For The Birds

the aging birdhouse sits,
its former dwellers gone,
this lonely spot’s forgotten now,
for everything moves on.

the builder’s hands at work,
the careful markings drawn,
but none remember who did what,
for everything moves on.

creation, though, is good,
our souls to build upon —
for we who see can take this forth,
for everything

moves on.

Among my late father’s many, varied interests were birds. He loved seeing them, and sketching what he saw. He also could imitate them, and frequently did so.

I wondered, in my youth, if birds considered this sort of thing mockery. Or if he sounded to them like he had an accent.

About that same age, I heard the girl’s chorus at my school sing “Ladybird”, a setting of a Hungarian folk song by composer Zoltán Kodály. The lyrics were

Ladybird, O fly now,
Up into the sky now,
Hark to the drumming!
Now the Turks are coming!
Hurry, hurry will you
Or they’ll catch and kill you!
Pickle you in brine,
Tie you up in twine,
Trussing you to toast you,
Griddle you, or roast you.
Take you to the tower,
Grind you up in flour
Hear the Turks a-coming,
Mustn’t let them catch you!
Fly! Fly! Ladybird, O Fly now!

I wasn’t quite sure what a Ladybird was, but I was now aware that they lived a life of imminent peril.

My parents told us a story years ago about going out to see the Alfred Hitchcock movie “The Birds”. Not only were they gravely unsettled by it, they suddenly noticed how many birds there were, everywhere they went. In large groups. Planning something nefarious.

Perhaps revenge against the Turks. Or my dad for his bird impressions.

plus five

the world has seen the stars as they turn by,
a carousel:
another set of bed clothes put away,
new clientele
to occupy, unknowing of the past —
the state where everything must go, at last.

they sky is singing: perfect artistry,
to parallel
a gathering of silent coterie
to citadel
the heaviness of wings that have no birds,
the noise of feelings that can’t find their words.

there is one pattern,
any, everywhere —
the heart at last to float
on open air

My mother, the mother of my sister, brother, and me, did indeed die, December 5th, 2018.

She was ready.

I’m grateful for the 17 days I got to spend with her last month. I’m glad my she and my brother got to see each other as well. My sister and her husband were there with her at both the beginning and the end of the last six weeks of her life.

Even though my father was one of seven children, and my mother one of fifteen, to me, growing up, the five of us were what I considered “my family”. That was largely because we lived in Florida and my grandmother and aunts and uncles were spread all over the country, albeit with a concentration near Rochester and Niagara Falls, New York.

Times when we siblings have been able to gather together have been very few in the last few decades: there was Christmas my parents’ last year in Florida (1998), my father’s funeral (2004), and my mother’s 80th birthday party (2011).

And now.

In a weird way, I think my mother was prouder of us for being there at the end than of anything else any of us ever did, individually or collectively, because there really wasn’t anything we could do except be there.

And “being there” is what any family, literal or metaphoric, is all about.

All Anyone Can Do

Anything I encounter in life reminds me of everything else: it can be hard to organize your thoughts when this is the case.

As a poet, I can pull anywhere from the stream of these associations, regardless of how tenuous the connections seem; as an essayist, I find my habit of jumping around from thing to vaguely related things to be somewhat tiring. Fortunately for me and you and the blogging world as a whole, I will return tomorrow to poetry for 98% of my writing time.

I experiment quite a bit with my poetry: that would not at all be visible this last month, as I have written virtually every day in the same style: short, rhymed poetry, typically conveying a single thought or image. In practice, while I do write a lot of poetry in that style, I vary devices quite a bit more. The one consistent thing is that I write in short forms: that is a matter of aesthetic preference. I prefer short poetry when I read: I also prefer short musical pieces, short stories, etc.

I realize that never writing long works is a limitation: however, to me, limits make creativity possible. Without limits, creative processes have a hard time ever starting.

I like employing somewhat whimsical limitations when I sit down to write a piece. I got the idea from reading about the process Serge Prokofiev used when he wrote the last movement of his “classical symphony”:

“I crossed out the first version of the finale and wrote a completely new one, endeavouring, among other things, to avoid all minor chords”

The employment of arbitrary limitations has really appealed to me ever since. I had also noticed, as a teen, how often people’s “best” songs were written for movies: i.e., how the imposition of limits on subject matter actually seemed to help.

