On learning who I am…

tree falls in the forestI am the tree that fell in the wood
with no one caring to hear,
the one at whom dogs bark
out of hatred instead of fear.
I am the one who spoke loud and clear
with no one knowing I uttered,
the door that is still a door
and not a jar unshuttered.
I am the book written but unread,
with a spine uncracked or bent,
the lure considered but dry,
un-tied, untackled, and unsent.
I am the road often taken and trod
derided in gospel and verse,
the angel that didn’t fit on pin head
in the sophistry that is so perverse.
I am the billions ten times over
who have lived and loved and died,
the everyman ignored or enslaved
and for whom no one has cried.


On this day in history…

On This Day

On this day in history
absolutely nothing of consequence
happened, to anyone, anywhere;
no ships sailed, no princes born,
discoveries in science, medicine
just didn’t happen on this day,
yesterday and tomorrow are
filled with life-changing people,
events, battles that turned great
wars into peace, even the subtle
alterations to the fabric of everyday
life made by once anonymous people
which reverberated into time and
made history; remarkable things,
great consequences, overwhelming
tragedies and brave exploits
all happened on other days, just
not today; of course some were born
on this day, babies loved, wanted,
even prepared for, but they remain
nameless to all but their mothers,
unknown to school books and
will never fill-in-the-blank’s of
literacy exams for they just were
and are no more; and the closest thing
to notoriety they’ll enjoy is that on
this day in history they’ve been
written about, sort of.

More, more, more…

There Isn’t Always

There isn’t always, always more
to season’s joys or love’s embrace
to mothers’ love or men’s wars
there isn’t always, always grace.

When what’s lost is lost indeed
not misplaced but put away
not forgot but must concede
when what’s not stolen is stolen today.

To do what’s asked, asked of one,
with true design, the studied course
with stoic aspect, end undone
to do without will, without remorse.

Life entombed, entombed unbound,
this coward bent and now crushed,
this hero followed and not crowned,
life unearthed, death hushed.

There isn’t always, always more
when the promised one, the only one
when none are left, left but for
there isn’t always, always none.

What I learned as a teacher…

stonerOnce upon a time I held a romantic dream of fame and fortune in higher education. (Stop laughing….)

This was outlandish for a high school dropout, but I was undeterred by my own story. It was more of a dream for me than all or any of you – as you dutifully marched through grades and degrees while I dallied and dillied in my deficient disorder. And with effort – more than so many alongside – I arrived, burned brightly for a few years, and have dimmed ever since. But that’s my story.

There are few ‘good reads’ about such things, and with good reason. There are only a few of us who dream such foolishness (limited market), and our dream is unbelievable or undesirable (to the market). One exception is an oddly titled narrative from John Willaims – Stoner (http://goo.gl/luA0Wd). Ever heard of it? (Didn’t think so.)

In the meantime, here’s something about what I learned as a teacher…

Great Things
I spent my life doing great things
at least in my own eyes;
better words, deeper thoughts,
longer books; languages, authors
and thinking things people didn’t
think because it hurt to do so, but
I enjoyed the pain and wanted
more, to learn just to learn
and speak and write out of joy,
not compulsion or guilt,
with my delight, sometimes
out of understanding, often
just because I was contagious
in the way I loved finding out
there is so much more to
be found out, so much more;
I spent my life doing great things
and some of them were very good,
even kind because of education’s
gentle touch, so unknown, so
mysterious, when teacher is
learner and students evaluate
with agreeing nods and notes
of I can’t imagine what – what
was said worth writing down
is the mystery because this
won’t be on the test, it will
only be in this classroom,
in this moment important
because I made it seem like
the entire world was waiting
to hear what it depended on;
I spent my life doing great things
and at times I was paid to do
the things I knew were great,
but more often I had to fit them in,
in between the labor and burdens
and ordinariness of women and men
who refused to know what was new
to be known and preferred
to repeat what they’d heard
another pretend lover say
from notes composed over
a score past, including humor
to connect with the dead or
dying and good grades were
in rote memorization of
names, dates and the teacher’s
words that filled in blanks
he created like a crossword
of life and death without
real consequence, only tenure;
I spent my life doing great things
and there are still so many
great things to do but it’s
become too difficult – the fight
for space to breath, and I need
air more than money, and
money more than books now,
and that alone makes me cry;
seeing others do what I love
to do and make a living at it
but eager to retire, to quit and
I’d give anything, anything just
to have the chance, once again,
to live the life of a learner,
indebted to all there is to know.

