December 7

I remember this day

not because I was there

nor were any of my fore-bearers there

nor is there a song jingling in my head.

I remember this day

not because I am Japanese

nor Hawaiian nor in the Navy or Airforce

nor have I visited the sunken Arizona.

I remember this day because

back in fourth grade at the Canby 91 School,

the principal told us a story about a family

who gave up four sons to go fight the next day.

I remember this day because

I could never understand war, not really,

not the way politicians wanted us to understand it,

Because even 9/11 feels cowardly in comparison.

I remember this day because

it would be unpatriotic not to,

because loss riddles the holidays

as we smile and sing through them.

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Open Dialog

I’ll start: You feed me dung beetle manure

then expect me to care while you slip

into your usual sophomore depression,

you pampered prick of a prince–

no excuses, you hijacker of hope,

you femme fatale of a man.

I no longer love you, if I ever did.

Your turn.

 

 

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Looking Back

Was it the sweet or mashed potatoes
or football game or pie
that made the day so exquisite?

Was it the way everyone chipped in
to cook and clean and reminisce
about the mud bowl at the lot in 1976?

Perhaps it was the familiar scent
of sage and cinnamon drowned out
by children's squeals and chatter,

or maybe, just maybe, it was
the same old conversation about tires,
or how much people disliked Howard Cosell

even though there hasn't been a game 
called with as much vigor or vibrato
since John Lennon passed on a Monday night.

No, it must have been the thought
that even the old beagle Bosco
knew that we were thankful

for him and his sister, and the two
dreadful cats, the bills, the drought,
the high price of peanut butter.

Knowing how good we have it
amid all that is bad made me
grateful for dandelions, too.





 

 

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Walls

(On the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the
Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989)

Berlin DDR with its quirky, mistaken structure,
abided by the fearful, breached by the brave,
fooled no one into believing its pretension.

And that Great Wall, from space even seen,
zigzagging and crumbling and lasting only
as a tourist attraction of national pride.

Oh, and the wailing at the Western Wall 
in Old Jerusalem, where religion and identity
clash like firing squad bullets and death.

People build these walls for security, shelter, safety,
prayer or isolation; four or more can make a house. 
Oh, but how fragile they sometimes are; how quickly they can fall.

And the wolf and three little pigs found out 
about bricks, and twigs, and straw. See, rice paper walls, 
boy, stand no chance against a gale-force world.

Like you boy-star, adorned in your prima donna barriers, 
tolerated by teachers, sneered at by peers, 
crashing your own pride around backstage, as if. 

So build it high, lay foundations deep. 
As the tide rises, the earth quakes, the masses rebel, 
watch it lilt sideways; stand forever askance.
1987. A wall of fear.
1987. The first wall of fear.

					
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Boredom

A mixture of crawling time
and heart-racing anxiety.
Trapped by obligation,
muted convictions,
penniless, stagnated imagination,
a black hole of thought
stuck will-nilly 
like a centipede in sap.

No acetone can free me 
as I pace the hallways,
unfinished work gnawing
at my cortex, imaginary
vacations teasing my temples,
injustices burning 
from the inside out,
I stare down something.

So I turn to the page,
Reminding myself of great battles,
lost and found loves,
picaresque and profound
art, and I write 
to shake it off
but mostly to forget 
that I can never write of you.




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What He Said

That whole contradiction
between being and becoming.
Poor Rick, stuck in Casablanca
only to remind us that a sigh
is not a kiss, nor is having
to choose between them
a fundamental thing in life.
Time does not just go by,
it whirrs past us 
like the winds off 
a Saharan bluff.

The consistency of change
smooths our character,
polishes our personalities,
settles our psyches. 
I, like the anti-hero 
in the gin-joint of life,
want nothing more than 
to love with abandon
on a Paris balcony
or at the corner dive,
in downtown Inglewood.


 




 

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Bloody Writer

(On the second eve of Robert McKee)

Stories, told and untold, 
breathe life into the shells,
us.

Set-ups and payoffs, positive 
and negative charges ignite each
scene.

If Aristotle were to meet
me on the porch of my dreams
tonight,

he would scold me for asking
such obvious questions about poetic
devices.

I have hours to write, yet time
knows not the monster that eats
pages

as I pen them.

 IMG_0108
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Winding Down

 Time stands still–
     it is a damn good thing
     it is not the earth stopping;
     I would fall right off the edge.
 
