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Archive for the category “Poetry”


LeaneLeane was the oldest of Jim’s three girls and also the biggest handful. A nonstop talker, she needed to have someone’s constant attention. That was why I initially started spending time with each of them separately, to give all of them some one-on-one time.

She was the only one of the three who remembered and missed her mother. How do you get over that kind of betrayal? But whenever she wanted to talk about her, it seemed like no one else in the family was interested. Julie was too young to remember her mother and Lainie, surprisingly pragmatic for her age–or maybe not–had written her off.

Since Leane was curious about sex, I bought a couple of age-appropriate books on the subject and during one of her overnights we spent an evening sitting on my bed looking at the pictures and talking about the strange ways men and women have of relating to each other.

wind chimes

These chimes are made of glass.
They sparkle in the sun
And in the wind they make a joyful noise.

Do you know
The joy you reach for so eagerly
Can illuminate your life
Like those prisms of glass,
Or smash into a thousand pieces
Sharper and more painful
Than any shards of glass.

You are a reckless child.

Are you too old for lullabies?
Is that why
I try to lull you instead
With these disembodied words?
Can I hypnotize you into believing
in the natural superiority of reason
in my adult view of things
that everything is all right
and down is up?

So many words.

They circle around your pain
Trying to tell you it doesn’t hurt.
Trying to tell you what to be
Instead of listening to who you are.

Who are you?
Knowledge is a wound sometimes
And people are afraid.
You are.
I am.
But we have chosen each other,
And I can look at you now
And listen to you:
All of you there is
And all there is to come.

Who are you?
Child of love and fear
Wind howling in the night
Love burning a fever
Need tracing a pattern of tears and hopes
on face and pillow,
Daughter of my heart and soul,
I know you–
more than it is easy to know
but not more than I want to know.
You can look at yourself in my eyes
and see someone who is loved.

I gave the poem to Leane. She was old enough. She said she hadn’t known I felt that way about her.

Leane1Leane2Lovely, lovely girl! I hope the world has treated her better since that rocky start it gave her.

Next time: Lainie

Jim’s girls

Leane, Julie, LainieJim was an engineer I dated for the better part of a year. He had three daughters who were, when I first met them, 12 (Leane), 10 (Lainie), and 5 (Julie). His wife had gotten custody five years earlier when they divorced. That’s right; Julie—or Jules, as she was called—was an infant. But instead of taking the girls with her to New York, as she’d promised, she left them with Jim, moved to Florida, remarried, and started a whole new family.

Who could–who would–do something like that?

For a while I spent my weekends at their house, more often than not the one who woke during the night at the slightest sound of coughing or of sleepy, stumbling feet. During the day, I helped them on and off with their snowsuits in the winter and fixed dinner while Jim worked on cars in the backyard with his buddies. It was a cozy domestic arrangement that didn’t last long. I tried to capture Jim in this poem:


Softened sometimes
by nightlight:
and lustrous.
On rare days
catching the sunlight
and shining.
But hardened mostly,
into metal flakes,
chrome and steel
like your cars.

When we had the breakup discussion, I told him somewhat defiantly that I wouldn’t give up the girls. To his credit, he said, “Of course not,” and we arranged a visitation schedule. He worked in the city where I shared a house with my friend Debbie. Every week during that summer, he brought one of the girls with him in the morning and dropped her off at our house. After work the following day, he picked her up. When I was feeling reckless, I asked him to bring all three.

New School ClothesI left their lives too soon, too, but before I moved from Michigan to California, I took each one shopping for school clothes and shoes. The photo on the right was taken as we were about to head off for a music concert late in the summer. I love how they look like they’re in a police line-up. The day I left, Debbie drove me to the airport and brought Leane and Lainie along to see me off. I remember it being a muggy, gray November day. Julie didn’t come. She said she didn’t want to watch me go. But I gave them a big stuffed animal, a gift from an old boyfriend. The girls named it “Gor,” short for Gordon, the ex. They took turns sleeping with and fighting over it.

I know because they told stories on each other in the cards and letters they sent during the year after I left.  I also saw them when I went home for a visit about 14 months later. But eventually we moved on–or so it seemed at the time. I’ve always hoped I didn’t do them more harm than good by getting so close to them and then leaving. I know I was the lucky one to have had all that time with them.

