Monthly Archives: October 2016

Poet’s Notebook: “November Kale” and brief commentary

November kale

It took me all this time
to notice how the plants
in the course of their slow marathon,
pass on the torch of life
from Spring to Fall

And how,
when the last bit of green fades away
the landscape relaxes
into deep yoga
and goes into zazen.

As I grow older
I am satisfied.
I am sure that I have found a real friend in nature.
The garden is an old friend,
that with my help

Will be born again come May.
My aging has been slow
compared to the swiss chard
and the squash.
Look at these hands!

So wrinkled and creased
and tough like the kale
that is still feeding us.
But even though it is tough,
the kale is sweeter after a frost.

I like to think that I am sweeter
than I was when I was younger.
It’s just the way it is.
Even though sometimes
I feel like flipping off the world

For making it so difficult
to just live and be myself.
The world could so easily
have turned me terminally bitter,
but like November kale, I am sweeter!

Brief commentary:

What I’m trying to say here is that two things are happening at once as I enter the last ¼ of my, hopefully, median life-span. I may not be as strong physically as I used to be, but I am tougher. Life has made me intrinsically stronger. I’m not a push-over, except to my wife. Nor am I as conflicted or as tentative as I used to be. I used to defer to people who talked loud or sounded like they might know something, people with titles and pedigrees and big egos. I’ve got some things worked out and I can honestly say that when I wake up in the morning I am the same person who fell asleep the night before. I might change my mind from time to time, but my heart is steady and it beats for life, it beats against war and meanness and greed, and it beats for what I know is true and real. Also, I care less about image or impressions than I used to and that includes being less impressed by material things than I was when I was young. I used to identify myself with stuff. Stuff fills up our lives and our heads. Ideas are like stuff that fills our thoughts. Now I can fit everything that I am attached to into a medium-size suitcase, literally and metaphorically. (That is to say, even the truths I live by do not take up very much space.)

It’s getting harder to let go of my attachment to living things though . . . and, as far as that goes, I just want to say that I buy into the indigenous sense that everything is alive, including stones. This isn’t a case of being naïve or anti-science, it is based on my personal experience of energy fields or electro-magnetic fields. All my life I have been attracted by certain places going back to my early childhood. Now I know that I was literally attracted to these places. I’ll elaborate on that some time, but the point I want to make is, as the universe animates, the store-bought stuff, as well as the store-bought ideas, that used to be important to me, have simply faded into the background, one reality displacing the other. We can choose our realities to a certain extent but it is also true that certain realities can choose us. For the last twenty or so years the reality of nature has been deepening and animating and calling me out and, now that I am in my mid-sixties, I am finally responding whole-heartedly. I’m just a little sad that I didn’t catch on sooner when my body was stronger and more resilient, but hey, I’ve still got some good years left, so teach-on nature. I’m ready to learn. I’m sitting in the front row! I’m listening. My heart is open.


Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “Dear Internet” and brief commentary

Dear Internet

Dear internet, thank-you for being you.
Thank-you for sending my friend’s poems
on a day when I might not have known
how to jumpstart my thoughts,
thank-you for the anonymity that allows me to experiment

And to revel in the illusion of so many friends
that fools me over and over again,
and even now I tell myself they are real,
so thank you. And thank you so much
for releasing me to sleep at night

And always being there, seamlessly, night and day.
Thank-you for being more than just a shadow,
a sprinkling of holy water on my naked forehead,
a fever in the night, a twisted dream,
thank you for giving me things to do

And look forward to,
for catering to my self-importance,
for helping me get my poems out there
to strangers and friends alike,
for helping me build my fan base

So I can keep messaging the world,
for sticking a million faces
on the boxes of my dreams,
and keeping me going with myriad little promises
of possibilities, like an eternal Spring.

Thank-you for being like a friend to me,
a friend in transparency, a holographic friend
who welcomes my confabulations and
melodramatic episodes of shock and shame
and disgust and contempt and amazement

With knowing smiles and open arms
who walks right through me and turns
and says, “like this”. . .
Thanks for being everything and nothing
and teaching me to see beyond the old limits of irony.

