Archive for ‘Doug’

September 20, 2020


by HemmingPlay

I knew a guy.
Cancer survivor,
but worn down by it
to the lacy bone.
Thin, with a dry look.
Still, a light shone through
his parchment skin
like a flame through a mica shade,
like some kind of organic fire.
The brush with death left a calling card.
“I’ll be back” it said.
“You won’t know when.”

He knew what it meant to nearly end.
It was an epiphany, of sorts.

But there was this glow, as though
he had permission to use
whatever time was left.

As serious as a heart attack,
he was—
Afraid of being forgotten,
Of not being worth remembering–
but determined to try something.

It doesn’t have to be cancer.
Could be a stroke, the kind of thing,
you try to explain, but the lucky civilians
can’t understand:
“I could hear the whine of the bullet, the ugly sound of
something ruthless hunting, meaning to kill.”

You only know this
if you’ve heard the whine.
But it misses, now and then.
You realize you’ve got bonus time,
but fear being forgotten;
you’ve wasted so much time.
but that fire …
You mean to slap untruths
in the time granted.
Make some noise.
Burn some rubber.
Make someone cry,

Make someone happy.
Be honest.
Be true.
Repent wasting
seconds of precious time.
You know not the hour or the day.

It’s an epiphany, of sorts, hearing death whizzz by.
It lights a manic fire.
But you live sweeter, cleaner,
in its holy light.

September 18, 2020

Touching Glass in a Crowd

by HemmingPlay

The Earth burns and seas
Simmer, choke, seethe,
Smashing warnings
Against the complacent,
Sticky-tacky vanities
of rich and poor alike
With implacable indifference,
Erasing intrusions in wilderness
With mountainous, hideous
Flames and heat and smoke.
Hungry cougars flee into a plastic
Melting suburbia ill-suited to
A new reality.

But we still misread the moment.

As usual.

Like Pharaoh,
One plague after another

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August 30, 2020

A Fierce String

by HemmingPlay

Minute by minute
year by year
the tangled string
of seconds
girdled by
fear of loss
joy, brief,
hunger, sated,
eternally to
drive us
out again.

August 30, 2020

I Am The Wind, I Must Move

by HemmingPlay


It was always thus:
The Father sun rises in the sky, the days lengthen, energy stirs the world.

I am born. And once born, I move.
I must move.

My siblings and I sweep through bare branches,
Laughing, whispering high and low through village
And city and farm and water,
We race and set power lines thrumming, push dead things
Against fence rows,
We sing along the high ridges and lift eagles
Above the forests, looking through their
Sharp eyes at the vista spread wide beneath.

I swirl in from Cuba, over the French Quarter and pick up
The mystique of fresh biegnets, snippets of jazz, the
Quiet sounds of suffering and joy,

I am Poltergust, mischievous imp of the air,
Slipping under spring dresses and flipping them upward,
Exposing long legs, hearing the squeals,
Snatching laughter, mussing girls’ hair, sprinting away…

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August 24, 2020


by HemmingPlay
raven against the moon

I once thought I had become so used to sorrow that I
might never speak again.

I purged myself to a mute, perfect blackness,
waiting just to give one last unhuman cry and fly away,

Anything to escape, 
to  head for the far mountains and the headwaters,

To live the life of a scavenger and beggar, a medieval vagabond,
always apart, feeding on the lives and hidden parts around me.

But letting go wasn’t an end,
merely the funeral for the lost, the old and gone, a 

Mere rolling back of the stone for
what comes next: No life without death. 

The raven, feeling the updrafts, sought high air,
above the smoke of chimneys, beyond memory.

Intrigued by shiny things, he descends, in time,
awkward and clownish on the ground.

Charmed by unconscious kindness, he can tell at a distance 
the humility that comes  from a thousand small griefs;

And trusts a bit more. Drawn by the shrewdness and subtlety
of the neglected and the oppressed, who, like him, see

The powerful ones in their brutal clarity and adapt, 
who to survive, must cultivate the grace of forgiveness, and cleverness.

August 20, 2020

A Few Lines

by HemmingPlay

A good world—
dew drops fall
by ones, by twos.”
Japanese poet Isa 1762-1826

Three lines tell all.
Mountains, unchanged, ignore
Temporary things, let
The mist pass without notice.