As it is, the painful clock
     watching of academia,
    hunger pangs mid-afternoon,
    yawns of suffocation at work,
 
Clock hands beat in place-
     interminable desire to move on,
     stuck as if bent tines would
     forever halt them in their rounds.
 
I then realize that the clock
    does not control the time,
    nor do I. Someone tell the sun
    and moon and stars.
 
I will do it yesterday
     and tomorrow will be important
     not to repeat itself, and someone,
    please put new batteries in the clock.
 
 
 
 
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Aftermath

Moving from room to room,
like moving from house to house,
I wander empty like the closet
where your suits once draped
the hangers and shoes lined
the floorboards as mirrored
pairs. We, too, once reflected

in the full-length doors

framed in brass.

Vacated within a day,
loss without words.
And yet I know you are
out there meeting and greeting
connecting with others
who do not know
what they are setting
themselves up for.

You are the sea and the surf,
beguiling in your lure,
tame in your presence
yet terrible in your undertow.
To feel so alive and then so hollow
makes me wonder about
living at all.

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The Biography of a (Song) Cloud (after Billy Collins)

It is actually not that difficult
to trace the origins of a song.
It is certainly easier than trying
to trace that gust of wind back

to the billows from whence it came.

Just rule out now the notion
of listening for hours and hours
to cassette tapes and eight-tracks–
even vinyl discs unstacked from garages
of octogenarians to try and place its birth.

It is, however, difficult to imagine
the circumstances of the melody.
This song, for instance, given its
baroque beginning and its staccato
delivery, must surely be decades, even
centuries old. Formed on a warm,
humid evening near London.

Of course, the knowledge of music
informs us: the meter chirps along,
four beats to a measure, and the rests
purposefully pause us after the flurry
of sixteenth notes. The fortissimo
at the chorus conjures up Popes,
or at least men in robes.

Once played for friends and family

by its composer, it finally sat listlessly

on the wooden shelf, its notes

warding off the browned, curling edges

of vellum or papyrus or twenty pound

ultrabrite from the corner stationary store.

The first musician who found
its lifeless manuscript, the brittle
skeleton of staff after staff
of black dots and dashes,
symbols recognized by trained eyes
as the melody, plucked it gingerly
on an acoustic guitar, its jittery lilt
crying out the window, whining
for another player, another chance to be heard.

As luck would have it, that musician
rolled back up the gasping song
and carried it across continents
only to abandon it in a music wasteland,
a library of an old professor, where it
impatiently hibernated.

Ordinarily, that would be the end of things.
A new song would emerge. The old composer,
the first musician, the aged professor–
forgotten. Notes never to be heard again.
Oh, sure, a common measure may appear
from time to time; enough for one to
cry from the past, “Mine,” but most

would disappear,eaten by moths and bookworms.

But not this song.
This song lives on.

It did not die, nor would it ever,
for it is the song of the lark.
Or was it the nightingale? No,
it is the addicting chant of the jay,

infinitely stored within evolutionary mind cloud.
Each morning, it caws in my ear.
Each night, I listen for its proximity.

For certain, I would go my whole life with its song

pricking at my heart, creating emotional cloudbursts

in my day, happy to know it,
to have been lured by its
movements, its cadence. In following it,
I  tuned my life and tempered my loves.

To not have laughed and mourned,
been warmed by its windy whistles

or been jarred by its jeering squawks,
would make a life half-lived.
Its song will remain in my cloud
to be uploaded and downloaded as need
arises. My heart will sing along often
knowing the melody and the lyric
will lift me even to the grave.

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Polite in Trieste

If I were truthful,
I would describe his gentle fingers,
slender like rice leaves,
swirling his pen, one hand
in rhythmic motion, the other
slipping beneath the cafe table,
sliding with an easy touch
across her quivering thigh.

But no, those words cannot
be said. So instead,
“They sat across from one
another and talked
about poetry and plays
while wondering why
the latte was taking so
long but not caring
if it took all day.”

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Drought Dreams

Cloudbursts!!!!!
!!!!!Down!!!!Pour!!!!
Flash flood!!!!!!
!!!Storm!!!!!Warning!
So what’s a few !!!!! of rain?!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!!!!!!
!!!!!!
!!

Rainbow highways
in the sky.

!!
Oh, you sneaky
drops!

