The smiling turtle

The smiling turtle looks like he’s
About to break into a laugh He’s been
Waiting a long time for the punch-line

But I am not smiling
My mirror has misted up
I feel the closeness of the swamp

I think we are sinking
Into the muck of our business
We have to call off the meeting

We have to rethink our mission statement
Count off by fours Form work-groups
Shout out the names of trouble and

Make peace with the gravity
Of our situation Admit
That things aren’t going as planned

I have no ID for this I’m not
Going to pass I’m
Freaking out I need a powerful talisman

Too late for a hybrid
Will the electric car save us?
Will the great wall stand against the tide?

We should have this whole thing under control
By 2025 Will someone just get that
Little sinking country off my back?

I’m trying to be a good nobody
I’m trying to remember
How to make an organic sandwich

I’m trying to remember my name
But I’m too close to the truth And
When you get this close to anything

It disintegrates into subatomic stuff
And I’m just saying This is freaky
My Mama never prepared me for this

She loved to sing Oklahoma, when the wind
Comes sweeping down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet

When the wind comes right behind the rain. . .
My mother would be lost here
Her eyes would ask, where are we?

I don’t know where this is, Mom The only
Signs that make sense are the ones
Too far away to read Signs of change



Extinction is what I am thinking
Whenever a Monarch appears
Dipping over the goldenrod
And landing
Freeze-framing its orange beauty

Extinction is what I am thinking
When I worry
That the last poem I wrote
Was the last poem I will ever write
Freeze-framing its orange beauty

Extinction is what I am thinking
When I have to go to work
But I don’t want to go to work
I just want to freeze-frame the orange beauty
That I last saw dipping over the goldenrod

There is a word for me and you

I am relieved to know
Finally there is a word for me
You too
Aren’t you?
I see you are
On the list
Of those who

Will receive a word
(Albeit a lower list)
We could share
If you are willing
This relief of knowing
Out of the blue

There is something
To replace
The old word
Even if it is
Just a word
And, by the way
If I am ever your supervisor

I will put in a word for you
A good word
Like “hard-working”
Or “self-starter”
Or “team-player” or
I hope you don’t mind

If it is hyphenated
Because you deserve
A little extra
For just showing up
Just being you
Yesterday today

Next week
I hope I am here
To help you celebrate
Your new word
My word
Might not let me
It’s hard to say
This piece is tongue-in-cheek of course. It is sort of red-flagging that we should not let other people define us or describe us. The last lines about how my word may not let me celebrate someone else’s word is sort of a double jeopardy, and the admission that my word is “hard to say” hints that the “I” in the poem has no relationship to how he is being defined, and therefore he is not in control of his fate. This poem challenges us writers to waste no time in naming and defining ourselves rather than leaving that up to an outside authority.


I just got back
From a beautiful requiem.
I’m not sure what died
But I’m back now. 
And I am remembering how,
As a teenager 
I would come home late,
Drunk as a skunk and,
Quiet as a moth walking up the screen
Toward the light,
I would tiptoe up the stairs and
Collapse on my childhood bed
Beyond exhausted, staring 
Into the stars 
Of my private cosmos.  
And I felt as if I had just crawled home
An enormous distance.
2) Now that I am back
I sit up straight!
I am seated in lotus 
On the moon.
My weeping eyes are 
Caked and sreaked with moon dust.
My eyes have just been blessed 
From seeing the Earth-rise.
Blessed by how sweet She looks
And how forgiving!
And as I sit there in moon dust
I begin to think of my parents
Who gave birth to me 
On the forgiving Earth.
3) We don’t have to love our lives
To get away with 
Living long selfish lives.
And we don’t have to love ourselves
For the world to love us.
It sounds like I am talking about God
But it isn’t God I’m talking about,
It really is Earth . . . 
About how we just have to love something 
That She gave us
For Her to forgive us
For everything we have done to her.
And it is on the little strength 
Of that child-like love
That she lets us 
Crawl back.