When I look at the list of the ten most popular pieces I’ve written, one of them of them employed this technique: “Of Love” uses only one-syllable words, which is a very whimsical type of limitation. In this case, the idea of the limit came from a WordPress Daily Prompt.

Looking at others of my more popular poems, I see the most common type of poem I write is one inspired by the photograph or illustration that proceeds it. “Now, When I Remember You” is one such piece, as the woman picture there looks remarkably like the girl the poem was about. That piece is possibly my favorite thing I’ve ever written. Another such poem is “Snapshot: Passing By A Woman In The Hotel Lobby“.

I have a number of series poems: one set consists of “Old Poems”, the most popular of which, so far, I wrote at age 16. The original would be barely recognizable relative to this heavily revised version.

My most popular piece I’ve done so far is an autobiographical one about my illness (“The Life I Could Have Had“). This was, and continues to be, a surprise to me. The second most popular piece I’ve written is about a dog my wife had (“Old Dog“); this is only surprising to people who know me personally, and who know of my pathological fear of dogs.

Others include one about my mother (“To See My Mom“); A whimsical poem inspired by a picture of a semi-conscious lioness (“Tired“); and a couple more about being a reader (“I Only Know“), and a writer (“The Poet’s Fate“).

When you write, all anyone can do is tell their stories as honestly as they can. I will continue to write out here, and I’m grateful to those of you who have taken time to read and comment. I know I’m terrible about responding to comments, but I hope you know I have appreciated them.

Nano Poblano 2018 – Complete.

across the field, in waves of circumspection,
we waited on the coming of the grain:
the sky was blue, but full of misdirection,
we opted out of joy and into pain —

along the vast expanse of our intentions,
we struggled to accept our own beliefs —
an many were our manifold conventions,
our sighs, our tu quoque’s, and kindred griefs —

across the field, in waves of habitation,
we waited for the gleaning, and the rind:
the sky was all we had, our destination,
the heart of all we kept to sate

the mind

One Heaven Too Many

I was fourteen, we held hands on a bus —
Why do I still remember?
All of our friends were looking at us,
Why do I still recall?

The summertime heat and the way her heart beat —
The joy-of-the-touch, and the this-is-too-much —
The whispering looks, and the smiles, and such —
I still can remember it all, it all,
But do not know why I


Love is just about the only thing in life that really matters, but it sucks.

I consider myself something of an expert on love, in the same way people who have never sang publicly or become proficient on a musical instrument consider themselves experts on music.

I am because I think I am. Kind of like Descartes, without the Latin.

Love is a two-handed giver: with one hand, she gives joy and meaning; with the other hand, she carries a river of guilt feeding into an ocean of regret.

I still feel guilty about the first girl I ever held hands with, and: (1) it’s been a minute, and (2) the chances she remembers (wherever she may be) are virtually nil.

She was thirteen, and I was fourteen. She wrote me a long letter afterwards talking about how much I had hurt her.

I still remember entire passages of it, and can see it in her beautiful loopy handwriting.

“How can you like someone, and then just not like them?”

How, indeed. I don’t know. I was fourteen, I was an idiot, I am still an idiot, I don’t know.

I do remember that the feeling of being close to someone was kind of overwhelming. I liked it, it was heaven, but it was like one heaven too many, if that makes any sense.

Which, I know, it doesn’t.

I have been married now for eighteen plus years. My wife is very good to me. But I don’t understand love any more than I did at age fourteen.

Love is like a jigsaw puzzle turned upside down: you know when the pieces come together, it makes something beautiful, even if you cannot always see it.

Or love is like a beautiful cottage in the woods on a bright Spring day: it looks idyllic, but in real life, you would be complaining about lack of cell service if you lived there.

Or maybe, love is like a bird: always there, always beautiful, frequently unnoticed, and sometimes it gets pissed and flies off.

As a poet, I have a responsibility to generate seemingly endless numbers of metaphors for love. So I do it.