I knew you would
soon come.
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The Luck of Paul Revere and Billy Collins

I do not like poetry.
It does not like me.
Words march in lines–
the way Redcoats approached
the Old North Bridge.
And I, like the grandfather
of Emerson, sit at my window
as they fall apart,
line by line,
until reinforcements
no longer
appear.
I fall asleep
dreaming of the garden
tended by Thoreau
at the Old Manse
just this side of the
river from the first battle,
but certainly not the last
fought over words.

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Bass Fishing on Lake Samish Just North of the Skagit County Line

I have never been bass fishing
that I know of–fishing, yes.
Trout, yes. Salmon, once or twice.
Cappie–ah, that memory scarred me
for life.

The crappie, probably half a dozen,
on a stringer, flopped in the kitchen
sink–gills gasping for oxygen-laden
water, home miles away in some
Oregon lake or Willamette River

My six-year-old self paralyzed
by the instant loss of life
after such a clear struggle
against nothing comprehensible–
as if fish could comprehend.

But what and if they could?
There I stood, powerful and
powerless. Six years old
and playing God on a weekend
fishing trip,

and they, wondering about the karma
of their lives, lose sight
of their executioner
as their eyes turn to glass
and my reflection judges me guilty

These are Dolly Varden that my daughter caught.  She loves to fish with her grandpa. Only the fish think about karma these days.
These are Dolly Varden that my daughter caught. She loves to fish with her grandpa. Only the fish think about karma these days.
.

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Finding Meaning

Disappeared, it did,
that poem kernel–
an image of a hawk
or muskrat
that reminded me of some
universal truth
that greater poets would
make connection from and through.

Driving south, on the interstate,
chaos-like thoughts
pop in and through
my sunglass-filtered
mind’s eye.
Ah, perhaps it was the osprey
fishing in the Rogue.
Perhaps it meant something.

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Ketchikan

Twelve thousand a day descend
from the lower forty-eight
onto Creek Street–
former brothel row
Now prostituted by cruise industry
jewelers and plastic
totem pole makers
from who knows where
toy hawkers and doll makers

Tourists stroll, content.
They have journeyed here–to Alaska.
They have boarded their dam ship–
the Rotterdam, Fjorddam, or Gotchadam.
They have almost reached the Yukon.

They will miss, however, the Alcan
while Denali chuckles
behind her perpetual clouds.
Salmon escape the net to be counted
in the weir, and the grizzlies
await their shot
to wade out for supper
without reservations.
IMG_3111

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Chilkat Winds

Night comes; I close my eyes
Sleep steals my thought.
Even the dream-maker
has hit the rack–not one
image nor verse to spare.

How can that be–
here surrounded by majesty
Not one fresh thought
etched in the glacier smoothed
valley walls.

Tlinglet spirits rest
among cottonwoods–
houses of their dead, vacant,
decaying back to nature–
despite the mowed lawns.

I sleep through until morning
Unfazed by ghost winds
surrounding me–chanting
their spells, calling
bear and eagle upstream.

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Melting

Being the first, it was not a real love–
fifth grade training wheels
for what would come in sixth grade.

And had I known then how to turn off
that ache, seventh grade would have seemed
quite comfortable, despite that clear-skinned Latino.

Patterns already developed, 9th grade
found aloha love with the Hawaiian, but by
graduation’s sunset, the world expanded.

Bronze, brown, dark chocolate,
Europeans and Asians, equal delight.
The men no different from the boys.

Stealth Native blood finally warmed mine,
Eagle feathers and turquoise tease.
No shock I love the wolf and warrior.

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Recovery

The path out the back door
always leads to the same place–
past the small stand of sycamores,
giant in their journey upward.

Today I shuffle down the dusty trail
eyes glazed with old tears
left over from another night
wondering how the end came so quietly

This solitary trek to familiar grounds
Where I go not to think
but to be free of thought.
Tiny heathers trill, steal sorrow.

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What Happened Next

In this world of instant messaging
and this-just-happeneds,
the reaction becomes more than
the act; the crying more than the
proposal, the shock more
than the returning soldier,
the “Hallelujah” more
than the freed, net-entangled
dolphin.

It was not what happened first
that mattered.

It is what happened next.

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Dude

A casual word–
Not one for formal occasions.
One would not use it
in a job interview
or in front of a judge.

“Dude, you surfin’ today?
“Dude, you want to catch
a movie? “Dude, did you
see that babe?”

In this day of open
transgender acceptance,
it still sounds odd
when used to address
those who certainly
are not dudes.

And no one decent would
cut to the quick using
Dude in the place of a name.
“Dude, I’m leaving,”
“Dude, don’t call me,”
“Dude, it’s over.”

