Poet’s notebook: My poem, “We, the birds in the field”

We, the birds in the field

A bird flies up from the tall grass when I enter the field.
Somewhere deep in that wild place
Is a nest, I wanted to say “concealed” for the hidden rhyme
But the image is the important thing:

Me, barefoot. Bird, flying up.
Even if I were a predator
I would not be able to find her nest.
But I don’t need to find its exact location

Any more than I need to worry about rhyming.
This is a poem about a bird’s desperation
As the tractor mows closer and closer.
The farmer and I have agreed

To save one. Go around.
That is how I mow the stone circle
Where there are groups of wild daisies.
I spare a few.

The rest are sacrificed.
It’s not easy to be me
Because I know that nature is sentient.
And I know that everything wants to live.

It’s that tractor that bothers me
If you follow.
As it gets closer and closer,
I fly up.


Poet’s Notebook: Nursery Rhymes for our times and a reflection

Nursery Rhymes for the times


Hush-a-by baby

On the poor farm

The drought so severe,

Grasshoppers swarm.

When the grasshoppers leave

Nothing green will remain.

Where is the baby?

Where is the rain?


Two, four, six,

Eight, ten,

I’d throw the president

in the pen.

Twelve, fourteen,

sixteen, eighteen;

there’s no one better.

How very obscene!


Fake news, fake news,

President can

Make us feel like idiots

When his shit hits the fan.

Get mad, feel bad,

But make a mental note:

Next time find an honest one

Worthy of our vote.


Jack Paste

Could stand no waste

And his wife could stand no litter,

And so betwixt them both

They left the old world better.


Dickery, dickery, dock,

The mouse ran up the doomsday clock;

When the clock struck the hour

He fell in the flour.

Dickery, dickery dock.


Ring around the rosey

Pockets full of posey,

Mushroom, mushroom!

All fall down.


Lady bug, lady bug,

Fly, fly for shelter.

Hurricane’s blowing

Your kids helter-skelter.


When I was just a little boy

I had but little wit,

‘Tis a long time ago,

And I have no more yet;

For if I had a wit

I would have cared the more

For how the earth was faring

While we were making war.


There is a dark side to the old Mother Goose nursery rhymes. They are also coo-coo and zany. These are mostly dark but so are our times. I had fun writing them — just another way to try to process what is going on in the world today. My instinct, as a poet, is to take things very seriously because I believe we are living on borrowed time. But the closer we are pushed to the brink, the more soul I see in humanity. Why does it take facing our demise to realize that we actually belong here — and we know how to do this!

These poems are an attempt to ease up a bit. Even though the basic message hasn’t changed, writing nursery rhymes, for adults, is a way of reminding myself that we are just trying to grow up as a species. If we don’t make it, we will never know what we are capable of. For example, what would a wise, grown-up president do? What laws would a progressive Congress enact? What kinds of students would a fully funded, up-to-date educational system turn out? It boggles the mind to think. Alas, we may never know.

Do you see what I see?

Do you see what I see?

Often dreams work a sleight of hand. Something will show up as “this”, but then it transforms into “that”. And the reason it was “this” is because I was relating to it in a certain way, to which it was responding, manifesting itself accordingly. (To be able to initiate and control this process is called lucid dreaming.) Here the dream is demonstrating an often stated catechism about the power of a positive (or negative) outlook in the waking world. One’s outlook or attitude toward a given situation can actually alter the situation and therefore one’s reality. (In quantum physics, they have been stating for some time, that the mere presence of a subject performing an experiment involving sub-atomic particles, alters the results, and this in a strictly controlled setting.)

Just how important is one’s sense of reality in the larger picture? Very.

For example, just last month it seemed like we were very close to confronting North Korea militarily. At the height of this crisis I wrote to a friend: “As I write, there is a battle group heading for, as far as I can tell, a confrontation with North Korea, which could result in war and the death of tens of thousands of South Koreans and North Koreans and Americans, both soldiers and civilians stationed in South Korea. How mad is that? And even if it doesn’t happen, it is so close to happening I cannot avoid thinking about it. It colors my day and bleeds into my life.” Continue reading

Listening to the cricket

I had a dream last night that I was drawing a map. It was a heart map. It was where my heart was going. The path was indicated by a dotted line that traveled through valleys and over mountains. It depicted quite a journey. And it came around again. There was even a little sketch of my heart in the key off on the side. The trail was colored with bright blue ink. I was showing my mother this map. She seemed pleased.

My mother has been gone for about 5 years. She was all heart. She raised me to pay attention to my heart and to listen to my conscience.

In the Disney classic, “Pinocchio”, Jiminy Cricket sings to Pinocchio, right after the star-faery leaves with the advice to “always let your conscience be your guide”.   Jiminy sits down on a matchbox and starts in . . .”even though the right thing may seem wrong, sometimes the wrong things may be right at the wrong time, or visa versa. . .” I think that is how life feels for the young. But after living a bunch of decades you tend to sort it out because most likely you have done plenty of wrong things at the right and the wrong times and plenty of right things at the wrong time, and like the wise cricket said, sometimes doing the “wrong” thing was the right thing at the wrong time.

Suffice it to say, finding our way through life is not easy. I think the key is following our hearts, but not our hearts alone. We also need to pay attention to our conscience. My dream about the heart’s journey reminds me of how we need a compass. If the heart is the magnetized needle, the conscience is magnetic north.