Thank-you for teaching me that everything is equal,
and slanted and rigged and falling apart
and coming together
and that the world is full of martyrs and heroes
and that the neighbors are racist and homophobic

And saints and artists of the highest integrity
and that the plumber is a brilliant tenor in the shower
and cats can be soulmates with monkeys
and the world is more like Oz than like 1984.
And most of all, thanks for not making it obvious

That you are colluding with the bad guys
because right now it feels like Frontier Town to me
with the stagecoach thundering along
through the badlands, and I’m looking out
and watching the scenery of the wild west go by

Through a veil of shimmering dust
and I’m thinking, How cool is this?
And dear Internet, I know that you don’t
see where this is going
nor do you care that I am changing.

But I may have to explain to my grandchildren
that you were once free
and that you had a wild streak just like me.
That you and I
were once well-matched.

Last weekend my wife and I
took a drive through the Adirondacks
to catch one more glimpse of the late autumn foliage:
the rusty gold of the oaks,
smoldering red-gold of the maples

And the green-gold of beeches and aspens.
We had just turned west off route 74
and right around the bend
there was Frontier Town,
what is left of it:

Huge derelict peaked pavilion,
morosely presiding over a frost-heaved parking lot.
And the sign, jogging my memory
of when I was there
some sixty years ago!

And my inner 5-year-old
wearing his sequined cowboy duds
and holstered six-gun with the silver bullets
was squirming to get out
but all I could do was slide the gearshift into park

Roll the windows down
and listen to the rush of the
swift river of time.
Many wonders are cyclical, like our northern Fall
but wildness lost is wildness gone forever.

Dear Internet, I know
you have no idea what I am talking about
but I could google a perfect affirmation for this melancholy
that is behind this letter to you
that I am struggling to end.

And even though you are not real
still, I must regret that I
could not friend you better. See,
I am becoming more real by the day
and unlike you, I must stay wild.



I wanted to personify the Internet. If corporations can be people or people-like, certainly the internet merits this sort of humanization. But it’s complicated. It’s a complicated friendship. The internet is not the type of friend that you would want to climb a cliff with or have belay for you. It’s not loyal, it’s not personal, it’s not a good listener, but it has done a lot for me over the years and I want to express gratitude for that but at the same time I really don’t trust it . . . but I respect it for its generosity of spirit, and its amorality. If you know how to utilize it, it can be very supportive of whatever you are trying to do or investigate and it can get you anywhere you want to go. But it doesn’t care if you are a saint or a murderer, a pedophile or a good guy looking for a mate. It will help you. It will help you be better at something or it will help you destroy yourself. It will eagerly help you build a bomb or learn how to fix a drain. It’s all there for you. And it has a dark side in that, because of its neutrality of function and purpose, it can be harnessed to accomplish terrible and insidious things. Continue reading

Poet’s notebook: My poem, “So long — a cautionary tale”, followed by comments

So long– a cautionary tale (interpretation of Woody Guthrie’s “Dusty old dust”)

So long
so long
I’ve got to be drifting

The dust storm blew

It hit
like thunder

In the month called Gray
I walked down
to the grocery store
it was crowded

One pound of butter
for two pounds of gold

Kind friend, kind friend
I’ve got to be drifting

I’ll sing it again
drifting along
so long, it’s been good
so long

The old dust storm

So black
so black

The telephone rang

And rang and rang
and rang and rang
and rang

Some comments on this poem:

