Lost manuscript…


This started as the tale of a lost manuscript,

an idea that became a story that might have

become an enjoyable book but never will be

as it took a turn while contemplating what was

sacrificed to produce something that’s now gone,

consuming more time than good should

these years of distraction when everything pleasing

around me twisted, lovingly straining to keep

me in the middle as each new wheel began to spin

its own rings, feeding off the others,

once so close their energy sparked blindingly,

now bouncing in their own orbits here, there,

it all happened so slowly, so perfectly, and I

now know I missed too much that I hope they

each captured while I pounded out words

of a fictional life no one could possibly lead

as my own unbelievably wonderful one spun

in and out of days and seasons and states

that are now the lost manuscript of my life.


In the Hills – Excerpt 1

1958Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Like you I had the privilege of being present for my own birth. I was right there with my mother but my dad was relegated to pacing in the waiting room. Relegated to the role that no Dad has been trained for and no Dad worth the name accepts easily. He got to pace, back and forth, back and forth and wait; left to worry about paying the bills, wondering what he’d done, how mom was doing and how long he was going to wait – pacing, pacing, pacing. Mom and dad had already waited almost four more weeks than they should have since I was officially 27 days late. Doctors just let you go until you popped-out back in 1956 – no pitocin drip to stimulate contractions, not even old wives tales about drinking castor oil (which only gave you a bowel purging anyway) or having sex to induce labor (which was a little of the hair of the dog that bit you so to speak). Instead they just waited.

Mom just waited in her gravid state for forty weeks plus four. She never let me forget that especially when exasperated with me, ‘I carried you for 44 weeks to have you act like this?! Oh, no, I don’t think so…’. Sitting around the dinner table with all of us waited-for children years later she told us how she was in labor for 26 hours with my younger sister Cathleen and just 9 hours with baby Johnny (and with my 18 hours that equaled 53 hours of contractions – 2 days and 5 hours of labor, of pain, of unexplainable and excruciating discomfort). The math got us started. ‘Okay, okay, so how long were you pregnant with me?’ Cathleen asked. ‘Well just about 40 weeks, not like the 44 weeks with Danny, but Johnny was only 38 weeks.’ ‘That means you were pregnant for…, for…, well…, let’s see….’ I tried to calculate these overwhelming numbers in my head when Cathleen quickly answered, correctly, ‘That means you were pregnant for 122 weeks mom.’ That’s more than 28 months, two and a third years, and that’s 845 days, to be exact. After hearing the math mom never forgot it and never let us forget especially when we were annoying her. But I always thought I was worth it. At least that’s what I imagine.

I’m also pretty sure I was a normal and attractive baby – clean and without blemishes. In labor I may have mildly discomforted my saintly mother who perspired mildly but was a-glow with a hint of make-up and hair quaffed appropriately, covered modestly in a fresh gown and centered in a homey but antiseptic room softly lit with ambience and even pleasantly fragrant. Dozens of medical professionals buzzed about excitedly anticipating my birth. Nurses who were plainly attractive but not one as pretty as my mother were helpfully attending at her head and side, dabbing mom’s brow with a cool cloth and whispering maternal encouragements – secrets shared and understandable only to the uterine gender. The doctor – the only male in the room, before me that is – smiling, directing attention to my imminent appearance but averting his eyes from the vaginal portal whence I emerged lubricated through elastic drapes of privilege allowing only a glimpse of the reproductive secrecy of the origins of my life.

I’ll admit dad was a vague participant in my origins, but only in the masculinity of his grip and biceps and that strength he explained as ‘elbow grease’ and I took to be the determination and commitment and supervision he exerted in our world which was for most of my young life also just the world. Dad was paternal and masculine and sturdy and stalwart. He needed no time to collect his emotions in a time of crisis. He acted sacrificially and bravely without a moment’s notice. He was reliable and a provider of food, shelter, comfort and treats like ice cream on Sunday afternoons and a sip of his beer after a summer Saturday’s gardening. His odor communicated faithfulness – a sameness in his aftershave mixed with the sweat of toil and exertion. And besides the times he was pacing in a waiting room for his children to come into the world I didn’t imagine him waiting for anything.

