Cold and the end of February…

WeatherComplaining about the weather doesn’t change the weather.

Somehow it makes some feel better. Not me. But it’s worth writing about.

Living Here
I hear the pain of tires
running hard on frozen streets,
the crackle of limbs aching,
the bursting howl of
an incessant chill wind,
the absence of songbirds’
singing at discovered seed,
and I wonder how anyone
would live here, like me.

A Cold Spring Day
The wind whistles through decaying frames
slowed by layers of paint hiding rotting pine,
layer on layer, year on year, teasing drafts,
cold against my skin, seeping into bones,
uninvited but expected; a spring sun failing
it’s one and only task of breaking through
winter with a hint of encouraging warmth,
sluicing pharisaic whitewash of season’s tomb
caked on soiled panes lighter in the focused
circles of optic’s tunnel, dust twisting, dancing
haplessly in gusts, then resting meaninglessly
leaving ugly uglier, pained residue of my life
distorting what is already unclear, darkening
the glow of knowledge in the carbon of all’s return,
straining like a sieve the truth about me
into a portrait mirroring imperfectly what
is readily apparent on this cold spring day.

User Errors
What if nothing was the same,
or everything different,
as in, unlike what has always been;
all is new, unexpected,
not just opposite but unalike, like
Heraclitus’s little stream;
surprising as a brother waiting
behind a door to jump
out screaming ‘Boo’ and laughing,
Tuesday is Friday, sometimes,
which would be worth celebrating
but Saturday could be Monday,
cold may be hot or not, birds bark,
salty – sweet, up – down,
we’d be afraid of low places, open air,
wrinkles are sexy
but sexy isn’t, fiction is fake,
history is real,
and user errors are no more;
I could live in a world like that,
once in a while at least.


Words are fun…

Playing with words is fun (being played with with words – not as much). But there are ways words can be enjoyed, not just twisted; played with for the joy of it.

ACBaseballWho doesn’t remember the word play of school days (pair, pear, pare), and the puns, witticisms, lyrics, double entendres, and classic name games like Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (playing with nouns – Ernest – and adjectives – earnest) or the silliest play of Abbot and Costello’s Who’s On First (

Abbott: Alright, now whaddya want?
Costello: Now look, I’m the head of the sports department. I gotta know the baseball players’ names. Do you know the guys’ names?
Abbott: Oh sure.
Costello: So you go ahead and tell me some of their names….
Abbott: Goofy, huh? Now let’s see. We have on the bags – we have Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third.
Costello: That’s what I wanna find out.
Abbott: I say Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third –
Costello: You know the fellows’ names?
Abbott: Certainly!
Costello: Well then who’s on first?
Abbott: Yes!
Costello: I mean the fellow’s name!
Abbott: Who!
Costello: The guy on first!
Abbott: Who!
Costello: The first baseman!
Abbott: Who!
Costello: The guy playing first!
Abbott: Who is on first!

Good, clean fun, right?! Well, only if it’s witty.

Let’s try a few more…

Nothing Rhymes With Orange

It just isn’t true
that nothing rhymes with orange
and it seems wrong
to convince the vulnerable otherwise,
as if a game is played
and couplet is the end of nothing
for any child can hear
that the word nothing doesn’t
come close to orange.

And I Quote

What is a quote to be quoted
and to whom does it belong?
those marks somehow borrow
what I wish was my song;
what I want as my own
but someone found before,
almost perfect way of words
I must have, and I adore;
sometimes because of who
but I prefer what is said,
the world is but objects,
not facts’ means instead;
picture what is or is not,
but what is written is read
stop asking what it means
or you’ll always be misled;
while I will quote as I wish
call me a plagiarist as well
all’s words and other words
not things we jsut misspell.

When is When

When – that’s the best way to start
a poem about memories and tears,
and ‘tears’ is such a good rhyme
for fears, hears, nears  and years
which brings us back to when and
timing which is everything except
for emotion caught in time’s gears
(there’s that rhyme again), ripped
from childhood and baptized in
disappointment called adulthood
(you see, that’s how it’s done);
keep these things in mind and
compose away, don’t be afraid
to play with emotions and linger
while meaning disappears
and when becomes lost in years.

Then there are the abuse of words and grammar – for those who know enough to be mean about words (further vs. farther types, for instance).


There may be no matter more alarming
Than a grammarian who thinks himself charming
With quips and quotes from days past
Uttered snidely at every evening’s repast.
Throwing out rules of should not and never
Correcting chit-chat he thinks himself clever.

And that’s enough for now.

Not from a book…

James Callahan

Grandparents used to say things like “There’s book learning and then there’s the other kind of learning.” I spent the first twenty years of my life avoiding book learning (that didn’t take me far), the next twenty years with book learning (which earned me a couple degrees and a nice job), and the remainder of my life trying to discover “that other kind of learning.” I’m not sure I’ve found it, but it may not be find-able. It may not be a destination.