Next time: Leane

stormy weather

Two poems about the sometimes rough weather of relationships, one written by my partner and the other written by me, before we knew each other.

weather man


I’m a storm center. Still,
Sun broke through, warming her
Now and again. Then I’d think,
She is bound to get used to
my weather.

Always, though, cloudbanks
Returned to us, scudding ashore
Like a black threat. We stood
At the seawall, screaming
into the wind.

She said it was nothing to her
If I wanted to waste my days
Gathering darkness, but
She needed light, craved
spaciousness, clarity.

She was tired of grayness
Clinging to edges, fogging
Our seasons. Winter forever:
Words freezing, losing their
power to move.

I told her
There’s nothing that changes
as fast as the weather.

“Not yours,” she said, turning
To stare out
the window.

She left unexpectedly. I was
Astounded; the day had been fine.
I ran where I thought she had gone to.
“Look! Look!” I shouted.

“The sun is shining! The sun
is shining!”


Pose de 90 secondes. Lightnings. 90 seconds ex...

Lightning struck
the room,
our sins,
splitting us
into separate pieces
and sending us
to different places:
You to purgatory
and me to hell,
although it may only be
a trick of the mind.

But then why
am I
still burning?

And why
do we speak
to each other
in foreign tongues?

I can’t hear you
over the howling
of the wind
and I wonder
if you can see
the rain
washing away
the traces.

If it rains
long enough,
will it put out
the fire
and bring me
back to earth?

San Francisco poems (1974)

last days

English: Fog at Ocean Beach in San Francisco i...

Fog at Ocean Beach in San Francisco is clearing up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Smoke dreams,
the days went in a haze
of musky air;
green and gold and lavender
love-spangled hours,
sun-dappled minutes;
fleeting glimpse
of someone
here or there.
In dreams conceived and born,
to dust return:
finely colored ash,
dissolved and lost.

ocean beach 

and a riot of foam:
the waves
roll in,
the beach meticulously,
inch by inch,
sucking in
pebbles and shells
and footsteps
of bathers—
unwrinkling the shoreline
and retreating.

A small bird
the newly varnished
of the sand.


inking a path
thru the night;
new words,
old words—
translated into safety.

with a dream
or a pen
always breaks
in the coming of the dawn,
whose grey reality will
tear the page and
rip the fabric
of the night.

the infinity of possibilities
ends here
in the clarity of morning:
I don’t touch you,
not even with my words;
and the dreams are only
on the far edge
of the lush and tender forests
we could know.


Sometimes a goldfish,
I swim thru
the city’s nightwater
lit brightly from the top.
Neon and stars
weld their light together:
a gold fishnet
of infinite capacity.

In the damp Pacific air
all the city is an ocean,
full of frogs,
and fish like me,
and seaweed
that tangles in my hair
and ties me
to the concrete ocean floor.

in a stranger ocean than I wished

Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher

A poem by Barbara Guest


This is one of my favorite poems. Barbara Guest (1920-2006) was a poet of the New York school, which also included John Ashbery, another poet whose work I admire.

Roll the Dice

Speaking of stranger oceans, here’s a great poem–and challenge–by Charles Bukowski:

if you’re going to try, go all the
otherwise, don’t even start.

if you’re going to try, go all the
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.

go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
park bench.
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
endurance, of
how much you really want to
do it.
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
anything else
you can imagine.

if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with

do it, do it, do it.
do it.

all the way
all the way.

you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, it’s
the only good fight
there is.

the eyes of my eyes are opened

Sunlight is in short supply here in the Northern Hemisphere. But fires roar in  fireplaces inside our homes, crackling with light and heat to dispel at least a little of the gloom. Here Richard Feynman explains the nature of trees and how the heat and light of those fires is actually “stored sun” being released from the wood.

And here is a brief animation of his “Ode to a Flower.” Very short–and so worth looking at.

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

–e. e. cummings

soloist (a poem)


moon (Photo credit: Nick. K.)

You pass through glass
(thick, leaded, amber panes)
into moments . . . doors opening and closing,
exposing the visible threads of your soul
to the brightlight: rhythms of dreams,
fractured fantasies,
and wrung-out visions of a holy life.

You hold your breath and stare
as time explodes around you
feeding your senses such seductive visions of hell
(the sight of people coming and going);
and the world arranges and rearranges itself
into patterns of roads that you watch
like a TV show
for signs of life.

