Friday, March 23, 2018

POEM: A Lesson In Love

I enter the church of my poetry

while I hold the loaf of you as eucharist,

(for it is right to give thanks for this day!)

for the bantam weight of you.

This is a lesson in love:

how it lives,

how gives early on, 

like wet cement

until it dries



Tuesday, December 26, 2017


We celebrate everything because nothing is assured;
We keep hopelessness at bay;
We light candles and want to burn joy at both ends;
We put our faith in food and okay, in beer, wine and chocolate too;
We hope, get disappointed and get discouraged and still
We hope again;
We, whose most prized things are not really things at all,
We spread seeds;
We harvest love;
We can and often do argue with god;
We belong to each other, and make no bones about it;
We are tribe;
We find our way home in relationship;
We remember the path to the graves of lost family without a map;
We believe, then we doubt, then we believe again;
We feel more than we think and we think we feel more than we should;
We are Celts when protecting the bonds of family;
We hunt beauty, while we let love hunt us down and slay us because
We decided a long time ago that
We will gladly give ourselves up for this.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


The weight of your arm
              draped over my chest
is that of hope,
is that of trust.

A reminder of what we aspire to.

Paths – both explored and  unknown - 
remain ours.

Uncertain - 
                            let’s go deeper, as

a reminder of what we aspire to.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


I have never seen so many people at the cemetery before! Cars are lined up along the winding roads that spread out like veins though the toothy fields, now covered in snow. It is as if there were a massive funeral going on and every inch of parking along the sides of the roads is occupied by some mourner.

I have been here in the winter before. In fact, I mostly come during the holidays, but never when there is snow. My father died in December – December 21 to be precise - just another of a long line of family December disasters or near disasters that seem to follow us if you ascribe to the mythology of my Mother, who swore that December was the cruelest month for our family. Strangely enough, she passed during the dog-days of August. So there is that.

I don’t know why I hadn’t considered the nearly five inches of snow that fell on Long Island recently. My experience has always been cold but snowless, so somewhere in my head, I expected the cemetery to be dry, and me not needing to trudge through snow.  These were snowless Christmases of my childhood, a time before climate change.

I march through the headstones to find the one with my Mother’s and Father’s name. I brush off the snow from the wreaths and other bric-a-brac others have lain at the foot of this angelic-white stone.  
It seems like the proper thing to do, as if I were preparing a room for my visiting parents.

I stop and engage in an interior monologue, first with my Dad, trying to recall his voice but it has been so long. Is it thirty-nine years? How is that possible? Whole lives have been created and lost in that time.

How can grief be carried that long?  I pray, or at least try to. Mostly I try to remember what I can about my Dad. I figure that is prayer enough. I recall how safe he made me feel as a child. Though a strict authoritarian, I also recall him pulling pillows to the floor to watch TV with us, something I took to instinctively, not consciously, when I became a father.

I walk around to the other side of the headstone, where my Mother’s name is carved into the marble. I marvel at the beauty of her name FRANCESCA and how it was not until toward the end of her life that I learned this was her full name, going by Fran, or Frances during my youth and young adulthood.

I begin another inner monologue, remembering all the wonderful times I had with her. I can still taste her grief after the death of my father. But we had lots of time to prepare for her departure, helped her move from the home where she raised eight children, traveled internationally with her, spent hours, the two of us falling asleep to Italian movies dubbed with English subtitles, her teaching me to make clams and marinara, taking her food shopping.

She was a grand dame, whose sense of humor was a continual life lesson. But she could be ornery too, especially toward the siblings who ended up being the primary caregivers at the end. Overall though, she was an example of grace in the face of disaster. And the point is, how much I miss her countenance, her counsel.

I ask for direction. I ask for goodness to flood my heart. I ask for patience to bear with the hurt of everyday living. I ask for courage – and all the things I doubt about myself.

I say an Our Father, aloud, so the tenor of my voice penetrates the razor cold and sunlight. I place a stone on top of the headstone to bear witness, to prove her presence on this plane of existence, to prove legacy. Who doesn’t need that?  I bear witness to a life and a loss.

I schlepp back to the car then stop to turn and look at my solitary footprints in the snow, leading to the headstone. I think how nothing can be as sad as that image. I imagine this path as the one to my own inner life; how the path to our inner truths can be found in what we have lost over the years.

I love the cemetery more when it is empty. I always come early Sunday mornings before anyone else is up. This is the last weekend before Christmas and I feel intruded upon, put out by all this activity. Still, all these people are here remembering. There is so much loss that is (hopefully) preceded by all that love, all those stories, being told and retold this time of year. This is a full white cemetery, full of this kind of love, if we are lucky.

I happen to be one of those lucky ones.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

POEM: Just In Case

don’t you love it
when you pull your
journal out and two
or three spare Depends
pads that you stash
in your work bag
(just in case)
gets jammed in
between the pages?
the bundle looks
like a bouquet
in plain sight.
(just in case)
you had any illusions
about who you were.
(just in case)
 you need to be reminded.
(just in case)
you are having a day,
and need to laugh.

at yourself.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

On Service

We have all been part of it: the veneration of the uniform. For anyone who denies that there is a national religion - and it is not Christian - one merely needs to attend any sporting event and witness the national anthem being played.

I have a friend at work who who is from Brazil and she told me that when her mother was up from Brazil, she was confused as to why there were so many American flags hanging everywhere. "Don't these people know what country they are in?" she asked her daughter.

It is difficult to even discuss the issue of nationalism and patriotism in a post-911 world. But it is also important to recall that the Nazi party was a nationalist party. This is not to denigrate pride in one's own country. This recent World Cup - head butting drivel aside - reminds us, like the Olympics that we can love our homeland but still love the spirit of togetherness such an event fosters.