If we ever asked what they meant by “that other kind of learning,” we would have heard something like this: ‘Along the way – that’s where the “other kind of learning” is found, but only by paying attention.’ (I imagine that because that’s the way grandparents sound, oh, and they’re sure we’re not paying attention.)

Taurus on Fullerton

I used to want a Taurus station wagon;

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Not from a book…

Grandparents used to say things like “There’s book learning and then there’s the other kind of learning.” I spent the first twenty years of my life avoiding book learning (that didn’t take me far), the next twenty years with book learning (which earned me a couple degrees and a nice job), and the remainder of my life trying to discover “that other kind of learning.” I’m not sure I’ve found it, but it may not be find-able. It may not be a destination.

If we ever asked what they meant by “that other kind of learning,” we would have heard something like this: ‘Along the way – that’s where the “other kind of learning” is found, but only by paying attention.’ (I imagine that because that’s the way grandparents sound, oh, and they’re sure we’re not paying attention.)

Taurus on Fullerton

I used to want a Taurus station wagon;
don’t ask me why because I just did;
the bulbous blob of 80’s style in all those
muted tones of earthy discoloration
wrapped in my romantic recollection of
childhood transportation complete
with rows and rows of seats for rows
and rows of kids, now all mine, an
idyllic lifestyle of contentedness and
satisfaction – it’s what I’d wanted;
so imagine my surprise when idling late
last night at a red light next to me
was a parked a Taurus station wagon
all rounded and earthy, hiding in plain
sight on Fullerton Avenue, and the
windows disclosed what must have
been the worldly possessions of the man
asleep with his forehead pressed
against the glass and every inch inside
crammed with clothing, books, bags
of stuff and more stuff untidily packed
around him like a cocoon of some
discontent and what I imagine must be
dissatisfaction; this is not the dream
I had of a Taurus station wagon
and I doubted it was the dream of the
man dozing in the driver’s seat.

Coffee Shop

You make me wonder, as you sit quietly,
considerately across the small table from me
in the midst of our busy, loud and impersonal
coffee shop just around the corner from home;
we don’t speak and only occasionally,
accidentally make eye contact interrupting
our reading – mine of a book, yours a newspaper
and you’re gracious with a small smile,
almost embarrassed by our casual connection,
returning to the worlds on our pages as we
escape the crowded space we choose to share;
our coffee’s are the same, right legs crossed over
lefts, comfortable together like we’re not
with every other person around us;
strangers don’t matter in this place right now,
like they don’t matter so many other places,
and I can tell you wish it was different
like I do, as if this place was in a Paris spring
or rainy London or beside a university campus
with smart ideas filling the air around us
like leaves falling in autumn – expected, raked
together and burned for that sweet aroma
which stings the eyes yet doesn’t drive us away;
but we’re in our cold city on this January morning
and everyone else has someplace to go
and they’re only stopping for their coffee
as they run to work because they’re late or
just  have somewhere more important to be,
while we linger, two perfect strangers
who civilly share a small table together
in an act of pure humanity, anonymously.

Not From a Book

When all’s good and all is fair,
she is close and love’s a dare,
season’s all but winter least
fondness lingers, cares ceased,
songless tune, birdless song,
edging shade and time is long,
I’ll find a way, way to be
as close to you as you to me,
and when we’re called we’ll answer not
hearts be filed with headless thought,
learning ways and teasing look
such is not learnt from a book.

Earnest Ernest…

ernestsourceAdmit it. Go ahead. Ernest’s brevity is likable. His ‘iceberg’ style (we only see the tip, the rest omitted). His blunt staccato plainness. Clarity. Boldness. Beginning, middle, end.

We’re also fascinated by his life – his glorious, extravagant, tragic life.

Ernest Hemingway gave us the stuff writers write about. Great stories, great quips, great insults and brevity. There’s even an app that will transform writing into bold, clear (short) sentences in the style of the man (

What we can know about him is easy enough to digest (, even as we’re forced to reckon with his larger than life personal story. But there’s just so much that’s fun and sad and odd and tragic about Ernest – it’s hard to ignore.

With that in mind, here are several prompts I blame on Hemingway (I have another, but it’s too long – Ernest wouldn’t like that).

The first is the legend of the six word story (telling a complete story is just six words). In true Hemingway fashion, the prompt is a test, which I fail every day but wrote a poem about anyway.

