The Spanish expression Cuando yo era muchacho
may be translated: when I was a boy,
as, for example, “When I was a boy I wanted to be
a train driver,” or “When I was a boy I was completely unaware of
the flimsy orchid of life.”
It is the kind of expression found in textbooks of the blue breeze
and is more useful, really, than expressions like “Please put the
bananas on the table, Maria,”
or “Take it easy is the motto of the happy-go-lucky Mexican.”
When I was a boy the sun was a horse.
When I was a boy I sang “Rum and Coca-Cola.”
When I was a boy my father told me the mountains were the
in brown and beige
step with care behind
their English Setter, Mac.
Through corn-stubble fields they watch
for Mac’s back to come straight, tail out,
right front paw up and slightly bent, not
moving even an inch. Mac speaks, “Quail there.”
(Previously published in Limited Magazine,
*The Etheree is a syllabic form invented by Etheree Taylor Armstrong
(1918-1994). Mrs. Armstrong lived and wrote poems in Arkansas.
The form is known for its simple beauty and easy flow of diction.
The Etheree features ten lines with each line adding one syllable
for a total syllable count of fifty-five.
Like a heavy stack
of big city phone books
(filled with names of 50 million
other sorely-laden people),
dread piled on my neck.
feet planted firmly
in the concrete of fear,
“No Exit” signs
Last squeak of “Help”
before all hope
felt drained away.
Crane of God’s
the mountain of worry.
It slid off, bounced
down to the pit.
I was free
alarm didn’t sound
dog barking in ear
headache from beer
cold water in shower
car alarms down the street
no coffee in cupboard
today’s looking off-beat
downstairs is freezing
my pants have a tear
still, the sun rose this morning
so why should I care…
tunneling thru strata
in search of lode
silted landslip locked
beneath screely soil
encased in darkness
at elliptical depth
perigee and apogee
cycle behind scrim
wakeful as canary song
outside linear time
lone crew swings
pickax striking rock
more often than not
fool’s gold is struck
in primordial cave
only miner’s lamp glow
reveals infinite essence
resides in the art of digging.
(First published in
In Search of Lode)
The holidays are here again, and in the past week,
I have been witnessing the stress that the holidays
bring. On Tuesday, I ran out of food for my guinea
pig, so at 8:00 in the morning, I trudged out into
the icy snow to pick up some vegetables for my
When I got to the grocery store, a
woman was walking in front of me with a pink
hat that said, I kid you not, “Bitch.”
I let her go ahead of me into the grocery store, being
the gentleman I am, and she said nothing in
return, as if she deserved to walk ahead of me.
She then proceeded to ram her grocery cart
into the grocery cart of an elderly couple,
and didn’t apologize. The elderly couple
apologized, as if it were their fault, and once
again, she remained silent.
Meanwhile, I was looking at celery, picking it up to
decide if I wanted to get some, and a
senior citizen worker said, “Can I help
you find something?” “No,” I said,
snatching the celery and walking away.
I felt like he was acting like I was going to
steal the celery or something. But then
later that day, I read a newspaper article
about the pension crisis in Detroit, and how
a lot of baby boomers can’t afford to retire,
and I felt compassion for the man.
Then yesterday, I was on way to
church, and I was on the border of Evanston
and Chicago. I was waiting for the bus,
so I stopped in a Dunkin Doughnuts to
order some hash browns. I walked in,
and some man was either on drugs
or hung over from the night before,
but he was demanding a cup of coffee,
and the workers said, “No money, no coffee.”
He then began to insult them, making
sexually derogatory statements, to the
point where one of the workers almost
threw a stack of coffee cups at him.
Then a police man arrived, and the
man said, “Don’t touch me!” and I
watched this drama, as I patiently
waited for my hash browns.
Then later that night, I went
grocery shopping again with friends,
and I had just told them of the week’s events.
They were still getting groceries, and I
was in line. A new guy had trouble
ringing up my order, and two college
kids approached with a case that had
bottles of beer in it. They went to
the other line, because my cashier was slow.