The swim hole

In the woods
If you stop on the bridge
And roll your window down
You can hear a far off thunder

That’s it and if you park
Just off the shoulder
And follow the path
That will appear

You will soon see
A brightness through the trees
Not the water hole itself
But a patch of sunlight

So head for that
Sunlight and thunder
That is where the water gathers
At the base of a waterfall

As beautiful a place
As any I have seen even in Peru
The feeling is the opposite of the rapture
Of witnessing the ignition of the rocket

That carried a man to the moon
On this 50th anniversary of the moon landing
For this stream is an ancient engine
Powered by a million years of gravity-driven-water

That sculpted these ledges
Into this overhanging hall
Where hundred year-old-hemlocks
Overlook a room

Created by water for itself
My barefoot steps rediscover
Wild water
New worlds proliferate

As I make my way over
Rocks seriously slippery
Now I am waist deep
And I can’t remember exactly

Who I am or why I came
Or what was the mission
When we sent man after man to the moon
They should have sent them here

To let their brains cool
Where the locals swim
Leaving only their footprints behind
And echoes of their laughter

This is a real place that I discovered a couple of towns to the south. of our Vermont home. And the hot day I discovered it happened to be the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Beautiful as the day was, and a perfect day for submerging in a wild Vermont stream, no one was at this incomparably beautiful spot in the middle of the woods but me. 50 years ago, in 1969, I was just as enraptured as everyone else by the global coverage of the moon mission. It seemed impossible and very epic in scope and scale. We knew we were witnessing history. Now, I am far more amazed by what this Vermont stream has wrought without technology through eons of time: A place as timeless and breathtaking as any cathedral. I don’t endorse the idea of any more space missions until we learn to cherish the planet we have that still supports places like this swim hole. What I was trying to capture in this poem is how close we are to losing such magical places simply by not knowing they exist. How can we love and protect them if we don’t even know they exist?


One day eft was walking in the woods
When he came to the trunk of a giant tree

That sloped far up into the canopy.
Why don’t I climb that tree? he asked.

I will be the first climbing eft.
So saying he started up.

After a while he had to stop.
Oh my, there is a lake over there, he said.

Then his legs gave out and he plummeted
Hitting leaf after leaf all the way to the ground.

There he lay on his back, his inertia, profound;
His little body was one big ache.

Then, of a sudden, he remembered the lake
That he had seen from up high!

That water would feel very nice to me!
He would be the first underwater eft!

With all the strength he had left
Feeling inspired and refreshed

He headed for his second first.

How I got to be the greatest show on Earth

I did it by being a jerk,
By not caring.
By telling the truth,
The real truth, which is

That everything is a lie.
Try it. It works.
Truth? Lie?
What’s the difference?

Life is nothing but a foggy mirror.
I just plowed ahead like china in a bull-shop.
There was nothing sheepish about it.
But it worked for me. Know what I’m saying?

Everything was big
And ugly and beautiful.
When I was wrong
I ran the herd.

I ran off cliffs,
Crashed into mountains.
Everyone was out to prove me wrong,
But they couldn’t catch up.

I threw them off,
They self-destructed. It was ugly.
At the height of my powers,
I could do no wrong.

I was buried up to my knees in debt,
And they laughed.
Now I’m laughing.
Pathetic. Pathetic.

I buried my democratic
Bones in the sand.
I closed my borders.
I squinted. It worked for me.

I could only see the raw shapes of reality.
I hired monkeys to brief me.
I raged and everyone crossed themselves.
Was I wrong to build towers

With my name on them?
With lettering in proportion to my excesses?
My improprieties were both vast and nebulous.
Sometimes I thought I was god.

I fired the architect,
I fired the doorman.
I fired the cook and the fireman.
I began to see

My enemies swarming
I felt them watching me
When I turned my back.
I would spin around and say, Gotcha!

And they’re like – What’s his problem?
I made friends with tyrants and thieves
For relief from judgment.
I made my story fit my perfect thinking.

I hired people to charm me,
And laugh when I laughed.
I made so much money, you wouldn’t believe. . .
I hired lawyers

To shroud my methods
Behind their mumbo jumbo.
I made war on germs,
Sterilizing one terrible disease after another.

I wasn’t afraid of dying,
I was afraid of being weak.
The weak are losers.
Who knows what I would say if I lost it!

One day I began to crack
Like my father and his father before.
The first cracks were hard to see.
I could only see them with a magnifying glass.

I grew increasingly fragile
I avoided being jolted or bumped.
I covered my cracks like a pro.
Powders, lotions, you name it.

I began to look like a clown.
That was a tough phase,
I clowned, so it would look intentional.
What could I do?

I took a big chance and joined the circus.
There were clowns everywhere!
It was the wrong circus for me
But I didn’t care.

It felt wrong to care.
It was the Big Top!
It was nothing but a show.
Biggest show on earth.

It was a good move for me.
Everything under one big tent.
Acrobats, trained animals
Illusionists, freaks of nature

Dwarves and giants
I felt at home.
It was all wrong.
Wrong as an upside-down plate,

China in a bull-shop.
But you know what?
Don’t I look great
In a foggy mirror?