Six Word Story

The legend is about Hemingway
and therefore it takes place in a bar
over drinks (always plural) and a bet
whether he could write a story in six
words: six words, no more, no less.
This is Hemingway, for god sake
of narrow minds, narrower streets!
Mr. write drunk, edit sober himself;
making economy an understatement.
Six words might be two too many,
as in “To hell with luck.”
Or just the one if he goes with
“Courage is grace under pressure.”
But ‘You’re beautiful, like a may fly’
meets the expectation, just barely,
and I can imagine its usefulness.
No one knows how many drinks
it took to come up with the winner:
‘For sale, baby shoes, never used’
and damn if it doesn’t make me cry.


How many of us have wished we could have known Hemingway personally, at least for a part of his life? I have.


Every writer wishes,
wishes he would have
known Hemingway, at
least for a day, sometime
after Old Man and the
Sea and before the Clinic,
between young, pure
desire and the paranoid
cynic; but not in Africa
for when that story’s
told the pain of failed
flights get’s old and
undoes the personality
of liquor, staccato and
brevity; oh Ernest what
had become that was
undone in Ketchum.


When Hemingway was asked about writing he said it was quite easy really: “Just sit at a typewriter and bleed.” And another kindred spirit named Nietzsche offered “Of all that is written, I love only what a person hath written with his blood. Write with blood, and thou wilt find that blood is spirit.” So, for Ernest and Friedrich…

Bleed Boss, Bleed

Sit at a typewriter and bleed
seems overly dramatic advice
to an aspiring author, wouldn’t
you agree; hardly earnest enough
but perfectly understandable in
the intentional fallacy of readers
who have written little beyond
school papers forced upon them;
maybe he thought an echo of
Friedrich’s love for blood sport
and spirit would exorcise the
critic possessed which mutes
all hope of truth, for blood alone
does not lie but readers do;
maybe the dissatisfaction with
bloodless words since his first
farewell haunted every safari
and salon conversation, maybe
another wound would draw
blood – magnificently silencing
the stupefying demons of timidity;
all doubt such romance because
papa’s own daddy cared less
himself, but why would he load
his favorite Boss with two when
he knew perfectly well that
one would be sufficient?

Such is life…

Distractions are as ordinary as, well, distractions. So many things blink, flash and scream for our attention; so many things are distracting. In our ‘get something done’ world, anything that distracts is a problem.

How do distractions work? They take advantage of impulses, lack of control, reactions in-the-moment – thoughtlessness, instinctive, knee-jerk kind of responses that make us wonder Why did I do that?!

Remember that Facebook update from a friend saying, “I’m signing off Facebook for a week (or month, or year, or forever) because it’s too distracting” – but it’s nice that they leave a note to explain why we won’t see hourly updates of what the kids are doing or what lunch looks like. That all-or-nothing approach to eliminating distractions seems like it should magically solve the problem. But it doesn’t.

BrokenFence_smallThe old rabbis (are there any other kind?) told a story about distractions that is a little different from our all-or-nothing solution. It’s about building fences – those binary, all-or-nothing, either/or reactions to distractions, impulses and what we should probably just call life.

We’re sure fences should work, but they don’t…

Such Is Life

In the Talmud, so I’m told,
there’s a how-to about how to
control impulses which get
the better of us all, ever day;
it goes something like this,
build a fence around it –
that impulse which distracts
and makes us forgetful
of the right ought of duty
in pursuit of the wrong ought
of desire and appetite,
and when that fence
doesn’t work, which it won’t
build another fence around
the fence, and when it fails,
which it will because all
fences fail, look at the mess
of fence-building you’ve
made all for an impulse
that was probably harmless
and now build a fence
around fence-building
before you forget
what’s truly important;
for such is life, my friend.

Once upon a time…

Heraclitus-829Memories are the stuff of stories – the unchangeable past meets the fleeting present to confront an unknown future, with a moral or a sentiment (loss, sadness, good thing missed and unappreciated until it’s too late, lessons learned but only in perfect hindsight, and once-upon-a-time dreams unfulfilled or dashed on the harsh, unforgiving, jagged rocks of time).

We write once-upon-a-time tales about primitive themes – what was once perfect, great or good is now lost to us and imperfect, distant and gone. Primitivism is more than sentiment, it is a way of viewing time, the world, people, and ourselves, and complaining about or assigning blame, for the difference and distance we perceive between a romantic past and our troubled present.

And it’s a lie.

Once-upon-a-time isn’t necessarily a lie. But primitivism is almost always a lie.

That stream has passed; it’s not wrong or evil or sin that time is time, biology is living, the earth is turning, or life is different. The idealized past is possibly the greatest corruption of the greatest gift – memory, by means of a moralizing that accuses as virulently as it accepts.

