Excerpts

Read excerpts from Steve Jackson's books, An Affair in the Valley, The Harbor and Wade in the Water.

A Person of Sorrows

The Spectacle

Roses

Prayer

The Fortress

For A Book Lover

Compassionate Friendship

Life In Life

Inspiration

Hearing my footsteps
you turn to look at me.

Though we know each other well
I still get startled,
even haunted
looking at your gentle face
glowing with cordial wisdom.

Walking towards me            
with your slow steps
perfect and simple
you give me the privilege
of getting a closer look.

Sincerity in your happy smile
makes me want to praise you.

I look into your eyes
all the way to your heart
and feel you allow me to see
the answer to me
is us together,
travellers on a road
between life and death.

It’s a road
where I can trust
your kind, accurate insights,
your patient endurance
seeking to say the right things,
your courage to arm yourself
with wise affection
that makes me feel
I meet my essence in you.            

I feel that wherever you’ve come from,
whatever mold you’re made from,
the mold seems planned
to satisfy my dream
of a person to inspire me.

And no matter what happens
on the road ahead
you’ve made me trust
two like hearts
will always meet
on common ground,
the common ground
of joy.


 

A Person of Sorrows

 

When I graduated from high school
my father asked me if I knew
why my gown was black.

I told him no.

He said, “Your black gown
is supposed to remind you
some people suffer
feeling their only peace in life
will be peace
where they close their eyes
in death’s darkness.

“Your black gown should remind you
to never be happy or proud
where there’s any sorrow
in any creature
from the lowest
to the highest.”

I told him I already suffered
for kind intelligent people
enduring the insults
from ignorant and mean supervisors.

I told him I already suffered
for children demoralized under the tyranny
of their arrogant parents.

I told him I already suffered
for innocent animals
whipped and beaten
by angry people.

I told him I already suffered
for people born
with no arms,
people born blind,
people born
with brains that made them say
strange things
driving others away.

I told him I already suffered
for women whose husbands
didn’t love them
and men whose wives
despised them.

I told him I already suffered
for poor neglected people
shoved down even further
by classes over them,
anxious, worried and ungrateful classes
trying to push
their own children up over
children deprived by birth.

I told him I’d already seen
enough suffering
to make me wonder
if I’d ever find pleasure
in this world
when I know
regardless how lucky I am
there are people enduring
the sorrow I’ve already endured
trying to fit into life
and craving freedom.”

My father said,
“I understand you
because you’re like I was
not that long ago.
Just don’t forget
there are roses
among thorns
and you can look for
and find the roses.
You can be a person of sorrows
like I am
and still find places
to appreciate
the miracle of moonlight,
the laughter of a child
and the harmony of
holding hands with someone.
Just keep in mind
your good luck
and never show it
to someone less fortunate.
And if you feel victory,
comfort the people who failed.
If you feel strong
helping the weak
try to destroy any arrogant compassion
you may feel.
And if you feel the world
locks its door
shutting you out
in cold darkness,
remember
a person of sorrows
can find satisfaction
in a tiny trace of light
on the horizon.
It’s hope,
like a sunrise
turning the world
into a grand home
for people.”

 
 

The Spectacle

Driving my car           
on the freeway
I hear the radio
playing a good song.

O it has a fine beat
and a great melody
filling my body,
heart and mind
and surrounding me
with hope
for the road ahead.

There ahead
slowly wheeling up the on ramp  
an adventurous man and a woman
on motorcycles
begin to enter my lane.
The woman’s long black hair
streams out below her helmet
and flies behind her.

I slow down and cross over
to the faster left lane
so they’ll have ample freedom
to become part of the traffic.

Though I’ve never
seen them before
they’re welcome to share the freeway
with me and whoever’s on it
in this long history
of existence.

The great song on my radio
is a fanfare
celebrating the arrival
of the bold pair of travelers
leaving their bodies
open to freedom,
great freedom in the wind.

On their motorcycles
breaking loose
from the encumbrances
of surrounding steel, plastic and glass,
breaking free from jammed streets
in the city below us,
the man and woman
are good additions
to the family
already here
inside our strong cars and trucks
up ahead,
to the side
and behind us.

Together
we’re all moving
in time with a song,
a song of hope
for what’s ahead,
a song of admiration and love
for what’s here now,
a song of satisfaction
for being able to move
towards our dreams.

We’re all moving together
in well timed harmony
that includes our entire crowd,
people coming from
anywhere anytime,
everybody flying together
like wild geese in a high V
gracefully rising over clouds.

We’re moving
with everything
from the tiniest atom
out to the planets and stars
and beyond.

I turn the song up even louder.