Nationalism is nothing if not the basal instincts of human tribalism at work. The same sort of raw brutal tribalism that resulted in genocides in Rwanda and Darfur is the same tribalism that resulted in the essential elimination of the American Indian, the Serb-Croat conflicts of the eighties and so on.

I know many people blame religion for much of the conflict of the middle east, but really that is just a form of "spiritual triablism". My god/nation is better than yours - I belong, you don't. I am one of them sneetches with "stars upon thars" as Dr. Seuss would express it.

From an evolutionary view, this sort of behavior makes perfect sense. It is how early humans survived. Belonging to the group was the best way to pool resources and meet the basic Maslowic needs of food, shelter and a sense of safety. It is behavior that is exhibited and intensified in prisons throughout America. Join some sort of gang or be fodder for the other gangs.

But nationalism can obscure the truth sometimes. it wants to exclude, in fact NEEDS to exclude others. There are many in Washington who hate the notion of a U.N. because it's very existence negates this notion of social Darwinism that says the strongest climb to the top of the heap. The U.N. in its ideal form represents a different model of thinking that threatens the capitalist view that the golden rule is the best way to separate the wheat from the chaff - that is those that have the gold, make the rules.


He awakened me in the mornings dancing naked while singing along to Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime”.

We were twins, but Irish Twins.

Mom believed I refused to walk in order to try to secure my place as the baby in the family.

We had no special language, as real twins do, but we seemed to understand each other’s thoughts without the delay of an audible language.

Everything revolved around basketball with us including the time we broke into the gym at Adelphi University to play.

The guard caught us and asked us our names and I, of course, being the rube I am, gave him my real name, but he - he gave the guard a fake name.

“You don’t give them your real name if they ask you!”  he told me afterward, in disbelief someone could be this unworldly.

We started playing on the hoop attached to red shingled garage on the back of our childhood home with that giant sugar maple blocking our shots, edged with red brick, positioned in such a manner so as to twist an ankle for sure whenever going for a layup.

The statue of the Virgin Mary in her white, stone grotto hut stopped the ball from bouncing over the white picket fence into Mr. Green’s yard who spent his days inside a wine bottle and tank top tee shirt.

When the hoop started to sag, we would kick off the wall to get a little extra height while doing layups, and practice our dunks.

He gave me license to try things.
Maybe he needed someone to validate that the ideas in his head weren’t so crazy.
Or maybe he sensed I needed drawing out.

Like those times we would sneak into the local golf course, and let ourselves get chased by the caretakers on the “Green Tractor” and the “Red Tractor”, making up stories about what each of the tractor drivers would do if they caught us!

I am sorry for that time I got so angry with him after lights were out in our room that I took my stack of school books, tightly bound by those rubber straps with metal clips popular at the time, and threw them in an arc at him while he lay trying to go to sleep, only realizing as the weighty bundle left my hand that in the pitch dark, he would never see it coming.

It could have missed him, in the dark like that, but it didn’t.  It hit square in the face giving him a swollen lip for weeks.

Then there were the summers up in the Catskills working on Glenbrook Farm for Tony and Sofi Gerstberger – with Tony’s mother, OOlah, and old Otto, in his flat cap and thick glasses and elephantine ears flashing the two-fingered peace sign.

There was “Amodio Joe” – the produce delivery guy who had a bottle of pain killers that COSTCO would be embarrassed to sell it was so large.

With braces on both legs from childhood polio, we laughed at how he would rock himself in the truck seat to get the momentum to climb out of his delivery truck.

We knew nothing of people’s pain, I am embarrassed to say.

It was here that we first learned about the “free love” and drugs of the early 70’s of which I am pretty sure neither of us partook.

I am sure my Father had no idea of the sort of experiences he was exposing us to, though then again, he was a Marine, so who knows? Maybe that was his plan to make “men” of us.

What a fool’s errand that was!

I have photographic proof that we played little league baseball.
We were on the Owls and I pitched one game, walking or hitting every batter.
We played only a couple of years.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have the best sandlot teams in the neighborhood playing football and stickball and stoop-ball,  two-hand touch on the street, with tackling allowed on the sidelines.

I remember more than once coming in for dinner with skinned shins, palms and elbows.

My favorite time together was our cross country trip. Because I was with Joe, the original rolling stone, being in one place was never an option.

Even then, his wanderlust gave the marching orders and with two 30-day Greyhound Eagle passes, canvas backpacks, and money belts to stash our cash, we made our way to the center and left coast of the country.

While in California, we slept under the stars at Big Sur, kicking in cash for a collection to get wine with a group of other hippie campers in that field.

In San Francisco that we were approached by a young woman selling tickets to a dinner/theater where the actors served the meal and after we watched some avant-garde play neither of us understood but pretended we did.

After buying the tickets, we wondered if the acting troupe really existed so we walked miles to the theater to make sure it was for real; that we hadn’t been duped.

We are such New Yorkers.

There was “eye-patch” guy who picked us up on the Pacific Coast Highway in a beat-up flatbed, driving so close to the winding roads coastal road, showing us everything, leaning over the cliff edge.

I worried about his depth perception, though the picture of the naked woman on his  dash also had my attention as well.

But he was just a friendly guy, giving a couple of jamokes a ride.

We got to see so many parts of what is now called “flyover” country long before there was the division and long before the internet homogenized us all like milk.

People say it’s not like this today, but I don’t buy that. Just like I don’t buy that everything from yesterday was better.

We shared that room for so many years that we eventually teamed up to throw out our blanket-wearing, cigarette smoking, tuna fish eating older brother from our room.

I am pretty sure we didn’t discuss it too, we just agreed we didn’t like his smoking and his tuna-eating habit.

Joe was always clear headed, with a great intelligence, until I said this one day to a mutual friend of ours who responded, “Yes, but he also has a great heart.”