On changing the world and other small ambitions…

change-the-worldIn my inbox I was surprised to discover the answer to all problems. It’s as simple as taking a college course titled, How to Change the World, offered by Wesleyan University. Here’s the link you’ll need to change the world: https://www.coursera.org/course/changetheworld.

Good luck with that.

In the meantime, enjoy several shorter stanzas on the same topic.

Oh, to be a Jack

Jack of all trades, master of none,
was the watchword back in the day
and I always found it so annoying;
an excuse, I was sure, to just ignore
so much going-on, available to me,
ready to become part of my little life
and make it big and exciting and alive;
but because of a distrust in abilities,
my grasp of every little thing, lacking
discernment, the inability to discern
between lust and love, hyper-attentive
distractedness, and the damnable
curiosity that kills cats, I was told
I just didn’t need to know because
people in power like to keep secrets
in order to keep it for themselves;
but I didn’t want their power,
I was no master, I just couldn’t stand
being happy with not being a Jack.


Knowing and Spiders and Snakes

Of all the things to be frightened by – spiders and snakes,
the dark, those higher than high heights, and what’s
under the bed at night to a child or the dark of a closet,
and spiders and snakes, I’ve learned of two which I fear
and will never be anything but: the fear of missing out
is the first – they call it FOMO, but the acronym doesn’t
make it less fearful; it’s still the paranoia of an ideal life
which must be out there and we’re missing it, always
missing it, the greener grass, the rose colored glasses
ruining life; the second is the double unknown – not
knowing what I don’t know – is worse than can be imagined;
some will think it’s what the oracle of Delphi said
about Socrates being the wisest of Greeks, just because
he knew he didn’t know everything, but he knew
and he was confident enough to die, not me;
Socrates said he knew nothing, I wish to know what
cannot be known and therefore I’ll never be ready to die,
never happy to sleep, never unafraid enough to
enjoy being frightened by spiders and snakes.

Please tweet, retweet, forward, backward, like, love, admire, share, gossip, and/or Oxford Comma your way into my heart. Thank you.

The Purple Phantom and other stories…

imageThis is yet another short part of my manuscript on the fictional lives of real people living in a real place I completely made up called Elizabeth, Illinois.

(Like, tweet, retweet, post, copy, follow, forward and/or tell two friends they really must read this.)


When Pastor Webber arrived Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Winters were standing in front of the room, talking to each other and occasionally ordering obedient silence from the kids. Pastor Webber’s entrance was obvious, but needed to be officially announced by the leaders, but not until they consulted the clock and calculated twenty-five minutes left until they planned to serve a snack. You can tell them a story, or do a Bible lesson, Mrs. Jenkins said, and You’ve got twenty five minutes, and They’re all yours, were their final words.

He sat down, in front of the dozen and a half faces, most of them wearing a defiant look –a We dare you to get us to listen, kind of look. He was no Janice Reynolds –he knew that, Mrs. Jenkins knew that, Mrs. Winters knew that, and Janice’s sister Beth knew that, and there was no display board, no hidden picture, no black light resting in anticipation. Just a middle-aged man wearing jeans, running shoes, and a flannel shirt unbuttoned and untucked with a gray t-shirt showing.

Have you ever heard of the Purple Phantom? was how he started. Two or three kids shook their heads No in a disinterested way. Ever heard of the boy named Ralph? was the next question, and again they shrugged No.

Well, Ralph was about ten years old, and in school one day, in the middle of world studies and something about a map and culture and far-away places his teacher asked if anyone had any questions. Ralph raised his hand, Yes Ralph? Well, I have a question, but it’s not about those people. Go ahead, ask your questions Ralph. It’s kind of silly, Ralph said, and the teacher quickly responded, There’s no reason to be afraid of asking questions, and turning to everyone in the room he added, There are no silly questions.

