Thursday, June 1, 2017




"The angels they burn inside for us
The devils they burn inside for us
Are we ever gonna learn to fly?" --Dishwalla

People say the angels are everywhere
Others that devils seek our very destruction
And there they are, in story, poem, and song
Working on their secret causes and agendas.

Not symbols, mind you, for they have grown
Into some form of alternate reality that
Seems like the beginnings of a new religion
Where god is just too busy to play with us.

I guess if we can't have one, it must be the other
For we have a millennia-old need for playmates
Invisible powers that control our fates
Leaving our lives out of our own hands.

By now, we have conjured so many deities
That the wizard's curtain surely is in tatters
Yet we seem more enthralled by each new edition
By any new addition to the fictional pantheon.

Each generation becomes more boring than
The last -- from powerful snake, to lightning bolts
To earth destroying, tantrum throwing babies
To men worshiped, to invisible angels and devils.

Nothing can be said against this string of deities
Else someone's religion or beliefs are insulted
It's a bullet-proof defense system against
Any light illuminating the darkness of the soul
Simply because it is believed, something exists.

I wonder if mankind will be around long enough
To see what he himself creates and recreates
Over and over, and how imaginary playmates
Keep us from living our true lonely purpose?

Please allow me to say it as plainly as I can --
Angels and devils are not real except as symbols
Of man's arrogance, loneliness, fear, and stupidity
Are we ever going to learn to fly on our own?


On a Monday morning, the cathedral is quiet and dark
Certainly not an intimate space by any stretch
The giant columns support the roof way up there somewhere
A priest wanders by and blesses a decrepit old lady
I think he wonders what I'm doing here writing away.

A cleaning woman sweeps the floor with worn care
A workman's hammer can be heard in the distance
The echoes fall on my ears as if lost and apologetic
The faint smell of incense or something smoky lingers
And I can't figure out how the windows let in so little light.

Subdued candles burn along the side walls in memoriam
This titanic space is surely meant to intimidate me
But it has little of that effect on this lost soul of mine
I can remember when I was a kid, in Mom's little church
Thinking about the pretty girls instead of holy Jesus.

Not to be sacrilegious, I hope, but I just never "believed"
Though my mother did, maybe my Dad, certainly my grandmother
Yet even I couldn't resist crossing myself as I entered here
There are certain old traditions that deserve some respect
And this church represents some of the oldest still existing.

Up front, off the left transept, sits the little side chapel
Where, my wife tells me, God lives, though He's not in today
This smaller space is more like the churches I knew as a child
In the cathedral itself, crosses are everywhere, of course
And statues of Jesus, Mary, some King, and three big chairs.

But it is the strong arches that attract my attention the most
Arches that rise to dark heights, supporting the entire edifice
Practical things without religious meaning, but symbols to me
Of the strong shoulders of those who built this cathedral
Those who paid for it with sweat and hard-earned money.

Poor people who somehow built something very rich
Something so huge they could be proud of it always
A building that represented their hopes and dreams
Both for this life of suffering and for some future life
A place where they could pretend their dead still lived,

With hope beyond hope that they might someday join them
So, for me, the grand arching ceiling and doorways
The flying arched buttresses outside showing their strength
Are the symbols that leave the longest-lasting impression
The work, hopes, and dreams of people fighting for life.

I cross myself again as I get up to exit back into the light
Thinking for a moment of those I have lost and dream of
Those who, after all these years, I still cannot bring myself
To pretend I know where they are or how to reach them
At the door I slip a coin to the ancient woman begging.


It was a beautiful Easter Sunday
So we walked across the street
To attend church at
A place called Calvary Temple.

Only they don’t call it a church
They refer to it as a “worship center”
And although they are Christian
The symbols are missing.

Over 1300 people filled the “sanctuary”
I never saw so much obesity in one place
There would have been room
For twice as many fit worshipers.

The stark space was brand new
In fact, the service started
With a request for 72 new doors
A request which, finally, “God” filled.

The curtains opened upon a gigantic stage
Revealing the choir in their starched robes
And a large seated orchestra
Someone led too many songs as we stood.

I’d never heard any of them
Though high-tech screens foretold the words
No somber ancient chords, just dancing melodies
And jumping clapping people all around us.

Then finally we could sit for
More requests—for groceries, for money
More clapping and hand raising
A phony violinist who lied to the gathering.

Finally, the minister
A self-proclaimed “bishop”
Came forward from his easy chair
And proposed to give the sermon.

Rather than uplifting, words sacrilegious
With several references to getting hungry
And having to go to the bathroom soon
A boring restatement of a Biblical verse.

It made me think of watching
God’s most beautiful sunset
Then listening to a CNN reporter
Summarize the event.

“Number one, the sun was bright
Then, two, it went lower in the sky
Three, notice that it got more red.”
Through “Seven, then it was dark.”

More clapping and hand raising
“Look at me, neighbors! I’m raising my hands!”
“Look at me, minister! I’m clapping!”
“Look at me, God! I built this grand building!”

The “bishop” had been driven there
In his big new shiny silver Cadillac
His wife drove her new silver Mercedes
From their big plush new home.

And during the service, all around the edifice
Like a low, ground-hugging fog
The mind of God touched all but the temple
Each blade of grass, every twig and feather.

The “worship center” rose out of the Presence
This former hunting grounds which had been
Plowed up into thriving corn fields
Turned now into paved parking lot and Babel.

I’m sorry, Jesus, that whoever you were
You were not well remembered here
This day of your symbolic return
Forgive the ego, the weakness of self, self, self.


STEVEN W. BAKER has essentially lived two lives as a poet — as a college student and shortly after, when he published a lot of work in underground newspapers and obscure journals, most of which are probably now defunct. His second life as a poet began a quarter century later, after he started traveling and living around the world. He has now gathered a large body of unpublished work from this period that was written for himself and his close friends, which he is now publishing. His poems have appeared, among many others publications, inEat Sleep Write, Silver Birch Press, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, Ty(po-e:tic)us, Pilcrow & Dagger, Spirit Caller Magazine, and, where his poem, “Picture of Marigot Bay” won the 2014 Poetry Contest. He is currently working on a science-fiction novel set 2000 years in the future and a book of collected poems entitled Sun and Moon.

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