But I still feel bad about what I did when I was fourteen.


across these last few steps,
an echo and a chance —
the memory of a song,
the shadow of

a dance

She walked out into a cold November morning, not really caring where she was headed.

When she and her husband had arrived at the farm the previous night, it had been dark. When she mentioned she might want to walk in the morning, their hosts had said, “That should be fine. Just don’t climb anyone’s fence, and anywhere else you go should be good. I wouldn’t recommend walking on the ice just yet, though.”

Walking on ice was not a thing she was ever likely to do.

Friends of her husband had bought this place a couple of years ago, and had been after them to come visit ever since. She and her husband decided to go for a few days the weekend after Thanksgiving; her parents having elected to go on a cruise, part of their usual holiday plans were off.

It was about a six hour drive, made mostly in silence. They did not seem to talk much these days: when he drove, she scrolled on her phone and made occasional comments that he would acknowledge by slight movements of his head. When she drove, he pulled his hat down over his eyes and slept.

Upon arrival, he and his friend went straight to the liquor cabinet. She knew he would be drinking pretty much for three days straight: that, and watching football.

The sun had been up for half an hour before she had made her way outside. She walked down the driveway, chose a direction (uphill) and headed off. After about 20 minutes, she came upon a field with a beautiful tree and some tire tracks, largely iced over. She took a picture of it with her phone, then considered who she might send it to. She sent it to me.

Me: That’s pretty. Where are you?
Her: We are up on a farm near Frankfort for three days.
Me: Looks cold, but beautiful.
Her: How is your mom?
Me: My brother is with her now. She has good days and bad days.


Me: So how are things with you guys?
Her: Same. Bad. I don’t know that he ever loved me.
Me: Do you love him?
Her: Yes, or I wouldn’t be trying so hard.
Me: Are you still “in love” with him?
Her: … No.


Me: Call me.

So she did. We talked for about an hour, and I got the details above, and a myriad of others. Near the end of our conversation, she said:

Here’s the thing: I could leave today. I could just end it.

Why don’t you?

I don’t know. I remember a different us. He used to want hear about my day. He used to look at me when we spoke. It seemed like we believed in the same things.

And now…?

She never answered my question.

I could hear, though, the sounds of her footsteps in the snow, the crunching of boots on leaves, and her breathing as she made her way, whether onward or back I do not know. The sound of a lifetime, years of heartache and hope, captured forever in the immensity of a moment’s reverberation.


A smear across a sullen sky:
But then, a little underlight —
The morning’s gray and hard and cold,
But maybe, it will be all right.

There was a time when life was kind,
And not a cause for fight or flight:
The day is full of trouble now,
But maybe, it will be all right.

Inside, my bed is soft and warm,
But that must wait until tonight:
The day is charged and beckoning,
So maybe, it will be all right.

A sullen sky of slate and green,
With just a touch of underlight:
My heart is swollen flush, and full,
But maybe, it will be all right —

Yes, maybe
It will be

All right

We all start with one heart and a view of the world as one big thing. But eventually, our heart splits into several hearts. This is because we do not have the emotional strength to think about everything at once anymore.

”Compartmentalizing” they call it. You put this heartache (and its heart) away for awhile. And then you put another one away. Sooner or later, your one big heart is split into so many little hearts, you are not entirely sure where they all went. Or if you even still have them all.

But it’s how we survive.

A heart is like a firework: made to splinter, but to shine in the process. And a heart is is almost as brief as a firework.

One year, when I was around 30 and still lived in Florida, I went with my ex-wife and my parents to watch fireworks on the 4th of July. The sky had an odd, underlit cloud cover that night, and the fireworks were the more spectacular for it, shining in the air, and reflected above, as well. The feeble underlight of the town turned bright with each new rocket.

For some of us, writing is a type of underlight, a reflection of our splintering hearts. Bursting, but shining.  Beautiful, but temporal.  Endlessly fascinating, albeit fragmentary.

There is a popular saying, falsely attributed to Plato (among others): “be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” The sourcing is as poor as most internet quotes, but the sentiment is one with broad applicability. We don’t know what sorrows others may be carrying.