When will we…

whenWhen will we learn, when
will we realize,
the race isn’t run all at once
or at all some days;
business distracts from the
industry of being,
just being and breathing and
occupying space;
it isn’t in being connected
but knowing,
and happy not knowing all
there is to;
shrewd enough to sleep
at night without
fear of time slipping past us
while slumbering;
when will we learn, when
will we love
enough to believe it all
matters enough;
when will we learn, when
will we…

In a Good Story…

In every good story someone dies
(sometimes, but more frequently,
in bad ones as well); not always
tragically or poignantly, not always
sadly or in a timely fashion, usually
importantly a death is required.

It may be that it’s a way to make
tales more authentic, but it ironically
renders death’s severity a mere ploy
in the hands of desperate dramatists
longing for gravitas yet in failure;
simply turn dust back to dust.

Occasionally it’s accidently but
unexpectedly; and if the desire is
manipulative – the death of a child,
boy or girl, either will do – to tweak
the emotions of even the hardened
with an appeal to the weak.

Now multiple deaths are a waste
to an author and thus school bus
fatalities (a kindergarten field trip
tragedy) are typically avoided
and mass murders’ victims aren’t
the story in the first place.

Too many tales are funereal,
too many yarns come undone
and too many wakes begin stories
of too many things gone wrong;
dramas of dads and mamas
until death do everyone part.

Narrators, of course, play God
knowing, seeing all, all at once
what’s in heads, hiding from light
but telling us only part of a story;
this or that reason for lost life,
providing knowledge we lack.

The human story’s author
has wasted over a hundred billion
anonymous deaths littering lands,
mocking prophet amidst dry bones;
the deity’s wonderful plan for life
trumps all novelist’s narratives.


WalkingI went for a walk
in the midday clear
without a care
I started here
first I stepped
down the way
looking to turn
and go astray
few set out such
finding one lost
choosing to remain
found at all cost
views first cleared
then went belief
next conviction
this path a thief
I trust no thought
that comes at rest
and make no vow
without a test
no crumbs to trace
no map to cheat
this losing way
made by my feet
I recall that once
it was très fictional
to banter such
so equivocal
for keeping all
enslaved in race
made wars of life
with power in place
until such time
as walks unrare
became a fashion
and tactless aware
question a question
doubt a doubt
avoiding tenure
enjoying the route
power is race,
race is war,
art is tactic
and strategy ignore
limping along
there are ways
for undoing control
and refusing praise
ignoring so much
of important voice
searching out stories
learning to rejoice
enjoying the noise
and lacking cares
following slaves
attending affairs
there is no way
no map to home
no loss of joy
and so I roam.

Stealing Chaplin’s Corpse

Little Tramp

Charged with disturbing the peace of the dead
and extortion, they were simply hungry for bread;
two mechanics who stole the corpse of Chaplin
dug up Little Tramp’s coffin from a Swiss graveyard
because they were poor and not for any gold within
but the silly idea his widow wouldn’t disregard.

Just two months at rest in the winter’s ground,
under cover of night and without a sound;
it rings of a late Victorian tale of scandal,
impropriety and offense, but it’s a recent hustle,
yet Wardas and Ganev played the role of vandal
the former the brains and the latter the muscle.

Not resurrectionists or Frankensteins, per se,
this duo exhumed and demanded their pay
along with two hundred pretenders to fame
but they’d just shallowed him a mile away;
frustrated they threatened the babies to maim
poor form to promise continued foul play.

When tracked they made themselves no excuse
for stealing the cadaver of a famous recluse,
they were sentenced with relative clemency,
for the million demanded, their monetary percent,
but silently they played their Chaplin parody
and Charles Spencer was reburied in cement.

On March 2, 1978, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev unearthed the remains of Charlie Chaplin (he has died just weeks before, on December 25, 1977). It was a crime of stupidity and desperation, and its sensation was much greater than its consequence. The only significant outcome was Chaplin was reburied in a concrete grave.

For more, here’s your link: http://www.history.ca/history-topics/latest/march-2-1978-grave-robbers-steal-charlie-chaplins-body/

Da Yu


This is the story of Da Yu, who we saw walking along a roadside on the early evening of one Sunday – Easter Sunday of all Sundays – and a child asked “What’s that man’s story?”

So this is Da’s story.

Yu the Great was the founder of the Xia Dynasty over four thousand years ago. Yu’s father attempted to control a great flood that threatened land and life. He built dikes and damns of soil and rock to hold back and contain the waters. He failed.

The great flood continued. Yu was conscripted to do what his father could not. Instead of restraining the great flood, Yu dredged deeper channels in rivers and valleys to carry the great flood to distant rivers and distant seas.