They walked past me with their box of beer,
and the box broke and all the bottles of
beer fell out on the ground and shattered
into a million pieces.
The college students took the Lord’s name in vain,
and the staff told someone to get a
replacement box of beer for the students.
An eighteen year old clerk said, “I’ll
clean it up,” and the manager said,
“You can’t! You are too young to
So, two other girls
put this white ashy cleanser on the
mess and were told to sweep it up.
One of the workers said to the other
worker, “It’s like sweeping up cocaine.”
And I laughed and he said, “Don’t tell
Then I grabbed my cart
with my purchased groceries, and went
looking for my friends. I thought nothing
else could go wrong, when a mother had
her child in the grocery cart and he
spilled a container of blueberries and
blueberries went rolling down the aisles.
All this happened in one week. I began
to wonder, am I the only one seeing
these things? No, the answer is, ’tis the
season. And we won’t be able to relax
till new year’s day, 2014, when the
bad luck curse of the number thirteen
is lifted, and we enter into 2014.
Oh, oh, the coffee dilemma (Italiano).
Not a problem for the caffeinated native,
ordering like his Ligurian grandpa,
sipping at the tiny table, contemplative.
But the Chicagoan, truly foreign,
fumbling his euros like florins,
gesturing, grinning, per favoring,
wanting only decaf for ailments boring,
cannot convey the essence of the question,
and here’s why:
For all her caffé history
decaf is a mystery that Mia in her caffé bella
doesn’t care a prayer about, hoping
for intelligenza from this agitated tourist,
this single-lingo singularly nonitalian fella.
A child on a bicycle riding by
Glimpse of the person that once was I.
Free and pale with immobile face
Eyes that watched & could almost see,
Where am I?
Girl in a wedding dress tense and quiet
Wordless to express emotions pulsing.
Smiles from a picture holding hands
Peeks of the future like grains of sand, Where am I?
Mumble and chatter, endless prattle
Talk of babes & births gruesome details
Avoids emotions true and real.
Do not think nor be a true friend,
Where am I?
View of the future old and tired
Wondering where Life passed by.
Noises and echoes bounce off a heart
Wishing if only to have a fresh start, Where was I?
wasn't on the menu as an appetizer,
a serving of bullets,
wasn't on the program as a song,
the sounds of screaming fans
but not for the band,
wasn't meant for the poor people of Paris
to linger on the streets
in forever sleep,
the soccer ball deflated
the stadium suddenly silent
with mute explosion,
a goal of sorts,
but the agenda improvised, realized, compromised
and the question of which coach?
who sent in the play
that set Paris reeling under a red Moon
there will be no June
in the hearts tonight
November will be the only month
they will remember.
Yesterday, new snow covered the ground,
softly coating every branch and twig, made
the backyard a pristine winter paradise.
Yesterday’s billows drifted overnight, crusted
into stationary waves on the lawn, dimpling
around trees, glistening in the bright sun.
Today branches slicked with sunlight, slivers
of gleam on winter-bared twigs, wink
and sparkle, simply beam now
as yesterday’s snow melts and refreezes
into an icy jeweled coat reflecting the cold
glow of short Midwestern January daylight
falling snow around the pole light
out near the barn creates a halo
in the early evening darkness
mother bustles around the kitchen
wonderful cooking smells
fill the room with warmth
smaller brothers and sisters
run in from the living room
circle around mother’s knees
laughing and doing a dance
she evades tiny grasping fingers
that seek to corral her
she twirls a spoon in the air
as if directing an orchestra
in this symphony of life
“Bang, bang!” “You're dead!”
Isn’t that what we said
When we were young
it was all in fun
we would play and run
and then be done
Now it’s not the same
it’s no longer a game
And yet it doesn’t feel
like it’s for real
are we still pretending
cause it’s never ending
as we pray for peace
it just doesn’t cease
So now we all know
that terrible sound
as we drop to the ground
and bullets fly
while people die
and we wonder why
Because all they say
is it’s black or white
either look to the left
or look to the right
make every gun
disappear from sight
Or if there’s an attack
just simply shoot back
Though I can’t pretend
to know how it will end
I’m not misled
Because I know why
it’s so widespread
I know who gave it
“Bang, bang!” “You're dead!”
