Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “Mr. Heron” followed by comments


It’s really very simple,
How things are going to change.

We learn what you need to know by watching
How Mr. heron stands in the marsh.

He stands until the tide ebbs
To the point where a large fish

Leaps free
As if tossed up by the water

In a floppy arc.
And then Mr. Heron stirs

Like a business man
In a grey suit,

Lifting himself slowly on wings
That never hurry.

And then you turn to me and say
He looks sad.

Yes, it is much sadder than beautiful
To watch him fly away.


We are visiting Shirley’s father in West Palm Beach. We were on the long boardwalk that stretches from the nature center to the beach when we stopped to watch a heron standing in the tidal river. They are always so solitary when you see them fishing like this, I became aware that I felt bad for him. He looked so exposed and somewhat foolish. Then a fish jumped and it was as if this woke him from his trance. The fish was too big for him, so its leap from the water was more symbolic than anything. It was almost as if he was embarrassed, as if he was saying to himself, “What am I doing!” It was as if I was witnessing a Zen moment for the heron, and that he would now be free to find something better to do . . . shedding his grey suit, finding a better way to live, that makes more sense to him.

Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “The life expectancy of a homeless person is 50 years” followed by comments

The life expectancy of a homeless person is 50 years

A crow will never peck out the eyes of another crow.
Perhaps that is why they live longer than men.
(Paraphrase from a poem by Shukrulla.)

I am a crow.
Shukrulla is right,
I would never peck out the eyes of another.

We fight each other and sometimes we are rough
But mostly we stick to language.

“Hey, Garbage Wing, can’t you share?
You be the lookout for a change, I’ll work the field!”

Like that.

But we watch some of you combing the dumps
To feed your families
And we watch some of you living high above each other
In gleaming towers with blue water on every floor
That you rarely go in and never drink
But lounge beside in the sun
Covering your eyes with dark scales,
Blaring annoying sounds that seem to make you happy.

Like that.


What am I saying?

I am saying,
We know you
Better than you know yourselves.
We have watched you very closely
For a very long time!

You should watch us
And learn something.
I will never peck out the eye of my kin!
And that includes every crow everywhere.
We are one people, one nation.


What am I saying now?

You haven’t learned very much
With your big heads.
No, you haven’t learned a thing.
I am saying:
You should take turns
Being the lookout and working the field
And take care of each other.
Listen to each other,
And stop pecking out each other’s eyes!


Do crows live longer than us? Technically the answer is no, but I think Shukrulla is trying to get us to see something that transcends the literal. The bottom line is, crows do not trust us and they do not respect us, and there may be any number of reasons for that if we try to see ourselves through their eyes. We humans don’t seem to work well together and we don’t take care of each other. Some of us live high up and hoard food and water and shiny things, while others of us scrape and forage below in the shadows of towers, while no one stands look-out to warn of danger. If crows lived this way, they would not last long or live as long as they do. One more thing: One of the greatest poets of all time was Homer and he was technically blind. But if we don’t “see”, even though we have eyes, we might as well be blind. And if we don’t listen to our poets, for example, by judging what they say with a literal yardstick, that is a little like pecking out each other’s eyes. This may sound extreme but, if anyone is shocked (or blind-sided) by what the human race has been doing to the biosphere, it isn’t the poet. Poets have been reading the writing on the wall for at least the last 90 years, with their eyes wide open.

Poet’s Notebook: My poem “Choose your metaphor” followed by comments

Choose your metaphor

I spilled the beans and now I have egg on my shirt.
My beard is unintentional.
I’m long in the tooth
So nobody cares if my eye twitches
Or if I clear my throat a lot
But have nothing to say,
Or if I scratch my scalp
And dandruff falls on my black shirt.
I smile more for no reason,
I frown more for good reason.
I don’t drop as much stuff
Because I don’t like picking it up.
I’m careful not to break stuff
For a similar reason.
I like most animals more than people.
I don’t want to know what people say about me
Because I can’t change,
And if they say something nice about me
It probably isn’t true anyway.
My mother braided the rug in front of me.
Somewhere in the coils is an old shirt my father wore.
This is not a metaphor.
The edge is worn in front of my chair
Where I place my feet.
This is a metaphor.
I don’t always answer the phone.
I like yogurt, but not all yogurt.
I like Seven Stars and Butterworks.
I wish I could be 40 again
But, with that,
I wish the world could also be
26 years younger.
I would have done much more
To prevent what has happened to our world.
For one thing, if I could do it over,
I wouldn’t be so self-centered.