He opened waterways, unearthed damns and removed dikes with hard labor in long days. He was covered with the same dirt and mud his father struggled to amass, but Yu was washed clean in the rushing flood he did not resist. Yu succeeded in the task his father failed, and he was given the name Yu the Great – Da Yu.

Today Da wears his suit. The blue one He has just the one and he’s only ever had just the one. So, Da wears it. As dusk begins to cover this late April afternoon, along a road he’d built, Da Yu walks in his blue suit and white shirt – his shirt as white as his full head of thick hair – he walks home, alone.

As a young man Da Yu was pushed in one direction and pulled in another – he didn’t want what his father demanded for him and yet would not refuse what he must do.

Mr. Yu – Da’s father – insisted, “You will not be like me.” The hard life of manual labor had strengthened the father’s back and his resolve as well, and he was determined that his son would not live such a hard life because he didn’t have to live like his father had to: “I work so you can learn to do better work; not so hard work, and you will be happy and not tired like me.”

On his eighteenth birthday Da received just one gift from his parents – a blue suit. It was as expensive for Mr. Yu as it was important, “You will wear a suit and not dungarees.”

But this changed the day Mr. Yu came home lame.

Mr. Yu would not cry in front of his wife and son – he would yell and stomp and curse, but Da knew his father cried when Da was forced to give up on his father’s plans and dreams. The boss of the road crew Mr. Yu worked said that Da could have the work until Mr. Yu was healthy. Mr. Yu barked “Never!” but he never was healthy again. As a man of hard labor, he withered each day he was lame, and willed from his bed – fighting back the inevitable – the victory that eluded him. Mr. Yu never worked again and Da worked every day for forty years from that day.

Not long after Da wore the suit to his father’s funeral.

He wore it when he asked a sweet girl named Sarah to marry him, and he wore it when they married in her church.

He wore it when his boy Sun was christened for Sarah’s sake, and he wore it the Sunday he went to church each year on Easter. She didn’t ask much and he knew this was to please Sarah’s family because they were concerned about Da, and that Sarah was settling for a man who lacked dreams; a man who did not fight back, a man who simply nodded. All this Da knew but it was never spoken of – there was nothing to be gained and little that would change if he protested. He would work his hard work and wear his dungaree, and save his blue suit for special days to be remembered.

In his first years, Da’s skin became tanned and leathery from summers and winters, the cold, rain and heat of long, hard days. His hair was black and thick and covered his head, and a cap only made him sweat so he avoided his. The crew chided Da that he yellowed in the sun. Sarah worried that he worked too many hours, but a was happy to work and he was healthy and would do whatever was asked and he worked hard. When asked he would simply nod; he was glad to work. He did not refuse hard work.

Da didn’t get bigger or fatter or stooped like the others with whom he worked. Younger men took their places and the next generation took up the same lament – work is hard and the best work is no work.

But Da was healthy and quiet and bosses wished they had a dozen Yu’s but hired more of the others instead. Da’s hair did turn white; not gray – white and pure.

When his child, Sun was a young boy he would asked his father what he did, why his skin was so dark and rough, and why his hair was white like snow. Da always answered that he worked in the sun and rain and snow, so his skin showed he worked hard, and his hair just showed outside what was inside. But the boy didn’t understand.

Sarah was kind to Da; gentle and affectionate – she called him Yu-Yu, lovingly, and she was understanding of his labor. What he earned he gave his family and took little for himself. She worked herself when Sun started school, and she’d ask him to take a day to rest, but he’d always refuse, “What would I do if it wasn’t working?” he’d answer.

When they had time they’d take walks together, with Sun in a stroller, then the three on foot; always just walks that took different paths, along different roads and streets and returned them to their small home. It was the home Da’s father and mother had, the home Da had grown up in, the home Sarah and Da moved into after they were married to care for his mother, and the home she died in one night and their home since the day Da wore his suit to his mother’s funeral.

Da didn’t dream dreams of a different life, and he refused the nightmares of his own son’s life. There was only discontent in such dreams, and Da’s way was a nod and not a dream. He never bought Sun a suit – he could afford to, he had the money, but the thought never occurred to him.

When Sun grew, his mother and father helped when they could with clothes and books and papers that proved their modesty, but Sun grew embarrassed. The very things that showed their love were too modest for their son. Soon Sun was off to school, but Da and Sarah didn’t visit their son until his graduation when Da wore his suit and Sarah coughed through commencement. It was a cough that came one day and stayed, keeping her away from work, in bed eventually being cared for in the evenings by Da who stopped taking the walks.