One tardy fog-cloud
Rushes up the valley,
Chased by the sun.
An old man stalks by
On his daily trudge,
Face set against the inevitable,
Looks neither left, nor right.
Alone now, girls used to play
With his youthful body,
Craving the hardness
For their own purposes.

Crows comment
Cynically on yet another
dangerous fool.

Nearby, in that other world,
The fog still hugs the cold waves
Beneath which creatures
can only wait,
Wishing we were gone.

“In this world,
we walk on the roof of Hell,
gazing at flowers.”

August 18, 2020

To Forgive the World

by HemmingPlay

But I was up before dawn
When the tender last whisps of
The time of dreams slides west,
a 5 billion-year-old metronome.
The same, yet never the same. 
A bird —a finch, I think— goes about
Her day, at peace, hunting, exploring,
Hopping from branch to branch
With an occasional single pure note
To let her mate know she still is.

The Earth breathes in and out,
A promise, a new day.
The mountains — the same, yet not—
Please me each time
The sun touches them again.
The world lives,
And so do I.
This is enough.

August 16, 2020

Long Walk

by HemmingPlay

I won’t have power or fame.
I won’t save the world.
When I’m gone, my voice
Will be the first thing people forget,
As I did my father’s.
It’s funny what you miss.

As the third child,
I was always playing catch-up,
The gap never closed, but
I forgave this great injustice.
I’m not ashamed of my defeat.
It was foretold;
It doesn’t matter.

Endurance comes only
From enduring
“Even asleep we partake in the world.”
I wave at the ancestor,
2,000 generations back,
Trudging north up the Nile from
deeper Africa.
We made it, old man.
We made it.

August 12, 2020

Married to the Muse

by HemmingPlay

Photo by Richard Calmes

We know dark places,
the things we daren’t see. 
We learn, some of us, that
running away
is pointless,
that they are
mere ghosts and shadows and
lost fragments of us, 
longing to be seen.
My back is ribboned by invisible scars
from invisible claws, from my
desperate, abandoned children.

Still, I am always
looking for the
thing just out of reach.
I crave love, but after a life
of it, I choose to be slightly apart. 
I love women, and want them
To know how beautiful
they are. I love
them that way, true,
but I can’t give
myself to them,
I can’t give away part of me.
Not anymore.
I can love, but not be owned.
I don’t have the right.
I am now husband to the Muse,
and she is always calling
me to a dance of mystery
under a full moon,
on the edge of knowing,
to glimpse what’s over the cliff.
She offers me her skin to write on
and mocks my hesitation.
She’s a curse, a mystery, 
And a blessing, too long denied.

I learned, after long years of running,
trying to be someone
only partially living in truth. 
I learned. 
It took a cataclysm. 
Something survived all that,
some tiny golden thread of self,
though completion eludes me still.
I reclaim my birthright
and head homeward, to my nature,
still able to get lost in a high blue sky. 

A 20-year-old can stroll through
falling maple leaves— 
awestruck at the aching violet-blue
of a Western sky
almost to the
edge of space;
watch eagles
ride the wind above the rocky shore—
live in the promise of a great, great life,
in the long day of
glorious summer
that feels as if it
will never end.

August 7, 2020


by HemmingPlay


I crave the right words.
“They’ll solve any problem”.
Name it. Shame it. Smoke it out. 
Smite it without sentiment. 
I must believe. 
Poetic conceit. OCD
in a river of confusions. 
Order in chaos, 
in the mystery of my 
own despairs, questions, hopes,
doubts. Secrets. 

So… each day I
hunt the elusive truffle,
the best way
to capture a tiny
hidden reward.
I’m not “sad”. Not depressed, really.
I carry stubborn sorrows.
and that comes as
a shock. But…

July 25, 2020


by HemmingPlay


Do dolphins envy our ability to simply breathe,
to take air in and out without thinking,
without staying close to the surface?

Swimming with languid power,
graceful and fluid and joyful,
do they ever begrudge the need
every so often, to slip upward and break through
the air/sea boundary, exhale and take another breath
over and over—always scanning,
but with alert minds, aware of everything—
for an entire lifetime?