I just read that “happiness is a choice”. If this is true, and I think it is, then so, I assume, is unhappiness. In this poem I seem to be looking at myself in a mirror that reflects my discontent. What has “happened to our world” has worn me out, or my response to it has worn me out, made me grow old and bitter before my time. I could say this poem is a caricature of the person I have become by taking everything that has gone wrong with the world too personally. But seeing it as a caricature would be to make light of it, having a laugh at my own expense. If I had ended it with line 19, it might have been just that, with nothing deeper going on. But after line 19 I mention that my father’s shirt is somewhere in the braided rug that my mother made. Now, the fact is,  my father was not happy in his old age. One time I was looking at him and I realized that he had let himself go beyond a point that was acceptable to me, who loved him dearly. I felt that I had to say something that would get through to him. I asked him when was the last time he looked in the mirror. He cast his eyes downward and shrugged. I said, “Well, you look like a street person.” I think in this poem I am acknowledging that, if I’m not careful, I could suffer my father’s fate.  Being happy or unhappy is a choice, but being unhappy takes a lot more energy than being happy. When you’re chronically unhappy, chances are you are perversely focused on your problems, and that requires sustained effort, whereas you can be happy just by forgetting yourself for a while and focusing on anything but . . . Hard work for a poet!

Poet’s notebook: Haiku, “Four elder White men”, followed by a reflection


Four elder White men
by a woodstove in Vermont
with an elephant.

At our men’s discussion group last night we talked about James Baldwin’s message about how we carry our history in us, we are our history and if we don’t know that, and know our history, we don’t know ourselves, and if we don’t know ourselves, it is easy to see how our shadow can run things and get away with it because we simply aren’t paying attention. Well, that isn’t exactly what Baldwin said but it’s close enough.

Four of us, white guys, sitting around the woodstove in a cozy, clean room outside the house. No chance of being surveilled by the NSA. We could have talked about anything we wanted. If we had been white supremicists we could have talked that talk. If we had been terrorists, we could have talked that talk, planned our next terrorist act in total secrecy. But we were just 4 educated middle-aged white guys with knitted brows trying to figure out how to live the rest of our lives in such a way that our descendants would be proud of us.

I just saw the documentary, “I’m not your Negro” narrated by Samuel Jackson in James Baldwins’s words: “People pay for what they do, and, still more for what they allowed themselves to become . . . And they pay for it very simply by the lives they lead. The crucial thing here, is that the sum of these individual abdications menace life all over the world. For, in the generality, as social and moral and political and sexual entities, white Americans are probably the sickest and certainly the most dangerous people, of any color, to be found in the world today.”

So, taking this in, let me say again: There we were, four of us, middle-aged white guys . . . with our history . . . the elephant in the room, and we saw it and it wasn’t pretty.


Poet’s notebook: Open letter to my brother who manages the brilliant site, http://thiscantbehappening.net

Open letter to my brother who manages thiscantbehappening.net:

If nothing else, I am intuitive, so read between the lines here. I think I’m saying something important!

We need, that is, people need, to be empowered by people like you who know what’s happening behind the scenes. I’m not saying not to write articles that expose all the worms and raise the red flags,  but, in case you haven’t noticed, people are on over-whelm these days but they are also primed for real action and reform, even revolution.

In the sixties, there was just as much shit happening, maybe not with climate, but on most other fronts, but there was a message of coming together. People were having real visions! It was really similar to the days when Rome was imploding, and out of that came the message that love was the answer. Sound familiar? It’s so simple. What was happening in the early centuries AD and what was happening in the 60s was about the birth of love and compassion after the ethos of power and greed had had its day. Only now it’s not just a generational thing, and it’s certainly not just a Christian thing, it’s ubiquitous!