Isn’t that what we said!
In the pale glint of dawn, a hawk darts
across the marsh. I wash dishes from last night’s supper.
Coffee gurgles, filling the glass carafe.
Alone at this hour, husband and children still asleep,
I breathe in peace—my hands deep in warm suds,
china and silver soaking amidst the bursts of bubbles,
their reflections tinged pink.
Outside a streak of mauve swirls and widens
over the pond, feathery as angel wings
on childhood holy cards. The sun paints
peach hibiscus, dusty blue asters, chrysanthemums,
yellow and spiky—all sprouting from the dark
of December like the star that once glowed
trill their waking song
a chorus of cheeps and chirps
rising from the bush
or raining from the tree
buyers and sellers haggling
over the price of apples.
We call it song because
we don't know what they mean
Is their chirping talking?
Do they listen?
Is it about today?
Or do they cheep about the eggs?
Do they wonder where I'm going
without a flock or a mate
newspaper under my arm
as the coffee shop opens?
Do they know I am here?
Do they care?
I have walked to the spot again,
a little lookout by Ellison Bay.
Pine trees frame the horizon like a painting.
Black burning warblers, black-throated green warblers.
The thrumming of the pileated woodpecker.
I sit on a bench with spider webs, listening.
Slowly, they start coming. I can hear them
fidgeting before they arrive.
Great crested flycatcher. Blue jays.
Ravens. Scarlet tanagers.
I extend my arms like the Christ statue
in Rio de Janeiro. The birds start hopping, shyly
at first, then they can’t help themselves.
Yellow goldfinches. Sparrows.
Rose breasted grosbeaks.
They have come, big and small, red and brown,
their shadows filling the trees. They will have no fear
if I wait. They will throw themselves at my feet.
Cardinals. Ruby throated hummingbirds.
Baltimore orioles. Wrens. Robins.
I disconnect all these wires and electrical
cords from my technological heart, plug into
this aviary and feel St. Francis winking at me.
Cormorants. Mergansers. Loons.
Canada Geese. Seagulls.
I begin to sprout wings, flap wildly,
fly over the trillium, the violets, the water.
I smile. I feel the kindness calling me.
It is too late now to go back.
(Previously published in The Avocet)
It’s in the breadth of a nose
slant of eye
pigment of skin
Serb and Muslim
Hutu, Tutsi. Aryan, Jew
red and yellow, black and white
It’s in the bend of the knee
words of the Book
blood in the veins
Isaac and Ishmael
Jihad, Seisen, Reconquista
It’s in the edge of a river
the wall of a city
a tree or stone set in the field
Alexander, Napoleon, Adolf
Persian, Roman, Mongol, Ming
It’s in every hairbreadth line
The rain spills
on the conservatory roof
like a broken necklace of pearls.
An enormous dark cloud wedges itself
into the hills as we step out
in the strange yellow light
of gilded puddles.
By the time we get to the theatre,
our umbrellas close uselessly
in our hands. The system has moved away,
and taxis hiss past us on damp roads
as night hunches towards curtain time.
Agatha Christie gives us murder tonight,
and to our delight, solves everything
in two hours with a minimum of violence
and a modicum of propriety.
The usual cast, from butlers to artists,
from would-be lovers to impossibly rich uncles,
emerges from velvet drapes to smile and bow,
their vengeance forgotten
in the glare of colored lights.
After such white-gloved cleverness,
crowds mill about on the sidewalk,
then click off towards the parking garage,
breathless in the warm gusty winds,
a respite before midnight thunder
shivers them in their pajamas
throughout the quilted night.