That should have been obvious, but to someone who always doubted his own intelligence, and who's always put him on a pedestal for his intellect, I’m embarrassed to say that surprised me when I realized this that I didn’t know this sooner.

I wish we lived closer today, but I understand that lives are meant to be lived as discrete things.

It’s like when we still had the house on Long Island and we could walk through the door with the cake-mixer tine being used for a door knob – we didn’t feel the need to explain things like that.

It’s always just a feeling of home, free to be as neurotic as God made us.

It’s almost summer now. Can you feel it? Is the wanderlust bubbling up in you? Are you getting the urge to dance naked?

Shhh—quiet – can’t you hear it? Like an evening breeze wending through the trees.
 That familiar melody, the metallic three-chord progression, the syncopated introduction ushering in the freedom of no school and summer yet to go:


As familiar as our own heartbeats.
Like the sickly-sweet smell of maple from that big tree in our yard, the one that spewed all of those “polynoses” whose ends we would split and affix to our noses to pretend we were horned dinosaurs.
The radio gets louder, it’s volume growing as summer nears:

In the summertime when the weather is hot/You can stretch right up and touch the sky/When the weather's fine/You got women, you got women on your mind/Have a drink, have a drive/Go out and see what you can find/Sing along with us/Dee dee dee-deedee/Dah dah dah-dah dah/Yeah we're hap-happy/Dah dah-dah/Dee-dah-do dee-dah-do dah-do-dah/Dah-do-dah-dah-dah/Dah-dah-dah do-dah-dah

Friday, August 18, 2017

POEM: I Am Through

with this rotten meat of a world
with rivulets of hatred
separating north from south
east from west
believer from non
member from marauder
patriot from traitor
I am through with it all
I tell you
take it in its entirety
and make confetti
to  be thrown
during the ensuing parade

for its departure

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Why I Am A Mets Fan

I suppose it was a matter of time before I would decide to write about this subject.

People ask me all the time why I am a Mets fan, whenever I mention that I am attending my family’s annual pilgrimage to Shea (now Citifield) Stadium to witness the fireworks game. We go to tailgate. We go to be together, a family of disparate people, in various geographic locations. We are touchstones to each other’s childhoods. We are the people who contain the truth of who each of us is that needs refreshing from time to time.

But the food and festivities are not the reason I am a Mets fan. If my mother were alive, she would talk about coming from Brooklyn and the heartbreak her father felt when the Brooklyn Dodgers left for the Left Coast. I suspect this is not uncommon for many older Mets fans.

The epicenter of Yankee fandom is Manhattan, whereas for the Mets, it tends to be the suburbs which included Brooklyn, Queens, New Jersey and Long Island. (So much so, that Nassau County, L.I. colors are Blue and Orange – colors the Mets adopted, presumably to appeal to that demographic.)
But that is romantic backstory.

As for my personal experience, I can point to a time before baseball was a business, before the Curt Flood legal precedent, before ESPN, when as a seventh grader I became enamored of the 1969 Miracle Mets. I recall sneaking transistor radios with single ear pieces (stereo? what was that?) into Catholic grammar school to listen to the playoff games during the day! During the day!

Watching the Mets win their unlikely 1969 series against a superior Baltimore team was the precursor to the Boston Celtics’ Kevin Garnett “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE” cri de coeur which has become so common in my household, now living in Western Massachusetts.  I recognize the landscape of the impossible from these experiences, and I push on because of them.

The annual trek to see the “Amazin’s” is in part about family, but it is also about teaching my adult children to be Mets fans because they suck. What is life if not misery? If you can find joy, hope, camaraderie, and love in the midst of it all, nothing can beat you, nothing! We celebrate food and the community that food represents in the cycle of seasonal disappointment, nothing can beat you.

That is what this fireworks game means to me. That is what being a Mets fan means to me.

It’s not about bragging rights, or overcoming some curse, or even just being the perennial lovable losers other franchises are. It's the continuous potential for the miraculous in an otherwise predictable, often mean world.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

POEM: At Sixty-Five (For Rick)

At sixty-five you think you’d have absorbed
enough wisdom through the pores of your skin,
settling in your lungs, travelling to your heart
& brain to give you something practical
to say. But no. That’s not the gift that was
given to you. Instead, joy is your su-
per power, not invisibility,
not strength. Not even the power to with-
stand raging fire, or to turn into ice
at a moment’s notice. Joy: that bounding
dance that unbinds us, that loosens us a-
gainst a world that double-bolts everything.
At sixty-five you’d think the memories
of us as children would be visible
from the outside, tattooed through the stories.
which never wear out from the re-telling.
Like thick marinara, aromas fill
the head. What I see is a mop-headed
kid counting planets in the night sky, who
taught me calculus in grade school, lying
flat on your back surrounded by churlish
waters, hands locked behind your neck while the
world burned to the ground around you. “Relax,”
you said. I love you for that. At sixty-
five you’d think you’ve entertained us enough,
roaming the globe with your guitars, & harm-
onicas, foam clown noses & fake thumbs
enough to make your point: that it’s a sin
to be too serious. But no. Somehow
the show always went on. At sixty-five
you’d think it’s time to look down, as if on
a mountaintop to total your blessings
& regrets into columns for the great
balance sheet of a life. But no. You
move as a hummingbird - from flower to
flower - giving all a life suspended
in mid-air, your finest illusion yet.

& I love you for that.

POEM: Sparrow

she picks water droplets off with a slender yellow beak
like sweet grapes, then hovers as if suspended by thread
the sparrow alights a branch of a rose-of-sharon,
its leaves, dripping from an early rain
the sparrow’s head, morning-light still, her wings

hammer the humid air

POEM: An Anti-lamentation

I will tell you the story of my escape, the whole
thing, from start to end, until I am naked.
Starting at the beginning, from the keening that my
captivity evoked, to the dizzying freedom once unshackled.