Do dolphins envy our unintentional breathing?
Or is envy just one of our monkey traits?
Something a few million years of oceans
have imposed on them,
to be able to race the sailboats,
surf the wakes of ocean liners
and wreak havoc on the silvery schools of
panicked herring.
Then, sated, playful,
swift when necessary, comes that sheer joy to
glide like arrows through a blue eternity, like gods,
Thinking, always, of the air
And those brief glimpses of burning fire,
and stars and thoughtless breathing.

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June 27, 2020

This Glorious Passage

by HemmingPlay

Hummingbird hovering at red trumpet vine blossom

Photo by Roger Levien

My past is as implausible as
the tale of a frail
butterfly that flies from Mexico to Canada.
Why? How? To what purpose?

Here and now, I’m between
million-year-old mountains
and the damp, salty shores of
one of an ocean’s quiet, protected bays—
where the fish and the plants and the chemistry,
change day by day, but where the whole is eternal,
where a thousand centuries is as a day.

An ocean and mountains
show us who we really are,
Mere children pretending to be
some heroic captain,
braced on a stormy quarter deck
defying the gale,
the rocks too close.
But the ocean knows it
has swallowed many like us before,
and will take many more.

read more »

June 24, 2020

In the 11th Year of the War

by HemmingPlay

Ruin of the Oracle at Delphi

The Oracle of Delphi didn’t predict it’s own ruin.

And the 11th spring of the war has stumbled into summer.
The rains fall as normal. The birds seem oblivious to us.
And look! There goes a pretty young woman
with sandals and legs and curly hair.
I want to call out, say hey,
my heart, I have the wine and cheese,
let’s remind ourselves how precious
is this brief life.
But I don’t.

Disease and insanity stalk the streets.
I thought my old age would be different.
I thought my people were better than they are.
The line between good and evil runs
Through the center of the human heart.

Sometimes it twists in one direction,
sometimes the other. The same person
is capable of great evil and great good,
but who would cut their own heart in half
to root out the evil?

read more »

June 15, 2020

Why I Write

by HemmingPlay

A writer of modest talent can only hope one day to put together a word or two—on a rare week, a phrase—that’s worth keeping. This is not the conceit of petty perfectionism. This is just the reality of having a mediocre vision that cannot totally grasp what floats in and out of view. It’s the curse of having an mind’s eye that comes close enough to see the possibilities dimly, but does not quite have that extra something that would make it all clear. The curse of the ‘if-only’. The torture of the dreamer who is granted a taste of a truth in the night but loses it upon wakening. The humility of Moses on the border of the promised land who may not cross over, no matter the sacrifice. And virtue is no guarantee. The world often rewards those of questionable credentials.

It’s a frustration that has to be managed—The gap between what might be glimpsed, a brief impression of something sublime and the skill that, were it a painting, only manages stick figure drawings.

So the experience is one of enduring the sense of of constant failure —even accepting it as the price— to press the cheek up against the foggy glass that keeps one just beyond the truth…. Throwing the lariat a thousand times at a stallion that prances just out of reach, hoping that one more throw will tame the beast and bring him nearer, to feel the heat and the true wild life of him. Yet still, as seems to be the way of the Plan, It is a way to learn humility, and patience and forgiveness. Nothing need be wasted, and the great wheel grinds always, and grinds exceedingly small.

That’s the job. Putting up with failure long enough to feel the hot breath of something beautiful.  It is insanity. But oh, so seductive.  

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June 1, 2020

To the Daughter I Never Had

by HemmingPlay

I don’t mean to sound unkind, and I am far, far from perfect, as a father or man. But I have spent some time in your future, and hope to help you avoid some of what just ordinary life, and poor judgement and the next 20 years of wear and tear might do to you, as it has to too many of your older sisters.

For now, you revel in the intoxicating power your young beauty has to excite desire. It just landed in your lap —no pun intended— and by God, you’ll use it. And, it’s fun for a while. (You’re smart too, but that will last longer.)

Older women like to mock men’s appreciation for younger women. “You look ridiculous–” they’ll say “–panting after her like that. “Don’t you realize how ridiculous you are?”

