By request I said, yes,
to a challenge that I work
one special word into a poem.
I found it in my lexicon
and liked the way it sloshed
and rolled around and round
over and under my tongue.
Some words behave like that—
like playful kittens with eyes
just open romping and pouncing.
This word is fun to hear and fun
to say and that, my friends, is just
enough to sway this simple
poet. Like cinnamon apples
served on platters of silver
this palate pleasing word
is nothing more nor less than
Some don’t believe in muses, but
At dawn mine spins my heart.
I don’t deserve such tenderness.
Perhaps one day we’ll part.
Then I will look upon the day,
Pretend she wasn’t real,
Pretend those fairy tales were false,
Pretend I do not feel.
On my lap, a yellow lined tablet. Penciled, the words
seemed dull. If only words didn’t scatter when kids
fight, or the phone rings.
Retired to a desk. Words skipped a beat. “Oh
for an attic room, with steam heat, tall boots,
and a beret,” I mourned.
Rented an office, kept regular hours. Tied myself
to the desk, faced the wall. A few checks slipped
under the door. Too quiet. I missed the family.
Moved computer into laundry room, close to action.
Words and phrases whisked into washer spins. A short
story appeared on the screen.
Kids in school; bought latte at the café, in return for noisy,
quiet reflection. More words, a paragraph. Novel ideas
floated on coffee steam, filtered caffeine into my fingers.
Fixed dinner – again – helped son with science project, baked
pies for church sale. In between folding clothes and checking
the oven, the computer and I met. Each stop produced a page.
By one a.m., characters crawled out of the dishwasher, set off
the stove timer, perched on my desk, whispered secondary
plots. Something must have erupted from the cooling pies.
Next day, coffee shop was shut. My heroine had felt the café,
tables full, was romantic. Later, in the library, semi-silence.
Books carried on whispered conversations, dealt out details.
My actors kept disappearing in the stacks. I chased them.
Vibrating volumes and voices overwhelmed me. Chapter
ten took shape. At last, one night, as I perched on my bed,
the last sentences spilled on the tablet screen. I cried out:
“I’m a writer – wherever I am.”
(Chosen for display at Highland Park Public Library
National Poetry Month, March 2016)
with its constant stirring
the long pendulum
of the grandfather clock
finally thickened the time
and hypnotized grandfather to sleep
then at zero hour
it started to beat the war drum
dong dong dong dong .....
on a sleepless youngman's chest
Many Southern cities now struggle with the status
of their Jim Crow era monuments placed in tribute
to an ignoble war. The continuing desire to glorify
this tragic civil war inspired the following:
Ode to the Confederate Air Force
High, high above the clouds
The “Lost Cause” sought its glory
Monument worthy, historic deeds
Soaring efforts in a great war story
Dare not question the rebels’ motives
Nor doubt the purity of sacrifice
Their love for all humanity is most clear
The virtue of their cause most worthy
Such history must not be lost nor denied
Instead, marvel at each hard fought victory
Proclaim pride from every mountain and park
Honor always the Confederate glory
Pause not over deaths by noose and whip
Embrace bloody myths through perpetuity
But do beware, history too conveniently wrought
Fosters bitterness stretching an eternity
In the garden a single drop of water,
plump as a cranberry,
Flashes iridescent color
back to the rising sun.
A surprise to my eye, for
wetness lingers on a myriad of green leaves,
But only one solitary circlet of dew shimmers
and ignites my morning with solar fire.
seemed a lark
so exotic to a northerner
transplanted to Florida
in the back of the van
we planted it at the edge
of the old swamp creek
behind the house
and waited for bananas
fertilized by eons
of flooding it became
a grove of trees
each one taller than the last
small bunches of fruit
hardly enough for
a single loaf of bread
but satisfied a longing
for a tropical paradise
where your next meal
will grow on trees
We talk with goblins, owls and sprites:
If we obey them not, this will ensue,
They'll suck our breath, or pinch us black and blue.
Dromio of Syracuse, The Comedy of Errors, Act 2, Scene 1
Not dark woods but the city’s heart, we
wander, fearful, almost hesitant to talk.
The moon hides behind clouds. With trepidation,
we tread on shadows, hear goblins groan
and growl. In a tree three owls give hellish hoots,
call out our names, and seek to lead us on. Through
fog we see six sprites who tempt us to forget
our destination. If we follow, their magic
will control. We ponder where to go
and whether to obey our own instincts
or follow them wherever they lead. We turn
away but not in time; invisible chords
pull us this way and that. We cannot
do what we will, but only what they force us to.
What will ensue? Owls hoot again, the goblins groan.
Now they'll hold us captive. Like children
we suck our thumbs for comfort,
wish for our friends to come and save us.
We feel the breath of ghouls hot against our skin.
Will they kill us or enslave us? Are we in
a dream? I pinch myself to see, but it seems real.