I bake freedom into the bread that I share. 
I come to the party with both hands open, hiding nothing.
My goal is to let my last days be ones of depletion, where
everything is exhausted, ignoring the urge to lock doors,
until doubt wanes, until it flits and fails, this same doubt
that rides the subways with me, that eats in the same
sandwich shops I do. I am wrong more often than I am right.
It’s just a state of being, like binary one or zero, on or off.
It’s not who I really am. Nor is my body me.  Nor my face.
Nor my bones. Nor my lack of grace. These are ghost stories
once told around a campfire.

I am a mystery, so I better start acting like one! I drop a buck
into a beggar’s cup and push every reason out of my head
why this is a bad idea.  Instead, I give naiveté the keys
to the car, let him drive a while. I can dine with the ridicule.
Mostly, we are wished-upon comets, circling the sun
every two-hundred years, waited for, but barely noticed,
trailing dust in the shape of a smile.

Brother, the lonely roads are the ones worth taking so let’s
walk them for no reason, and barefoot. I want to touch everything,
however transient, to fill the warp and woof of a life
with a generous urge. In the dark space between atoms is

where God awaits my choice in anticipation.

Monday, July 10, 2017

POEM: Petrichor

I will not
denounce the
things that make
me odd when
it’s my time.

I will not
bequeath them
or lock them
away in a safe.
This is how

you recog-
nize me in
our day-to-
day dealings:
my nebbish

look, my com-
pulsions, the
rattle of
me. How I
flick the light-

switch off then
on before
bed; how I
unlock and
relock the

doors, or the
duck-like way
I dance, not
caring a-
bout rhythm.

Even those
things I grew
to hate most
about my-
self: my body,

my mind, the
awkward way
I start con-
these are a

bag of screws
I carry
around, an-
nouncing to
the world who

I am, how
you know me,
long before
I occu-
py your space.

(Where do these things go when we are on our own at last?)

These parts, I
will gather
in a metal-
lic box that
you may o-

pen when-
ever you
wish and, like
the petrichor
of summer,

inhale and

Thursday, July 06, 2017

The Shot

I offer this story and I swear it’s true, just maybe not in the way you may think of “truth”.

I’m at Caritas Mercy Cancer center to get my 2nd Zolodex shot of the cycle. The nurse puts a teeny-weeny bandage over the gaping hole she just made in my body. I had never looked at the needle until now, I don’t know why. Damn if that thing doesn’t look like a knitting needle! (That’s why!) I didn't want to look, but I do. It has a spring-loaded thingy that pushes a small cylinder about the size of a fish oil capsule full of medicine into my body. The medicine will be dispensed over the next three months. It works on the pituitary gland, which works on the sex glands, which lowers the sex hormone and the green grass grows all around, all around, and the green grass grows all around.

It stings but honestly, after multiple surgeries, you’d have to shuck me open like an oyster to get my attention these days. It’s like what mothers tell me about childbirth: after that experience, ain’t nothing gonna embarrass you. Or so I am led to believe.

I go back to work. I head into the bathroom to pee. I wash my hands. I look in the mirror. I see a mortifying sight. A bulls-eye of blood about 3" in diameter on my shirt! I appear to be a victim of a drive by shooting in the men’s room!  I have a moment of not being in my own body. I am looking at someone else in the mirror. I imagine this is common when seeing your own blood leaving you. Worse, staining your work clothes. Worse still, wondering what explanation I will use finish the day at work.

I grab paper towel to clean myself. It isn’t doing anything. I apply water, then soap then soap, then more water.  Untuck the shirt. There is blood on my pants. I am rinsing paper towel in the sink now and now the water in the sink is turning red, like Easter egg dye. Now the sink is turning red. Its percussive appearance against the antiseptic white of the sink gives me more of that out of body experience. Like this is not my body. This is not my blood.

The bandage is hopeless. It is limp from blood. Insufficient for the hole. My blood is gruel. It’s pouring out. I cover myself for modesty. I head to the first aid station at work, around the corner from the bathroom.  No one there. Good. No explanation needed. I find gauze and medical tape. Lots and lots of medical tape.

I make this ad hoc dressing. Fold the gauze into a large square the size of North America and copious amounts of tape. (I realize it will hurt later when I have to rip it off my body but I want it secure). I’m not messing around. This blood needs to stop right now!  I drench my shirt and pants in cold water. I brush and dab, dab and brush. Right about now I am wishing that one of those super hand dryers was hanging on the wall. There isn’t one.

The bleeding stops - for now. This is only the 2nd of 3 shots for this round of my Zolodex.  It’s an adventure in biology.

“Probably hit a vein,” a friend says. “Probably,” I say wondering if this will happen again and what the odds are. Just my luck. I can’t hit the winning number, but this vein I hit.

 I go from looking like a shooting victim to Oscar Madison from the Odd-Couple, like I’ve dropped pickle relish all over my front. Except Oscar would never have tried to clean it.

 I look again in the mirror. I look like the loser date in that old 70s game “Mystery Date”  – the one where the players had to twist a replica of a doorknob of a front door on a playing board, then pull the door open to see the picture of who my date would be: a handsome prince-y type guy or the slob. I looked like that guy:  the loser slob date.

I hide behind my desk until the water dries. The clothing is not too stained. It will require laundry-surgery stat when I get home.