The solution? We try to ignore the past. That doesn’t work (remember memory is always with us). Pray for selective amnesia? It comes easily or too suddenly or harshly or sadly to be a genuine blessing. Or, we may make an agreement that although it may be otherwise, we will live with the wink-and-a-nod of the second naïveté – the born again trust of immaturity after suffering the harshness of modern hopelessness. It may be otherwise, but we agree to trust what others refuse to believe; not because it can’t be otherwise but because one can’t live with the nothing of a vacuum – the void of life without value, meaning, and hope (but often without reason, evidence or proof which makes it impossible to affirm, love or trust). Thus, we make an agreement – a covenant, about that stream (thank you, Heraclitus – the weeping philosopher) which can never be stepped into twice – all is in change, nothing remains the same (the opposite of primitivism to be sure, and so much better).

That Stream

That stream – the one that’s never
the same stepped-in twice,
at the same bend, with the same
sameness – will not refuse my dabbling
toe; she will yield to me, and I to her,
not out of pity or sheer desire,
but because we have
agreed not to continue the charade
of indeterminate, transient mockery
that idles youth, corrupts good
and haunts the aged.

There are nouns after all – persons,
places, things – that are, not because
of forms but in sentences which are
like streams with dabbling toes
and bubbling eddies, shapely bends;
so inviting and seducing, calling
with her come hither of comeliness.

Yes, the waters flow, the bed and silt
are stirred and is upset by every touch
of my foot but I step into the flux
and flow nonetheless, I stoop to
cup her cool waters and sip contentedly
for she yields to me and I to her,
but unhurried, unchasing motion
in symbiosis as we move together
in rhythm – our panta rei
joined freely in flow.

Let those who scold and chide
these many, many years continue
their fluxing prater of fuel and flame,
for we, my stream and I, have come to
an understanding and will agree to
agree that this day we are the one;
her cool waters are as real as
my weary step – sensations rippling
in her as much as me,
as tangible as the rush and tingle which
tickle my limb and stir her bed in swirls
of sediment twisted awake from slumber
dancing along current and wake we have
made together in our covenant today.

I Canoe, Do You?

a canoeI remember the television commercials and the ‘tag’ advertisers used to sell the Dana cologne, Canoe – ‘that’s why I canoe, do you?’ It was the sophisticated alternative to the other mass-marketed cologne, Brut by Faberge. Canoe was crisper, lighter and cleaner than the alternatives – more like a bracing sea breeze (according to print and TV ads). And Canoe was my Dad’s choice.

I remember the scent, like others from my childhood – like the smell of chlorine on my skin after swimming all day, the diesel exhaust of the school bus, or the scent of the floor cleaner my Mom used every Friday afternoon when she scrubbed the kitchen floor on her hands and knees and I was warned to keep my distance.

These are olfactory memories – we all have them, and they can be very strong, very emotional and very important. Olfactory memory can be ordinary (as in, natural – a child recognizing mother’s scent, associating food or comfort or safety with associated scents) and developed (as in, experienced or nurtured through affectionate or avoidance reactions – the smell of baking bread is a trick realtors use to make an open house seem ‘homey’ or the acrid odor of an accident scene which reminds you of an automobile accident). Olfactory memory can elicit explicit and implicit memories which leave us frightened, warmed, lost, secure, happy and even hungry.

Canoe cologne is that kind of trigger for me, and it was for my Mom.

That’s Why I Canoe; Do You?

The day I wore Canoe cologne
Was the day my mom didn’t recognize me
As if she forgot who I was
And didn’t remember the trouble I’d be
Every day around our home.

How I’d laugh, goof and fight
With sister and brothers even when told
To stop or she’d go crazy
But I wouldn’t and she seemed fine ‘til old
-I wonder if she was right?

The bottle belonged to my dad
And I found it at the back of a closet
A last memento of him
-his smell so hale and hardy, I knew it
and put it on because I was sad.

He died more than thirty years since
And mom had made it on her own with all
Of us to support and love
Working and crying and we’d try to recall
His face, hands, beard, smile and wince.

I feared losing what I knew of him
As years passed and life changed as we grew
And he wasn’t here to see
What we were doing, but our mom knew
How I’d grown from Jimmy to Jim.

And married and had kids with my wife
just like he did and mom said Dad’d be so
pleased with what I’d become
and I had to take her word and know
she’d remember, connect, his to my life.

But now dementia and her aging years
Were taking from me just as they were robbing her
Of my memories, her life
And what it was like when, and there’s no cure
To regain both our joys and tears.

She’s resting most of each day
And takes her pills, a little food, chitchat
About the time and weather
-Not today’s, and thinks the dog is a cat
so I stay quiet as long as I stay.

She’s napping now and that’s my cue
I kiss her on the cheek and say it’s Jim
And she says Dad’s name
Because she says I smell just like him
That’s why I Canoe; do you?