Didn’t your mother
teach you anything?
Dude, you listening?

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American Will

You came with pilgrims
Reinvented with each generation
Reinventing us as we grow.

Woven like aqua thread
into Navajo fabrics,
infused like apple
into Appalachian honey,
your words spring up
in our yesterdays
and todays.

As we meet Lear,
we know our neighbors;
as we meet Ophelia,
we know our daughters.
As we meet Antony, we
know our friends,
as we meet Iago,
we know our enemies.

When we meet Hamlet,
we meet ourselves–
indecisive, impractical,
cowardly to a point of courage.
Striking while the iron
glowed red with provenance,
where our stories begin.

And The Tempest in a coffee pot
As we like it here in the States
bellows out about our brave new world,
and we, like Prospero, see our
past as prologue, and you,
Good Will, our guide.

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Traveling Companions

Somewhere in Norway
a small herd of goats gather
to reminisce about the encounter
with us, an American woman and her daughter.
Oh, they are laughing their little
goatees off–

And then there is the inn keeper
at the Wienerschnitzel stop
who still smells schnapps near
the corner table–a table he
no longer decorates with plastic
flowers in little pots–

Of course, Eureka has not produced
anything quite as grand as Avenue Q–
and we, those same two women,
mother and daughter, just happened
to be there to see it.
And those vortexes in Sedona? Wow.

I’m not sure Long Island was ready
for us–oh, Billy may be making
Lanyards for his mother,
but did he ever make a birthday cake,
out of bread for her? No, he is
no baker, for sure.

Rainforests of Hawaii,
Lake Tahoe’s blue depths,
Puebloan’s cliff homes of Mesa Verde,
Totem carvers of Yukon’s Teslin,
You taught me there is a yarn store
near all of these places.

But that is not all. Yes, of course,
there could be a sappy poem in here
somewhere, but it just wouldn’t be right
to pen “I love you” just-might-somehow
seem trite. So, this little witness
will just have to stand–

To travel together through life
With you as my mother, my guide,
tops all mountains we’ve crested,
all islands we’ve hopped,
all good plays–
and bad ones we’ve witnessed.

Beautiful mother, forever know
that if I could weave a potholder
or knit a sweater or paint
a porcelain dog at Petroglyphs
for you–it would not turn out very well.
So, pack your bags, let’s hit the road.

Oh, and let’s bring Siri,
shall we?

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The Bore

It’s not your best work–
not your worst.
Actually, it’s rather blase–
rather like the woman I met
at the office party.
Not much to say. Oh,
a chat about a nice walk
and the last movie
we both saw but didn’t like–
I carried the conversation;
a total surprise given my
shy character and dislike
for conversations with
strangers. I yawned, and she
proved to be slightly better
than a bore, but not too much.
Then, my thoughts turned to you
and the time we flew to San Diego
on a whim.

That’s about it.
Can you write something else,
something more intriguing?
Do tell, please try.

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Actors

“We must be careful about
what we pretend to be.”–Kurt Vonnegut

I came to see you
at the Sunday matinee.
Sold out, you in your
prince’s regalia
all dour with revenge
and unsurety.
Me, wrapped in the
costume of distance
and old age.

We left the theater,
walked a hundred paces
to our cars. You put on
your mask to head home,
I kept mine by my side.
It wasn’t until time
for bed that I put
my mask on, and yours
came off again.

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Vonnegut

Speak up, will you?
There must be facts that
you must share-
and cut to them quickly,
will you?
I have no time to waste.

What? The time is short
and other-worldly types
will be here to set us
straight? Posh-that
nonsense-making stuff
has simply got to stop.

Yes, yes, you must be
smart, brilliant even,
and so is the sun–
now get to work on that
story, man. Time is wasting.

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One Day More

I’m hanging out in the office at school while Breanna preps for last show of Les Miserable. I’ve been thinking about why I love this show so much. Oh, not just this production, which is one of SHS’s finest, but the show in general. The French Revolution was miserable (hence the title), many of the character’s portray such dark parts of humanity; man can be cruel to his fellow beings. Ultimately, however, that final realization by Jean Valjean–“To love another person is to see the face of God,” rings so absolutely truthful to me. He sings that when reflecting on his adopted daughter. I get that. I also know that I have “adopted” many students into my heart over the years. Some have stayed close; others have moved one. Every rotten, terrible, heinous action committed by a character in this show–and in life–is no match for the magnificence of true love. I’ve never considered myself a romantic–romance is only a fleeting part of one type of love so far as I can tell. True love–the willingness to sacrifice personal happiness and the ultimate realization that happiness is what comes in return for that sacrifice seems to be the kernel of truth that resonates with me. Living is worth it for that. For love. It’s such a simple, sometimes painful, no–often painful, process and state. But feeling it, even for a brief moment is worth all of life.

