Poetry, by D. R. James

If Hearts Know Best

Not wanting to disparage your heart—after all,
from its involuntary seclusion it pounds out
three trillion beats by the time it dies—but at best
it boasts only a sixty-percent ejection
of fresh blood from its left ventricle, out
through its aorta, and into that vast vascular
network invented to re-oxygenate you.

And not meaning to disparage your sense
of what’s acceptable, but this sixty percent
is excellent, a D-minus that commends you!
Any greater rating and that concavity
would collapse, like a kiddy pool sluiced
of too much water, or like when the sails deflate
and maroon the little schooner that is you.

So, what if such barely passing productivity
typified a few of our other endeavors,
a submediocrity chosen to achieve more
than the bleed-out of high achievement?
For instance, imagine our ruminations
running at only sixty-percent efficiency.
Or what about sixty percent when it came
to our manipulations?  Our over-identifications?

What if our self-doubt and over-reacting
were cut back to a measly sixty percent?
Or perhaps a forty-percent slashing
of our ambition to be liked: we might become
likable!  Likewise, losing forty percent
of our judgment of judging, preaching
against preaching, desiring the return
of our adolescent desire, thinking
we know what we think we know.

And what if our hearts would sort of
meet each other a little over half-way,
almost always give each other a mere
sixty-forty benefit of the doubt, supply just
the minor nudge that tips one’s teeter
to become the other’s totter, strike the delicate
imbalance that barely makes the difference?

—first published in Since Everything Is All I’ve Got (March Street Press, 2011)

Beyond Compliance, Beyond Resistance

            When asked once who his greatest spiritual teacher
            had been the Dalai Lama responded, “China.”

The cat’s reactions to my fingers’
scratching, remind me I’m often
automatic: twitching skin of each
thank-you-very-much, arched back
of jockeying for a slender compliment,
submissive flop-and-grovel of every
please, please, please. But then

that prance of defiance across
invisible piano wire spanning
table to out-of-bounds countertop
to stove controls, my dainty paws,
claws approximately withdrawn,
picking out the touch-pad tune of
bake, broil, clean, clock, and cancel.

Lately I’ve been working on my
up-and-walk-away, my saunter
and dusty-sandal forefoot flick,
my vertical tail-like-a-flag of
nonchalance—which I plan to plant
somewhere pacifistic, somewhere
beyond this rage against my own Beijing.

—first published in Why War (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

D. R. James has taught college writing, literature, and peace-making for 35 years and lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. Poems and prose have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, his latest of eight poetry collections are If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press) and Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box), the microchapbook All Her Jazz is free and downloadable-for-folding at the Origami Poems Project, and a new chapbook, Flip Requiem, will be released in Spring 2020 (Dos Madres Press). www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage

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