What mystic can come from south Jersey
where I was born in the 1960s
the same day a circus clown was slain?
Concrete realities have always intervened between me
& prophecy. I spent my summers
at the shore buying trinkets on the boardwalk,
eating my mother’s pancakes & scrapple
when we’d arrive home encrusted in sand,
smoldering from too much time in the sun.
I’ve tried to be a mystic, believe me.
When we were in the midst of a move,
my sister, brother, & I slept at our grandmom’s
Delran apartment where one night I dreamt
I saw a man at her sliding glass door, ready
to rob the place, & I awoke to find
yes, a man with forehead on the glass,
peering in. I claimed ESP but my family,
scientists all, refused to believe. I tried
some more in the Poconos where we’d go
to see my greats, Uncle Herb & Granddad George,
& I’d wander off to the meadow’s edge,
stroll into the hollow where milkweed & white asters,
Jack-in-the-Pulpit & Solomon’s seal,
broomsedge & bee balm & black-eyed Susans
congregated before my eyes, & my first poems
rose in my throat. But I spoke no predictions,
contacted no spirit inhabiting the woods
beyond the bite of burs.
I kept trying later on to extract
ecstasies from my senses during prayer
or perceive the face of Jesus in our garden-
state but instead had to discover
ways to survive three hours of preaching
on Good Fridays. Every now & then,
a hymn or psalm could inspire me
to reach for something beyond
pew or podium, but then my friend
would pinch me, her fingernails
reminders to be practical.
Like the choice of a career.
Mystic just never entered into it.
Such were the suburbs I grew up in,
with my stay-at-home Mom, who read me
an illustrated Bible & marched
with my father in D.C. demanding
not peace but Victory in Vietnam.
O, my political father, Bircher who took me
to canvas neighborhoods for Schmitz in ’72.
(Everyone was a communist to him,
including Nixon, & when everything’s
a harbinger of dangers yet to come,
nothing is prophetic.) That day, no signal
warned that a German Shepherd would
lunge at me, barking madly behind its fence,
scaring every leaflet from my clasp, my scream
spurring my Dad to tear across the road
to comfort me. What room was there for mystery
amid such certainty powered by the long-
drawn-out red scare & its gory corpses?
What room for ethereal signs when my body began
its betrayals, my first surgery at 10, followed again
by more & more? I was just trying to stay alive.
Besides, I worshipped my Dad who held
my hand through all the pain & vomit,
all the fear, who told me without hesitation
that he loved me. He was enough back then,
& so was Mom, who taught Sunday School
to kids with flannel graphs about Moses & Noah,
men who took their orders straight from God,
whose voice—was it too much to ask?—
I wished I also could hear
with the Philly accents echoing in the air.