Friday, August 26, 2011

Sighing as She Passes By. . .

Sighing as She Passes By

(in relief)

Cool morning
broad bands of smoky clouds
moving like doom
tendrils of the sky
withdrawing slowly
toward an invisible eye
blue shines through

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wadi Cherith

In honor of St. John of the Cross, today.

Wadi Cherith
Thin water ripples on the shingle,
shatters the sun, yellow sparkling
swells slap the dark strand and vanish
drawn into the desert heart.

You sit in the shadow of the overhang
and wait the word from on high
that tells you the mission has begun,
the time has at last rolled round
to begin whatever God has planned.

Had you known then of the prophets
of Ba'al, had you seen the challenge
of Ahab, had you seen the night cave
where you heard the sounds of God,
would you have fled? Running through
the desert like another madman,
another who would come to bathe
in the Jordan and cause others also
to be made clean.

                    And like another
who also would feed the hungry
with endless food from nothing?
     What would you have done?

          Isn't it better this way, alone
     in the desert fed by carrion birds
          and resting in the shade?
     Better the silence of God
     sometimes than His speech.

© 2002 Steven Riddle


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ten views from a Summer Boat

Ten Views from a Summer Boat

Moonlight on the stream's
inky surface, whitewash waves
ripple toward the shore.
Mosquito harbor
the wooden boat
alone, broken ripples
The slap, slap,
slap waves
that have not
found their way
Where are you
in the flickering
night? Where now?
Rope trailing
weeds in water,
underneath all.
Even at night
even on water
shadows of shadows
whiteness worn to silver.
water and wood,
the gentle slip of oars.
Where are we?
Candle-gathered unknown
spirits, paper boats
from chrysanthemum night
suddenly spring dive
in the memory of the river.
It is said the poet drunk
reached out to embrace the moon
and found himself
wed to darkness
as how could he not?
Water washes reeds in still
slow eddies
In pools so quiet they
have the
memory of ages, water so deep
it bleeds.


Chains of Desire

Chains of Desire

of heaven painted on things
as we see them now.
Object of desire--sure sign
of its maker--Lord of life.

In not holding on
to things we know, need, and love,
we grow heavenward.

The sky is His-promise-blue--
beyond blue--no clouds--no rain.
Learn now how to be--
see--autumn sky, fall leaves--cool
promise of winter.

Desire--good as it seeks He
who is end of all desire.

Desire--ill wind that
keeps blowing as it is fed--
seeking self alone.
Desire teaches us good, shows
us how to see, be, and want.

I want the ocean
broad salt, the great rivers, I
want and do not need.
Desire stretches want into
need. It doesn't know its end.

Stalk the white egret
for its plumage finery
for a woman's hat
whatever we want becomes
the end to which we will go.

The heart's home, the warmth
of the breath breathed at the start,
Holy Spirit's flame.

How then can we know the line--
want and need, shadow and light?
Seek first the kingdom
and His righteousness, all else
comes to you through these.

But the human heart is trained
to want far beyond its means.
Trained to desire, chained
to desire--the will gives way
in the face of it.

So we must learn to not want
to have without having now.
To enjoy all things
both for themselves as they are
God's own goodly work.

But also to see within
them God's shadow. Taste God there.

Desire would hold you
bound, pining, dying not
for itself but for want.
Desire is the spur, the goad, God's
direction, arrow pointed home.

Love without keeping,
take without taking, gold chips
in the chilly stream.
Glint for those who come after,
for you, the moment God spoke.
Hear Him in every word,
see in every motion, not one
thing is without Him.
Desire calls us home-answer
and discover where home is.


Love Poem

Love Poem

where you were
you are not
now begins
time and our
minutes are
muted only
the space you
once filled speaks
in ways you
never did
your warmth is
absence your
whisper cold
your eyes my
comfort blue


Hear His Voice

Hear His Voice

I have heard His Word as spoken early
in the day. I have followed in His Way
as He says stay, wait awhile with me. See!
I am God indeed, the very seed from
which springs life, all earthly things that sing His
blessed name, that same name that seals open
lips with His seal and the real song that brought
forth all that is is heard. His name is made
holy when all creation, fallen and
redeemed intones as one, at once a lone
and plural voice, calling to all--Rejoice!


