Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chapbook - "The Family Business"

It's been a good year of poeming for me.  I have gathered some of my favorites written in 2010 in a small chapbook titled "The Family Business."  I did a limited run of 50, and have already sold or given about 30.  They are going fast.  If you would like to get a copy from this first run, you can get one for just $5, sent to you anywhere in the USA and autographed by the author.  Overseas friends, we can haggle on the shipping!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Live Video - Flying lessons

Here's a video of "Flying lessons" from a reading at the Electric Brew, Goshen, Indiana, in December 2010.

Live Video - Road rage

Here's a video from my reading at the Electric Brew in Goshen, Indiana, in December 2010. This poem is a true story...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Gastrointestinal Limericks

(a real-life email duel with a poet-who-shall-remain-nameless)


The gastrointenstinal tract
Is the greatest yawn since Rome was sacked.
It’s simply not funny
If a poo’s thick or runny,
It’s a bore as a matter of fact!


The GI tract is only a part
Of a system whose primary art
is to edify boys
with the eloquent noise
of a seismic grandiloquent flatulation.

You started it.


The best G.I. doctors all pass
At the top of their medical class
They expertly seek
Every bubble and squeak
That proceeds from our head and our bottom.

Back atcha. This is war.


As a theme the GI tract is fit
for treatment by poetic wit
But the sum of it all
Is a mountain that's tall
And composed almost solely of nonsense.

I rest my case.


When dueling rhyme-writers scrap
They do well to steer clear of the trap
Of waxing ironic
On matters colonic
For such writing’s invariably rubbish.


And here, both poets finally lost the will to go on...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Chauncey Avenue

Can it be
Possible that a
Smile remains –
A birthmark –
After over thirty years?
This photo says so:

On these steps
Once high as mountains
We sat down
Smiling soft in black and white
Gazing up at God

Now we come
Again, full grown, to
That moment.
We are worn at the edges
But the smile endures.

Turkey time

So there I was, painting a barn with Luke,
Up at Farmer Bob’s place, late November
Just before the snow flew. And I looked down
From my ladder to see a huge turkey
Wander across the yard to watch me work.
They say those birds are thick as two short planks –
Even drown in rainstorms is what I heard –
But I was still amazed to see that girl
Rub her backside against the fresh red paint,
Like some rouged-up feathery street-walker
Daring the world to take her liberty.
Free for a day – so live without regrets!
Perhaps we all embody irony
Like that blood-red hen, heedless of her fate.
If so, then I will not go quietly
Like her, I’ll sashay, brazen, through the rain
Teasing the future with my hot red cheeks.

Lawn decorations

(a villanelle)

If it is true you love me as you say
(And please don’t think this is a test)
You’ll do what’s right – and throw that thing away.

You may not like to do as others say,
But sometimes you must act at my behest
If it is true you love me as you say.

And this is where that rule comes into play:
If you don’t want your honeybunch distressed,
You’ll do what’s right – and throw that thing away.

That ten-foot lighted Santa on a sleigh
Will disappear into eternal rest
If it is true you love me as you say.

For while a bachelor thinks it’s okay
To keep such tacky junk around the nest
You’ll do what’s right – and throw that thing away.

I have a headache coming on today,
So please don’t think I say these words in jest:
If it is true you love me as you say,
You’ll do what’s right – AND THROW THAT THING AWAY.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why did you eat my homework?

It’s hard to explain
My reasoning to a kid
Who leaves his best friend
Locked up in the house all day.
Let’s just say that I was bored.

Against the grain

(a sonnet)

To those around the little farming town
The newly-married couple weren’t the same
As they had been before the summons came
To wrap them in a missionary’s gown,
And after blessings at the church rained down,
Departed, as their parents tried to tame
Their mix of grief and pride – and called their name,
Reminding them they were their joy and crown.
A hundred dusty years have come and gone
And separation is much harder now
Than when my mother’s parents took that train.
I put aside the chance to lean upon
The siren Holy Call, and make my vow
Instead to stay – and grow against the grain.

Monday, November 15, 2010

We grow together as we grow apart

(a villanelle)

The restless yearning of the heart
Finds truest freedom in this paradox:
We grow together as we grow apart.

It is not wise to think that Cupid’s dart
Can tranquilize and lock within a box
The restless yearning of the heart,

For though we fuse together at the start
We must acknowledge lest we hit the rocks
We grow together as we grow apart.

The taste of love can turn from sweet to tart
When forced conformity cannot outfox
The restless yearning of the heart.

Much better to acknowledge, and then chart
How as each partner’s calling comes and knocks,
We grow together as we grow apart.

This wisdom long experience imparts:
It is our trust which at the last unlocks
The restless yearning of the heart –
We grow together as we grow apart.

Are we there yet?

Come on
Come on
Step on it
Are we there yet?

Hang on
Hang on
Edge of town
Are we there yet?

Shut up
Shut up
Quit yelling
Are we there yet?

Breathe out
Breathe out
Don’t bear down
Are we there yet?

Fourth floor
Fourth floor
Are they nuts?
Are we there yet?

Eight nine ten
Are we there yet?

Right here
Right now
Don’t care
Don’t care
Don’t care
Oh my good lord…

We’re there.

It's easier to shop than practice

Long-haired Dave calls me from the music store
To see how I’m getting on with the amp
I bought from him – his over-friendly tone
Annoying me because he calls me “Dude,”
But even more because I recognize
That on Tuesday I once again succumbed
To the illusion that my lack of skill
As a guitarist could be swept away
By the purchase of one more piece of gear.
Sadly, I am still not Eric Clapton.
“It’s easier to shop than practice, Dude,”
I tell him. “I’ll be returning the amp.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On Hampstead Heath

(A rondeau)

On Hampstead Heath, we watched the golden light
Bewitch and then seduce the coming night.
A space like this no lover wants to leave,
When there is so much magic yet to weave,
And so we walked home slowly, holding tight

And laughing, as we tried to write
The story of our future, just to fight
For one last memory we could retrieve
On Hampstead Heath.

