(Ancient Hawaiian — “breath of life…)



In the Western World men erected statues

in materials and forms so muscled and marbled

they chilled the chambers wherein they stood


For centuries, no paintings were hung

of a laughing Jesus


Father’s slapped small boys for weeping,

slapped them again and again

until their bodies became armored and dull


On desolate football fields coaches screamed

in one hundred degree heat for them

to breathe through their nostrils

until they dropped into the gravel and dirt


Drill sergeants shouted directly into their ears,

commanded them to stand tall, harden their asses,

be men, kill without mercy


They learned to hold their breath just before they fired,

to swallow the urge to vomit standing over gutted bodies,

inhale and hold it, look but not see, count to five


As men, they handed other men a fist,

both greeting and warning,

tested the gripping power of the other for a flaw


In barber shops, along wooden bars in dark taverns

of underarm stench and rancid breath,

they hoarded what they felt, never showed a hand,

firmed their jaws, didn’t flinch, never let a smile

grow too wide, a laugh too loud


In board rooms across from Wall Street warlords

who drew their aces from below,

they learned to bluff, wait for a wild card,

grab the dirty cash and run



The ones who dare

wake one morning on a seashore

to an empty beach house,

the woman gone during the night

with the car, the rest


The sands are barren; the water quiet

On impulse they dive deep and long,

madly chase boldly colored fish

this way, that way,

hoping for an answer

to a question they can’t recall


They find the ocean has no words —

that fish will always be silent —

stop thrashing, tear away their masks

and laugh foolishly like small boys

bobbing in the sea

Next Poem