Song of Creation

Song of Creation

You have heard, but have you listened? The tale
of the stork clatters out against the dark
purple of the evening, and this noise marks
the start of the tale. You listen but fail
to make sense of the story. The pond and
the wood are too distant, too alien--
the words cannot make sense. You see God's hand
in the lowering night, and wonder when
the Word He sends can be heard and heeded
by you, by those around you. You don't know
why the heron and wren know what's needed,
and men are so reluctant and so slow
to understand--the evening and the night
the stars, the moon-- all God's created things
Rejoice with a great glad noise, without shame,
Man alone pines, mourns, walks as though he's lame,
Til one Man returns to teach him to sing.


Hosea 2:14

Hosea 2:14

I   I    I
allure and lead and speak
her her her
into the desert/speak to her heart

How do I hear you
when I am so ready to speak?
I have no ears for listening
when my heart is loading up words
that will spill-a cataract-out of the tomb of my mouth.

I stuff my head with the sounds
of my own broken words
like bottleglass on a fence top
they are enough to keep all out.

Oh my heart is full to breaking
full of myself, my thoughts, my ways.
It is not a tender place but a thicket
and forked and poisonous as an adder's tongue.

And still it keeps filling,
filling until bursting--
bursting completely
with my self.
Bursting with the poison of the self. 

How can I hear you over
the chirrupping, clattering, clanking,
drumming, roaring, droning,
humming, buzzing, chiming,
ringing, three-ring circus I call myself.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010



Who knew
that so much
of who I am
and what I do
hangs suspended
in a leaden
cage that throws off
my center of



"Arise, alight, away, I must go
to help you. When here, I am hampered
by my presence, a single person
bound by body to a time and a place.

"And yet, I must be for all in eternity,
and as I arise, the light that is
love, unwinds for all who have a heart.

"This trace is more than a promise
its is everything that I make real,
wrenching it from oblivion and outer
darkness, damned by its own refusal to see

this light slashes through the deeper dark. "


When fleeing Pharaoh across fierce sands
they received a fiery funnel by night
and dust by day, that gave them life
and light and hope, the surety of safety
from archer and enemy, slaver and slayer--
they walked in perfect peace.
The train from God's temple had
slipped down to surround them, isolate
them as chosen children, people of the promise
saved and assured, the fruit of the firstborn,
destined to bring Him back again.

So when He ascended that train from the temple
dropped down again, and twined around us--
the certainty of salvation and safety in His shade.

[092210-3, 062309-1, 052409-1]



Isn't it
that ice cold
or boiling
water has
appeal. But
at room temp
it's simply


Raw Beauty

Raw Beauty

The heart is stunned
with certain knowledge of sheer
isolation from the source.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This Heart

At the Heart of the Heart of Me

This heart at the heart
of me refuses to beat
instead prefers to slide and slump
and sit like a leaden lump
at the heart of the heart of me.

It bears no convincing,
no cajoling, no joy,
it turns its arterial back
on the world, and I feel
with a jerk, the twisting
at the heart of the heart of me.

At the heart of the heart of me
there is a blackened cinder,
all that is left when the Holy Spirit
up and quits the house, driven out
by years of use and abuse
at the heart of the heart of me.

This heart has no motion I can move
it cannot be stirred or pounded
run three miles and still it doesn't stir
at the heart of the heart of me.

Leaden lump, oh, my heart
what will make you move?

Neither lust, nor love, nor hate, nor beauty,
nor pride, nor passion, nor sense, nor longing,
nor hope, nor faith, nor long-standing grief,
nor storms, nor powers, not even God
Himself can squeeze this
fleshly fist and make it live.
For at the heart of the heart of me
I give no permission.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Before and After--Disappointing World

Watch the poet at work trying to make sense of what he has scrawled:


Disappointing World

And so, now that the world
has shrunk to this pinpoint of light
and bright blue water
how do I make it big
again? How do I shift
Swanson-like to say
"The world is still big,
I've just bloated."


Disappointing World

Swanson-like I say
"I am big, it's the world
that has gotten small."
And so, now that the world
has shrunk to this pinpoint of light
and bright blue water
how do I make it big again?