God, what a spectacle.

 

Roses

Left, broken, laid off,
childhood dreams wrecked
and scattered off to the side
of my road,
a guilty embarrassment
to my family and friends,
I’d kept on a path alone
hoping my efforts
to become a better person
might redeem me at some time
in the future.

But the world was cold
and what was worse,
I was even colder
and harder
than the world.

I’d visited my parents
and felt their disappointment
in the shambles of my life.

They’d bought me a bus ticket
so I could return
to the city I was surviving in
and after two days and a thousand miles
on the road
the bus stopped to let some people out
on the outskirts of the city.

There was a light rain falling.
I leaned my head
against the window glass
with its raindrops
trickling down
like tears
and there in the mist
I saw a tall man walking quickly
towards the bus
with bouquets of roses
in his hands.

He was wearing a plastic
see through raincoat
with long tails
gently following
behind him.

I watched him
climb onto the bus
and heard his soft voice
“Roses…roses…roses”
while he walked down the aisle
past me.

I had little money
and no one to give flowers to,
but something in me
wanted to make contact with him.

I heard his voice behind me
I can hear it now,
“Roses…roses…roses…”
and when he came near
I said,  “Yes I’d like some.”

Reaching out with money in my hand
I looked up into his face.
There must have been a thousand scars
carved into his face,
tiny scars
crisscrossing all over.
The scars were probably from a fire.

But his eyes somehow
made his face look beautiful.
It was the gratitude in his eyes,
gratitude for my interest
in his flowers.

He handed me a bouquet,
slipped the money in his pocket,
turned and walked quickly
back towards the bus door,
the tails of his raincoat
gently flapping,
the scent of roses
all around.


 

Prayer

 

I’d known Kim for a few months.

She wanted me to meet her parents
for the first time.
We went to eat dinner
with her mother and father
in their house.

When her mother met us at the door
she could see her daughter and I
with shooting lights in our eyes
telling her we loved each other.

Seeing her mother looked afraid
I might hurt Kim
I said with a gentle voice,
“Thank you for inviting me,
it means a lot to me,”
and that seemed to relax
both of them.

Seeing her dad looking intently at me
I looked back into his eyes
for a few seconds
and looked away from him.
When I looked back up
he was looking at me
with a controlled polite expression.
He told me he was sorry
for staring at me.
He said his concern for his daughter
made him want to analyze me.

I told him I understood
how anybody would show concern
for a person as beautiful as his daughter.

He said he’d heard good things
about me
and I told him I’d heard good things
about him.

Kim’s mom went into the kitchen
to get the dinner ready
and Kim followed her.
Kim’s mom told her she didn’t have to help
but Kim went ahead and helped her.

Kim’s father and I talked.
He said he’d seen good and bad
in all the classes and races and creeds.
He said the truest test of a religion
is the person it produces.

I asked him if he believed
if a person is born with a soul
or if they create it for their self.

He said he felt
a person creates their own soul.

His wife overheard him
and came back into the living room.
With a peaceful voice she said she believed
people are born with a soul
that can get corrupted
unless they work on it.

He asked me what I felt about a soul.
I told him I felt
they were both right
but it was more important to me
to get along with them
than to irritate either one of them.
They both laughed.

At the dinner table
we held hands in a circle
and Kim’s mother
asked Kim’s father
to say a prayer.

While he was praying
I looked at Kim.
She saw me looking at her
and scowled with her expression
telling me to bow my head.
I was afraid I’d offended her
and it showed on my face.
Her mother had opened her eyes
and she was looking at me with approval.
She was pleased I respected her daughter enough
to be afraid I’d offended her daughter.

Kim’s father was praying a prayer
asking for respect
for the men and women
prophets of the human race.
He called them
the great comforters
living and dying for love.

In his prayer he asked
for skill to radiate words and acts
transforming suffering people
into peace where life is good.
He gave thanks for food
to give us energy
to be a friend for all creatures
from the lowest to the highest.
When he finished
he looked over at me
like he wanted to know
how I felt about him praying
such an unusually philosophical prayer.
We stared at each other
for a few seconds
and I thanked him for the inspiration.

He looked back into my eyes
searching my heart
like he wasn’t quick to believe
he inspired me
and I told him,
“Your ideals are ideals
I’ll try
to live up to.”

He said, “Try
is a good word.
It’s a humble word
glowing with grace.”

Together we ate a fine meal.

When Kim and I left
she told me I had a lot in common
with her parents
and they liked me.

I felt glad she told me that.

In the car we kissed.
I held her
in my arms.

Still thinking about her father’s prayer
I asked her,
“Do you pray?”