That was the place, in black and white,
We promised it would be all right
To let each other go, and grieve
While many miles apart – and yet believe
That we would one day reunite
On Hampstead Heath.


(a cascade poem)

After dark on Halloween
She stiffly gave to all the kids
A tract about the fires of Hell
Thinking grape juice would make them Baptists.

Perhaps I’m just naïve
But it would not occur to me
To hand out day-glo propaganda
After dark on Halloween.

So when she opened up her door
And smiled at us invitingly
I just assumed that it was candy that
She stiffly gave to all the kids.

But no – more absurd than any
Costume made of scarves and silly hats
She took the chance to threaten them with
A tract about the fires of Hell.

At evening’s end, what caught my heart
Was how the children laughed about this saint:
Her Christianity was just a joke –
Thinking grape juice would make them Baptists!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Painting Beethoven

Beethoven, by Ferdinand Schimon, 1819
Bonn, Beethovenhaus

Ludwig sits,
Impatient at my
Trying to catch genius
In a few swift strokes.

The deafness
I had expected.
But the stare
And the stark
Intensity of purpose –
These have unnerved me.

In his head
He is already
Pounding out
The first chords
Of his B-flat sonata
The Hammerklavier.

No matter
That other mortals
Cannot hear
What he does,
For we could not comprehend
Such insanity

He fidgets,
His lithe mind slipping
To thoughts of
His nephew
So recently ripped away –
The sting of that loss.

And I know
Our session is done
With his face
Rough sketched
And no sense yet of his eyes.
They must come later.

I leave him
His back turned to me
Counting out
Sixty coffee beans, as if
He never saw me.


The scariest dog
I ever met belonged to
Old Mr. Kittman.
Both man and dog seemed to have
Lost a few of their marbles

After the sudden
Death of house-proud Mrs. K.
So when I appeared
At the door to pay a call
I could not say I was shocked

To find the chaos
In that musty living room.
I sank, uneasy,
Into the depths of a couch,
My knees akimbo, at which

The aforementioned
Dog stepped forward with a growl
And placed his muzzle
In the absolutely last
Place I would have wanted it.

Incredibly, my
Host seemed not to care about
My future family
And so we spent the next hour
In muted conversation,

His voice low with grief
And mine restrained so as not
To excite his pet.
Having made its point, the hound
Finally stood up and stretched,

At which I bolted
Ashen-faced for the front door.
But out on the street
I swear I heard them howling
As they watched me through the blinds.

What I love about North Side Gym

In 1954, our small town
Built the largest high school gymnasium
In the whole entire world.
Week by week, eight thousand fans would
Jam the wooden bleachers to marvel
At the ice show, laugh at the circus,
Stream forward for an evangelist’s
Altar call, cheer for the Globetrotters,
And most of all, scream until
They were hoarse, when the
High School boys took the court.

Half a century later, I sit on a
Folding chair behind the baseline
As my angular thirteen-year-old
Head-fakes, then drives the lane.
It is quiet here today. The coach
Concludes the practice and a janitor
Materializes silently to tend the
Sacred parquet floor.

While the boys huddle up,
I walk up to the rafters, and breathe
The heady mix of dust and dreams.
In this place anything can happen.
That’s why they play the games.
That’s why I keep coming back.
This monumental folly of fifties optimism
Is my favorite place in the world.

Déjà vu

It was October.
My English teacher in a
Sudden reverie
Fled weeping from our classroom
Eyes glazed, only to return

Seemingly restored
Indeed philosophical.
“In measuring life”
She said, “I do not believe
That time moves in a straight line

But rather it is
A never-ending spiral
On which we all cross
And then cross again our path,
Sensing that queer resonance

We call déjà vu.”
Perhaps she said this with the
Hairs stiff on her neck
Some chance detail whispering
She had taught this class before.

This morning, with the
Scent of rain whipped in across
The urban prairie
I stand, my neck electric
And hear her voice behind me.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dancing Queen

She dresses
In unmatched pieces
Teasing me
With her style
Dancing before the mirror
Then blowing a kiss.

Who am I
In this audience:
A suitor?
A lover?
A surrogate, for practice?
She never tells me,

Just raises
One practiced eyebrow
That says with
“I’m becoming a woman
And you can’t stop me!”

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Last day of holiday
My final twenty dollars in hand
I go in search of a memento
Something to show my friends
I tell myself
To represent this magical place
When once the salt has washed away
And my tan dissolved in graying skies.
My eye is drawn
To the superstore
Right next to our hotel
Here in Vacationland
Promising “Old Time Candies”
In sickly sweet lettering on its
Unassuming sheet metal siding
And next to that
A flashing neon beacon
Scrolling siren specials of the day
Fireworks and stun guns
Throwing stars
Ninja swords
High-powered rifles
And of course
A lively line
Of tasers.
My own piece of America.
I ponder briefly which of these
Would be permitted in my
Carry-on baggage
And opt reluctantly
For lemon drops.


I love coffee
The first bracing taste
Reflected on my lover’s lips
A dusky harbinger of day.

I love coffee
The memory of graduation
To the sharing of fresh grounds
With my smiling mother.

I love coffee
Anticipating sleepily
My favorite rest-stop on the toll road
With the strongest joe around.

I love coffee
Caffeinated communion
At the end of countless walks
Across a nectar-filled wilderness.

I love coffee
The emblem of belonging
In small communities across
The frozen northern plains.

I love coffee
For I have learned
That coffee is

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First night


Backstage, the cast swarms –
The queens, the workers and drones –
Their stings drawn for now.
Stirred up, they will take the lights
And tonight, this show will kill.

Sestina for Richard

Late September they brought a tree
To symbolize the birth of hope
And gathered under darkened clouds
To plant it gently in the ground
Beside a junkie’s tired needle
Saying his work would never be in vain.

