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Michael Simms: Four poems tracing an arc of forgiveness with real world examples

My brother who is dying of cancer

My brother who is dying of cancer

Tells me the time has come

To forgive our father because

It’s not about us, it was never about us

Only about the children entrusted to us

To praise, to nurture, to protect.

He says he learned this lesson

From our father who failed

At the task so thoroughly.

A few weeks before my sister died

A few weeks before my sister died

She called me, and we had a long talk,

Joking and ribbing the way we used to do

Before our estrangement. My anger

And her pride, or perhaps her anger

And my pride, had done us in,

And it was so wonderful to hear

The old Beth. I didn’t know at the time

That after years of drugs and drink

And therapy, she had given up,

And her call to me was her way

Of saying goodbye. Our last words

To each other were I love you.

A final act of kindness to me

Before she blew her brains out

In a bathroom in Llano, Texas.

I was so sick of myself

I was so sick of myself

Tired of everything tainted with myself.

When I looked at a flower I saw

Only myself looking at a flower.

Sky, trees, birds, streams,

Children, houses, streets, cars,

Work, play… I knew it all

Because it was all myself.

In the airport, I saw crowds, everyone traveling

Home to me, talking on their phones as they walked,

And I heard them speaking of my own self-absorption.

When I listened to the news, it was news of me, of how I

Am changed by the comings and goings of laws and officials.

The only war was the war within me.

The only hunger was the gnawing for something more.

The only death that mattered was my own.

I saw my own torn body among the war-flung dead.

I was God and the Creation.

When I kissed the woman who loved me, I was kissing myself.

It was all me, all the time.

And then… and then… my shell

grown too heavy with nothing to support it,

I collapsed into myself like a dying star,

I became a black hole that nothing escaped from.

I sat and stared, sat and stared,

Not eating, only a sip of water now and then,

Barely breathing, as all the images of my life flowed through my mind,

Beside the window I felt, rather than saw,

The light come and go, come and go,

As afternoon faded to evening, night to day.

In the dying half-light of my 63rdyear, I saw

My father’s fists, my mother’s exhaustion, my grandmother

Whipping my naked little brother,

his screams from the next room.

I saw me being raped in a bathroom

by an older boy when I was eight,

Drinking, drugs, anger, desolation

Blew through me and came to rest

And I woke from my trance, knowing

I had crossed into another world.

In the hour before sunrise, I reached across the bed

And touched the arm of the woman I’ve lain beside

Ten thousand nights, and she was she and I was I

And I could love her without thinking of myself.

We took Josie for a walk in the streets of our neighborhood.

Late April and pear trees were dropping their white petals,

And Josie had to stop to sniff each small thing,

Dog turd, dropped ice cream cone, garbage can,

And Eva kept the leash loose and easy and let the dog lead us

Into the alley where the dogs, her friends,

Were barking and a small girl came over to us

To pet our puppy, and life was good, and there were no decisions to make

Or things to think about, life was all about the snow

Of flowers and the yip of a puppy and a child’s small hand stroking fur.

Welcome happy morning

Comfort from the summer garden and the winter roof

In the garden the weathervane shifts above

The greenhouse our son built in the backyard

In the winter the Monongahela flows beneath the ice

Until finally we ask God for nothing but death

Won’t you sing to me once more

All along the road

Weave me a wreath of white roses

The radiant days with you, the tender nights

From American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020) Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

42 comments on “Michael Simms: Four poems tracing an arc of forgiveness with real world examples

  1. Kevin Swanwick
    October 22, 2021

    These are vivid, Michael. These poems plumb the depths of subjective consciousness in a way that makes me wonder where the subjective merges with that something-else that we can all recognize in our dark and light episodes and what it is like to move between them. Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 22, 2021

      Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate your insightful praise.