The next time Da wore his suit it was to Sarah’s funeral.

Sun moved away and stayed away, but Da kept working, now less with shovel and more with a sign that read Stop and Slow. And he again walked at the end of each day, retracing the same paths and same roads and streets he’d walked with Sarah and Sun. He lived in the same home but it became more of a house. He washed his clothes, his own dungarees, made his rice and worked only his own hours until they told him he’d worked enough and not to come back tomorrow.

And then he’d wait each day until it was time to take the walk at the day’s end, walking the same paths and same roads and same streets he’d walked with his Sarah and Sun. And on Easter Sunday each year he’d put on his blue suit and leave it on all day, until the day’s end and he’d walk along the street he’d paved.

Calling B.S., Gun Violence and Blameworthy Voyeurism

Two tragic events played out in front of our eyes this week – overwhelming old and new media alike with the most profound depth of pain and pathos, both with chilling effect.

In a scuffle with a fleeing suspect, a Chicago police commander, Paul Bauer, was killed – shot six times as he wrestled to detain the man.

Pallbearers place Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer’s casket into the hearse after the funeral at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. Cmdr. Bauer was shot to death Tuesday outside the Thompson Center, where he had confronted a man who was fleeing other officers. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Bauer just happened to be nearby when he heard a call for officers to aid in a pursuit. He wasn’t a beat cop, he just happened to be nearby. And when Bauer encountered the suspect, his life was ended in a hail of gunfire – six shots in a shadowy stairwell.

Then came the wave of anecdotes and story, one on another, demanding sadness, eliciting sympathy and encouraging pride and indignation. He was beloved, a cops’ cop, a 31-year veteran of the force, devoted man of faith, father to an adoring teen daughter, and just 53 years old. He had a version of movie star looks in the photo shared by all media. If anyone was worthy, it was Commander Bauer.

And days later it seemed like the whole city mourned as first-responders of all stripes lined city streets, in uniform, saluting a fallen comrade. The pageantry was televised, the governor and mayor spoke, and the older you were the more involved you were in the story.

Onlookers chimed-in with sentiments like, “There are not many things which unite this city, but a good man like Bauer might just do that.” It seemed that the city’s sentiment was an obvious reason to televise Commander Bauer’s funeral for several hours – we need something to save us and we can’t let this good man die in vain.

Cook County Jail inmates applaud the appearance of Commander Bauer’s alleged killer

In stark contrast to this display, a video surfaced of the Bauer’s suspected killer arriving at Cook County Jail being greeted with a smattering of applause from several inmates. They were quickly singled-out and swiftly transported to a downstate facility, and promises were made by prosecutors this video would used at sentencing to demonstrate the wanton disregard for the law and human life – especially those who dared to mock the killing of Commander Bauer.

And in the funeral mass for Bauer, a homily argued his life wasn’t given, it was taken – taken by a four-time convicted felon, taken by someone who should not have possessed a firearm, taken by someone who should not have been allowed to be free. A good reverend even compared Bauer’s killer to a leper in a vain attempt to approach the ‘what would Jesus say’ type of rhetoric: “[This killer is like a leper in Jesus’ day,] he should have been segregated from society long  before the shooting. Jesus had compassion for lepers, but they were still kept from the public during biblical times.”

And about the Commander, “He encountered the leprosy of our society: one who did spend time away from the camp … in prison … in isolation because of a violent past. One who should have never have been out in society, but who was due to a broken system, a system that Paul [Bauer] himself very publicly and loudly spoke out against.”

A lot of should not’s and ought not’s – the thoughts and prayers of our hand-wringing culture on full display.

As this was unfolding in Chicago, teens – survivors of the Parkland, Florida high school shooting and killing of 17 – were voicing their own tragic stories and adding their own indignation at the indolence of national politicians. Chicago endured homilies and eulogies from politicians who have failed to stem the tide of gun violence, as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High took their turns at the microphone as the nation watched and listened and prayed for children to lead us.

“This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about Democrats. This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral.” But since the great majority of recipients of NRA money are Republicans this doesn’t ring true, does it? It IS about the GOP when talking federal regulations and the 2nd Amendment and the NRA – even if we’re told by a sincere teen grieving the loss of classmates it is not. And it isn’t about the lack of NRA money in Chicago somehow alleviating our problem with gun violence. NRA supporters elsewhere mock Chicago at times like this – so many gun laws… so many gun deaths… (they can taste the irony).

