Tag Archives: Poetry


I hate myself in winter.

I am as cold and silent as a leafless forest, with an underbrush of timid dry sticks and invisible


I went to Sedona on a vision quest many months ago. I sat in a prayer room filled with the smoke of  tobacco, juniper and sweet grass. A man moved the smoke around us with an eagle feather and I saw spring.

A savage green spring so far in the future it felt like a date I will never live to see.

He handed us a pouch filled with the unused tobacco and told each of to release it back to the earth. It represents your worries.

Drop it in a river, he said, or toss it off a cliff on a windy day. It doesn’t belong to you. It was on loan. And now you must give it back.

It sat for months on my dresser. Willingly giving. I didn’t want to let it go. I was the bad friend who borrows a book and never gives it back.

But, winter’s filled with worry, so, what’s a little more. I gave it back.

I tied a piece of jute string to it, grabbed a ladder from the basement and hung it from a limb of an evergreen that I can see from my great window.

And there I watched my worries, from a distance, through glass.

I watched as birds flew near to catch a glimpse of the new, yellow object dangling from a limb. Like a jewel it sparkled against a backdrop of gray sky. The cold, hazy sunlight nudged through the grayness and said, There you are. And the wind and sun took back its possession and set me toward spring.

Out of place

We are in the middle of a warm spell. A  few days out of place. Winter breaking the rules. The lakes have melted. The snow is gone. I took baby for a walk yesterday and he saw birds, maybe for the first time in his little life. Geese flew in a crooked V above us, honking, and he looked up with his mouth wide open and followed them as they crossed a blue sky. I often imagine what it might be like seeing the way life moves for the very first time.  Seeing things that fly. Things that swim. Things that walk and run. A leaf that falls off a tree. A car that zooms by. A sunset. The idea of learning that the world has purpose astounds me.

The lady at the Chinese restaurant, after baby went home, said to me in broken English, “The world is happy today.”

I smiled. I need this warmth more than anything. But it’s a cruel trick. Like an insect born out of season. It doesn’t stand a chance. Like taking a weekend in Florida in the winter only to have to come back to the cold. It’s a sharp reminder of what you don’t have.

I read somewhere recently that there are scientists who believe the universe is conscious, which means it’s free to break the rules if it wants to. It has a brain. It pulsates with intention. And that intention propel us forward through the arrow of time. 

Stars make willful decisions. 

With new eyes and new thoughts I can’t help but wonder, How can that not be true?


I took a stroll down a snow melted path by the Rancocas Creek with my love. We wore invisible red silk threads wrapped around our wrists in honor of our fated devotion as we meandered through a brown, sleeping field. Tiny sparrows crunched under brush on broken sticks.  And the whoo of a gentle wind tapped stillness on the shoulder who did not budge.

I saw how tree trunks in winter have their big debut and show off their gnarled, twisted limbs and leafless outstretched arms. Finally free from the heavy, wet burden of carrying  the green spring and summer.

How tall brittle grass reminded me of a childhood spent among cattails and milkweeds, ripping open caterpillar nests with a stick, in careless destruction of life.

How silence is the winter’s way of turning inward, quietly shutting me out, not realizing how much it hurts.

How the sunless glaze of a cold dark day warns of an eternal winter.

And how joy, unseen, is buried under hard, unrelenting earth that softens from our heated steps.


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.

Teenage Angst: know thyself

Friday morning and the tweenage angst is in full force. My one son yelled at me for not letting him bike to school in a downpour; the other whined about not wanting to go to school at all.

“I hate school,” he said.

“Well, how come just yesterday you were pumping iron in the garage at seven in the morning, putting on loads of deodorant and couldn’t get out the door fast enough?”

“That’s different. That’s for a girl who happens to be at school. Everything else is just nonsense.”

“Oh, I see.”

Anyway, at least they are attempting to know themselves. As for me…I seemed to be pretty confused at their age, as these poems attest. I don’t think I need to get too analytical with them. It’s safe to say that they are pure embarrassment.