Perhaps in a more symbolic vein
They should have fertilized that tree
With something from the user’s needle
So that it would have some hope
Of thriving in that barren ground
No sunlight coming through the clouds.

Sometimes enthusiasm clouds
Our judgment, makes us rashly vain
Where there is really little ground
To fix our aspirations on a simple tree.
For such a youthful hope
Is like trying to thread a needle

In the dark, where we need all
Our faith to see even our hands. What clouds
Yet more the dimmest outlines of our hope
Is when every muscle, every sinew, every vein,
Combine, striving with hard-won chemistry,
Yet are not strong enough to hold us up on shifting ground.

This was his lot as each year ground
On and unfulfilled desires would first needle
Then betray in toxic symmetry.
The winds of discontent whipped close clouds
And bent him like a once-proud weather vane
Now facing south in blasts of unmet hope.

It is perhaps best not to be the hope
Of every person breaking ground
Where better folk than we have pierced their vein
Despairing and then thrown down the needle.
For raw enthusiasm rarely beats what clouds
The harsher truths of life with lasting artistry.

He saw at last that it was vain to wear the robe of hope
For people who would plant a tree then let it languish in such troubled ground.
He left, his needle stuck on empty, dust rising from his feet in clouds.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Wore on
Until dark
When slightly tipsy
Revelers began to search for
Unsuspecting victims to be thrown into the pool.
She felt a wild surge of hope, but
They saw the collar
At her neck
And left

Oh hold your children close to you tonight

(A villanelle)

So much happens just beyond our sight
In rooms where sorrow’s stain is bleached away
Oh hold your children close to you tonight

This plain-dressed couple with their faces tight
An aching loss for which they did not pray
So much happens just beyond our sight

We catch them in the elevator light
Their weeping willow curve that seems to say
Oh hold your children close to you tonight

I cannot tell them how we had to fight
For she can barely keep her tears at bay
So much happens just beyond our sight

And suddenly I want to curse this night
When God threw dice and our son got to stay
Oh hold your children close to you tonight

A perfect birth perhaps is no one’s right
But some receive an awful price to pay
So much happens just beyond our sight
Oh hold your children close to you tonight

Behind the (Magic) 8-Ball

At 3am or thereabouts
Alarm bells ring
Throughout the ship
In panic, I shake my only
Trusted counselor, and ask:

O wise advisor – is everything OK?
-Don't count on it
So this is not a false alarm?
-My reply is no
Will our passengers be alright?
-My sources say no
And the fate of the ship?
-Outlook not so good
My book tour?
-Very doubtful

Greatly sobered, I press on:
Great one, should we start evacuation?
-Reply hazy, try again
Launch the escape pods?
-Ask again later
But why? Isn’t there a great threat?
-Better not tell you now
What? Don’t you know?
-Cannot predict now
I’m freaking out, and you’re having a
Crisis of confidence? Get a grip, Nostradamus!
-Concentrate and ask again

So this is really big?
-As I see it, yes
Will there be pain and loss?
-It is certain
And the ship – will it be destroyed?
-It is decidedly so
In a huge ball of flame that can be seen
From Earth?
-Most likely
That’s embarrassing
-Outlook good
And they’ll blame me?
-Signs point to yes
Just because I fell asleep at the switch?
-Without a doubt
And this is the price of service?
The lonely height of leadership?
-Yes – definitely
I’m not going to get that promotion, am I?
-You may rely on it.

Where we would make the choice to stay

(A rondeau)

Where we would make the choice to stay
The way we were our wedding day
We could be twenty for eternity
While frozen stiff below what people see
Held hostage to the petty things they say

It would be easier to go that way
To let harsh expectations hold their sway
And build a gilded cage for you and me
Where we would make the choice to stay

Instead we dare to show our feet are clay
And live our life in shades of grey
For there is greater sanctity
In being who we’re meant to be
Than hiding in a well-meant passion play
Where we would make the choice to stay

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The leaving and the letting go

(A kyrielle)

I had not planned that Friday night
To socialize after the show
But one chance question shone a light
On leaving and the letting go.

What do you want? He softly said
As if he really cared to know.
I answered cradling my head,
The leaving and the letting go.

Then I will pray for you right now
He said, To have the grace to grow
In trusting in this deep desire
For leaving and the letting go.

A silence fell around us, drenched
In grief, the ugly undertow
Of all the years of fists tight clenched
At leaving and the letting go.

An hour passed, the wave was done
And I was ready now to throw
My lot with every wayward son
In leaving and the letting go.

Some choices need the steady love
Of those who know us best, and so
Our friends become the midwives of
Our leaving and the letting go.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Each beginning is important
A gesture or a seed
An omen, if you will,
A time capsule
To which we come again
When years have passed
And having seen its contents
Say, “Of course!”

Today I sit
In slanting light
And cast my mind to things
That happened in this very place
A baker’s dozen years ago.
Your sunny birth –
Frail and then athletic –
With just a few close friends
To join us at the water’s edge
Unworried about skipping church
Lying instead and listening
To football on the radio
While someone fetched us
Chinese food.

I see these things again today
And say, “Of course,
My English-weather son,
This is who you’ve always been
Since your exulting mother
Cried with joy and
Placed you on her chest.
Now my cheeks, too, are streaked
The way they were that day
Because your beginning was important
And I love who you’ve become.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mass hilarity

A sandal flipped down
From above at Jesus’ words
Of caution about

Mammon, as if the
Girl in the low balcony
Was cut to the quick

And had decided
Then and there to give up
Half her possessions.

Swiftly, the grey haired
Usher retrieved the errant
Footwear from the aisle

Then with a sly grin
And a softball pitcher’s art
Lobbed his prize aloft

To land again with
Its astonished owner – a
Prodigal returned.

