Crumbs

I will no longer
eat your crumbs,
no longer nibble in vain
trying to fill my hollow belly
with the sad scraps you toss
from your barren table.

You made me a beggar
then scorned my hunger.
You starved me in your house
then accused me of malnourishment
and denied me alms.

Your lying morsels
tempt me into hoping
a meal is coming
while your kitchen is bare.
They trick me into believing
crumbs are the only food
despite the orchards outside.
They train me into accepting
only crumbs
as my lot.

But crumbs are mean appetizers
masquerading as a feast
that starve more cruelly
than a fast.
Crumbs are rotting remnants
of someone else’s banquet.

Wandering ravenous
in the village dark,
the haze finally revealed
other houses
with open doors.
I met skilled cooks
with stocked pantries
flaming hearths
and generous hands.

Now that I’m fed
I’m safe enough
to stop begging for trash,
free enough
to reject your miserly dregs.

Now that my cells know nourishment
I’ve no need
to haunt your impoverished table
ever
again.

© S. Rinderle, November 2022

For Stephen

If I’d known
I would have halted all minutia
and rushed to your side.
I would have climbed that oak tree
begged you to come down
and eased the noose
you’d tightened.

We’ve never met,
but if I’d known
I would have braved the gauntlet of L.A. traffic
endured the untimely chill
and pierced the early dark
to get to you
in time.

I would have opened my ears
to your floodgates,
loosened the reins of my heart
to ride beside yours,
and stretched my comforting arms
around your volcanic ribs.

I would have said:
Me too, gentle warrior.
I, too, know the reasons
and they are plenty.
I will not shame or dissuade you.
I know the hell that hides
behind the brightest eyes
and whitest smiles.

I would have said:
Sweet firefly
you are a star
that shines brighter
than neon.
If not you, who?

I would have told you:
I cannot promise you hope
for the world is bleak and pale
because we made it so.
I cannot offer you respite
for the toil never ends
for a tender soul.

But I would have promised love
because seedlings sprout
in the wake of a bulldozer’s wrath
even when the tree’s destruction
is certain.
I would have promised love
because your lovers
are already legion.

Brother,
(May I call you Brother?
No reference to your magnificent Blackness
but to our kinship bond
as artists who find god
in cyclones of muscle and bone
waterfalls of arms and knees
and the eternal heartbeat
of sound.)

Brother,
if I’d known
I would have brought you
a thousand candles
to light the dark cavern
of your creeping night
like your spark lit mine.
I would have brought you
all the white roses ever planted
one for every gift you granted
before your wick
extinguished.

Anything
to illuminate this tarnished shadow
that’s lengthened
since you disappeared
down the empty end
of a gun.

If you’d known
that shot fired
into your inconsolable wilderness
would trigger an avalanche of devotion,
would you have stayed?

If you’d known
your heartquake
would cause a tsunami of salty grief,
would you have waited?

Please wait! Please stay.

© S. Rinderle, December 15, 2022
In Memory of Stephen “tWitch” Boss, 1982 – 2022. Rest in Power, dear one.

Epilogue

If we survive
our descendants may look back
on the decline
of our “civilized” empire
and wonder:
Did they know?
When they realized,
were they kind?
Or did they
scratch each other bloody
with dull, infected claws?

After the EMPs and EFTs
and AIs and IEDs
they’ll wonder about us:
Did they try to stop it?
Were there no prophets?
How were their wise ones ignorant
of what our little ones understand:

That no human survives alone
nor thrives when the few
have too much.
That all the children reap the harvest
of all the ancestors’ seeds.
That we need the rivers and trees,
the rain and rotting soil,
the butterflies and sunrise
far more than they need us.
And all life
is finite.

They will stand where they imagine
our graves might lie,
asking,
yet hear only silence.

Still, my ghost will call out
from beneath roots and shoots
and centuries of sediment:
Yes, we did.
But we were too few and too late.

You still have time.
The Earth awaits,
indifferent.

© S. Rinderle, October 2022

100

I don’t ever want
to get old,
to end up grinning toothless
with hollow eyes,
vacant mind,
and bent fingers
waving at strangers.

I don’t want
to end up a wispy husk
a mockery of my former vitality
being spoonfed cake
by youthful greyhairs
in a cold, white room
where metal creaks,
decaying flesh hangs,
and death’s scent hovers.

