25 October 2017

Brown Calendar

I've been away. I know. I promised this to be daily bread. But the thing is..

Life has a tendency of getting in the way of itself.

I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2016 on the day we accepted a foster child into our home.

I went through treatment, had surgery, completely reshaped my body and learned how to use my colostomy and dramatically shifted my body image. We adopted the child who needs daily support more than some other children.

Daily bread sometimes isn't poetic. Sometimes, it's just harvesting the grain, milling it, mixing the dough, letting it rise, and baking it.

That said, I have begun writing again, in fits and spurts, not daily, but as I process what's happened to me.

It is now a year after my surgery and I am due for my annual checkups so I'm looking at my medical calendar on my iphone, which my wife called the Brown Calendar.

I think it's rather poetic...don't you. Sometimes, poetry isn't written in words. It's written by the life you live and only written down later on. Maybe that's the answer to my original question: How does a poet attempt to view and experience the world as a poet in a world that does not reward those characteristics?

There is no reward, but the life. There is no view but the poet's. There is no world to experience but the poetry within it.

That said, here's a fresh poem about my calendar.


Brown Calendar

It started as a joke. My first appointment
with the radiation oncologist

made the diagnosis real. My mother, sister, wife, friend
and barely new foster child were there

as they spelled out the next 6 weeks,
where they would cook the tumor in my

rectum (and all the surrounding tissue)
and shrink it, like an overfried hamburger.

They were frustrated that the chemotherapy
hadn’t started yet and, seeing the need

to organize my treatment in time and space,
my wife, the smile who kept me from dying,

made the Brown Calendar and shared it
with everyone’s iPhone so everyone would know

where and when I’d be treated.
The tumor
shrank from 8 cm to just under 2 before the surgery

to reshape my body in order to save my life.
The radiation also burned the nerves in my penis

so I leak like a rain gutter after a rain
and the boner medication doesn’t work.

Brown, the color of shit. The color disgusts me.
Brown, the color that signifies I survived.

The color empowers me. Brown, the color
Of not being intimate. The color abandons me.

Brown, the color of my calendar.
The color counts my hours, my days.

And it started as a joke.

12 August 2014

Strong Enough For Another Day

A lot of people will be thanking Robin for the laughs he gave them. A lot of people will be citing the genie, the radio personality, the doctor and teacher he was so many times, the board game character, the father who dressed as a nanny, the Peter Pan, the comic, the alien, the cartoon sailor, even the post-modern Dante from "What Dreams May Come" as his gifts to us. So many memorable characters...

I liked some of his lesser talked about roles. My top three Robin Williams movies are: "Being Human," "The Fisher King," and "Toys."

In these movies he was broken, he struggled with finding the right words for the moment, with the pain of life. It wasn't some demi-hero "carpe diem" bullcrap, peddled by Hollywood. He was trying to effectively tell a story by showing the struggle without the triumph.

Not that the triumph can't or shouldn't be there, but sometimes, to understand it, you have to look at the struggle and not go anywhere else but into it.

"Being Human" is probably my favorite of the triplet and is the least available or well-known of all these: in it he plays several characters, all called Hector, throughout history. It somehow tells the story of all of humanity via the struggles that Hector has during his lives. There are many common themes: loss of one's home and family and identity, slavery, journeys made alone and the guilt one feels about allowing the world to leave you alone and abandoned and enslaved by its circumstances and the lesser men who ask you to suffer for their sake.

"The Fisher King," a retelling of one of the Arthurian myths of Percival, the only knight to have actually found the Holy Grail, but foolishly wasn't able to recognize it until he used it on someone else. He played a homeless man who lost his fiancee in a tragic shooting and because of his trauma developed a debilitating mental illness.

In "Toys," he plays a man-child named Leslie who recently lost his father, a toy mogul with a Wonka-esque toy factory, and has inherited it but must face his uncle's claim to take over the factory and his plans to manufacture war toys that may or may not actually kill people. It's simultaneously a commentary on war and father figures.

Each of these characters has a huge, unfillable hole that the movie insists on not filling, despite our expectations that the industry of entertainment has trained us to expect. It simply says, "Robin, here's your problem and oh, by the way, here's a severe handicap to overcoming that problem. Now solve it if you dare." And the viewer, who understands the story, is drawn into it and experiences that struggle and maybe the same fear, frustration, and discomfort his character does, while the viewer who doesn't understand the story disconnects and starts playing "Snake" on his Nokia.