(First published in Straylight)
One hundred fifty million
years ago, yellow spotted
among the dinosaurs
searching for vernal pools
to mate in frenzied love
seeding new generations
now prompted by an April
New England night.
We wait for wriggling progeny,
survivors of Brontosaurus
and mythical fire
as they migrate from forest
and carry them to the other side
of a dark country road
beyond speeding cars
to spring ponds tucked
among maple and pine –
part of a cycle longer than
we can remember and greater
than our efforts to save them.
Stovetop meal refrigerator art
woozy wheels on the rolling cart
woman in the oven liar liar
biting stench of hair on fire
splatter pattern on the floor
overdone roast guests at the door
skewer them with curse and quip
a pound of Dorothy Parker’s wit
the gist of the matter is the marrow
the house too cold and narrow
truth be told in gristle and bone
she threw in her towel much too soon.
Found the back door,
the easy parking,
the least amount of shoppers.
Two treasures bought.
Then a woman says,
"Oh, I tried that on.
Too small. So sad."
I eye her bulk,
compare her shape
to my daughter's.
Years ago I belonged to this town
but not anymore
now it feels like I'm on the outside
of a fish bowl
watching face painting
and water fights
that are no longer a part of me
Those views have been grown over
with vines of a city life
quick paced commuter's stride
large tables of laughing acquaintances
and unending buildings of the arts
Swinging on these vines is entertaining
and leads to laughter and the hope
that it will reach deep
and grab onto my soul
but it doesn't
not like the fish bowl-contained
small river town I come from
Maybe because what I come from
is a future story of steady love, marriage, children
but my story is, as one friend puts it, gypsy love
loving deep but moving on
nothing indicative of real roots
It just is what it is
Until, of course, I come back home
to the fish bowl that has more root
than the vines
I watch the folks live—
Yet, I make the decision again
to turn away
my heart goes numb
and my eyes empty into a rearview mirror
As our tale begins we're about to find,
a prince and an elf on the isle of Kind.
They're both very nice, like you and like me,
especially the prince, as soon we will see.
The elf is a boy and his name is Bruce.
He makes silly sounds, sometimes like a goose.
He honks so well and his honk is so pure,
is he a real goose? The geese are not sure.
The prince is his friend and they liked to play.
But where should they go on this summer day?
The prince then exclaimed, I know what we'll do.
I'll make a fun lunch, we'll eat at the zoo.
The prince packed cookies for his buddy Bruce,
a jelly sandwich and blueberry juice.
And next he prepared his own favorite lunch,
banana tacos and strawberry punch.
Then off to the zoo, Bruce was excited,
so happy and pleased to be invited.
They talked as they walked and then sang a song.
As they were singing two knights came along.
They greeted the prince with majestic praise.
One gave him a jar of green mayonnaise.
Prince you're the greatest, you're smart and adored,
but all of the while, elf Bruce was ignored.
They begged the young prince to join them and play,
to swim in the sea, and have a fun day.
But the prince declined and made an excuse.
He thought it not nice to leave his friend Bruce.
The rejected knights went on in dismay,
surprised the young prince would answer that way.
Bruce too was surprised, because he sure knew,
the prince liked swimming much more than the zoo.
That green mayonnaise Bruce thought in his head,
it sure would taste great with jelly and bread.
The prince sensed his wish and gave it to Bruce,
a large enough jar to feed a big moose.
Shortly thereafter they got to the zoo.
The first thing they saw, you'll never guess who.
Nine baby goslings swimming in a pond
while one goose trainer, stood waving her wand.
Bruce got excited and made his goose sound.
This caused the trainer to look all around.
The trainer was sure that one must be loose
because Bruce's honk was just like a goose.
The sheep next door found the honking quite rude.
A little lamb said, Hey, listen here dude.
Don't come to the zoo and bother us sheep
especially the ones that are fast asleep.
But since I'm awake, what's that you have there?
That jar of green stuff, would you like to share?
Why of course, said Bruce, to the cute young lamb,
here's green mayonnaise for your bread and jam.
