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OH SAPIEN

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February’s long cold rains finally slowed

And the mayflies can barely contain their excitement

The earthworms are still quite cautious

More measured lest they be a robin’s breakfast

I’d gage mine as somewhere in between

As the blade of my shovel cuts into the soil

For the first time this April

 

If you live long enough

Life will continue to reveal itself as it comes into focus

Like your rival when you were seventeen

Who had your spot on the basketball team

He will be gone by cancer

Before his fortieth birthday 

Survived by a heartbroken wife and newborn

 

The coach that called you a quitter

That cursed you as he shattered his clipboard

Will be found with a shotgun in his lap

Still sitting in his wheelchair in South Carolina

Before your sophomore year of college

They caught him the first time after the razor

The one time all conference college basketball star

This time did not miss

 

It would not be fair to be able to go back

The mayflies are excited of course

We were too when we first arrived

Before we were burdened with knowledge

But we have years and years of data now

Stored in these big brains

We first used to make those tools and start those fires

We became good at surviving

But we struggle when we slow down

When we do not move

We were not built for this world we accidentally created

Long days with no purpose

 

The moment you stopped and decided

To occupy a piece of land

You committed yourself to a lifetime of pulling weeds

Around the corn stalks

In your garden

Around your home

Your heart

 

Oh Sapien

While you sat in the field playing with the witch hazel and the hawksbane

Drawing circles in the dirt with the bird’s bones

Tracing your fingers over limestone remains

Chasing foxfire ghosts in the evening at dusk

The world slowly slipped away

It did not lie, you just wanted to be deceived

 

The vultures lined up in the loblolly pines

Like a row of judges in the air at the yard’s edge

Stare down at you reminding you nature has no conscious

Somewhere you hope there be a dead rabbit

There will be no hung jury, only what is final

 

You are not on the last road

But you are just beyond a long winding curve

Can’t quite see what lies ahead

But you can begin make out the lay of the land

 

The dust collecting on the floor

The sunlight always hits at 10am

Underneath your favorite chair

Is just you decomposing 

Year after year

With your morning coffee

Reading words and rubbing your chin

 

You do not know what you are going to do

Anymore than you know what you want for Sunday dinner

And that is your greatest sin

Now so burdened with being

That you forget to live

 

 

~Stephen Simmons

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TURNING THE PAGE

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Not quite Autumn

Yet it feels like a page

Somewhere is beginning to turn

In that smidge of yellow on the leaves of the tall Tulip Poplar

Like a giant celestial thumb print

From the one who writes it all

 

A break in the thick sticky humidness

The first hint of a chill after nightfall

As the crickets begin the outro

To their long green summer’s song

Somewhere a new symphony begins

Warming up the woodwinds

 

A great mourning begins in the soul

Of what has been lost in the past season’s cycle

Some trivial and soon forgotten

Some monumental

Like our ancestors piling stones in a field

We still don’t really know

And that is our greatest source of anxious woe

Still there will be a celebration of the harvest too

 

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ONE DAY YOU WILL KNOW

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The Boy Scouts scale the rickety steps

Of the old Fire Tower on Short Mountain

Reaching into the sky

Rust like blood streaking steel that disappears

 

Terrified of the ascent a new calculation of height

But surely worth the white knuckled view

One day they will know

This was their first true glimpse of God

 

The lessons you thought

Grandpa taught you

Weren’t in the swinging of the hammer

Or striking of a nail’s head true

 

But in the picking of the blackberries

On Pleasant Ridge

Collecting them in his cap turned upside down

Sometimes sweet sometimes tart

 

His cracked and stumbled cleft chin

Moving to say proud things a child should emulate

His dark brown Preacher’s’ eyes otherwise

One day you will know

 

It is the blackberry seed stuck between your teeth

From the afternoon treat

What begins as irritant eventually becomes routine

You have to accept something before you can understand what it means

 

The brother’s drink beer and pass the guitar back and forth

They laugh and tell stories of things you don’t yet understand

It’s always funny to them when you interrupt to ask what something means

They pat you on the head one day you will know

 

You will find their guitar pick in the grass playing the next day

And you will keep it only to lose it and re-find it over and over again

Another piece of plastic among a child’s playthings

But each time it’s discovered you know more what it means

 

The silver dollar placed under your pillow

By your Grandmother playing tooth fairy While you feigned sleep

Was not her real gift to you

One day you will know

 