These movies are all about redemption. They're all about the overcoming of great Sin, not the evil that the devil convinces you to do, but the traditional understanding of Sin as Error, the fatal mistakes in judgment that one or two beings make that carries this huge domino effect on everything else.

I connected with these movies because in the character, I saw the person underneath the actor; it was easy to see what drew a person to these roles. I saw Robin, not doing a really good job of being Robin Williams. And I saw a sorrow that I recognized as my own, I saw hopes lost and messages misunderstood and a deep kindness for mankind, despite having received deep cruelties from mankind.

Ultimately, I saw in him the man I was and I contrasted those roles with his more famous roles, the comedic roles, the heartwarming roles, and I knew those other roles...weren't all there was of him. That was just the face he put on so that people would recognize him.

His death affects me because "Mork & Mindy" was my first favorite TV show, a sitcom about a strange person who no one understood, but was fortunate enough to be protected, taught, and loved by a woman named Mindy who, nonetheless, did. What a dream for a misfit kid like me to have!

His death affects me because I see myself as Hector, I see myself as Parry, I see myself as Leslie Zevo.

Robin Williams death shows that there is no escape from what's hunting him. The Red Knight always catches up.

Three years ago, I lost my father. Two years ago, I was separated and spiraling towards suicide. One year ago, I moved into a house with my wife starting a new life of strength and hope. I may never overcome my father's death, my own regrets about the time with him I lost, my need for a dad, my own mistakes that hurt the people I loved, that dismantled the trust they had in me, my own failure to love my work.

Those who say his sense of humor was his genius don't understand that it was his armor.
Those who say suicide is cowardly don't understand what kind of strength it takes to deny it for so long. Those who say depression is fixable don't understand the problem.

I don't want to be happy all the time. Anyone who does is missing the point of being human.

I want to be strong enough to stand up for myself but also treat people with the kindness they deserve. Kindness that too often goes ignored by people who don't value it or unreceived by people who aren't used to getting it.

I am sorry that Robin could not be strong enough for another day. I am sorry for his family and it is a frightening thought that there, only by the grace of April (my wife), Madison and Monroe (my nieces), and a little fat cherub or two, go I.

And I don't want to go that way.

22 October 2013


Stopping time is as easy as remembering.

Let's say you have a father. You have a relationship with him,
one that changes with your perception of him, one that changes
with his perception of you. You grow up, you do
things on your own, you listen to your own heart--
fuck him
and his nonsense about adulthood and responsibility--
and then you discover
you are responsible for your actions, and he
can't bail you out and you see his wisdom and you see his love
that only seems to match what you and he are.

And then he goes and dies.

You try to hang on to every memory you ever had, even memories
he doesn't belong in and you see his influence and his presence
and is it any wonder that God is a father? You see he was there,
always there, guiding you as a model and you clung onto every memory,
like a man sweeping the ocean towards him, trying to embrace
everything in front of him and pull it around him like a coat or a wall.

You rail and you gnash and you cry because
it wants to be forgotten, it wants to get loose
but you're trying to hug water

and you can't remember.                   And the fact you can't remember
is suddenly comforting. Maybe it wasn't him that made you this way,
maybe it was you alone and so you allow yourself to forget

how a man died without a word to you,
because he couldn't breathe enough to say anything to you,
and how you cried until your marriage broke, how you let it all disintegrate
into his ashes, how angry you were, not at him, but at your loss, at his absence.

And "your absence has gone through me," the poet wrote...

And you remember words you never expected
to attach to a memory of your father and then

"like thread through a needle:" the poet wrote...and your eyes mist up and
your saliva pools between your teeth and it's everything everything
everything...the poet wrote, "everything I do is stitched with its color."
The world stops moving.
The traffic outside stops playing in your ears.
The voices of humanity silence themselves.
The oxygen pauses

in your lungs to acknowledge absence...

and then rushes ahead to catch up and the blood in your heart
pumps hard and the tears and the saliva are released in a flood:
not a memory
of event, but a memory
of emotion,
a memory of absence, and then a stitching of your life.

