jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Just out of reach

Arms outstretched,

His shoulders’ strain,

Reach for the bloom

And feel the pain;

 

His fingers brush,

From hands that ache;

Forbidden tastes,

Must he forsake?

 

Above he looks

In sunlight’s glare;

Reach further still,

Should now he dare?

 

Bends down the branch,

And begs the the tree:

Let go thy fruit

That’s tempting me;

 

Near to his grasp,

This thing he seeks;

So close and still,

Just out of reach;

 

He cannot stop,

Will not relent,

Until his hope

Has all been spent.

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Epitaph

What creature these

All gathered here,

That lie and wait,

Near swaying trees?

 

Of deeds undone,

I hear them speak,

And wondering what

Must surely come;

 

From darkest tombs

They whisper still,

Of life’s remorse

Since mother’s womb;

 

They see now clear

In darkness’ light,

And wondering what

There was to fear;

 

And murmur still,

Each haunting voice

Such mournful tones,

I sense their chill;

 

No lesson half

That I must learn,

Each moment write

This epitaph;

 

“In this cold ground

There lies a man,

He took a chance,

He heard the sound;

 

Wandered astray

He roamed about,

And left the trail,

Some surely say;

 

Was there a choice

Or made for him

The urge to follow

His poet’s voice?”

 

November Tune

Winds gently blowing

cross oat covered dunes,

I hear the sweet sounds,

of her November tune;

The ocean still rocking,

Against the white shores,

The sea’s tide calling,

A song all the more;

A gentle babe crying,

this unfettered delight,

I listen in wonder,

Pricked ears in the night;

Bare feet keep padding

Across the boarded walk,

A strange symphony rising,

This whispering talk;

I strain in the darkness,

Make no better choice

Than awaiting the morrow,

And longing for her voice;

She Gently Stirs

She gently stirs,
these bitter bits of chocolate sorrow;
this Alchemist of All,
mixing in cups of laughter,
spoonsful of a warm embrace,
and knowing nods of fellowship,
her hands busily,
divining sweet confections of comfort;

In this gathering of saints,
this unexpected communion,
she fills my plate
ladling it again and again
heaping it with joy upon joy,
liberally filling my crystal cup
now dripping
with her ruby-red elixir of hope;

And so I sit,
nibbling bits of gratitude
filling my belly,
abating my hunger
I sit,
And sip,
sating my thirst
I bask in the presence
of this holy order,
wondering what quests might follow.

When comes the harvest?

O, Mother,

when comes the harvest?

Thy blossoming babe,

foretelling promise,

tender shoots branching,

lush leaves hide thy sweet offering;

these tiny orbs morphing

in hues of green, yellow and red.

 

Speak to me, O Mother!

Tell me!

How long must I beseech thee?

Shall I pluck this fruit,

Let my tongue savor now thy gifts?

 

Dreams of her delight,

she taunts me.

Is thy bounty now born in full,

plump and ripe?

Has she now bathed long enough

in the white glare of midday,

been soothed by the soaking rains?

 

Shall I pick,

or shall I watch,

be robbed by fowl’s beak,

by the ravenous squirrel,

see her offering fall

only to spoil,

rotting,

crushed

by the passing boot?

 

When comes the harvest,

O, Mother?

How long must I wait?

One hour?

One day?

One week?

 

When comes the harvest?

Memories Echo

Memories echo

across the years.

Who are these boys,

now shedding tears?

 

Chasing dreams,

eager boys of yore,

no longer those,

we were before;

 

Crowned our heads,

some shocking white,

our faces etched,

our fading sight;

 

Gone our youth,

slow setting sun,

my grieving friend,

he comes undone;

 

A mournful dirge

the trumpet blows,

for that moment

no man knows;

 

Time will give

and take away,

Now wondering what

I should say;

 

Footprints fading,

by ocean’s tide,

from this storm,

we cannot hide;

 

We say hello.

with warm embrace

and then goodbye

A smiling face;

 

And turn about,

back to our chores,

no longer those,

we were before.

Hard is the clay

Hard is the clay

in which I plant,

hacking at the ochre,

my brow wet from labor

streams of sweat washing into

eyes that squint and burn, that strain and measure,

holding fast the spade that will not cut, this mattock that will not rend,

my palms red and angry, my fingers blistering with each jab at this unrelenting earth;

 

Shall I now rest,

from fruitless labor,

store away these fractured tools,

in darkness, let them gather dust and web,

strive again some other cooler day, when the autumn breeze

is cool on my face and the leaves crunch beneath my boot, shall I

release the burden of cultivating flower, bush and tree, abandon hope

of transforming this barren soil into some lush green oasis of peace and calm?