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Disappointing World

Disappointing World

And so, now that the world
has shrunk to this pinpoint of light
and bright blue water
how do I make it big
again? How do I shift
Swanson-like to say
"The world is still big,
I've just bloated."


Being Born

Being Born

I wait to be born
knowing as I wait
it will be a still-birth:
the mother of this child
is exhausted.


Water Poems

Water Poems


If there is water
does it matter where you are?


Wherever I am sitting
if there is water
I am home


Blue light
lit inside
green glowing out


Close your eyes
to see the color of clear light
as it breaks.


Over the shimmering mirror
a skin of water
ever almost silver sand.


All my memories are water
the ocean,
the great lakes
rivers and streams
streams that flow to the clouds.


A Waltz in C# Minor

A Waltz in C# Minor

From Chopin you drew
your own breath, four sharps
you say, and your fingers
travel up and down the keyboard.
Days of work, days of revision
and now your own waltz
that speaks the way music
speaks to you.


The Breath of the Sea

The Breath of the Sea

is salt and live and blue
and flesh and fish and sand
and shell and gentle swell
and cool breeze and river-flow
of current and darkness and coral


Images of a Father's Love

Images of a Father's Love


My Papa's Waltz we read and watch
and know that Roethke's papa danced
him drunkenly around a room
and yet loves him in a way he
could not say--a way that made him
waltz each day in drunken stupor.


His small hand, even now, sometimes
finds its way to mine, and I'm made
speechless with the moment of it.

I would wrap him in water, roll him up
in clouds both white and grey.




At the wall
wide as water
flatter than
the summer
sky but not
at the mirror-
plane of silver


Brown Study

Brown Study

What at last do you look at?
At pages of a book
spread open before
you, looked at not
read, the plowed field
look of black type
running on rows of white
ready to mean at any
time you would give it




Browsing through a stack
of journals:
a lump of dry poison
would be more palatable
than another syllable
of what I wrote
then and thought wonderful
and profound
but I could receive
no instruction
and still cannot.



Raise then the lamp
that does not shine
and show the world
what this dark light
does not do,
and what it does;
You can see by
it what you do
not see




In the stark Irish sea
a great brown cracked
and crannied rock
cradles the near-shore waves
in the bowl of its


Curiously Intimate

Curiously Intimate

On the conference call
you see the attendees
in their headsets
in their cubes
looking at the screen

And you hear one voice speaking
and the occasional
exhalation, the rumble
of life's passage
from one whose mic
is too close

You feel for a moment
awkward, unwilling to say
that the rumble makes the conversation
hard to hear

Because you are so caught up
in the intimacy, the closeness
of breathing


Monday, August 23, 2010

Cheated by Death

Cheated by Death

When the chest pain comes
in the dark of the morning
you greet it with a sigh
that says, "At last."

A momentary hope as you
wait for it to blossom
from a simple ache into
the throb the will engulf all.

And when it dies away you lay
there trembling, knowing
that all there is is to
rise and face another day.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Ukiyo-e V--The Trip to Lover's Key

Another beach I have not seen on a thread-thin barrier island that connects Bonita Beach to Fort Myers and Sanibel.

Ukiyo-e VI--The God-Shaped Hole

I got back to filling the God-shaped hole today. I can't tell you what a nuisance it has been, what with people and things falling in all the time. Last week two vintage Ferraris, the week before my mother and my aunt. And the hole keeps growing.

When I first found it, a smoldering pit in the middle of my best field, I called the fire department and paid to have sea-water helicoptered in to fill it. Thought perhaps I could make a pond of it. But the water just kept on running and the hole got no fuller and no cooler.

So then I realized that I needed to line it. Started with quikcrete and figured I cover it with gunite smooth it out and line it with white Carrera marble, from that quarry that gave us David and Moses. It's a good thing I'm a man of means because six million cubic yards of quikcrete later and still no sign of an end.

If I couldn't fill it up, perhaps I could cover it over. That's what we're trying today. Three different ways. I figured I could span it with chicken wire and then plaster it over. When that's done, we'll drape it with crêpe de chîne and silk streamers--make it at kind of neo-Cristo pavilion type experience. 