  2. Lisa Zimmerman
    October 22, 2021

    Oh, these poems! I thought of Bruce Weigl’s last line in “The Impossible”–
    “Say it clearly and you make it beautiful no matter what.” ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 22, 2021

      Oh, thank you, Lisa. I love Bruce Weigl’s poems and his approach to poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Marta Solomon
    October 18, 2021

    Thanks a million, you rocket blasting through, reconfiguring and expanding your orbit. And inviting us all to do likewise!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan Berlin
    October 17, 2021

    I loved seeing these poems again and feeling them thoroughly. The candor is exquisite. Thank you for these, Michael!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      October 17, 2021

      Thank you, Susan. It is an important poem for me, recording a breakthrough in my recovery.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mia Hansford
      October 17, 2021

      Michael, these are stunning. The power in naming and letting it rip and letting it go. the pride, the wall of it coming down. Bravo and thank you, for shattering some of the glass around me, here, where I sit, not knowing you, but being taught, nonetheless.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vox Populi
        October 17, 2021

        What a lovely thing to say, Mia. Thank you. When I wrote it, I didn’t know if it worked as a poem, but I knew it described a genuine catharsis, and for that reason it was important to me.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Barbara Huntington
    October 7, 2020

    Wow. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. loranneke
    October 3, 2020

    I so loved reading those poems again from your powerful and moving book, dear Michael! Such attentive tenderness …


  7. Kathleen O'Toole
    December 31, 2018

    Michael I have not visited Vox Populi in some time. Too long. Now I see why I was meant to wander here today, the last of 2018. You poems dive deeply into the fragility we face with such honesty and grace. Thanks for the act of writing and sharing them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jenneandrews
    October 30, 2018

    There is a beautiful, compelling tenderness in your work, Mike. How desperately needed right now. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Eva and I hope that love carries you through. I find myself in a cradle, endlessly rocking back and forth between rage and love and the one true comfort: we are not in the cradle alone, but with others along the tungsten horizon of life and death. There is too much sadness in the world, or perhaps not enough, in the right time and place. Love for you, to you. Jenne’

    Liked by 2 people

  9. robert okaji
    October 19, 2018

    Thank you for these poems, Michael. Truly. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Patricia A. Nugent
    October 14, 2018

    So much to think about, to grieve, to celebrate. It’s all here. It’s more important now than ever that we speak our truth. For who are we if not authentic to ourselves and each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Andrea Hollander
    October 14, 2018

    When I entered these poems, I entered a world of fragility and truth—such an important combination. Thank you so much for writing and sharing your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ruth clark
    October 14, 2018

    I’m glad you were able to tell it all, Mike, the horror it was. ruth

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Tricia Knoll
    October 14, 2018

    Thank you for sharing these.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Life Turnings
    October 14, 2018

    Thank you for these poems, Michael. They are spoken out of great depths and into great depths.


    Charles Davidson Asheville, North Carolina charlesnd5@icloud.com (828) 357-5405 http://www.charlesndavidson.com


    Liked by 1 person

  15. John Tieman
    October 14, 2018

    The craft and the bravery of these poems — I admire the craft, but I am astounded by the bravery.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Daniel Burston
    October 14, 2018

    Oh my! Losing a brother and a sister – whether through estrangement, or to addiction/ illness – is very hard, Michael. I admire theraw honesty of these and many other poems of yours immensely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael Simms
      October 14, 2018

      Thanks, Dan. Your comments (and your friendship) are important to me.


  17. brenda butka
    October 14, 2018

    Oh, my. Thank you, and may I extend a hand in sympathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. michaelgregoryaz
    October 14, 2018

    Powerful, Michael. Thank you.

    Michael Gregory http://www.michaelgregory.org http://www.postsovietdepression.com

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Naomi Shihab Nye
    October 14, 2018

    Michael, these are such incredibly powerful poems! Bravo for your clarity, and brave honest voice. And thank you for Vox Populi from your grateful readers…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Michael Simms
      October 14, 2018

      Thank you so much, Naomi. You have been a powerful influence on me through the years… both your poetry and your kindness. Brava to you!


      • Joanne Matone samraney
        October 14, 2018

        Powerful poems Michael. Without raw emotion, poetry is just words to me. I felt these experiences with you. Bravo!
        Thanks for sharing.

        Liked by 1 person

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