Yes, we feel ridiculous a lot,  especially when we’re reminded of it—and often when we walk by a mirror, so we don’t need more reminders. Do they, do you suppose?

But we realize it comes from losing the illusion of immortality, of hurt feelings, and fear of being left behind; from the cosmic unfairness of time slipping away, and also a realistic understanding about how men are suckers for a good visual. You feel you can’t win. Ever. Some days Sisyphus wins, some days the rock wins.

Actually, the rock always wins. It’s the same for us.

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May 7, 2020

The River

by HemmingPlay

The river is.
It is in the secret places of the
mountains and marshes,
in the droplets of rain falling
alone and silent
from the tips of pine needles,
gathering in the rocks,
All one.

The river is at its source
and at its mouth,
the same river.
At the waterfalls, the springs,
under the bridges,
the ferry boats,
in the rapids and the
quiet pools.
In the ocean
all at once,
only in the present—
without time,
without past,
without future,

May 6, 2020

Boomer’s Elegy

by HemmingPlay

Ooops. Might have screwed something up…

We said love would save the world
We faithfully sorted colors of glass and three kinds of plastic
We took reusable bags to the grocery
We turned the water off while brushing
We thought everyone would do the right thing.
We thought our parents were wrong about everything;
We were only partially right. 
We thought rich people were smart and the smart would get rich
We were almost always wrong, except for the evil smart ones. 
We thought there were heroes (and some of us still do)
We thought we’d beaten the Nazis once and for all, ’cause or our dads did it.
We thought our dads were wrong about a lot of other things.
We were wrong about that, too. 
We thought feelings were more important than facts.
We thought wishes would turn into dishes,
We thought wishes would let beggars ride.
We thought things would only get better.
We thought magical thinking was thinking.
We thought swords could be beaten into plowshares  
We thought FDR saved our grandparents, and loved him for that.
We thought Ike was great, but too old for our future.
We thought JFK was cool, and that the other stuff wasn’t important
We thought Johnson did some good things, but was a hick
We thought tricky Dick was bad then, then found out he was worse
We thought he was the worst we’d see; we were wrong.

We are nearing the end, and can’t believe the ride is almost over. 
We can’t believe David Crosby has three fatal diseases. 
We can’t believe Joni is old and decrepit. 
We thought… oh, who cares what we thought. 
We were right about some things, wrong about most, 
We thought we could change things, and maybe we did, 
We thought and we thought and we experimented and
We come to the end, chastened but unbowed. 
We thought we were doing the right thing. 
We don’t get to write the history, dammit. 


April 21, 2020


by HemmingPlay

What would reason and sobriety be without drunkenness?
What would desire be without Death looking over its shoulder?
What would love be without the possibility of its loss?
What is the point of promises if nothing really matters?
What would attractions between man and woman be
     without the eternal antagonisms of the sexes?

Life happens in the space

No exhale without
an inhale,
no breath both in
and out.
Man. Woman,
Yet none can be both
wife and husband.
A life of the senses.
A life of the mind.
Always one pays for the other,
Each necessary, precious.

Breathe in…

April 21, 2020


by HemmingPlay

I wander toward
an unknown destination.
Pretending a purpose.
As do you.

Free (for a change).
Hungry to learn your ways, how you touch,
why you sigh, where
your shy ecstasy waits.

The sunrise, the sunset.
The passing of the seasons.
New life in the spring.
A baby’s smell.

Each moment burns bright,
then is gone. Another comes.
God is there.

Death has been
my companion,
making life sweeter. Happiness?
Never permanent.


April 8, 2020


by HemmingPlay


Memory is the not-quite-living museum of our lives, and dusty.
You’re not sentenced to remain what you already are.
You may change, grow and split the hardened
carapace of a self that no longer fits,
and like the seven-year locust,
climb high into a tree and
claim your rebirth.
But first comes
mere courage
and risk.


March 23, 2020


by HemmingPlay

What an odd boy, they used to say of me.
They’re still saying it.
But I’m a writer, my dear, and not right in the head.
That’s all it is. But I do know how to
take my time and listen,
sitting under the willow tree in the spring as the birds
bring me happy messages from God.
I will take my time with other important things, too,
so lay your curves of water here beside me.