The priest, unwitting,
Labored with his homily
On simple living

But at the back, we
Turned our minds instead to the
Sandal and the girl

And the hundredfold
Pressed down and running over
That God loves to give.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dark night

There is no terror
In the dark night of the soul
For God is awake

And working in ways
We cannot in our human
Limitations see

Until long after
The icy shroud has lifted
And the morning come.

So take heart tonight –
The answer to your prayer is
Perhaps already sent.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Church of the blue heron

The blue heron stands
Still on one leg and summons
Its congregation.

Beside the water
We gather in reverence
To pray with our eyes

And ears – the morning
Filled with the creator’s best
Gifts for all who come.

This is our haven
Where the human tongue grows still
And the light speaks life.

Our dog grows restless
And is ready to pursue
A new avenue

So we leave this church
And set our feet toward a
Fresh day filled with sky.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Friendly's, 6am

First light stumbles
Eyes half-closed
Through walls of glass
Three sets
Of long-retired headlights
Looking on impatient
As I race against the clock

A hundred strips of bacon
Sizzle aromatically
Upon the grill
The fryolator bubbling
Beside in eager symmetry.
Two flats of speckled eggs
Are cracked and stirred
While salad freshly prepped
Sits pertly in its
Ice-cooled chest

The ancient rolling toaster
Wheezes into life
Moaning as it coughs
The crumbs from yesterday.
Each register is balanced
Two rolls of pennies
One of quarters
At the ready

At five to seven
A final flick of
Cloth on counter
Then at the door
I pause in silence
In gratitude
For this
The best moment
Of the day.

Flying lessons

Whatever is the matter with you young man?
The stentorian honking of a well-heeled
Accent boomed across the aisle.
Here I was, my maiden solo flight
From New York home to London,
And already I was meeting destiny.
From books and movies I had learned
That single men on airplanes regularly
Rendezvous with sultry women sipping fancy drinks
Who offer to accompany and comfort them
On trips a mile high.

But me? I found myself confronted
Not by an ingénue or leggy blonde
But by a feisty white-haired spinster barely
Five foot two, returning from a conference
Of the worldwide Girl Guides and Scouts
[or WAGGGS as they prefer to say].
She had an eagle eye and vice-like grip
And in me discovered ample room to exercise
Her love of advocating health
And wellness in the young.

To quote: I noticed from the first the way
You hunch your shoulders when you walk
Your posture is abysmal – and what’s your name?
Now stand up straight, set your head high
And for God’s sake pull your gut in
Like a soldier!

Reluctantly, I acquiesced and found myself
Parading back and forth between the seating sections
Head erect and cheeks ablaze
Desperately wondering how I might escape
The ministrations of this geriatric Amazon.
All the while the pretty girls sipped their drinks
And smiled at me.
But not like in the movies.

It takes many hours to fly across the Atlantic…

One thing I will say, though,
That even after thirty years
I never take a plane without first
Standing straight and sucking in my gut,
Whatever is the matter with me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


When you are lonely
Choose an avocado
A ripe one
Open it gently
Remove the seed
Then take a spoon
And scoop out the
Soft musky fruit
One creamy bite
At a time
Do not hurry
Eat it slowly
And think of me


The melting pot is
Simmering here in Wrigleyville
Fans half-drunk from
Old Style and heat stroke on the
Outfield bleachers bobbing up
Against each other like
Faint-hearted messages in green
Sea glass now swathed
In Cubby blue.

The parking lot is crawling
An easy out for twenty bucks
Proclaims the looming guardian
Dreadlocked and baleful
We consider briefly then
Pay the toll as a giant
Rat as big as your arm
Stalks languid past the van.

Inside the bar the band is
Gathering sound checking with
Equal parts anxiety and irony
Two divas wheel on pointed heels.
One her feral mane tossed wild in
The colored lights. The other
Fairly bursting from her red brassiere
Flashing a tambourine as if
To summon the very spirits
Of rock and soul.

The short dark-haired leader
Of the band steps forward
Native shirt beads swinging
A furious welter of notes streaming
From his cheap imported guitar
An artful posture assuring us
That his sound comes from
Sweat and practice alone.

The drummer flails majestically
A drowning man taking time to
Fillet his catch on the way down
While the limping dude with the
Blue guitar makes circles around the
Mohawked bass player
Enjoying the spotlight afforded
By his preternatural calm.

This sea of joy and ego
Swelling as the lights
Pulse and dim
We stand and shake with
All the passersby
As the El goes over
The music under
The sun and the beer
And the women
Oh the women…

And I realize
I cannot remember
The reason I was never
Supposed to be out here
Floating in this ocean of
Rhythm sound and light
Alive and beautiful.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Devil in the details

Here’s your problem!
Drawled the jeans
Protruding rudely
From the rear end
Of the copy machine
A crimson face
Popped up with
Jack-in-the-box élan
A smile of triumph
Painted slyly on its
Parchment skin.
Next came a finger
With a single
Jet black dot
Embedded in its tip.
See here?
This grain of sand
This single grain
This piece of dirt
… is all it took
To stop your
Holy print job
In its tracks.
Makes you think,
Don’t it, preacher?
Ain’t that just how
Satan does his work?
With the little things
That we ignore?
But say now here I’m
Preachin’ at you.
He blushed
Then like a sacrament
He placed that tiny speck
In my extended hand.
Much later when he had
Packed his things and left
I taped the Devil’s dot
As I had named it
To a piece of card
And placed it on my desk
As a reminder
Then turned once more
To making copies
Pondering the power
Of the Devil
And his details.

Friday, August 13, 2010


As I was saying
Goodbye and thank you
To the angular young man
At his warehouse door
I looked across the
Fading asphalt of the
Parking lot to see
A single open space
Beside the office door
Guarded fiercely by its
Small bronze nameplate
The patriarch of this
Extended family business
Gone before his time
Six months ago
But present still
In every careful movement
Of his care-worn son.
What courage would it take
What surge of necessary sacrilege
To peel away your father’s name
And replace it
With your own?