As a poet, I have to sort this out and wrestle with which messages I am serving.

We are witnessing the end of history. . .maybe. We are witnessing the rebirth of the human spirit. . .maybe. Different realities are true. Many realities are simultaneously true. That is what shamanism teaches. So we have to decide which ones we serve. Which basket to place our eggs in. Some realities will dry up and some will flourish, and the point to remember is, we really don’t know what is going to happen, but most likely, the vision we serve is going to happen.

Going back to the 60s, there were just as many good trips as bad, and those who weren’t having visions were picking up on a shift in the collective vision through the music and literature (i.e., the Don Juan books for example, the Beatles)  that was mainlining the psychic shift toward a new Welltanschauung. I feel that you are somewhat wasting your talents by stoking the wrong fire.

Of course things are going to hell in a hand-basket, but there is also some really amazing stuff happening and we need that kind of coverage. How can I say this? I don’t mean to sugar coat. I mean, there really is a groundswell of hope and change happening like the proverbial sprout breaking through the sidewalk. The up-coming generations need our support of that fresh powerful vision so they can clean up the train wreck after we’re  our of the picture.     Lo entrendes?

Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “True story about a one-legged duck, a parable” and comments

True story about a one-legged duck, a parable

I was walking down the bike path
between Poultney and Castleton on a hot summer day.
It used to be a railroad track,
passing through fields, forest and bog.

There behind an old derelict farm,
right up against the raised path,
was an old beaver pond.
And in the middle of the pond

There was a small island
that used to be the beaver lodge.
And on the island
stood a white, one-legged duck.

I stopped and looked at the duck, which held my gaze,
it was so beautiful!
I wished it a good day.

I stopped again on the way back to my car.
It hadn’t moved perceptibly.

Next week, I took the same walk.
The duck was still there,
but the island was larger
and the pond was much smaller.

I could see where the dam,
or what was left of it,
was no longer doing its job.
Everything was drying up. Continue reading

Poet’s Notebook: My poem, “Bright liberal, you are called”, followed by comments

Bright liberal, you are called

You are called
to attend a wedding
at the bend in the river
where glacial melt
flows out of the mountain’s shadow
and quickens
before it leaps into space
into valley water.

The minister is a
full-fledged shaman
whose eyes reflect the mountains
that protect his soul
from the likes of you.

Bright liberal,
you are called!
You obediently followed the river all the way
through the hills
and gorges,
against the current,
to this place of gathering.

You deserve a rest!

You are weary.
All your ideas are weary.

Your dreams
are a flock of birds
chattering in the sycamores
with all the flight gone from their wings
as if it were the end of the day,
but in truth it is still early!


The bride’s dress,
is flapping in the breeze
against white peaks.

You, one seven-billionth
of the human race,
you, bright liberal,
are called
to witness this union.

You who have picked clean
the fruiting branch,
sanctioned the undoing of nature,
and are sorry for it at least,
now you,
who brought nothing to share,
will have to eat
whatever others bring.
You will dance the animal
at the wedding party.
You will dance the mountain!
You will step barefoot
in the aching river,

and if you trip and fall
because the wine made you clumsy,
and if the river embraces you,
to resounding laugher,
you will rise and laugh along with the party
because, while you were under the water,
you heard the heart-beat of the river
and it filled your heart with joy.

You are called
bright liberal.

The bride is your anima.
Her white dress is the clouds on the mountain
her white dress is the dogwood blossoms
by the waterfall
that are almost too bright to see.
You aren’t Dante in Paradise
dazzled by the light of heaven.
But, like Dante,
you made it through Purgatory
and need no longer be blind-sided
by the bitter world.

