Category Archives: Poetry


Listening to the hallowed thump of my father’s fingers on the wood, the tiny squeak of the tuning pegs pulling tension on the strings, my two brothers and I gazed like giddy, perfect Buddhas into the hollow bodies of our parents’ Martin guitars from our spot on the floor at their feet.

And we watched their fingers strum and pick—the steel and the nylon—as they fumbled with their capos, and belted out the pages, one soprano, one alto, of torn sheet music with their throats.

John Denver, Jerry Jeff, Emmy Lou, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Kris Kristofferson, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band…

These folky jam sessions where my father sang into my mothers eyes and struggled to reach those higher notes never lasted all that long. The moments before someone was first to put down his or her guitar, to grab a cigarette, sounded best. The last notes hung sweetly like a tremolo, something mysterious and dark hovering overhead, a lumpy fog of calamitous death.

And it held us in place, for fear the slightest of our movements be the cause of this end. Except our voices, which rose above each plucked string along the fret, and danced, and knew we had no choice but to let go.

I take back everything I said…

Isn’t it ironic?

A teacher, criticized for his own work as having “limited relevancy due to…heavy usage of cultural references,” (see blurb below) criticizes a student for virtually the same thing. A comedic writer, not finding a comedic piece funny. And a classroom full of frustrated MFA students whose tolerance for argument seriously diminished due to an earlier line by line by line by line by line by line…analysis of one student’s 18-page story.

Such was our fate this afternoon, which made me want to take back everything I said the previous day.

Poor, poor Pete G____, whose story kicked ass but who got such bad reviews by Max Apple that I squirmed in my seat with discomfort (I think Prof Apple asked us not to use the word “squirm” to describe a character). This was not the kind of criticism I was talking about. I didn’t want anyone to have to hear over and over again “Your piece just isn’t funny.” “It’s just not funny.” “I didn’t find it funny in the least.”

But Pete’s piece was funny. It was subtly funny, and it poked fun at mass consumerism. Apple said consumerism isn’t funny anymore. It was funny But it’s not now. He also said that Pete never took his work to the next level. “It’s stale,” he said. “It’s not going anywhere.” Adding, “especially not for me.”

So, instead of giving Pete his fair share of a line by line analysis, he opted instead to read something that was “actually funny.”

And it was actually funny. It was “The School” by Donald Barthelme. And everyone laughed. BUt I argued that Pete’s goal was not just to offer a “farce” or a “satire” as Barthelme had done. Instead, he was giving us magic realism, farce and social criticism on consumerism. We shouldn’t compare. Max Apple’s reply? “It wasn’t funny.”

In fiction workshop today I learned several important things:

  1. Criticism can be harsh and hurtful. It’s all in the delivery. I think too little criticism on something that is obviously in need of it is not good. Nor is too much criticism to the point of the author feeling belittled. Some where there needs to be reality. As Stephen Dunn put it, “Our work here [in class] is provisional. These are poems on the way to becoming poems. Everyone wants their poems adored and that happen now and then…but not a lot.”
  2. Faces don’t “smolder like a freshly lit cigarette” (but I think I already knew that)
  3. Sometimes things aren’t always as they seem. Students can love a piece for one reason, while an instructor can find reasonable fault with it. Both side have merit. It’s your job to pay attention to both.
  4. And lastly: Don’t argue with an old man who’s written five books and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. Respect him, despite disagreeing with him.

More to come on Stephen Dunn.

“Apple has been compared favorably with John Barth, Philip Roth, and Woody Allen. Although his work has received critical acclaim and enjoys considerable popularity, some commentators think it may have limited relevancy due to Apple’s heavy usage of cultural references. However, it has been posited by some scholars that Apple’s audience is increasingly a younger generation, more sympathetic to his flashy postmodern technique and for whom written language is less meaningful than Apple’s pictographs.” –Taken from enotes

We left our watches…


We left our watches, left them on the nightstand, next to a half glass of water with a ring of condensation under it, sweating through the night.  Some hours before, I crossed your fields, burned your crosses, dressed your burns, and ripped your dress, or at least I talked about it or maybe it was you doing the talking.  You were beautiful and spiritual and endless and a fourth thing that I cannot describe or explain or now even recall.  The images were fleeting, sexual and possibly in black and white, but mostly grey.  The lights flickered on and off.  By your hand, by your foot.  In the moments after, I seemed confused but I felt that I was not.  You looked at the clock but could not quite make out the hands across the room.  The sun was going to come up soon or it had just gone down.  The natural light was falling faintly across the ground outside your window.  Later you were gone, writing, and I was finding myself where I was supposed to be.  I looked at my watch, drank the water, and waited for you.


She’s smiling

She’s smiling
She’s smiling at him
She’s smiling at him but you can’t see him
Because he’s not in the picture
But he’s smiling back at her who is
And they’re laughing about a joke he just told
Something funny
Something funny about a Vespa
And wearing matching crocs
Something that makes her laugh so much
That she feels like she’s connected again
That she feels like she’s in the right place
For the first time
And smiling


I’ve given up my writing for her.
All the words that were in my head,
I’ve let them go, and now
I’m hollow and barren
and reading shit poetry
for no fortune or fame.
I’ve given up my confessions
for him
and his reputation
and his people
and his feelings.
Being in love with a surgeon
rips your heart out.
I’ve lost the wide
open space of those empty
days when the lilt of time
is filled with the ups
and downs of my own brave,
world of emotions.
Those moments which
are no longer mine,
where I was the source
and the sink
and all the mundane stuff in between.
Those days when you lie in the grass
looking up at the sky
and watch the clouds
wax and wither like
smoke from a match, and
you have the time to think
how everything is so damn
vague and changing
and that all you want
is for this moment 
to last forever.

The lawyer and the barista

You are not normally self-effacing.

Until you push past the carts.

In a black suit.

Against a dichotomous background.

On your way to the Cafe

To buy  black coffee

Circumnavigating the aisles of Whole Foods,

Where you obviously don’t belong

At two in the afternoon

While there’s work to be done

At your desk;

Your glass office

Some ordinance to file.

You are

Linear and finite

Braving a sea of amorphous,

Communal, leftist, hippies

Who brush past you with their flowered dresses

And canvas tote bags

And downplay their superiority,

Just so you can catch a glimpse

Of your girl’s smile.