Why did that dream of my heart-path come up now? And why was my mother there, smiling approval? Because, even though I’m 66, like Pinocchio, I long to be “real”, not just a puppet of my times, of my government, of my fears, of chronic Lyme, of what people think. I want to be a real human being, and it appears that my heart has the map and knows the way. (I always knew my mother did.)

Poet’s notebook: “How the future looks” and reflection

How the future looks
I am visiting a large university.
The library is a red brick tower
15 stories tall.
The open green spaces
Are dotted with students sunbathing,
Launching frisbees over heads
Of pink and blue and orange hair.
Professors from other eras
Pass to and fro
Dragging long purple shadows.
The sun is setting.
The same sun is rising.
Ten years pass.
Maybe twenty.
A young Chinese man in his pajamas
Charges down from his dorm
Right into a huge flock of geese by the pond
Who honk and flap and flee every which-way
But eventually they gather in the middle of the pond
Where they consider their options and fix their feathers.
The young man laughs and laughs
His name is Tin Sen.
He will change the world.
Reflection: This happened about 20 years ago. My son and I were checking out New England colleges. We were at UMass in Amherst. It was early, about 9. We were walking around a pond on campus, below the library, and what happened was exactly how I described it. I liked everything about this young man: how he burst from his dorm in his pajamas, created chaos with the geese and exploded with laughter. I felt like he was showing me a better way to live. Now, so many years later, he returns in this poem to help renew the planet. And his world is not a recycled planet or a wounded, over-crowded, war-ravaged, struggling planet. His is a world inhabited by people like him who wake up just in time to make change. Nothing can stop him because he has the will to stir things up and he knows how to give himself over to joy.

Poet’s notebook: My poem “Onion” followed by reflection



Onion was deep in thought
looking out over the field
where Woo was sitting
reading a book under a tree.
Beyond where Woo was sitting
was an old pile of stones
left by the farmer who cleared the field
many years ago.
Onion was thinking about his life
as Onion. What had he accomplished?
It seemed
that he had done almost nothing.
He thought of the birds, building nests
and the bees that make honey
and the frogs that do nothing
but somehow
everything seemed to have a job.
“What am I here to do?” thought Onion.
Just then Woo looked up from his book.
“Onion”, he shouted, “Come here,
and bring yourself.”
Onion heaved a big sigh and squinted.
Woo seemed to fade for a second.
“Oh, I know what my job is”, thought Onion.
“I’m coming”, shouted Onion.
And he hurried down
to join his friend.

Reflection: I have been thinking, more like obsessing, about Mali, “the loneliest elephant” that I wrote about in my poem “What am I shouting?”. Her plight has become a watermark on my heart. Even when I am happy about something, her image repeats like a mantra, works on me like a Zen koan, around the clock. Mali really is the elephant in the room of my consciousness, except in Mali’s case, I see her vividly. Her plight seems to stand for the failure of the human race to love.

Loving the planet means loving life, and that means loving all the creatures with whom we share this place. And loving life means remembering that our hearts are capable of expanding almost infinitely. There is hate and evil in the world and all forms of cruelty, but if we uncage our hearts, evil will stop terrorizing us. Only by loving can we alter the endless cycle of cruelty and abuse and war. We are victims of our fear, and because of our fear, we have allowed our hearts to condense into a distraught muscle that beats in our chests until the day it stops beating and we die. Our hearts are so much more than a muscular stressed-out pump!

This morning it was my turn to share a poem with a circle of poets who take turns sending poems to each other. I was anxious to lighten up, remembering the words of a fellow writer, in his response to my poem about Mali: “Imagery needs no explanation, so explaining as you write is like writing before you are ready to send the message.”

I love writing poems about Onion and Woo because there is no explaining to do. I just stand back and let them interact, and usually, as with a dream, in what happens there is more than meets the eye. Woo is very mysterious to me. He (or she) is a shape-shifter. Woo’s father is the wind. Onion is just Onion (His father was an onion!) but I’m not sure who or what Woo is, but, like Onion, I hold great affection for Woo, or at least what Woo represents. Like Onion, with everything that is going on in the world, I am questioning what I should be doing with myself, how best to spend my time at this moment, in my life and in the life of the planet. In this poem Onion realizes that he could do a lot worse than hang out with Woo. Woo is not all in any one reality. He is, for lack of a better word, magical. Onion is lucky to have a friend like Woo. We should all be so lucky.

The heart is open to magic.



Poet’s Notebook: My poem “What am I shouting? (A curse or a prayer?)” followed by a reflection, and now including a discussion with a reader. . .

What am I shouting?

I saw a photo of an elephant in a concrete cell
so alone.
She was holding her own tail with her trunk
to close the circle of
a loop of loneliness,
standing, eyes closed
to the long sentence of her life.
I just would like to know. . . 
I just would like to know! 
How can the intelligence that created such a creature
stand by and watch it suffer so.
And then I realized,
that’s me.
That’s all of us,
holding our tails in our trunks.
But were we not created to thunder
and trumpet
and love each other
as only elephants can,
crossing the great grasslands together
as a family?
And, as we slumber,
to be painted silver by the moon?
So, is that it?
because . . . so many years of standing back
and watching things unravel
have taken a toll on me,
on my elephant nature.
And so I shout out
into the tornado,
but what I shout
even I don’t

Reflection: When I saw this photo for the first time, of Mali, the “loneliest elephant in the world”, it made me heartsick. I mean something in me literally recoiled and it wasn’t a thought, or even an emotion that I could identify, like anger or sadness. It was more like a Continue reading