Theater makes meaning of life.
Theater makes meaning of life.
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We Must Not Envy Him

Little boy with black disc eyes
Circling round on trike
Exuberant in child’s play
Nudging pup to follow,
innocent to life.

Young man, tall with wavy locks
Strong in stature, sure in word
Climbing mountains in single strides
Sure of self,
calm as wind.

Ignorant of others’ woes
Walking free of empathy
He mounts his rise to power
Forgetting you,
feigning nice.

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Inside Eponine

As I realize
you have no intention,
the thought vacuums my heart.

In my head, vise grips pinch,
closing arteries and veins.
Noxious gas slides upward
from my heart like stealth,
underwater air pockets,
their unpredictable patterns
rising toward the ocean’s surface–
toward the place where they
meet the sky and disburse.
Pockets of realization drip
ether, soak my synapses,
mock my dreams,
leave me at once numb
and bruised.

No one, not even those
near, can hear my sadness
ripple away, can add salve
to my aching soul,
can hear the real fall.
IMG_2097

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Sage Advice

Pause. Pause. Do not write
when emotions run deep.
Let the poem have its own
beat.

Breathe. Still. Form,
structure rule on the page.
Readers expect things
like rhyme.

Refrain when passions
rise, when thoughts of lost
loves, broken hearts, troubled
minds create havoc and threaten
to mess up the form and weaken
diction.

Irate diatribes riddled with adverbs
and purple prose, articles and generalities
no concrete images, just epithets and rage
littering the page with unsavory references
to jealousy and pain, clichéd similes like
fire-breathing dragons that burn down
our love shacks with flames of woe.

Do not let the poem escape as your lover did,
fleeing out among the night’s stars like Romeo
off to Mantua, or Jacob and Rachel, or the neighbors,
who split when the woman ran off to find another,
younger, more beautiful beau.

No, reign it in. Control it’s pace, tone,
syllabic squabbles, until there is no
feeling, no hint of personal anguish,
no life.

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Dream Builders

With word and work
their deeds combine
to build the dreams
for all mankind.

They toil with angst
and joy and love
to bring their children
to light above.

A teacher, mentor,
friend or pal–
each guiding footsteps,
brains, and souls.

Using tools like
praise and nods,
smiling faces,
sharp applause

the givers give
to those whose lives’
embody youth while
youthful eyes

take aim and watch–
take aim and create–
take aim and live
a fulfilled life.

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Simple Things

I love this chair.
It is a lovely chair.
In love I am
with my chair.

I love its molded
seat, its finely
turned cabriole legs,
its scrolled backrest.

I love my chair.
It sustains me
in my sorrow,
buoys up my joy.

It tells me when
my body needs to
move; its firmness
keeps me active.

My chair stays present;
it knows not
to hide when news
flares or babies cry.

I love this chair.
A constant in my life.
Its blue hues
soothe me,

inviting my memory
to rise and honor
others with great
chairs in history—

Lincoln, Roosevelt,
Whistler’s mother—
now there is a great chair—
it rocks.

My chair though,
sits still for me,
and I, not famous
nor profound, am grateful.

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Time Flies

I knew exactly the moment
I fell in love with you–
a brunette kindergartener
with crooked bangs.
Your goodness of spirit
belied your age and past.
Fiercely independent, yet
incredibly attachable you
came home within an instant
of our first meeting.

Not the girl who helped
the toddler find its mother
after falling off the merry-go-round,
nor the girl who peeked suspiciously
from under her long, crooked bangs.
No, the girl I loved-and still love,
I met for the first time in a little square
office. In a purple, chiffon
Easter dress, you knelt
beside the toy train table.

You tilted your head ever
so slightly in order
to look at me from the corner
of your eye. Dad said,
“She’s a pretty little thing.”
I said, “She’s magnificent.”
No matter what they said,
the only words we heard were,
“She needs you.”

And that was it.
You came home and stayed.
It was about time– we’d been
missing you terribly your first
five years. That was ten years ago
today. You are still so magnificent,
you are still so loved.
No poem nor song can quite
explain how we can love this much.

