The Shrine of the Stations of the Cross

If the idea was for us to suffer,
just a little, as he suffered,
they failed.
The day is too good:
a bluebird Saturday in September,
a boy is fixing an old pump,
a silver-haired couple snaps
pictures on the steep steps to the shrine.
A cool breeze visits
from the wild horse mesa;
we have our thermos of gas station coffee,
and our water bottles.

The pain is below:
the small high desert town of San Luis,
where every other child is poor,
and on this sixth day of Sukkot,
the main street is bare,
everyone in his wilderness.

But still, along the way,
on loose dirt the color of leather,
on square sandstone plinths,
remarkable bronzes of Jesus
in that final hour,
enough to counter the children gone,
the closed shop.
So the lesson misses its mark in beauty.
In our homespun, woven in,
someone has stitched freshwater pearls,
irregular pearls our hands finger absently
on the wall of the dry well.

In the crowd, a friend writes,
I feel my loneliness embrace me.

He is waiting to be rescued,
like the old street
with its stubborn murals,
like our own interrupted progress,
confused, doubting,
given up,
occasionally blessed.

When we get to the shrine
there are no graces
but only things.
No salvation but the bees
in the chapel dome, whispering;
the rooks on the whitewash.
No hereafter but the rasp
of heavy timber on the hand
and the iron nail.
Nothing in our loneliness to know,
nothing new, except the tongue
of upslope wind from San Luis,
the mute crowd,
and the view.

Air National Guard

“But in the end, stories are about one person saying to another: This is the way it feels to me. Can you understand what I’m saying? Does it feel this way to you?” —Kazuo Ishiguro

If you want to be a pilot,
grow up in a small town
where they answer the phone
at the auto parts store
with a loud “Yell-ow!”

And at the hair salon the talk
is neighbors and their little angels:
“When she sleeps we put it up in braids?
It’s got such a beautiful natural wave,
don’t you think?”

The stylists heckle, warming up.
“Hey! You took pictures with my phone!”
“What kind of insulting nickname can I give you?
Wait! Oh, hi Lola.”
“Hello. Hi.”
“How about Lolita? Muffin?”
“Do I look like a bran muffin to you?”
“Oh, you’ve been Muffin for years.
You have the coloring of a bran muffin.”
“It’s better than Lennie. We call Sam Lennie.
From Mice and Men.”
No, Lenny Kravitz! Because of the piercing stuff.”

“Boys, you coming back? We got a perm special.”
I wave it away, the girls from Central laughing.

Lunchtime, we’re on the bypass
by the base parkway,
me and Blake, him with a Double Deluxe
and me just with the fries,
watching a T-41 trying to land
in a cross-wind.
“You could kill yourself in one of those things,”
he gets the words out, chewing,
wiping his chin.
And I say, yes.
Yes. You could.