Mined Copper and Silver formed off past the stars

Now eighty years of fingerprints a smoothed reminder of the days of your spirits dancing

And when you hold her hand still attached to a body full of cancer

You can outnumber those days in your mind with the ones filled with her laughter

 

You will hold the hands and sit on the laps of Great-Grandfathers and Great-Grandmothers

And Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles

You will play in the same ancient dirt with your cousins

Looking amazed at dug up arrowheads and fossils just as dumbfounded as your ancestors

 

It will hover all around you your entire life

It will whisper in your ear and wake you up some nights

And one day when you are ready

You will know

 

Stephen Simmons

 

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ARISEN

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Easter Sunday
Woodbury, Tennessee
The year of our Lord Nineteen Eighty-Something
Sunny, swirling pinkish clouds overcast
Too many patrons for the old Church upon that Hill to contain

Outside service
Just this one time a year
Even Dad’s there, though it’s not a swipe at God
But rather the denomination
A Baptist married to a Church of Christ-coin toss lost

Kids fidget
In new itchy pastel dresses and suits
Especially this one, dragging his feet all the way to town
An Easter basket that morn
Full of chocolate candy and a toy helps the day go down

Sunday dinner
At Granny and Pa’s
Became the highlight as time went on
When I couldn’t be forced
Into itchy new suits, polaroids or a doctrine’s narrow walls

Good Friday
Her Saints presiding o’er
Our troubled years struggling as we make passage
Unlike the Rebel Jesus
Lucky for us no one wrote about our rambunctious years

Grandpa Bryson
And Grandma, from the Elkin’s clan
Reside o’er a feast held for a mob of hungry freckled kids
The Irish, Scots and English
Have all made peace in our blood as we break bread

Ides of March
Are now past us this Spring
Wild rabbits after a long winter ready to play
Tornadoes buzz
But we are arisen, Oh Lord are we arisen

~Stephen Simmons

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SUNDOWNERS

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The days last gasp
Of honey and amber streaked across the sky
Squeezed out of sundown
Reflecting down the highway
Lighting up the high wire lines

Stretched out like a golden lasso
Reaching around the Earth
And if you could wrap it all the way around this world
It would finally have to tell you the truth

The Sundowners beginning to mumble
The morning’s coffee pot stale
The smell of dried bacon grease from the morning’s breakfast
The crickets beginning their evening serenade

A hide and seek sunset teasing you the day wasn’t good enough
As if to say “wait…not yet”
Till peekaboo’s light streaks sneak behind the tree line finally
“Ok, now I’m through”
It’s time for the night to see what it can do

~Stephen Simmons

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DECORATION DAYS

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DECORATION DAYS

We met on Memorial Day weekend
In the year of our turmoil, 2008
In a rather unlikely place
Somehow at the beginning of summer
Love managed to bloom
Under an unaffected Missouri Moon

I am more or less the same as I was then
Just nine fewer years of behaving the same way
I still drink and too much red wine still gives me migraines
And I still like to drink too much of everything
But I promise I am trying to stay off the whiskey these days

She taught me about elephants and Big Sur
I taught her about George Jones, Guy Clark and Bukowski
I walked by my bedroom door one day
She was on her knees fixing her hair in the full length mirror
She looked up and said “what?”
I was staring
I could not get the words, floating in the thought bubble above my head out into existence,
They choked me, startled me
“I’m gonna marry this girl someday”

I called you crying when I lost my Grandfather
Though I knew you were still mad at me
He was a veteran of the Great War
My link to that greatest generation
He will always have to share this holiday with you
One might bicker or quibble and take issue
But he was fond of you and definitely would approve

Yet now here I am more than a day late and a dollar short
This proverbial “One that got away” is more of a whopper than the one that gave Jonah a ride for forty nights and forty days
There is a new baby elephant on the way
But it’s not mine

From the stage at Mojo’s
To sunset goodbyes on the Katy Trail
To nights at Half Moon Bay
And falling in love with that silly black dog

Yes, many days late and many dollars short
Nine more years of living life the same way
Continuing to pour life’s blood oil down in that funnel
Trying to keep the engine reliably running
Always in fear of it overheating, locking up, stranding me on the side of that blue highway

So go out America
Grill your hamburgers and hotdogs and drink your domestic light beers
And raise a toast
And let’s all go decorate our graves