“We are going to be the last mass shooting,” another teen asserted, and added proof this impossible assertion is possible with “I found out today there’s a website….”

Yes, the teen spoke of what they’d learned that morning as they searched online for ‘school shootings’ and ‘mass shootings’ and ‘gun laws’ and everyone born before Google secretly mocked their newfound knowledge and the wisdom accumulated an hour or two ago – online. That’s another breach in our collective angst over so-called senseless violence – newfound knowledge that’s tweetable is more virulent, more compelling, and more provoking than the accumulated wisdom serving as a mask for inaction. But there is a sense to this senseless violence – we’d just prefer to watch.

And another student’s “We call B.S.” is now a rallying-cry for indignation at the indolence of parents and politicians who promise something and deliver nothing. For a generation of world-changers, their parents’ and politicians’ hollow words should be an embarrassment – as hollow as the phrase ‘it is what it is.’

But ‘It is what it is’ is the new religion of passive-aggressiveness or acceptance or Niebuhr’s serenity prayer of wisdom to accept the things I can’t change, or the ‘all politics is local’ of areas where NRA membership is a civic duty. ‘It is what it is’ has become the watchword of generational compliance – in Chicago in particular where the best fashion is hand-wringing and angst-fueled political rhetoric that keeps electing an irredeemable political class and appointing those who warn of economic bankruptcy of police-shooting settlements in the name of cultural bankruptcy, and single-party politics with no accountability and majority-minority unemployment, and no lack of churches and community centers who are doing much more than offering their thoughts and prayers like the rest of us watching funerals and protests on a Saturday.

In Chicago we’re told gun violence is a cultural problem with a racist hint hiding politely under the skin of these recriminations. Criminal justice reform and gun control laws are given little voice, while the brazen ‘it is what it is’ is met with sympathetic political slogans of ‘we’re doing the best we can’ and even ‘this must stop’ assertions and thoughts and prayers.

‘This must stop’ is as hollow as the teen’s last mass shooting avowal. It won’t stop. This won’t be the last mass shooting. And as ‘it is what it is’ voyeurs offer their thoughts and prayers, our city will continue to die – one thought and prayer at a time.

This is a very public fight of ‘it is what is’ versus ‘enough is enough’ – and which will prevail depends on more than sloganeering.

CHICAGO, IL – Police investigate the scene of a quadruple homicide on the city’s Southside on December 17, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. Three people were found shot to death inside a home in the Fernwood neighborhood, another 2 were found shot outside the home, one of those deceased. Chicago has had more than 750 homicides in 2016. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Our culture of death is alive and well in the poorest, most under-served neighborhoods of Chicago and likened to a contagion – as predictable as an infectious disease spreading among those with compromised immune systems, and just as deadly. Blighted and ignored by those elected to lead and provide – those entrusted with the power to zone and TIF creatively not just in Uptown and on Michigan Avenue but in Englewood and Austin and Lawndale as well. If you want to do business in Wrigleyville, maybe you should do business in Austin too?!

My apparent complaint is that Chicago’s hundreds of annual gun deaths and thousands of shootings don’t rise to the same level of anger and anxiety as a single mass shooting in a Florida high school. And those students found it safe (and the national media as well) to vent and protest in Parkland. They wouldn’t feel that safety (or receive that attention) to vent and protest in Chicago. Who will have the nerve to tell us righteous indignation doesn’t save lives?

While others focus on assigning blame, I’ll add to that the multiplier of blameworthy voyeurism. It’s all we can do if ‘it is what it is’ is our new national religion of thoughts and prayers.

Two tragedies – two pageants, and too much equivocation – that’s the lesson of Saturday’s eulogies. And we are all just voyeurs.

Sunday, February 18, 2018 – looking out my window at the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.

That Couple…

You know that couple you see and
they make you wonder, ‘How in the world
did you two wind up together!?’ but
not because one is beautiful and the
other sloppy and ugly, not an obvious
one who could eat no fat and the other
no lean pair, but just because in a world
of almost seven billion of us these two
somehow found each other and love
or comfort or even settled for, someone
who would listen or talk or smells and
sweats in an attractive way that only
this other could want; you know that
couple in the grocery store, buying cereal
and tea bags, apples and chicken thighs
and you know they’d always thought
they’d be alone if it wasn’t for the other.