised still at gravity.
Bolting fiberglass boards to boots.

Amused. When mountains for two months
leads to a mountain for two months.

As if it ever could have happened.
Any other way.
And still been mine.

 

 

The Pulpit

 

The mountains I cursed. The rain I out-poured prayers against. Some footsteps I used to walk. And some I just tried to crush the earth. As if I could. Mind hard as fossilized wood, and feet as white as chalk. I had this trick, for climbs, long ones, three, four hours maybe more, every step a foot higher than the last, don’t look up. Don’t glance toward the top. I would stare straight forward through the curved bill of my cap like a horse head cradled by blinders. Not until the walking levels. Or until the sunlight grows an arch around the rim of treeline, and there are no other ridges above your head, and you find yourself in some sharp bald spot you didn’t believe existed until then. People think you’re having such a hard time when you pass them. People think all kinds of things for the few seconds until you’re out of sight and gone.

So many of them. So much hey how are you, how’s it going, you doing all right, where’d you come from, where are you going, how is the water up ahead. All the way to New York? Well good luck, better get going, hurry up. Where are you from? Almost a thousand miles from home. No, that can’t be right, Pennsylvania can’t be two hundred miles, well, it is a three hour drive. That adds up.

That sunset just before Three Ridges. Wind came in that night and swept it out and I suspect no one will never see that sunset again. Rifle shots at seven AM. Strangers asking if I’m afraid of hunters. Wonder why I’m not wearing their favorite color. Shenandoah was like a burgundy and gold encrusted crown on the regal head of northern Virginia. And Maryland wishes it was bread so bad. But someone has to be inside the sandwich. There have to be some things in between. Neither here nor there. And such places tend to build monuments to history, to heroes who died there but did not live there, or lived there, but died somewhere else. I remember climbing the wide gravel path cut into the side of Mount Vernon. Rust red signs with mildewed once white lettering, walking us through President George Washington’s American life. A lady with two huge skinny as a rail Greyhound looking sharp-headed dogs who had no intention of containing themselves around mine. Coolly bouncing black fur barely glancing their frantic direction. I remember her apology. Her promise. Her dogs are not really like this. The things we swear to strangers.

On top of The Pulpit. Overlooking dead Pennsylvania hillsides. There was rusted blood red and lemony gold and hunter green evergreens going into winter bold. Black birds with flat wings glide at the top right corner of the scene while a couple who badly want to talk to me console their dog who is afraid of heights, and is white as a ghost.

We walked twenty four miles that day. Cursed a few mountains along the way, and honest to God, and anyone else who would listen, I wanted to claim that pulpit. That jagged path like a broken staircase still had a little skin from my shin. I earned it. And I always carry a sermon.

I just want to be a flash of color deep down in a valley. A streak of orange you didn’t expect to see looming there so late into autumn. My voice, hundreds of feet in the air feathers ruffled against thermals.

Preaching to an audience who already knows the war between blessings and curses
is coming to a close. We all exist now in a state of perpetual both. In fact, the mountains I recall the best, are the ones I cursed the most. 

Coming Soon – 800 miles of trail journal

“Today I met a flip flopping thru-hiker who called herself Fly Away.
She asked me my trail name. And I said Jeremiah.
Fly Away replied, “Ah, the weeping prophet.”
I laughed and said now you know that’s not far off.
And she told me about a vista overlooking the valley
I had just spent the morning circling, where she ate lunch.
It was just as breathtaking as she warned.”

Going through this trail journal and finding lots of little notes like this between poems. I’m excited to see it all cleaned up and put together. I will have a manuscript shortly, and I’m also working on an audio recording. Everyone who helped me along the journey, and I mean every one of you wonderful people, will receive a copy.

I know I’m biased, but I’ve never written anything like this before. The hike sort of naturally induced a story structure onto the more day to day, experiential journal writing I normally produce. It’s essentially a collection of free range poetry somehow all cooped up in the two months of my hike. Which was actually a pretty rigidly structured, meticulously planned and well rehearsed endeavor.

Each poem clearly uses some visceral detail or setting element as an excuse to answer every single question in the universe. [insert laughter] But divided up into chapters that follow each section of the trail, with little secular notes in between, regionalisms, geography lessons and of course, issues of theology and functional philosophy wrestled with continuously in my writing.

In some ways, I feel like the hike isn’t really done until I have this collection put together and recorded. And even beyond the value of this writing, is this new form. This pace of life. Blended into all my work. Everything I write. The consistency and intentionality required of a hike. Getting from where you are to where you want to be without forgoing everything in between. Which is actually the principal function of poetry anyway.

In other words, about eight hundred miles of trail journal coming to you soon!