~Stephen Simmons

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Born On The 4th of July

Happy birthday America,
Well, technically it was two days ago (but let’s not quibble about that). At any rate, it’s your special day. I was born here in Tennessee, and though we didn’t exist on your first big day, you kinda grew into us. I recently read that they celebrated with 13 toasts to symbolize the 13 colonies independence and later 13 cannon shots. We have way exceeded the 13 states and maybe that’s why we make so many toasts on this day (light beer is mostly water after all). However, our fireworks seem to represent every man, woman and child amongst our 300 million people now and not how many colonies we have. Being from Tennessee, I know quite a bit about fireworks. We’re kinda famous for them. From bottle rocket fights as teens to the quarter of a million people who will file into the state capital today to watch the massive display; we have got it covered. Like anything born over two hundred years ago, we have slowly (if painstakingly at times) grown and evolved. We’re technically still the young kid on the block though, and we sometimes act our age. Recently we seem to be in more of an argumentative mood than usual. But I’m just a babe, a tiny branch in your sprawling tree and I might not see the big picture. One thing that always sticks out to me is the fact that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; those two longtime political rivals, both died on your 50th birthday; 5 hours apart. From his deathbed Adams famously uttered his last words “Jefferson survives”, though ironically he did not. But the argument did. The long argument about who and what we are. We are still having it. Because unlike most things that preceded us, we are an idea and not a place. I still think a very good idea and one that I truly still believe in.  I don’t bring this up to raise a fuss on your big day, just trying to find a little bit of perspective on a day that should offer a little reflection. So let’s grill some dogs and raise our glasses for fifty toasts and drive all the dogs in the neighborhood to sheer terror with our normal fervor for blowing things up in the sky. Tomorrow we can roll our sleeves up and go back to work.

Love,
Stephen

July 4th, 2018

 

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Election Day


Only the one you love can break your heart. I love America; my country. And this morning about 7 am Norway time, she broke mine. She’s broke it before. She’s also given me years of love and I seek to be a good partner and understand her, but she can be emotional and nonsensical to me sometimes. I am a liberal, a progressive, whatever you want to call it. So I’m always distraught when the things I believe in don’t move forward; but this time feels different. I’m a writer, and to me words matter. There have been things said by the President elect about my fellow citizens that trouble me, and they can’t be taken back (even if they were rhetorical). If you voted for him, of course I’m not mad at you, I understand why you’re frustrated; I just don’t think he’s the answer. Still, we have a Constitution. We are a republic. And the voters have spoken. I have been talking with my Dutch, German, Swiss and Norwegian friends about how this was even possible. I still didn’t expect it to happen. This morning I awoke at 6am and grabbed my phone to see what was happening and was stunned to see how it was looking. I got up and showered and walked around sub zero Ringebu’s snow covered streets looking for a cup of coffee but nothing was open. By 8 she had conceded. At 9 the bakery below the B&B was open and I finally got the caffeine my brain was craving and a breakfast roll that went down uneasy with my queasy stomach. Nothing to do but continuously refresh my phone till the train at 10. I have family and friends who voted for the new President. They already know I disagree with them, I still love them. I hope those of us very worried about him are wrong. There has to be rule of law for our Democracy to continue. We’ll see. And I have to wonder if the situation were reversed would they do the same? I guess I have to believe they would. I have to hope. This morning on the train down to Oslo, I didn’t realize I had to change at Lillehammer and had hurried off grabbing my guitar and suitcase and trying to not get stranded in the cold; I left my gloves on the train. I ran back to grab them since there were still a few minutes. The conductor had already found them and was walking them back to me. “Thanks” I said. “American?” He replied. “Yes”. Apparently my face and eyes told the story in my heart. “I’m very sorry” he replied. I looked in his eyes and said “Thank you”.  I couldn’t tell him how much a little bit of compassion meant to me this morning. Even if it came from another Country. I’m not home experiencing this in real time with my fellow citizens. Maybe it’s harder to heal far away? I have a job to do today, so I’m gonna go do it (mine’s playing songs), just like every other American. That’s what we do, roll up our sleeves and go to work. Try to make life a little bit better. We have a lot of work to do America. Now more than ever. I pledge to do more, and encourage others to as well to make our Union stronger. I still think we are stronger together. So as I type this on the train trying to sum up how I feel, I become a bit homesick. But I’ll see you at Thanksgiving America.
Love,

Stephen