She said she always prayed
for people she loves.

“Who do you love?” I asked her.

“Everybody,” she said
with shy sincerity from her heart.

Her innocent, calm and faithful voice
moved me.
I imagined the human race
was her,
all tongues from all nations and creeds
speaking a language
of desire.

She and I got married
a few months after that.            

After the wedding
we were talking with friends
and one of her friends
asked Kim to describe
Kim’s and my relationship.

Kim said, “My husband and I
are secret philosophers.”

I’ve often wondered
if she thinks our philosophy
is something we should keep hidden.

I haven’t asked her
because I don’t want to hurt her feelings.
I don’t want her to think
I disapprove of her calling us
“secret philosophers.”            

Hurting her would hurt me.

Marriage is the greatest arena
for diplomacy.
The secret of civilization is
the relation between
two kindred souls living together.

I think she’s afraid
to call us philosophers
because she thinks people
might feel she’s saying
that she and I can live up to our ideals,
when in reality
we can only try, fail,
and try again.

So she calls us
secret philosophers.

She’s humble.

That’s why I fell in love with her
and I would easily
give my life for her.



 

The Fortress

 

With her thin, thin face
making her eyes look huge,
the starving skeleton child
stares listlessly into space.

Though she’s too weak to talk
I’m afraid this child
tells the story
of evil
no god can go along with.

I’ve heard another story
of someone strong enough
lift the child off the dust
and restore life
where life had faded.

The savior
was a man or woman
from somewhere
under the sun,
a man or a woman
with their message,
“I’ll suffer with you
until the heart of the world
is a fortress for all.”


 

For a Book Lover

 

I admire your tone of respect
when you talk about books.

I’m like you.
I admire books
carrying rich freight,
deep meaning
with its potential,
affection.

My respect for you
makes me feel glad
I know you.

I admire
your strength
to reach out
beyond your scars
with your attentive conversation,
conversation
that makes you a friend
for anyone anywhere.

Let me be here for you
if you need me.

I feel your troubles are mine
because you’re a great soul
with a book in your hand
and a gracious tone in your voice.
It’s a voice from your heart.
I hear your voice saying,
“Understanding
can make love
a bright circle
that includes
everything
it touches,
a bright circle,
like the sun
beaming out
and bending
with the necessities
of another.”

You’re an inspiration.



 

Compassionate Friendship

 

When my mother passed on,
my best friend
came to help me grieve.

He’d never seen me cry.

When he saw my tears
he looked helpless
and I apologized to him
for my tears.

Wanting to help
he sat beside me
on the couch
and tried to make me imagine
my mother
passing to a better place.

He was comforting.

His words gently
soothed me
like my mother
used to rock me
in a rocking chair.

He took my mind away
with his imagination
when he gently said,
“There’s a lot we humans don’t know
and maybe,
now that she’s broken free
from this human body
we’re chained to
she can explore
other realms.

“I can imagine her body
like a cocoon,” he said,
“a cocoon she threw off
so she can turn into
a beautiful butterfly now.

“Or maybe she’s invisible
in the sky
where she can’t get sick
or feel her heart ache
or get scarred
in the human race.

“Maybe she’s free
to become
all heart, all head,
all eye, all ear,
all thoughts and feelings
if she wants.

“Maybe she can take a form
of a man, woman or child,
or a beautiful picture,
or a person healing another.
That was the thing she liked best,
mending scars.

“I imagine a spirit
wants to see beauty
and to make it.
That was her as a person
in flesh and bone
and if she still has her hope
and her desire to see
and make beauty
her spirit
might commune with you
in your dreams and memories.”

When my friend saw
that I’d stopped crying
he looked relieved.

He has a good imagination
and I respected him using
his kind soul
to give me some hope
my mother could be
happier,
even blessed
with great freedom
like the freedom
she and I experienced together
after she’d brought me
from nothing
into the light
of the world.







 

Life in Life

 

Your interest in me
inspires me
to love and respect you
more than a friend.

With your attentive look
and your caring voice
you’re the best part of life.

In my mind
a picture of your great soul
gives me ideals
to try to reflect back to you.
You make people feel
respected.
You’re a good listener.
Your desire to be respected
keeps you from trying
to condescend.

For me
you’re a life
in life,
a life more important
than anything.

Hoping you can love me
I gather my best thoughts
to help me try to
live up to you.

The thought of
my failing you
makes my heart speed up
with compulsion
to draw on the one thing
that never fails me,
my love for you.

It’s love
making me feel
I was born
to face troubles with you,
to comfort you
and smile with you.
It’s love
I imagine joining us
with a sense of
everything
turning out
for the best.