The new assistant manager-in-training made a mistake, and I felt so pleased. One of our regulars gets the same room every week, but the ass. manager put someone else in the regular’s room. She must not have seen the note about it on the desk. She also did a registration form wrong, then tried to tell my coworker that’s the new right way. My boss heard about that and said he’ll need to have a talk with her, because that’s not how we do it and she’s changing all his rules.

I was pleased that she did something wrong because I feel hostile toward her. I want her to mess up and not be so cocky, trying to change things without knowing this place like I do.

The better part of me doesn’t want to be pleased by her misfortune. I’ve tried to let go of my negative feelings, to desire happiness for her. I clearly haven’t succeeded yet, because that fiendish delight arose the moment she made a mistake. I still have a lot of work to do.

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I said “no” to a homeless man who wanted to use the bathroom at my hotel. I said no because my boss had just sent out an email the day before forbidding non-guests, especially homeless people, from being in the lobby. I said “no” because it was the easy answer. Because “yes” meant defiance of a rule fresh in my mind. Because “yes” meant I’d have to keep an eye on him, and worry about the eyes on me. Cameras in every corner.

Immediately I felt disgusted by my actions. I’ve read too much of history to think there’s nothing wrong with what I did. How will I act if it’s the government telling me what to do, and those rules are fresh in my mind, and someone who’s been marginalized comes to me for help?

Would I say no because it’s the easy answer? Would I say no to avoid defiance? Would I say no because I’m being watched? Would I send the Anne Franks of the future to their mass graves?

What I did was a small thing, but I make no apologies for an analogy so terrible. It’s the same choice on different scales. I don’t want to be a bystander staying out of a crime, I don’t want to be an apath enabling a sociopath, and I definitely don’t want to be one of the millions of people who let millions die because they were just doing their jobs.

My job is not “night auditor” or “guest services representative.”

My job is to love my neighbors–that is, whoever is near me at any moment, whether that’s the person next door, the guest who pays $80 for her room, or the poor man who insists on giving me a quarter every time I give him a cup of coffee.

Love is a feeling: the desire for someone to be happy and free from suffering. Love is also an action: everything we do to fulfill that desire. I was meditating on loving-kindness less than an hour before that homeless man asked to use the bathroom. And I still turned him away. I turned him away. I’m sorry.

Still

Posted: April 10, 2014 in Poetry

I’m made of lead.
All the books and articles I’ve read
taught me letting go of small things
is the way to happiness.
None said that happiness
is the way to loneliness.

I wanted zen without detachment.
I became smooth
so troubles would slide off,
and I held on to the world.
Now I am too smooth
and people can’t hold on to me.

I wonder how Thich Nhat Hanh feels
when he talks with friends.
Do they tell him he’s passionless,
like talking to a wall?
Should I resent his sage advice
and the lessons I learned too well?

Posted: April 9, 2014 in Poetry

My song is so soft
no one can hear me
especially the ones I sing for.
I’ll weave a melody
around them and believe
they mouth the lyrics
or hum harmony
or drum along sometimes.
Then they tell me
I can never hear you
and the song dies in my throat.

Did you hear that?

Posted: November 9, 2013 in Poetry

A white-throated sparrow
collided with the cold
hotel window last night
and died.
A drunk, rowdy guest
witnessed the hit
while irritating me
with slurred blather
but thanks to him
I found the bird.
Still warm
and soft on my palm
when I settled it
in a nest of fallen leaves
to rest in peace.

Route-finding

Posted: October 15, 2013 in Poetry

You turn the corner and at first
I don’t know what road we’re on
or what we turned here for.
Every day I take the same streets–
Dawson, Poole, Raleigh Boulevard.
You catch me off guard, catch me
in the act of assuming I’m right.
I’m left with a memory of old advice
to open unmarked doors.
A poet is the enemy of efficiency,
no matter how concise our poems are.
Derailed, I let myself be carried
where the mustang roams.

Cliffhanger

Posted: July 12, 2013 in Poetry

He hangs on the other side
of the abyss by his fingertips,
well beyond my reach.
The riven stone faces
show feldspar strata
bloodying the granite.
When earth heaved open,
the goddess of chaos
fell even further below.
Deep down, she seeks rope
strong enough for them both.
The pendent man struggles.
I search for words of comfort—
the void steals my voice,
and air from its depths
is cold, whispering death.
Weary, the man already wears
the bottoms of his trousers rolled.
If rescue takes too much time,
at least life has taught him how to climb.
Should he hang on or move on?
Battling upward hand over hand
would be a terrible demand.
For now, to keep his grip from slipping,
he can chalk his palms with poems
written on the rock walls.

Words from a Guest

Posted: June 15, 2013 in Poetry

IMG_20130615_051118
Take this. Here
are 2 one dollar bills
and a 5 dollar bill
toward your journey.
Do you remember
the story of Jesus
feeding the five thousand
with 5 loaves and 2 fish?
He wanted you to know
He will provide
everything you need
in whatever country
receives you.
And He wanted you to know
that He has prepared you
and made a way for you.
I can’t see the weight
of discouragement
that trapped your body,
and I will never know
how my words have lifted it.
But He wanted you to remember
the color purple,
like the robe Jesus wore.
And to remember
God’s promises,
He says, rainbows.
Have you seen a lot of rainbows?

Downstream

Posted: June 1, 2013 in Poetry

Again the sense
of learning a new language
hits as I struggle
to feel my feelings fully.
My once-sleek thoughts
peel off like birch bark.
I write questions on pieces
and send them down the creek.
If they don’t break apart,
if they don’t get stuck,
if the ink doesn’t run,
some soul downstream
may see them and fire
an arrow with the answer
to me.

Night Walk

Posted: May 27, 2013 in Poetry

The rain had passed, but clouds still hid
the moon that night; I couldn’t see
which branch belonged to which tall tree.
The whole gray sky and canopy
were one unbroken tapestry
that rippled in the rising wind.

I crouched and watched the night mature
while nearby ley lines sparked and flared.
Although I listened, smelled, and stared
in awe, I still was unaware
of most of what was living there
off footpaths where my steps are sure.