This is a simple poem based on Woody Guthrie’s old standard, “Dusty old dust”, popularly known as “So long, it’s been good to know you”? Am I being lazy? I’ve incorporated fragments of other peoples language before, most recently in the poem that uses a quote from Pope Francis for its title, but I think this is the first time I have tried to turn another artist’s song into a poem. The song itself is dated. It’s about the bad old times of the Great American Depression, from the mid-1930s. The lyrics are like old friends to me. Like Guthrie says, “I’ve sung this song and I’ll sing it again”. Me too. How many times have I sung this song again and again through the years? If a hundred it wouldn’t surprise me. The preacher “folded his specs and took the collection, saying / So long, it’s been good to know you . . .” He uses the collection to get himself out of town because the dust storm is too much. It’s apocalyptic. He can’t see “the words of his text”. I read somewhere that the amount of dust that was displaced during those monster-storms during that epic draught cycle that scoured the Great Plains (1934-37) was equivalent to the amount of ground moved when they built the Panama Canal, or is it many times that amount? The point is, it was horrific – the earth was in the sky, in their lungs, in their eyes, in their hearts and dreams. Reality was upside down. Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath is probably the source of my vivid sense of this period, which starts with the displacement of all those share-croppers, packing everything up, like the preacher and going west. A lot of darkness and hopelessness. Nothing left to pray for.

Sometimes things get so bad for people they gamble everything on getting out with their lives and not much else. That’s what is going on all over the world right now and why there are so many refugees. Tonight is the third debate between Trump and Hillary. I’m going to watch. I feel like the ill-fated moth who can’t stay away from the candle, but I don’t expect to hear anything that is going to make me feel any better about the times we are facing. And the candle is illusory. Nothing that either of these candidates says has any affinity with light. I really identify with the masses of displaced folks in the world. This is my homeland but sometimes I look around and I don’t recognize anything. It doesn’t feel like home out there and sometimes it really feels like I can’t see my own hands as I grope through the darkness. Something has to give.

Guthrie’s famous song was written on Black Sunday (1935), which started out as a perfect, rare windless day when, without warning, the winds from the North picked up, the temperature dropped 30 degrees and black clouds of dust thousands of feet high enveloped the Great Plains plunging wide tracts of Oklahoma, the Texas Panhandle, Kansas, and Colorado into utter darkness. This was the Bible Belt and these were God-fearing people. They might not have realized then that the dust that was blocking the sun was man-caused. Years of plowing up the grasslands of the prairie for vast crops of wheat in previous decades left the soil exposed to the ravages of winds and draught. We also live in a dark time but our darkness is existential, but some part of me identifies with the share-croppers, and wants to pack up and hit the road. It’s time to move. Something’s not working brothers and sisters. I feel like, in reality, this “place”, this old way, this old worn-out world isn’t sustaining us. We can do better. (And, by the way, I watched 10 minutes of the debate and turned it off before I got my wings singed. I finished this blog this morning, after a good night’s sleep.)


October 16, 2016

There is a mountain

There’s a mountain looming
That I know very well.
I can see it ahead like the vision
Of an ancient memory made manifest.

Just beyond the old horizon,
Straight ahead,
Do you see it too?
We’re on the right road.

It’s the mountain of mountains,
As tall as the sky
With glaciers filling every crease and valley
Pinkened by the lowering sun.

And it’s all by itself;
It needs no other.
It rises from an endless desert and a boundless sea.
It rises from just beyond the bleeding edge of familiarity.

When I get there I will turn into eagle,
When I get there I will fly
To a height that would be terrible
To a valley-hugger.

But now that I see her
There is no resting.
I can feel the pricking of feathers
Anxious to sprout.

My thoughts grow more serious by the day.
I am driving toward my place of transformation.
When the mountain is all that I see
I will be what I need to be.

To look upon this world
That stole my wings
I will need to fly high,
High enough to see all the sacred mountains.

Some comments:

I have dreamed of sacred mountains before and they are always far off. Most memorable perhaps was a dream I had about six or seven years ago. All I remember is, I was looking south and way off in the distance, as I say in this poem, “beyond the horizon” there was a range of huge mountains tinted lavender or dusky-pink and I knew in the dream that it was the Andes. These mountains, some of them, resembled temples, so the sacredness of them was obvious. My sense was that, first of all, they are always there, whether I am aware of them or not, visible apparently in my deep dreaming and that I would be wise to find my way to them, or perhaps even that it is my destiny to do so.

