Category Archives: Ascension

Thoughts While Taking Off On Flight 1288

(Written on a Calvin Klein “‘Escape’ for men” ad)


I could die now

and it would be over,

this ride, this traffic of

bodies landing and floating.


It would be ok.

I’d die, ablaze, jet fuel

cleansing my bones of meat,

my eyes two sunny-side ups,

bacon on the side,


and all would be forgiven,


turned into distance

and ascent,

sort of like how it is now

in this seat, aboard this

plane flying with no purpose

except to return home.

The Dream of the Hang Glider

“Why don’t the men fall off their hang gliders,”

asked Mike after our ascent from the beach.

I told him to ask the man with pliers


assembling his white-winged thing, like the bleached

bones of titanium gulls. He told Mike

about the sack, harness, carabiner.


Lauren asked, “What if the harness unties

or the sack opens?” He said, ”If you’re high

enough, the parachute inside will fly


outside, carry you down.” His friend nearby

assembling his green and white kite, cussed,

and said, “If you’re that high, you’re much too high.


You’ll need it.” Yes. Icarus, Daedalus,

Dante spiraling downward, he plummets

then climbs seven ascending stories, on gusts


of winged air, tumbling from the proud summit,

rising on prayer, meeting God with a handshake,

three circles, converging, separate,


my son, my daughter, my dream of this place,

this poem, daring , as it dives, to rise,

to carry me with it to see his face.


Song of Solomon

I leap towards you, for you, my father,

off of this too soft earth toward your hard heaven

when you will whisper my true name to me,

tell me everything secret bound in the petals

of death.


I fly towards you, empty air below, snake

rocks ripping earth further down

and I gulp the air, lumps of it, fistfuls,

sprouting feathers with each silky taste

of sky, my beak widening

into hard yellow bone, pink tongue

thinning into a needle point.


I arrive where you are; you stroke my wings,

feed me mice that ease down my gullet.

I grip your forearm with my talons,

then you give me my name: Peregrine;

and I screech, I screech.


— by Paul Totah, July 13, 1997

In the Pink

Big pinks filled the sky this morning.

I was drawn to this gaudy heaven’s breath.

Big pinks have always followed me, or perhaps

I have chased them down from when I was a boy


visiting my grandmother’s house, looking for color

in her flower patch, asking for handfuls of her

dandelions, roses and gladiolas to take home with me

as I stole the little color left to her. Before my wedding


my wife took me through Macys to pick china.

I chose the plates with the pink flowers I couldn’t name,

and my wife laughed at me, told all my friends

about my choice; even I laughed at my compulsion


toward pink. It happened again when my daughter

came pink and red out of the cut in my wife

howling with her purple tongue; later

I worshipped her new skin, clean and pink.


Obscene mandevilla flowers now blaze a trail

of pink Christmas lights around my front door; maybe

it’s some kind of sexual thing — their stamens

and pistols inviting me to play hummingbird;


Edna Pontellier in Chopin’s The Awakening

thought of the big pinks as she descended nude

to her death at the sea’s floor. Had Chopin

written another chapter, Edna would have risen


pink and alive, on a shell encrusted with pink

sea-stars, rising into the stars that cloud

the universe with pink gasses, pink nebulas,

into God’s red heart, striving to begin life again.


by Paul Totah


The Breathing of Trees

This poem gives witness

to the respiration of the forest,

exhalations of cypress and pine,

that rise after the rainstorm

to the mottled gray sky

in time with my own breath.


These upliftings of small clouds,

plumes of mist, return,

scented with evergreen,

to the source,

like salmon leaping fish ladders,

ignorant of gravity, logic, death,

believing only in resurrection.


The tips of the mist dissipate

into lizard tails, spun sugar,

then threads, masks,

patterns that defy interpretation.

These are the words the trees speak,

the secret language I strain to hear.


Paul Totah


At the Jesuit Retreat House

At Los Altos, I walked on the

wooded land and did what

was asked of me, trying to

answer this question: “What

gives me meaning?” I walked

and spoke a mantra in

time with my footsteps, like this:


“What gives me meaning

What means me

What meaning do I mean

What meanings mean me

What meanings make me

Make the meat of me

Gives my meat meaning

Give me motion and moment

Makes me still,

Stills me to the moment.

This moment,

This motion,

And stillness

Means me.

Makes me.

Loves me.”


Then I heard a noise as

I crackled through the

dry coastal oak leaves.

It crackled back. A rabbit,

its ears, body, nose, twitching

at me, wondering what I mean

toward his meat, seeking meaning

in my motions, my stillness, knowing

nothing of my love for it.

I could not guess

what it felt or sensed or thought.


We stood still, staring at

each other, frozen in the moment,



for meaning.