Tuesday, July 14, 2009


In my mid-20s I flirted with getting a giant tattoo -- a simple, if vaguely Gaelic, inscription of the number: "2026."

I had around that time been studying the life of Francis of Assisi. Born a well-to-do Italian preppy -- it is said his tiny feet sprung from the womb already clad in medieval Adidas -- decades later Francis spoke an ode to his faithful donkey and died a lice-infested beggar, October 3, 1226. His donkey is said to have wept.

Centuries later, after a life lived split dead-even between receipt of ridicule and reverence, Francis has now become the patron saint of this, patron saint of that. And of all these patron sainthoods, those that spoke most to me were his love for the environment -- he constantly spoke homage to sister sun, brother wolf -- and even more, his renouncement of all things Adidas, his betrothal to Lady Poverty, his sticky service to lepers, his indigent freedom to serve and love without kowtowing monthly to the Bank of America. In my mid-twenties I came to love the man.


After all, how could I openly express such admiration for a man who'd become -- no, seriously -- of one flesh with poverty, when I was shelling out countless grand a year at a beachside seminary in Vancouver, B.C. and downing overpriced pints on Tuesdays? Emulating Francis would have to wait.

But in the meantime, I thought: the tattoo.

2026, exactly 800 years from the death of Saint Radical Simplicity, I would organize a pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome, a symbolic message to established religion that their so-called church, in its comfort and riches, had give up any lingering claim to be a servant of the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the lame, the blind, when it first crawled from the catacombs and made the first stained glass.

In that prophetic year of 2026, these marchers -- swarms of us -- would already have followed St. Francis's lead, would have sold and cashed in everything we owned: i-Pods, Subarus, earrings and banjos, laptops and 501Ks. And there at the Vatican's gate we would purge our bloated bank accounts as if our pens were wild fireman's hoses across the very last checks ever written in our lives. In hindsight, I took for granted there'd be a mailbox, into which we'd hurl our life-abandoning last letters, addressed to charities and shelters all the world over, to homeless drunkards, hapless old ladies abandoned by their children, starving Sally Struthers villages.

And after that, with nary a word, we'd all go home to our respective countries, wander the streets, beg our suppers, love and be the poor.


I didn't get the tattoo.

Instead -- and I swear I don't regret this -- I got married. Got a baby (pending -- Baby Boy is weeks away). Got a little bungalow with matching mortgage. Got a job. Ever since, I've roamed those wide open spaces, that staggering chasm, between what I'd dreamed, a life of pure self-sacrificial love, and what I got: the American Dream.

Who knows what might have changed if I'd gotten that tattoo, that jagged patch of printed skin to shame me into following through with such ridiculous, preposterous beauty, such naively prophetic grit? Then again, who knows what a pompous prick I'd have become as just such a tattooed troubadour, singing subtle judgments to audiences less radical than I, while in turn I forfeited this true, humbled love I now enjoy (humbled, and truer for it) of wife and family and daily-compromised love for neighbor, or, more often, just dreams thereof, thus leaving me today unable to cast judgment on others' inaction because I'm be still so hopelessly lost in my own?

What might have been. Whatever. From now on this lick-and-stick blog post will serve as interim tattoo, goading and prodding an upped ante -- as talk of love and justice always does -- into the heightened stakes of ultimatum. Talk enough about justice and love, and the only options left you are to do nothing and show yourself a hypocrite or worse, or do too little, and join ranks with all the other broken saints.

Baby Boy, if you read this years or decades down the line, remind me I wrote it, will you? And if it's not yet 2026, should we make plans? You tell me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In a few months I'm sure I'll have more to say, little pea. I've got no doubt that then in fact I'll ramble on, giddy as a clown. I'll lose my inhibitions as soon as you, for your part, have shed the omniscience of the womb.

You'll be a baby, proper, then; your spit-up and cranky screaming, your prized gassy smiles, will assure me at last that you are like me: hope and sinew, flesh and bone. And then between farts and giggles (yours and mine) I'll tell you the things I've never found words to say - not to anyone - and you will look up and laugh and tug at my beard, or cry because perhaps for a minute I am holding you too tight.

I can't say those things to you now, Pea. Not yet. You're too big to me, too mighty, too intimate with Mystery. You're too pure, too God-sprung. It's intimidating, Pea. When I look at the galaxy glowing at your side, your traveling companion while you're busy sprouting toes, how can I not wonder how Fischer Price, much less your bumbling dad, will be able to compare?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ode to the guy in the Audi, picking his nose

To the man picking his nose today
headed westbound on Broadway, near Edgewood,
know this: I love you and will keep your secret,
O you demigod or angel sent
to share your passion,
your brokenness,
your unexpected joy.
As you passed I imagined you receiving, someday,
the welcome fit for such an emissary:
Horns honking, trumpets blaring,
kids collecting candy hurtled forth from your tailpipe
while you, pretending unawares,
mined yet soulfully upwards,
your index finger a concrete prayer
of the world's last repentant sinner,
scraping upwards for God.