Back to this poem that was based on a dream: I was on a straight road that led directly toward this magnificent mountain that loomed up beyond the horizon. That the mountain exists beyond the horizon (beyond the “bleeding edge”, or the suffering of the world) means that it is not located in this realm or dimension through which I am traveling. And there is something I want to say about that. In the dream the landscape that I am driving through is not literally “bleeding” and people are not patently suffering, but one thing I have learned over the last couple of decades, thanks largely to the internet, is that people everywhere on the planet are profoundly suffering from hunger, war, disease, injustice, ignorance, political and social oppression, pollution and environmental degradation and violent weather. There is no denying that much of the world is raw and, yes, wounded and yes, bleeding. That is not the only reality and it isn’t the reality that most Americans witness, except in the news, to the extent that they pay attention. But it is there.

That the road is straight just means to me, that it is the “right road”. I am aware that time is of the essence. That whatever I want to learn or accomplish I need to get on with it; I must not waste time but continue moving forward with focused intention. As the poem says: “My thoughts grow more serious by the day.” For example I find myself less inclined to get tangled in debates or discussions that don’t resolve anything. I know what I believe, or another way of saying that is, I know what I know. I am not trying to change anyone, convert anyone or convince them of anything. I do happen to believe things, about, for example, the true scope of our government’s culture of secrecy that would not be appropriate to share in conversation. But what’s the point? We all live in more than one reality, the stories that we tell ourselves and that we live in determine our behavior and how we spend our days. (I will save that for another blog.) There are plenty of people who I can only relate to superficially because our fundamental realities are totally incompatible. So what this dream depicts is an ongoing journey to a realm that is spiritual and very real in its own way. If I were to arrive there now it would be too soon. I need to prepare myself; I need to continue changing and evolving. This is not about transcendence or giving up on the world, but it is about transformation. I think that many of us can agree that the world of today is not going to change until we ourselves evolve and transform. Our dreams and visions can help us do that if we pay attention and take them seriously and honor them.

Poet’s notebook

Poet’s notebook

As I shared in a recent post, a friend and I are exchanging poems on a 48 hour basis, meaning he sends me a poem and I have to send a poem in reply within 48 hours. They are supposed to be spontaneous with no editing, no rewrites, straight from the heart, straight from the source. Engaging in this kind of writing has taught me yet one more thing about my writing process. (Yet? You can tell I am incredulous that I can still learn something about my modus operandi.) It has taught me that there is a part of me that is happy with a raw, naïve or unfinished poem. That was obvious when I started writing “serious” poetry as a teenager back in the mid-sixties, when I fell head over heels in love with language and trusted my instincts more. There is an element here of returning to my roots as a poet, but, you see, that was so long ago that this restored freedom of expression feels brand new! I even started reading Pablo Neruda, a favorite of my youth, as if I have never read him before. Now that I am older than he was when he wrote those poems, I see how truly revolutionary he was. When I was younger I was merely mesmerized by his worldliness, his confidence and distain for convention. Neruda was master of pulling all the stops and feeling his way through the dark patches of his times with eyes on his fingertips as it were.

Am I alone in feeling that getting something published is often a downer the day after? This is an unfinished thought. It is half of a truth, but the other half of that truth has something to do with how I am beginning to wonder if a truly creative process is also a form of product, because real creativity is never finished. It only peaks or crests and perhaps you can freeze it there but the spirit of creativity cannot be contained by any static form and right at the moment it crests, going with the image of the wave, the energy of the effort is already being reabsorbed by the building of another process (or project). The trick is to know when to let something go. To really let something go.

I want to suggest that this preoccupation with publishing poems often contributes to the false presumption that the best or worthiest or most valuable poems are the ones that “make it” to publication. Whereas I think that the best writing never sees much of the light of day, like the mycelia of the mushroom, rarely seen or shared but flourishing in the poet’s notebook. I have always been more interested in process than product. One reason I am anti-capitalist is very personal. If you look at most of the stuff that people buy and sell, there is no art or poetry in it anywhere. Someday, some way we will come to our senses and revamp the system of supply and demand. We will humanize it so that people will demand more poetry in life, I mean in everyday life, and artists and writers will be as respected as architects and doctors and teachers, as they are in Ireland where, if you announce that you want to recite a poem in a pub, everyone quiets down and listens.