So we'll see. One way or the other, we'll find a way to fill it. With rocks and sand, with books and paper, with long dark alcoholic nights, with prada shoes and Givenchy and Chanel, with polo clubs and yachts, with coq au vin and curry poulet vindaloo with a Dom Perignon '65, with Picasso and Matisse and Gaugin and Brancusi. Cover it up, fill it in, one way or another we'll close that gap and I'll feel whole again, my perfect field restored.


Ukiyo-e IV--Clouds

The eye of Horus, huge and blank and blue stares down at me from between two banks of cloud-blanched sky. The eye of the son of the sun reminds me just in time that providence rewards the wise eye and I tap on my brakes to avoid the bumper of the car driving free-form in planck-space.

Waiting now in the slow-crawl-stop of the turn lane. Trees, wires, telephone poles, ibis-necked street lamps transform the eye from merely blank to baleful or beautiful. I make my turn.
Have you ever stood connected to the sky watching the convecting clouds? The boundless yearning upward surge, the penetration of deepest blue by rising white. The cloud cap expands and then subsides, vanishing entirely into the growing bank.

You expected the water to be blue, but nothing had prepared you for this shade. You had expected sapphire but had no idea that the sun off the sand in the shallows yields turquoise. In fact, when you first see it it is so gorgeous you're certain that only terrible chemical pollution could have resulted in such a color.


not so much lack 
of permission
but weight of atmosphere
into unwilling
lungs what they would
unwilling air
draws us from this
to the next, building
bridges between the
where time would stop
or pivot and move
pushed ahead now
by a whisper
softer than sound


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Think Dr. Mudd


Fort Jefferson

The world changed 
when a white rock shifted
to became a snail's  turbaned 
shell, harsh in sunlight 
against red brick.


Fort Jefferson
The world changed that day when the white rock shifted
and became the small shell of a turbaned
snail, harsh in sunlight against the red brick.

I shifted a number of things in this poem to bring the sounds more into conformance with the flow I was hearing and to bring shell and harsh together.  Additionally, as with any poetry, it is trimmed now to a near-minimum, though there may be more to shape and shift.  I'm still not satisfied, but it is a much clearer picture of the event and the day. It's flow is now more reminiscent of both Japanese and Chinese progenitors and some of the American/English Imagist school.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Prophets I


You were sent to a city of ashes
a people more dead than alive.
I said, "You show them my mercy."
You said, "Lord, will I survive?"
You ran from my mission of mercy,
I sent you a storm and a fish,
three days and three nights in darkness,
before you said, "Lord, as you wish."
Nineveh, city of ashes,
you wandered from east to the west,
in three days journey across it,
you spoke and fulfilled my behest.
Nineveh heard your preaching,
he summoned his councilors near,
he said, "All people in sackcloth,
that His anger visit not here."
At repentence my anger abated,
I spared the city its doom,
but you saw my mercy as weakness,
and now you sit here in gloom.
A bean tree for shade I gave you,
The bean tree I withered as well,
Now you sit here in anger,
saying, "Lord just send me to hell."
My mercy, dear prophet, is boundless,
would you think I'd leave them to fall?
Should I not pity that city
where people know nothing at all?


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Meander Plain

Meander Plain

Long ago, this chuckling water flowed
straight over the plain, seeking its level
in the sea. It danced and played in its banks,
it jumped and tumbled in its rough channel.
So it should have flowed, straight and true, through time
but rough water holds its own mind, obeys
its own rules. And so the curling tumbles
shocked the rock and mudsteeped banks into new,
unknown shapes. And so the straight line flow plowed
its way into channels shaped by wayward
yearnings and wanderings, still swift and cool
running yet headlong, following now not
just its own way, but the way it had shaped.