Someone (something) is always moving,
toward you or away,
while you remain unmet,
framed in the doorway, entranced
by images refracting to the surface,
playing them out on silver strings
(your silver wings);
playing only to the moon at night,
you pass through glass.

bright things


Brightness (Photo credit: gibsonsgolfer)

The world is full of poetry.
The air is living with its spirit;
and the waves dance to the music of its melodies,
and sparkle in its brightness.

–James Gates Percival

One cold, dark winter afternoon when the temperature never rose above freezing all day and I felt trapped inside my office in front of my computer, I looked around the room at all the bright things I’ve put here.

I won’t go so far as to say say my world is full of poetry right now, but there’s a hint of its brightness here and there.











Vase (underwater upside down)

Vase (underwater upside down)

Reality (ala Brian Andreas)

Reality (ala Brian Andreas)

Good Advice!

Good Advice!

A bit of brightness landed on that one. Happy Saturday!

this november life (3 poems)


November (Photo credit: Cape Cod Cyclist)


Jeffrey Harrison

It’s a gift, this cloudless November morning
warm enough for you to walk without a jacket
along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing
of your feet through fallen leaves should be
enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you
when you catch yourself telling off your boss
for a decade of accumulated injustices,
all the things you’ve never said circling inside you.
It’s the rising wind that pulls you out of it,
and you look up to see a cloud of leaves
swirling in sunlight, flickering against the blue
and rising above the treetops, as if the whole day
were sighing, Let it go, let it go,
for this moment at least, let it all go.

~ ~ ~

november night

Adelaide Crapsey

Listen. . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.

~ ~ ~

reasons to survive november

Tony Hoagland
(you can listen to him recite the poem here)

November like a train wreck—
as if a locomotive made of cold
had hurtled out of Canada
and crashed into a million trees,
flaming the leaves, setting the woods on fire.

The sky is a thick, cold gauze—
but there’s a soup special at the Waffle House downtown,
and the Jack Parsons show is up at the museum,
full of luminous red barns.

—Or maybe I’ll visit beautiful Donna,
the kickboxing queen from Santa Fe,
and roll around in her foldout bed.

I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself

with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.

But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,

and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over

and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies.

word surge: can’t stop tapping those keys

English: Emma Thompson at the César awards cer...

English: Emma Thompson at the César awards ceremony. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writer’s block has some upsides, believe it or not. When you have it, you’re compelled to finish all those nagging household chores, return all your phone calls, and maybe even tackle some exotic project that has been on your to-do list for the past five years. You will also find yourself on the receiving end of a great deal of empathy from other writers and from the entire industry of workshops, websites, books, and writing gurus devoted to making you productive once again. You can even watch movies about not writing, such as Stranger than Fiction, in which Queen Latifah’s character shows up to assist Emma Thompson’s character in overcoming her writer’s block so she can kill off Will Ferrell’s character. You don’t need to look quite so happy about finding a way to kill Will, Emma.

But what happens when you have the opposite of writer’s block? When you can’t tear yourself away from your computer or legal pads and your household falls apart around you? You know you need to ration your writing time, but you’re at least secretly pleased to have this dilemma to deal with. Of course, you can’t tell anyone about it. It’s like finally being able to fit into that pair of skinny jeans. No matter how much you’ve sweated to get to that point; no one wants to hear it. It just annoys everyone.

There isn’t really any support out there to speak of. If you search the internet, you’ll find the compulsion to write characterized as an impulse-control disorder called hypergraphia, which is on a par with other disorders like pyromania. Exactly how is being on fire, metaphorically, the equivalent of setting fires?

I found this list of “famous hypergraphics” in a Psychology Today article:

  • Danielle Steel
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Stephen King
  • Isaac Asimov

I want what they’re having (well…what most of them are having).

The drive to write is also referred to, quite dramatically, as the midnight disease, which makes it sound sort of disgusting and perverted. But why view the situation in so sinister a light? If the goal of a writer is to write, shouldn’t this surge of words be cause for celebration? As long as your pets, plants, kids, and other family members are still alive, you don’t really have a problem. Right?

This is Louise Erdrich‘s Advice to Myself:

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.

~ ~ ~

This seems like especially good advice for everyone who’s participating in NaNoWriMo 2012–which is, by the way, a great antidote for writer’s block. Best of luck to all those who are participating this year. I hope to be back in the fold next go around.

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