Thursday, January 3, 2019

Poem for Dad on 70th Birthday

Love, Dad

I thought I knew my father best on the handball court;
watching him down below from balconies as a boy,
his muscular body coiled to strike the hard black ball
as it wrapped around the white cement back wall.

I also knew my father in suits and ties.
The smell of his cologne.
The power of his hugs when he finally got home.

I knew my father by his sighs
and darting glances
that told me I’d lost his attention,
temporarily passed from his field of vision.

I knew him by his boxy squared off printed letters.
And his looping baroque cursive.
Love Dad, Love Dad, he always signed his notes and presents,
tracing my finger tip over the black ink.

I knew my father when his hair began to turn;
senatorial gray temples
and then a moon white silver.
I knew him by the slight limp
that deliberated into a mechanical lumbering
after he got his new knees.

I could write a paragraph on his golf swing.
His forehand slice down the line
The perfect way he parted his hair
His tiny razor teeth
His famous impatience
His unwavering self belief.  
I knew him by his strength
His courage
His indefatigable will.
But I also knew him by
his frauds and flaws and faults.
And I said to myself: these are the main things to know.

But now I know I knew him least of all.
These things I decided I knew
were both true and untrue,
real and imagined.
There is too much to know.
The mind must make decisions
which then become barriers
to the only knowns that matter.

Just as a child doesn’t choose the things he remembers,
all fathers and sons
just sort of end up with each other
without much say in the matter.
Over time they see only reflections
of themselves in each other
instead of the flickering glint of glorious light
that was there from the beginning.

All that he is, I am not.
And all that he’s not, I’m always claiming to be.
And so the stories they tell about dad and son
are just the stories they’ve been meaning to tell
about their own respective selves.
A conjured cloud of unknowing,
a long wasted prelude,
to an ending that was there all along.

A father just wants to be followed.
And the son just wants to be seen.
Why does it take so long
for them to see that this is just
two sides of the same old thing,
opposite faces of the truest,
most natural species of love?

Maybe I did know him best of all
down there on the courts, years ago
surrounded by four cement walls,
my eyes wide in wonder and awe.
And maybe that’s when he knew me best,
turning to point to his son in the balcony
after an ace or a hustling dig,
his face young and unhurried,
his own eyes wide in wonder and awe,
to have his boy, here, watching it all
right here between these four walls.

The father gives life
And the son receives.
And the father now sees that he is seen,
that he is known,
by a boy who carries the same fire
the same spark in his eye
that someday he will find
in a boy of his own.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Poem


Our lives are parallel lines
But not in the mathematical sense,
(The certainty that they will never cross)
Which might be fine.
But it would be our great loss.
I believe in the sanctity of uncertainty
The possibilities beyond sight
When solids melt into a liquidity
That falls over the edges of cliffs
Into warm pools that heal all rifts

The law of parallels mandates unveering rigidity,
Straightness into eternity.
Never to touch.
Never to kiss.
But in the far off darkness, the eyes adjust,
Begin to see where our lines
Start to loosen and twist
Like arborizing vines,
Alive and sinuous and free,
Coiling up the trunks of ancient trees.
All laws break down in time.
Parallels no longer equidistant,
Verge toward tangency, subtle as an optical trick,
where lives collide with a soft click.
Close your eyes, put your ears to the ground and listen.


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Poem Sunday


I don’t want to get out of the shower
I want to stay in here where it’s warm and wet
Stripped, drip drip dripped.
It’s only a thin polyvinyl chloride drape
That hides me from that chilly lost world.
I want to see you naked in the rain
When everyone else thinks you’ve gone insane.
I want to watch you on the beach
Sunning yourself in rays of ruin.
I want to capture you laughing
As you fall down trap doors of sorrow.
Your squinting eyes are either hints of pain,
As you slip beyond my reach,
Or the unfurling of a terminal smile.

This water is warm and steady.
I should like to bring you inside,
Into the steam where we can hide
From the fearful and reverential unready.
It’s always just around the corner….
Down the hall….
This little space where the water sometimes falls.
Wash my back, scrub my stains
(This is our water, this is not rain)
And I will take brushes to your legs,
All the way from your hips to your toes.
This is the way it goes.
We’ll never clean out the deepest dregs.
But I will wash your skin until it shines.
And I will make you mine.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

Poem Sunday

Poem #5

This poem is not about you.
These words are an arrow shot through
The black canvas of night
Which leaves a white hole that you call the moon.
These lines are a leafless tree dying on a coppered plain,
A claw clutching at empty metallic overhead blue
Attached to an underground body writhing in pain,
In the last clonic spasms before it gives up the fight.
This tree was not planted; it just grew.
I alone am the one to impugn.
This is not at all about you;
This poem was never about you.