Monday, July 26, 2010

First night

The production of Oklahoma!
Was a smash hit drawing
Five hundred eager spectators to the
Outdoor stage on the Civic Plaza
A cast of local residents having worked
Six months to mount the show were
Gratified that the threatened thunder storms
Held off until long after the final applause had
Echoed from the drug store wall.
Audience members sweltered happily
For three hours consuming large quantities
Of succulent barbeque and anonymous white wine
The girls on stage meanwhile twirled in homespun pinafores
Clacking character shoes on rough wood
While veering to avoid the old man
Gamely supporting the wall of Jud’s smokehouse
Flapping in the stiffening breeze.
There were no injuries and no emergencies
Only periodic sirens from the shiny fire trucks
High steppin’ from the central station
Brightly fringed surreys with their
Sidelights blinking in the Indiana night.


Our freezer stopped working
Because it iced itself over
The toaster expired
When it burned itself out
My bicycle crashed
When it outran its brakes
And the superglue failed us
Because the lid got stuck closed.

How often I wonder
Are we brought low
By doing the things
We are good at
Just a little too well?

After the rain

The deluge descended
Cascading rivers
Over eaves occluded
By benign neglect
And bowed by
Shifting circumstance
I stood cold-shocked
And breathless
On a metal step
T-shirt plastered red
Against an aching chest
And laughing
For I knew this was
A baptism
And the cleansing
Of a half-clogged heart.


Early morning
Our room inhales
In black and white
The pale sun
Pushing through
The zigzag
Of last night’s
My fingers trace
Your charcoal lines
Gently watching
Light and shade
Glide through curves
I tuck the sheet around you
And think Yes
For this I became
A painter.

Friday, July 9, 2010

One hundred forty-four

These days most often
My right front pocket bulges
With a yellow tape named Stanley
One hundred-forty-four steel inches
Of retractable exactitude
Groaning in muted protest
As I strain the mainspring
Over and again
Taking careful measure of my life
Of our life

One hundred forty-four
A holy number to be sure
A witness to perfection
And to mystery.
But my life does not add up
To such exalted sums
Does anyone’s?
I am forever tripping over random extras
Fractions, decimals
Joyful and inconvenient
Too much, or too little.

In this home, for instance
The closet doors
Now sprung open
Will not close
The aperture is far too large
And it looks…
Odd, or even funny.

I sigh,
And yet I love this
Cockeyed geometry
With all its gaps and angles
The numbers which defy convention
The swollen joints
The openings pushed wide
Our misbehaving picket fence
For in these imperfections
One hundred forty-four or more
There is the solace of integrity
And the measure of our shared humanity.

Love songs

If we waited twenty years
To write our love songs
They would sound less like a
Sun-soaked romance novel
Where passion and attraction are
Immutable, eternal and
Just downright obvious.
And more like the report of a
Castaway on some desert island –
Long days of hoping
Interspersed with seasons of
Ripe coconuts
And occasional tropical storms
Above all with the gradual
Settling to a task from which
In the end one does not
Wish to be rescued.
Some few escape the island
And rightly so – for they are in
Mortal peril. But so many others
Exchange the rigors of one location
For a place not so different
A short journey or a dozen oceans distant.
You don’t sing about these things.
You simply live
And let the young ones have their dreams.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The most important day of your life

What kind of idiot
I ask myself
Would plan a wedding
For the afternoon of the
Blooming World Cup Final
The most important day
Of the year, hell of my
Entire life, if our boys
Should pull it off
Only a completely clueless
selfish self-centred
buxom curvaceous
drop-dead gorgeous
that my
lovestruck best friend
Is so completely smitten with
That he can’t even bring
Himself to make her
see reason
That kind of an idiot
That’s who.
And so here I am
Standing at the altar
Next to my oldest male companion
Dressed in morning grey
While inwardly I curse
The bonds of friendship
That are causing me to
Commit this travesty of
Disloyalty to our nation
I mean, look out there
How many men are even here?
Only the wimps
Or the unlucky
Or the clueless
The smart ones at least had the good grace
To get mysterious sudden illnesses
Or simply to tell their better half
The honest truth – that yes
In the end some things are
More important than human love
And that while the average marriage
May only last for a handful of years
A world cup victory is forever
After all, 1966 is a LONG time ago
We’re tired of living on other people’s
legacy – it’s time for our own generation
To grab the memories with which to bore
Our own offspring for the coming fifty years
In any case, I am not a victim
I have a plan
And so I surreptitiously place the tiny
speaker in my ear and
Turn the volume on
Now, with my body still in place
I smile, while focusing all my deeper attentions
On the action half a world away.
The music swells
The national anthem. No the wedding march.
The congregation rises.
I do so too, with tears in my eyes
As the teams shake hands
And exchange tokens of respect
Here comes the bride
And God save the Queen
In my delirium I whisper
God save the bride
My friend the groom glares
And I smile apologetically
About to begin, I tell him
The elderly vicar raises his hands
In blessing, and we’re off
A cautious start
Lusty singing from the crowd
A fair amount of action in the middle
Punctuated by a long lecture
From the man in charge
Increasingly I am caught
In a strange amalgam of
Sport and marriage until I can
No longer keep them separate
The match is reaching fever pitch
The end of extra time
The two sides facing each other
Intently – having played their lives
To this moment of finality
The dreaded penalties
So often our Waterloo
our total undoing
And now again today
Oh why?!
Everyone huddled in the center circle
I wish to assume a fetal position
Yet valiantly hold my upright stance
Twitching imperceptibly beneath my cummerbund
The only way out is the vows
Each one standing alone and staring
At their respective goal
My ears are buzzing with
Long horns and obscene chants
But now all falls silent
My friend stands alone
Magnificent, assured
The whistle blows
Do you…
Can you…
Across the room I see
Fifty misty-eyed men
Transfixed – each with one hand
To his ear
The tension is unbearable
Will he…
Will he…
Our hero takes one step forward
And calmly delivers
He does!!!!!!
He does!!!!!!
He doooooooooeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssssssssss!
My ears are on fire
And as one there is a
Roar of acclamation throughout
The room as all the men
And many of the women
Leap and cheer
With untold fervor and abandon
Weeping uncontrollably
The bride and groom embrace
And lead the enraptured congregation
Down the aisle
And into the reception beyond
Wildly celebrating this
Once-in-a-lifetime event
It will surely be a long time
Before any of us sleep tonight
On a whim at the door
I stop and turn
Just in time to see the
Mild-mannered man of the cloth
pull a small device
From his own ear
He smiles and says
It wasn’t this easy
Back in ‘66