As Bruce walked away he felt good he shared
and the lamb was glad that somebody cared.
Perhaps the prince too, when he's nice to me,
has a good feeling, I'll ask him and see.
So later that day Bruce asked the prince why,
Why are you my friend when I'm small and shy?
You could play with knights, and swim in the sea,
but instead you choose to spend time with me?
The prince reflected and thought for a while
then answered his friend with a kindly smile.
He said, Yes I could, ignore you all right,
you're not very tough compared to a knight.
But how would I feel, I know I'd feel bad,
if things were reversed, I'd be really sad.
I wouldn't like it, left all by myself,
if you were the prince and I were the elf.
As I go through life, I always recall,
that I find these words, the best words of all.
Always treat others in all things you do
the same way you'd want others treating you.
(First published in the children's picture book,
The Prince, and the Elf Too, at Amazon.com)
For this is the message that you
heard from the beginning,
that we should love one another
1 John 3:11
The soft breeze kisses your face with His love,
Shakes the willow’s leaves and the mighty oak’s,
Draws gossamer clouds aside letting spokes
Of golden rays gently glide from above,
Fingers of light touching everywhere, all,
Breathing energy, sentience to life.
Then, slowly pain cuts through like a knife
To force realization of your soul.
Only when life is juxtaposed with death
Do we see common miracles, angels, and saints
Reveal His meaning, purpose and design.
Oh, Thomas! Feel life within; take a breath.
Your soul will whisper, "Note the sin that paints
A world which watches idols, not His sign."
All are writing instruments in God’s hands.
Don't eye the tools; read the message He sends.
among the guests a
young pregnant couple who
donated a nicely roasted turkey
to the festive meal
and God’s plan
is sometime different from man's
in the beginning
they thought she had overeaten
then came the pains sharp as porcupine quills
and the doctor's callous words as he left the room
words blunting the couple’s anticipated joy
“you're young, you’ll try again in a few months”
Looking into the night sky I see
Queen Cassiopeia on her throne
Or Orion hunting
with his dogs at his side.
The revolving constellations
Remind me of the night my father
taught his young daughters the design
Of God’s star-lite canopy.
The sight retains all the mystery and glory
Of the wonder Dad embraced, filled with
A vision of eternity that lives
Here and hereafter.
I awake from dreams of the body of a three-year-old
washed up on a beach in Turkey. Little Aylan,
you haunted my sleep. It was wishful thinking
when I saw your eyes blink open, your hand push back
the blanket someone draped over your prone body,
your little tennis shoe move ever so slightly.
No, said a man as he picked you up, cradled you
tenderly against his chest. It was a trick of your eyes.
He did not move. Aylan, you were dead, drowned
in the unfeeling ocean, drowned by waves of global neglect.
I awake as disturbed as the waters of the Middle East.
I want to call for a moment of silence in your memory,
a cosmic lament against forces of hate and fortressed borders
keeping out the war weary, the disposed, making you disposable.
It is too late to lay a blessing between you and the sand,
but not too late to ask how many more? To ask when will we care?
When will we decide if we really believe the Golden Rule?
I hear sound but no meanings,
as words roll from your past
like the ch-ka of train wheels
or wind breathing through
the throat between rows
of listing stones. Smoke perches
on the bones of your family tree.
But your tongue curls
like an ogonek. Your voice
spills over me, warm as light
trickling down the Tatry
Mountains: whisper of vines
lacing across grass,
the pulse of a forgotten
cave, apples falling
to the earth. As sounds
purl like water in tiny
rivulets, a diphthong drops
from the mourning dove's beak,
wings opening to the sun.
Flashing down the mountainside,
Dashing round the countryside
as I glide.
myself from the cares of this world—
my emotions run rampant—
minded I zoom down this slope
like a dope.
The wind slicing,
my face up
as I brace up
for a wipeout—
out, out and about—
I race down this hill
like Jack and Jill—
faster, faster and faster
until imminent disaster
shall embrace me—
just missed that tree!