What is your question Ralph? Well, I heard something about something and, I didn’t understand, so, um…, and I was wondering something, and, um…, and the teacher impatiently blurted out, What’s your question Ralph?! O…kay, the boy shyly said, I wanted to know about, ummm…, the, uhm…, the Purple Phantom.

With that the teacher’s mouth made a gasping sound, his throat choked, eyes flashed anger and meanness and without hesitating marched to the door, threw it open and ordered Ralph to Leave at once, Go straight to the Principal’s Office, and hurried the shocked boy with Go, Right Now! Go! Young man! And he left, leaving the room in shocked silence. The teacher slammed the classroom door behind Ralph as he sulked down the hall.

Ralph, what are you doing here, was the secretary’s question. I’m in some kind of trouble, he answered. Well, you’re such a good boy, what happened, the secretary asked. When he said he didn’t know, she cajoled him, Oh, come now, what on earth could you do to get you sent here? We were doing World Studies and teacher asked if anyone had questions, and I said I did and then I got kicked out of class and he told me to come here. The secretary knew he’d left something important out of his account and said, What was it? Ralph said, He asked in anyone questions, and I said it was probably silly and he said There are no silly questions, and I didn’t mean to get in trouble or cause trouble and I don’t know what happened and I got sent here. You mean you were Sent here, don’t you Ralph, and he admitted his poor grammar. What was your question? And Ralph didn’t want to answer, he was afraid and said so, but the secretary assured him that unless it was inappropriate, he was free to repeat his question to her and she just wanted to know what had happened. I said that I was wondering about…, well…, and the secretary blurted out, For goodness sake what was your question Ralph? and he said, I wanted to know about the Purple Phantom.

At that the secretary jumped from her chair and grabbed for Ralph’s collar, roughly pulling him toward the Principal’s door, dragging him behind her as she burst through the door interrupting the Principal who was talking on the phone and hurriedly said, I’ll have to get back to you, something’s come-up here…thank you, and he hung up the phone with a shocked expression on his face. What’s the meaning of this? he blurted out speaking to the secretary but looking at Ralph with a face of both anger and indignation, and with that Pastor Webber’s own face was scrunched-up in a contorted fashion that several of the younger kids mimicked and everyone was listening now. Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Winters were standing in the doorway mumbling back-and-forth, looking at the kids, then at Pastor Webber, with their faces scrunched-up in a contorted fashion

The secretary wouldn’t let go of Ralph’s collar and he was hanging there with his heels off the ground, his shirt pulled up into his throat, and his head cocked as he strained against her grasp. That’s enough, the principal said, Let Ralph go. She reluctantly released him, and said, It’s horrible, just horrible. What on earth is wrong?! Ralph just didn’t know what was happening, and he was shocked, and shook his head and shrugged his shoulders (and a few more kids joined-in with Pastor Webber’s shrug). Tell him, young man, tell him! the secretary demanded and the Principal looked straight at Ralph who hung his head and didn’t want to speak. Tell him! she yelled again, and he jumped, and so did the Principal.

I don’t know! Ralph responded quickly, I don’t know what’s wrong, I just asked a question and everyone got mad at me! and Ralph was just confused. Now, young man, that doesn’t sound likely, the Principal said in a deep, official voice, but Ralph just shook his head (and almost all the kids, except the older ones, were shaking their heads, and Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. Winters were shaking their heads, but with a hint of disapproval). And the Principal said, Tell me…ask me your question Ralph, and he hesitated but answered, Well, I was in class and we were doing World Studies and the teacher asked if any of us had a question and I raised my hand, and the Principal was listening and encouraging Ralph and saying Yes…, yes…, and…, And, Ralph said, I asked a question, and he stopped. The Principal was waiting, and waiting, and Ralph didn’t want to keep going. Well…? Well, I asked about…, About what? the Principal insisted. I asked about the Purple Phantom, Ralph said quickly. And with that the Principal’s face turned red, the secretary huffed something, and Ralph ducked as if he would be struck. Get out! Get out of this school, right this minute, and the Principal pointed toward the door, and Go home young man, and the secretary grabbed Ralph’s collar again and roughly pushed him toward the door and out into the hallway before shoving him toward the exit doors.