That young woman who seems inattentive at the restaurant may be carrying the weight of a hundred sorrows inside: she may have lost a parent, a spouse, or a child.

That colleague who seems so distant may have relatives in a nursing home, or have suffered financial reversals.

We just don’t know. But ignorance of people’s particular suffering is no excuse for not understanding the general principle, which is, to be empathetic wherever possible.

I wrote this section as a reminder to myself: my own empathy has been weak-to-nonexistent in far too many places in my day.

The Weight of Holidays

It’s not the cold and lonely, it’s
The memory of

The warm

The holiday season has started in this country, and it brings with it an emotional weight, a gravity, akin (in the physical world) to that of a neutron star. It typically pulls us in, be it for joy, or sadness.

Many of the traditions associated with these days made the world seem magical as children, so we look to feel it again. But the magic and the wonder have become associated with people, some of whom we lost along the way.

It can be a season of tears. Unlike many other men in the society I live in, I have no problem crying. Tears come to my eyes with a fair degree of frequency. Music is their most frequent trigger, although guilt has been giving music some competition recently.

Loneliness is often intensified by the holidays, but so is almost every other feeling. We laugh, we wince, we clap back, and yes, we cry a little more easily in this season.

I realize now, looking back, how hard my parents worked to make the holidays special for us. I realize too, a little sadly, that I might not have left my own children quite as meaningful a legacy. When you blend two families into one, one of the dangers is that traditions get watered down.

Still, many more deal with much greater sorrows during the holidays. So it’s not just a time to give gifts or money to others, it’s a time to reach out to those who you know might be struggling.

I am somewhat introverted in real life, and I’m uncomfortable at parties. I’ve always tended to be drawn to the loneliest people at gatherings, frequently spending my entire time talking with them. Maybe that’s because I myself have been that person.

So be gentle with yourself, as well as others, in these upcoming days.

And remember that it was and will always be love that makes whatever magic there is.

Picture credit : ID 22665349 © Alexandragl |

One Voice

I am fascinated by human voices: all ages, all kinds, all accents, all timbres. I love hearing the sounds infants and toddlers make on their way to speech. In the nursing home where I have been visiting for the last two plus weeks, the staff frequently speak Spanish to each other, which my ear automatically tunes into even though I speak no Spanish. Maybe that is because people’s voices change depending on the language they are speaking, which I am always interested to hear.

The saddest “empty nest” sort of day I ever had, as a parent, was the day my youngest child’s voice changed, and I realized that voice was gone forever.

I am far, far more an auditory than a visual person.

I did not care for the sound of my own voice when I first heard it as an adult. This is a very common thing: the sound inside our heads and the one the ambient environment gets are just different. For some reason known only to heaven, when I first did a recording of one of my own poems for this site, I had the world’s worst Irish accent.

I am about as Irish as a bowl of Pad Thai. I do really like Yeats, though.

When it comes to how I speak, I have been made fun of all my life for my tendency to use words that “no one has ever heard of”. I have always loved words as much for their sound as for their meaning, and any word I happened on that combined a unique sound with a shade or connotation not elsewhere found was destined to show up in my speech.

Them, age 14: You must sleep with a dictionary.
Me, same age: Depends on how meretricious your mom is feeling.

If they had known what I meant, there might have been more trouble. The inclusion of the word “mom” was enough to clue them in, though.

I work with some of the brightest people I’ve ever known, and I still get called out on my word choices. I don’t do it consciously. I just talk and words come out.

Two of the “Cheer Pepper” (Nano Poblano) posts that have struck me most forcefully this month are by Renee Robbins and Ra Avis, both about issues they encounter because they speak quickly. I have actually spoken to the latter, and it never struck me that she speaks faster than usual. My impression of her has always been that she sounds wicked smart.

Of all the “talents” I may possess, the one that my wife marvels at the most (in terms of how often she comments on it) is that I can understand what almost anyone of any age is saying to me, in spite of cadence, accent, age, or anything else. I think this is part of being so sound-oriented. It has come in handy at a nursing home these last few weeks.

