Coming to Terms

My father’s constant commandment
focused on my hair, which he
had confused with some household pet.
Train the damn thing, if you keep
it combed, it will learn to stay
in place
. I listened to this heartfelt
yet blindly given advice again and again.

For close to two decades I tried to keep
his law, Keep thine hair combed,
so it may learn to fall to the right
But my hair had its own free will;
its sense of order had been replaced
with one of wanderlust. Not even Daniel
could have tamed my wild mane,
nor could Moses, even with both arms
raised, have managed to keep it parted.

With oils, creams, and sprays,
my father anointed my head,
but my bad hair life went on,
until I was old enough to leave home.

Middle age has brought me comfort
with my hair, a chaotic mess
that hints at a more natural order
of things. My hair still falls where it may,
but before I take it on the three day
drive to my father’s house, it mainly falls
on a barber shop floor. Some say
I have learned to use crew cuts
and ball caps to hide the truth,
but I prefer to see these simple acts
as humble sacrifices given in homage
to the most ancient of covenants.

                                          0riginally appeared in the Windhover;
                                                                             reprinted in The Comic Flaw.


Remembering the Body

I think I might convert, become a modern pagan.
The Baltic Perkonis, god of thunder, blesser
of sacred oaks, stern god of my ancestors,
holds a certain ethnic charm. But, I believe
if I stray, I would stagger into the sodden flock
of Bacchus. I could happily attend even biweekly
celebrations of his ecstatic and orgiastic rites.

Imagine a religion founded in the senses.
What sins could its believers commit?
Father, forgive me for I have remained
chaste and sober for too long
. What guilt
could therapists dredge up from the psyches
of humans left alone to enjoy being human?

But when I search my local Yellow Pages
for Bacchean Temples, I am confronted
by an absence and forced to reconsider
my more sober faith. I recall how Christ
kept the party at Cana going. How he
commanded others to remember
his body, his blood—the Eucharistic
sacrifice. But what sacrifice could exist
if neither element was not, in some way, joyous?
Once graced with this glimmer of Christ
freed from Gnostic beliefs, I return
to give thanks for the creed
which states that Christ rose
to reign forever, his body restored—
a bright, blood-filled vessel—molded
in the image of the Creator, as are we.

                                   originally appeared in The Penwood Review;
                                                       reprinted in Remembering the Body.

Good Enough

In every house of my Slavic Aunts 
and Uncles, the same black and white icon
sat tucked in the gilded frames of copies
of the Last Supper or the Sacred Heart of Jesus,
in the corners of fading photos of Padre Pio
or Pope Paul—a mass card with a head shot
of the late Catholic president.  Too young
in ‘63, I grew up with no memory of JFK
but I was certain that he was a modern saint
interred beneath an eternal flame.

But then like George and Christopher,
Saint John F’s beatification got torpedoed
by stories of his libido and conquests.
But I confess that as a teen, I was mightily
impressed by knowing that the FBI
had tapes of Marilyn and Jack on his bad back
making the bed springs sing—a profile
of endurance in deed, and I began
to cherish the tenet that gives each man
the chance to grab for the last rung of purgatory.

                                   originally appeared in MO; reprinted in Remembering the Body


God’s Radio

In Religious Ed a nun once told us that we
should always make the sign of the cross
before and after we prayed. The first gesture
opened God’s wavelength, the second closed it off.

I wonder if the sister knew how many nights
I would lie in bed, panicked, wide awake
unable to remember if I had signaled
Roger and out. Odds or evens—heaven
or hell. I crossed myself without stopping,
hoping to land on evens or at least to interrupt
the feed before my memories of Linda Ursoni’s
blouse and her fully developed fifth grade breasts
bubbled forth from the back of my pubescent mind.

Even as an adult, I find myself playing
the same game, while hoping that someday
I might cross myself one last time and be done
with it, but the deep need to hide always follows–
in the name of the Father, and of the Son…

                                  Originally appeared in The Christian Century;
                                            reprinted in The Comic Flaw and
                                           Druskininlai Poetic: Fall 2010 translated into Lithuanian
                                           by Marius Burokas