Midnight on the beach

Moon-struck and laughing
Upon that distant strand
We left a trail of cotton
Leading to the water’s edge.
The sea breathless
In anticipation
We waded hands joined
Into the knowing surf
Giddy at our
Most improper daring
Startled by the shock
Of salt on skin
Then awed and
Suddenly uneasy
At the depths before
Our naked innocence.

The meaning of "No"

I can’t
You’re wrong
She’s hiding
Let go
It’s mine
I’m full
It’s awful
Too salty
You’re only thirteen
I’m infectious
Too far
Too late
Too big
It’s sticky
It’s hideous
I’m pregnant
My head hurts
It’s too much
Do you know how much one of those things eats when it’s full-grown?!
Wrong color
Bad grammar
Too showy
Too dowdy
Too baggy
Way too skimpy
Are you insane?
It’s illegal
It’s immoral
It’s Sunday!
It’s my body
Don’t do that
I don’t like it
I said stop

What part of
Don’t you understand?

Fresh picked

There is no time to waste
This ripe fruit is so lush
And sweet upon the tongue
Tomorrow will be too late
Come and eat it

First date

Silence is golden
The sales guy told us
That rarefied air of anticipation
Waiting for a response
Your mind turns anxious cartwheels
While your eyes become
Limpid pools of calm
Inviting trust and confidence
You can take that step
You won’t regret it
Says every fiber of your
Midnight-still being
And then you hold your tongue
Until they submit.

And so you wait
Pondering zen-like
With a thin stream trickling
Between your shoulder blades
Was it too strong or too much
Did I seem weak or ineffectual
And why isn’t she responding?
She meets your gaze
Amused and self-assured
Sips her drink and raises
One exquisite eyebrow
And then you realize
In your ill-judged
Effort to impress
You have spent the past half hour
Calling her by the wrong first name.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Act of God

It came
Like the singing of a
Silver bullet
At five-to-eight
A hiss then darkness
And the earth
A wide-eyed child
At the astonished window
And the looming form
Splayed dumbstruck
On the shattered earth

Twelve hours we kept vigil
For that broken form
Then stood in silent witness
As the first responders finally arrived
Five men and a woman
Bowed low to their triage
Neon deaf and unsmiling
The kick and bark of teeth well-meshed
A clamoring of diesel
Above the weeping
And swiftly there was nothing left

Nothing to mark the place
Where last week we were young
Longing, laboring
Trusting in immortality
Yet overshadowed
By its convention
Now suddenly the ground
Is plowed afresh
And ripe to possibility
Harrowed to infinity
By this most audacious
Act of God.


The city bus wheezes asthmatically
Between cars and lorries littering the street
Belching and inhaling fresh humanity
At every lurching stop

Pressed into a corner seat
Behind the central stairs
Too late I see him leering as he
Swoops intently on the space that pens me in

I’m gonna break your effing neck
He promises. I’m gonna follow you
When you get off this bus and
I’m gonna effing smash your face in

Staring through my shoes I recognize
The voice of my tormentor
The one who just the other day kicked me to the ground
In plain view of a helpless crowd as I waited for this bus

Something inside of me silently dies
I know now I will never leave this seat
But waking and sleeping I will ride on with this demon at my side forever
Replete he gives a wicked flash of nicotene and is gone

There is no victory of nonviolence this day
No glorious reconciliation no conversion of an enemy
Just an effing effing bully and a
Terrified eleven-year-old who will never ride this bus again.

Spelling Bee

(a cascade poem)

The children are sweating
Asking nervous questions of clarification
Because they have never heard these words before

Under such bright lights
It is no wonder that
The children are sweating

Like a jaded bomb squad
Circling each treacherous noun and verb
Asking nervous questions of clarification

I wonder what monster created this sport
That makes good kids cry
Because they have never heard these words before

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Somewhere down the hall
Baleful and unstinting
A clock radio is wailing
Its tuneless ostinato
Pleading for response

Jolted upright
I am outraged and amazed
That the intended recipient
Of this warning
Refuses to pay it heed.

Then abruptly
Almost too much so
Order is restored
And uneasy silence
Descends once more.

In the sleepless dark
I ask myself how often
Friends have been alarmed
By the sounds of trouble
That I stubbornly ignore.


I left you at the front door
Hunching through the fray
Your forward motion blurring and then smoothing
The glistening at the corners of your eyes.

Driving away I thought again
Of the basement plumbing I had so inexpertly performed this weekend
The sharp-pointed tapping valve sitting not quite true upon its copper pipe
And the slow slow drip that echoed through the night

It is perhaps the genius of our lives
That we live by pressing forward through the crowd
Yet mark our progress most profoundly not in good intentions
But in the injuries of imperfection and in tears not quite contained.

Hanging it up

After twenty years
Of flying flashing
Lifting leaping
Throwing thwarting
And always coming out
Just on top
He carefully folded
His scarlet cape
Laid it together with his
Tights and mask
And gave them
In a faded cardboard box
To the costume department
Of a local theater
Then settled to
A brave new life
Selling baseball cards
In an unassuming store
Just opposite the congregational church
On main street.
It had finally occurred to him
That every time he saved the world
It only encouraged them.