But back to the posts referenced above. Making fun of people for the way they talk is one of the surest signs, on the part of the person making fun, of a limited intellect and even more limited empathy. It is identical, in my mind, to making fun of people for how they look — in other words, it is the lowest of the low kind of behavior.

We all have one voice, and it is not just part of us, it is us. Each individual human being is a type of music, with her or his own rhythm and cadence. Accents, dialects, inflections… each one of those things is the product of thousands of different life experiences. So when you disrespect someone’s voice, you aren’t just disrespecting the “them” you meet, you are disrespecting their history.

So be proud of your voice. It has taken you all of this time to get it, and that has not been easy. And it is a good voice, the only one quite like it in all the world.

One day, a sound came in the world
Like none that came before;
Its waves would travel far and wide
To this and every shore —

The music of an inner life
Made outer into sound,
And though its beauty was but heard
By those who were around,

Know this: that you were born to make
Such waves upon this earth
As make the waters heavenly
As you have been

Since birth


The book is closed, the pages read,
The heart, the hand that kept and fed,
The journey walked, the words all said,
The wall is done retaining —

The shadows lengthen, as they will,
And winter slinks in, with its chill,
No more is added to the bill,
For all that’s left

Is staining

Friday morning, 3:13 a.m.

He worked with wood in an old workshop in the back of the house. A lathe, a saw, a sander. It always smelled like lumber and sawdust.

He would carefully match and fit grooves and notches. A shelf, or a cabinet would gradually appear, perfectly smooth surfaces. Built thoughtfully, to be a sturdy as possible.

I watched, silently, with the eyes of a son. Wood, that old and sacred material, shaped slowly and purposefully. An ancient rite (with a smattering of modern tools thrown in) that had been going on for many hundreds of years.

At the very end, when the work seemed finished, he would stain the wood. I knew that staining was very much like painting, but painting wood was a surface sort of thing, and staining was something deeper, more thoroughgoing. Or at least, that is how it seemed.

All around our house sat the products of his hands. Our stereo cabinet. Bookshelves. Mantle by the fireplace. Even a harpsichord. He thought through them, shaped them, built them, stained them.

Friday morning, 4:47 a.m.

My brother arrived here Thanksgiving around 3:00 in the afternoon. However, our mother had been asleep that entire day, and she stayed that way after he arrived. She had been up the prior two days, if you can call being moved from a bed to a chair, eating a few bites of food and staring at a TV, “being up”. Which I do, because she was alert and aware, and speaking.

He and I, who hadn’t seen each other in over five years, went to dinner after visiting hours. We talked, ate, and walked around for a few minutes after. My brother, my sister and I own a series of memories that no one else in the world is privy to. We didn’t talk about those, though. We mostly talked about the sort of random subjects we always have. And laughed — a lot. That felt good.

I have spent the last two-and-a-half weeks trying to do what I could for my mother, which is not much, because there is not much that can be done. I will now leave that to him. Our sister did the same thing for two weeks before I arrived. We will all return here at least once more, when the inevitable happens.

When someone has died, you sometimes hear questions, like: what is worse, a sudden or a slow death?

Answer: the death where someone dies is the worst kind.

In fact, I don’t even know what the question even means, other than it is still one more example of humankind’s fascination with turning everything into some kind of perverse competition.

Friday morning, 7:17 a.m.

Around my mother’s room in the nursing home are what is left of a lifetime of accumulating the kind of stuff people accumulate. She collected burro figurines, and there are quite a few of those. Pictures of my father, and her three children. A few other family photos, including one of my wife and me.

When she and my father moved west, they got rid of a lot of stuff. After he died and she moved into an apartment, she got rid of still more, then still more when she went to assisted living, and still more when being moved into the nursing home.

Whittled away, liked edges of wood. Everything fit into notches. Nothing left but the staining.

I don’t know if she will be awake today, or if she will ever wake up again. But I know she is just about ready.

Just about ready.

Friday evening, 5:38 p.m.

She did wake up, Friday afternoon. Smiled at my brother and me, and introduced us to the social worker as her handsome sons.

Asked for something to eat and drink. Told us now glad she was to see us.

I know I’ll be back here soon. But I guess I’m ready, too.

To go home, that is.