The moral of the story: the cancer is responding to the treatment. My PSA: near zero. So long as the cancer behaves, it can stay. Otherwise, I am going to be very, very cross at it. I will probably ask it to leave.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

And The Power Came

And the power came from the thronging masses, and masses they were. 175,000 at last count. “Marching” is a generous description of what we did, it was more like standing with purpose, shuffling for freedom, not quite the same romantic ring to it as “marching”.
But the power came from all those faces. It came from bodies of all shapes and sizes, from all those minds and their clever signs, with pussy caps that formed a sea of pink, the power came and it said: “Here are my concerns! You need to listen!”

 The power came from the chants  – such an Indian idea! – “show us what democracy looks like/this is what democracy looks like”.

The power came from the families marching, from the small triad standing in front of us on the common before the event started, set up just on the rise, out of sight of the large screen and reviewing stand set up where dignitaries spoke.  One tall man and his partner took turns holding their baby until the speechifying was done, when they bundled their stroller and child and making like Moses, set out to part the human sea and exit.

The power came from the many generations of women marching, the great-grandmother, the grandmother, the mother and daughter, all lined up for pictures to record the continuity of struggle. 
It came from the humor of the protestor who held up a picture of Trump in a Yankees uniform, and him saying the worst thing any Bostonian could say of another: “Trump is a Yankess fan! We should have seen this coming.”

The power came from all those children who marched. It came from that little African American girl, with her pale pink pussy hat, whose sign was constructed from a wooden stirring spoon as a handle taped to poster board with the words, “Girrrrrllll Power”.  It came from my five-year old niece who managed the whole day without a complaint, holding one of the three signs I made for the event over her head: “Love & Resist”, it said. Her luminous blonde hair catching the sunlight, the soft blue of her eyes resembling love.

The power came from the sea of humanity that stretched from the entrance on Commonwealth, all the way to the gold domed state house. Protestors with signs hung from every tree on the common, making it into a farm of action, waiting to be harvested.

The power came from the compassion that was reflected in the sign of one young man with dreadlocks to his waist, who stripped to a bare top, then climbed a tree. His sign read “I am naked because I feel safe and supported to do so and I want my sisters to feel safe and supported too.” It came from the poetry of Mary Oliver on one sign: “I believe in kindness and mischief/also in singing/especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”

The power came in many languages. In signs that read “Ni putas/Ni santa/Solo mujeres! (Neither whores nor saints, only women). ”  It came in the singing of Amazing Grace in the tongue of an indigenous tribe before the march began.

The power came in music. It came from the church we passed playing the National Anthem with chimes, while the crowd sang along, a nearby trumpet player filling in the melody. It came too when the crowd spontaneously began singing America the Beautiful.

The power came after the event as well, in the form of the discussion on social media. CNN insisted this was an anti-Trump march but it wasn’t. It was about women gathering the way a storm gathers: with intention, with steady, relentless purpose. The power came from that.

There are some who still don’t understand. There are some who want to suggest all this effort could have been put to better use, that donating time or money to social causes would be better, that this causes division; as if writing a check alone could alter the structures that create injustice; as if harmony meant the acceptance of injustice; as if making noise and causing a peaceful disturbance is so un-American forgetting that this city, especially this city, was where our American revolution began, where the start was anything by quiet, anything but convenient, anything but non-intrusive.  This American belief is where the power came from: that sometimes you have to put a body behind the rhetoric, lend muscle to words.

At the end of the day, the power came as trust spilling onto the winding streets, all over these streets, trust and the knowledge that institutions need faith to work, we need to put in the hours; we need to punch the clock.

I have seen tomorrow, and it’s a mobile and vocal one. It is very much female. And the power came from that as well,

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Open Letter To The Flyover States
Dear Flyover States,
Ok, I admit it, we screwed the pooch a little.
According to some talking heads, the results of this past election might have been brought about by the latte-sipping media elite ignoring those flyover states – states in the center of the country and by which when we say “flyover states” we mean  rural folk.
This media elite (of which I must be considered one:  I live on the east coast-ish, voted for Obama twice, and voted for Clinton in this election, I work a white-collar job, and am college educated, and I support an FDR-style of liberalism that roots for the working guy, the underdog over the corporate goliaths) has you believing that we think that you are just not smart enough to see past the balsamic smarm of a Trump presidency.
That is unfortunate.
And for this, I apologize. To the extent that I have contributed to this idea that working-class values are not my values, I was wrong.
But I am going to make some assumptions here and stop me if you think I am wrong.
I assume you and I both have families that we care a lot about. We both like spending holidays with. I assume that we both want to protect them too, in so many different ways. I assume that we want to help them grow and to achieve whatever their dreams are, whether it is to become a teacher, or to carry on the family farm, whether they  hope to become tradesmen,  carpenters and electricians to build affordable housing, or sprawling estates high on some hill somewhere for people with lots of money. Or maybe our children just want to work at a job that allows them to raise their families, just as we have. Whether these children want to become welders to build skyscrapers, bridges, schools and hospitals, or if our children want to become engineers, lawyers or doctors, we have to agree that these are pretty neat things to encourage our children to become!
I assume you like to hunt and fish. Some of us do too! I assume you like to travel some. Same here! The raw, silent beauty of the Everglades humbles us, just as the same way that the fluorescent energy of New York City does you!  
You place great deal of importance in a transcendent faith, and so do we, though this belief may not always be in the same things.  Still we both believe in something greater than us, in some form or another.
I love poetry, and you love country music. And we all love rock’n’ roll. I love rap, and well, nearly everyone under a certain age loves rap these days no matter what state they are from. I love art, and classical music and you may carry on a tradition of family crafts or pass down a fiddling technique to your children and grandchildren.
I assume that you and I both worry about our retirements and our health as we age. We worry if our jobs will still be around when it’s time to retire. We worry if Social Security will still be here for us and will our pensions or 401Ks be enough. And don’t we both worry about our parents, and how we will care for them as they age? And secretly, don’t you worry like me, just a little, who will take care of us in our final days?
I assume you want to get to know and care for your grandchildren, and teach them the same simple joys you knew as a child, just like me.
I assume we both worry about the kinds of natural disasters that can happen to any one of us, whether it be floods, or tornadoes, or hurricanes or monster blizzards. Each of us watches the news, horrified at the loss of life and property with such empathy. And the money, the money to recover always flows from one state to the other and back again: from red state to blue, and blue state to blue, from red state to red and from blue back to red.  
I assume that you, like me, like to root for the underdog. I’ll bet were both even cheering for the Cubs this past October, weren’t we? And i bet we both came to really to appreciate the great sportsmanship and work ethic of the Cleveland Indians, didn’t we?
Isn’t there always the language of baseball between us?
These are how we find ourselves in each other! Community, compassion, mercy, giving someone a second-chance, getting a fair shake. Aren’t these typical American idioms that attract so many people to our borders these days?
But here is something to consider: studies indicate that my tax money is more likely to go to you, than your tax money is to come to me. When they look at “giver” and “taker” states, many of you Flyover States seem to be on the “taker” side of the equation. And you know what? That’s ok with us!
Because when we consider all of these common values, we want to believe that we are always stronger together than as individual state, don’t we?  And who knows when the situation might be reversed and we might need some of that big wad of cash we have all ponied up. That is the beauty of a United States of America. What we really are telling you that despite all our differences, is that we are brothers and sisters and that we are in this together.
But the uniqueness of our states also provides us an exoticism, like traveling to whole new countries every time we cross state lines, like Europe!
Please know that what I am talking about has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with the fabric of civility upon which we have built our relationships.
 I hope the outcome of this election helps restore your faith in the process, and you can, in time, come to reflect on what I have said and it can be like it used to be: all of us in the same row boat, pulling in the same direction. And I hope that you will fight for our rights, the same way we that will fight for yours, in the same way that all of our parents from every state, once fought for ours.
Call me when you come for a visit. Maybe we can share a latte?
The Bi-Coastal Media Elite