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Caché

Yea, I have one-
a stash of gunpowder,
harbored horror stories
from eons ago
packed by ramrod
into my memory.

Every few years, my payload
explodes like it did three
years ago when I unloaded
it on you. I thought the blast
would clear the way,
but it became Krakatoa,
suffocating us.

And now, the dust has
settled, weighting my
spirit that longs to
be lifted from the past,
unburdened by the weight
of the clinging ash,
My tears do not provide
enough to wash me clean.

But, the seasons will change,
and the rivulets of rainwater
will carry away the past
in their run-off, and the
stockpiling will begin again
for the next time you
come around and act
like you care.

I’ll be ready, and
it won’t last long.

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My Daughter

Little does she know,
but I love her the most.
Her purple PJs and innocent
smile warm my heart
even when she forgets
to do the dishes.

I do wish she would
do her homework–
like reading To Kill A Mockingbird
and The Pearl
But I really do love her
even if she doesn’t.

I’d also like it if she were
to go through her old clothes
and bag up the ones
to give to goodwill
But if she doesn’t do that,
I will still think she’s
the best daughter ever.

There are times like now,
I wish she would abandon
the social media jag, you know,
two hours of Minecraft,
Roblox, tumblr, Facebook,
YouTube, FaceTime, ooVoo,
or that weird Floppybird
app that consumes precious time
when she could be reading.
But I still love her, and I do
like to write on my laptop and upload
my photos to Facebook.

Oh, and there is the issue
of playing with the dogs,
oh, and feeding them.
They would surely like both,
But I, I would still love her
even if they starve to death.
They might not be so happy, but
they’d be dead, so what the heck.

Billy Collins is not the only
person who has a favorite
teenage girl.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZSIYQeF7FE

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On the Waterfront

“How now, a rat?” -Hamlet

Appropriate that tonight
I write of dock rats.

You know, the brown
gypsies hidden by day
and night among
the rocks and jetties
of every harbor up
and down the west coast.

Their scavenging
reminds me of my
own search for story,
tidbits dropped by
evening rodent couples
on their harbor raids

or collected from among
the random encounters
of mariners and mothers,
left there for me to discover
like the email you sent
or the Viking ships
near Roskilde.

Mostly, though, the waterfront
and rats make me think of Brando,
Cagney, and the San Diego
boy who died last week
of rat bite flu.
Oh, and you.

A tragedy of Shakespearean
proportions.

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My Introversion

I moved toward the rear.
“No judgment,” I roar
at the layers of fear
peeled from my core,
“Ignore me, ignore me,”
my insides implore.

The speaker waxed long
about feeling and failing,
stories and musings
and bitter, sad wailing
about choices made, unmade
prayers not transcending ceilings.

In the back, my thoughts burst,
what aneurysm of passion!
Can this thought find voice?
My hand shoots up against fashion.
A single thought compels me,
Yet I recoil its action.

The event proves enriching;
I move out through the doors.
Ignoring the challenge to quell
my dislike of long-suffering bores,
who pontificate and prattle,
who blather on in dissonant chords.

I walk past the masses
and look for a cab,
I tell the driver a story
about a remarkable stab
that left me near speechless,
and unbearably sad.

I want to speak up
and sometimes I do,
but mostly I want
my own story renewed.
My condition incurable,
My silence ensues.

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Well Water

I drink bitter water
at the well of mortality.
I find no solace
in being here alone.

Willow branches
droop before weeping
as I bend down
to ladle life

water. I am kneeling
at the alter of my
heritage, looking
this way and that

for you. You, however,
hopped into the well
bucket and rode
deep into the earth.

And I stood there,
alone at the well’s
edge thinking I should
turn around and run.

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Petrified Forest

I have always wanted to see one,
tree trunks turned to stone-
scared silly by time,
maybe helped a little
by that big volcano over there.
Just imagine how frightened
those poor pine trees were.
Ah, those family stories: “I heard
Uncle Harry was scared stiff.”
“Turned hard as a rock, did he?”
“Joe’s sapling got stoned.”

Of course, there is nothing
that says the forest saw it coming.
You know, the whole “Can’t see
through all the trees” adage.
Trees like metaphors.

I just wish they could have
left a clue about what
was really rustling their branches.
Maybe they would have thought it
a better death if they had
ever seen a chain saw.