Twenty Five Miles

Love is a twenty five mile day.
You take it on in sections.
Walk along. Taking your licks.
Your fallen sticks and fractured logs.
Your sharp rocks, and the ones that like to stay slick.
At the frazzled tail end of each, you’re beat.
Done. Broke-hearted but too tired to run.
Until you see it.
The tinny right angle of a rusted roof.
The creek. The road. Some sign for both.
And suddenly impossible has changed.
The same ways mountains range.
Different.
From nothing other than one foot before another
until miles you planned months ago
are behind you and gone. You breathe.
Drink a little red water that’s too sweet. You eat.
Then plan the next one and move on.
Love is not one.
It is not two or three.
Love is at least five of those sections in succession
until you’ve stacked up a day that was too tall, too heavy,
too much for you before you were ready.
Love is how you hiked it anyway.
Showed up out of breath feet throbbing
almost surprised you made it
to that random spot you circled
on a long list of random spots.

Bit off more than you could chew.
Wrote a check you couldn’t cash.
Eyes were hungrier your stomach.

Love is not a challenge. Or a goal. Or a game.
It is a miracle. Simple and plain. It is too much.
By definition. Love is too far to walk in one day.
And yet you somehow found a way.
You made it happen.
When they ask how, don’t explain.
Love is all you have to say.

It is the same as saying
I walked twenty five miles today.

Booted

I left the cap off the peanut butter.
Didn’t shut the refrigerator.
I unplugged the coffee pot when I was done.
And damn. I’m sorry.

Muddy footprints across clean floor.
Said eat one. Somehow ate four.
Clogged the toilet again. Didn’t I?
See. This is why I went outside.
Why Homesley booted himself out of his home.
Couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Now he’s four states along.
Took off after his feet.

I was warned.
They told me not to bowl beer bottles
all over the coffee table anymore.
Take the lighters of your pockets.
Don’t wash wool in warm water.
Or cotton for that matter.
Better yet don’t wash anything at all.
Going on three days now.
At the very least five good ones still to go.
Before I will be clean again.

I accept the smelly underwear of my own decisions.

Self-banished. Willfully evicted. Booted out the door.
Booted across four states.
Booted all the way.up north.

These New Seasons

Since when is apocalypse an acceptable weather report?
This country gets bad storms. Or didn’t you notice
the people who loaned it to us were nomads.
They chased the good weather.
Sought out light winter like geese.

The ground shakes an awful lot in this country.
And it is kind of broken in the middle
so close to cracking geysers jet tail hot water heavenward
blowing off steam several times a day. Oceans change.
Always have. Hell, there used to be one right here
above my head. In the heart of Virginia.
Buried by hillsides.

I don’t think apocalypse means what we think it means.
If so, I predict a little bit of apocalypse at the tail end
of just about every single one of these new seasons.
This continent didn’t stay this wild this long on accident.
Trust me. It has its reasons.

Now New York

After building a humble homestead in rural North Carolina for the last ten years, I craved change. I uprooted. With my usual dash of melodrama, I decided to take off on the Appalachian Trail and I hiked to New York. A new start. I followed my heart with my own two feet and landed beside Lake Ontario beside the love of my life. We needed a challenge. North country winter and lake effect snow and generators humming throughout the night. It is a snaking kind of confused direction to try and follow. Different. Nothing more specific. Just not what has already been played out. And that is exactly what I have walked into. New. In a few months I’ll be holding a child in my arms who will make me a father. Two months of nothing but walking. In order to discover just how much further I have to go. Forever. Which is the exact prescription I never knew I needed but somehow wrote out for myself many months ago. When we started planning this hike. This high speed chapter of our lives. This oncoming child. Chasing change. Like it was one of those little letters on a compass. A spinning arrow that refuses us to settle.
Has made us hesitant to root too deep. For now. Like the little boy in her womb. We will carry home with us whenever, wherever we go. This homestead has legs. Why settle for it, when you can carry it instead. And uncover an entirely new meaning for the phrase walking home. That is what I learned over eight hundred miles that lie between here and there. How to carry it with me. Home is like love. It only exists buried in my chest somewhere. Buried in the couch. Our son buried in her belly. It is a heavy love we bear. But never too heavy to carry.

Broken Water

Little fish bump and kiss loose skin around the edge of abused feet.
They feed, and tickle toes lips sweetly parted where a blister used to be.
Frightening. But gently.
Only little ones come that close.
Big fish became big fish by being fish who know
bodies seldom stop at the toes.
Movement is movement in sunlit clear fluid
and distance is a bent and twisted point of view.
I raise my hands sharp and flattened. Like a band director.
Little notes with speckled fins and silver bellies
leap at the chance to play a melody.
Whole schools of music maneuver at the flash of my hand.
Under the twitch of a pen.
Breaking water with only eyes.
Playing with fish
with my feet dry.