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Marriage: A Homily For Everyone

This was the homily given at Stephen & Anna's wedding, June 25, 2016. The officiant, Joe Chappel, gave this homily on the weekend of the New York City gay pride parade. It is really worth reading and blew us all away.

Thank you Joe. What a blessing!


Once again, it is the last weekend in June in NYC, which can mean only one thing. Tomorrow, more than a million of our brothers and sisters will march down 5th avenue into Greenwich Village to celebrate their right to be and their right to love whomever they choose. Last year that parade was probably one of the happiest ever, as they finally won the long fight for the right to legally marry. It was the celebration of the end of years of struggle and hardship and on behalf of many who never lived to see the day but on whose shoulders the victorious stand. This year, however, will probably be one of the most somber ever, as we mourn 49 people who were murdered simply because of who they were and who they chose to love. Or perhaps it won't be somber at all. The fact is that the parade happens every year, without fail, in the happiest of times and the saddest of times, no matter what, because what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters know from many years of experience is that the celebration itself IS the protest, IS the political act, IS the most daring and defiant thing to do. To march anyway IS the victory. There is wisdom in that.

In 1967, the famous Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia saw an interracial couple win their challenge to an immoral law and in so doing, win the right to marry. We take it for granted that people of different races can marry today, but there was a time (not so long ago when this was not only taboo, it was illegal. A state-sanctioned prohibition based on race. But not today. Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter gathered the courage to challenge a world that would see them separated to recognize and honor their union. By openly and formally declaring their love, they claimed the victory. There is wisdom in that.

There will be no interracial marriage here today. Nor will there be a same sex marriage here today. But I would argue there are no such things as interracial marriage or same sex marriage. There is only marriage, and there will DEFINITELY be a marriage here today. In the context of a world that wants us to limit love, dismiss love, reject love, belittle love, ignore love, suppress love, outlaw a world that encourages negativity and uses fear and mistrust for political a world that seems fueled by divisiveness, hostility, and antagonization... in the context of that world, whenever two young people choose love, share love, and present that love for consecration before their family and friends and especially before God, heaven rejoices and indeed we should too.  Just like Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter did in 1967, let us continue to challenge this world to recognize and honor love. Just like we always do on the last weekend in June, we should openly celebrate this beautiful and happy thing called love, in defiance of what the world wants us to do. But not just in defiance of and in spite of the world, but as witness to the world that love wins. Love always wins. As we consecrate one marriage, we reaffirm all marriages. As the creator of Broadway's Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda reminded us recently, "Love is love is love is love is love is love..."

Of course there is no passive participation in today's ceremony. We all have a job to do. Those were not just empty platitudes in the opening prayer. We family and friends who witness this moment must endeavor to "fulfill our duty to honor, embrace, lift up, protect, and nurture the love that we bless this day."

Often, my Granny used to say "hallelujah anyhow." I never fully understood the significance of those words as a boy but I have internalized this simple but powerful wisdom as a man. Sometimes it is most important to celebrate and rejoice, because the world wants to break our spirits. And after the month we've had, I say this is the time to choose love, to choose life, and to rejoice in our choices. Yes, the world will give you a million reasons why today isn't that big of a deal, or is some relic from a time gone by, but hallelujah anyhow. We anoint this union based on a truth founded on something far surer and firmer than trends, or fads, or what is en vogue. Hallelujah anyhow! That truth is that love wins and as the wisdom that flows from an ancient Gregorian chant reminds us, wherever love and charity are found, God is always there. Surely, brothers and sisters, God is in this place today. Hallelujah anyhow!

So, let's have a marriage. And let us celebrate. Passionately and in defiance of a love-starved world. In the knowledge that what we do is not only joyful, but holy and sanctified. People were constantly telling Jesus whom he should and could not love. And he constantly ignored them. No one understood how radical and political love could be more than Jesus Christ himself.