You are called

to fully open your eyes,
to become the plaything of time
to source life,
to journey at will
and never lose your way.
Profoundly enlivened,
you will help
recover the instructions
that will enable humans to live on —

people of the shrinking islands,
people of the sinking shores,
mountain and valley people,
desert families,
people cherished by the brightest stars,
people of the river
and the plain . . .

Isn’t this air sweet?
Remember this place.

And when you return to the valley,
tell the old woman
to free the horses.
Tell the old man to patch the tent.
You are called to do this.
The water is watching you
the smoke is watching,
the wind will remind you,
new forms of knowing
are waiting.

Do you know that old man
who just showed up?
The one who is making people laugh with his antics,
the one who is teasing the bride
and now he is taking the groom aside
with his hand on his shoulder?

Of course you do!
He is the shaman.
And he is you.

You are called.
“Bright liberal, you are called” is another of what I call my experimental poems. I have been rereading The Alchemist by Coelho, and I was influenced I’ll admit, by his drive to spin a story. Also, I have been thinking about prophecy these days, about how the Native American prophecies are being fulfilled. We are mistaken if we think that prophesy has nothing to do with science. Prophecy subsumes science. Science doesn’t hold all the answers. What’s happening is bigger than science alone can explain or even be expected to explain. The human race seems to be hell-bent on trashing the planet. For what? In my opinion, and maybe this is because of my age – I am running out of patience, and I am beginning to resent labels, and I am pretty sure scientists feel the same way. (Some scientists might even secretly consider themselves prophets, such are the times.) But the plight of the planet and the human race is not science’s problem to solve! We can blame each other or ourselves for not paying attention to the science of global warming / climate change / climate chaos but the truth is, there is no worldly explanation for what we are doing to our world or how things will play out. The problem lies deep within our hearts and souls!

I am planning on teaching a course in the Fall (at a small local college) titled, “Prophecy and the Environmental Imperative”. It is my sense that the designation “liberal” or “progressive” is about to fade into history. Was a liberal ever more than just an inconvenient label? I mean, were there ever “liberals” or “progressives”? In this poem, I am calling the “bright” liberal out, and I am imagining that , in his heart of hearts, he wants to be called out. Why “bright”? Maybe I am saying that not all liberals are “bright”! Or maybe I am shining the spotlight on a mask!

We don’t need “liberals” anymore. We need thinking people who see what’s going on and give a shit. What is a liberal but someone who likes to imagine that he or she is thinking for themselves. Almost all the people I know are very upset with the way things are going worldwide and not one of them, when it really comes down to it, calls him / herself a liberal or a progressive . . . except when it’s time to vote, and then everyone tries to fit in somewhere. But after election day, the real work that we face is not political, it is not about pushing or supporting an agenda. The work we face is closer to being mythic. We are trying to save our planet, or more accurately, the soul and vitality of our planet. When I said this 30 years ago, few people “got it”. (See my book, The Blue Man: Poems for the late Nuclear Age (1981) reissued with an author’s forward by Two Plums press.) Now it’s like the hypnotist has clicked his fingers and nobody is clucking or barking or trying to kiss their chair. The spell has lifted, but only because the weather has changed and the carnival is packing up and leaving town!

If we get bogged down in discussions and debates and personalities, we’re like flocks of pigeons that rouse themselves to fly around the barn, all in unison, and then roost to catch their breath before they’re off again, stirred by something in the news. But nothing changes.

The story I am dipping into in this poem is ongoing. I will keep telling it in different forms for the rest of my life. How can it be otherwise? I am this person and as long as I am this person, unless I experience some kind of ecstatic conversion, like Paul on the way to Damascus, and fall off my horse, I am going to work the message that keeps percolating up through my filters.

If there is a coherent story, it is about calling out the “bright liberal” to fulfill his or her true calling, to stop kowtowing to the bitter world that is blindsiding him, but to allow himself to become the plaything of life, to journey at will, to open herself to new knowledge.

The “wedding” that comes up in the first stanza and throughout the poem, is the sacred marriage of the archetypal opposites. He, the subject, is being summoned to leave the valley, to journey to a gathering place and, in the end, to morph into a “full-fledged shaman”.