The great and thirsty valley will not wait for water; it sucks the sea through air so thick sometimes it hurts. Merced and West Portal, their clouds will shroud the light one more time — the light dims, diffuses, eyes go filmy, ask not for whom the fog piles in, the shut-ins rattle their chains for the camera — and then the lights go out, the crew packs up, those who can go home — even the mightiest head bows, even in the sunrise grow the seeds of night. And day, always the relentless turning, this circle seems endless from here.

Preacher's kid preached a new gospel the smug and the righteous could scarcely hear. Despair, draw near — we fragile ones can scarce afford you, yet you always reappear. He had so little time for you — there is so much to say, to type with pencil clenched in teeth, always more to punch out.

Who writes these obituaries? Why are they always so lame?

We've tried cripples before — it just didn't work.

The clouds and the earth move so differently, the rhythms of the flesh bump and grind against the pulses of the air and that bright quick thing so often over- looked but still persistently there. The past informs the present — what was ground down before history grinds down the horizon, bringing the sky within reach.

for a man who could not use his arms, you had a healthy reach.

The sky stays large, stays far — even when the last of us touches it, for all the hoses and ventilators, the sky is undiminished. Forced to make room for the strange and the lonely, we are shocked to find there is room, all those funny noses don't breathe up all the air: the future is still there. Let us be kind when convenient — we are a benevolent race. These the mercies of the tender velvet threatening night: the gimpy ones, the strangelings are hatched alone, they come into this world separately, but we are not alone: we are the fire the daring yearn to walk above, the flame they are right to fear: some oracle may speak in tongues — the angel speaks in fire, burning a dread message across benighted sky: free our people, they are all our people, let all live and work unshackled by design, I burn this book to shed new light: you must change your mind, we all must change, no going back.

for a man who could not use his arms

the historian tells us how to look behind us: the world so strange in the rear view: the players took their tools and toys and trudged away, leaving the field of play to those who care later, the watchers, the dreamers, to those who write the books. Not so fast — we need a usable past: this is where the world springs from. We cannot wait — people are locked away and dying — if you are not outraged yet you're not paying attention. Write and live the history that unlocks doors. Time to get to work.

you think I'm drowning but this is how I swim

where is your intention, your impudent jokes, your fierce and jagged vulnerability? who will carry your sharp shield forward, who will stand with you in God's receiving line? Thank you for coming. The world is ever beyond me now when compromise is defeat — always! when noble gesture catches fire and burns to light up the dark sunny day when we cook our books with a little bit of lemon — who will remember to shout for the forgotten (they bind our limbs then dare us overcome) for the answers to the questions that must visit terror on the normate (we shall overcome — nobody works harder than an old polio) and then they feel what we feel, we are alone in secret terror no more, our tattered raiment and empty hotel rooms no respite, sleep oh witty fiery messenger, I cannot bear the sight without the fiercest eye. And yet we bear all.

we've tried cripples before

this is how I swim

I would get down on my knees if I still had knees to bend and bear the burden of the shameless untamed world — what is it you want? Will you ever be satisfied? We who remain behind, this tattered multitude, we weathered mysteries of stumps, with bleary eyes we keep watch, let the ones in wheelchairs walk the perimeter, let the pushy ones push, Father Jose says we keep our scars in the next life, do we keep our attendants too — as the light fails the fireflies fire up, someone's generator kicks on, it will run through the night, pray, Father Jose, I swear I will not quit today

nobody will ever hire anyone as crippled as you

Jesus did not have scars, she said — he had wounds — never healing, always open, do we bleed in the hereafter, do we melt away, the wind blows through what's left of us like it blows through the trees on a scatterleaf late summer night after the storm. I tick off the names of the dead — the list goes on and on — and keep watch alone. And not alone. And alone.

the knight unhorsed from his joystick steed, the charger forever unplugged

who can compete with the voices of the past intoning, chanting, shouting the words they taught us, I learned to hear and then praise God to speak the words I have been given — to my deaf acquaintances I give my strangeness: speak with hands and eyes, speak with the terrible angels who know no mercy, who grant no second chances, speak the language into being, sounds disappear as soon as sounded — lightning sharp and clear and terrible as it mocks our batteries, as it shouts past ears to the gut.

nobody as crippled as you

does each loss evoke all loss? can I offer an elegy to the dead, who have no use for it — belief in a just God, in mercy — Sister Kenny is waiting, weakling — all go pale in the light from a strong mind. Your conviction burned — and singed all who got too close — acolytes and apostates, show your scars with pride, we'll fight to the death over suicide, our people must be free, just not too much — when the world is healed, then we'll all be free — and the bodies just keep dropping — it's something bodies do — giving their secrets away they make a little room for you.

and so I give this testament away, and so the faithful will give what faith they have away, the torch is dropped, kicked, and picked up — kiss the battered torch — this messy march demands a million marshals, and so we limp on, for a time, strangers to our families, family to the strange, we limp on, this is how we swim.

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Copyright (c) 2013 Jim Ferris



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