Anna and Stephen, I didn't quote 1 Corinthians today. As church musicians, I figured you've heard that passage more than most and don't need me to recite it for you yet again, as beautiful a passage as it may be. I will also not lecture you or offer advice for a happy marriage, as I am not married and therefore am no expert in happy marriages. What I will do is remind you that when a scribe asked Jesus what the greatest of the commandments were, hoping to catch Him in a paradox, Jesus said "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Time and time again, in this example and many others, when asked to clarify any perceived discrepancies between His words and the law, Jesus consistently cited love as the preeminent guiding principle above all others. And so, I know that if you allow love to lead you, not only through good times, but especially through difficult times, God will be present in your choices and God will be walking alongside you in all that you do in your life together. Choose love, my dear friends. Not the shallow, happily ever after, never challenged Hollywood version of love, but deep, thoughtful, ethical, selfless, time-tested, true love. Choose love.

Come, brothers and sisters, let us claim victory this morning and celebrate love this afternoon in the best example of our Savior: let me remind you that His very first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, so we know He liked a good wedding!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Fighting Cancer

There is a funny picture a friend of mine sent me that shows a vast ocean being struck by six lightning bolts at exactly the same moment. The photograph captures the strikes hitting six different spots on the water. Beneath the photo is the caption: “Fuck those particular six fish!”

It’s easy to think of the disasters of life as specific and directed. It is also easy to think of the many graces as sparse and given to others instead of us, passing over us in abundance. But when we are able to reflect from above our misery, we know this is not true.

Comic Tig Notaro talks about this in her own life. She was recently diagnosed with double breast cancer, while at the same time her career is taking off. Life, like people, is rarely one thing. She introduces her new CD called “LIVE” (spelled L-I-V-E rhymes with “give”) – by announcing at the start she has cancer, thank you. I feel great. Thank you. Thus addressing the very first thing a cancer patient must address when faced with a diagnosis: how do I tell others? Do I NOT tell others and keep a quiet, dark secret? Do I wear a T-shirt with a message? Do I write a letter to the closest people in my life? Do I blurt it out at the bus stop, or take out a full page ad? Or do I do a stand-up comedy act and announce it? Where do I go with this sort of information? Is there an etiquette for this?

My life has been pretty good, I’ve had my share of knocks like anyone else, but when I tell someone the story of my cancer I think, “Wow, what a poor schmuck! Guy can’t buy a break!” But in fact, all I’ve had are breaks.

Lately though it feels like the universe is compelled to send down its six lightning bolts at me, yet at the same time I am blessed. How do I hold in tension these opposite realities and not lose faith? Or worse, the opposite: to not become so naïve as to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds?

 A number of weeks ago there was a large manila envelope in my mailbox. My sister’s name was on the return address.  I brought it inside and opened it. Inside that envelope was a black hooded sweatshirt with the words “STRONGER THAN CANCER” in neon yellow lettering on the front. She and her daughter raised money for American Cancer and participated in fundraiser in my honor. And I was honored.

We live in a culture that applauds positive expectations for nearly everything, especially when it comes to treating cancer. We believe like religious zealots that our faith will impact the outcome. To be honest, I don’t really know if my faith in being stronger than the disease affects the medicine. Luck comes to mind, for sure, but not confidence. Still, I have always loved the idea that we create our own reality, so I am on-board with thinking positively.

I wore the sweatshirt and it looked cool. Black. Totally fucking bad-ass black. Strike a pose and declare cancer dead, dead, dead!  Fuck cancer, I thought. Fuck it! Totally! At the same time though I wondered: am I stronger than cancer? Or am I just whistling past the grave yard? What if the cancer has spread to my bones? What if it were in my lymph nodes? Worse, what if after the surgery there is still cancer remaining that will? What if I am not one of the lucky ones? What if I am NOT stronger than cancer?

There is this belief that we can out-tough cancer, or for that matter we can out-tough all the shitty things that happen to us. Am I a failure if I succumb to the cancer? The language of fighting cancer today is combative and intense but what does it say about those who fail? Are they losers? Will I be a loser if cancer takes me? Or as ESPN’s Stuart Scott said recently before himself being taken down by a rare cancer, it is not whether we live or die from cancer that determines if we beat it, but how we live our lives with it. And living with this cancer is something I am beginning to come to terms with.

There is a possibility I may never be cured, that I will not die from this. How does my relationship to this disease change then? All the side effects of the treatments, as awful and as humiliating as they are, have as their primary underlying logic the notion that life trumps them all. With surgery, radiation, chemo, and hormone treatment – a chemical castration – how will my ego morph beneath the demands of the cure?

Cancer has already whittled away my ego, how much more am I in store for? And am I any closer to enlightenment as a result? Or is everything just a wasting away until what is left is this tiny frightened boy who desperately wants to walk his two daughters down the aisle, and spoil every one of his grandchildren rotten and then give them back to their parents?

There is a dichotomy that pressurizes the air around those of us lucky enough to come down with this disease that suggests if I do not get better, I have let others down. This pressure suppresses the grief of the diagnosis. I love my sister and I love my niece more than a brand new set of matching luggage.
And have I mentioned that I really, really, really love the sweatshirt? And maybe that’s enough.

I wonder about the implied message of treating this disease as a test of one’s courage and ability to overcome and not the damned drudgery that it is. Is this bravado creating a new reality, or is it in fact masking one? For we who “fail” – what honor is there in that? How do we learn to honor the struggle and not the outcome? What sort of cool, neon-lettered shirt exists for that?

POEM: Speak a new language so that the world will be made new.

Speak a new language so that the world will be made new.
Explore the oceans that roil within, coaxed by a moon
that rules over the dark that makes the roses bloom
- red and wild as your imagination.