As the sun shines
through the pines,
critters stare at me
like I've lost my sanity—
rays are on me like a spotlight—
radiating so bright—
I can't stop now—
To be free
is to ski.
Maybe it is in the stars—
if not the answers we seek,
then questions that we need:
why Ursa Minor's perfect
cup will never hold as much
as others; why there are some
who seem made for trajectories
ragged as Cygus. Cephus'
well proportioned house is an
ideal long gone, and famous
Andromeda? So great,
so complicated. Cestus'
triangle beats for all the
music we have wished for, but
have never be played. And all
those tightly scribbled lines of
Delphius, Serepens, and
Pisces. They start then drop— like
our plans— in the universe's
slate of darkness, out there, where
Pegasus forever rides
a convoluted route, and
Sagittarius is poised,
but never at a gallop.
And always without a herd.
I am not alone here in
marveling at the stars, their
overwhelming silence and
reassuring comfort in
their tiny and pulse-like lights.
In the hour of the raccoon, sharp claws
savage my ducks, one by one.
Claws scrape their feathers, teeth
tear their flesh. Once they find
your fowl, they settle in; they go for the rest.
But maybe it wasn’t them.
Weasel. Dog. Snake. Coyote. Human.
Death is all over the farm this week.
The bay horse dropped in the field,
his tan partner won't stop whinnying
for him to come back come back.
The tabby kitten crawled the wrong
way, now her spine’s broken, unhinged.
Five chickens had their throats slit
by something other than me.
Autumn’s starting to gnaw; the night
air dampers. Pepper calls for Bucky,
follows us down to the corpse, which is
and is not, Bucky, his one other.
We should do something, do something.
Pepper neighs all night. His body crashes
through brush and branches. Bring me
back mine. I can't bring any of them back.
Not my sister. Not my mother. Not the animals.
(First published in Drafthorse Literary Journal,
We saw the fire from our back porch.
Ed ran over—my husky husband;
he was alive then, must have been 74.
Shaking with cold, I chased after him.
He had a heart condition but we
had to do something.
Our Lady of Angels—ablaze.
Black smoke billowed from 2nd floor,
kids jumping out of high windows.
Ed tried to catch them.
A little blonde girl fell, hair on fire.
My husband tore off his coat
to smother the flames. Poor kid—
limp and pale. Would she die? Would Ed?
home to dial the operator.
"Send all the ambulances in the city."
Panting back, I saw Ed, still helping.
A ladder leaned on the old building.
Pushing and shoving, children struggled down,
one diving head first toward the cement.
Oh, help us. My husband stood at the bottom
white and gasping.
Ed wound up in the hospital, amidst all those
boys and girls with broken bones. He'd suffered
a stroke—but lived—unlike many children.
I can still hear their screams
and those of bereaved parents.
Never again—my hope.
(Poem based on Chicago Tribune,
"Man, 74, Stricken Helping Children,"
Dec. 1, 1958)
Published in Prairie Light Review, Spring 2014)
At Christmas some will doubt—
they'd rather see first-hand
the legendary holy child
than hear fine stories told.
Some legends place a star
above the manger scene
to be a beacon guide
to men who had wise gifts—
but if a body of heaven
were wanted to remind folks
nowadays of this child
who was gifted and gave,
why not the unassuming moon,
whose quiet beaming gives
us all an inner warmth
akin to Yuletide happiness?
Humbly shines this second light,
relaying solar guiding rays
to people lost within a night
who wish to find a path.
Who hasn't sometimes wished
to thank the moon for glowing
above a ride back home
from church on Christmas Eve?
The lowly moon a Christmas light?
How daily seem its rays to us—
no special star sent from afar
that never will be seen again.
If peace and softness were
required, the moon has both.
If mystery were needed,
where could more be found?
Perhaps someone is in the moon,
as nursery rhymes suggest—
let's grant this may be true,
and this man or woman is you.
The moon inside you is
your inner manger birth,
and you inside the moon
shine gifts upon the earth.
(From Christmas Reflections)
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