Ralph walked and then ran out the doors into a cold day and started for home. Along the way he avoided people walking by him, and refused to answer when asked Shouldn’t you be in school young man? by a woman. He was scared and cold and he ran the rest of the way home and into his front door.

Ralph, is that you? his mother called to him from the basement, and Ralph finally felt safe and ran to her, hugging her around the waist. What’s the matter? she asked, and he didn’t want to answer. After a few minutes, after some milk, after some distractions, his mom persuaded him to talk to her, and sitting next to him on the living room couch Ralph started to recount how they’d been in World Studies, and the teacher asked if there were any questions, And all I did was ask a question, Ralph said. Oh, Ralph, there must be something else; you can’t get expelled from school for asking a simple question. But I did, that’s all I did, Ralph said, I just asked a question about the Purple Phantom. At that his mother jumped to her feet and screamed in horror, Go to your room young man, and you’ll wait until your father gets home! And Ralph ran to his room and threw himself on his bed.

Hours later Ralph heard the front door open and close, he heard his mother’s voice, he heard a quiet discussion, and then the sound of his father coming up the stairs and toward his room. The door swung open and Ralph’s father said, What on earth did you say to your mother that’s got her so upset, young man?! and he sat down on the bed next to Ralph. The boy began to recount the story. His father didn’t believe him –that all Ralph did was ask a question, What was the question? He didn’t want to answer, he was scared and he knew nothing good could come of his answer, but he talked about all kinds of things with his father and he hoped that if he told him he would understand. When Ralph finally said, I asked about he Purple Phantom, his father put his head in his hands and began to shake. It seemed like an hour but it was just a few seconds of silence until his father stood up, and looked the other way, drew a breath and spoke slowly and purposefully, You – are – no – longer – my – son – Get – out – of – this – house – and – never – return! When Ralph said in disbelief, What? his father repeated himself and pointed toward the door. A minute later Ralph was standing on the sidewalk in front of his house and his mother and father had slammed the front door and Ralph heard the lock click (and at the Click! Pastor Webber made, several children jumped in their seats as if startled, and Beth Reynolds, who had returned just before the sound, had a quizzical look on her face).

Well…, and Pastor Webber exhaled in frustration, Ralph began to wander and wander until he came to a remote place, off a road, near a river, with no one around him; he sat down and began to cry. Without realizing it, a man had walked up behind Ralph and stood there quietly while the boy wept. Ralph jumped in fear when he sensed the man nearby, but the man said nothing. He just stood near and waited for Ralph to speak (and Pastor Webber sat, quietly as if copying the man, and the kids were sitting on the edge of their seats waiting, while Mrs. Winters looked like she was about to cry). The man finally asked, What is wrong? and Ralph was afraid to respond. He had been through so much, from his teacher, the secretary, the Principal, his own mother and father, and all for a silly question. The man just stood calmly waiting until Ralph in frustration and anger that he was Expelled and disowned all because he asked a stupid question! to which the man said, Tell me the question, maybe I can help you. No, Ralph said, No you won’t help me, no one is helping me. Trust me, I am different, the man offered.

Well, Ralph had nothing left to lose, and although he was afraid he decided he that telling this stranger could bring nothing worse than he’d already suffered, Pastor Webber said. And so, he walked right up to the man and lifted his chin proudly and spoke (and Pastor Webber’s face was lifted and he noticed Mrs. Winters lifted her chin with him), I am just a small boy but I asked a question that has caused me all my troubles, and the question was…, and Ralph hesitated, trying to understand the man’s face and guess his what his response would be…, and Ralph blurted out quickly, I asked about the Purple Phantom. With that he almost ducked, expecting the same reaction he’d received from every other adult, and braced himself for the worst.