No longer the true straight path that runs so
swiftly to its close, now bending, winding
turning in churning pools that roil nowhere,
pools that spin and turn and cut and shape, change
to no end but that the water might move
and keep moving, now more slowly than it
had ever done. Still the wayward currents
shape and change the bank and channel, bending
ever more from the straight and true start. Does
water have thoughts? Regrets? Does water know
its past? Do the fingerling currents feel
for the grip that they knew in the straight true
days? If so, to what end? The bank has changed--
the water runs quietly, quickly moving
even more slowly. But the old power
is there, strong even in the slowness, now
renewed by a surge of spring, a summer
thunderstorm jolt. It cuts away, changes
its own changes endlessly. At the end
it travels ten times its length to arrive,
to merge with the ocean.
                                          Consider this
as a stream--the frustration of being there,
seeing the sea-glint, the sun-spot that marks
the rampant waves, surging forward to find
your course suddenly changed. You cannot get
there from here and the sad thing is you made
this place yourself. Longing for reunion
with its ocean birthplace, the stream winds in banks
of its own making. The water here might
never reach the great salt, it might simply
vanish, drawn into oblivion, skyward
reaching only to condense, a cloud or
less, drops falling even further away.

But one spring the silver winter sun-warmed
thaws into a flood and strikes downstream--rage
in water--passion throwing banks aside.
The graceful surge, the fresh tide, forces banks
to bend, rock to sway and break, and what was
an age of swerving away and back, now
becomes a breakneck flash, a raging white
that plunges to its end, its shape reformed
by sun and snow and surge and sea-longing.
The straightaway leaves stranded crescent lakes
carved scars that pock the land surface beside
the silverstream that freed from itself, flows
swiftly jumping joyful to join the sea--
the birthplace and the end. Where it began
where now it slows and mingles with the salt
and never loses shimmer, glint, and light.


An Eponymous Poem

Recollected in Tranquility

In the mix and muddle of events
it's often hard to see and say what
seems to be the truth; instead we stand
aghast and gaping at what we cannot
change. We seek inside asylum,
a solace, a sweet peace
to spread like a thick blanket
that offers no warmth, but a harsh
security--a shell against the shocks
that strike at who we are.




Did you say yes?
I wasn't listening
or perhaps I didn't hear.
And did I even want
a yes? What was the
question that caught us up
in so much thought--
fever-frothed discussion--
it must have meant
something when I asked.
And now where are we?
What was said?
Is everything new again?


Monday, August 16, 2010

A Mini Sequence

This was part of the previous post, but deserves its own place and presentation.

You would cry if you
could hear it--the heart breaking
for what love can't do.

Around him a fence--
I would build it if I could--
My hands are useless


Adventures in Asia

On Reading Chinese Poetry

In translation the words
are the same. The moon
shines the same on Brooklyn
and Xi'an, and boats at night
on lakes are much the same.

But the spirit of the Chinese moon
is world away from New York.
The sound of boats on water
changes when it is played against
Chinese and southern moon.


Ah, again quiet
my ears ring with the hollow
memory of sound

In my mind the age
is always ten years ago--
but never enough

Do you know what to
say sixty seconds before?
Try listening.

What would God say if
He were watching this sunset?
--I've outdone myself.

What do you say to
skin a half century old
and yet still supple?

What spring is this: brown
bugs breed and fill the house, warm
weather waits, unlit?

He stretches gray and
white against a blue blanket,
mere seeming to rest.

Where have paths of thought
left their uneasy traces?
Such a barren place.

The words have gone far
away--not like the winter
birds that soon return.

The landscape is white,
the color of death and sin--
bleached and bone dead

What would I write if
I could write anything? The
smooth pebble firmness. . .


Perhaps that is a haiku overload and it needs to be parsed and allied with imagery for it to have the proper effect.

Or not.

Short Poem Not About Buildings but Food


Fickle food--
its flavors fade
and all that's left
is what weighs
me down.


I recall a story about a famous poet or short story writer (was it Oscar Wilde) who, after working all morning on his most recent work emerged triumphantly at lunch to announce that the morning had been fruitful, he had taken a comma out.  After luncheon he returned to five hours of afternoon work.  He emerged, again triumphantly to announce that he had replaced the comma withdrawn at noon.

This poem is something like that--the triumph of a day of wrestling with it--the insertion of a punctuation mark.

Friday, August 13, 2010

After Robert Frost

This one needs work, but I'm going to post it raw and work on it here.  Maybe people will come and watch the poet through the glass window--whaddayathink?  No, I didn't really think so either.