This hand on your knee
Is also not about you.
This touch will not set you free
From imagined bonds of hopeful patience.
And all my deliberate reticence
Is not enough time to infuse
Your eager numbness with enough feeling to know to refuse
The tap tap tapping of my fingers on your thigh.
This was always just a bundling of words that must end with a sigh


Sunday, November 18, 2018



What was the way we used to be
When were the times we used to meet
How was that day we rose to greet
What were the words we used to say
What was the price we had to pay
How was the way
Supposed to be
How was the day
Supposed to feel
Where was the why we used to say
Who were the they that filled our days
Whatever you said to make me stay
Why did you quietly kneel and pray
What was the way we used to have
Where is the time we used to save
Why was the way we used to seem
Now just a view we see in a dream


Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sunday Poem


Driving home down South Main from grandma’s in a blizzard
Mom clutching the wheel, wordless.
The girls are asleep in the back.
I’m wide eyed, wide awake
watching us hurtle through black outer space
as the star flakes rush past our hyper-driving ship,
wondering what galaxies we leave in our wake.

Heading for mom’s house
And then off to dad’s house.
Mom’s house and then dad’s house
Every other weekend.
Wednesday night dinners
Summers and holidays
Back and forth along the road
This is your home too, they always say
But home is a singularity
Not a multitude of infinite stars
Dispersed across the vastness of space.
I'll never go to Mars
I'll never visit Andromeda

I have always been en route
Traveling from one place to the next.
Going from this home to that.
There’s always been one place I’ve wished to find
But with millions of stars rushing past,
How would I know which one was really mine?
I have been forever seeking a place to rest;
How was a boy supposed to choose which one was best?

Home is always someplace else,
Over there, a place to someday go,
Never quite right here.
Home is a quest,
a thumbtack on a secret map
I had taped behind my desk.
Home is an idea, a wishful destination,
A journey without an arrival.

This is my son in his home;
He knows no other.
I will see him tonight again in this house,
After the last knot is thrown,
and the wounds are all sealed.
Winter now comes round again.
The snow is just snow rapping the windshield.
And stars are just fiery balls of distant hydrogen
Lighting cold worlds I’ll never get to see.

But I am still traveling along the road.
Ever the itinerant wanderer,
Ever searching for a home of my own,
Wondering about worlds I wish I had known.


Tuesday, November 6, 2018


The Stakes

So what are the stakes?
What are we even playing for?
Is there an ultimate prize
Or is it just a war of attrition,
A battle to be the last man standing
In a land of sudden silence
If you bother to stop and listen

Was this all a big mistake,
A wasted siege of long
Abandoned castles.
Perfectly executed plan
But the enemies are long gone.
The shadows in the windows were cast
By motionless wooden fakes.

Tell me the stakes.
What will you put on the line?
I have pushed forward my own last dime
While you have one foot in shallow grave
And one toe tip dipped in a frigid lake.
Everything is more interesting when there is something at stake.
Everything is more interesting when you can’t afford to lose.
Everything is more interesting
When you’re down to your last chip
When you're all out of time.

But consider:
There’s nothing at stake
You’re sitting around an imaginary table
With imaginary friends
Condemned to the same imaginary fate.
The game itself will have to suffice.
Your pile of chips is just a glacier of melting ice.
And the cards are shards of splintering trees.
There is no heaven.
There is no hell.
No redemption.
No eternal gnashing of teeth.
There is no final justice,
No pearly gates,
No hounds of hell.
No one is there to tally your scores.
The second you rise from the table
All your winnings disappear.
It's the nothingness you've always feared.

A youngster arrives to play
And wants to know the stakes.
You are now one of the grim grizzled veterans
Nodding your heads with knowing grins.
This is when the game really begins.
The cards keep coming, round and round.
Dry mouth, inelastic skin
Rasping thirst no stream could ever slake
There are no stakes.
There are no stakes.
You remind yourself.
There are no lakes of lava waiting to steam your sins
You say a heart breaks but what is that sound we hear pounding in your chest?
You can’t lose what you never had.
Bet the house, push all in.
Bluffing is the same as playing;
Your full house, your royal flush
Your lonesome pair of smudged black threes.

The Kings are all fakes.
The Queens are all fakes.
The Ace up your sleeve is the only true thing
But it can’t be played here;
Here, everyone is watching.

There is only this moment in time
When you play this card,
When you play that card,
And you play your last card,
Before the earth quivers and shakes,
Before our hearts all start to shudder,
Before this one true heart breaks.