But the man said nothing and made no reaction. Instead, he calmly said, That is a good question, and you’ll find your answer across the road behind you and find a small house with a swing in the front yard. Ralph was so surprised that he asked the man to repeat himself, and the man calmly said, Turn toward the road and look for a small house with a swing in the front yard. Ralph was in shock and the man simply turned and walked away from him in the opposite direction, across an open field. Ralph jumped when he realized he was free to move, free to find the house, free to have his question answered. He started to run along the roadside looking for the house, running and running and running, without becoming tired; he was excited and enthused and there…, right there, across the road up ahead was a small house, red brick, white windows and a swing was in the front yard, and Ralph could barely contain himself as he ran faster toward the house where he’d hear the answer to his question.

And then…, and then…, as he started across the street, with the house just in front of him, so close that he could make out the open front door as if he was being welcomed, as if he was expected…, just as he started across the street, SMACK, Ralph was killed by a speeding truck (and Pastor Webber clapped his hands together and everyone was startled, and even Beth Reynolds jumped in the doorway to the kitchen, and Mrs. Winters and Mrs. Jenkins clasped their hands to their mouths with a gasp). And before anyone could object, or say anything at all, Pastor Webber stood and said, And the moral of the story is, Look both ways before crossing the road.

And with that Pastor Webber walked right past all the kids, past Mrs. Winters and Mrs. Jenkins and Beth Reynolds, up the stairs, out the front door of the church and across the yard to the Parsonage to help Debbie with dinner. And the kids ate their snacks right on time.

Confession and other silliness…

confessionalConfession is good for the soul of gossips – that’s the way the expression should read.

This is a paragraph from an unpublished manuscript entitled Elizabeth Parsonage:

That was where the pastor met with people – in the study; it was a safe place, almost officially so. A confessional, but with a couch and chairs and a desk and shelves lined with books. Sometimes the books were about the Bible, sometimes about theology, but ever since the 1950s they were more and more about feelings and relationships and marriage and love and how to handle rebellious children, but they didn’t seem to help much. It was like they were commentaries but not solutions like they seemed to promise. This book could save your marriage. Follow this advice and your teenage girl won’t hate you. But they didn’t work, at least not as much as one would wish. People would come to the study and spill their guts as if the pastor knew as much as God knew, and they’d say everything with the promise that Nothing would leave this room. And if the walls could talk they’d tell you things about divorces and pregnancies and hatred and tears and deaths and scandals and sickness and pettiness and revenge and although most would be curious about other peoples’ troubles, any real human being listening to what the walls had to say would be in tears and tell the wallpaper to shut-up.


And this is a little something which, I confess, means more to me than it should…

Confessor Cat
There’s a black cat that visits my home every day,
walking carelessly toward my door, toward me
looking at it out my window, with eyes that flash
bright when lighted, then quickly darken again.

And when I see it, I count my sins, unprompted
I rehearse the errors of my ways while the cat
slows and gracefully sits, staring at me like it knows
what races through my mind, and how I’ve erred.

It isn’t hurried, nor is it asking anything of me;
there’s no deep-seated memory from my youth,
no intuition of the deities of ancient Egypt,
just a feral beauty at ease without need of home.

My mind races through the rights and wrongs
without a tally, and the black cat waits just long
enough for my silliness to end; and because
gifts are exchanged, I now feed my confessor
in sacramental pâté, but first returning thanks
for the privilege of a conscience assuaged
by the simple act of being seen by a black cat.

Please share with your friends – like, click, repost, report as spam, or otherwise  show the world you’re alive and kicking…

How to…

time lifeIt dates back to the 1960s and a Time Life series of ‘how to’ books which became wildly popular – how to unclog a drain, hammer a nail, fix a squeaky door hinge, install a garbage disposal, build a deck. And we bought them all. The How-To craze had begun and we were all for it.

Soon ‘how to’ became self-help and do-it-yourself merged with challenges, campaigns and that e-mail spam which promises everything from a firmer butt to millions from an African royal official (if we share our bank information).

There are tens of thousands of books with ‘How to’ in the title. Many are still concerned with good, old fashioned repairs like repairing a Briggs and Stratton engine, but most are about how to do more ordinary, everyday things like live better, accomplish more, sleep sounder or organize everything.

Today we call ‘how to’ the promised land of a #lifehack.