 

Hard is the clay,

in which I plant.

What can I say?

What can I say,

To this world undone,

And share some light,

For becoming one?

 

Is there some word,

That’s writ by me,

Would show the glimmer

Our humanity?

 

Could I beckon

Men black and white,

Drop their swords

And refuse to fight?

 

Would I presume,

To speak so clear,

That all these faiths,

Let go their fear?

 

Is there some way,

I could confess,

Some sacred truth,

I might suggest?

 

Would each man hear,

Each woman too,

There is so much

That’s left to do?

 

Shall I just sit,

Watch world afire,

That burns us all

In funeral pyre?

 

Or can I write,

Perhaps move them all

In some fresh verse

To stop the fall?

 

Can tribes unite,

And offer grace,

See the whole,

Not just the space?

Or are we chained,

To ourselves alone,

Keep building walls

Keep laying stones?

 

What hope is there,

For us to find,

Share this space

Is there still time?

 

Can we yet stop,

The madness great

That dooms our lives

That seals our fate?

 

What can I say,

To this world undone,

And share some light,

For becoming one?

The Bridges We Cross

Bridges.  They’re an iconic part of life and art.  The romantic aura of mist over the Golden Gate Bridge can us longing to see the world.  And the Brooklyn Bridge at night, against the backdrop of Manhattan’s lights, can inspire us to dream of standing out in some way from the crowds of New York. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved bridges.  Mostly.

My parents tell me that as a child I would often hide in the floor in the back seat of their car as we crossed bridges high or long.  For some reason, bridges have both inspired and unsettled me.  Even as an adult as I’d approach a particularly high bridge my palms would sometimes begin to sweat a bit.  My heart would speed up.  As I grew older these were, for the most part, imperceptible and benign symptoms associated with, I suppose, some sleeping fear of heights.  But one day that fear awoke like a screaming child.

I’ll get back to the screaming child in a bit.  For now, let’s talk some more about bridges.

When I think about it, I think I like what bridges represent.  They are creative works of engineering and construction genius. They span deep caverns and cross expansive gorges.  Whether driving or walking across a bridge the rhythm of tires or our footsteps sounds different when we cross them.  Today, as I move from the firm pavement of a regular paycheck and leave the banking industry behind, I can feel the changing ground beneath me as I ride up the front arch of a new adventure.  Just like crossing bridges, it’s both exciting and a bit spooky.

Whenever we leave what we perceive as the firm ground of familiarity, we can find ourselves anxious, wondering what the future holds.  With familiarity, we may have become comfortable.  We’re content enough with where we are, we tell ourselves.  Of course, we should be grateful for the things we have.  I know I am. But for some of us there comes a time in life when we simply have to accept the uncertainty, embrace the anxiety, and cross the bridge of life into an unknown future.  And it’s not just in our careers that we must cross those bridges.

We do it when we leave the protection, if we are fortunate enough to have had it, of our parents. We do it when we marry, have children, join the Army, go off to college, go through a divorce and when we do so many other things.  Sometimes, we do it because the pain in a place is is just too great.  Sometimes we do it when we perceive there’s a better place for us on the other side of the bridge.  Even when there are no lights, when fog or darkness enshrouds the bridge, we know the time has come to cross it.

Since today is the last day of my banking career, I suppose I’ve found myself thinking about bridges. The back tires of my car are leaving the comfort of a well known highway today.  The front tires are on the bridge.  But crossing the bridge doesn’t mean it’s the end of a journey.  It’s just part of it.  I don’t know what’s on the other side of it, but I do know I’m grateful that the road I’ve been on for so many years is still, in some strange way, the same road.  It’s just that the hum of the tires will sound different.  Maybe, I will get a flat.  Or I’ll have car trouble on top of the bridge. Maybe, I will run out of gas crossing it. And maybe there will be a screaming child I have to quiet.