If this pleases you,
You may pay me back with your
gift of second sight,
and tell me where my true nature hides,
where my pain
scuttles unhealed,
my illusions fester.

I will love you all the more for it.
These are gifts we give, freely
and they bind us in profound ways
because they reveal.

read more »

March 20, 2020

Love in the Time of Corona

by HemmingPlay

I’ve grown tired of disappointing women.
And of being disappointed in them.
I know that’s too broad a conclusion
from a very small sample.
Don’t care. I need a break,
and Corvid-19 is a convenient excuse.

I’m hiding out from another virus
of my own making,
sheltering in place and
eating frozen vegetables.
Aware this might become permanent.

I had a long life with a woman who died,
a life better than most, I think,
not as good as some.
But still, what do I have to complain about?

Younger people have their difficulties,
stemming mostly from being naively stupid,
but older men and women bring
a lot of experienced stupidity to the bed, too.
(If it ever gets that far.)

read more »

March 16, 2020


by HemmingPlay

Feel your belly button,
where you were attached to
your mother. But
try not to think about
about the night you were conceived.
Whether it was a result of
a hand up a skirt, urgent kisses
and fevered promises
and premature explanations
on your mother’s couch.
(After consultations with
your inner editor,
let’s instead say it was
after a long talk over wine,
Chopin on the stereo,
tender kisses and happy plans.)

What does it matter now? You’re here.
Don’t screw up.
That’s what it comes down to.

Or wind your watch forward
(humor me, you digital ones)
a thousand years.
Was there ever a coffin
built to last the whole trip?
One that was worth the price?
We could ask Tutenkamen, I suppose,
(Who was bad at office politics
and is still dead.)

read more »

March 12, 2020

Old and Young

by HemmingPlay

A difference between

the young and the old….

Most of the people the young loved

are still around.

March 11, 2020


by HemmingPlay

I met a widow once,
wrapped in loss.
She said
she could not see a better
day coming.

I looked over my shoulder,
along the long road,  
and gave her my eyes.

March 11, 2020

A Modern Man

by HemmingPlay

I walk too often in the echoes of a cold canyon,
sometimes accompanied by my wife,
dead now barely two years. She’s silent, amused,
faintly attached to this world and soon to go again,
impatient with me for hanging onto melancholic vapors
when it’s obvious–to her, anyway–that I just haven’t wised up yet.

But I’m a so-called modern man, allergic to undue connections,
Even when a dream comes and I
am lurched through a deeper portal and part a
gauzy barrier to walk with skeptical ghosts.
All I know when I wake is this bag of meat and its
pedestrian priorities.

She knew. She told me to find someone.
Knew I would only trust the secrets, the warmth and dampness,
the round softnesses I could hold,
with nipples like rosebuds and mysterious eyes;
knew that all man’s scripture could be held on a 3-by-5 card,
if he weren’t so stubbornly drunk on himself.

March 2, 2020


by HemmingPlay

Sooner or later
each of us asks
did I have a purpose?
What was I born to?

I had such a moment this morning.
Each of my life’s 2. 22 billion seconds
had to have gone exactly as it did
to bring me to this,

to experience the flock of warblers
that burst out of the sky
into the middle of my morning, singing
of their wild and precious lives–

up from Mexico, or Central America,
bonded in struggle from all those days aloft,
looking for food,
for grass and moss for a nest.

The things prayers are made of,
for this moment.


March 1, 2020

Mountain Morning

by HemmingPlay

The mountains, lustrous at dawn.
Below, here in the valley,
the droplets of last night’s rain
shimmer on blades and twigs, their
molecules respond to the sun
like a woman rising to
meet a beloved’s touch.

Something is going on up there
on the deep-packed slope.
A whirling figure of white, of mist,
there, yet almost not;
A snow giant,
like a tranced dervish, twirls in
the morning’s new energies—
it whirls violently,
fingerless, wispy hands thrust
high into the cold blue,
200 feet tall, or more.
A mile, maybe. It’s hard
to tell from here, as it’s
insubstantial. Massive.

read more »