We’re not talking about becoming experts in life, maybe on life and that’s what’s become of us. What we’re all after is sensible enough. It’s where we all get to eventually, some later than others but everyone eventually…we’re all trying to survive life. ‘How-to’ stuff isn’t much about electric current or refrigeration repair. It is more about reconfiguring spaces, reclaiming your days, weekends, weeks and thereby reclaiming yourself. And the best part is that it doesn’t matter if what you wind up with doesn’t even come close to a certain plan, a received design or perceived goal. The activity itself is open-ended and prohibits failure (the only failure is not to have tried at all). If schools without failure are simply those institutions of baby-sitting we used to call colleges and universities, then ‘how-to’ and ‘for dummies’ literature is for a life without failure where the only disappointment is going through life without trying to be your real self (whatever the hell that may be).

How-to books used to be called novels and reading narratives was how most people learned how they might live, how to avoid ruin and peril and despair, how they might survive hard times with nobility and virtue intact, how to do well and how to do better. When narratives and fictions were done poorly they generalized and moralized as directly and bluntly as a step-by-step guide to multiple male orgasms. History books are no better with their god-like noble-izing about why everything happened the way it did (Monday morning quarterbacking and 20/20 hindsight never enjoyed as great an academic justification as history classes). Even history must give way to genealogy; just as poor novels must yield to healthy (and sometimes hard to follow) narratives. In our present climate of reading it has become too hard, too difficult, to novelize and narrate one’s life or to learn from someone else’s life because a story doesn’t prepare a plan for us. If the motto of how-to-ing is measure twice, cut once, then the moral of (good) novels is keep measuring, cut often, and try measuring once just for the thrill of it once-in-a-while. The suspicion from how-to-ers is, of course, that narratives keep measuring and never get to the cutting.

To Be Read S L O W L Y

Don’t you hate
being told how to
read, how to enjoy,
how to be you; it’s like
being told how to
breathe or piss,
both as necessary
and both problematic
eventually, so do
try not to hate
being told to do
the things we will
forget one day soon.

Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 1)

Anonymous_4The weight of anonymity is a crushing load to the egoist; a blessed burden for the insecure; and a career obstacle for any and all who wish their mediocre product to be thought magnificent by virtue of reputation.

Without Fame
His name was never known
never asked or in demand;
he nameless lived and died
after countless seeds sown
tending the many firsthand
famously fame denied.

What Isn’t There
How many a writer or poet has been ruined
by reading Thoreau’s Walden only to retreat
to her own obscure pond and wait for those
pronounced feelings of nature, god and life,
perched before a blank page, ready to write
infamous words that will change everything
about seeing the sun rise, or a low moon,
the seasonal wrenching of life from death,
or death from life in the anonymous vacuum,
only to end a long, lonely day exhausted
and uninspired by the page called life
with no words to express what isn’t there.

Please share this with your friends! Thank you…

Look for Anonymity and other unknown things… (part 2) coming soon

Life is the time in between paychecks…

Life’s a Stage

If life is a stage, then I am sitting in the audienceaaaa kalamazoo button
toward the back on the left side, wondering
when the intermission will begin and if
there will be enough time to go to the bathroom,
and maybe get something to eat at the concessions stand but the play
just keeps going and going without stop

and here I am, fidgeting and squirming
and praying for the end until I remember
this is life and I want to see what happens next.


Or Nothing

The ‘or’ has always been my downfall,
a cursed grammatical conjunction,
as futile to fight as city hall,
yet I refuse life with compunction.

When, if not now, should I proceed
in struggle, to wrestle and wage my war
against this coordinating alternative creed
of damnable choices between either/or.

I choose to begin each day, each task
with the forbidden ‘or’ of differentiation,
or, why not, instead make ‘or’ ask
Or else what? is the true temptation.

Or to be (or not), or to know, or to live,
the Bard knew that matter of life,
not the choice but the refusal we give
which carves out a place amidst the strife.

The’ or’ for me is an or, or nothing,
no remainder, as well as no choice
it lacks permission, it fails to be loving
it lacks praise, refusing to rejoice.

It’s in the in between, not the preference
that life is lived, that affection is found,
refusing the ‘or’ is to learn deference,
and finding indeterminacy is profound.