They hold us captive. Streetlights blink out.
All is black until we reach out to each other
and hold hands. Sprites disappear. The sky
NOTE: The Snake is a form I invented. It was
published in The Rockford Review, XXXVI, 1
I know I've been a bother
It's true I've been a pest
It was just I could not rest
The numbers of the Jan. chore
Eluded this old nagging bore
First emails flurried to one & all
Whose replies I do not seem to recall
So calls and texts and messages left
Were a goal to find member totals
One and all both near and far, afar
Some mailed , one text, & emails few
But no replies made me realize a fool
I've been to care & even fret so much
When sunshine days are almost here
And now I must decline with cheer
A job so fret with challenge & fear
Without the help we all can use
Alone we cannot pay our dues
Or play by rules and records due
Without being a troublesome nag
So count me out, I would not be sad
If seen a help and not a persistent hag.
Everybody wants to know what love is.
Everybody wants to read about it
And write about, and hunt it,
And find it and keep it,
And hide it and lock it up
Until it dies of asphyxiation,
Or flaunt it and publicize it,
Photograph it, or classify it
Until It dies of overexposure.
I know what love is (and I bet you do, too.)
But I’m not telling, are you?
It doesn’t surprise me at all
That love has survived the world’s abuse,
And lives on in plain folks like me and you.
Love is like that!
The waves came in. Then the waves went out again. The waves washed him up
on this Turkish beach. No cuts on his face or body. Not one missing limb, just
a small glistening body on a lonely beach.
He could have been sleeping, but he was dead. A rubber boat that had carried him
capsized in the sea. Waves washed the boy up on this Turkish beach. He looked
like he was sleeping when they found him.
But he was dead when the waves brought him in. No cuts on his body, no missing
parts. He was dead when the waves brought him in. The waves brought the dead
boy in. They brought him in. Then the waves went out again.
(First published in the Caravel Literary Arts Journal)
Today the sailboats
wear three-cornered hats,
bobbing on triple-waved seas,
and college pennants
on a dormitory wall become
the heart-shaped leaves
of a tulip tree.
I dog-ear the corner
of a page to keep my place.
I lick an envelope, careful
to keep my tongue safe
from its gummy edge,
while geese vee themselves
in the sky, a triangle
open to the wind. I seek
a corner in which to think,
the angle a nest for my ideas,
a pine tree like a pyramid
of Egypt, a chip of chocolate
snapped off from the bar
of darkly square invitations.
The roof of my small house
sloughs off the burden of snow,
lets the white slide off
with the sun's timid smile,
making the red bird
with its crimson topnotch
sing on the weathervane's
(Published in Pinyon Poetry)
purrs on my lap
on a quiet cloudy day
and it takes courage
to turn off the kitchen neon bright,
let in morning’s outside light
misty cool and grey,
to hear beyond the closed window
the raucous wild and solemn cry
of brother blue jay.
(Previously published by
Whispers in the Wind)
Harriet Tubman was a slave as a teen,
she stood up to an overseer who was mean.
Ever since then, she began to fight,
fighting for the good, that which was right.
She won the freedom of herself and other slaves,
and was known as a woman incredibly brave.
She died at the age of ninety-three,
after helping hundreds of slaves become free.
She even served in the Civil War as a spy and a scout,
she certainly understood what freedom was about.
Harriet started out working on a plantation,
with all of her family in bad situations.
One time Harriet helped defend a man getting beat,
her skull got crushed, and she fell to her feet.
For the rest of her life, this led to blackouts,
but she still was able to help the slaves out.
In her twenties, Harriet married a man named John,
he was free, but Harriet was still looked upon
as a slave, and she really wished to go North,
where there were free states, so she ventured forth.
She stole out from her cabin with two of her brothers,
they got scared, went back and got under their covers.
But she was able to connect to the Underground Railroad,
and people helped her escape, nothing owed.
The railroad wasn’t a railroad by definition,
it was a bunch of hiding places that avoided suspicion.
Conductors were people, who helped the runaways,
and Harriet became one for the rest of her days.
She brought all her family back to get free,
she never got caught on any journey.
$40,000 rewards were offered for her capture,
but she could not get caught, as if it was a rapture.
If slaves got caught trying to leave,
they were punished as if they were thieves.
But Harriet served others till the very end,
she worked as a nurse helping others mend.
They compared her to a Moses of that century.
She had the will power for her adventuring.
She had courage that was truly revealed,
and the world would know, it would not be concealed.
Now the government might use her face,
put it on the twenty dollar bill and replace.
An eight-year old girl wrote the president and said,
“Why do all dollars have males for the heads?
Why hasn’t a female American ever been shown?”
So they may choose to change it, it’s becoming known.
They’ve chosen the women that might be on the twenty,
they’ve got it down to four, but at first there were plenty.