1. (c. 1984)

Y’know I was just thinking
Bout what I believe
Kinda hippy, peace, love
Put on earth for me to receive

This world I don’t find easy
But I’m doing the best I can
God, you know I don’t belong here
This generation I can’t undertand

Feels like I’m in the dark
A misfit in the light
Honey, everybody knows I’d be better off
Just coming out at night

These days aren’t mine
It’s hard to believe in peace
In a world full of hate
My world long ago ceased.

2. (c. 1984)

This one is a little deeper, and more philosophical …

Finding yourself
Is like going on a trip.
You just travel,
Not knowing where you’re going
But somehow you just end up there.

3. (c. 1986)

This one seems to be profoundly existential and probing. And yet, teacher’s comments were discouraging: “This needs work,”  (to put it lightly). I guess I was grateful that the other poems, which presumably were turned in with this one, didn’t have the same comment on them and thus, were works of genius.

If I Never

To die.
To never breathe again
If I never drank from the rivers of peace
Never smiled at the trees
Or drew my expressions
Painted them onto my canvass
if I never felt the beauty of the sky
Never felt the heat or cold
If I never got out of bed and did
the stuff that I usually do
If I never…
I wouldn’t be.

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

Summer of trees

This bizarre thing was written in response to a writing project we had to do in Lauren Grodstein’s Fiction class. It’s a sestina and if you know anything about sestinas, they’re pretty difficult to do. If you don’t know anything about them, here is a little definition below. I’m not sure I did it exactly right, but whatev. It’s done. Feedback is appreciated.

A sestina (also, sextina, sestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to asretrogradatio cruciata (“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in quadratic hexameter or another decasyllabic meter. -taken from Wikipedia


All my summers are filled with trees.

Here in Philadelphia.

But through broken glass and black mosaics and ragged, cold metal…

From a ground floor window, of a basement, hot and wet with humidity and stagnation he still knocks on the wall.

He knocks hard, repetitively, like the monotonous hammering of ceramic rubble from when I was a kid.

He knocks persistently, to let me know it’s time to see that dark place once again and set aside my dreaming.


I run to lock the door but he has a key, and so I put to rest the dreams I’m dreaming.

Through the window stretches a limb from an Elm tree.

And I reach through the bars and out into the open and I climb the branches like an eternal kid.

I bend my knees and stretch my arms high and twist my spine up and around each branch in the beautiful, clean, city sky of Philadelphia.

And there I rest and wait, perched with closed eyes, leaning on the outer wall.

I rest through it all—the darkness, (he is right) and the sharp pain of coarse rope, fist and metal.


He takes my wrists and twists them up with rope, he pulls my hair into his fist and lifts my dress, and soon I feel the click of metal.

I am untouched; dreaming

I try to tell myself, there was no knock on the wall—

No; these walls are soft and padded with real windows and a real view of trees.

I can see clear across the tops of sycamores, elms, maples, oaks; every tree in all of Philadelphia…

Gathered at the pretty feet of this here kid.


Oh, but when I was a kid.

I lived in a house of a sculptor and an artist who worked with mosaic tiles and metal.

It was right off Broad Street in Philadelphia.

I spent most of my days in a concrete yard, dreaming.

And looking up into a sky filled with the soft leaves of a hundred trees.

The only things that kept me safe, in those days, from my father, were my mother’s screams and a wall.


My room was in the far corner of the basement next to my father’s workshop; he and I separated only by this wall.

And when he had too much to drink he’d knock and scream, hey, kid!

And breeze in with his artist’s tools, like wind through the trees—

Almost invisible; except for wood and glass and scraps of twisted metal

He had fashioned these things into daggers and pointed toys that he had thought up in one of his many dreams.

And he would visit me during hot summer nights, just like all the tourists visited Philadelphia.


The basement was cool in summer; summers were hot in Philadelphia.

And he would lock the door and push me against the wall.

And in the very beginning, I did not move or think or dream.

Heck, I was just a kid.

And when he’d jab me with the object, whatever it was, always cold like metal

I only stared out my window and imagined trees.


And then, one night my mother screamed, she’s just a kid!

And searched the floor of my father’s shop for her own piece of metal.

And as I lie slumped in a corner, too late, still staring at the trees

Newly dreaming of climbing high and safe into the trees—

My mother ran across his heart and head a jagged piece of metal

And scratched out both his eyes and said, this is for the kid.