“Don’t ever let me
get like that”
my mother instructed.
“Slip something into
my chicken soup.
Or better yet, my martini!”

No need.
She dropped dead at 55
in her prime,
head cushioned
en route to the floor
by the quick hands
of her fellow yogis.

She left behind
lists on the kitchen counter
unwrapped gifts in the cupboard
stunned loved ones in the great house
and complete clarity
that she was utterly finished.

She was wise.
She did not linger
with trembling limbs
and the stink of death on her lips,
or the bewildered stare
of an animal that has outlived
its joy and purpose.

Why do we celebrate number of years
as triumph?
Years lived
years wedded
years labored
when all this requires
is stubbornness, luck,
or the ability to bear habitual burdens.
This is nothing to praise
unless such endurance
was also fruitful,
sufficiently joyous
and freely chosen.

To grow old
is to travel backwards,
to experience second childhood
then infancy.
I expect mine
to be no less cruel
than the first
and no less lonely.

They say we die
as we lived.
Let it be so
for me.
Let me flame out!
Let me be
a plunging meteor carrying nothing
but dignity and a few regrets,
instead of long-expired relief
obeying gravity.

I will bear my solitude
as long as my end
can be swift
and unambiguous.

© S. Rinderle, July 2022

(Published on the 23rd anniversary of my mother’s death)

Photo: Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Origin Story

Not all suffering
makes us kinder.
Not all pain
makes us grow.

There are tears
that never mend,
losses that leave us hard and jagged,
injuries that cripple our limbs
or leave permanent holes.

There are some wounds so deep
they break us.
Some evils so great
they overwhelm our good.

There is rage so old and hot
it becomes venom.
There are strings of bad luck so long
they must be personal.
And fears so broad and justified
we never leave home again.

There are some storms
we simply cannot weather.
That makes us neither weak
nor holy.
That which maims
is never pretty.

Do not romanticize my suffering,
or try to convert it to virtue.
Do not glorify my pain, or
encourage me to build shrines
in its honor.
I did not need this experience
to sanctify me,
to make me a better person.

Some tragedies steal
as much as they give.
Trauma makes as many villains
as superheroes.

© S. Rinderle, July 2022

Closure

To love someone
beyond hope
is to sit at a banquet table
turning grey
while the feast goes cold
growing cobwebs
on decaying flesh.

To love someone
beyond redemption
is to keep vigil
waiting at the cave door
turning to stone
covered with barnacles
and seaweed for hair.

I still see the divine light
gleaming behind your eyes
a spark all the violence and neglect
could never douse.
I am in awe of you.

I have invited you in to feast
offered you supper on the doorstep
even lifted the spoon
to your starving mouth.
But I cannot make you eat.

I have sung songs into the dank cave
told you stories of the sunlight
and warm, salty breeze
tossed you fishes and bid you come forth
to live between my doting arms.
But I cannot make you leave.

I will love you
until the fire becomes embers
turns to black coal
and then diamonds.

I will love you until the sun
expands, falters, implodes
and folds in on its dying core.

But I am here to say goodbye
draw a cross on your forehead
kiss your gentle eyelids
say I wish I’d been there
when your voice was high
and full of wonder
to rescue you
before the scars.

I will never stop believing
never relinquish my faith.
But it’s time I abandon this beach
and clear this banquet table.

It’s time to set my yearning heart
on an undamaged
star.

© S. Rinderle, 2/21/22

Sunday morning stroll

Grief is a Sunday morning alley
eerily quiet
in the early light
unclaimed baggies of dog shit
tossed about
overfilled dumpsters
of rejects
empty boxes
piled carelessly
cars parked partially
rocks strewn
from abandoned construction

in the soothing cool.

On Sunday morning
things look so different
from the dark drunken jubilation
of Saturday night.
More can be noticed –
visible dangers
that were missed
sweetness
that was hidden
surprising finds
among the refuse.
The still, quiet aftermath
allows a more balanced assessment
of the chaos.

The mess left by guests
after the party
makes the party no less festive
the guests no less welcome.
Yet we’re better equipped
to notice the toll
on Sunday morning.

Grieving
is like a Sunday morning stroll.
It awakens us
from our previous stupor
sheds a new angle of unfiltered light
on the familiar
introduces us
to new faces
reveals
what is emergent
or was always there
ignored
or once insignificant.

Grief is not a loss of love
but an exchange
of one love for another
the change
still disorienting,
vulnerable and tender.