The Road Well Rutted

We travel as we travel; at the end
we are surprised to arrive at a place
we never thought to visit; and then, when
we glance at the map, we see empty space--
Terra incognita, here be monsters.
The road we have worn, worn to uselessness,
has guided us here, and made us wonder
why we chose, a barren path to endless
waste. Truth is, we don't see so well down here
beneath the level of the land. Once we
had bearings, could see the landmarks, over there
the pine barrens that guard the dunes and sea,
over here the road to the city, winding
strange and imperfect through the lonely miles.
But we walk the same old ground, now tramping
down the earth, back and forth, restless now while
we still can see, and becoming at home
as we obscure our vision. Sightless we
see what we always wanted to see, tombs
become palaces, walls-windows, we see
what we dreamed only dimmer, until all
light goes out. The well-rutted road now falls
away, and we are left with appalling
signs of how foolish we have been--how small.


After HP Lovecraft

Yes, believe it or not, an idea from one of his stories--"In the Walls of Eryx"

A Condo in Eryx

Glass tunnel in a wide
open field, perfectly
clear so I cannot see
the prison maze that binds
me to my choices. I
make these walls, no one can
see me here, no one wants
to. In time I could die
here, out in the open
unseen, unmourned, unknown,
unneeded, and alone;
but until then, I build,
making walls with the fierce
determination shown
by colonies of ants--
labyrinthine, involute,
spiraling, in and out
but always ending in
hollow chambers, the lair
of the Queen, the meaning
of the colony. And
so, lacking a queen, this
endless building tends to
end--bloated nothingness.



A Litany of Miracles

Look at the hand
that holds the pen or floats over keyboard
as though not attached to your humanity.
Ghost pale in glowing light, flex it, fingers
move in ways at once simple, beautiful,
light, impossible. Who would have thought such a
stretch was mere bone in flesh and not the pure
motion of the divine? 
                                     What better pointer 
to what is beyond motion? No sign you can see 
shows at the surface of skin, and yet it moves
the hand, powered by a stream of human
current, the shocks and jolts of nerve
impulses across a chemical sea--
a distance so vast and so perfectly
spaced that everything moves together, so
a jazz-hand dancer, then a fist, then what?
Whatever the hand has been trained to do,
whenever it has been shown to move--all
motion not its own.


Reflections on History

Boston Cobblestones

The narrow way between
the Oyster House and the Bell-in-Hand
is paved with cobbles that knew
and shaped the first streets here.
I step on the same stones that bore
the weight of independence; that
carried those who planned
to tan the sea with British tea.
And in the misty too-cool
evening it is easy to see that
they walk here still--that what we are
and what we have was given to us
from the hands of ghosts
who linger here to remind us
of the meaning that is beyond us.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cross Posting an Impromptu Translation

Gilbert Bécaud

Comme un souffle fragile
Ta Parole se donne
Comme un vase d'argile
Ton amour nous façonne.

Ta Parole est murmure
Comme un secret d'amour
Ta Parole est blessure
Qui nous ouvre le jour

Ta Parole est naissance
Comme on sort de prison
Ta Parole est semence
Qui promet la moisson.

Ta Parole est partage
Comme on coupe du pain
Ta Parole est passage
Qui nous dit un chemin.

As a Fragile Breath

As a fragile breath
Your word is given
As a clay vase
Your love shapes us.

Your word is a murmur
Like love's secret
Your word is a wound
That opens our day.

Your word is birth
As when one leaves prison
Your word is the seed
That promises the harvest.

Your word is sharing
as cutting the bread
You word is a movement
that shows us a road.

Looking to see if the title of the previous had been taken, I stumbled across this poem and for a moment my breath was taken away.  I know nothing of the poet, and I realize that my own translation is too literal and too close to the original--too crude.  But I hope it gives a little sense of the beauty that captured me as I stumbled through my morning routine.

Beneath even draft

Call it raw--as close to live as you get--

Comme un souffle

Comme un souffle, my dreams
one long exhalation that
momentarily empties me
and fills me with the vastness
of relief and for a moment hope
until the next breath.

And my hopes, comme un souffle,
last a moment, the time it takes
to think them and pass away
and so I dare not hope for me
and hesitate on the threshold of hope
for another whom I love.

Comme un souffle, la vie,
le jour, et puis? As fragile
as the French from which flows
the thought, we find at the end
we have not lived but only
comme un souffle, breathed and been.