Plant a flag, reclaim the land of Forgiveness as your own,
where you will throw your hands into the loam
you will track into your home,
spread to the carpets, walls, and settle on the shelves.

Over time, you will ask how Jesus raised the dead,
And I will kiss you and say, “This is how”.
Over time, you will ask how the hungry were fed
on six loaves and some fishes.

 I will bake warm bread with honey –
(The bread, as a symbol of a working life,
The honey to sweeten it.)  I will
feed you and say “Eat. This is how.”
Over time you will ask ,“How can life overcome death?”
and I will hold your tears in my old fingers and tell you

go and love another –  that is how. Let the dead bury the dead.
I will say, “Go walk toward the East, shield your eyes against your luminous lives. “
You are like the disciple who ask the Master how to attain the
Spiritual life and the Master replies: “Have you loved another

in the same way that the earth shakes,  the way it splits and swallows
everything?” To which the disciple replies, “No”, at which the
Master says: “Then try this first.”  I tell you now, try this first.
Speak a new language so that the world will be made new.

Become poets of your own lives and write
Verses that make God cry. Become verbs of love, &
Roll around in the adjectives of your life,
Make a mess, offer up a life for a chance to love the other.

POEM: For All My Children

Before it becomes the music of our  world,
Your names have a story. Before there were words,
Before circles around fires sent stories skyward.
Before retelling, and dancing,
Before prayer.

You are a green-eyed geranium wish,
A blue-eyed ocean of life,
The wrap-around flavor of brown-eyed coffee,
a vermillion way of seeing the world,
like simmering beets bubbling in chopped
onion, tomato and cumin stew.

We could not have dreamed you,  you who
arrive to us still water, mysteries
in the jeans’ pocket of a universe
waiting to be fished out with the keys
and the loose change of growing older.

And just as before the sun rises,
this winter gray lightens just enough to suggest
we’ve not been abandoned,
we’ve not died in our sleep,

You are the sign reminding us what the
angels in their Halleluiah glory look like.

and when the sun reclines
Pulling its gentle curtain across brown fields,
we imagine, as parents do, all
the fearful things.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

POEM: Mission

There are people that I love being in orbit around and then there are those to whom I am just polite. I find there are more and more of those sorts of people taking up more and more of my space and time, but the thing is this: you cannot always dictate who pulls up a seat to your table, so what is one to do?

There are even more people who see no value in being polite at all, no matter what the circumstance. They city the “brevity of life” as their motive as in the common phrase with which they regale others: “who has time for this sort of foolishness?” not realizing that all of life is foolishness and it is his seriousness that is out of place, time consuming, an endless purgatory of sitting around , throwing rocks at everything they believe is really a hornet’s nest. There is an aspect of self-punishment to it, really.

We need to dig out soft places, people, soft places around us to house the most vulnerable parts of others in safety, those things that we carry with us and have nowhere  to rest them while we put on our heavy armor and mail to do battle with dragons of every shape and color and size.  Events buffet us all day, everyday, like radiation, like pollen, we are constantly under attack. Who doesn’t need the soft wind at our back every so often, if for no other reason than to remind us of what our destiny truly is?

POEM: So I Am A Brick

A red brick, solid and stiff accustomed to inclement weather
Stiff and sharp where I have never been sharp
Chipped for all my years of being steppe on
Green from the algae

In my head I want to be softer
For everything wants to be softer where
They are hard, where there is chipping
And a rough surface.

But as a brick I am incapable of dreaming
Lacking a brain stem, the limbic matter,
A prefrontal cortex.

When I awake the light is trembling
And I speak this language.
I am able to interpret it.

It is fall and the light catches the tree tops
Looking down at me, singing
At the tops of their tree lungs,
Burrowing with knotted fists into
The soil-gone-mud.

I make my way through rounded objects.
Light is one of these rounded objects
Dripping onto the walkway bleaching
Everything in its path,
Those other bricks asleep, tucked in
By moss and the smell of nuts in the air
(This autumn tastes like walnuts in the back of my mouth
Whenever I suck in the cool air.)

But the light avoids me, though my blood
Is a ruddy red. A port wine of clay aging
Aging in the yellow laughter of a folding sun.
I am geologic, granite bends to me.
I wear limestone for fingernails
Everything I write is whitened,
White, white, white hot.

POEM: Muscle Memory

This ocean is a gray tidal yank
That speaks with a blurred accent
of wild  greens and geese – the yellow
skin of sad-eyed light
makes up  the neurons of dark storms.
This frame is a blight of opaque water, is a dying
movement: go on and be brave.
Sea birds carry word to all the lost faces of a
                                 drowning in the canals,
flying against the pink buildings. Helium
lifts mylar thoughts. Salt drops everywhere are alive.
You slog on, not knowing how, unfocused on the place
where breathing can no longer be felt: where
this is not the kind of  music we can play by ear.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

POEM: Contact Tracer

Nothing is graceful in my walk.
I have all the poise of a dumpster.
But then I never spent much time on appearances.
Instead, I spend my time overcoming absence  so that
I lose sight of the ease in enjoyment.

What I wouldn’t give to set up a tent and dwell in the cave of my own voice!
Thank God for the silence that feels like ice, 
that breaks this sandpaper world,
So that I find peace in the clicking of a tongue,
Or the battering of a glottis, or the thrum of vocal chords
that align with the hum of a friendly world every once in a while.

Listening, say, to a poem read aloud,
a silent well surges within pulling at the liquid parts of me,
finding, at long last, ease.

Instead, before you, I flap my arms and with arched back, I
reach for the contact who has touched me and whom I touch, with
Invisible lines, made by the single clarity of moonlight that as a

god I could never imagine.