A grain of truth

There is nothing more dangerous
Than a grain of truth

I have an acquaintance I dare not call a friend
Who having found a crack in my defenses
Will ease it wide by deft manipulation of a doubt
Then nails upon my inner doors a summons

I know this document by heart
It is a wanted poster detailing
Heinous crimes of personality
That in reality describe her more than me.

And yet with each assault however fanciful
I believe her long enough
To fall again into her arms.
And then I let her comfort me.

Later I feel dirty, enraged
I stand a long time in the shower
Making resolutions in the rising steam
I know I will not keep.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


The Spirit rests
With pyrotechnic grace
On the chaos of betrayal
Seats suddenly empty
Dreams derailed
Even death itself
Fragments gathered
Like kindling
Raised in a giant
Holy bonfire
While we retire
And marvel
As something
Keen and sharp-taloned
Rises exultant
From the flames.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The final straw

To see you
Standing in the yard
Casually waving
A bottle of beer

To find you slipping
Shamefaced off the couch
When I emerge
On Sunday morning

To stand and wait
And wait some more
While you catch up
With all the neighborhood

To run the gauntlet every week
Of neighbors
Tired of all
Your endearing little ways

All these I can and do endure
And love you still

But when you
Throw up on my carpet
And then return to lick it up again
This is too much to bear
Get out of my house
Bad bad bad


At half-past three
I heard you gasp
The dull concussion
Of fist on flesh
The icy scream
Of rage-thrown glass
His voice
Rough and spirited
Dancing punch-drunk
Around your frantic taunts
You cried again
Appalled, I closed the window
Against the storm
Then lay awake, uneasy
At the siren in the distance
And your sudden silence

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Oh no, not again

Lord Jesus Christ
Of Belchertown, Mass
Almost died today
On the godless streets of
He was run down
On of all things
A crosswalk
By a 20-year-old girl
Whose initials were
She was probably an

(True story)

'Lord Jesus Christ' Run Down In Crosswalk
by The Associated Press

May 7, 2010 The victim might have forgiven the woman who ran him down in a Massachusetts crosswalk, but police haven't.
Police say a Pittsfield woman has been cited for running down a man named Lord Jesus Christ as he crossed a street in Northampton on Tuesday.
The 50-year-old man is from Belchertown. Officers checked his ID and discovered that, indeed, his legal name is Lord Jesus Christ. He was taken to the hospital for treatment of minor facial injuries.
Police say 20-year-old Brittany Cantarella was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.


What is the point
In having children
If at some point
You can’t enjoy
Breaking the rules

A controlled explosion
Of excess
And dissolute behavior
Can be just the thing
To bond a father
With his boys.

Letting go

Her face like prairie earth
Deep scored and then abandoned
She wavered at the lip of undulating rug

I have a present yet to wrap she sighed
Green paper spread in invitation
Like the cloth at her once mighty table.

Moved and yet unmoved I smiled and kissed her brow
Knowing I must not carry
One more piece of that inheritance

Some few treasures of our imperfection
May be welcome to those who follow after
But mostly we must grieve and then let go.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Specific gravity

Upon these wooden shelves
Above my head
Stood more books than I could
Throw my arms around
Every volume with a story
Of my life
What I was doing when I bought it
Where I lived
What I hoped
What I still promised
For someday

Each cloth-bound personality
Invited or accused me
Daily from its dusty perch
So that I dared not raise my eyes
For fear of censure
From my past.

I had not realized
The gravity of history
Until I seized upon those solemn watchers
And like some literary hitman
Bound and gagged them
Laughing hysterically
As I pushed them from the car
In the alley behind
The Salvation Army

There is space now in this room
And the heady smell of Pledge
I can breathe and dream

Thursday, April 29, 2010

And suddenly I was Nigel

I only got the DVD
To see the fuss
Those forty-four days
Of rancor
And the Damned United

Instead I met
A father and his boys
Brian brash and 30s
Simon ten
And Nigel barely eight
Scything through West Yorkshire
Wipers flailing
Against the heavy rain.

And suddenly I was Nigel
All comics and crooked teeth
Short trousers
Licorice and trust
Wide-eyed at me dad
Tilting at the big world beyond
Our little car.

(After watching the movie: The Damned United)

Moorgate, February 28, 1975

Stomach knotted in
Pride and disbelief
I labored painstakingly
Through two full pages
Of dense black prose
Mourning the loss of
Forty-three people
Just like me

The driver never
Touched the brakes
Never raised his hands
As the train accelerated
Into a brick wall
Yet in his pocket were
Three hundred pounds
To buy his daughter a car
When his shift was done

Was this stupidity or suicide?
Distraction or despair?
At age seven
I learned
We never really know
The contents of
Another person’s mind.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Uncle Lawrence's Trees

Uncle Lawrence
Had the college plant
A hundred thirty-eight trees
When he began his job
Spindly little things
The mayor called them
Vulnerable yet full of promise
Perhaps for a philosopher
A seedling tree is the best answer
For human frailty
And the limits of our perfection.

Today those small signs of hope
Have grown to more than
One thousand strong
More than even he envisaged
Many of us have flourished
Also in unexpected ways
Watching from the window
He is old and frail
A spindly little thing himself
Folding in upon the promise
And yet he still commands respect
As he implores
For the trees – and all our dreams
Keep them growing
And replace them as they die.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


Every other fortnight
Is one magical hour
We can lie here
Sated, luminous
The moon pouring onto our bed
Like the fresh cream
We drizzled over apple cake
The first night we made love.