DSCN0670

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The Trail

Though wide, the entrance, overgrown
briars and sea grass, sparks my interest
as I cross the parking lot and worry
if I have the right shoes on today.

Several bay breasted and northern waterthrush
flit here and there as I approach; a giant
I must seem to the smallest of these
soul-lifting warblers.

I am the only human on the trail now.
The air, fresh with puffs of salt spray,
causes me to breathe deeply,
to wonder about beauty and mortality.

Each bend brings clarity of the surf’s song,
and I find myself singing, as Whitman did–
A song of myself, harmonizing life’s trials
and triumphs in one solitary chorus of endurance.

As the trail opens to the sea,
the vastness of the coastline overtakes me.
I alone am as insignificant as the sand grain,
no more powerful than the driftwood.

But I did not come this way
to realize the temporary nature of life.
I came to see the endangered plover,
to imprint the image on my mind.

Those shortest spells that stay
forever with us are but seconds
in a lifetime of unremembered moments
strung together along the trail of our lives.

For Whitman for Frost for Homer,
the journey becomes more than the destination.
But naturally, nothing profound happens as I walk back
to my car ploverless, unless I count the cardinal,
all red and puffed up with pride, who looks
at me and smiles that knowing songbird smile.

"As way leads on to way" -Robert Frost
“As way leads on to way” -Robert Frost
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Words You Can’t Always Say

I love you or Fire.
Oh, but that Fire rule applies only to public buildings.
Some of the people I love the most will never hear
those words: not Fire, silly, I love you.

They create discomfort as often as they
bring comfort; repel as often as they
heal. No matter how sincere the telling,
the risk remains real, rejection possible.

Love is not on loan. Once given,
love cannot be taken back; it is
like oxygen. Once breathed in,
it will not return pure.

There is something similar about
vocalizing I love you and Fire.
If you say either but don’t mean it,
consequences exist.

For Fire, the consequence may mean
a stampede or worse, a fine or certain inconveniences,
even jail time. For I love you, the unwanted exit
a damnation like Dante envisioned, buffeted around on clouds alone.

No, it remains quite preferable
to remain silent. I will hold
my tongue not because I do not
love you, but because I do.

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Pickwick House

–Philip Seymour Hoffman d. 2014

Inside, the rooms are bare,
emptied when the last party-goer
left just after 2 a.m.

And like the complexes
that dot the city,
some rooms hold life

While others silently
occupy the space
of forever silenced dwellers

There is a vacancy where
you once resided.
It is furnished.

Tomorrow you will be
forgotten like the fresh faces
of the fallen boys of summer.

When your image appears
on screen, the children
will ask if I knew you

I will lie
and say, “No.”

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On Turning 21
after Billy Collins’ “On Turning Ten”

So, I have had all those childhood
diseases by now, you know,
senioritis, freshman fifteen, apathy
and romance and breakup fever,
a kind of midlife crisis for the first
two decades, a dabbling in drama,
a hunger for hangovers.

I heard you say, “You’re finally an adult,”
but you did not back it up
with what that means exactly,
After all, eleven was not that exciting,
and sixteen, that first foray into
freedom was not all that
fantastic—that first kiss,
the drivers license, the permission
to stay out past ten, rather blasé.
,
But now, I stand facing
the mirror and see a stranger,
someone I have seen
out of the corner of my eye
but have never questioned.
I am still Superman, or better yet,
Batman with Morgan Freeman
guiding me like God, my batmobile
parked firmly in my mind.

This, not ten, is the beginning of sadness.
Friends have actually died—
you know, that thing death, that we
read about in books but did not truly
believe existed. It must mean
we will die soon, too.
Fifty is so close now.

I am no longer afraid of bleeding,
but broken hearts scare the
daylight out of me.

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Ends

I wonder as I stare at the screen
if there really comes an end to things.

When the snow melts, does winter
cease to be? Or how about sunlight?

Will tomorrow come after dark
and moonlight bounce life around?

Does not the sparrow, darting
to build its nest, soon abandon it?

And the sandcastle’s dynasty
lasts only until the tide rises

Movies, too, wind up and
then, like clocks, down

And my love of cream corn
ended the day it made me sick

Much like the Boardwalk’s Big Dipper
whose ride thankfully ends

As do the carefree days of childhood
And the hopes of new friendships
before reality sets in.

