Sean Riley

Because memory re-writes itself on every recalling, why not journal to note this change.  Not to ledger growth and diminishment but to see a bigger story we never knew we where in.

No Light from the City

There's no light from the city
Its road disremembered
There's no harvest in the valley
Only neglected soil and rotting vines

I pray for the angel to pass
Not believing in the unseen
I pray that grace is generous
Even through the ritual is lost to me

Yet, fire is a light of reckoning
Even a burning city can be a beacon
Penance for pride of ignorance
And love of righteousness

There's a ruin upon the hill
Not mourned for its fall
But glorified for what it never was
While the devout starve in its shadow

Three Times

You shake a stranger's hand 3 times
count it, and you find its true.

You must tell bad news 3 times
until your friend believes you.

You will endure a lie 3 times
before a love is through

Three times, three times, three times.

I touch a door handle 3 times
for a momentary reprieve

I read each line 3 times
for its meaning to conceive

kiss me not twice but 3 times
and I will believe

Three times, three times, three times.

A door shuts . . .

A door shuts, the candle blows out
the shadow claims the yard reaching to night.

Let the black of darkness do her work
I plead my case to sky and earth
I plead my case, my worth

A childhood home settles into silence
All who dwelt there have long since gone

Let the stillness of quiet do her work
I plead my case to the calm deep sea
I plead my case, to just be

Then, this world eclipses the other
into a darker closer night.
I hold my breath and anticipate the light

What Makes A Man

A man, shoulders the world with no tells, He is dependable, on time, indifferent to the cruel morning cold, while working hard.

A man comes home dusty with the milk and eggs
smelling of turned dirt, diesel or ledger ink.

As a young boy I remember my father's scratchy kiss on my cheek, then ritually watching his truck leave into the morning darkness.

Later in my 20s I remember his scratchy goodby: he died with two days of stubble. I held vigil at his bedside, not wanting to leave, or even turn away, for when I did I was no longer a son, I would have to be a man.

A man stands up when his brothers are put down. He shoots first without blinking and harbors no regrets.
He is proud of his strength, his team, his country.
He owns his home, his heartache and casts a long shadow, even at high noon.

Yet there is strength in weakness, bravery in fear, and honor in tears. It would be years until I saw the quiet generosity of my father's suffering without spectacle, understanding his final lesson: that its okay for a man to be afraid.

New Year's Eve

Tonight, I invite all my ghosts to reveal themselves for my reckoning. I write each regret and place them one by one into the fire:

For when I was false.
For when I was proud.
For when I was small.
For when I allowed contempt, avarice and shame to enter by courting fear.

Yes, Into the fire and into smoke you go.

Because, tonight (entering this new decade) I begin apprenticeship to diminish into what is vital, vulnerable and generous.

An Orange Bowl

I sit counting everything thing I see.
Number 17: a cup of coffee,
Or should it be,
Number 17: a cup,
Number 18 cold black coffee.
Which is better? I guess more is better.

I had two mothers, one who bore me and one who loved me. I never met the first, but I guess she loved me too by having one less thing, so I would have more.

Number 19: a chair, simple and wooden, only comfortable to sit on when tired. The second mother's father made that chair from planks taken off an abandoned beached boat. A fisherman, he was often tired. I imagine him sitting staring at his hands thinking: I pushed death away one more day with these hands. The chair is empty now and it will long survive me, its story changing.

Number 20: a painting of a horse.

Number 21: an orange cracked Fiesta-ware bowl, once owned by my grandmother to give to a child I'll never have. I like this bowl. I pictured the daughter that never was filling it with avocados and lemons because the green and yellow look nice inside the orange bowl. The thought makes me smile and for a moment, it is as real as the bowl.

Number 22: a daughter holding an orange bowl . . .

I am an Ape

I am an ape made of meat bone and some brain
wrestling between violence and wonder
whose intelligence is often humbled by rage
and best made plans spoiled by hunger

But there is truth in my blood
wisdom found deep in my breath
I was compelled from the garden
the day I got knowledge of death

so I built a clock to watch the minutes left
each morning my nothing is one day less far
in these brief hours I will honor my beginnings
I’m son of sod and ocean these all ashes from a star

Guest House

A loose retelling of Rumi's poem The guest house:

I dwell in a guest house owned by life.
Every morning this landlord brings yet another visitor.
Knock knock: here is sorrow and there joy.
Knock knock: today a very brief call from clarity.
Knock knock: come in lonely, enter hate.
I meet you all at the door with warm laughter
and I take you by the hand to sit with me.
You are all welcome and I am honored to share this time.
I am grateful for even the darkest visitor,
who often offers the brightest guide.

Warning Light

That warning dash light
the one always on, turns off
now I am worried

When the ear ringing
that never ever stops, does
I sound the alarm

The neighbor's guard dog
suddenly quits all barking
I look behind me

Before every storm there's calm
starting every fall, silence
hangings open with a prayer
and stillness is duty's call


Planes hit the buildings
Papers fall endlessly down
Receipt for hope torn

I Will Hope

I will hope
I will hope in the dark
I will hope when there is no spark
I will hope when all is dashed
I will hope when cuts the lash
I will hope when dawn is bright
I will hope when all is right
and then, I will hope still

Our Tent

It’s time to put down our spears
Forget our fears and bitter tears
And invite our brothers in

It’s time to extinguish the fires
Forgive the liars and their buyers
and let a new story begin

It’s time to open the tent
repair the rent return what’s spent
And invite our sisters to the table

It’s time to hold each other’s hand
we’re from the same land in the same band
This must we do while are still able

They Burned the Witch Today

They burned the witch today
Did you hear this bitch must pay
They lit the kindling, called her liar
Lets roast this witch on the fire

They brought her before the court
She sows lies and filth they report
And sullies the judge’s golden name
How dare she, let her pay the blame

The king weighed in: there's hell to bear
He scowled beneath his crown of hair
Yelling, "she's just another witch
Who’s only good is to scratch an itch"

Wasn’t that girl Joan of Arc a Witch?
At least she was burned at a switch
For telling a truth to an angry man
And inconveniencing his power plan

This witch today is just as brave
Maybe some democracy she'll save
I’d be proud of her regardless of the end
We need more of her for these times to mend

Free Will

I did not choose my parents nor did I select my past
I did not write the DNA that decides how long I will last
I could not influence luck's attendance in my plan
even my train of thought a leaderless caravan

So what domain is left where I’m truly free
Is my will my own to choose at the core of me?
Perhaps Calvin was right and its all been decided
and my self determination a fiction to be chided

Ah, what is that I smell coming from the kitchen
fresh cookies baking. taste them? Sure I’ll pitch in!
And just like that an existential crisis averted
so much for free will I’m predictably perverted

Bury my Father

I still bury my father from time to time
The first being 20 years ago
When my throat tightens and eyes sting
I push the burn deeper down
deeper into the still of my heart
not further away, but closer and closer

Before that first grave, only laughter had meaning
With each shovel of earth raised,
I begin to know the deeper joy only grief delivers
Now I’m the age he was when I knew him best
I long for his gentlel council, quick temper and final resolve
So I laid him to rest once more, and I am that much closer

Heart's keeper

You are my darling and the keeper of my heart.
My soul lives in the house of my heart
And you hold it from harm.

When I leave in the morning
Bound for the field of blood and poppies
My heart stays home in your hands.

If I am found and my life leaves, spilling to the ground.
I will not fear.
For the best of me, my heart, in your hands will remain.

Then, my heart, free from its bound to earth and clay,
Will grow and surround you
And keep you safe.

You will be forever loved . . . the keeper of my heart.