But Harriet Tubman is probably the one they’ll choose,
I heard them discuss it on the radio news.
You can’t change history, but you can change perception,
people will have to account for their deception.
Evil things can occur in the blink of an eye,
if you stand up for goodness, you might have to die.
Yet Harriet did her job, without being detected,
There is no telling how many lives were affected.
God is the one true blue friend
In whom with we can always touch base
He knows our feelings—He is beginning and end
And wants us to always seek His face
No other friend could love us as much as He
When times are tough and skies are grey
The Lord God feels for us and makes the blind see
His tender mercies and saving grace are new every day
The Almighty is the authority of friends and feelings
And the Maker of very living creature
His unconditional love reaches way beyond the ceilings
Power and majesty are among His features
In every earthly predicament and situation
Our Heavenly Father shall see us through
Just trust in Him and turn away from temptation
You will discover He helps us all—not just the chosen few
Depending on God and obeying God is what we must do
and gin streets
the scent of nature's breath
the cold hard aroma of opened bottles
like hearts in paper bag clothing
it's all the same,
we take deep inhales
at the mountains and the tall timbers
gracing the sunset
and then cry
at the sound of shuffling feet
red eyed tenaciousness
trying to survive
and the crinkling sound
of swigs of lives
just waiting to grace
their last sunset.
The water is slow to warm this morning,
or perhaps I’m impatient
to get this day moving,
to get this day over
and done with.
Our mattress and covers entreat me,
but the world demands.
Tired of barn mice,
the tom curls around my ankles
as I toast the last loaf you made,
make too much bacon,
break eggs into the pan.
His old voice is kitten high
as he asks when I became cook.
I set your place on the table,
two rough sawhorses I made when we were younger
and an old bedroom door
we used beyond its normal life:
A plastic cup chalice for wine,
a rough napkin charger for wafers,
a well used white cloth for the Resurrection.
Why will we call this a wake,
when I know you won’t?
You go on ahead and pass me up Because I've come to a stand still.
It's okay, I'll catch up because I know where there is a way there is a will.
There are times I move a little slower because I am pensive and it looks like
I'm carrying a heavy load,
But the older I get I've become accustomed to looking further on up the road.
No longer can I live in the now and think primarily carnal or of the flesh,
I have to think broader and existential then mesh.
Because further on up the road my Father is waiting on me He doesn't have time
for me to play catch up,
He wants me to be in the number...He wants me to fill His cup.
The cotton pickers fry like meat scraps,
wilt like ferns in the swelter
of the sun’s savage blaze.
Grumbling bellies endure on cracklings
of salt pork, biscuits and black strap molasses.
Gunny sacks drag behind them
bulging from their long hours of toil.
Pappa, Ninnie, Brother, and Little Susie Mae.
For all their years of travail,
what their hands can hold
is all they have to show.
Pappa and Ninnie trudge home,
back and bones in affliction.
Brother and Little Susie Mae skip ahead,
young fingers scraped and blood-smeared.
It’s dusk. Their favorite time of day.
Lye soap baths in galvanized tubs,
Ninnie’s sun-brewed tea, tender dumplings
and crusts of hot water cornbread
dabbed greasy with butter.
Pappa shirtless under the ringed moon,
powerful shoulders coated in
in Ninnie’s homemade poultice.
He gazes above the sycamores and oaks,
gathers his strength to carry tomorrow’s burden
while the years race down his face.
Ninnie in her cane-bottomed rocking chair,
sturdy, lissome legs softened
with glycerin and rosewater,
picks through kidney beans for tomorrow’s supper,
silken hymns vibrate in her slender throat.
Little Susie Mae studies her lessons
by the kerosene lamp’s quivering flame.
Brother flings rocks to the Milky Way
knowing one day he’ll study the galaxies.
Beyond the lopsided, planked porch,
the army of cotton fields waits silently,
glows whitely under the rapturous moonlight,
ejects sharper thorns for more
of the family’s indomitable blood.
But the cotton pickers soldier on,
trample over the barbed terrain
of Jim Crow and Colored Only.
Their dreams lift them high above
the snaring web of cotton culture.
Death comes upon us
like a sneaky cat,
silent and stalking.
Death finds an open door
and creeps upstairs
while we’re making dinner.
Death floods our homes with change
and takes all our routines
and grinds them into a big nothing.
Death crosses his arms
and leans against the wall, laughing.
He’s just doing his job.
it’s all new
I don’t remember
what to do
Try to concentrate
before thoughts evaporate
And did I mention
to pay attention
Did I mention
what I’m saying
My memory is fading
Now what was I writing
Turn off the lighting
and go to bed
I don’t understand
what’s going on
in my head
“You really should be more dramatic,”
the retired Harvard professor of much renown,
Shakespearean scholar who’s never forgiven
Dr. Bloom’s desertion to Yale,
tells me afterward. Holding my book
somewhat like Yorick’s estranged skull
he quotes,“’how best to compare/
the glazed beauty/
of a mound of discarded coal/
in the rain—to a woman’s eyes.’