True, summer is endless in Santa Cruz.
True, summer is endless in Santa Cruz.
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Why You Don’t Read Poetry

Because you think you won’t understand it?
Because it’s always so depressing?
Because it’s egotistical, self-aggrandizing,
and highly impersonal as an art form–
Where is the color? Do you shun it
because you are tired of words
and the apparent dearth of the articles:
a, an, the?
Because it reminds you
of a bad experience in school
or marriage or life?

Maybe you don’t read poetry
because you think it pretentious,
or that it requires too much thought.
Do you think poets depressing?
Does their purple prose make you sick or sleepy?
Perhaps you shy away for the same reason
you turn away from French dining
or libraries or symphonies
or Shakespeare’s other genre.

Did you read the one about Billy’s
dog whose death bed confession
was that dogs can write in heaven?
Or the Frost poem about
fences and neighbors?
Or Bishop’s fish?
Or Basho’s haiku?
As beautiful as golden sunsets
on the aqua shores
of Bali or stunning as
white-capped peaks in the Aleutian
ring of fire.

If you do not read poetry,
you will miss some
of life’s purest moments.
They will miss you.

A poem, like a photograph, can capture the loneliness of the dying tree and longed-for comfort of the summer bloom just below its  sight line.
A poem, like a photograph, can capture the loneliness of the dying tree and longed-for comfort of the summer bloom just below its sight line.
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Alaska

I was not ready for the vastness
of your dwarfed spruce fields
nor the quiet of your winter-worn
plains, nor the majesty
of your glacier laden peaks.

I still have a hard time
believing in the danger
of grey wolves or grizzlies,
dots against the canvas
of Denali or the Kenai.

Midnight suns surprised me
with their brightness, just as
the dark blues of the gulf
waters lured my soul precariously
near the Aleutian rim of fire.

I must return for one more moment
and stand amazed at the beauty
of Whittier, not the city
where I was born, but the
town where I felt alive.

Whittier, Alaska One of many places I dream about...
Whittier, Alaska
One of many places I dream about…

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Wanderer

I could not help but wonder
where the yellow lab with the red collar
came from as it crossed
the highway just north of Bakersfield.

Where were his people? Why alone
in the dry, desolate valley
with February rolling in
its cold, darkening skies?

As I drove on, I pondered his owner
who must surely be missing him,
frantic even, with worst case fears
and thoughts of reward posters.

It is possible that the dog
broke free from the master
and bolted for a better life
among the sagebrush and cattle.

Yes, dreams of being a cattle dog,
free to herd the heifers or hunt
the tardy waterfowl still heading south.
Yes, seeking adventure in his dog’s life.

Or maybe, the animal had lost his boy,
who had gone off to college.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The dog would search endlessly for him.

And sadness grows inside me as I think
about the beast who now wanders alone
looking for kind hands, for water, food.
And I want to save him, but he runs.
IMG_0148

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PSH

On the passing of
Phillip Seymour Hoffman
February 2, 2014

No doubt you stood out
Complex artist with underbelly
exposed to pain’s harpoon

You, who waged war on mediocrity
defying popular appetites in film-
on stage, a master craftsman, honed.

And where are you now?
The son of a grieving woman,
Have you undone yourself?

Who will star as you? Who
will tell Capote the truth
about your passing?

Perhaps each piece chipped away,
or the script faded to black.
Did the role call for this?

Critics pause, speechless.
Their clackity-clack silenced,
remembering the awe of you.

Your children will see your movies
when they grow. Will you be
in the audience, too?

Or will you be rehearsing
with the other lost icons,
a moving apology or sober goodbye?

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Reasonable Suspicion

Today, much like everyday
a young person who has made a poor choice
Tried to cover it up with a lie

“Who snitched on me?” instead of
“Wow, I’m sorry for that choice.
I’ll work on it.”

Oh, the humdrum of high school,
the blissful buffoonery of youth.
How happy they make their parents

How difficult they make their own lives,
lives rich with potential and rife
with self-delusion

And yet, each one is still better
then the sum of their mistakes
growing into greatness

despite the folly of today.
If I did not know better,
I would call them magnificent.

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Rest Here

Last night I dreamt
you slept right on me.
You were in a hard sleep,
your breathing compressing
my heart, resuscitating
memories of your infancy,
memories that belong
not to me, but to some
other woman.

When I woke, I smiled
for the memory
that was not mine,
until the memory veil
became heavy, too heavy,
in fact, so I lay my head
down again.

I wish still for the dream
to return, that I could
sleep forever knowing
you were safe resting
near me, on me.

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