Friday, April 23, 2010


When normal couples
Go on vacation
The waiters don’t have shifty eyes
International drug rings don’t happen
To be using the same hotel
An evil genius isn’t living up on the hill
Installing a giant laser gun capable of
Melting the UN building
They don’t get run off the road
By short foreign guys on mopeds
Or locked in the basement in a skimpy bathrobe
When all they wanted was a pint of Ben and Jerrys
They don’t get shot at with poison darts
Or find boa constrictors in their beds
The guy from the embassy really is who he says he is
And none of the relics in the local museum
Glow mysteriously in the dark
Or cause one to levitate
There are no Nazis
No Mafia
No monks
No mad scientists
No ancient runes
No secret panels
No digital countdown clocks
No explosions

Just the sun and the sand
And a tall glass with an little umbrella in it
Is that so much to ask?


Kneeling on this
Sun-baked square
Back aching
Between straight rows
I slowly tease
The interloper free
Dividing friend from foe
Tracing backwards
Till I find at length its origin
Buried deep beneath.

This work can not be hurried
Go too quickly
All you do is
Surface work
Snap a dubious vine or two
You gain only temporary victory
The deeper threat remains
Prepared once more to spread
Its sinewy embrace

I ask myself how often
I have moved too fast
Broken off a troubling shoot
All the while avoiding
The deeper work
Which only comes
On dirt-stained knees
And with great patience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

According to the box

According to the gaily slanting letters
On this multi-colored box
Our product make you
Happy pretty too and funny style

As if determined by a cell
Of linguistic terrorists
Dangerously dangling prepositions
Bent on blowing
Fascist grammar up

Or perhaps it was a dozen
Thesaurus-toting monkeys with a typewriter
Who broke into the warehouse
And after swinging from the rafters
Left their longings on the page.

Shakespeare it is not
And yet this phrase compels me
With its newly minted spark
Of awkward mangledness
Funny style I like
But oh to be happy pretty.

First day of camp

We’re going to be late Dad
She clutches tightly to her sleeping bag
Her backpack, clothes and bug spray
Straining eagerly to see the
Rough track leading to the woods.

We join the line of awkward twosomes
Quivering like bow and arrow
My heartstrings taut and singing
She impatient for the letting go.

A familiar voice rings out
She looks up delighted
And as I busy myself
Putting twenty dollars
In her store account
She says quite simply:
“You can go now”
And walks away.

Speaking of death

By tide of trivial
And quotidian use
We wear our language well
Into a manageable size
Obscuring the mysterious
The awesome and the fey
Until we do not blanch
Upon the mention of their name

This is a perhaps a good
And necessary thing.
I had a friend once tell me of a child
Who dug a sandy hole beside the sea
And played long hours in that tiny pool
Because the ocean was too much to bear.

So perhaps it is with our mortality
I so easily pronounce the end of little things
Appliances, vehicles, projects and dreams
All these have died for me a hundred times
And their passing feels quite natural.
They died, I tell myself, and it is all right.

I face into these little deaths
And name them so
To fit me for the journey
Of a day yet undisclosed
When I step lightly from this tiny pool
With faith full-grown
Into the wider sea.

Teaching Leon (a deadline poem)

Leon, I will count to five
And if you’re not back here
By the time I get to zero, I will have to tell
Mr. Myers that you are not cooperating today.

Leon, it’s no use hiding
Under the table.
I can see you with the bag over your head
Now get back here please.

Leon, don’t you realize I’m only doing this
Because I want to help the school and teachers
And be a good citizen
And soothe my bleeding-heart liberal conscience about
The sorry state of our public education system?
Come out of that locker.

And no, Leon, you can’t go to the
Bathroom right now, even if you
Need to do doo-doo. I don’t care any more
Just cross your legs.

Leon, it’s your final chance.
I would still love to read with you this exciting
Blue-level book about Bob and his dog.
Thank you.

Bob has a dog

To a small midwestern town

What arrogant
Corn-fed Bonaparte
Dared bestow upon
This two-bit crossroad
The name we give with justice
Only to the great:
New York, Paris, New Delhi, Sao Paulo
A city?

Your upstart streets
Know nothing of
True city ways
The grit and grandeur
The grotesque lassitude
And violent optimism
That beggar and boast

No, you claim your title
Not by achievement
But by counting heads
The weathered and illegal countenance
Of those you summon to your trailer parks
And to your factory floor
Yet neither wish to clothe nor feed.

And then you gather
In the barber-shop
At the soda-jerk
On the hallowed bleachers
Of the high school gym
And watch each other
Sweat and gasp
For air.

Brother Funk

A jackass and a joker
Tyrant and typhoon
He forsook the city lights
To live in sepia on this basement wall

Sometimes a vision grows quick and lithe
Sinuous out of bare earth
Other times is sold laboriously
Like soap from door to door

That winter he stood just briefly
At his daughter’s early grave
Then returned grim-faced
To his predestined rounds.

These tired bones

This trellis of anatomy
This carry-all
I portaged grudgingly
Across the evening
Is finally spent
And now thrown over and arranged
With loving care
Upon uneasy sheets

Each crooked piece is balanced
Tensely horizontal
Independent yet beholden
Of all its nearest kin

Afraid lest I disturb
This fragile truce
I lie awake and contemplate
The home I make
Among these tired bones.

Sharing Time

Oh Lord, we thank you
For miracles
Of parking spots
And orphan dogs
Successful colonoscopies
And diarrhea cured.

For making Wanda celibate
For bringing wayward Jimmy home
From San Francisco
And for the anonymous guidance given
To the Wilsons as they raise their four impossible children.

And lest we forget
To tell you what you didn’t know
The pancake breakfast is on Saturday
And tickets are only five dollars
In the foyer
Right after this prayer
Is over.


Poem-a-day Challenge

I'm now in day 21 of the Poem-a-day challenge on Robert Lee Brewer's "Poetic Asides"

It's been a blast having to write each day, and to compare notes with other poets - including my beloved mother-in-law, who roped me into this to begin with. I'll post a few of my efforts here on the blog.