Sometimes I can’t find words

Sometimes I can’t find the right words to express something . . . We’ve all had that happen . . . and I have to make due with second best. There have been times when I have spent a good hour on a sentence and it’s still not right, and I don’t think it’s because I am anal. We are dealing with feelings, thoughts, inspirations that may not ever find their equivalency in language! I’m really aware of that as a poet. Less as a blogger. Less as a conversationalist. Blogging and conversation are forgiving. Take conversation: Most people are half focused on what you are saying and half focused on what they want to say. Or they are mostly focused on their own message and are just politely waiting for you to finish. My wife and I are always working on listening to each other, but out in the world, well, the pace of processing accelerates. Language streamlines. People use familiar phrases that are good enough to get something across. That’s on one extreme of communication. At the polar opposite extreme from worldy conversation there is poetry.

In the case of poetry I am communicating with my soul, heart, deeper mind. I am translating images, thoughts, feelings, emotions, fears into language, but not just any language – language that will, to the best of my ability to frame it, express what is rising out of me. I have to respect my own process. I have to care about my own experience enough to respect it. Otherwise it’s a lost cause. And believe me, I have written poems about things that I merely wanted to care about, that didn’t turn out well. I run across them in my files and they sound stilted, pretentious. With blogging I get to edit, which to me is a failsafe. In that sense I see a blog entry as anything but finished. When I hit ”publish”, it’s not like sending it off to a publisher. I get a second, third . . . sixth chance to tweak something.

Just one more thing about poetry, compared to blogging. With poetry there is a certain separation that happens between me and the poem I am writing. At some point the poem begins to breathe and it wants autonomy. It has it’s own consciousness or energy field and I have to step back and let it be. It’s a mystery, this creative process, isn’t it.

A poem, “Flowers of summer, an enduring friendship” followed by a few thoughts. 

Crocus, there you are
All alone but none too soon.

Daffodil, you held off as long as you could
Bringing yellow to my blues.

Lilac, your perfume on the breeze
Makes me put down my book.

Dandelion, all of a sudden
You are everywhere.

Plum blossom, humming
With my neighbors’ bees.

Marsh marigold, you remind me
Of muddy barefoot summers.

Forget Me Not,
First flower my mother introduced to me.

Iris, you bring the garden to the pond.
So proud and for good reason.

Queen Ann’s Lace, from a distance,
You are a hundred spinning galaxies.

Yarrow, your leaf
Crushed between my fingers
Recalls my whole childhood.

Daisy? I love that you stay;
You slow the pace of summer.

Chicory, favorite of me and Monet.

Now elderberry, you bloom so briefly!
I can’t wait for your berries
And neither can the birds.

Milkweed and goldenrod,
Milkweed first: Your fragrance shifts my reverie.
(Your bitterness, a secret that we share.)

Now goldenrod
Old friend, your gold will linger until
The last bee returns with nothing.
And there is summer’s end.

Some thoughts:

As summer draws to a close here in Vermont, and winter approaches, every year at this time, I have to deal with a certain undercurrent of sadness, which I’m sure has something to do with the fact that, at 65, I am undeniably heading into the Fall of my life. It is only natural for me to project some pathos onto the great blue screen of this time of year. (The summer of my life is past, but I don’t mind – it was a good one!) In the case of the seasons (minus my projection), summer will most likely come around again on schedule, unless the climate crisis reaches critical mass, exploding our habitual notions of reality altogether and  total chaos sweeps in . . . (breathe) . . .

Call me naïve, but I am counting on there being another summer and many more after that; I’m counting on the human race coming to it’s senses in time to safeguard the selfless genius of the seasons. What I was getting to, before I interrupted myself, is that my age or stage of life has made me hyper-aware of how much the months from May to late October are like a powerful wave of life that washes by our home like an animated coral reef of familiar life-forms that is in a state of perpetual transformation. If I am attentive I can witness subtle changes in a single plant in the course of a day or I can sit by the brook in the woods and notice how its flow was was altered by an ephemeral night-time shower.