Like a Sunday morning stroll
for night birds,
grieving shows us
that despite our fatigue
we can rise anyway
we might even find
our favorite fresh delights
more easily.

In fact, we may wonder
despite the difficulty of waking
why
don’t I do this
more often?

© S. Rinderle, September 2021

The Matrix

It’s all wrong
From this box I dwell in alone
to the manicured trees outside
this square in the wall filled with glass
it’s all wrong
from this metal vessel in my hand
filled with water I purchased
with a plastic rectangle,
to the existence of elevators
it’s all wrong

From the orchids blooming indoors
in winter
to this war paint on my face
to this garment restricting my torso
spun from ancient carcasses
it’s all wrong
from conversations over wires
with humans
in distant time zones
I will never meet
to this bread I eat
cultivated afar by strangers
processed in a pristine factory
by exhausted hands
it’s all wrong

From the endless stories
told in smarmy shouts on flat screens
everywhere
to the flat screens themselves
it’s all wrong
from the arrogant machines
that count the movement of the sun
to the impossible demands
that govern time
to the very existence of minutes
it’s all wrong.

This endless panic
and crippling loneliness
are the only things that are right.
They are the sane responses
when everything is wrong
though they claim
our very lives.

Sapiens took a wrong turn
eons ago
but I am trapped here
in a fragile time capsule
silently screaming
into the inky void.
I’ve woken in a pod of liquid
disconnected from the lie
surrounded by sleeping forms
as far as my eye can reach.
I cannot regurgitate
the red pill.

This is not progress
It’s all wrong
This time
there is no happy ending.
Yet I would gladly give my life
to save this shimmering planet
from me.

© S. Rinderle, February 2020

Pinocchio

I hate a liar
because he insults my intelligence
His lie says
I am smarter than you
You’re too stupid
to question a story with major plot holes
too stupid
to seek out easily available facts
and vet a story that makes no sense.
He says
you’re too stupid
to believe your own eyes.

I hate a liar
because he’s controlling
His lie says
my fantasy is more important
than your reality.
He says
I don’t trust you with truth
because that makes us equal
so I will limit your access to all the data.
He says
I will make your choices for you
I will create a reality for us
that is most convenient
for me.

I hate a liar
because he’s disrespectful
His lie says
my needs are more important than yours
my power more precious
than your sovereignty.
He says
I will write and direct our story
your version is irrelevant.

I hate a liar
because he’s a coward

His lie says
I am ruled by fear
I’m afraid of what you’d do
if you knew the truth
I’m afraid of you
I am more marionette than man
I am a lonely, self-hating
king of a castle built on stilts
in quicksand.

A liar says
he’s not a liar
He says
he was scared
says you made him lie
He says
it was just this one time.
He lies.

The liar always has reasons
but none of them
matter more than his abuse
of your confidence.
“Liar” is a label
that doesn’t require 100% compliance
Rapists don’t rape
every person they meet
Murderers don’t murder
every day
most only kill
just that one time.

Fragile wooden boy
that was one time too many
and now I see you.
I may linger
but I’m no longer deceived
I’m awake
and now I know
I’m real.

© S. Rinderle, February 2020

Echo

You remind me of someone
I’ve never met
like a memory
I can’t fully recall
that makes me question
whether it was lived
at all.

He is elusive like mist
that fogs my vision
but avoids my grasp
dissolving with every advancing step.
He is evasive like an echo
that beckons
but fades
as soon as I reach the place
where I heard his voice
calling me.

My phantom groom,
you are compelling and necessary
like gravity
so I wander in search of your soul
pulling the masks off promising strangers
looking for your eyes
shouting:
Yes! This is Him!
I recognize this feeling!
I think:
Finally!
At last
I can put down my walking stick
remove my own mask
and rest
entwined with my beloved
at our wedding hearth.

Yet after a few drinks and dreams
I realize
he is not you
and I cannot make him be.

But that one fleeting taste
so exquisite
the waiting so eternal
I simply cannot return
to death
and hollowness
so I cling
to hopelessness
pretending I can live
without you
pretending I can live
on these sorry scraps.

I seek their embrace
out of loneliness
but I know it’s just an oasis
in the desert of your absence.

My Love,
I have been away from home
far too long.
Please recall me
from exile
for I cannot find you here
and my arms weary
of trying to hold space
around your constant
and inexplicable
void.

© S. Rinderle, Feb 2019 – Jan 2020