About fifteen years ago, I was crossing the Tennessee River driving on Interstate 65, just south of Huntsville, Alabama.  The southbound traffic was bad.   I was tired. And life, for a lot of reasons, was full of an inordinate amount of stress.  To make things worse, I needed glasses but didn’t know it at the time. So there, right on top of that bridge, a bridge I had driven across hundreds of times, my palms began sweating profusely. My heart began throbbing in my chest.  I felt short of breath.  So, in the midst of a panic attack, I pulled the big SUV I was driving onto a just wide enough shoulder at the peak of the bridge to let my then wife drive.  She didn’t understand what was happening.  Neither did my daughter sitting in the back seat. For that matter, I didn’t really get it either.  Somehow, in with cars and trucks speeding past me, I made it to the passenger’s seat. I leaned seat as close to horizontal as I could, closed my eyes, and tried to regain my composure.

For a long time after that day, I had terrible anxiety related to crossing bridges.  For a while, I chose alternate routes, asked others to drive or simply chose not to travel to certain places.  But that’s no way to live.  With time, a little help from my doctor, meditation and practice, I’m happy to say I no longer fear crossing bridges. Oh sure, sometimes “what if it happens again” thought will cross my mind.  But I just return to the moment and remind myself everything is fine and that anxiety is about what might happen, rather than where I am at that moment. And I remind myself that bridges are meant for crossing to see what adventures are waiting for me on the other side.

A Big Day: A brief fiction

Pausing at the mirror, he checked his appearance one final time.  The navy and crimson tie was gently knotted in a Half-Windsor, a simple act of rebellion against the prevailing style for men his age.  The regimental striped cravat, navy and crimson, hung perfectly at his waistline, silhouetted against the background of a crisp, white tailored shirt.  He wished his hair were a bit longer, but damn, it was hot and more hair meant more sweat.  And he didn’t like to sweat.  At least not in a suit.

He glanced at his watch and pivoted to head for the car.  It was going to be a big day and being late wasn’t an option. But as he turned to go he sensed something was out of place.  Ash didn’t know what caught his eye, but he leaned closer to the mirror, studying himself like a painter studies her subject.  What is that?

With the tip of his right index finger he tried to wipe it away, hoping to avoid smearing the graphite across his forehead.  Is that ink?   He dampened the finger on a still moist wash cloth lying on the sink and applied more pressure.  But the mark wouldn’t budge, so he grabbed the cloth with all the zeal of a Pentecostal preacher, the dropped it midway through it’s journey to his face. Damn.

Ash had never really recognized it until now, had never truly seen it, but the lines on his forehead had somehow morphed into something more akin to etchings than wrinkles.  And what had begun as an effort to look his best was quickly becoming a study in life.  Suddenly, he was aware of the marionette lines at the corners of his mouth. He saw the crevasse, what he remembered some telling him were nasal labial folds, lining both of cheeks.  In the unwanted epiphany of the moment, it occurred to him he’d be able to apply for social security in a few more years.

Where had the time gone? And who was this imposter in the mirror? Standing there, Ash thought about the scar on his shoulder.  It was purple and blue and and still looked a little angry, though the pain had long-since subsided.  It become an embellished tale of his continued need to test himself, perhaps to show he might cheat death.  He had never been really afraid of death—well, at least not for a very long time—but in that moment, the victories and defeats of a lifetime seemed manifest within his body in ways that made him uncomfortable.  But rather than resist the discomfort, he let himself feel it all.

He remembered how it felt when he’d be chosen to do a job he was ill-prepared for but was to young to realize it.  He recalled how his mouth had gone dry when he’d heard the doctor say the word malignantand how relieved he’d been after the surgery ten years ago.    And he recalled how the slow and tortuous erosion of his faith had left him needing to rethink his life, how he saw the world, and how relieved, even grateful, he was, for the pain and loss of that time. Somehow, to his surprise and the skepticism of some of the ones he loved most dearly, it had made him more compassionate:  He hoped it had made him kinder.

All those thoughts, and more, had washed over Ash like final waves of an incoming tide—and all of it in less than a minute.  Slowly, the stranger in the mirror had disappeared and his own smiling reflection returned.  Bursting into laughter, Ash thought, maybe a little Botox might be a good idea.  The young man he was on the inside, full of dreams and passion, with a taste for things that others subtly suggested was foolish for a man of his age, was still there.  The lines and scars were just had the ribbons for running the race the way he had to run it.  With that comfort he slipped back into present and remembered it was going to be a big day. It already was.