And you grimace: "you stopped time, you son of a bitch,
you figured out how to get underneath the laws of physics and steal
pieces of the universe back from it, you sneaky           little           

12 September 2013


~for my wife~

The universe woke up today
and decided, fuck it all, I'm gonna make THAT one

The universe put on its dark silvery robe,
strolled on down to the Fate Machine and hit

The red light whispering into the darkness,
the hum of stars and planets churning, someone on Earth

This person looks into the sky, or into the air between atoms,
and feels the overflow of heat and tears permeate their being:

will ever be the same; I am having a realization
that I am not the best me, that I am flawed, that I am

that I have been forgotten, that I am shit on God's shoe,
that I have no motion but to finish my dinner, wipe my chin, and

Mmm, the universe thinks, good enough to the last drop.
Waaah, the person weeps, never ever good enough.

the universe is so lonely, with only itself,
and, with so many of us, we are so

We have but each other and the universe has its power.
I give us, the universe and all of us in it, a new name:

What is it that we keep losing, that it keeps hurting?
What is it that keeps hurting, that we can't give

Why don't we wake up before the universe does
and say, fuck it all, we're gonna make our own god damn

05 September 2013

Taken Toys

When I was a child,
I would pocket my friend's toys:
a marble here, a fading GI Joe there;
a half-used eraser, a Yahtzee die,
the army guy with the bazooka,

or pieces: the plastic plug from a watergun,
Barbie's shoe, the Play-Doh knife,
a Hot Wheels car missing wheels,
a jack, the Transformer missile
that wouldn't fire from the launcher.

It wasn't the stealing, it wasn't the toy,
but the need to have a memento,
a reminder of my time with them, a reminder
of how happy a child could be.
            LITTLE DID I KNOW,

that they weren't thrown away or returned or lost
in the cushions or down the grates or retaken by other children:
the other day in a dream I opened a room
and found it filled with all my taken toys.
Growing up, I'd forgotten them anyway.

29 August 2013

The Suit of Armor

The Suit of Armor

Over the shirt and tie, I've been wearing an everyday suit of armor
to protect me from the anger, the manipulation, the habits
that gave me the power to act without consequence.

It is a heavy, but blessed suit of armor,
kissed by an angel of redemption, forged
by the devils of regret. And I do not begrudge

wearing it. For now. But I hope for the day,
that my skin oxidizes and takes on the blessing,
but not the weight of this armor, its soft, fleshy

vulnerability encased in the patina
of a goodly man, able to defend himself
against the encroaching host.

my blood will no longer boil or foment beneath my crust,
but shall shine like light and pour forth like poultice.

01 July 2013

The Poem In Which I Bleed

It has been a while since I wrote.

I don't miss it. I don't even feel guilty. I think I'm happier lately than I have been and I'm not writing anything.

I keep going back to this thing my lovely, adoring wife said, "You bleed when you write." I think we were discussing me going back to school to get my PhD and I told her that I probably wasn't writing deeply enough, that I couldn't reach the level of intensity that I usually reach when I'm writing and she remarked , "You bleed when you write."

And I think I've been thinking about that because with what I've been through, I'm tired of making myself bleed for words. I deserve a happier, successful life. How long can the junkie continue his addiction before the thing that makes him feel so alive nearly kills him? How long can an artist bear the pain of creation before all he knows is pain?

To what purpose do I cut myself open and why don't I just stop and start putting love into the world?

And I think that's the answer: I started this blog so that I could ask myself how a writer can view and experience a world that does not reward him for being a writer.

I'm not going to torture myself because I can't write what I think I should be writing, or can't live the way I think I should be living, or can't see what I want to be seeing.

I'm not going to torture myself at all and if it hurts, I'm not going to indulge in that pain. I'm not going to twist and turn it and gnaw on its rusted edges and make my mouth bleed on it anymore.

I'm going to do this life up with my own special breed of quiet, awkward, elegant joy, and if it comes out as a poem then, lucky me. If it comes out of a series of good and noble acts or conversations at dinner or favors I pay forward, then lucky me too.

This life is not meant for suffering, not meant for bleeding out. This life is meant for enrichment, for fleshing out and there is a limit to poetry. And I have reached it. There remains little meaning in the act of writing for me but I am not sad about it.

There is more in the heavens and earth than I've dreamt of in my philosophy. There is more magic to be played. There is more that I can do and that which I do will not be with my words alone on a page.

They will rise, they will be born, they will live as their own and I will smile as a father and as a grandfather and as a great grandfather and my kinsmen are poets and artists and good husbands and great men and sailors and doctors and teachers.

The poem in which I bleed is no longer the poem I write. The poem in which I blossom is the life I write.