Now that means something!”
I should feel flattered.
He has called my poems “capable,”
full of “lucid phosphorescence.”
Yet I consider a vermicelli stain
on my shirt from tonight’s free dinner.
I consider the way my wife expresses
her great concern for my clumsiness.
Yes, my reading is somewhat flat;
my wrinkled slouch no visual metaphor;
the juggling of pocket change
no quotable gesture or symbol.
Perhaps I need a chorus of Furies
as backup singers or the animal
antiphonies of Aristophanes.
Perhaps I need cardboard cutouts
of Walt and Emily behind me as props.
Perhaps it is an important thing,
the semiotics of performance,
to play the role of prostitute and preacher.
Yet a poem is a poem is a poem.
Somewhere in Tuscany there is a golden bee
about to be released from an insidious yellow pear;
somewhere I don’t remember where
a gazelle watches three hyenas consume its entrails.
And somewhere, perhaps inside a wheelbarrow
or a mason jar, a poem waits patiently
for the clumsy or operatic reader to finish,
that it may retreat into shadowy elegance,
into the mute loneliness of papyrus and the ink of cuttlefish.
(Previously published in the book American Chicken, 2007)
Because the god of plumbing
had an argument with the god
of laundry appliances,
I met the morning with a mop
instead of hazelnut espresso.
Because of caffeine deficiency
and a wet floor, I shuffled
out the kitchen door, old clothesline
atop a basket of soggy clothes braced
on my right hip, weighty as the world,
oceans spilling down my leg
filling my shoe.
But isn’t it something to have shoes,
and the clean water is a bonus,
an entitlement taken for granted
in my kitchen where I sip coffee
and watch my boys’ bodiless
baseball uniforms run in the wind
stealing every base to home plate.
See the newly hatched smart people
the best of the best
high on homegrown hubris.
they attack the thorniest conundrums,
certain that learning and logic will
unwrap every mystery.
Alas, the vagaries of life will soon reveal
that though their god is Poirot
their fate is Clouseau.
when to fall
and fly about
soaring through streets
and diving deep
into the darkest
corners of castles,
villages and towns,
in its smooth, silky embrace
like a roll of Cimmerian
that covers the land
and won’t let it go
until the faint embers
of dawn flicker, unfurl
and spark to
big, bright Ferris Wheel
turn of day.
(A First Place award winner
in one of the categories in
Highland Park Poetry's 2016
Poetry Challenge contest)
Subway. A singer, a holiday
gift bag, resting near his boot,
no pretty tissue paper
petals here, still he sings with
heart above the gift bag's emptiness,
its squared off space hollow, like a
mouth about to make a wish,
a meager hoard of coins, dark as
old seeds, scattered inside.
His is an angelic voice in
the musty scent of the subway tunnel.
"Moon River ...wider than a mile,
crossing you in style...."
The song interfaces with the
smell, the studied silences, the rushed
mingling crowd , the slouched Everyman
who leans against the iron tiers
keeping it all hollow and clear.
On snowy Illinois days, I
paint a summer scene in
Hawaii, my dream-catcher
brushes tinting a visual feast,
taming the incredible scene by
remolding pristine geography
for an indefinite later, brushes
soaking in a jam jar while my
canvas board dries on the patio.
Vain attempt with oils, alizerine,
cadmium and titanium, to form
a copy of the grand scheme of
smoky mountains, lush ravines,
leaping streams and hideaway
beaches I diligently imprint on
canvas to tease senses, tune the
memories, preserve the pristine
geography of an island formed
of ancient fire into ridges etched
by wind and wave into verdant
hills splashed with seeds and
spores, each leaf, each blade
a mandate for life, a tribute to
the incredible persistence of life.
(Published in Time of Singing)
As I gaze nightward at our
volunteer chandelier of stars
light-years away (each point
a twinkly memory of a light that was),
a white tomcat approaches me
like an old friend and brushes
my pantleg, crying up from the snow
as if in hungry agony.
I fetch some dry cat food,
pour it into a Styrofoam tray
on my porch, and watch him
dine with great crunching.
My eyes in the blazing sky again,
I drink measureless ancient light
into my emptiness as a gift
from the magnificent All-of-it.
Is our future in the stars?
I laugh aloud into the night air,
feeling the moment so mightily
I care little for any answer.
The speckled black overhead ocean
absorbs my laugh with dignity
while the white stray, finished with his meal,
wipes his chin on my pantleg.
A universe above and a cat below
circumscribe my being in this
delicate wintry instant—
love coming from both ways.
(From Blue Sky in Buckets)
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